Going to three players

So I’m having a really hard time plugging into this game. I expected some of this, but thought I’d give it a try anyway. So what I’d like to suggest is that I’ll drop out, and Cortex and his assets can just stick around as a supporting NPC.

The things that I’m running into, in no particular order.

  • As expected, there are a lot of moves. As predicted, there’s a lot of game time spent negotiating those moves (“I want to ask ALGO to help, but he can’t Gather Information, only Supply an Advantage…”).
  • A lot of scenes become dialogues between the GM and one player, who’s on point for investigating the mystery of the week, and that’s usually not me, because I can’t bring any real science to a scifi game that doesn’t care about it. What else can I bring? Basically roll-and-hope.
  • I don’t have that gamer fascination for “whoa, the dice rolled WHAAAT”, and that’s the Ironsworn task resolution system in a nutshell. I actually want PC actions or approaches to matter in some mechanical sense, and they just don’t.
  • Similarly, vows are supposed to be big deals, but they just don’t do anything except push me to attempt things to earn XP. If I have a bunch of vows on my sheet saying “hey I want to figure out this FTL and precursor tech” but I’m just twiddling on the ship while these discoveries get made by someone else, it’s great that mechanically I can tick some boxes, but uh, that’s all I’m doing. Ticking boxes.
  • I think this is the second time that I’ve basically been silent an entire session, but instead of saying “hey more spotlight”, I want to point out that the game functioned just fine without the input of one particular player or character. So I don’t think it’ll matter if I’m gone more often.

Right now, the essence of the game for me is “try your best but it doesn’t matter, because things will just go haywire and shit on your attempt, leaving you to do more work to clean it all up”, and like, that’s my daily life right now. I don’t need to spend 3 hours of my personal time experiencing the same feelings. So that’s where I’m at.

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So speaking purely as co-player (because that is, after all, what I am) …

  1. This is not a surprise. I’ve felt your engagement as spotty in the past few weeks, and it was unclear whether that was the game, or RL stuff, or both, and I apologize that I didn’t inquire about how the RL stuff was going tonight as I intended to. It wouldn’t have affected your evaluations here, but it would have been the right thing to do. I do kind of feel like we’re all a bit off, and have been for several months, for obvious reasons. Again, that doesn’t change your assessment of the game, and isn’t meant to, but it feels like something I want to say.

  2. I can’t disagree with you on the game structure stuff. There are times when I enjoy it, and other times when it drives me nuts. It is in many ways a very elegant system, and handles things more enjoyably (for me) than Scum & Villainy … but does have some of the same “the mechanics drive the story” aspect that S&V had that I got frustrated by. I’m still trying to figure out the gravity of vows, and your bullet sums that up. I also feel like I should, from a “this is what my character can do” perspective, be pushing in on every roll to say a little prayer, whether or not it’s appropriate.

  3. That said, I am both enjoying and appreciating the story that Mike is helping weave here in general, and as the dice provide opportunity.

  4. My personal perspective is that you’ve provided some really cool high SF concepts all along the way that have contributed to the stuff we’re doing. Does the system depend on or reward that? No, but it’s made the story a lot richer for the players, I think.

  5. I think you are correct that the system, though giving characters a chance to have certain narrative roles, does allow for characters to fade into the background if they are not scrambling for the foreground. In part that’s because, for all that various skills do, none are irreplaceable. I’m the whiz-bang navigator, but if I wasn’t around, any of the other characters could do much the same, just with fewer (or more stretched) asset applications. Along that same line, in my role as navigator, I had to majorly scramble to find something useful to do during most of our time on Feros.

  6. I don’t necessarily agree that the “Okay, this problem gets solved, but it engenders a new complication” mechanic is a bad one, though it can lead to a seemingly endless series of complications, which is probably less good or more frustrating. That we managed to (finally) get off of Feros indicates that it can (eventually) work, but it did take a while. I don’t have a good sense as to where that’s the game mechanics, the GM, the players, the die rolls, or parts of all the above, esp. as we mutually feel our way into this system. I did appreciate Mike asking how long we felt the Habitat Vehicle should take us to resolve (in part, the answer is, is there an interesting story there to tell, but my sense is that it’s a couple of episodes with the standard complications).

  7. Bottom line(s) for me:

  • I hear what you’re saying about the system, and, beyond that, how you’re feeling about it, and I respect that.
  • I personally am mostly enjoying the game (and more certainly the GMing behind it), and anticipate doing more so as we get back into the environment where my character is designed to be. While this is not my Forever Game by any means, I’m interested in running some more.
  • I personally enjoy having you as a fellow player, and would rather you were there than not.
  • I don’t have a way in mind to acceptably square the circle between those two previous points, except that I know that’s for me to figure out, not to impose on you (or Mike) (or anyone else, for that matter).
  • I’m not writing this to dispute how the game is working for you, as that is absolutely for you to say. I don’t want you playing something you find frustrating to play, because that would be stupid and selfish. Nor am I suggesting (nor are you) that we pull the plug on this, as folk seem to be having fun with it.
  • Bottom bottom line: I like playing good game with good people. Without imposing my likes on your actions, that’s where I’m at. :slight_smile:

(And that’s all probably far more words that I needed to generate, esp. at this hour.)

I think “solution presents complication” is fine, that’s not the part I’m having trouble with. It’s that we try to solve a problem, only it introduces a new complication that inserts itself between us and the original problem. In other words, it’s not the plot going from A -> B -> C, but A -> C -> E -> F -> G … -> B. It becomes very easy to lose sight of our original goal, or to feel exhausted at having chased after it so long.

The rules should feeding these opportunities to you at every moment. I’ve done a lot of work in Constellation Cards, for example, to ensure that players always have agency to get something done, and ways to find directions to go. PBTA does this by telling you what your move triggers are - “go do this if you want to be interesting” - and games like TSOY give you Keys - “go do this if you want XP”. Here, I’ve got Vows, but they’re so disconnected from everything else, and because at any moment they can be invalidated because one or two other players wanted to go poke at this thing and it blew up in a big way.

I’m not calling for a game change. Clearly everyone else is having fun. I’m happy to go do something else with my Wednesdays while that happens.

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My opinion on this is It’s because there are four of us.

Ironsworn and by extension star forged was designed for solo play or two players as the default and while a character sheet full of vows works at that level, when you scale up to four people, the complication increase is closer to exponential than mathematical. I wouldn’t call it a bug, but ‘unavoidable feature’ is fair.

It’s something I’ve noticed in the game I’m running with four characters at home, and why I’ve switched to mostly shared vows except for each character’s background vow.

For me, ironsworn feels like any other pbta game, with a little bit more mechanical space to add +1 bonuses without it becoming boringly impossible to fail. That’s probably my GM brain talking, but it’s renting the same apartment space as my player brain, so the whole thing is fun for me.

With that said, I know you haven’t been engaged, I understand your reasons, and like Dave I’m entirely supportive of you doing or not doing what you feel is best until we get to a good spot.

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I don’t know the best way forward from here, but I do know I appreciate getting the chance to hang out with you every week, Bill.

On one hand, I do enjoy Starforged. I am definitely a fan of higher end complexity games (Dave and Margie can attest to this, having seen my board game collection) and it fits my GMing style of “I don’t know what’s going to happen next anymore than you folks do and that excites me to imagine what might happen.” That said, I am not so engrossed with the game that I am tied at the hip to it (I can always run a solo game if I feel that particular siren song).

On the other hand, as I have said before I don’t want to have fun at someone else’s expense, and it definitely sounds like this is coming at Bill’s expense.

All that said, pandemics are rough (understatement), burn out is real, and I am hardly a font good advice past “don’t hurt anyone if you can help it,” so I don’t know what our next steps should be.

I brought up with Dave and Margie after the game whether James would be rejoining the group once he was back and while they didn’t know yet, I can’t imagine a fifth player would help any of these issues, so as unsatisfying of an ending it may be, cutting over to another game in the next couple of weeks might be a good one.

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I’ve already made my suggestion - keep going and I’ll sit it out. I’m fine with it, and if you aren’t sure, you can always give it a few weeks at least and see how it goes

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In a super awkward turn of events, Samuel Rondón (bio: “I design materials for Ironsworn”) is following me on Twitter