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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 73 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
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Author Topic: Kathanaksaya: It's Working! (sorry for length)  (Read 1956 times)
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« on: January 31, 2004, 08:51:16 AM »

I am surprised and delighted beyond belief to say the following: Kathanaksaya works beautifully.

Up until very recently, I was afraid that the only way it could work was for me to oversee and micromanage every aspect of playing the game, from character creation to bidding.  I am glad to say that my anxieties have been put to rest.

The Group
Of course, I should give a little bit of information about the group.  We a group of 9 (7 players and 2 Narrators who each have their own PC; more on this later) playing a Matrix chronicle.  I am the Narrator who does the Matrix scenes while the other guy (let's call him N2) focuses on the Real World scenes.  Of course, it's not as cut-and-dry as that, but we try to keep our focus on our respective specialties.  

The players are evenly divided along roleplaying experience lines.  We have 3 newbies.  This is the most diverse group.  The youngest is 12 (NewA), the middle 15 (NewB), and the oldest 20-something (NewC).  The intermediate group is made up of players who haven't been roleplaying very long (only a couple of years or so) or who have experience with a limited spectrum of roleplaying systems (rules and combat-heavy games similar to video games in the visuals but with more player options).  Two of these are high-school kids (IntA and IntB), and the third is 20-something (IntC).  The advanced group is made up of myself and N2, with another guy (Ex1) who has greater experience playing in more diverse systems.  

The Characters
The PCs are as follows:

1.  Captain played by Ex1
2.  Operator played by me (off-screen when I am narrating)
3.  Matrix-contact played by N2 (off-screen when N2 is narrating)
4.  Systems analyst played by IntA
5.  Programmer played by IntB
6.  Medic played by NewC
7.  Web designer/hacker played by NewB
8.  Electrician played by NewA
9.  Mechanic played by Guest

Except for the PCs designed by the experienced group and the new character IntC is playing, all the PCs are pregens.  This was mainly because N2 and I had expected only about 1 or 2 other players, but 7 wanted to play (should have expected as much for a Matrix game)!  Given the time constraints, we figured pregens were the best option initially, especially for the new players who we discovered wanted to join.  So, the half-dozen pregens I made were all used up.

I was very careful with designing the pregens, leaving open areas where the players can develop the characters further but giving them enough to work with in the game.  But more challenging was making sure that the personalities, skills, and abilities were consistently distinct for such a large group.  Fortunately, with Edith Hamilton's Mythology book handy, that was not as hard as it could have been.  I was very pleased that everyone actually likes their character.

Actual Play
There is so much that is going right with this game that I think I may have hit the roleplaying Shangri-La (at least, for me).  The chemistry between players is great.  The characters work.  N2 and I actually work well together (more because of maturity and shared goals and tastes than anything else).  But that has little bearing on Kathanaksaya as a workable system.

On the part of the players, they seem to have derived the most enjoyment from describing over-the-top action sequences, which is cool.  They were using their Specialties like Cool, Madness, Faith, and Hope in some interesting ways.  Some of the highlights include:
    [*]1st session: one PC was high on X and needed to be restrained by another.  Competitive intra-party bidding works very well.  Very interesting results that will lead to the development of a DARE program in-game.
    [*]1st session: PCs escape Agents pursuing them.  Stunt driving in a van was pretty neat.  The bidding system really helped maintain the tension and pacing of this segment, which really felt like a car chase sequence with shooting and explosions instead of being bogged down.
    [*]2nd session:  Remember that government lobby scene in the first Matrix movie?  The PCs outdid the body count by far, and had more explosions.  My adrenaline was really flowing during this scene, and I found myself anxiously awaiting what the players would come up with next.  Boo Yow!
    [*]2nd session: While the programmer was getting away full-speed (275+ mph) on his super-bike, the electrician hopped on the back.
    [/list:u]  
    The most enjoyable aspect of this was how, in high-intensity scenes like this, players using the bidding mechanic seemed like they were trying to outdo each other in their actions.  But it was seemless!  It didn't come across as players trying to outdo each other, but as cool "spotlight" segments that flowed easily from one moment to the next.

    The beautiful thing about this is that I don't think any of this would have been possible without Kathanaksaya.  The players would not have had the freedom to do what they did and not worry about failure as a result of factors outside the characters' decisions.  The Story Point mechanic is a liberating tool that allowed the players to really do what they would want to do in a game based on the Matrix (which is kung-fu, stunts, and weapons play, with some philosophy, in a sleek black-trenchcoat-and-sunglasses style).  In this way, I think the game was better than transparent.  It was a tool that facilitated the style of game we wanted to play.  I'm not sure how things would work in a game based on Shakespeare's works, but I would be eager to try that out.

    In addition, without complex number-crunching mechanics, the Narrators were also free to focus on the elements of the game we enjoyed most: themes and philosophical issues.  The way that player characters are designed, we already have a wealth of material to draw from to create engaging story lines which truly involve the characters.

    Rules Tweaks and Changes Resulting from Actual Play
    Of course, after doing a bit of playing around, I came up with a new rule about using Story Points without bidding (as in, non-contested changes in the story or world that still have an impact on it; see Kathanaksaya site for details).  This came about from the "uploading programs" situation that can come up rather frequently.  They were potent enough that not spending Story Points seemed awkward, but there was no plausible way for there to be opposition to uploading programs, so bidding was out of the question.  Thus, a new rule was born.

    Conclusion
    You probably saw my conclusion laced throughout this post, but it bears reiterating, just for clarity's sake.  Kathanaksaya is very good at facilitating stylish, high-tension scenarios.  I could go on a limb and say that with the focus on character development as a means to increased player empowerment, it also facilitates character-intense roleplaying.  While the first was a happy side-effect, the second is integral.  In a nutshell, I believe that Kathanaksaya does what it is designed to do.

    Now if only I can get the dice-guys to do something more productive with their hands.
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