11.24.2005

Weapons of the Gods: Secret Arts

One of the things I've noticed about the reaction to this game is that it draws in people who are interested in its high-flying wuxia action, but that's not what keeps them there.

Rather, what I'm seeing is that people read through it, leaping first to the kung fu and saying, "This is pretty okay." Then they start to browse through the book, finding interesting things. The kung fu really doesn't tap the depths of the combat system, for instance (More, lots more, on this later). The motion of the River is fascinating. (I'm a bit of a gearhead; I love these things.) Then they find the Loresheets. "Whoa, it says I can be the descendant of Qin Shihuangdi! There's a world-changing thing that his ancestors can do! Wow! I can force the GM to tell me a story about Tiger Soul!" Empowerment!

And people flip out over this, for some reason.

Then they hit the Secret Arts, which are, at their root, a way to improvise and control systematic reward and punishment systems to make the other players do what you want them to do. Among people who profess to understand the systems involved, the reaction is unanimous: Awesome.

We've been doing this stuff for years, people, and yet when I hear that chorus of excitement for PTA's fanmail, or for narrator dice in The Pool, it's from designers, not regular people who play just regular games, not the people that flip out over Secret Arts...what's missing? What's wrong?

6 Comments:

Blogger Bankuei said...

Bells and whistles. Gamers are stuck on them. If you want to sell any real innovative idea, you have to dress it up either in super ninjas, vampires, or cyborgs for them to buy into it.

Yes, you could do ninjas, vampires or cyborgs with either the Pool or PTA, but gamers don't have it spelled out for them, therefore they don't see it for what it is.

Also remember that they're trained to get excited about reading- not about play. Therefore, stuff like PTA's fanmail or the Pool's narration dice doesn't translate to them because they don't "see it" in play. If you give it an example with space ninjas, suddenly they're excited.

3:40 pm  
Blogger ecboss said...

Lasers for sharks sell.

4:54 pm  
Blogger Dotan said...

I agree that it's the color that makes the difference, but I wouldn't dismiss color as "lasersharking".
The Pool and PTA come across as very bloodless and meta; they are to player empowering narrative mechanics like Hero's "effects based" powers are to traditional tactical mechanics - compare "12d6 ranged attack, area effect" with "Buzaglo's Excellent Prismatic Spray".

6:55 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not just bells and whistles, and it's certainly not lasersharks. Nor is it just color, really -- it's the difference between character power and player power.

WotG -does- have some pure player power mechanics -- the Lore system allows a bunch of very specific (and yes, very fiddly) manipulations to the story, from "I want to get involved with Tiger Soul" to "I like this NPC, I want him to stick around" or "No, don't kill my IC girlfriend".

But what sticks in their head is the Secret Arts -- a -character- based method of manipulating and/or other characters, and one that is highly evocative -- not direct manipulation but tit for tat.



-- Joshua Kronengold

4:03 pm  
Blogger charles said...

I don't know WotG. But it looks like its packaged as a (or close to a) traditional RPG. By packaged, I don't mean marketed. I mean the overal way the ruleset looks & feels & handles.

The posts by gamers who shy away from overt Narativism in games like the Pool or PTA or Sorcerer (frex) shows that there's a whole bunch of people who just don't dig meta-game heavy RPG design. Not just those who don't like Narativism, either: I mean the pro-Narrativist DIP crowd at the 20x20 Room (who you'd know way better than me, Shreyas).

Well--I realise this is no big suprise to anyone reading this blog.

My point is this: I suspect that this is at least somewhat about what I call 'resiliency': when you push the Game Reality, it pushes back. It's the sense that the Game Reality (which may be just another way of saying the SIS--I'm not sure) has an existence that's to some extent independent of the player's wishes and desires--that for the GR to be satisfying, it can't be easily reponsive to a player's meta-game agenda.

So when you give this kind of gamer an overtly meta-game heavy ruleset, they just don't dig it. They don't connect with that stuff, regardless of innovations or otherwise.

When you embed it in a ruleset they can grok--then they can see it and get excited about it, in a way they simply couldn't before.

I don't think this is such a big mystery, or confined to a particular subset of the human race. It just means that we dig stuff that we dig, and the stuff that leaves us cold is just ..whatever. And oftentimes, we don't get past the whatever to look into bits that we actually might think were way cool.

And that's probably not too unreasonable.

11:47 pm  
Blogger Bradley "Brand" Robins said...

Heya all,

I'd be careful about dismissing things as laser sharking or reading vs. playing without further examination. That doesn't help actually figure out what is going on, nor why. It just makes assumptions from a position of percieved superiority.

In this case I think what we're seeing has less to do with lasers or sharks, nor reading vs. playing and has a lot to do with a divide between being excited about the game's system's results, or being excited about the actual game system.

In PTA, for example, when I get excited about the system it is because I know the kinds of stories it will help me tell. The results of the system can be very exciting, but the system itself is not. This works well for me because I'm not focused on the system as an object, I'm focused on the story as the object and the system simply as a way of getting there. So I like transparent and smooth.

In Weapons of the Gods we've got more interest in the system as object. People don't just like the story that they get from playing the system, they like the mechanical processes and their flashy, fun in the moment of play effects as well. They like the crunchy, game based effect rules. They like not just telling the story but telling it with in character dials and bells and whistles that let them zip this and zoom that. They like the story, sure, and the potential to tell the story -- but they also like the fiddly bits of game that let you fiddle and finik. They like the system as a system, and so they want the "bells and whistles" so that they have something to play with.

I'd also note that some of the biggest "cross over" games so far have had a degree to which you can obsesses on the system as system. Burning Wheel's lifepaths and scripted combat; Dog's roll the dice first and max out your relationships before you start; pretty much everything about Riddle of Steel; and so on.

1:29 pm  

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