Let's talk about The Clay That Woke!

edited March 2014 in Story Games

I did this over on Google+, and it was fun. I thought I should bring the show over here too. Let's talk about The Clay That Woke!

You may not know this, but I talked extensively with Paul about the game's development while it was going on. Do you have questions about the system or setting? Do you know somebody who's on the fence about backing that might?

I think the game has some serious cool and weird stuff going on that could be fun to talk about for the curious. Fire away!

Comments

  • Being a minotaur is hard. The character I played got beat within an inch of his life more than a couple times, and every step forward was matched with immense sacrifice. I'm really looking forward to running it myself.
  • Quixotic minotaurs are seemingly as crazy as Mormon gunslingers.
    I think Paul is either brave or crazy(bravy?).
    I'd love to ask him what the hell he was thinking.
    But hey, the heart wants what the heart wants.
  • Paul Czege is the writer of My Life with Master, one of the most original indie games ever. Trust him :)

  • Do you have questions about the system or setting? Do you know somebody who's on the fence about backing that might?
    The only info I've read about The Clay that Woke (which really, really should be the title for a game about Golems in the Jewish Ghetto of 16th Century Prague) is the Kickstarter. Art's lovely but being told that this setting might "thwart" me is a little worrying. Can you tell me more about surreal jungle life and what Minotaurs actually get up to? The impression I'm getting is generally that you take shit from your human masters and... um... try not to kill them?
  • It is crazy, isn't it Nathan? The thing is, it's crazy because it's new, and that was deliberate. (It's not crazy in RPGs, right? I mean, the Zombie Apocalypse is old hat now, but it was new once. And think of how insanely specific the setting for PARANOIA is!) Paul specifically wanted to create a new setting that fostered long-term play and developed the Degringolade, the minotaurs, Silence and everything else to do that.

    I made the Golem connection too, Potemkin! I can assure you that the setting will not thwart you, it's designed to do the opposite. Paul was tapping into his old school roots when he designed The Clay That Woke. There are tons of old games that have brilliant, beautiful settings that make you want to play... and then the rules suck and don't give you the ability to engage with that setting in the way that inspired you. The Clay setting is intended to inspire you and the mechanics are designed to support your engagement with it in play. The entire game is built with that intent in mind. So what he's saying is that the games that inspired him to make clay thwarted him, and he's designing in response to that.

    I'm going to come back in a little bit and write about what minotaurs actually get up to, but I wanted to get this part posted first.
  • edited March 2014
    Can you tell me more about surreal jungle life and what Minotaurs actually get up to? The impression I'm getting is generally that you take shit from your human masters and... um... try not to kill them?
    So: totally not that. I mean, okay, it's probably best to not just go around killing folks, I'll give you that!

    There are two locales in the game. The first is the Degringolade, which is an enormous, crumbling city grown in and ingrown by the surrounding jungle. In the Degringolade, yes, the minotaurs are subjugated and work menial, shitty jobs. They're newcomers to human society (only a few generations since they arrived) and their greater physicality and ability to withstand hardship is being taken advantage of by that society. So what do you do when you find yourself playing a character in that kind of circumstance? This game isn't about taking shit from your human "masters", it's about finding ways to change a society for the better from within.

    Just as important is the jungle, which surrounds and encroaches on the Degringolade. In the jungle, you'll face fantastic monsters and mad Voices (the Voices are not gods, and do not let them tell you differently). This is more classical "adventuring" is done in Clay. Minotaurs who go frantic from breaking Silence (you can go voluntarily too) will find themselves in the jungle, having to deal with strange circumstances in order to refocus themselves before they return to the city. For the minotaurs of the Degringolade, the jungle and the city are linked; they gain consequence and experience there that will allow them to be more than the cleaners of stables and subjugated underclass that they begin the game as.

    I'm not sure that answers your question. Do you want to know more? Like what?
  • I think the game has some serious cool and weird stuff going on that could be fun to talk about for the curious. 
    What are your favorite things that are cool and weird?

  • We know the first four minotaurs appeared on the riverbank, but where have all the others come from? Are there female minotaurs?

  • Just as important is the jungle, which surrounds and encroaches on the Degringolade. In the jungle, you'll face fantastic monsters and mad Voices (the Voices are not gods, and do not let them tell you differently). This is more classical "adventuring" is done in Clay. Minotaurs who go frantic from breaking Silence (you can go voluntarily too) will find themselves in the jungle, having to deal with strange circumstances in order to refocus themselves before they return to the city. For the minotaurs of the Degringolade, the jungle and the city are linked; they gain consequence and experience there that will allow them to be more than the cleaners of stables and subjugated underclass that they begin the game as.

    I'm not sure that answers your question. Do you want to know more? Like what?
    Hm, ok. I'm starting to form a picture here. Let me just express a tiiiny misgiving that I'm having (although it's probably a misunderstanding on my part, seeing as I have no idea what "Silence" is): So, you're a Minotaur (are they called that in-game? The Island of Minos is kinda far from any jungles...), you have quiet little chats with other Minotaurs about how terribly tragic your underclass lives are and then generally get worked up about living conditions until you break your caste's Silence tenement and have to go on a mystic journey to face the dangers out there in Jamanji-country to... attone(?) for your sins before returning to the city (manful adventures and enlightenment being found en route)? I like the concept but I'm picturing there being a heavy-handed points system that's forever forcing you in and out of the city. Too many "rage" points? Looks like you're off for some time-out in the Jungle, guy. ...maybe I'm worried that breaking Silence and having to go on your bull-man pilgrimage will be too artificially enforced?

    I'm super interested in how this'll work out. I'm totally into the powerful-but-outcast vibe - I'm writing something similar about Irish giants resisting Oliver Cromwell, so, youknow, similar.
  • We know the first four minotaurs appeared on the riverbank, but where have all the others come from? Are there female minotaurs?
    Minotaurs are all male. They breed with women.
    I'm picturing there being a heavy-handed points system that's forever forcing you in and out of the city.
    You're more or less in control of whether you'll have to leave the city. You sort of have to go out of your way for that to happen.

    Silence is their stoic code/philosophy.

    Game play is not dominated by "quiet little chats with other Minotaurs about how terribly tragic your underclass lives are".
  • The game is intended to support campaign-play. What were the longest campaigns in play-testing? What happened in them? Could somebody give a brief summary of the events of a campaign? Thanks!
  • Easy ones! First: my favorites, for Jason.

    Mechanically, my favorite thing is the Krater of Lots resolution mechanic. When certain circumstances occur (dangerous situations, the presence of the supernatural, etc.) the GM calls for a draw from the Krater. Both the GM and the minotaur player add tokens from their supply to a bowl (or a bag, let's be honest) based on the circumstances and what the desired outcome is. The Krater's outcomes are NOT success/failure, they're much more interesting. "Your efforts change the mind of the opposition", for example. Clearly that indicates a success in some conflicts/circumstances, but it also indicates what type of success AND there are situations where it may not be success at all. The outcomes also change your token supplies and affect other mechanical elements of the game.

    My favorite part of the setting. Ooooh man. The Voices. They're a trio of insanely powerful, disembodied entities that exist in the jungle. The Voices seem to be interested in the lives of minotaurs (or perhaps minotaurs are their pawns to influence the future of the Degringolade?) but they're unknowable and, well... crazy. The voices may come to you in the jungle, they may give you supernatural gifts of great power, they may use you to their own ends. They may get you killed. The very best part is that, by their very presence, they necessitate a Krater draw; and they're unique and important enough that each has its own special token to put in the Krater when it is present. I always wanted to do a D&D campaign where the gods were directly involved with the affairs of the world and the adventurers. Clay does that out of the box.

    Epengar, since those first four minotaurs appeared on the riverbank, the minotaurs have integrated into Degringolade society. There are no female minotaurs. All minotaurs are the offspring of a male minotaur and a human woman. The minotaurs now make up a substantial but small minority of the population a few generations on. Are you thinking about how that interbreeding must create conflict and tensions for the minotaurs within society? Well you're absolutely right.
  • That stuff is definitely cool and weird!

    I don't even know what "campaign play" means any more. When we played Sign In Stranger at some point we did the math and realized the game would last more than twenty sessions, easily. Any idea what the expectation is here? Is it the old skool "play forever" model? Is there a dramatic arc to play that will last X number of sessions?
  • You play until the group decides whether or not The Watchers (super-giant trees in the jungle) will bloom again -- signalling, in essence, salvation for civilization.

    One of Paul's campaigns ran for 14 sessions but that event didn't take place. I quit running it for my group after three sessions and that sort of decision wasn't even a vague glimmer in our minds.
  • edited March 2014
    When we were playing, the end state was related to the Watchers, who will bloom again when civilization enters a new age of greatness; if it came to pass that it was clear this was or wasn't going to happen, that was the end of the game.

    Scooped.
  • Potemkin: yes, they're minotaurs in-game. Since there is no ancient Greece in the setting it must have different origins. Silence is the minotaurs code of conduct (think of it as a form of honor), and yes, part of Silence is not expressing your desires. That doesn't mean they're not permitted to want, or even to act to bring about those things that they want; they just cannot express themselves. Why not? Well... Silence allows a minotaur to control himself. When he breaks silence, he may lose it and go frantic (like... a berzerker or a werewolf).

    So, yes, if my Advocate minotaur spends a scene counseling your Soldier minotaur, that might be a quiet chat. But the game is as much about actions as it is about words. Let's say your Soldier works as a caravan guard for a spice merchant. You return to the mansion with a supply train filled with merchandise and find that the merchant has beaten and maimed his wife in a fit of rage. You have loved her, you call her Weeps Only For Children because to speak her name is an expression of your own want, and you have lain with her since you first took up employment with the merchant. He beat her because he found out that she bore within her a minotaur to be.

    Your rage knows no bounds, but to break Silence would mean you run for the jungle. You would escape the pain of the situation certainly, but the merchant would face no justice if you ran. By the time you returned (perhaps bearing a new Name and a Gift from the Still Voice) the merchant will have laid the blame at your door, terminated your employment and placed a bounty upon your head. But can you bear to stay? To return to work for this man? To count on the paid justice of the Empyrei to do right by Weeps Only For Children?
  • Jason, Epengar, what Christopher and d.anderson said. "The Watchers will bloom again when the civilization below enters a new age of greatness." When that happens is up to the GM, but I think it takes a pretty long game to truly warrant it. YMMV.
  • edited March 2014
    SOLD SOLD SOLD SOLD SOLD SOLD SOLD

    image

    (So, um... is anyone playing on G+?)
  • What do the characters do in the game?

    Hmm, that question seems to maybe have a lot of baggage here. I'll put it another way -- the supporting fiction and the description portray the minotaurs as subordinate in the Degringolade, working as laborers, guards, gladiators. In the Jungle there is only desperate struggle for survival. These don't seem to be characters with power to change things, or even to live independent lives. Do characters gain power and independence as the game progresses?

    What kind of map, if any does the game provide a map for the setting?
  • edited March 2014
    SOLD SOLD SOLD SOLD SOLD SOLD SOLD
    Right this way, sir or madam:
    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/252728880/the-clay-that-woke-an-rpg-about-minotaurs/
    :)
    at least for a few more days...
  • I've a similar question to Epengar here. Given that the PCs are members of a literally-inhuman underclass in the city, I feel like the setting evokes tropes about racism, Othering, and systemic oppression that could be problematic if not handled deftly. Similarly, I can't tell from the descriptions given if the the code of Silence functions as another form of systemic oppression within the culture Paul is portraying.

    How mechanically bound are the PCs to follow the tenets of Silence and/or obey the culture's laws? Is it mechanically possible / thematically appropriate for one or more of the PCs to utterly reject the tenets of Silence, or attempt to lead a revolt against the human society? Or are such actions "simply not part of Clay's story?"

  • I think Paul is either brave or crazy(bravy?).
    He's nuts, totally nuts. I was expecting the kickstarter video to slide into Tim and Eric style weirdness any second. Fortunately, I like nuts and I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is.

    Unfortunately, shipping costs out of the US kind of prevent me pledging for the physical copy. You think there's a way interested Europeans to co-operate to share shipping costs?
  • edited March 2014
    Unfortunately, shipping costs out of the US kind of prevent me pledging for the physical copy. You think there's a way interested Europeans to co-operate to share shipping costs?
    I know there is. Look at the Pledge levels again:

    Pledge $126 or more
    THE HERD (International): Four copies of the softcover book for folks overseas who want to combine to save on shipping costs. You also get all the PDFs from THE PDF GAMER (see above), and THE READER minotaur story as ebook files (see above).
    Estimated delivery: Aug 2014
    Add $20 USD to ship outside the US

  • I know there is. Look at the Pledge levels again:
    Cor! They really thought of everything! Now I just gotta find three other dudes, preferably English, who want this crazy.
  • Potemkin, I pledged for the pdf but would be up for a hard copy (and am in UK). If we can find 2 other UK peeps this week, I can upgrade my pledge....
  • Alex F, since you've pledged, you could put a comment on the Kickstarter page to see if you can find more British residents to form a Herd.

    WMSkyfall, my impression from "Silent as the Sun" is that Silence is more than a philosophy. It may also be a mechanism for staying rational. I'm not sure a minotaur who totally rejects Silence can live a social or rational life. That doesn't mean there might not be different interpretations of Silence. In any case Silence does not require obedience to all humans as a general rule; it is not simply a doctrine of subordination.

    I wonder if there are minotaur separatists.
  • I think that if you just straight-up reject silence, you'll end up running for the jungle a lot. And it's a harsh place. But IIRC, there's nothing to hard-stop you from playing that way. There is also nothing to twist you into respecting the human laws of the land other than life can be tough on outlaws (unless you carve out an outlaw niche, right?).
  • I think that if you just straight-up reject silence, you'll end up running for the jungle a lot. And it's a harsh place. But IIRC, there's nothing to hard-stop you from playing that way. There is also nothing to twist you into respecting the human laws of the land other than life can be tough on outlaws (unless you carve out an outlaw niche, right?).
    The way I understand it is that the Minotaurs have classes - e.g. Soldier, Scholar etc. - that aren't their rolls in society but their roles in some enlightened utopian society that will eventually come forth in some real religo-philosophic sense. I interpret this as meaning that Minotaurs, culturally, are really invested in the City (the only civilisation) as their religious centre and place of enlightenment/realisation. That being said, if you were an orphan Minotaur raised as a vicious pit-fighter you might not have the same civilisation-centric commitment to Silence as a Watchman or Servant. Although, thinking about it, that's the origin story for Conan. And he found Krom, so maybe it's not all nurture over nature.

    Man, I'm catching the crazy real fast.

    [We're whispering behind the scenes here and a few Europeans have spoken up - still looking for more UK storygamers to get excited and form up the herd.]

  • Herd? I think you mean stampede!
  • Thanks for the reasonably-reassuring answers. I still have some concerns about how the subject matter will be treated in The Clay That Woke, but I think the best way for me to resolve those concerns would be to read "Silent as the Sun" and get a sense of where Paul is coming from with this game.

    Another question about the Silence mechanics: what prompts a Minotaur to flee to the jungle when their Silence stat hits 0, and not return until their Silence score increases? Is it an inability to reconcile internal frustration with external society? Peer pressure and ostracization? Some inner cosmological calling?

  • edited March 2014
    What kind of map, if any does the game provide a map for the setting?
    No map! Paul talks about several regions and locations, etc. in the book, but they're not plotted together at all. In fact, the idea is mostly to teach you, as a prospective GM, how the setting works and allow you to create your own elements and tweak the ideas in the text to your own ends. It's high setting, but low canon.
    What do the characters do in the game? ... These don't seem to be characters with power to change things, or even to live independent lives. Do characters gain power and independence as the game progresses?
    Characters live out their lives as best they see fit. They engage with NPCs and situations thrown at them by the GM. They develop goals and hopes and seek to bring them to fruition and cope with the loss if they fail to do so. And yes they absolutely gain power and independence as the game progresses in exactly the way you're wondering. That's done by the Name mechanic which is some cool shit (and it requires engagement with the whole Silence/Degringolade/jungle dynamic). Shall we discuss Name?
    I've a similar question to Epengar here. Given that the PCs are members of a literally-inhuman underclass in the city, I feel like the setting evokes tropes about racism, Othering, and systemic oppression that could be problematic if not handled deftly. Similarly, I can't tell from the descriptions given if the the code of Silence functions as another form of systemic oppression within the culture Paul is portraying.

    How mechanically bound are the PCs to follow the tenets of Silence and/or obey the culture's laws? Is it mechanically possible / thematically appropriate for one or more of the PCs to utterly reject the tenets of Silence, or attempt to lead a revolt against the human society? Or are such actions "simply not part of Clay's story?"
    Skyfall, Epengar's got the right of it. Once you read the book and think it through a bit, I think, you come to the conclusion that without Silence, minotaurs aren't capable of co-existing with a human civilization. I think they would be savage (in literal sense, uncontrolled, violent, etc.). I think that's why they don't have Names to begin with too. There's a lot going on in this area, thematically, with the game; we're not going to be able to tease it all out in this thread.

    Mechanically, if you forsake Silence, you end up in the jungle all the time. It might be fun to have lots of jungle adventures, but you'd never be able to affect life in the Degringolade or, certainly, bring the civilization to a new age of greatness. You'd just be this random, uncontrolled, bull-headed Conan dude.

    As for your concerns about systemic oppression, othering, etc... that's dicey stuff. I've typed and deleted this part of the response several times. Here's what I'll say: The Clay That Woke isn't about slavery. This is thematically significant territory that I don't think I should (and am probably not qualified to) speculate on. Powerlessness and hope and weakness and strength, etc. Don't worry that angle to death too much, give the game a read and see if you still have concerns, is my advice.
  • edited March 2014
    Man, I'm catching the crazy real fast.
    Thank God. I've been living with it a long, long time. It's nice to share it with the rest of you.
  • You'd just be this random, uncontrolled, bull-headed Conan dude.
    Or just eaten by a dinosaur.
  • You'd just be this random, uncontrolled, bull-headed Conan dude.
    Or just eaten by a dinosaur.
    I can see there being some folk playing this game wrong on purpose, just for kicks. Beer and Pretzels mood at the table? Sure, lets have a jungle session.
  • I would not go to the jungle on that basis. That is where the Voices are, which are serious shit, and if I am remembering correctly, how you get Gifts. It is also where you go if you need more Silence to keep it together, need to keep track of a friend that has lost theirs, or if you need a new employment, and I think also how you get your Name. Admittedly it is a wacky place, but not really silly.
  • What is it in the game that fosters/favors long term play? What is it that my character becomes through play?
  • What do I get to own in play, what can I control?
  • What is it in the game that fosters/favors long term play? What is it that my character becomes through play?
    You're going to get hooked into situation and setting components and want to see their stories through to completion. As you go on, your minotaur will (should) grow in Name and become more and more able to make changes in the world of the Degringolade. I find that kind of ability compelling, especially when it's baked into a game. I always wanted a D&D game where my adventures changed the course of nations and resulted in real, tangible differences to the campaign world. I think Clay delivers on that, if you run it right (and for long enough).
    What do I get to own in play, what can I control?
    You get to own your character (and the appurtenant token supply) and that's it. When we say Paul was tapping into the trad style of gaming, this is one of the things he worked toward. GM controls the world and NPCs, Player controls their character. (There are some exceptions, I suppose, there's a mechanic wherein nameless minotaurs portrayed by Players turn up for a single scene, but that's not 'ownership' the way you're looking at it, I don't think.)

  • What do I get to own in play, what can I control?
    You get to own your character (and the appurtenant token supply) and that's it. When we say Paul was tapping into the trad style of gaming, this is one of the things he worked toward. GM controls the world and NPCs, Player controls their character. (There are some exceptions, I suppose, there's a mechanic wherein nameless minotaurs portrayed by Players turn up for a single scene, but that's not 'ownership' the way you're looking at it, I don't think.)
    I'm content to own/control nothing but a character, and if a game is happy enforcing the line between Players and GMs then I'm willing to go along - I like that style of play as much as more "GM-full" experiences where everyone owns little parts of the fiction. Trad elements have a proud legacy, yo.
  • If you haven't backed and want to do so, you're running out of time!
    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/252728880/the-clay-that-woke-an-rpg-about-minotaurs
  • edited March 2014
    Ah, still didn't quite organise a Euro-herd yet! Last call, folk! Anyone in the UK especially!

    Dawn of the third day. 27 hours remain.
  • Yes - if one more Euro-UK person can commit, I'll push the button on physical copy order for all of us. But ASAP!
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