2013-06-20 : The Sundered Land

The Sundered Land

Hey, while we're waiting for The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions to get back to James from the printer and ultimately ship, I kind of want to talk about my newest, The Sundered Land. I want to answer your questions, if you have any! Anybody have any?

1. On 2013-06-20, Evan said:

How much refinement through play did these games undergo? Did you draft and then abandon any entire microgames as part of writing this? Did you find that the games needed mostly subtle rephrasing after your first time playing, or did any of them change quite thoroughly?

Never say never, but do you think you'll be writing a game that is a 100+ page book again anytime soon?


2. On 2013-06-21, Ben Lehman said:

Hardcopy form?


3. On 2013-06-21, Vincent said:

Thanks, Evan!

Playtesting these games was almost entirely pass-fail. I abandoned 4 or 5 games in various stages of doneness, after early play, compared to the 5 that made it. At this size, a game that didn't work the first time I played it wasn't worth revising until it did.

Not that I didn't try. The game I worked longest and hardest on, I ultimately abandoned anyway. I made like 3 solid attempts to design "Forbidden Love" as its own standalone game, but none of them worked in play.

Funnily enough, most of the subtle rephrasing came in during layout, when I'd discover that I had for instance room for 9 more words in this section and could subtly expand it.

Never say never, but I imagine I will.

100 pages is an interesting cutoff. I kind of expect to write at least one Psi*Run / 1001 Nights -sized game, in the 64 pages range, before I write another longer one. But we'll see.


4. On 2013-06-21, Vincent said:

Ben, probably not until I need to take copies to a con. But the PDF is laid out super easy for printing, so that's what I recommend.


5. On 2013-06-21, Ben Lehman said:

Can you talk a bit about why you decided to make them the length that they are, rather than cutting them to standard nano-game size (or expanding them into regular-small games)?


6. On 2013-06-22, David Berg said:

I'm imagining that testing one of these games must have been like testing an individual subsystem or move for one of your larger games.  Like, you can say, "Hey Meg, let's play this for 15 minutes!" and know from that if (a) the Read a Situation outcome lists are good, or (b) a Sundered Lands game is good.

Is that accurate?


7. On 2013-06-22, David Berg said:

Also, I think you might have a typo here.  "Ast ends."


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8. On 2013-06-22, Greg Pogor said:

I feel like Warriors... toys with the looly-pooly quite a bit. In fact, it looks to me like the sadomasochistic side of it. Do I have reasons to feel like that beyond being fucked up?

In a related note, I feel like if I'd play Warriors as the Butcher with my group they'd tear me to shreds before the game's over.  What's up with that?


9. On 2013-06-23, Vincent said:

David: Pretty much, yes.

Greg: I don't know what's up with that. It's 20 minutes, give it a try and see what happens? Report back! I'd love to hear whether your group tears you to shreds or not.

About the lumpley principle: I don't understand your question! Ask again?


10. On 2013-06-24, Greg Pogor said:

Yeah, sound advice. I'll wear tough clothes though. And I'm not really sure how I'm supposed to play it.

About the looly-pooly: the way I read the game, there are some bits in there about not being sure of what's been really established. Like the Butcher can lie, right?

So the Butcher can fake establishing something and then, counting on the fact that the fighters will think it is, turn the situation around and play gotcha, right ?

I feel like there's something in there about the, hrm, limits? Borders? Of the looly-pooly. Like not what it is and what it can do straightforwardly, but what you can obtain by toying with it, subverting it in a way.

About the SM thing.As a Butcher, I can lie to you, establish false things, get you when you fall for them, be all around brutal with your characters and (optimally) the game's fun nonetheless! You'd want me to be that brutal! You'd feel cheated if I wasn't! It makes me feel like the game needs a safeword :D


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11. On 2013-06-24, Jeremy Livingston said:

I really dig the effect of stringing the games together to form a narrative continuity. The result is that the whole Sundered Land package kind of blurs the distinction between minigames, subsystems, and mega-moves in the Apocalypse framework. What interests me the most right now is how you encourage players to swap GM roles from game to game. I know a lot of your design thinking is about that kind of turn-taking and collaborative GMing, so I guess I just want to hear your thoughts on that. Was this a conscious direction you chose for your design, or was it a happy consequence that fell out of the nano-game format? Is it something you want to continue exploring in the Apocalypse framework in the future?


12. On 2013-06-24, Vincent said:

Greg: Sure! With you.

When I'm the Butcher, I'm modest with my lies, like "there are 4 of them" when really there are 5, or "your comrade hoots back the all-clear" when really he's just been murdered by an enemy. Things that when they come out, the players will immediately understand how their characters made such a mistake. Plus of course I lie when the die results tell me to.

Another thing you can do is pitch your lies so that the players know you're lying, if and when you want to do that. That's a hoot.

It's not that unlike playing Bullshit or Balderdash. The lies are part of the fun.


13. On 2013-06-24, Vincent said:

Jeremy: Yeah. Caravan guards was the first one I created, then Night Watch, and it was just crystal clear from that moment that there was no need for the same person to be the GM in both. Or for them to require the exact same playgroup, for that matter.

It fulfills some of the unfulfilled promise of In a Wicked Age. I'm pretty excited about it.

Whether it's going to find its way into my future designs, yes, I'd definitely expect it to, but I don't know what form it'll take game to game. Could a more integrated larger single game work with ad-hoc GM trading from subsystem to subsystem? Maybe it could! That could be pretty cool.


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14. On 2013-06-25, Greg Pogor said:

Vincent : uh-UH. Okay. I think I finally groked the game. A good Butcher paces his lies, right?


15. On 2013-06-27, Vincent said:



16. On 2013-06-27, Jasin said:

I ran three games of A Doomed Pilgrim, and it seems the one where the pilgrim met his doom was the most satisfying. A bittersweet, melancholy sort of satisfaction even for the antagonist players, but it seemed to provide a more... rounded? experience than the two where he got out of danger, which were both met with comments to the effect of "huh, I didn't expect it to end so soon/so easily/while he might still be in danger".

This was also my impression of the games you ran, Vincent, here and on G+ (the one with the forest guardian wolves, and the one where they arranged your body north-south).

Any tips on how/when to "pull the trigger" to make it more satisfying for everyone?


17. On 2013-06-27, Vincent said:

Jasin: Good question! The truth is that making it satisfying for everyone isn't one of the goals of the game. Kind of the opposite, in fact: it being satisfying for everyone is in tension with the goals of the game.

In this way, the Doomed Pilgrim is a lot like other game games, like Go or Darts or Pit. It's entirely possible for you to play a legit game of Go that isn't very satisfying at all.

In the case of the Doomed Pilgrim, satisfying play rests with the no-gods of the internet. If they aren't digging in and working together to kill you, they're letting you win and it's not as satisfying. The only right thing to do is take the win and gloat insufferably, so your friends resolve to play for keeps next time.


18. On 2013-06-27, Peter Czigany said:


I am glad, I have this golden opportunity.

My question is whether the pilgrim can meet their fate w/o putting up a fight. If I extrapolate from the Go example, I guess, it's totally possible. But also generally a sign of a bad play of that game. Am I kind of right with these?


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19. On 2013-06-27, Peter Czigany said:

Sorry. I have another one. It's linked to the previous but probably worth mentioning in itself: what if the no-gods of the internet do not use the "warn first" rule of Caravan Guards? This way they can eschew the fighting rules entirely. There is no step between (i)you don't know nothing about the threat and (ii)you're dead. Do you consider not using the dice a valid use of the game? Are they playing really well, or something else is happening?


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20. On 2013-06-28, Jasin said:

Naturally, I'd love to see Vincent's answers, but the pilgrim's goal, as defined by the game you set out to play, is to continue safely on his way. It seems to me that the pilgrim not acting to continue safely on his way is arguably against the rules, and certainly against the... meta-rules? I'm not sure whether the distinction is worth exploring.

Your second example, as I see it, is explicitly against the rules: the no-gods can only answer the pilgrim's questions, and the pilgrim's first question is "something warns me of danger, what warns me?" He knows about the threat before the no-gods' first move. And as soon as he's back at at "you don?t know nothing about the threat", his next move is "I win".

Actually, that's sort of what some of my no-gods were disappointed about. They thought they were setting up something like the (i)-(ii) punch you describe, with moves that were supposed to [i]seem[/i] nonthreatening, but [i]actually[/i] represent a threat that the pilgrim doesn't (yet) know anything about, and I replied with "seems nonthreatening? fine, I walk out, I win".


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21. On 2013-06-28, Jasin said:

It occurs to me I might have misinterpreted Peter's first question, and that he might have meant something I wanted to ask myself: can the pilgrim go out without a fight unwillingly? Say by asking a question that leaves him wide open for the no-gods' move?

"I'm holding onto the branch over the endless abyss. I pull myself up. Does the branch snap before I climb up?" Oops. "Yes. Yes it does."

Does the pilgrim fall to his death right then and there? Or should his next move always be to fight his doom (until the three rounds are up), even if it's exceedingly unlikely to work? "I flap my fucking arms! Do I break my fall?"


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22. On 2013-06-28, Peter Czigany said:

Jasin: I know this is not our forum, but I want to say thanks: the version in your answer is a seducingly clear one. Your latter one is totally what I wanted to ask in my first. And: "I flap my fucking arms!" for the win! :-D I so want to be a no-god at that point!


23. On 2013-06-28, Greg Pogor said:

By the by, I'm translating those games in french for my group. Three of them already done. Should I shoot you an email to see if we can make them available and how?


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24. On 2013-06-28, Vincent said:

Peter, Jasin: Your conversation so far is right on. Please feel free to continue!

Yes, the pilgrim can die without a fight.

Greg: Please do.


25. On 2013-06-28, Vincent said:

Oh, for those of you on the G+, John Harper's written up his recent play, here.


26. On 2013-06-29, Peter Czigany said:

Is fighting supposed to be taken literally? As in fighting an opponent physically, like a fistfight or knife-fight?

Or are we supposed to use the fighting rules when fighting an urge or fighting a hazard or other condition as well?


27. On 2013-07-01, Vincent said:

The rules suppose that you will take it literally.

If you want to extend it to apply further, that's between you and your own play.


28. On 2013-07-05, Vincent said:

This conversation has really taken off on G+, by the way. Here are some public threads on the topic:
- I talk about skills, style, and strategy, and it turns into a bit of an argument, but Mo flatters me for reals.
- I talk about the matter and the order of the conversation, and so far so good.
- Kimberley Lam analyzes the Doomed Pilgrim, and pegs it as a promo/trailer, not a great stand-alone game.
- Jamey Crook asks me a good question about the Doomed Pilgrim's design.


29. On 2013-07-10, Will said:

In the Doomed Pilgrim: It sounds kinda like you are expecting (and hoping!) that players /won't quite believe you/ when you say they are trying to kill the pilgrim. Otherwise, the pilgrim would lose every time, yeah. Is it that there's an implied "kill the pilgrim /fairly/, interpreting the world in a principled manner", or that you're hoping they'll hold back for other reasons? What's going on here?


30. On 2013-07-10, Vincent said:

For all the "the pilgrim would lose every time" I'm hearing - not just from you, Will! It's widespread - none of you jokers can ever seem to manage to get it together to kill a pilgrim. I'm disappointed in you.

So no, I don't hope that the internet will hold back for any reason. There's nothing implied but unstated anywhere in that game. Your goal is to kill the pilgrim. If you choose not to do it when you have the opportunity, that's on you, right?


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31. On 2013-07-10, Will said:

I've only played once, as the pilgrim (and I died, and it was fun, so I'm not complaining!). Maybe it'll look different from the other side! It just seems like 1) I'm supposed to put myself in danger, 2) once I've encountered an enemy, I'll have to fight unless the internet players let me escape, 3) once I'm in a fight, I'm stuck until I die unless the internet players let me escape.

Put another way - if I say "The wasp emperor might kill me here. I throw a bladed tarot card at his eyes. Do I have a chance to get away?" (or whatever), are there good reasons to let me get away? What are they?


32. On 2013-07-10, Vincent said:

Awesome! Then I'm not disappointed in you or your friends at all!

So: by that point in play, if there are good reasons for the internet to let you get away, they exist only because you've set them up for yourself in earlier play. You've done this by getting the internet to buy into a world with its own internal logic and momentum, maybe, or else by winning the internet's sympathy in a way that they'll now repay, or maybe in other ways.

But taken bare like that? No, there's no good reason to let you get away.


33. On 2013-07-10, Will said:

Thanks, Vincent! I think that makes sense, and I think it's how we were playing (Actually, one person wanted to give me an out but the world's internal logic wouldn't allow it - they thought I should escape before they realized the rain would make the ledge I was grabbing onto too slick, so they said I'd need a tool or something to climb it. It was the third round, so I took that as "you fall and die".)

The fact that "getting people to buy into the fiction then using it to survive" is legit play seems, well, straightforward, but it's the sort of thing I would expect to be spelled out more explicitly in one of your games with more words to work with (cf everything in AW about how the MC should play the world), and I can see why people would interpret the explicit instructions to kill as "bypassing" such considerations in some way, and why that could create some discomfort / confusion regarding "how to play". 'Cause it seems like the player, by doing that stuff you said, is trying to get them to play the game wrong in some sense. Yeah?


34. On 2013-07-11, Vincent said:

GcL (in marginalia): There's been quite a bit of game criticism in the extra- and post-Forge indie rpg scene that takes the form of "this game has unspoken assumptions that I couldn't figure out. It's not a complete text, not a good game, and the author should spell out their assumptions."

I've become convinced that when someone says this, what's really happened is that the game has explicitly stated instructions that the critic didn't choose to follow.

So, sure, when we interact we have lots of unstated assumptions or whatever. I don't care, and I don't have much patience for it! We manage anyway.

In the same way, this game spells out, explicitly, precisely what it needs to in order to be playable, and anything it doesn't spell out explicitly, it's perfectly correct for you to fill in with whatever seems right to you at the time. We manage anyway.


35. On 2013-07-11, Gordon said:

(aka GcL) OK, I've no quarrel with dismissing the "should spell out assumptions" crticism, at least in the form I've most often seen it. But exactly how we manage anyway is, for me, both incredibly interesting and a crucial issue in design and play.  If participants add nothing to the (clear and sufficient) goals of Doomed Pilgrim, I'm bored.

Of course, "add nothing"=="not playing", really.

And maybe that's what's bothering me a bit - of course you know this, and of course the game is about a LOT more than just "your goal is to kill the pilgrim."  Saying "your goal is to kill the pilgrim" like that's all there is to it may be true, in terms of the rules-based game text goal; but in terms of why I'd even be interested in Doomed Pilgrim, it's an outright evasion.  Possibly a useful evasion, but an evasion none the less.


36. On 2013-07-11, Vincent said:

Then you're not interested in the Doomed Pilgrim! That's okay.

I really do mean this. If you bring some other goal to the game, some goal that comes into conflict with your dooming the pilgrim, that's like bringing a goal to Chess that stops you from pursuing checkmate. I don't know why you'd play the game, then.


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37. On 2013-07-12, Gordon said:

Well - "conflict" with dooming the pilgrim isn't in my thoughts, at all.  I mean, I guess maybe it could be, in the conflict-can-be-productive sense. But getting on board with dooming the pilgrim is hardly the end of the story. Neccessary but by no means sufficient - and not (in my case) even the interesting part.  Becasue yeah, if I'm not going to try and doom that pilgrim, why play a game f'in named Doomed Pilgrim?

Or in the metaphor: of course not a goal that stops me from pursuing checkmate (though maybe I might, really, really rarely, discover that achieving checkmate creates issues).  But also: of course I have goals besides just checkmate.  Pretending I don't is just, well, odd to imagine.  Chess is fun (or isn't) because of those goals as well as because of the checkmate goal.

Re-reading the last few posts, maybe this: You say there's nothing implied but unstated that goes into making Doomed Pilgrim playable. To which I say "True, but why do I care about something as basic as that?" I'd say there is MUCH implied but unstated that goes into making Doomed Pilgrim fun (stipulated: not in some "you hid it and if I don't find it/know it/agree with it that sucks and the game sucks and you suck too" sense). 

To which you respond, um - not basic?  Not easy? (OK, that I agree with - kudos to you, sincere-like).  Or maybe disagree with how I'm seperating "playable" and "fun"?

Or perhaps your implied/unstated thing is important in a different way to a different target than me, and my implied/unstated thing is important to, well, not you.  Which is weird, because I would've expected you to be all about goals that include, but are in no way otherwise limited by, dooming the pilgrim.  But hey, this would hardly be the only way in which my expectations don't match reality ...


38. On 2013-07-12, Ben Lehman said:

Gordon: Is it possible that Doomed Pilgrim contains no hidden content whatsoever?


39. On 2013-07-13, John Mc said:

Gordon, let me know if this tracks with your thoughts at all.  I'm thinking there is implied or hidden goals/content.  I'm not complaining and I don't think it invalidates the focus on the DOOM, but this talk has me questioning myself.  Vincent, let me know if this doesn't jive with you:

Doomed Pilgrim does not instruct the "world" players to "make the world seem real", "say what honesty demands", or invest themselves in the story in any way.

I posit that these goals can (but do not always) conflict with the goal of seeing the pilgrim to his doom. 

Furthermore, I believe that some degree of the above or some similar manner of thing is implied or perhaps unimplied but a good idea.  Am I wrong?

The primary goal is of course seeing that Pilgrim to his doom.  But speaking for myself, I'm also going to show off for my friends.  If I'm telling a story (even part of one), I'm always going to try to entertain my audience.  So that's a goal I bring to all roleplaying games.  Is it out of place here?  Because it *can* conflict with my goal of Dooming the Pilgrim.  It mostly won't, but it can.  Right?


40. On 2013-07-13, Gordon said:

Ben: I'm not sure! Partially I'm not sure if "hidden content" really tracks with what I think I'm talking about. But I am pretty sure that actual play of Doomed Pilgrim reveals interesting things beyond just if the pilgrim dies here or continues his journey, and I would have thought I was pretty sure Vincent knew that, counted on that ... designed and crafted with that in mind.  I might even claim that for him to absolutely avoid doing so is not possible for a human being - though that's not to say there might not be value in an acknowledged-to-fail striving towards such a thing.


41. On 2013-07-13, Gordon said:

John Mc:I'd stress that the relationship between "doom that pilgrim" and any other goals is more like a creative constraint than a conflict. "Man, right now I really wish rooks could move diagonally." Except they can't.  Or "Jeez, I wish the Old Man could have saved the marlin from the sharks."*  Except he couldn't.  So not only "it mostly won't", but it "almost never has to" - and if it does, you've either stumbled into an odd corner case or you shouldn't have been playing this game in the first place.

I mean, it is entirely fair for Vincent to say that if you (as the World) choose something else over dooming the pilgrim, you didn't follow the rules.  Which, sometimes, not wanting to follow the rules is a useful thing to inspire.  You know that if you don't follow 'em anyway, you're messing with the game, but - we've all let someone else win a game, and maybe a bit of that possibilty helps drive Doomed Pilgrim.  Maybe even sometimes that's the point of the whole game (Train?), but that doesn't seem to me to be what Vincent's up to here.

I'm just mystified by the idea of ignoring/denying other goals - of choosing things not over dooming the pilgrim, but in addition to dooming him/her.  Mystified that Vincent in particular, and folks in general, would consider that desireable, or even possible.  It strikes me as too close to saying "lets design/play this game as if we're not full-featured human beings."  Perhaps an over-reaction due to personal distaste at seeing people arguably really attempt that.

*Because I did.  I totally, totally did.  Um ...  Do.


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GcL of The Old Man and the Sea

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42. On 2013-07-13, John Mc said:

Gordon"I mean, it is entirely fair for Vincent to say that if you (as the World) choose something else over dooming the pilgrim, you didn?t follow the rules."

I don't think that is fair.  The rules clearly imply that this question: "If I haven?t gotten away, I?ll have to fight. Have I
gotten away?"  can result in the Pilgrim getting away.  If that isn't a valid resolution, why is it part of the rules?  How can it be a valid resolution if Dooming the Pilgrim is an unbreakable rule zero?

The rules for the Butcher give an example of questions with pre-baked in answers.  These rules spell out what happens when the world chooses not to doom the pilgrim.  It implies that there are valid reasons why the world might not.

Or is that just error handling?  ;)


43. On 2013-07-13, Vincent said:

You guys are messing up the difference between a goal and a rule.


44. On 2013-07-13, Gordon said:

John Mc: Well, the game depends on you not having 100% knowledge of what the other "side" is gonna do.  Just because the pilgrim might get away doesn't mean he's going to.  Did you pursue the goal of dooming the pilgrim? OK, good enough.  I'm willing (even eager) to grant that expecting such is fair.  Dooming the pilgrim isn't an unbreakable rule - pusuing that goal is. By my thinking, that's just the start - all the reasons why you choose to leave bigger or smaller (by your perception) opportunities for the pilgrim to continue, how exactly you define "doom", what language you are willing and able to use effectively in your answers - those kind of things, and the not-"doom the pilgrim" goals that drive them, are the meaty/interesting stuff.

Vincent:Am I wrong in considering that "you should pursue the goal of seeing the pilgrim to his doom" IS a rule?  Acuz other than that possibilty (correlated with the unbreakable rule thing I think I adressed above), I'm not seeing a mess-up.  I'm open to a clue-by-four, of course.


45. On 2013-07-13, Vincent said:

Gordon: I think you're doing the opposite confusion, treating following the rules as pursuing a goal or goals. For instance, you talk about other "goals" providing creative constraints, like how rooks move on the square not the diagonal - but moving your rooks on the square isn't a goal at all, it's a rule. It's the rules that provide the constraints, not competing or secondary goals.

There are two rules in the Doomed Pilgrim that tell you to treat the imaginary stuff seriously. Rule #2 opens it up and rule #4 provides boundaries.


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46. On 2013-07-13, Vincent said:

I'm not, I should make perfectly clear, using Chess as a metaphor in this conversation. I'm using Chess as a parallel.  The Doomed Pilgrim is a game, just like Chess is. "I'm allowed to delete disruptive answers" is the same kind of thing as "rooks move on the square, not the diagonal": a rule.


47. On 2013-07-14, John Mc said:

I like Chess as a parallel.

If seeing the Pilgrim to his Doom is my goal, then would you characterize any outcome other than Doom to be a failure on my part?  Analogous to checkmating me?


48. On 2013-07-14, Vincent said:



49. On 2013-07-14, Vincent said:

More precisely, I'd call it a loss for your side.


50. On 2013-07-14, John Mc said:

Normally when I'm playing games, and chess is one example, I would never knowingly make a move that would result in a loss for my side.

From that vantage the rules sound like Tic-Tac-Toe, where O's should never win.  However:

"by that point in play, if there are good reasons for the internet to let you get away"

This suggests that I might be motivated to knowingly accept a loss.  Why would I do that if my only goal is victory?


51. On 2013-07-14, Vincent said:

The same reason you don't win a checkmate by moving your rook on the diagonal. Rules 1, 2 & 4.


52. On 2013-07-14, John Mc said:

Hmmm, I don't see anything in rules 1, 2, or 4 that would prevent me from killing the pilgrim.  It seems like there's a non-disruptive path to pilgrim death in every situation, but that could be my lack of experience.

It feels like the only reason the pilgrim would survive is because one or more players don't follow the goal properly.  Are you suggesting that those players might instead be incapable making up scenarios where the pilgrim dies or that they can't put them forward without being disruptive?

(I'll admit, I often over-estimate other people's imaginations.  I find that I can imagine solutions/situations for damn near everything, but other people often struggle when I ask them.)


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53. On 2013-07-14, Vincent said:

I think that's bold talk!


54. On 2013-07-14, John Mc said:

LOL, true enough.


55. On 2013-07-14, Gordon said:

Vincent: Hmm - I don't disagree (marginalia aside) that following rules and pursuing goals are different things, but rereading my post, I can see where you're pointing.
Let me go back a bit: "If you bring some other goal to the game, some goal that comes into conflict with your dooming the pilgrim, that?s like bringing a goal to Chess that stops you from pursuing checkmate."  I do bring other goals, and they do NOT (almost ever) come into conflict with pursuing doom/checkmate. In fact (and maybe here's where I muddied things earlier), those goals, the rules, and the rule-given goals (is that a useful split, rules vs. rule given goals?) all provide invaluable (I'd say) constraints.
For me, thinking about chess and/or Doomed Pilgrim without including that fact is just odd, and it seemed to me that's what you were attempting.  Actually, that's what my first maginallia was meant to confirm you WEREN'T attempting, but since then it seems like you are.
I'm trying to agree with greatly limiting the energy around "conflicting goals" (especially implied/unstated) while stressing the importance of additional goals (perhaps implied/unstated).  I understand your "I don't care" about conflicting goals, I don't understand it about additional goals.  Am I making any more sense?
John Mc: I'd just say that by my reading of play "follow the goal properly" ... is both clear and yet contains mysteries.


56. On 2013-07-14, Vincent said:

Gordon: You'll have to tell me an example of an additional goal before I can even guess.


57. On 2013-07-15, Gordon said:

Let's see, John mentioned a couple: "show off for my friends" and "entertain my audience."  Or the one that leaps to my mind: "make the doom of the pilgrim as interesting as I can."  Good enough, or more details?


58. On 2013-07-15, weeks said:

I've played both sides of the Doomed Pilgrim and I've failed to push as ardently as possible for getting through and for doom.  I've also played Chess where I strung the game along either because I was teaching my little kids how to play or because I wanted it to be more fun for them.

So, in the Chess example, there's always this notable power disparity that leads to playing soft.  I'm the master (only relative to five-year olds) and I have goals way more important than winning by the rules. 

In the case of Doomed Pilgrim, I also have my own goals more important than merely winning—stretching it out when it seems like it's been too short or making the narrative more exciting or wanting victory (for either side) to feel like it was hard-fought.  But the power disparity present in Chess, isn't there.  That seems to me like an interesting distinction, but I'm not sure if it goes anywhere from there.


59. On 2013-07-15, Marhault said:

When playing Doomed Pilgrim, under certain circumstances the pilgrim player will ask "If I haven't gotten away, I'll have to fight. Have I
gotten away?"

If the World players are all playing hard toward their goal, it seems to me that the answer to that question should always begin with the word "No".


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60. On 2013-07-15, Ben Lehman said:

Unless they say "You've gotten away—into the maw of the infinity beast."


61. On 2013-07-16, Vincent said:

Okay! With a fresh game in mind, I want to do some summing up.

Argument one, put forward by John Mc, Marhault, and others, is that if the internet has its biz together, the pilgrim can't win, no matter how skilfully the pilgrim's player plays. Yesterday's game doesn't refute this argument! It's definitely a data point on their side.

Nevertheless my guess is that with skilled play on both sides, the pilgrim can survive about 20% of the time. I'll change my guess once I see something like 10 games in a row with no surviving pilgrims.

Argument two, put forward by Gordon and others, with support perhaps from Weeks and others, is that the game is better served when its players don't exclusively pursue their stated goals, but let other goals also contribute, like "make the pilgrim's doom interesting," "entertain my audience," or "play soft so my opponent has a chance."

Again, the game yesterday doesn't really refute this. You guys can make your own judgments about how you enjoy the game, and whether you enjoy the game at all.

But the game yesterday is, I think, a nice clear counterexample.

Particularly, Gordon: what makes the pilgrim's doom interesting IS the no-holds-barred, uneven struggle between the players.

It's just like in Chess: it's not your job to make being checkmated interesting for your opponent, it's your opponent's job to make checkmating her interesting (that is, challenging) for you. It's not the internet's job to make the pilgrim's doom interesting, it's the pilgrim player's job to make the pilgrim's doom hard to win.

Make sense? The game is only as interesting as it is challenging, and it's only as challenging as how hard its players play to their stated goals.


62. On 2013-07-16, Weeks said:

But the game isn't only as interesting as it is challenging.  It's also interesting to see what people do creatively.  It's interesting to see what tone the narrative generated adopts.  It's interesting to see how the next world-player reincorporates the things said before.  Etc, etc.

I don't mean to be arguing that it's more fun to play soft—all my comments can be true in addition to playing hard being the most fun.  Just that those are sources of interest too.  And they don't necessarily correlate to playing as hard as possible.


63. On 2013-07-16, Vincent said:

Weeks: Those things are interesting too, sure. My contention is that playing soft sucks the life out of them, because it sucks the life out of the whole game. No matter how interesting they could be, they aren't, because the game's lost its drive and relevance.*

But honestly if I've talked you guys down from "dooming the pilgrim is just one of your goals, and it might not be your main goal" to "sometimes when you play you can pay attention to other things, as long as they're compatible with dooming the pilgrim as your main goal," I'm content.

* There's a beautiful inversion here that only an old Forge narrativist could appreciate. Does anybody here want some quick GNS talk?


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64. On 2013-07-16, Gordon said:

Vincent(and all): OK, so we're close.  To use (not mock, just to be clear) your phrasing: if I/we've talked you down from "having a goal other than dooming the pilgrim sucks" to "letting up on dooming the pilgrim is a real problem", I'm content.  Challenge is one of the key tools available for making the game interesting, and if you don't play your stated goal hard, you're limiting your access to that tool.
GNS ... so, G and N (rather than S) is where I really got involved, esp. with a GNS-disliker who later deleted his posts (or I'd link the threads, but with mostly only one side, I remember they look lame). So I can't resist.
Among the other (probably more important) things this discussion illuminates is what was one of the really, REALLY hard bits to explain about GNS: that it's just fine for (say) N-play to include tons of stuff that looks like the other two.  Bluntly, in this paralell, a game like Doomed Pilgrim that calls for a no-holds-barred, uneven struggle can still (depending on other elements of the design and what the particular group of players does with it) produce play of any flavor.  I mean, I have some concerns about reliably mapping GNS on vignettes of play like these.  But as an example of what can - and does - happen in other play, I'd say it's actually quite illuminating of that huge, annoying stumbling block.


65. On 2013-07-16, Vincent said:

Gordon! I'll say more when I talk about GNS later, but for now: that's a whole, complete, entire Doomed Pilgrim game. Not a vignette at all. That's the unit of gameplay we need to be able to discuss.


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66. On 2013-07-16, Vincent said:

Okay, GNS and the Sundered Land.

Preface: If you aren't an old Forgie, this following is going to be opaque. Sorry! I'm willing to answer questions about it, but since GNS is basically obsolete, I don't encourage you to ask. If we're talking about GNS, we're talking about a historical perspective, not a contemporary one.

I'm also not going to argue in defense of this following. If you don't see it, if you disagree, that's fine. You'll have to figure out how to live with your disagreement. I'm not going to try to talk you into it.

So prefaced, here goes:

Most of the Sundered Land games are straight up Gamist. A couple of them have some wiggle, but most of them don't even.

The Doomed Pilgrim isn't one of the ones with wiggle. It's totally straight up Gamist, no question.

Thus the beautiful inversion!

Here's the setup: lots of Narrativist games have crunchy tactical elements, and they're given context, weight, value, and meaning by the moral or passionate conflicts that drive play. (I think you're referring to this, Gordon, when you say that it's fine for Narrativist play to include Sim-like and Gamist-like elements.)

And here's the beautiful inversion: the Sundered Land games have moral and passionate elements, like the doomed pilgrim's abandonment of violence, and they're given context, weight, value, and meaning by the tactical conflicts that drive play.


67. On 2013-07-17, John Mc said:

Love the theory stuff, and it all makes sense to me.

I'm not sure about the 20% number, but everything you're saying is reasonable.  I wouldn't be shocked if your appraisal is right, but I'll stick to mine for now.

I'm curious about the intersection of these two ideas though.  Hypothetically, if we played out those 10 or even 100 games of Doomed Pilgrim and found that with this crowd the Pilgrim never survived, would that affect the weight/value/etc of our moral and passionate elements?  Would certain doom be more or less problematic than soft play?  For the same reasons or different ones?

That's honest inquiry!


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68. On 2013-07-17, Gordon said:

Yeah, there's beauty, illustrating how G-play can use N-stuff (-play and -stuff? That's proly better than the big-GNS little-gns I used to try and use ...) 

Of course, that Doomed Pilgrim - that ANY RPG design - is strait-up anything is just crazy talk in my book.  Vincent, I hope it's not asking you to defend something to ask: are you saying that to be contemporary I oughta embrace that crazy?

I mean, tons of more questions about why that would be, and clarifications about how your point sorta is what I was referring to and sorta isn't, but maybe, to avoid even the appearance of defense-baiting, I'll leave it there.


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69. On 2013-07-17, Vincent said:

Gordon: Oh sure. I mean, "straight-up gamist" when said of a game design means that it's designed to reliably create gamist play. This isn't crazy, it's always meant that. The whole point of the idea of coherent games is to design coherent games. That's not contemporality, that's what we've been doing since 2004 or whenever.

But here, it's my present to GNS: I have here a short, accessible, complete instance of coherent and functional roleplaying, conveniently textual so we can refer to it as precisely as we need.

If we can't identify its creative agenda, GNS isn't just obsolete, it's bullshit from day 1. (Fortunately for GNS, we can!)


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70. On 2013-07-17, Vincent said:

John Mc: "Would certain doom be more or less problematic than soft play?"

That is a brilliant question. I'll have to think about that.


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71. On 2013-07-24, Peter Czigany said:

Another one came up even more clearly last time I played the Doomed pilgrim. I guess the fighting mechanics are not easy.
Can I use the fighting mechanics when there are other dangers around? Or does the fighting apply only to the most dangerous thing and only if that danger is a fightable one?


72. On 2013-07-27, Vincent said:

Peter: The rule is, use the fighting mechanics when you fight an enemy. You'll have to decide for yourself whether you're fighting an enemy, case by case.


73. On 2013-08-08, Joe Sweeney said:

We got together and run a game of Sundered Lands last night. It went in very unusual directions, but in short, I loved the game. One of the things I love about narrative games such as this, is they give a LOT of scope to adopt and butcher tropes, and end up with stories that are both familiar and original at the same time.  I've drafted a short review and recap of our session over at my site (  Many thanks for some great work. Keep it up!


74. On 2013-08-08, Vincent said:

Awesome, Joe. Thank you!

StoryWeaver: Sundered Lands Review

While I did design Apocalypse World, Dungeon World is by Sage LaTorra and Adam Koebel, not me.


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