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[Black Cadillacs] - The final push

Started by Darcy Burgess, August 31, 2009, 10:44:17 PM

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Darcy Burgess

I had two fruitful playtests of Black Cadillacs at GenCon '09.  The first was an after-hours affair with Me, Julie, Matt, Ron and Tony.  The Troopers were Israeli Tankers invading Lebanon.  Ron played the Foe. The second playtest was loosely scheduled through Games on Demand; Gary, John and Russ played the Troopers and I played the Foe.  In this case, the Troopers were American/UN peacekeepers in Bosnia.

I won't dive into the nitty-gritty of the playtests in this post -- but I do want to focus on a couple of rules changes that came out of them.  I also want to bounce ideas around regarding a conundrum I find myself in.

If you'll bear with me, I'll bounce back and forth through the structure of play a bit -- we'll start at the end of a session, bounce to the beginning and then slingshot back to the end again.

The First Change
In the GenCon (Ashcan) rules, players accumulated cards during scene-to-scene play.  These cards were parsed during an endgame phase to determine the answers to three consequential questions: Who lives?  Who distinguishes himself?  Who gets out?

I'm dropping the cards for a wide variety of reasons.  For the purposes of this post, there's only one relevant one; I want a stronger tie between the endgame consequences and the scene-to-scene play.

Here's how it will work now.  I'm now using the Troopers' stats to affect the endgame.  Want to survive?  Better have more Valour than Hubris.  Want to get that big fat promotion?  Keep your Valour above your Horror.  Want to get the hell out of this god-awful shitty mess?  Make sure that your Horror and your Hubris outstrip your Valour.

In stead of looking at cards, I'll be using an existing die mechanic (it's basically the conflict resolution system) in combination with the stats to answer those three questions.

The new mantra: Cards out.  Dice in.

The Second Change
This one really flows quite naturally from the first change.  Early on in each session, the table generates six "Mission Parameters" -- they're basically boots-on-the-ground situation elements; stuff the Troopers would care about during their day-to-day.  Their primary purpose is to provide energy and creative grist for the millstone of play.

The Mission Parameters used to be generated with a trick-taking card game.  This was, of course, because cards used to be in the toolbox!  Switching to dice here was an easy fix.  Basically, players now dice-off to see who asks and answers the questions that generate the Mission Parameters.  It looks a lot like a trick-taking card game, except that it's played with dice.  It's got rules for who asks, who answers, who wins the current trick and who leads the next trick.

The Conundrum
Change one and change two are obviously inbred.  The conundrum is part of the same backwoods bloodline.

As a lead-in to the big consequential questions of Endgame, there's currently a trick-taking card game (much like the now-defunct Mission Generation card game) that wraps up hanging issues from the scene-to-scene play1.  Let's call this the wrap-up game.

Normally, shitcanning the wrap-up game and replacing it with a dice game (just like change #2) would be a no-brainer.  However, there's a catch.  The wrap-up game alters the composition of your hand of cards, paring it down; it can throw your carefully crafted plan for your character's survival out the window!  Just dicing off won't do that.

I want to keep the tension that the cards engendered in the wrap-up card game.  I can't see my way clear to keeping the cards out of the game and keeping that nice tension between fictional control and character-centered consequence.  So, um, help.

I also realize that for folks who don't own the ashcan edition I probably haven't given enough context to let you help out.  Rather than flail around, I'm going to make a suggestion.  If you want to help me figure this out, ask me some targeted questions that will give you the context you need.  If you do own the ashcan, you should be ready to just dive on in.


1. Hanging issues -- WTF?  These happen because the game is played to a strict time limit. One of the ways that endgame gets triggered is when the real-world time runs out.
Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.

Ron Edwards

Hi Darcy,

I'll contribute a more detailed writeup of our game, and work through some of your ideas and options too. Coming soon.

Best, Ron

Paul Czege


Quote from: Darcy Burgess on August 31, 2009, 10:44:17 PMNormally, shitcanning the wrap-up game and replacing it with a dice game (just like change #2) would be a no-brainer.  However, there's a catch.  The wrap-up game alters the composition of your hand of cards, paring it down; it can throw your carefully crafted plan for your character's survival out the window!  Just dicing off won't do that.

I'm not convinced you can't create a dice game that does exactly what you need it to do.

My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans

Darcy Burgess

Hey Paul,

I'm not convinced of it either; I've got a proto-idea, right on the tip of my brain.  It's teasing me.  It's like it's someone hiding from me in a big ol' house, and there's a keystone kops routine going on all around us.

I've got to cut through the chaff and find the idea.  I usually accomplish this by talking stuff out.  I'm hoping that the slower pace of forum-speak will help.

One of the things that keeps popping into my head, but not in a helpful fashion, is the notion of intercutting the "tricks" in the dice game with something else.  Maybe the choices you make on a given trick affect something else.  But then, there's this voice that keeps poo-pooing the idea, saying "too complicated! boo!"

Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.

Paul Czege

My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans


I have no mechanical advice to offer on dice versus cards. I liked having cards, for no other reason than I have a strong association of soldiers (and ex-soldiers) sitting around playing cards.


Ron Edwards

So, it was me, Julie Stauffer, Tony Dowler, Matt Weber, and of course Darcy. I am currently far too wrapped up in the details of every invasion of and raid upon Lebanon over the past forty years, so it's pretty much a given that I'd pick this event. People had to rein me in from geeking out about it, when I thought I was merely clarifying and explaining ... Anyway, I also borrowed strongly from the film Waltz with Bashir, partly because I didn't think some of the other stuff I know about that invasion (including a lot of Israeli journalism and soldier testimony) would be credible at the table. It was very helpful that Matt was savvy about lots of Israeli cultural context too.

Play itself is based on a cycle of spoken information about the war: first a round of rumors, then at the very end of the mission, statements about what happened. These are often which are quite often lies or mis-rememberings which would be called lies except that the character speaking probably really means it, and they become the starting "rumors" for the next mission. Ideally the group should play several missions, generating several rounds of these statements as a kind of evolving "talk" the soldiers internalize. The overall implication is that the accumulated and statements literally become the oral legacy of the war and, collectively, quite likely a dominant narrative, either culturally/overall or perhaps to the children of the soldiers.

A given mission is composed of several scenes and embedded, emergent conflicts within them. A scene is basically begun with a slightly constructed input among everyone, in which the Foe gets to contribute a lot; then, once a collective goal for the soldiers is started, it shifts to a round-robin with the Foe as a sequential contributor on a par with a single player, and a dice match. Um, I'll try to clarify that with an example in a minute.

Our starting rumors included: "We roll out in an hour," "Etan is most terrrified," "If we have to do any fighting, we're not adequately supplied," "Our commanding officer is a raving Likudnik," "We've known each other since boot camp," "The opposition is brave but no match for us." On reflection, at least one of these doesn't seem like rumors but more like framing statements of fact. Darcy, what's the word on that?

The first scene concerned their first engagement, a tank assault upon a shoreline stronghold (this was based on a scene from Waltz with Bashir). It went quite badly for the attackers, as well as for some local villagers, and the tank crew was badly traumatized by things like being soaked in their officer's blood, or with glass and flame spewing in through the viewing slits. One of the best bits in this sequence was that Etan, although scared silly, ended up being the one to keep things under control and to get the tank out of there safely. This motif was to persist throughout.

The second scene concerned a full-scale ground and air assault on a former Crusader fort used by PLO troops (this was based on the account in Israel's Lebanon War by Ze'ev Schiff and Ehud Ya'ari). In military terms the attack went quite well, but our tank found itself out of formation and pinned down. Tony discovered that taking a precious narration to establish that the military objective succeeds is actually totally irrelevant, compared to, for instance, Matt narrating that his character found his helmet and put it on.

The third scene was set a little while later, after the invasion of the South was established and the troops were carrying out patrols. They were caught in an orchard by boys wielding RPGs, destroying the tank (this was based partly on a scene from Waltz with Bashir as well as my readings about the revolt in the South against all invaders; see Thomas Friedman's From Beirut to Jerusalem for a slightly skewed but useful summary). This sequence was pretty harrowing for everyone, especially when Julie had her character execute one of the kids.

All right, now to return to that point I was fumbling over earlier. The foundation observation is that scene and conflict construction are fabulous. The details and events of the scene are built collectively, bit by bit, with anyone talking as long as no one goes twice in a row. What that means is that the Foe can contribute every other "talk," which is a lot, and can do pretty much as he or she pleases as long as it doesn't kill crew members. No dice or other resolution methods are used at this point. That changes when the players collectively agree on a shared goal - at which point play shifts into conflict resolution, which is a dice match-off through some stages that go back and forth in terms of momentary in-fiction advantage. The big difference is that talking becomes a round-robin, meaning that the Foe is now one among many with the speaking privileges of only one participant.

The cool thing is how organically and enjoyably the scene comes into focus, and how well the conflict-creation suits the subject. It's quite fun to play that transition as the Foe, because before the conflict is named, the Foe "outnumbers" everyone else if they let him, and after that, the focus shifts much more solidly onto spotlighting the characters.

The third scene especially demonstrated the power of the Foe if the players can't get their shit together about a collective goal fast enough. If I'm not mistaken, the players were quite shocked to see their precious tank get waxed that easily. I got to it before they stated their conflict, you see, unlike the second scene in which saving the tank was the conflict.

That second scene featured another interesting point: that losing the conflict isn't actually "losing," except insofar as the soldiers fail badly at whatever they were trying to do right then. It doesn't mean the overall operation goes badly; similarly, narrating stuff which helps the actual war effort doesn't have any meaningful effect in the larger picture. If that's the case, then what's the point? The point concerns the scene's mechanical impact on the fates of the soldiers relative to the mission, afterwards.

The mechanics for arriving at the fates of the soldiers are currently being redeveloped, so I won't go into them here except to say that the Foe was very badly under-powered in the card mechanics (i.e. the soldiers got softballed). On the other hand, I really liked the context of the fates, which was basically dealing with the brass wanting to spin the events positively and most of the team being happy to comply with very whitewashed reports. Appropriately, Matt's character Etan turned out to be the only one to act in any sort of heroic fashion, and since he tried to blow the whistle on the deception, he's the one who got cashiered out in disgrace. The rest were sent north to participate in Operation Iron Brain, the siege of Beirut, as Operations Big Pines and Iron Fist were complete (see what I mean about "Ron the War Geek," at least in this case).

We came up with new statements which pretty much summed up the various soldiers' needs to spin the events positively, not only for tactical but (more importantly) psychological reasons. I don't have them on a list, unfortunately. I think Darcy was a little surprised by my contribution, which is, "I don't remember." It strikes me as fitting very well into the web formed by the other statements that came up.

We did some major debriefing after the game, and I think we caught it in a classic late-phase "design dip" like I saw with Grey Ranks and have seen in a number of other games. And then Luke and I stayed up way late with Darcy after that, going over major reward-mechanics and cycles talk, and then, Darcy and I discussed it all yet more over breakfast. I can't face recapitulating all of that here, and since Darcy's moved on past it, there isn't much point in dwelling on the details. But I do want to make a more basic point which might be helpful for the current question.

I see it a lot. The designer has a nigh-arresting case of Narrativism but badly wants his generally-Gamist friends to play the game and "become" Narrativists by hook and crook, so he keeps shoveling on, or retaining, features that are supposed to attract those friends. Another manifestation is the designer being so jazzed about one of these little strategic details that he can't see that the (Narrativist) players, rightly, have divined that it's trivial (or in this case, rightly perceived it as a framing feature rather than an advantage) and using it as such, without caring about winning it. So the designer gets trapped in wondering which mechanics are or aren't important, and often tries to solve it by creating "breadcrumbs," yet more mechanics which are supposed to incentivize certain kinds of input (e.g. "get a bonus die for bringing in a previously-established detail," and stuff like that). Breadcrumbs, unfortunately, solve nothing, and add layers of annoying monitoring to track and reward stuff that players are doing anyway.

Seth's doing this with Showdown even as we speak, too.

So what I'm saying, Darcy, is that the issue isn't cards vs. no cards, or anything like that. The issue is whether the mechanics of play (gain a point, redraw a card, whatever) really feed into either further relevant decisions in this scene or mission, and/or into eventual consequences after a mission ... along the lines of your Creative Agenda. This project is raving freaky naked Narrativism - that doesn't mean that strategic and mechanical decisions can't be involved, because of course they can, but it means that what they result in should be fun in thematically consequential terms. Keep the cards in some fashion if you want, as long as you make them do that.

I greatly support your decision about the scores, not because it eliminates the chips, but because it demonstrates the kind of "along the lines" that I'm talking about.

Best, Ron

P.S. I'm interested in learning about the other GenCon playtest too.

Darcy Burgess


I hate to do a drive-by shooting on my own thread, but I don't have a choice right now.  I'll be back with more in-depth answers ASAP.

Paul -- no, I've never played Farkle, although I've downloaded the rules from BoardgameGeek and will try to give it a whirl.  Thanks for the tip.

Julie -- oh, gods.  I know what you mean.  I wish that the cards weren't the thing that was on the chopping block, but there it is.  It sucks for the very reason you mention.

Ron -- lots to think on here, so I'm going to take the time to do it.  However, I do have a handful of clarifications:

  • If "We've known each other since boot camp" was indeed a rumour (as opposed to a Mission Element generated via the collective Trick-Taking Card game), then it probably wasn't legit.  I can't see how that would ever be a rumour, can you?.
  • I believe that it was my trooper, not Matt's, that was scrabbling for his helmet in the second scene.
  • Your assessment of my surprise at "I don't remember" is fair.  However, to open the hood on my own brain, I was taken aback not because I thought that it was an inappropriate "Story", but rather because I thought that you were speaking as Ron, at a metagame level (as in, "Oh shit, I don't remember what I was going to use as the basis for my Story".)
  • I have a ton to say about your paragraph leading up to Breadcrumbs, but I'm going to hold off.  Some of your foundational arguments don't seem to fit my specific situation, but more on that later.
  • The chips aren't going.  Just the cards.

Thanks guys, I'll be back as soon as life permits.
Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.

Paul Czege

Hey Darcy,

Quote from: Darcy Burgess on September 02, 2009, 02:38:48 PM
Paul -- no, I've never played Farkle, although I've downloaded the rules from BoardgameGeek and will try to give it a whirl.  Thanks for the tip.

Play it with the family. It's a pretty quick game, and has some interesting emergent properties. You play ten rounds. Whoever has the most points at the end, wins. But with multiple players taking turns in each individual round, if you compare points accrued it's a lot like a round in trick-taking game.

My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans

Ron Edwards

Hi Darcy,

You don't have to explain to me what does or doesn't fit, from my post. It's only there for you to assess and see if it does fit, to any extent. Whatever doesn't work, please ignore.

Best, Ron

Adam Riemenschneider

Hello Darcy,

I was going to email this, but decided that posting it in the thread instead might help bear more creative fruit.

First thing I'd like to mention is that there's really no reason you can't use cards in some fashion in place of dice. If you like the notion of cards in the player's hands (if only because it lends to the nature of the game), then by all means use cards as your randomizer, instead of dice.

I'm sure we can figure out a card mechanic if you'd like to do that.

Now, I have a fundamental question for you that will shape the part of the discussion I'd like to add to. The question is this: What is the intended role of the Foe? Does the Foe player want to accomplish the death of the players? If yes, is that his only goal? Or is the Foe player simply there to supply the necessary driving force of conflict, which the players must face?

The reason I ask this is because it shapes what the Foe is supposed to try to do with the outcome of the dice off. Narrate or place Token? What does the placement of the Token mean to the Foe?

As of now, the end-game Token situation is listed as this:
Valor > Hubris: Survive
Valor > Horror: Get promotion
Both Horror and Hubris > Valor: Get out

Now, I'd like to take a minute to discuss your three Stats: Valor, Hubris, and Horror. As we discussed at Con, to me, the only one of those three that sounds, er, positive, is Valor. In war, we collectively honor the brave. We pin medals on the brave, even if they are dead. Soldiers will tell stories about the brave gunner who came to their rescue, years after the fact. Valor is the closest thing a soldier has to immortality when it comes to living on after he is dead (or goes home).

Hubris sounds like something negative, like a trait you don't want your commander to have, as it will get you killed. If you have too much Hubris in a battlezone, you will do stupid shit that will expose your troop to danger.

And Horror sounds like something that will result in lifelong trauma for the soldier, presuming he is able to keep his head in the face of said Horror long enough to survive the firefight that created the Horror in the first place. Horror freezes a soldier, or sends him into a frenzy. Horror is the source of wounds that a soldier will bear into his grey years.

My next question is: Why did you wed Valor, Horror, and Hubris to the end-game outcomes that you did? Is this a purposeful statement of: the brave (Valor) survive war, those who keep their head (Valor) in the face danger (Horror) advance in promotion, and the cowards (low Valor, compared to...), the broken (Horror), and the stupidly proud (Hubris) get to go home?

I have an idea that I would like to propose, which we touched on in conversation. I probably shouldn't... it's not my game to rewrite, but it's just an idea I want to share. I mean all the best by this.

It's two-fold. First, you add three traits: Death, Life, and Home, and you would remove Hubris (I'll explain the removal of Hubris below). Second, you add a mechanism that allows for the spending of Trait Tokens (by both the player and the Foe) during the course of the game. Here's how I envision it working.

The only traits the player actually wants are Valor, Life, and Home. The Foe wants to hammer the player with Horror and Death.

During a challenge, the Player can spend a point of previously earned Valor, Life, or Home to get a positive modifier on the challenge. The Foe can do the same with the Player's Horror or Death, to get a modifier against the Player.

I like this in-game use of the Traits, in that they become something you have to pay attention to more during play, instead of them just coming in during end-game. They become not only a way to keep "score" (end-game), but they become resources to manage (your Gamist buddies will like this). It also kinda works to help frame the narrative if they are used...

"You spent a Valor and you won the challenge? Okay. Yeah. So, the bullets are zipping past your head, and you take a deep breath and push yourself up out of the disabled tank, your sidearm going 'tak, tak, tak.'..."


"The Foe burned a point of your Horror, and you ended up losing the challenge? Okay. Yeah. So, you draw your sidearm and look out of the hatch... and there's Harris. Or what's left of Harris. A man shouldn't be able to be broken open that way. You freeze in place, and sounds you can't understand tumble out of your mouth..."

Also, and I think this is very important... as a Player, you can spend your Tokens this way (just your Life, Home, and Valor) in order to help a fellow Player (though only if your declaration is to assist them in some direct way).

If you are declaring that you are rushing the enemy line, providing cover fire so your buddy can get to safety, and your buddy is declaring that he is running to safety, you can, say, spend a Valor (or Home or Life) Token to help your buddy's roll. I think this element of sacrifice is vital to include, mechanically, in some way in your game.

This gets a little more abstract if you are spending your Home or Life instead of Valor, or the Foe is spending your Death, as essentially these are matters of fate. But there you go.

Now, winning a challenge is very, very important. You don't want to give the Foe the choice of placement, unless you really, really need to own the narration.

If you lose the challenge as a Player, the Token will go into your Death or Horror pile.
If you win the challenge as a Player, the Token will go into your Life, Home, or Valor pile.

As we will see below in end-game, the Trait scores directly determine the outcome of your character's life, so owning placement is very, very important. If the Foe wins the challenge against you, and really wants to make sure you die in the end, he will want to own placement so he can place in your Death pile. If he really needs to own narration, however, he can give you placement (into either Death or Horror), and you will have to chose which of these "negative" piles you will place into.

For end-game.

We match...

Life to Death
Valor to Horror
Home to Death and Horror

If Life is lower than Death, the Player dies.

If Valor is lower than Horror, the Player goes home, but as a beaten, broken, shell of a man, who will effectively "die" back home from the psychological wounds he suffered in the war (from drug addiction, insanity, etc).

If Home is higher than both Death and Horror (individually compared... not Death + Horror), the Player gets to go Home, having survived the war more-or-less in once piece.

And that's it. If you didn't end up going Home, you remain in the war for next session with the same character... with the same Trait layout carried over from the previous session!

You'll notice that I didn't include any form of promotion in the end-game outcomes. The reason is that I don't see the game as being about getting a promotion in any real way. Having a higher ranked soldier doesn't matter. You are still exposed to the same brutal mechanics. You don't get any advantage for it. So I say simply drop it as an end-game outcome.

Now, Hubris.

In this treatment, I removed Hubris. Part of the reason is, well, with this layout we've already got 5 Traits for each Player. 5 is something that can be managed (and, to me, is necessary to cleanly answer the questions of who lives and who dies, who cracks, and who gets to go home "alive"). But 6 is getting a little out of hand, and, well, if it isn't there to answer one of the fundamental questions, then it doesn't need to be there.

Also, it seems out of place to me in general, even if just compared to your initial Trait layout of Valor, Horror, and Hubris. Maybe in more of an "officer's game," with the play being more about officers who are vying for promotion at the cost (tension) of sacrificing the lives of their men. But in a "grunt's war," it doesn't seem to hold.

You are playing soldiers. You are constantly getting your asses kicked. Your lives are on the line. Where is the Hubris? I don't see it, frankly. I much more cleanly see the tension between bravery and terror, between life and death. Between who burns their own chance to get home in order to save their buddies, and who just can't bear to expose themselves in this way to the game's brutal end-game and selfishly holds on to their Life or Home Tokens.

So, yeah. This is my suggestion. I apologize for essentially crossing the line into the "Here's what I'd do" territory. I truly mean all the best in this. Darcy, I think the overall game idea is fantastic, and I honestly feel moved to want to help it get finished in any way I can... even if it means I end up a little presumptuous and/or forward in this rather long post.

All the best, and keep me updated...

Creator and Publisher of Other Court Games.


What's odd about this is the fact that a character will never die unless the players want him to; players will just spend their Hubris/Horror chips. This would also seem to invalidate the cost of memories as spending more isn't a problem but actually helpful.  This seems like much of the tension of the questions would be lost.

What I liked about the card game at the end was the unpredictability.  I had no idea what the other players had.  I do agree though that the conflict resolution didn't feel strongly tied to the end-game which may or may not be a problem.

Oh, and one more very important thing.  Do NOT get rid of the Death Die.  Please.  It rocks.

You can call me Charles

Darcy Burgess

Hey again,

Ok, shit, this sucks.  I simply can't talk about everything that everyone's brought up.  On top of that, my crappy articulation strikes again, and it's getting in the way of productive discussion.

Guys, I'm going to ask you to hold off on posting to this thread for a few days and let me get an actual draft of the revised rules up here.  I can't continue this discussion without them as a shared reference.

I assume the risk of losing your obvious enthusiasm for the subject as penalty for jumping in without all my ducks in a row.

Before I mix another metaphor,
Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.

Darcy Burgess


Phew.  Things settled down more quickly than I expected.  Here's a better description of the new rules leading into my original quandry.  This document is an attempt at better synthesizing the rules changes that were bouncing around in my head when I made the opening post.  Item 14 is the only one that I've added since I started this thread; it's just just a crossed tee (or dotted aye).

Here's my plan for moving forwards: I'm going to work backwards.  As luck would have it, Charles' points are easiest to address, so I'll do them first.  Adam, you're next.  Ron, Julie and Paul?  Back of the line.  The upside of being last into the nightclub is that the party better be really fucking kicking when you step in.  Everyone: please, jump back into the thread at any point (or jump in for the first time), but try not to "intuit" what I'm going to say next.  Let me get there.

So Charles, there's a couple of mechanical changes that obviate your concerns.  First, Memories are now free -- so you can't just use Horror and Hubris as a slush fund for buying them.  The other one is that the equations are not in and of themselves deterministic: they influence a fortune resolution.  No one should know their fate going into Endgame.  However, as with previous iterations of the game, I want people to anticipate the severity of their fates, which is why we see the Foe accruing Consequence.

The meaningful, consequential ties between the Endgame and Scene-to-scene play exists only at the level of the shared imagined space.  As a for instance, look at the snippets regarding Etan (Matt Weber's Trooper) in Ron's writeup: he's terrified, and time and again, he pulls his shit together to get the job done.  In the end, he's disgraced for doing the right thing.

The endgame mechanics exist to put interesting spins on things when we talk about "how stuff turned out".  The spin should be unexpected sometimes (I think that it's fair to say that it was in Etan's case), but believable all of the time.  The need for a mechanical tie between Scene-to-scene play and Endgame enters here.  If the severity of the Endgame consequences grow out of the scene-to-scene play, then there's no disconnect between the fictional components.

What I'm not underscoring heavily enough is that I want players to see fate looming like a big fucking shadow, but never know when or if it's going to land on a given Trooper.

Axe the death die?  You come hunt me down in the street if I do that, ok?

Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.

Darcy Burgess

Hey again!

I've tried three or four different times to respond to  Adam's post (as per my plan! precious plan!), and it just hasn't worked out.

Here's the new attempt, and what I want to talk about.

  • What does the Foe do, anyway?
  • What the stats do.
  • What the 3 questions do.
  • Hubris.

To dig into the Foe's role, I'm going to scratch the surface of the other playtest at GC'09.  I'll compare and contrast that game with the one that Ron wrote about.

The Context
During the Bosnia/Peacekeeping game, the basic situation was that the Troopers were part of a larger force tasked with securing a safe zone -- a place where refugees could flee, the red cross could use as a base of operations or planes could land and deliver supplies.  I elected to open the first scene soft.  In terms of delivering unrelenting misery, I didn't flex the Foe's full authority out of the gate.  Instead, I chose to frame a quiet scene in the barracks as a kind of bait-and-switch.  My plan was to get the Allies into an exploratory mode of play and then hammer them from their blindside.

Of course (and I only say "of course" because repeated play should have taught me this), they beat me to the punch.  We got a little bit of character exploration and then the Allies stepped it up a notch.  When Ron talks upthread about conflicts evolving and emerging organically out of free play, he's not kidding.  It happens all the time (as an aside, it's never the kind of emergent behaviour born out of boredome or disconnection -- the "All this chitchat is stupid. Fuck it! I kill the nearest gobbo!" kind).

The point is this: within a few speaking rounds, the bullets were flying and the compound was under attack.  The conflict went very badly for the Troopers, and after causing as much mayhem as possible, the belligerents dissappeared as suddenly as they appeared.  The upshot was that in the next scene, the Troopers were on a scouting patrol, trying to locate the insurgents.

They tracked one of the gunmen to a farmhouse.  A pretty intense scene evolved in which we discovered that their "man" was in fact a kid and that they either had to scrub the mission (let him go) or risk a whole mess of collateral damage.

Somewhere in the combat-fueled craziness of this scene, one of the players had an incredibly intense, emotional response to the content of play.  For me, his sincerity and obvious distress stopped play cold; I knew that the game had just entered another realm.  I was lost.  I didn't know how to proceed.  We took a little 5-minute water break and reconvened.

That's when I made a horrible mistake.

I decided to softball the Troopers.  I paid the players the disservice of confusing my respect and care for them as real-world people with empathy for the Troopers.  I no longer hammered them whenever I could.  I cut them slack in Endgame.  I actively wanted the same happy ending that they did.

In short, I cheated them.

The Foe
So, Adam, you ask what the Foe's job is.  Bluntly, it's to hit the Troopers repeatedly and hard.  I don't think of it as supplying a driving force for conflict (play has proven that conflicts will emerge without overt prompting).  The Foe exists to visit misery and butchery on the Troopers.  As Steve Collins puts it, "I'm the Foe, and I exist only to hurt you."

You're absolutely right, Adam -- the Foe's role does inform her choice to narrate or place chips.  However, it's not about giving up one to do the other.  Rather, it's about which tool at that particular moment lets you hammer them best.

One of the things that was abundantly clear from our game with Ron was that given his particular knowledge and skills, he always (if not always, almost always) chose to narrate after winning a go.  For Ron, that narrative authority was the tool for the job.

I think a lot of Allies expect that the Foe will always choose the chip placement (because it's tied directly to mechanical effectiveness), and therefore treat it as the "stronger" option.  I mention this to illustrate the other end of the spectrum.  You can in fact hammer the Allies at the nuts'n'bolts dice level.

I tend to mix things up.  If I have something I want to say, then I choose to narrate.  Sometimes, I go for the chip -- but only because it allows me to set up more misery!

The Stats & The Questions
The biggest role of the stats is to constrain the content of the fiction.  "Shit.  You put chips in Horror.  Hmm...ok, the bullets whiz past my cheek and behind me Miller drops without a word."

What I'm trying to do with this last set of changes is to more clearly establish a tension between the content of scene-to-scene play (which includes all the fiction stuff, as well as mechanics and choices) and the consequences of Endgame.  I've chosen to use the paper stats as well as the Foe's pool of Consequence as the tie between the two halves of play.  In the edition played at GenCon, the causal link was a hand of cards (which was tied to "performance" during conflict, but not much else).  To me, the cards acted like a gauzy sheer on a window -- you could see the stuff on the other side, sort of.  The intention with the new rule is to rip the sheers down and throw a brick through the window.

This leads to why I chose the specific combination of variables for the endgame questions.  Your interpretation is valid if you look at each question individually.  However, if you look at the three together, something else is at work.  The valourous are respected.  The valourous survive.  The really valourous don't go home.  Take that in the context of the Foe's role, and something else floats to the surface: valour is going back into that trench day, after day, after oh-fuck-kill-me-now day.  The system asks us to pile ten kinds of crap on these characters and never let them out.  (I'm talking in absolutes, but in reality, there's fortune in the mix.)

Initially (waaaaaay back when), Hubris went into the game based on a gut instinct.

Here's the thing that the very first playtest taught me, and has only become stronger for me the more I play Black Caddies:

In a game that's all about what did and did not happen, and every other heart-gnawing ambiguity about "over there", I love that the only thing separating Valour from Hubris is who's telling the story.

Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.