Theory for play (Artesia)

March 17, 2008

It’s been about 2 years since I last played a traditional rpg.

“Traditional” meaning, a game with GM/player split, the toolbox mentality towards rules, and, often, missing large chunks of procedures of “how we actually play this game”. The last time I did this, was L5R 3rd edition, which, I walked into with the foolish trust that the rules as written would work without me building in major parts of the game.

Ah, foolish youth.

Anyway, this time, I’m ready and thought it might be worthwhile to share, especially since all the theory and design stuff is informing how I’m approaching this game.

Group Agenda

So right now I’ve got two players, neither of whom are gamers, but have some passing familiarity with the concepts. One is someone who played a bit of D&D back in the 80’s and nothing since, the other has read some of the White Wolf games but never played. We’ve got some other friends who might join up, with probably equal or less familiarity with rpgs.

Their interest has everything to do with the Artesia comic, and nothing to do with the system. With that in mind, my goal is to provide a space for us to make awesome narrativist play, in the fashion of the Artesia comics. (Already my inner design critic screams we should just use Primetime Adventures or Riddle of Steel, but there it is).

Using the System

The game has a pretty in depth system for character generation. Like a lot of games that fall out from the late 80’s early-mid 90’s, it’s set up with a very “toolbox” mentality. At least the game is pretty clear in that, as all the lifepath charts have the option “roll or choose”.

The part where it leaves you hanging is trying to figure out how to make a workable situation out of a group of players who have characters that don’t really fit together, whether created randomly by dice or by choice.

So I made the choice to:

a) generate a situation with the players first

b) have them choose their character’s social class, their parent’s occupations (and thus, their options)

c) choose to assign # of siblings, family relations, etc. without rolling.

d) roll the rest of the lifepath stuff, including with the 3 recommended rerolls as per the book.

e) assign Bindings as “voluntary” bindings

So, there’s tools that make a workable situation, they’re just not really explained how/why you should use them that way. The designer in me had to step out to figure out the best way to make these decisions and avoid giant pitfalls and likely disasters.


And, here is where I drifted the game. First, the Tarot based reward system opens a lot of doors for play. On the other hand, it requires tracking 22 different reward scales across each character.

Um, no.

So I’m going to split that up, and have each player in charge of something like 5-7 of those, thereby dividing the work into not-crazy levels of play.

I’m also going to create a conflict web to serve as a tool to help with the inevitable deep politics and family drama of the situation.

I also decided that all the “Everyman” skills start at 3, instead of 0, because it’s really stupid to have PCs who can’t dress themselves or lack common knowledge (which, only really seems to happen in point building games, anyway…). More importantly, I don’t want to take 20-30 minutes to having players juggle numbers to do so.

Pushing it

So, my goal is to scene frame hard, and get players into situations where the story gets driven forward and earns them tons of Tarot points through hard choices.

The interesting thing is that I’ve had to apply a pretty high level of design decisions just to play the game. There’s a lot of games I wouldn’t have to put this much forethought into in order to get satisfying play. There’s also the fact that despite the wide range of tools, there’s really no advice on how to put them together, or how to apply a lot of them for successful play.

So the interesting thing for me, for playing with this group, with this game, is whether the crunchy mechanical overhead will kill play, or work with it. I look at the dividing line between successful play or not here being whether we survive 3 sessions of actual play or if, the game bogs down in the handling and the players decide it’s not worthwhile.

 Edit:  I just found Rule Zero, carefully hidden at the bottom of page 291, on one of the two pages on how to GM the game.  Sigh.

Also- looking at the forums, it looks like a lot of the discussions basically boil down along the lines of the “Magic is too powerful” kind of arguments we heard from Riddle of Steel discussions some years back.   Of course, I wonder how many of those folks are reading the comics?  You know, when the comic begins with angels of death guiding the souls of the dead to judgement and binding ghosts to yourself, you really got to ask what scale people are thinking of?

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