Monday, February 11, 2019

Chuubo's Marvelous Wish Granting Engine - Chapters 10-14

This latest stretch was perhaps the driest part of the book, with whole chapters filled with nothing but example quests and suggestions for perks. It's all useful information, central to the nitty-gritty of actually playing the game and (for the last chapter especially) establishing the boundaries of the setting's weird magic, but there was very little that called for a comprehensive read-through, rather than the occasional spot referencing.

The most memorable part of the last half of the book was undoubtedly the miraculous arcs. Like everything else in CMWGE, they are inventive, deceptively versatile, and also kind of hard to fully understand.

The issue with the arcs is that they're meant to be generic templates upon which you build up your individual suite of powers, but they're filled with highly specific idiosyncrasies. You're meant to reskin the powers to fit your character, but then you'll get something like the Keeper of Gardens arc which is mostly about creating and ruling a magical alternate world, but which also requires you to be actively toxic wherever you go. Whatever innate connection exists between those ideas is at a level too subtle for me to see, so it really just feels like you're stretching to fit into someone else's box.

In the long run, this can be very satisfying, especially if you have the campaign and you can see examples of how the general arcs adapt to specific characters. But in the short term, it feels so unnatural that you begin to doubt if that's really what you're supposed to be doing.

I guess what I really want from CMWGE is to get to a place of mastery. Where I've navigated its ambiguities long enough that I have an instinctive feel for the terrain, and I can use it to build the sort of games whose potential I now just vaguely sense. But I have to admit, getting there is going to be difficult. This game is a tough sell.

"Hey everyone, do y'all want to play a game where your progress is measured by your emotional experiences and the default setting is a candy-coated mishmash of anime tropes and your assumed character type is a teenaged demigod with subtle and primordial powers, who nonetheless is mostly concerned with the everyday pleasures and stresses that come with growing up?"

I mean, it's cool. Maybe even the coolest thing I own. But when I try to pitch it, I can't help feeling like the earnestly dorky kid who is try to affect coolness. Here's this cool thing, and though I don't entirely understand it, I will attempt to bask in its reflected coolness by becoming its biggest booster.

It's a little embarrassing, but you know what? Screw it. I can't help but be what I am.

Chuubo's Marvelous Wish Granting Engine set my mind afire. In the history of my personal engagement with the rpg hobby, it is epochal (for fun, here's my best guess at a list of the epochs: AD&D 2nd edition -> Dark Sun Boxed Set -> Mage: the Ascension, Revised -> Exalted -> D&D 4th edition -> CMWGE -> ???) and I'm pretty sure that it will have a similar effect on anyone who is interested in the nuts and bolts of rpg design.

It's rare to get a game that attempts something truly different, and rarer still for that different thing to be creatively fruitful. But that's what CMWGE achieved. It made rpgs feel new again.

UKSS Contribution: Ah, this one is tough, because so many of the best aspects of the setting are little details that wouldn't really mesh anywhere else. It feels more like plagiarism than usual. Then again, it's always been plagiarism, so let's do it - Fortitude Rats.

They're an entire race of Reepicheeps. Tiny adventurers with big attitudes and a flair for the dramatic. A perfect fit for any number of adventure fantasy settings.

5 comments:

  1. Chuubo's has long been on my list of games to purchase and digest, but I've been in a multi-year delve of Powered by the Apocalypse derived games. Your reviews here are putting it strongly into the category of 'next world-shaking system', when I'm ready for that.

    I don't see *any* Powered by the Apocalypse games on your list. It's conceivable the PbtA could be another epochal shift. It's been that for many of us. As introductions to the genre, I'd recommend Apocalypse World 2e, Urban Shadows, or Monsterhearts. They're all generally regarded as doing an excellent job of conveying the core conceits of the engine in a super-intelligible way.

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    1. Is Dungeon World not part of this family of games? I'll have to poke around on the internet and see if I can find a copy for a reasonable price.

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    2. My bad! I missed that entry on the list.

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  2. It is, but I don't recommend it as a first foray into the PbtA engine. The games I mentioned are purer distillations of what PbtA accomplishes, and make more fertile ground for the kind of paradigm-shift you're saying Chuubo's gave you.

    Dungeon World is more muddied, because it's sitting between Apocalypse World and D&D, and ultimately tries to do too much. It's certainly the most widely played and adopted of the PbtA stable of games, but I've seen many groups bounce hard off of Dungeon World and write off the PbtA because DW has too many trappings of D&D without being D&D, so it can easily come across as 'weird, disappointing' D&D. It'll probably be a worthwhile addition to your reviews shelf, especially since you'll be going through multiple versions of D&D. I do think Dungeon World should be considered one of those.

    Your reading of these games is nuanced and informed enough that you're likely to see the gems through the rough, but I brought it up because I was inspired to mention another game engine that might open up a new room in the gaming house for you, like it sounds Chuubo's has, and I expect it's better to mainline for that first experience than to consume the popular, watered down thing.

    If you want the unexpurgated PbtA experience, any of the three I mentioned do it well. AW is written with a particular tonality that rubs some people the wrong way, but it's a brilliant text for showing/giving you the game Vincent Baker had in mind when he wrote the thing. Urban Shadows is much more polished, and urban fantasy, but leverages the engine really well and in a really clear way. Monsterhearts is perhaps the best, because like Chuubo's it shows you that you can make a super-compelling game out of an atypical genre, but it's also a teenage monster romance game, so it's pretty niche.

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    1. To clarify, AW's tonality is a bit metal and in-your-face. Not just as scenery for the setting. It's the authorial voice throughout, so the game designer is swearing at you and telling you how it's gonna be. A lot of people hate it, but it's an amazing text for declaring a new way of making, running, and playing a game. And it's just a voice adopted for that very specific intent, versus it being a clueless or aggressive author IRL. It does a good job of shaking loose one's preconceptions, if you're able to relax and appreciate the construct for what it is.

      I'm probably overselling the effect, because it had an impact on me.

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