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Author Topic: Foolish Samurai! (a new Mountain Witch playtest)  (Read 19906 times)
Bryant
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« Reply #15 on: November 17, 2004, 05:07:47 AM »

Quote from: Jere
Quote from: Bryant
I'd agree. This was what I noticed during our session as well -- I thought Rob simply wasn't mean enough. The two samurai off by themselves didn't cooperate or Trust enough, and they should probably have been slaughtered or imprisoned as a result.


This a radical difference in perspective. Start with 2 trust each (maximum possible, start with 1 due to zodiac, bump up by 1 for chapter end). Spent all 4 trust in this scene.

Blue spent 1 trust getting Purple to the caste, even if he was a little suspicious. Then he spent another trust freeing Purple from the witch.

Purple spent his two on lue uring all that damn tengu stuff.

The players did what they were supposed to do (and were even on the road to resolving their trust/betrayal issue in favor of trust, somethng the game doesn't seem t allow, which is another discussion). The rules, nd their interpretation, penalized them for that.

Thus the rules are at fault and don't do what they set out to model. Now I understand that Rob didn't do a great job interpretating some of the rules (which points me t flaws in presentation), but  still think fundamentally that this game does not succed as a game of trust and betrayal amongst kick-ass samurai.


Ah, but note the lack of trust (on both sides) that led to Blue and Purple splitting off to begin with. Nobody trusted anyone else to go the right way. (Of course, Blue and Purple were right.) Follow it up with the lack of cooperation that resulted in Purple being alone with the witch and Blue being alone with the tengu.

That isn't actually mechanics stuff, that's the same kind of tactical decision that would lead to disaster in most games.
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Jere
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« Reply #16 on: November 17, 2004, 05:57:53 AM »

Quote from: Bryant
That isn't actually mechanics stuff, that's the same kind of tactical decision that would lead to disaster in most games.


But I think is more inline with the intended spirit of this game than other alternatives. Blue didn't trust Red ebcause Red's math is evil (it killed his father). so he didn't go (and hoepfully Red would die a painful death thus making everything so much easier). Purple wanted Blue alone to stab him in the back. Etc.

I think all the characters actions (in this scene and the other) were loyal to the shared imaginary space and to an understanding of the rules. I really think this is a good example of the rules not doing what they were supposed to do.

Jere
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #17 on: November 17, 2004, 06:36:45 AM »

Hello,

Jere, I'm not understanding your point - can you clarify?

Maybe the following idea is relevant to my misunderstanding, maybe not. The rules are not there to build Trust automatically. They provide the option of building Trust.

It's hard to articulate in the context of an on-line forum. The Mountain Witch rules-set ultimately throws the responsibility completely on the players to decide whether Trust is important to them or not. It does not dictate that they must or should bulk up in Trust.

The alternative is a bloody, tragic disaster as the internal tensions and conflicting needs among the characters rip the mission apart. Conceivably, one or some of the characters might even become powerful henchment of the Witch, such that the bad guy wins.

I cannot over-stress that this alternative is not losing, and not a disaster at the player-level, but a perfectly valid outcome. If that's what the group and the dice turn up, well then, that's what happens.

The game rules do an excellent job of putting the ultimate responsibility for the overall outcomes right into the hands of the players. The rules offer multiple opportunities to change your minds about it along the way, as well, which is where the experience of The Mountain Witch gains its power.

Something seems to have been a little screwy with the GMing, I think, in your group - specifically that if one or more players wanted to go full-tilt with betrayal and their Dark Fates, that the GM did not take that opportunity to use the rules' outcomes - including higher risks of injury and death, as well as the possibilities of allying with the Witch.

Your game seems to have been a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the Reservoir Dogs potential of the game - what we often call "Blood Opera." Why that didn't happen deserves some reflection on your parts, but I really don't think the rules are flawed at all.

Best,
Ron

P.S. Quick caveat: you guys were using the Beta version currently at the website, whereas our recent game used a more revised, pre-publication version. So some of my concern about your rules-comment might stem from that.
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Jere
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« Reply #18 on: November 17, 2004, 06:57:58 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
The game rules do an excellent job of putting the ultimate responsibility for the overall outcomes right into the hands of the players. The rules offer multiple opportunities to change your minds about it along the way, as well, which is where the experience of The Mountain Witch gains its power.


My verdict, after a degree of thought, on the version of the game we played Friday is that the mechanics do nothing to further trust and betrayal and do not represent kick-ass samurai very well in a way to be true to the source material. There is no incentive to give trust, get trust, use trust or betrayal because it doesn't make any difference in the one-way death spiral that the games mechanics enforce. Nor does it matter one bit what the players choose to roleplay ebcause that is not reflected in the mechanics.

The game seriously underwhelmed me and would need a lot more work before I would play it again or spend my money on a publication copy.

It needs to improve its presentation, especially as related to encounters. For Rob to have made the mistake he did theres something wrogn and I'd put it down on the rules presentation.

Betrayal needs to be strengthened and diversified.

And the structure of play, by which I mean the whole scene/chapter thing, needs to be expanded. If a game is going to last 5 chapters than the players need to understand that up front.

The core concept is cool. The roleplaying possibilities it could bring out are very cool. There is a lot of potential here, but it definitely needs work.

Jere
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clehrich
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« Reply #19 on: November 17, 2004, 07:32:39 AM »

Quote from: Jere
My verdict, after a degree of thought, on the version of the game we played Friday is that the mechanics do nothing to further trust and betrayal and do not represent kick-ass samurai very well in a way to be true to the source material. There is no incentive to give trust, get trust, use trust or betrayal because it doesn't make any difference in the one-way death spiral that the games mechanics enforce. Nor does it matter one bit what the players choose to roleplay ebcause that is not reflected in the mechanics.
Somehow, I think I know who was "grudgingly" positive -- and timfire, note Rob's comment that this player has been negative about every one of these games!

But seriously folks, what I find striking about reading this playtest are:

1. There is almost complete agreement about the strengths and weaknesses of the game.  This suggests that the whole thing coheres very well.

2. The apparent weakness, in terms of Trust and its (mis)uses, does seem to stem from the group's non-recognition of the tragic death blood opera possibility as a legitimate and "good" game ending.

3. This worked surprisingly well with minimal preparation and where not a single player had played this game before.

All of which seems very positive.

To Jere's remarks:

1. "Kick-ass samurai" in the source material.  Well, such people have a habit of dying horribly in the source material.  It's very common.  Of course, sometimes they triumph as well, but hideous death for the decent and virtuous at the hands of an evil fate is a pretty typical sort of story.  I don't see that an inability to kick enough ass all by yourself is really a problem, unless you see the source material as primarily Kill Bill.

2. "No incentive to [use] Trust."  This doesn't seem to be reflected by others' comments.  Those who use Trust get results, whether it be saving others from the Witch or whatever.  Why is this bad?  If you decide to spend your Trust in this sort of noble, unselfish fashion, there is a possibility that you're also making a significant self-sacrifice.  Cool -- self-sacrifice is the name of the game.  But you don't have to do it this way.  You can all team up tight and cut through the baddies.  You didn't choose to do this, but you could have.

Frankly, I think your sense of "incentive" here is very tightly connected to your reference to the "one-way death spiral," suggesting that for you the incentive would come from the possibility of "winning."  But that's not how MW works.  If everyone teams up and manipulates trust tactically, you get an increasing kill-fest -- but it's a little dull, perhaps.  If people get into their Fates and there's a breakdown of the team spirit, the killing increasingly swings against the samurai.  Eventually, you have a beautiful slow-motion scene of that one last samurai staggering across the snow to make one last futile swipe at the Mountain Witch, only to fall, his blood spraying across the white snow.

What's wrong with that?  Sounds dandy.  Check out Kurosawa's Ran or Kagemusha for amazing scenes like this.  Tragedy, man.  Who wants the ronin to win?  I mean, even the Chushingura 47 ronin all die in the end, right?  That's the point.
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Chris Lehrich
mgrasso
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« Reply #20 on: November 17, 2004, 07:49:41 AM »

Purple samurai checking in, daimyo!

Having read the whole thread (and only being able to comprehend the game from my own corner of the game, which was immensely satisfying), I wonder if the game as presently constructed is a last-man-standing sort of deal. In other words, a competition.

As the purple samurai, I was inspired to both trust and distrust Blue by the rules set out by my Fate. Trust and betrayal were entirely contingent on whether my Fate would be fulfilled. Could I convince Blue to let me marry his sister by proving my honor through insane suicidal valor? If I didn't, would I make the dishonorable choice to slay him and take his sister for myself? These were what propelled me through the adventure. In fact, the only regret I have is that I didn't have those kind of ties with any other PCs. On second thought, maybe that would've muddied the waters considerably.

Short answer: I think the game works, but I think I need more in the way of information on the game's precepts and goals beforehand. That being said, in my own personal gaming bubble, I had an excellent time.
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Jere
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« Reply #21 on: November 17, 2004, 08:01:50 AM »

Quote from: clehrich
1. "Kick-ass samurai" in the source material.  Well, such people have a habit of dying horribly in the source material.  It's very common.  Of course, sometimes they triumph as well, but hideous death for the decent and virtuous at the hands of an evil fate is a pretty typical sort of story.  I don't see that an inability to kick enough ass all by yourself is really a problem, unless you see the source material as primarily Kill Bill.


Source material doesn't have physical death spirals. What it has is your kickass until you meet someone more kickass and then you die.

What MW witch did was death by a thousand paper cuts.

I would have been very happy with a horrible death for my character. What I got was something incredibly unsatisfying and very undramatic.

Jere
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Jere
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« Reply #22 on: November 17, 2004, 08:12:28 AM »

Let me start rephrase on one matter.

I think Rob is a great gm. There is nothing I wouldn't trust Rob to run for our circle. Our gaming circle is filled with people who have mastered much of the craft of this hobby and are always looking for more experiences to challenge themselves. Based on my ancedotal evidence I'd assign our gaming circle on the high end of any curve.

This game didn't work for us. It didn't work for Rob as a gm and it didn't work for all the players (though I'm the most hardcore obviously).

Given that the easy thing is to say Rob didn't get it because of a mistake he made. But I don't think that is true. Oen thing you learn in risk management (what I do for a living) is that the easy answer is to blame the oeprator. Its almost never the operator, and based on my reading of the rules plus analysis of the game system I would not assign operator error as a root cause. I'd squarely assign it to document/procedure.

Which in a more relevant manner means your game is broken, you need to fix it.

Jeremiah
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clehrich
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« Reply #23 on: November 17, 2004, 08:28:12 AM »

Quote from: Jere
Source material doesn't have physical death spirals. What it has is your kickass until you meet someone more kickass and then you die.

What MW witch did was death by a thousand paper cuts.
This is possibly getting off-thread, so I'm just going to say what I have to say once and not join in further on the subject.

Jere, I really think you're deeply, deeply wrong about the source material.  As I say, the material you're talking about appears to be Kill Bill and maybe some Chambara films or something.  But the samurai/ronin literature is quite a lot larger than that, and if you ask me, Kill Bill and most Chambara sucks very hard.  It's extremely shallow, and everything ultimately does indeed come down to "who kicks ass harder?  he wins and the other guy dies."  That sucks.

If on the other hand we take the best of the samurai genre, in literature and film and drama -- and that's a lot of material -- one of the biggest tropes is in fact the failure of this simple binary situation to manifest as such.  The masterless samurai really wants it to go that way, because that will validate his existence.  He wants there to be a face-to-face, mano-a-mano thing that will settle everything.  But he doesn't get it, and he gets slowly cut down by thousands of small things until he dies tragically.

A particularly brutal satire of the sort of thing you describe is Kurosawa's film Sanjuro, a sort of sequel to his equally satirical Yojimbo.  This masterless samurai doesn't play by the rules, because he sees that the rules are stupid nonsense invented by romantics.  In Sanjuro, the young men are constantly pushing him to help them go out and have a big fight and settle everything, and he keeps pointing out how stupid that plan is.  At the very end, after he has destroyed all the bad guys by a combination of trickery and brutality, he walks out of town -- and meets the chief tough guy of the other side.  This guy demands the traditional showdown, a duel.  They duel, and Sanjuro cuts him open in a second.  Blood sprays everywhere.  The young samurai guys bow deeply, "That was wonderful!"  "It was horrible," says Sanjuro, and stalks off, clearly upset that after it all, nobody has learned anything about how stupid this sort of thing really is.

In a more traditional mode, you go back to things like Heike monogatari (Tales of the Heike), way back in the 12th or 13th C., where this trope of the powerful warrior who is unrecognized, suffers, and dies for no reason becomes one of the founding dynamics of much Japanese warrior literature.  This is in some respects borrowed from even earlier Chinese literary tropes, viz. the story of Jing Ke, the guy who tried (and failed) to assassinate Qin Shihuang, the First Emperor (see the mediocre film The Emperor and the Assassin).  The point is that he fails, not because he meets someone kickass, but because it just doesn't work.  His heroic mission fails for really no reason, and he's cut down by hundreds of guards whom he could destroy one-on-one.

This is what makes this stuff tragedy.  The samurai simply cannot win because he is convinced that everything is really about the one-on-one duel, but he's wrong.  And very often in Japanese literature, this is projected as the way it used to be, but now in this fallen world the samurai is no longer able to do things that way, so he dies of a thousand small cuts.  Not surprisingly, this became very big in the Tokugawa era when samurai really didn't have a lot of use any more because the country was at peace.  This is a big part of the reason for the ronin trope: he's no longer the true samurai, he's masterless -- adrift, without purpose, and always trying to make things turn out like the good old days of duelling.

Sure, I can think of some examples of Kill Bill-style crap, but they're hardly paragons of the source material.  Like Kill Bill, they suck, only intended to show off some fight scenes and go "rah rah."

Take a look at the really horrible film The Last Samurai.  The super-samurai-guy is, let's face it, an idiot.  The world doesn't work like that, and it never did.  He's got this Quixotic mission to show everyone that the samurai way is wonderful.  That's bushido, man.  But you know what?  Bushido is basically an invention of the Tokugawa era, and especially the Meiji Restoration, intended to create Imperial power where it never really existed before.  The whole thing is nationalistic fetishism.  If you look at material with real quality, the point is that it does not work that way, and it never did.  One-on-one was a romantic ideal, but it had little to do with reality.  And the guys stupid enough to think it was real tended to die from things like being shot with a lot of arrows because they couldn't believe that anyone would be so dishonorable as to fight that way.

Mountain Witch may not simulate bad Chambarra films, but I see that as a good thing.  What I liked about the rules was that it seemed clear that the most likely outcome of a team ruled by its fates was a messy, agonizing, and ultimately pointless and tragic death.  That's the ronin literature in a nutshell.
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Chris Lehrich
Jere
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« Reply #24 on: November 17, 2004, 08:34:34 AM »

Quote from: clehrich
What I liked about the rules was that it seemed clear that the most likely outcome of a team ruled by its fates was a messy, agonizing, and ultimately pointless and tragic death.  That's the ronin literature in a nutshell.


Be all there Chris if thats what the game did. But it doesn't. Instead what you get is lots of little pointless fights that don't further the fates much and that death comes after a long-drawn out series of meaningless fights.

When I say it doesn't match the source material I have in mind exactly the stuff you are talking about above. And after playing the game MW came no closer to that than a game of vanilla D20 could.

Could it? Sure. It might have even been closer if Rob hadn't made some of the mistakes he talks about. But those mistakes are a reslt of the text and the game is the ultimate bearer of responsibility. I'd happily give the game another shot, but only if I thought some changes ahd been made in mechanics ad presentation to better bring it in line with the source material.

Jere
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Emily Care
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« Reply #25 on: November 17, 2004, 09:30:32 AM »

Sounds like there are some disagreements about what constitutes a good game, and in this case, how MW carried through.  

Earlier in this thread:

Quote from: Rob
When I pointed this out to the players afterwards, they were inclined to give themselves, and me, credit for this, rather than the game. “Yes, but all our games have interesting backstories and characters that interact in cool ways and conflicts that highlight those things.” Which is true. It’s a great group of gamers. BUT Mountain Witch deserves credit for doing all this incredibly efficiently.


Jere, it sounds like you had a very unsatisfying experience.  You said that the fates failed to be reinforced mechanically.  How did your character's fate affect your play?  Here is how it affected another player's experience:

Quote from: mgrasso
As the purple samurai, I was inspired to both trust and distrust Blue by the rules set out by my Fate. Trust and betrayal were entirely contingent on whether my Fate would be fulfilled. Could I convince Blue to let me marry his sister by proving my honor through insane suicidal valor? If I didn't, would I make the dishonorable choice to slay him and take his sister for myself?

Jere, it sounds as though you were missing some way for the mechanics to shape your characters actions into a dramatic and inspiring arc.  It sounds like this was more successful for others in your group.  It seems possible that what you were looking for in the mechanics was missing, but that it is a matter of approach and expectation rather than anything being broken.

All the best,
Emily Care
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Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

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timfire
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« Reply #26 on: November 17, 2004, 01:02:57 PM »

Hi y'all, I have alot to respond to.

First things first: Rob and his crew had the latest playtest version of rules, I emailed them to him. I also included a short update file that had a few, wholely inadaquate playing tips.

Re: Combat: In my last post, I choose some poor wording.  Like Ron's post suggested, the GM shouldn't 'go easy' on the PC's. But I do feel that smaller fights work a little better than big fights. Ron, looking back over our playtest, the heros were equal or had the advantage of numbers in at least 50% of the battles. The group was only seriously outnumbered twice (@ the Gate and against the Nioo).

Bigger fights have a greater tendency to bog down not just because you have more foes to kill, but also since the GM is rolling more dice, he's more likely to roll high, which means a smaller degree of success. I think there's a sorta expotential effect that happens. I've noticed this in multiple playtests. (Usual disclaimer: This is not saying that the GM should shy from using big fights, he should just keep them in reserve for when he really wants them.)

A small fight still has the potential for disaster, as the Spider fight in our last playtest showed (3 samurai vs. 2 Spiders, one of the samurai ended up captured).

Quote from: grasso
I wonder if the game as presently constructed is a last-man-standing sort of deal. In other words, a competition.

While I'm sure the game could be played this way, that's not the intention of the game. I believe the rules supports a "dramatic" (ie, narrativist) style of play where the players enjoy the slow building tension between characters. The game offers no reward for 'beating' the other players. That said, the game doesn't explicitly reward addressing Premise either. But since the various elements of the game (Fates, Trust) are inherently thematic, I believe Nar players will find the game more satisfying than Sim or Gam players.

Quote from: grasso
As the purple samurai, I was inspired to both trust and distrust Blue... Trust and betrayal were entirely contingent on whether my Fate would be fulfilled. Could I convince Blue to let me marry his sister by proving my honor through insane suicidal valor? If I didn't, would I make the dishonorable choice to slay him and take his sister for myself?

See here, that's what the game is suppose to be about.

Quote from: Jere
Given that the easy thing is to say Rob didn't get it because of a mistake he made. But I don't think that is true. Oen thing you learn in risk management (what I do for a living) is that the easy answer is to blame the oeprator. Its almost never the operator, and based on my reading of the rules plus analysis of the game system I would not assign operator error as a root cause. I'd squarely assign it to document/procedure.

Noone is criticizing Rob. I thought I was being open to the fact that the text that Rob received lack practical advice. He received an alpha version of the game, the text is still a work in progress. I take full responsibility for the fact that Rob was under informed. In regard to the present text, yes, it needs to be improved.

But the issue is, if I want to fix this for the future, do I need to change the rules themselves or simply offer better advice for applying those rules? Rob feels its largely the latter, though there's still the question of whether the "Betraying" Trust option needs to be pumped up a bit.

Quote from: Jere
Be all there Chris if thats what the game did. But it doesn't. Instead what you get is lots of little pointless fights that don't further the fates much and that death comes after a long-drawn out series of meaningless fights.

The issue here is that the GM can't advance anyone's Fate. He doesn't have the power. All he can do is throw fights. Only the players can advance their Fate. If they want a battle to further their Fate, they need to create a fight that furthers their Fate. They need to create some scene or NPC, or whatever that the GM can work with. It's sorta like: There's going to be a some fight/scene/conflict regardless - either it can be some pointless thing that the GM makes up, or the players can make up a scene/fight/conflict that matters to their Fate. The players make the choice.

Chris: Thanks for that post! I think it was on topic.
___________

Thanks y'all!
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jeffwik
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« Reply #27 on: November 17, 2004, 04:00:14 PM »

A little bit of math that I don't think's been pointed out.

I'm a trio of cooperating bad guys.  I roll a 3d6 on my side of the conflict and take the higher die.  This results in an average of 4.95.

You're a pair of cooperating samurai, each of whom has a Trust of the other at 1, or possibly higher than one, but you've spent some Trust already getting to where you are.  The first two rounds you'll be able to trust each other, getting an average of 7, but on subsequent rounds you'll only get an average of 4.47, since you're cooperating.

On those first two rounds, on average, you'll defeat me with a margin of 2.  I admit I never actually saw the rules of the game, but I got the impression that a margin of 2 was a pretty trivial, inconclusive victory.  Afterwards you'll be out of Trust and I'll be likely to beat you, again lightly and slowly and death-of-paper-cutsy, but regardless the situation is unlikely to resolve itself quickly.

Even if there's only two of me, your margin of victory in those first two rounds is only going to be 2.5 on average -- again, I don't know exactly how much of a difference this makes, but I don't think it's much.  Based on playing it, I think the system works well when it's one samurai against one foe, or two samurai against one foe, or three samurai against two foes, but when samurai are outnumbered fights drag on and on.


On reflection, what I would suggest to solve this is a page from Exalted: their rules for army combat are abstracted duels between the armies' commanders, with the massed troops treated exactly like weapons and armor.  That is, I'd rule that "two bad guys" or "six wolves" or "eighty-eight crazy guys in Kato masks" are treated the same way as a single, powerful opponent, and fights be resolved as if they were one-on-one as much as possible.  This privileges the PCs, since they can cooperate and tengu can't, but hey, that's fine with me.




Also I don't think there's enough incentive to betray, but I don't have any numbers to support me there, and others have argued that more persuasively than I could, so, there you go.
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timfire
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« Reply #28 on: November 18, 2004, 06:15:04 AM »

Hi Jeff, thanks for doing that math! The only caveat I would add is that a degree of success of 2 is a Mixed Success. In this case, given that the tengu in your example are weak, a mixed success would mean that one of tengu are killed, but a samurai would take a flesh wound. So, using your numbers, this is how the fight would play out:

The first roll the 2 samurai would win by a margin of two. One tengu is killed, but one of the samurai would take a -1 on their next roll.

Next, I'm not sure the math, but let'a call it a wash. So again the samurai win with a mixed success. Again a tengu is killed but a samurai takes a -1 on their next roll.

So, third round comes. There's one tengu, and one samurai has a -1 (only for one roll). The samurai have the advantage (like, 4.47 vs. 3.5) but it might take a couple rounds to finish the tengu off.
__________
Anyway, so I did some math myself. The first number is the chance of completely taking someone out (Double Success), the second is the chance of gettting at least a clean, Regular Success.

By yourself: 2.8% / 16.7%

With 1 person Aiding you: 37.5 / 62.5

Betraying (+3): 27.8 / 58.3
Betraying (+4): 41.7 / 72.2
Betraying (+5): 58.3 / 83.3
Betraying (+6): 72.2 / 91.6

So, you can see, a Betraying bonus +4 is more effective than than having one person Aid you. And like I said earlier, you can have Trust: 4 by the 2nd or 3rd scene, depending upon your zodiac. I think Trust: 5 is real break point, since with a +5, you will get taken out the majority of the time.

I also wanted to point out that when people are considering the strength of the Betraying option, they shouldn't overlook the simple Regular Success. Somtimes, there are worse things you can do than just injure someone. And if all you need is a Regular Success, Betraying has a big effect.

[edit] Almost forgot - the idea about treating a group of enemies as a single opponent (which is similiar to what Rob was suggesting, I think) isn't a bad idea. I don't think it should always be that way, but I might throw it in as an optional rule. I think it might help in certain situations. [/edit]
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--Timothy Walters Kleinert
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