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July Q and A

These are some very think-y questions! Including a lot about beasts and monsters.

I want to clarify some things about my response to Sean. First, here are the three "roots" of critical hits in text. They're not intended to be in order, as I think they were simultaneous at this scale of history:

  • List of described extreme effects, focus on clinical descriptions (examples: early D&D supplement, The Morrow Project) - evident in Rolemaster, although I really should have cited the original Arms Law in the video
  • Maximized damage or related effects, no description (example: early RuneQuest) - this is what was applied in the WotC versions of D&D
  • Increased, often multiplied damage, no description (examples: Melee); this is what was spitballed into play at many tables regardless of the textual rules, along with the perceived opportunity for special narration

Here's the link I mentioned to Jesse: Keeping them all together. As I also mentioned, this is the beginning of a longer conversation which is currently finding its most effective expression in the People and Play course.

The comments from the Patreon (a month ago) are attached, so check them out too.

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Seminar
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Q and A

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Jesse Burneko's picture

I didn’t get around to replying at the Patreon when this was first posted, so I’ll put this here. These thoughts are all swimming around in my head and all feel linked but I’m not 100% sure how to tease them apart.

The question I posed arose because I was looking at the Pacesetter edition of Chill. My understanding was that S.A.V.E as an organization the PCs were members of was absent in this edition but I was wrong. It’s not quite the 90s style organization complete with complex backstory and timeline as seen in the Mayfair edition, but it is still the primary framing device for the game. 

The PCs are members of S.A.V.E. and are often called upon by other members to help out in investigating supernatural phenomena.  It does seem a bit more decentralized in the Pacesetter version than the Mayfair version. You are more likely to get a call from a colleague asking for help on something they’ve stumbled across than a dispatch from central headquarters.

I was thinking about this in the context of one of my favorite Chill monsters I’ve never had the chance to use: The Mean Old Neighbor Lady. I think it is somewhat significant that she is not from the core book but the Things supplement. It struck me that The Mean Old Neighbor Lady is a much more fun concept if the PCs are members of the community she is stalking rather than outsiders called in to investigate murders. But also there are plenty of X-Files and Supernatural episodes that are literally just that.  But also those episodes often feature a one-off insider character who often ends up making the most significant choices having been catalyzed by the presence of the main cast. (A fact a lot of fans of those types of shows frequently miss).  So, that’s the ping pong my brain was playing.

Here’s an additional observation. Both very early Chill adventures and very early Call of Cthulhu adventures do not feature the linear fixed scenes linked by clues structure you see in modern adventures for similar games. Instead, they are heavily location based. A detailed map with the contents of each room listed. There is usually a central creature lying in wait that has abilities it can use remotely all over the place to attack the players both physically and psychologically.  Yes, there is research that can be done about the location but it isn’t vital.  Failing your Library roll or whatever just means you’re in a worse off position, not that you can’t move forward. They all remind me of haunted houses as mini-dungeon crawls.

So again, my brain does ping-pong.  On the one hand these are much more dynamic adventures driven by exploration, problem solving and active antagonists. The Chill sample scenario specifically points out places where the PCs can lose (either by being killed or frightened off). In fact, Chill seems to go out of its way to make itself as game-like as possible. It goes so far as to provide a map of the house to be openly displayed and little chits to track where the characters are, as if to say, “See?  It’s not that different from a board game.  You move around, deal with things in the spaces and maybe you win or lose.”

On the other hand, they don’t strike me as much of a true situation especially since they are disconnected from who the player characters are beyond the central buy-in of you are members of S.A.V.E. (Chill) or by definition occult savvy (Call of Cthulhu).  They are purely focused on PCs as a team trying to beat the scenario. There are frequently no other characters in the scenario other than the antagonist and their minions. Who the PCs are doesn’t seem to really matter much relative to the scenario at hand other than defining their collective strengths and weaknesses relative to the capabilities of the opposition.

(Again, I contrast with The Mean Old Neighbor Lady who feels primed to terrorize an active community rather than simply a 100 year old ghost who kills everyone who moves into its house, or a mummy’s tomb or vampire’s castle).

And this all flows into my final thoughts which speak more directly to Ron’s point about togetherness at the social level. A lot of groups (and a lot of games) assume that there’s a social mandate that the players act as a team and everyone is socially expected to be a team player.  Going rogue is unacceptable at the social level. Turning on your fellow players is unacceptable at the social level. Stay on task with the team’s goals (possibly as mandated by this scenario) or don’t play.

So the higher order question to the one I asked in the video is: When is a team player mandate at the social level simply a functional parameter of how this group plays and when is it a control mechanism to ensure that we always return to an ordered state (team cohesion), to lean a bit into what we’ve been talking about in the Numeracy class.

Ron Edwards's picture

I have the Things supplement and I like it a lot - it has the same strange successful mix of pop occult, urban legend, and mythology as the Dangerous Prey supplement for The Whispering Vault, and The Unnaturals for Bloodshadows, all of which fed into my early play of Sorcerer in the mid-late 1990s. However, I'm not seeing the Mean Old Neighbor Lady, which is unfortunate because your description is great (maybe I have a different edition, maybe I just missed her in my skim).

Anyway, to the point of the creatures/foes, I think that key concept is my now very specialized definition of situation, which is to say, the actionable space and time of play, including backstory, at a given moment. Scenes are a wave-front within the situation, and I won't bore everyone yet again with the boxes-and-arrows diagram. Before thinking about it this way, I would have agreed with you that "player-characters as visitors" and "player-characters as community members" was a key distinction, but now I think of these as a dial, or even switch (one way or the other) which is appropriate for a given game, either overall or situation by situation. In other words, both work, but (i) the real make-or-break topic is that there's a situation and (ii) the two things aren't interchangeable, but rather make more or less sense depending on that situation.

For your phrasing of the higher-order question: 

When is a team player mandate at the social level simply a functional parameter of how this group plays and when is it a control mechanism to ensure that we always return to an ordered state

I think it works better if your two alternatives are the answers rather than the question. We know it can be like the first case, a functional parameter, so the method would be to look any such instance and see what the people are doing, how that relates to the system, what is the situation and how did it come to be, et cetera. And we know it can be like the second case too, so the method would be the same. 

I think I see why it's hard to articulate for me right now: you're right that this ties directly into our discussion of chaos theory in the Numeracy course (specifically entering "jounce"), but the social and conceptual underpinning for that is addressed in People and Play, which you haven't attended. It would be good to see what someone who's taken that course says about your question.

Jesse Burneko's picture

That all makes sense.  I'll think about this stuff some more.

For reference, if anyone else has access to these books:

The Mean Old Neighbor Lady is found on p.38 of Pacesetter edition of Things.  Her statblock beings at the very bottom of p.222 and continues into the main description on p.223 of the core Chill rulebook for the Mayfair edition.

Also she is highly linked to a creature called a Gamin. The Gamin's stat block begins at the bottom of p.27 and carries over to p.28 of the Pacesetter edition of Things.  They are found on p.203 of the core Chill rulebook for the Mayfair edition.

I find it interestin that The Mean Old Neighbor Lady and her minions The Gamin were compelling enough to move from the Things supplement to the core rulebook between editions.

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