Threeforged: Addressing the Critics for “It Is Forbidden”

And now I’m going to respond to people who were kind enough to review my third-stage game.

Adam McConaughey said:

“Genre: Anthropology Experiment” made me chuckle. Adam asks if the game is fun, or just a lecture? I don’t really know. We had fun with the playtest but it is also a lecture. I’m watching racism tear my country apart, I figure we could use the lecture. Adam got the concept though and was first to review so hooray!

it’s a little bit Dog Eat Dog, a little bit Breaking the Ice, a little bit The Quiet Year and a little bit It Was a Mutual Decision.

Dog Eat Dog was sort of an inspiration but more that the two games come from the same rage. Never read the others. Microscope was the main inspiration, and Lexicon games.

Meguey Baker said:

Art and layout! Above and beyond credit for that, folks. Basically, a game of religious zealots clashing against each other. I’m probably not reading it deeply; I can see the fun there, it’s just not for me. The one part that made me pause was the last paragraph, about playing in other scopes than cultures, Talking about micro-societies clashing suddenly makes me take notice. So yeah. this goes on the “I’d play that if I really dug the folks playing'” pile.

Interesting that she says “religious zealots” because that couldn’t be further from the intent – the point is to illustrate that all cultures are somewhat zealotic, we just forget our own culture is. It shows how much we associate the phrase “It Is Forbidden” with religion (and I didn’t help by including pictures of Lot and Adm and Eve). I almost called the game Thou Shalt Not (ala Blake). I agree that the most interesting part is using for non-traditional culture clashes and micro-cultures. I want to run a game of it set in a shared house. Generally, I ONLY play with folks I dig, so I understand that!

Grant Howitt said:

A game about a clash of cultures in the Dog Eat Dog and Chronicles of Skin vein. Very cool-looking, and without a lot of the baggage the other two had so maybe an easier sell on game night?

I was hoping that it might end up being less “dark” than Dog Eat Dog by presenting both sides as neutral. A thought exercise more than a lecture, one hopes.

James Iles said and then later said more:

An expansion and reframing of Dog Eat Dog’s rule-layering system to tell the story of two culture’s increasingly fraught interactions. The system is good, and it’s really nicely organised to teach the game to you.

I deliberately didn’t reread Dog Eat Dog until I’d written the whole game so I wouldn’t overlap. Turns out there’s overlap anyway, because culture works by intuiting rules from narratives. The key difference, as I see it, is in Dog Eat Dog the natives are trying to guess what rules they broke so they don’t suffer again; In Forbidden, the lawmakers will simply tell you what you did wrong. “No, you can’t eat that rabbit you caught because it’s Friday, you stupid savage”. Microscope was a big influence on the teach-as-you-go organisation so I’m super glad it came through.

The game is pretty cynical – there’s no way to deescalate tensions until things are about to break out into open warfare, and the game enforces that all attempts to make reparations will only cause further insult or injury – but so long as your group is up for this kind of downbeat allegory it should work well.

Cynical is an interesting word. It does suck that things always get worse and there’s no hope. Does anyone have any ideas about breaking that up? Maybe once per round you can play a chip to get what you want? Or you can succeed as long as your character is punished for breaking the law?

Charlie Etheridge-Nunn said:

After all the chat at the start about the similarities to games like Dog Eat Dog, it’s good to see the differences right away. ….
It feels quite prescribed, but has a lot of potential, especially for a very large group. One of the things which interests me the most is the alternate settings such as a new neighbour moving in or possibly teams integrating in a workplace. The same tribal concepts as the basic game has, but in a different setting.

Charlie saw the differences. I would love to test it with a large group; it felt to me like something good for a classroom. If you have 12-20 people, please run it for me! And again, pick any setting! I’m going to put something more in the final version (already much enlarged) about different settings to use. Maybe a random table to roll on, or a list of inspiration.

Kirk Dankmyer said:

The rules are clear, and there’s a running example that’s in a fantasy world. The game is very freeform, but what it does establish, it establishes clearly. It sounds brutal, and I really want to play it.

Kirk did an excellent recap of the rules as well so I recommend reading it to get the gist of the game. He used italics in his review which made me do a big fist-pump: success is measured in emotional reaction.

Phill Calle said:

The game’s rules are few, and the few that exist are integral to the game and explained in detail. It is an elegant work.

Thanks Phill! Might be a cover quote!

Ivan said:

No dice, no cards, no randomisers. Perfect party game and handy educational tool about identity and prejudice. Best played with a lot of people and great for social gamers. A brilliant alternative to Werewolf/Mafia. 

Best bit: you’ll always have half the room opposing you and the other half backing you all the way. 

Verdict: Elite.

Very flattering. Hadn’t even thought of it like Werewolf because those games are about secrecy and lying. But it is like them in that you can, I hope (and as Grant also said): get people into it with very little effort. And it snowballs so you become more invested over time, unlike how many story games demand you invest hugely at the start. Makes me think it is worth publishing.

Daniel Lewis PLAYTESTED the game and said:

I had mixed feelings on this one, too. It tells a Dog Eat Dog-esque tale of two peoples, natives and newcomers. Except, in truth, it doesn’t really tell a tale at all. It is closer to the The Quiet Year in that it isn’t really a roleplaying game as much as it is an exercise designed to explore a theme. You can play the game in a more RP-focused manner, but we chose not to play it that way because 1) the rules seemed to heavily imply this was an optional style of play and 2) it looked like it would have a problem similar to Microscope, in which the RP seems disjointed and out of place. 

This one has a set-up process in which you answer questions about each team’s respective people. As I have mentioned before, I love set-ups that involve answering a list of questions, because it forces you to think critically about the setting, and this one is admirable in that way. The actual gameplay is a little less interesting, being played out over three rounds in which each player describes their people taking an action, and someone from the other people explaining how they stop them from doing it and then declaring a law by saying “It is forbidden to do X because . . .” You end up with a series of laws on each side, and then have a discussion as as group about whether the two people will go to war. It works fine, but each individual scene is not particularly exciting because the outcome for each turn is pre-determined, leading to no actual tension. 

In the end, there just isn’t much here. Everything works fine, but it’s all a little underwhelming. It took us less than an hour to play an entire game, but we didn’t really feel like we played a game. It felt more like a really complete set-up process for some other game. Again, nothing offensive here, and everything works ok; it just needs to be fleshed out. 

The transition into roleplaying can be a big issue in Microscope and when playing Microscope I never demand roleplaying, I wait and see if the group wants to. But that to me is okay because with or without roleplaying I find the game works fine, as long as you don’t want it to be an RPG but an exercise in shared creation (which can be used to set-up something else). So a lot of this for me was a success but I will put in a discussion of “to roleplay or not to roleplay”. Microscope does have the edge in that the roleplay determines an answer to the question whereas here the answer is already known. I think for me that’s okay because I’ll be sure to emphasize that since you know the answer, you’re roleplaying to determine the question. I’ve already added some to the game along these lines: you’re not supposed to just go “I make a boat” “No you can’t make boats”, you then need to go “well, why?” “Because travelling on the ocean is forbidden because that’s where the bad people live…” I need to play with this more; my playtests before the submission didn’t roleplay scenes at all (but proved it was an acceptable game for non-roleplayers).

K.N. Grainger said:

Overall I think this has potential, but currently it struggles to sufficiently differentiate itself from Dog Eat Dog. Currently both games share many traits that are distinctive. I like the amendments made so far – the unique roles, the way that the factions are equally represented, and that the intent is to provide a more neutral tone. However, more can really be done to make this game independent and have a little more ‘umph’ behind it.

I’m trying to add umph with a great emphasis on how to use Roles and different ideas of what a culture is but I can’t think of much else! As a lot of people said in the whole threeforged thing, it can be really hard to think of what a game needs. I didn’t feel like the word counts were too big (the opposite) but sometimes you look at something and go “it’s done”. Threeforged was a great way to help designers push past that, so if anyone wants to stage FOUR It Is Forbidden let me know…

Lowell Francis said

Images are clearly older, out of copyright, but probably ought to cite sources? Guides for the questioning process to establish the premises? OK. This is pretty great. Solid, well-written and it deals with questions I had right away. Looks cool and I would definitely play this. 

Do we need to cite sources in a competition like this, not actual publication? I know respect for artists matter, but all my images were public domain, and I’m not even sure they have an identifiable source…but hooray for liking it!

The Gauntlet Podcast said (in a podcast!, the 1:07 mark, and they playtested it!):

-name checked The Quiet Year again. I really should read it

-also talked about the “do we roleplay” question (said the rules assumes no, which is  fair)

-it took 20 minutes to play, feels like a setup. Happy with the set up idea. The speed is…interesting. We also saw that in our playtest but again, the Werewolf thing comes in; the speed is a huge help for making it accessible.

-so quick it becomes dull, empty, not much impact – no tension because outcomes are set – a resolution mechanic might help?
– the third round devolves into “MURDER IS BAD”. This comes up a lot. Insult is actually much more interesting, because nobody likes being murdered. I tried to address this in the stuff I’ve added because every society has conditions under which murder is okay and you want to tease out the specific law. But maybe the whole third round needs to be fixed. Hrm. Maybe we go Annoyance, Insult, Injury instead of Insult, Injury, Death?

So overall it works. I’m not too concerned about the “Microscope problem” because I’ve seen Microscope work well with those transfers and I’m okay with the game being an exercise. I do think maybe the scenes/interactions could use some kind of extra way to resolve so there’s more tension and might provide more of that elusive oomph.

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