[TSoY] So, you think you know how Harm works?

edited February 2009 in Story Games
Over at the Forge, there's some discussion about harm, BDtP, and, a long while back, there was more discussion about how weapons and armor work.

Here's the thing:

Everyone says The Shadow of Yesterday is an awesome, awesome game. People have called it "the perfect game", and so so many people have had so much fun playing it. It won a bigass award a few years ago.

And yet, it seems like a whole bunch of pretty important rules in the game are not really understood. Why do I say that? Because a bunch of people start talking about them and suddenly realize that they all interpreted them differently.

For instance, even Eero Tuovinen, the author of the Solar System booklet (which clarifies a lot of things left a little murky in the original text) had a totally different interpretation of how weapons and armor works from Clinton R. Nixon. He was certainly not alone in that respect.

In the last few days, a discussion about Harm started up on the Arkenstone Publishing forum, and it seems to be revealing that no two people track and apply Harm the same way. And this is many years after the publication of the game itself... how is it that this never came up before (at least, not on the CRN forum, as far as I can see)?

Clinton has stated in the past that some of the ambiguity in the game text was put there on purpose, to allow each group to find their own interpretation.

So, what's the deal? Can a game be great even though so many people interpret it differently? Can a game be great because of this very feature? Or should a game text always be crystal-clear in its descriptions? How does Harm actually work, anyway?


  • (Addendum: Just to be super clear, I'm not trying to badmouth TSoY. I think it's a great game. I also really like the Solar System booklet. I just find this, uh, thing very odd, very curious, so I'd like to hear your thoughts on it.)
  • TSOY is the new Fudge. Its just that we don't always realize how much of it we're making up from the bits of the game until we stop and look real closely. Which for me, with my emphasis on play as a thing that is produced by those at the table for those at the table, works all to the good.

    That and there is a solid core of narrative function in TSOY, and the things that build around it (like how weapons and armor works) are nifty, but not necessarily the core of what makes the game work. Like, I was one of those people who said in a thread here "oh shit, Clinton says weapons and armor apply in all conflicts, not just bringing down the pain, I was doing it wrong!" But when I changed it, and changed it back, and changed it some more I found out it doesn't super mater. It maybe makes bad asses a little more bad ass if they have equipment, and puts a more "thing" focused approach to the game possible, but it didn't really change the churn of keys, transcendence, and characters beating each other bloody all that much.

    Truth is in many games there are elements like that. There is something in the game that really, really matters and several things that matter less. (And maybe any number of things that don't matter at all.) Problem is, of course, that no one can agree on what they are....
  • Posted By: Brand_RobinsTSOY is the new Fudge.
    I agree with this estimation, and find that to be good. FATE for example, was great to me because it was narrative play-dough, but SOTC had a crunch layer to it that starts telling me how to play the game in a way I didn't play my beloved FATE game previously (my play-dough gets used another way than they use it in SOTC). The more structure that was imposed on Fudge or FATE, the more I felt like it was diverging from my "build" (to mix metaphors, because it is like play-dough and also like a Linux distro).

    TSOY and Solar have that play-dough/distro feel to me as well. It is a basic resolution mechanic that gets applied in very specific ways that meet the needs to each group. Because it is loose and fluid, it fills in the cracks that a totally free-form run of a game would have and give it a structure that allows some expression of shared concepts in the creative space. I compile the game "kernel" to process the game aspects of our creations in a way that makes optimum sense to me. I get the performance I want from the build, or I tweak it to work.

    Any game system is just a shared language and process structure for the creative enterprise that is marked by play. I think that TSOY/Solar has the interpretive aspect you describe because it is a framework that, unlike Fudge, is interconnected. You can see the progression from Fudge to TSOY, FATE, SOTC, Solar, etc because the ideas don't get replaced, they get reworked to handle different chores in different ways. The only problem with mechanics that are open to interpretations is if different members of a single group using the system have different views on how it applies to the game in question.

    As a hideously non-linear thinker (as if my prose doesn't give that away), I like to have the "float" such games allow me.
  • Darn. I misread the thread title and was expecting a TSoY Harn conversion. :)
  • Posted By: buzzDarn. I misread the thread title and was expecting a TSoY Harn conversion. :)
    This is now demanded.

    I expect Secrets & Keys relating to the Thardic Republic, Kanday, and Chybisa on my desk in the morning.
  • I remember having this conversation with Clinton where he was like "TSOY (then in the first edition) is intentionally unclear about whether there is even a GM or not."
  • Posted By: bunnybunny"Dude, I'm afraid it seems Clinton R. Nixon doesn't use his own rules."
    The rest of this thread I get and totally agree with, but I don't understand this one. I definitely use Harm as written. Maybe I should go look at that thread on the Forge.

    As for the rest of it, I've been really surprised at some of the positive reaction to TSOY. It's not that I don't think it's great - I do, and wouldn't have published it otherwise - but not, you know, "the perfect game" or something like that. That's awesome, and I appreciate it, but I think the ambiguity in it isn't for everyone. My group's been playing OD&D lately, and having to make up half the rules for it in order to play is one of my favorite parts, but it definitely highlights for me how that would be annoying for some.
  • Oh, also, FWIW: Eero's interpretation of the rules is fantastic, and the one I use now.
  • I'm one of the people adding to the confusion over at Arkenstone, but I fail to see some of the differences that drove Paul to post here.

    And finally, I think most rules don't need to be interpreted the same way. There is a card game in germany, called Doppelkopf, where people have to agree on the proper set of rules if they haven't played it together before. TSOY/Solar System has a similar quality for me, but my gut feeling is that the application of harm/weapons/armor within/without BDtP does not change the core of the game in a significant/deal breaking way.
  • edited February 2009
    I've been away from Story Games for a while, but I'm just popping in to say:

    I started this thread because I was wondering if some of these ambiguities and what-not might actually be a feature as opposed to a bug. I thought I might get some interesting thoughts on that--and I think there were a few here, for sure.

    I read through the text and I see so many places where, "Oh, does this work this way, or that way?" And then I realize that, hey, it would probably play fine either way. That's interesting to me, from a designer's perspective. Is it just that the core of the game is so strong? Or that it allows each of us to work our own preferences in some way?
  • Posted By: Paul T. Can a game be great even though so many people interpret it differently?
    I'm pretty sure people only like my game because they're playing it wrong.
  • This old thread came up because of a new thread about TSoY. I realize it makes fairly little sense without a link, so I tracked down the original discussion. Here it is:

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