Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lessons from Ganakagok

I haven't played Ganakagok, but I've taken some lessons from it already.

First, seat players in order of character age. That means that the game starts with the young people going out boldly, making mistakes, and generally wreaking havoc, which means that the elders have to step in and fix things. Pure genius, and I plan to just steal that part outright.

Second, the balance of good medicine and bad medicine that drives the game. This one I can't steal outright, but it drives home how the gameplay of the Fifth World has so far failed to really hit the notes it needs to. Gameplay should focus on the tension of living in a world of relationships; different relationships pull you in different, even mutually exclusive, directions. You need to spend a lot of time building up those relationships, because you burn through them when you find yourself in need, and you need to balance out the time, energy, and attention you give to each one.

How to achieve that with simple, elegant rules, well, there you have my present predicament.

I have tossed around the idea of Fate to balance Will; when you spend Will, it goes towards Fate, which goes towards complications. I know that isn't a good answer in itself, but it might give me a start. I don't know. I'd love to hear your ideas!


Jason said...


Bill's game is a good inspiration, we have played it a number of times. and I give him a standing order at dreamation to point you out if we were in the room together, but alas i never found you.

As you move forward, I wanted to offer my "services" as a playtester. we have a group of about 8 people that meet weekly to play various indie/small press games. Bill's brother started our group and we are familiar with both Ganakagok and HWCTLH, both of which seem to be similar and different from The Fifth World.

good luck with your revisions. and as Fred H said, make sure you get the word out about your game!

(Verification) Word of the Day: glinish.

Jason Lorenzetti

Jason Godesky said...

You're not the one people call "Buddha," are you? Bill told me that "Buddha" was looking for me; he was in a game, and I was in a break in a game, and said he didn't know what I was talking about, but maybe we got our signals crossed.

I'll gladly take you up on that offer—as soon as I have a version that I think could stand playtesting without me present, you'll be on my short list for playtesting.

Yes, Ganakagok and How We Came to Live Here would make make awesome games to sit along with the Fifth World, and maybe Summerlands while we're at it, as some kind of "tribal track" at a convention somewhere. Man, that gives me ideas...

Jason said...

HA! that is fantastically hilarious. No I am not Buddha, though he and I are both in the northern virginia small press group started by Bill White's brother Mel. (so it is all connected). We also try to do allot of playtesting and due to the Bill connection we have played allot of Ganakagok. We also were part of the play-testing group for How We Came to Live Here for Brennen.

We were discussing The Fifth World last night. I guess Buddha found two versions of the playtest (he said they are very different. I think he was going to send me a link if you did not get back to me.

Anyways. Buddha was having Bill looking for Morningstar and I had Bill on the look out for you. When I walked up to their table they told me that Buddha was looking to meet me (which we thought was hilarious). At which point Buddha told us about some other random guy coming up and introducing himself as Jason (Morningstar), but was not him. Then at that moment Morningstar walked by.

Moral: There are too many Jasons.

I love post-apcoolyptic settings, and I am always curious about what makes them different.

Rust Belt is all about emotion and mental balance (you could probably strip out the setting and not change anything).

I have, but have not read Summerland.

Ganakagok is about... hope? Change.... the world is changing RIGHT NOW how doe sthat make you feel.

How We Came to Live Here is a dreamtime game. that looks at community and transgressions. though I think I would have liked to see that brought out more. the setting starts with the transgressions in force, it may have been interesting to see the transgressions be creations of failure.

Which brings me to the point: What is the Fifth World about?

buddha said...

Hah! Hey to both Jasons! This is the actual Buddha you met so briefly at Dreamation, Jason. Sorry we got the signals crossed!

As for the other Jason... just click on the link at the top that says Fifth World and you'll get to the wiki, and there's different versions of Fifth World up on the wiki!

There are a lot of Jasons.

(Also, we'd love to playtest! And Rustbelt is by this guy )

Bill White said...

Let me apologize for messing things up; I was confused! I must have misremembered who told me they were looking for whom. Jesus. My extreme bad.

Jason Godesky said...

Don't worry, Bill; that story had so many convolutions and guys named Jason I had to start writing things down to keep track of it all. Yeesh.

Other Jason: Good question! I have introduced the Fifth World in Forge parlance, including the whole Power 19 bit, but to sum it up as succinctly as you have for those other games: The Fifth World focuses on the ongoing task of defining the human space in a more-than-human world. In designing it, I aim mostly to do for deep ecology what Star Trek did for scientific humanism. I want to present a hopeful vision of the future where the hope comes from community and relationships rather than technology. The setting opens after humanity came close to annihilating itself and most other life on the planet, starring the feral descendants of those who pulled back from the brink at the last moment. Of course, utopias have the notorious problem of unbearable boredom. In my case, I hope that the constant need to continue the work of creation will address that. In a world defined by relationships with human and other-than-human persons, you have to worry about establishing trust, and constantly re-negotiating the place of the human community in that world. That went a little long, but the take-home one-liner just comes down to, "The Fifth World focuses on the ongoing task of defining the human space in a more-than-human world." The rest just has me rambling about what that means.

Buddha: I've released several minor versions under Version 0, all available on the wiki. The version 0.x notation means that I don't consider any of them complete yet. Especially version 0.2--yeesh, I get pretty embarrassed about that one! But yes, I've already made a lot of big changes, and I reserve the right to make further big changes, at least until I put a v1.0 on something. Thanks for the link to Rustbelt--I'll definitely have to check that out. And I promise, when I have something I feel ready to send out for people to playtest without me at the table, I'll keep you on the short list!

Jason Godesky said...

I meant to include there, you have so many pre-release versions there because, despite advice not to, I still hold to the open source mantra, "publish early, publish often." I intend this as an open source game with an open source setting, so I wanted to put out what I had to get a discussion going earlier, rather than wait till I'd developed it more and only then put it out.

Jason Godesky said...

Oh man, I think Marshall Burns played in my second playtest at Dreamation!

Jason Godesky said...

I have an idea. Toss out everything in every previous version that mentioned will. In PTA, the producer gets budget based on the number of players, and he can spend budget to make things harder. Spent budget goes out into a pool that players award each other as fan mail for doing cool things. If the fan mail works out, it goes back into the budget. It makes for a really great narrative economy that shines as one of the best parts about PTA. Since I've already stolen stakes-setting, why not go a step farther and steal this?

A region has Fate, based on the number of players. The Genius loci in a scene—whoever plays her—can spend Fate to make things harder. Spent Fate becomes Will, which players can award one another. Spent Will becomes Fate again.

I see a couple of advantages in this. First, some playtesters have said that they felt the rotating Genius loci broke the cooperative vibe they look for in a game. I like that cooperative vibe, and I don't like the subtle implications of having a GM, but where else can the adversity come from? In this, you need Will to complete the story. You know that, and you know that the only way to get Will requires you to spend Fate. You make things harder not in an adversarial way, but because facing adversity now offers the only route forward. You choose the harder path on purpose. Especially when combined with some of the implications of the One Map idea (which could spawn adversity from the map itself), I can see this creating all the adversity a story needs without anyone ever acting against each other.

Second, it gets back to an animist sense of where power, will, imagination, etc. come from, a problem that Bill M. pointed out to me. This makes Will (and Fate) something you find in the region, something you breathe in and breathe out. I could even add something so that when Fate runs out, really bad things start to happen, so you need to keep a balance between Will and Fate—again, that balance of Good Medicine and Bad Medicine I liked so much in Ganakagok.

Not terribly original, granted, but do I care? I don't know if I even believe in originality, and my aesthetic values rhythmic weaving of established tropes, not innovation. Even with this, I don't think anyone could call the game a PTA hack. This may provide a good solution. Hmmm. What do you all think?

Willem said...

This thing here you said:

"You make things harder not in an adversarial way, but because facing adversity now offers the only route forward. You choose the harder path on purpose. Especially when combined with some of the implications of the One Map idea (which could spawn adversity from the map itself)"

Beautiful. As far as 'stealing' from PTA, um...obviously I too believe in 'credit the source/run with the inspiration'. We make indie games to learn from each other, I'd hope anyway. Regardless, it changes flavor drastically when folded in with the theme map and so on.

Willem said...

p.s. I definitely like the game itself providing adversity, or putting pressure on the players, rather than a GM (rotating or not). Let me unpack that: I believe, actually, Polaris does this really well, because both the Mistaken and the Heart have really clear purposes. The Mistaken easily could appear the protagonist, if you changed the table around, and the Heart the villain. It has nothing to do with a GM making your life difficult, it has to do with the Mistaken having to express the waxing of its power, and the Heart resisting that.

Sure, you can twist the knife and such, but you don't need to. I think most folks overplay the role of the Mistaken. You can just play the demonic forces that cannot help but emerge into and influence the world; in a sense, giving them personhood, rather than making them stock villains. I think folks who do this well make the best Mistakens. Folks who make the demons in Polaris just spoilsports of the Knights don't really create the same magic as those who totally inhabit the role of Mistaken as a personified force of change.

Apparently I could type like this forever. I'll stop now.

Willem said...

I lied.

Check out Jonathan Walton's finished chess Tree: Relevant? I don't know. But cool.

Also, I actually have started to dislike fanmail as a game mechanic. It reminds me too much of 'punishment by rewards', of rewarding players for enjoying themselves.

I don't really feel it adding much to our PTA game; I hear that you've experienced it differently, but I just thought I'd add my two cents.

Jason Godesky said...

In our PTA game, in part because of the arc I selected for my character, and in part because of the year-long break between eps. 2 & 3, I've had a screen presence of 1 for a long time now. At 1, it makes it hard to have much input at all. But, if I can really sell it, I can get enough fan mail to overcome that. It shifts my emphasis to pushing something that everyone else will enjoy and respond to. In my case, I think that what everyone else will enjoy will come from me making it as authentic as I can, so I don't have to betray myself at all to do that. But I think that reinforcement, of trying to put on a performance that the other people at the table will enjoy, has a lot of potential. Especially if everyone approaches it that way; so you don't have to worry about making your character look cool or making a story you'll enjoy; you worry about making the other characters look cool and making a story the other players will enjoy, and you have three, four, five other people at the table doing the same for you, and probably doing it better than you could have. I wonder if our different roles—you producing, me acting—has given us a different experience of fan mail? I know you've played on the other side before, though, so maybe not. But in our game at least, I can definitely say that fan mail has played a big role for me.

Willem said...

huh. you made a really good point. i hadn't thought of that.

brilliant; as long as one receives fanmail for supporting the other players, not for "role playing", I think it works.

I play in a Burning Wheel game where we get Artha (fanmail, essentially) for role-playing, and it sucks. I play a scene, think I've done great, everybody smiling, laughing, oohing and aaahing, and...nope Willem. You don't get any Artha, you didn't really do above average role-playing. WTF? So then I try harder, then I discover that I've devolved to chasing Artha rather than just enjoying myself.

So, in other words, if one gives fanmail, give it freely and generously. If one has some kind of bullshit standard, then fanmail will only frustrate a pleyer like me when I think I've earned it but don't get it.

This happened in Sorceror too, with the "bonus dice" you get for "good role-playing". I plunged myself into an action scene, really lived it, and then the GM said "no, that didn't really count as good role-playing - sure you described some matrix like maneuvers, but it didn't really impress me or stand out."

Uhhh...thanks, I guess. Keep in mind all these folks snubbing me on fanmail actually like me quite a bit and in general have pretty generous natures. So WTF?

Well, I think the "standard" got in the way. If a game has fanmail, it needs to award it generously, especially in the beginning, and the game text should state this emphatically. As outgoing as I can act in a game, it took the wind out of my sails to have some impossible, ambiguous standard to live up to.


Marshall said...

Hi, Marshall here.
I was directed to this some time ago, and got distracted. I wanted to say, though, that if you wanna talk about postapocalypso, I'm totally game.

And, also, I've never been to Dreamation. So, it wasn't me, I'm afraid.