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[S/lay w/ Me] The Cowboy and The Clockwork Hacker

Started by jburneko, March 29, 2010, 07:41:53 PM

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So I had the opportunity to play S/lay w/ Me.  For a while I had been trying to convince Laura to the play the game with me but she found the art to be a big eye-rolling turn off.  She's a big Final Fantasy fan and I tried to explain to her that we could play it with Final Fantasy level imagery no problem but she baulked at the idea.  This will become more relevant later.  For now, just keep in the back of your mind.

So Laura, Will and I recently added a new player to our Saturday/APAP crew for playing Grey Ranks.  His name is Sayler Van Merlin.  We've played with him off and on for a couple years of at the local con and I've been running a PtA game for some of his regulars on Wednesday nights.

So Sayler comes over to play Grey Ranks and he comes across my copy of S/lay w/ Me.  His reaction is overwhelming.  He starts getting really excited by just the pure presentation of the thing; not only the art but the lyrical quality of the text.  On his second visit he actually sat there and read the whole thing cover to cover and said things like, "Man, this is what role-playing SHOULD be."  So, I asked him to come over and play it.

And we did.  And it was rad.

But!  We basically throw all the art in the book out the window. 

This started with Sayler picking the "hunted outlaw" character option and proceeding to describe a cowboy like figure.  His goal was to get his soul back that was stored in a carpet bag.  He then picked the "Ruin of the Lunar Citadel" location.  This caused me to create the Lover as hoop-skirted madam of an alien brothel and the monster as a skeletal card shark who gambled for men's souls.  This is to say nothing of the cyborg Sheriff named Michael who followed orders from Judge Gabriel.

From the story line that ensued you'd think we were playing The Drifter's Escape.  In the end he got his soul back, rescued the man who took it from it, befriended the Sherriff, killed the judge, freed all the souls the card shark had ever taken and married the Madam (all though he left town with her).

So we took a break and switched roles.  I picked "an escaped apprentice with a weapon of his own invention" and "the place where the clockwork war rages still."  My goal was "to kill the watchmaker."  I described my character as wearing all black with mirror shades (a visual archetype I usually abhor but couldn't get it out of my head).  He also carried a box with him that Sayler and I both pegged as being like the one from Hellraiser.  In particular I kept describing my character as rotating the box to various sides and pressing buttons on it for various effects.  It acted as a disintegration ray, a spider like drone, a flying beacon, a ticker-tape like communication device, and ultimately digitized and imprisoned the "monster" who was the overseer of a vast industrial labor force.

Sayler set up the location as being sort of like the industrial revolution meets Brazil.  The Lover was the consciousness of the watchmaker's dead daughter stored in an android body.  While I ended up having sex with her I ultimately decided to destroy her physical form so that she didn't have to pretend to be real.  I captured the overseer in my box and I managed to kill the watchmaker who Sayler introduced as my former master.  So when I killed him I declared that I was now the head of "New Hope" Industries.

We both really enjoyed the game A LOT.  But we both re-marked on how we completely abandoned the color suggested by the imagery in the book.  Our game was pure phantasmagoric fantasy but wholly on our own aesthetic terms.  In fact, Laura joined us later and Sayler said this to her, "If anyone had been watching the game there's no way they wouldn't insist on playing themselves."  We then also proceeded to describe the content of our game to her and she said, "Well, that gives me hope then" as she seemed genuinely engaged with OUR aesthetic material.

It was at that point that we all agreed that the art kind of does the game a bit of a disservice.  I know that in many ways the art is Ron's expression of his love for 1970s fantasy (I've read Naked Went the Gamer) but the game itself can be so much broader than that.  What you have a Hero with a Goal, A Temptation and a Threat.  Those elements can be remixed in SO MANY ways than just succubuses and broad swords.


Savage Slacker

 Great report, Jesse. I played in that game and I couldn't help adding a few thoughts...

I have to say that the art did draw me in and I would hate to lose it in favor of, say FF-style art or anything more generic(though I love that, too), but the point remains that everyone should be playing this game and I'd hate to lose those that might be turned off by the art. Maybe there could be alternate art versions of the book?

Also, I didn't set out to bend genres in this game. It was just hard to forget the good times myself and some friends had singing 'Wanted Dead or Alive' at karaoke a few nights back...

  Ultimately, I'm glad it turned out the way it did. Maybe we can broaden the appeal of this game without losing its tight focus.

Ron Edwards


Pulp is pulp! There's no reason for my approval to matter, but for purposes of pure cheerleading, what you did is wonderful.

I do recommend playing with the book's own color/imagery, if you find it inspiring - which, apparently, you did, Sayler. I'm not sure what to make of all this talk about Laura, because here are two people (you and Sayler) who purport to be inspired by the book as is, so never mind what she thinks. And yet it wasn't her playing, it was you, and there's still this talk about "disservice to the game" and similar. I dunno - there's some kind of cognitive dissonance in what I'm reading, especially you, Jesse.

In order to place my second and third paragraphs in the right context, please consult the first paragraph again. I'm not talking what I think you should have done; what you did was great.

Best, Ron



The cognitive dissonance is because I was posting as two people.

Me as Guy Who Played Your Game - It rocked!  Look at this awesome crazy weird thing we made.  No approval sought or required.

Me as Fan Who Is Interested in Spreading Exposure For This Game - There are people who I know if I could corner and get to play the game would really love it but who are turned off by the base presentation which does not accurately reflect the RANGE of possible play.

One is an enthused fan AP post.  The other is a statement about marketing which might belong in the Publishing forum.

Also, in some sense, I was also responding to Willow's comments here:  She seemed similarly turned off by the art.  To which I say: Ignore the art, the game works fine with whatever imagery DOES speak to you.

Does that help?


Moreno R.

I like most of the art in S/lay w/Me, but from a marketing point of view, it would be really simple to publish different "versions" of the game with different lists and art (but keeping the same system).

It would be the first rpg with "multiple covers" (as in the '90 comic books speculator craze) and people would "collect them all".

It's easy money, Ron! 


(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)

Callan S.

That doesn't seem quite right...kind of like shaving off a bunch of dreadlocks to fit into military service in an orderly manner...or even into retail service in an orderly manner...
Philosopher Gamer

Eero Tuovinen

Many games with this sort of formalistic system are very easy to adapt to different visuals and superficial genre conventions. I don't know if that's particularly a reason for the game's designer to strive to hit that possibility very insistently. A good example that comes to mind is Dust Devils: the game definitely has cachet for non-western play, but the original presentation of the game would not be so powerful if the game was introduced in a generalized manner. Fastlane is actually a good example of the opposite phenomenon: I think that the game would've gained more attention if it wasn't so meticulous about bleaching any genre-specific color out of its presentation until the only thing left is a superbly generic rules set described in the most abstract of manners.

I myself like S/lay w/Me's genre and color a lot, so I'm probably the wrong person to say this, but regardless: specific color and literary genre are often very important to the creative process of writing a roleplaying game, for which reason it's not necessarily a good idea to try to get clever with refitting your game into a genre you don't appreciate yourself. Not only is the creative impulse done injustice, but the overall quality of the end-product might suffer, too. I imagine that S/lay w/Me will find its audience from among people who can appreciate or at least overlook its chosen genre; the existence of people who don't appreciate its surface gloss isn't argument enough for worrying about its presentation, for where is the game that everybody everywhere likes?

That being said, "multiple covers" is a funny and appealing idea. As my own game Zombie Cinema garners similar feedback about how the game would be so much more popular with aliens instead of zombies or whatever, I have to say that it's not necessarily rewarding for the game's creator to fiddle with multiple presentations once the game creation process is over and you're ready to leave the project behind. Perhaps a Final Fantasy version is something for interested fans to work out in the Internet?
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Jasper Flick

I'm with Eero 100% (which I'm often, but don't bother to say much).

Putting a new flavor on something is precisely what a fan community is good at. If something really interesting does come out of such an activity and gets a large following, you could always decide to do something with it later. Otherwise, such "reflavoring" most likely won't see significant return on investment.
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I more or less agree with you in full.  With a minor quibble in that I think when gamers re-skin games that's a lot more cognitive work that goes into that than what Sayler and I did.  When people play Jedi with Dogs in the Vineyard there's some non-trivial re-contextualizing of the game elements that goes into that.  I think that Jarred's Concrete Angels re-work of Dust Devils is a similarly considered application.

Sayler and I just played the game.  Period.  When Sayler was asked to "visually describe his character in 10 words" he clued in on the phrase "hunted outlaw" and a song he happened to have stuck in his head.  We didn't then have to very carefully and consciously apply or re-apply the rules to better speak to that material.

Mostly, I was just remembering Willow's post and I linked what she said there to Laura's very similar reaction to the art.  I included that as a "message" to anyone else who may be having similar feeling about the game.  Hey, try it anyway, it works with whatever turns you on if the art in the book doesn't.




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