Motobushido: First Session

Or: Designer Not Included

We had our first session, and I thought it was pretty interesting! Very interesting to watch all the moving parts finally creak into motion and start doing shit.

The thing started with a mandatory start-of-session flashback scene (N. Phillip Cole recommended one per scenario start and we’ll do that going forward). This is terrific tech on various fronts: it helps give a sense of history, establish a pattern of expected in-fiction badassery, and helps flesh out those delicious little bits about the mysterious War that you define to create the entire setting. Ours were Thermonuclear, Civil War, Robot Feds, and Dream Insurgency. So we got to talk a lot about what all that craziness means. I framed it up into a neat little scene about the gang getting the jump on a squadron of robot police. Each gang member jotted down a possible lesson (also excellent tech, more on that in a minute) filled up their Ki resources, and then we started play.

I’m running the Willow Ridge scenario that comes in the book. It’s a pretty simple setup: the gang is looking for someone in town, but the town is being run by another bike gang. There’s also a side story about a hot springs and stuff related to that. So, in-town politics and obvious enemies/competitors for the poor little town’s stuff. It’s fine, it’s easy.

The pace of play reminds me, honestly, a leeeeetle bit of Torchbearer. Every interaction with the system has the potential to be an elaborate, lengthy process and very little gets “done” but lots of things happen on the mechanical side. Combined with the possibility of calling for Flashback scenes right in the middle of the main storyline, I would not want anyone to expect the game to be action-packed. 

It’s most definitely tension-packed and that’s excellent. The core dueling mechanic is… interesting. Very mechanically sound and it generates a lot of tension: should I start something I may not be able to finish? Is the other side gonna escalate past words? Lots of uncertainty and brinksmanship and it feels great.

That said, it’s also scaffolded by assumptions that are just not addressed well in the rulebook — the designer is not included and I don’t want to try and ring him up while we’re at the table. For example: you define what you’re fighting “for” (blood, honor, influence) and that establishes what possible mechanical outcomes might come out of the duel: stains granted or removed, resource points won, even straight-up killing in a variety of ways. But “what you’re fighting for” is unrelated to the reason one might want to start a duel at all. Since the duel is used for everything you have to be pretty creative about tying your motivations into the blood/honor/influence thing.

For example, the first duel of the night was between the leader and the den mother. They’re lovers and frenemies (very Sons of Anarchy, it’s delicious). The scout has gone into town way too long and a storm is rolling in, preparing to soak the gang. The den mother, who is also a speed freak in the literal sense — she rides a sport bike and is clad in the tightest, reddest leathers you’ve ever seen — wants to rush down in a cloud and overwhelm whomever might be there. The taicho wants to let the scout do his job and go in armed with foreknowledge. 

Well, so, maybe this is Burning Wheel Duel of Wits damage talking, but that sounds to me like they’re dueling, right? The den mother challenges his honor and slaps down the Challenge card. The taicho hems and haws — he has terrible cards in hand but a very handy dueling ability due to his rank — and accepts her challenge. So…is the den mother fighting for blood, or honor, or influence? I don’t know! We make a guess and say honor. It is totally a guess. The taicho says the same thing, although defending his honor in front of the gang seems much clearly related.

So they have their duel, strike zones are exceeded and they both do and say shitty things to each other, and finally the den mother concedes. Other than the mechanical outcomes related to what they’re fighting for (honor!) and the stage at which the concession was made (Confrontation, stage 1), does that mean the taicho got what he wanted? I’m guessing so. But it’s never actually said. At no point does the Dueling section really talk about consequences other than the mechanical stuff. It worked to do it that way, that you get your intent as well as the mechanical stuff.

I do not love that it’s so hard to fit the blood/honor/influence decision to the fiction. It appears to be an entirely mechanical decision.

The very early decision of your approach to the conflict — indirect (Water) or direct (Steel) — feels somewhat pointless as well. While the game talks a lot about the challenger having special initiative to really set the terms of a conflict — thereby forcing their opponent to use their weaker stat — there’s no actual way to mandate that. It’s not like…words versus weapons. That would be easy to enforce: if you’re talking it’s Water, if you’re hitting it’s Steel. But it’s about approach, and as far as I can tell there’s literally nothing you can do in-fiction to back an opponent into using the stat they don’t want to use. Under what circumstances would it be literally impossible to resort to the direct approach (either drawing a blade or directly intimidating someone)? Or vice versa? 

The rest of the session was good and, sure enough, the interaction of the alignments (are you a nomad or a pack member? do you win through misdirection or direct conflict? etc.) and the various techniques certainly do shape play. They nudge the players into the right place: the Taicho sends his enforcer off to do ugly things and he’s more than willing to do them, the scout starts shit on his own that he really should not, and so on. That stuff is strong.

We didn’t get too deep into the scenario. We still had steps 8-10 (!) of character creation to finish, but that was time very well spent. The gang feels unique and colorful, the setting is much stronger than I was expecting after my first few reads, and the situation feels like it has some momentum.

Should be playing next week. More news then!

0 thoughts on “Motobushido: First Session”

  1. Adam D​ one of the notable mechanisms of the game is the notion that escalating a conflict too fast is unbecoming of a samurai. So the amount by which a card value can exceed the previous card is constrained. That’s “strike range.”

    It’s a very useful power-up whenever you can grow that range. Means you can play a larger range of cards without inflicting Stains on yourself.

  2. The very early decision of your approach to the conflict — indirect (Water) or direct (Steel) — feels somewhat pointless as well.

    I don’t know the game, but I can guess at some ways you can use this to manipulate stuff. All about posturing in the fiction–if you call someone out (a direct conflict), they can’t really respond indirectly, they have to meet you where you’re at. Conversely, if you’re being sneaky and covert about something (an indirect conflict), they don’t have one direct target to strike at, so they have to respond indirectly as well.

    Not as sure how you could frame a situation so that direct action requires indirect response, but I think there might be ways, given the context (maybe it’s a direct action that can’t be appropriately responded to in a direct manner because of social stuff or whatever, so they have to respond indirectly).

  3. It sounds to me like the Den Mother was fighting for Influence; trying to get the leader to do what she wanted.  He was responding by fighting for Honor, not being told what to do by his woman.

    I’m frustrated that the fictional/mechanical connections isn’t strong, because the rest of it sound absolutely badass!

  4. I found Dogs in the Vineyard to suffer from that same kind of awkwardness.  There’s this escalation mechanic that forces the narrative but you can totally mechanically game the entire thing.  So you can’t really act the way you want you have to make bizarre choices based on what dice you have.   It was a very grating experience that no one really came to grips with.

    Far to many times it turned out;  My roll sucks so I either purposely tank what I’m doing and get screwed over.  I just escalate it to face shooting and win.  I get a little roughed up and get some xp out of the deal but really it’s just stalling the story.  

    When I read through MotoBushido it didn’t seem as jarring as DitV but it would seem your experience is very similar in play.

  5. Andy Hauge​ I totally get that that’s the intent! But it doesn’t work in practice we found. In practice, players are very good at advocating for the approach they want.

    Instigator: I draw my sword on him in the middle of the street! He has nowhere to run. Steel, right?

    Responder: oh I draw my sword but my goal here is to wear him out. Dodge, bob, talk. Let him swing. Eventually he’ll run out of steam. Water!

    Now, it is entirely possible this is a feature and not a bug. Maybe the stat is there to nudge the player toward consistent narration. I feel like that makes the “challenger has a lot of power to set the terms of the duel” stuff misleading or an outright lie, though.

  6. Hmm. That sounds really weaselly to me. Like, stretching it. But that’s probably because I’m viewing Steel/Water as types of conflict, rather than techniques you use during a conflict, and I don’t know which the book is referring to.

    Like, if I draw a sword on you and you draw a sword back, you’re responding to Steel with Steel, because swordfighting (no matter what style of swordfighting) is a Steel sort of conflict.

    What I’d see as a valid Water response: “I supplicate myself, calling on their guilt and compassion to spare me”. To me, that’s what indirect conflict looks like–not actively engaging them. Doubly so if this is done for the benefit of an audience, where the contest is “can I strike you down without losing face?”

  7. Jamey Crook​ maybe! And that argument was made. But then you look at what you get for winning an influence duel, and it’s not at all what she wanted, nor what fit the fiction.

    The interplay of fictional positioning, mechanical outcomes and player intent is just not well structured. Or rather, it forces very precise framing. We decided on Honor because she’s calling the Taicho’s honor in question (to manipulate him into doing things her way!) and he necessarily is defending it before the whole pack.

  8. Additionally: note that you can use a Water approach and still duel “for blood.” Which means if you can goad your opponent into escalating to Final Blows, you will fucking kill them. With your sword.

  9. “While the game talks a lot about the challenger having special initiative to really set the terms of a conflict — thereby forcing their opponent to use their weaker stat — there’s no actual way to mandate that.”

    There’s no hard mechanic to enforce this, that’s intentional. A clever narrator can try to push for any stat in any situation, provided they can make it sound plausible within the fiction you’ve established. It’s up to the group (and the GM) to arbitrate if they feel a player is getting spammy with their “best stat” in scenes where it wouldn’t work right.

    Oddly enough we never had that problem in any of our games. Players chose the stat that made sense for the situation, and didn’t try to come up with excuses for using their better stats in scenes where they didn’t fit. I more often than not saw players pick based on the feel of the moment, knowing that they’re picking answers that call on their lesser stats, and just rolling with it because it told a better story for the moment.

    If that is something that becomes a problem in a group, my hope is that it gets resolved outside of the game mechanics.

  10. Also re: that duel, I’d say the Den mother would go for Influence (she wants to change the Taicho’s mind), while the Taicho is going for Honor (he’s just been back-talked!). The assumption is that when you win the duel, you get your way. It doesn’t actually say that, though – something I found out way too late to change in print. Must make a note of that in the FAQ!

    EDIT: Would you be up for phrasing that as a question? I’ll frame an answer and post it to the FAQ. If I can fit it in the text, I’ll update it in future printings too.

    EDIT2: Looking through prior game notes, I see what might have happened. In later plays we assumed there was a fifth choice in the Influence victory list, basically: “or E) State a narrative fact about the outcome.” I’ll have to update that in the text. It wasn’t an initial plan, but it ended up being how we always played, for that very reason of missing statement of assumption.

  11. Okay but the Den Mother doesn’t actually want any of the mechanical outcomes associated with winning a duel of Influence. Nor can she actually rationalize any of them. No Resources to gain, no Faction to invest in, no Disfavor (no factions at all, this early in the game), no stains to remove other than what might crop up in the fight.

    There’s also the matter of the duel types being necessarily different. So I get that dueling for influence is what you do when influence is what you want in the fiction, and I get that the resources/favor/disfavor choices are there to add mechanical oomph to your fictional intent. But say you’re fighting For Blood and your intent is murder. Obviously you’re not going to get what you want until you’ve beaten them mechanically and achieved the kill result (Final Blows, no allowances). So that’s kind of different. I’m not even sure what intent “for Honor” even looks like beyond the mechanical benefits.

    So…”for Blood,” you get to maybe narrate first blood into the duel’s outcome but you don’t get to kill them until you’ve earned that mechanical result. “For Influence” I guess you do earn whatever in-fiction outcome you wanted plus additional resources and favor if those are even part of the fiction (otherwise just lots of strain defense). And dueling “for Honor” I can’t figure out what one might intend in the fiction, but the mechanical benefits seem tightly wedded to, well, clearing your honor.

  12. Mark Delsing I’d pay money for that.

    That said, there’s a risk in paying for playtesting, perhaps, in that groups paid for such efforts might feel less inclined to deliver bad news? And sometimes it’s that bad news that you so deeply need.

  13. Paul Beakley “Okay but the Den Mother doesn’t actually want any of the mechanical outcomes associated with winning a duel of Influence” – I hear ya. Took me a sec to grok it above, but I added another edit. Seems there’s a missing Option E in Influence. This is admittedly a case of where the translation of “What’s in my head” to “What’s on the paper” missed a piece.

    I’m finding these posts of yours exceptionally eye opening. The notes here are directly crafting a third revision to the text, mainly for clarification. I’ll save the final text-push until you’re done with all the posts though.

  14. N. Phillip Cole: Of course, with Paul, I have every confidence that would never happen. Which is a good thing.

    Nah, the main trickiness with paid playtesting is that it just takes so much of a time investment (and scheduling) that it’s hard to slot in too many of them.

  15. Mark Delsing if I wanted $$$ for doing what I do, I’d set up that Patreon I’ve been threatening. But I don’t so I haven’t.

    It’s all good! And it’s not bad news! I think more explanation wrapping up what I think is a fundamentally functional procedure is all that’s needed. It works, it just needs to be framed correctly.

    (I’m honestly more skeptical of the Deeds -> Lesson -> Deeds cycle but I’m not gonna tackle that until we’ve seen some advancement.)

    (EDIT: and the water/steel thing — I think it just doesn’t work without the challenger having some leverage to force the fight on their mechanical terms.)

  16. N. Phillip Cole I dunno. Does paying for an editor mean you risk them going easy on your grammar and organization?

    Play-testing seems such a crucial part of game development that paying for it — with the all that implies, i.e., professional rigor, giving the client what they pay for — seems pretty logical to me. I would think that bigger industries (e.g., vidjya games) do this, don’t they? (I honestly don’t know.)

    Flip side: I realize that there’s so little money in this hobby that getting paid to play-test is probably not going to be at all common. Really, my post was a compliment to how thorough Paul is with his post-game analysis.

  17. To respond to some of the above discussion:

    The attributes mainly exist to color the narration of the action. Water vs Steel is both possible and pretty common. Let’s say, for example, Water vs Steel, Blood for Blood. Throwing out some possible outcomes here:

    – Steel wins, perfect Duel: outright murder the other guy
    – Steel wins, against two Allowances: provided both agree, murder the other guy, who rises up at the last moment to slit your throat as a final act
    – Water wins, perfect Duel: At the last moment, step to the side, twist the wrist, and your opponent’s charge impales him on your waiting blade
    – Water wins, against two Allowances: spin the opponent around, embrace him one last time, recognize his position as a former ally, then use your own blade to mutually impale yourselves together (see: Hero with Jet Li)

    Similarly, for narrating actions, it’s all in the narration. Some potential:

    (in the first stage)
    – Steel Counter, in Range: Intimidating stares, proud shouting of one’s lineage, capable threats
    – Water Counter, in Range: Silent nods, shifting of stance, twisting of countered threats, warnings of dire outcomes
    – Steel Counter, out of Range: Personal insults, careless waving of swords, spitting
    – Water Counter, out of Range: (this one’s tough) Evasive mockery, showings of flippant disdain, too-colorful taunting poetry, pleading for peace

    (in the second and third stages)
    – Steel Counter, in Range: Skip all the dancing and just go for expert strikes
    – Water Counter, in Range: Feints and traps, leading the opponent into a perfect position to take advantage of their poor form
    – Steel Counter, out of Range: The combatant is succumbing too deeply to rage, striking too wildly, losing form, and embarrassing himself in the process.
    – Water Counter, out of Range: The combatant avoids too much and by doing so without committing to action, he shows himself engaging in cowardly tactics

  18. Re: Type vs Technique:

    I very specifically tried to only use the terms Tech and Technique when specifically referring to the extending empowerments gained from Role, Style, and Bike. If I ever used those terms in any other capacity or reference, then that is definitely a typo, and please let me know where you see it.

  19. Yup, totally. That’s how we played it as well. 

    I like that the water/steel stat kind of locks the player into consistent narration. If you’re a pushy aggro kind of bushi, you’re gonna be pushy and aggro in all things. Pushy aggro tea ceremony, pushy aggro road racing, pushy aggro yelling at the boss. That’s why I mentioned up there that it might be more feature than bug that there’s no mechanical force behind the challenger trying to set the stage in a particular way.

  20. Wait: type vs tech(nique): did I confuse those in my posts and comments? If I did that’s totally on me. No confusion on this end about the difference!

    EDIT: I see where I did that. Totes unintential, just lazy writing. 

    EDIT: I blame Andy Hauge for invoking the word technique prior. Andy, you dick.

  21. Fun story! I ran a con game once where the players were dueling with words at a Pack Moot. Honor vs Blood. Blood won, perfect Duel, and narrated that his damnation of his opponent so complete that the crowds leapt forth and tore him apart on the spot. Death by Talking is the best.

  22. In terms of intent for duels, I differentiate between PC duels and duels with NPCs.

    For PCs winning a duel gets you only the mechanical effects. You never get to force another player to do or not do something based on purely mechanical rolls- you can punish them with the mechanics however.

    For NPC duels I use the gambit results in addition to the mechanical. Concede in first stage and you get to take a “”no, but” or a “yes, but”. Concede in stage 2 and it’s just a “yes, winner gets what they want” and concession in stage 3 gives a “yes, and”.

  23. Paul Beakley I’m going on a solitary “creative vacation” this weekend to work exclusively on the new game for three days at the beach. If you have any further feedback, let me know so I can see if it directly affects the new designs. =)

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