I opened up this file preparing to write a post called "The Killing of Sacred Cows", but the name sounded familiar...in the way that I might have already given a post that title. A quick search through the titles of various posts indicates that I did indeed call a post "Killing Your Sacred Cows!", and like most things in my life that generally seem to move through cycles, I've revisited this concept again. I'll probably keep revisiting the concept several more times as well.
This time it's not so much about ripping down the structure of an integral game mechanism that isn't quite functioning according to ideals, it's more about terminology...which is naturally something I can get obsessive about as a qualified linguist.
A few people took up my offer to have a look at the current iteration of the rules for "The Law", and I've already been getting some valuable feedback. I've also printed out a hard copy of the rules which I'm marking up with additional corrections and updates that will need to be applied before I run off the first Ashcan edition of the game. (For those who re interested, the offer I made in an earlier post is still valid... I hope to get the "Beta" editing done by the middle of this week, for printing before next weekend.)
Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes to see a glaring error, because sometimes you write something while setting up a loose framework of ideas, then you base further concepts on that initial framework, leading those initial ideas to be solidified a bit further, then more interconnected mechanisms and concepts make it seem like the original loose framework is now set in stone.
Regular readers of the blog will know that many of my game design ideas have been a gradual evolution. This means that certain concepts have become embedded in later games, though they might actually be artefacts from previous designs. I guess I just don't notice them because they're basically hardwired to certain other ideas... but they don't need to be. That's where the killing of sacred cows comes in. Sometimes you've just got to burn the whole thing to the ground, or at least do some substantial weeding of the garden to improve it's fertility.
Have I mentioned how much I hate the names of the factions in the "Divergent" series of novels and movies? Or the discipline names in "Vampire: the Masquerade"?? Mixtures of nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, with no particular consistency across them. They feel like they were picked because the author at the time thought they were cool, and they basically alluded to what the faction/discipline was generally known for. As thought they were loose ideas at first that were never properly considered or refined before other concepts were plugged into them, and suddenly they appeared in print and were then considered set in stone for the rest of the series. I've toyed with the idea of making every skill in a game a verb. To attempt something you simply say that your character is doing some particular verb, and if you've got that verb on your character sheet you gain a bonus for it. Then maybe you might get nouns as keywords to indicate people, places, or things that you might be more familiar with (thus granting other bonuses). I "shoot" at him. I "intimidate" her. I "empathise" with her. I "disguise" myself.
The particular issue that has been brought to light on this occasion is my designations for attributes in the game. Conflict, Influence, Knowledge, Mysticism. These all work if I'm to use the sentence structure...
I'm well versed in the arts of (conflict/influence/knowledge/mysticism).
But outside of a specific sentence like that, they get a bit unwieldy... and even though these ideas are at the core of the game, I might need to make some changes to them. The particularly odd one here is "mysticism" which is an "-ism" while the others aren't. It reminds me of "Animalism" in Vampire, which is one of the oddly named disciplines compared to the others.
Originally, the attributes were more conventionally named in one of the earlier incarnations of the system. Physical, Social, Mental, Spiritual/Magical/Mystical. This way the attributes focused on what the character was able to utilise in order to achieve their intended actions, the focus was the cause. But under the newer attribute split (Conflict/Influence/Knowledge/Mysticism), the focus is on the outcome or the effect of the action. A chracter could use physical, social or mental actions during a conflict, but the entire result is always intended to damage or neutralise an opponent. It's more about the likelihood of success when you head in a certain direction (and resolving the scene), rather than focusing on the specific steps of the way (and resolving the actions). In some RPG theory discussions, it was an attempt at conflict resolution over task resolution, but this ends up getting messy when one of the attributes is called "conflict". There's always a good reason for making these design decisions at the time (often a few of them), and since this ga e system ran through the phase when it was intended to be a game about familiars, I wanted to seamlessly integrate the magic of the setting with all parts of the game, rather than limiting it to a single "spiritual/magical/mystical" attribute, things seem to have become a bit muddied and confused in the development process.
This all leave me at an impasse.
I can strip away the core element, and substitute back in the "physical/social/mental/spiritual" attributes, which work better linguistically, and have a more traditional structure that many gamers are familiar with (this will require an extensive "find/replace" and some modification of the glyphs to better match the new nature of the attributes)...or I can try to clarify my intentions in the rules (perhaps including most of this theoretical discussion in a GM guide, with a few edits in the general rules).
Do I kill the sacred cow, or not?