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Moirai» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Moirai: a semi-review rss

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Steffan O'Sullivan
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"All history is made up. Good history is made up by good historians; bad history is made up by the others." -David Macaulay
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"We talked a little more of Milesians and Firbolgs; but I do not write what he told me here, as it is at variance with things I have written already, as is often the case with legend, whence comes a pleasing variety." -Lord Dunsany
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This is a semi-review, meaning I've read the rules thoroughly but have not, as of the time I'm writing this, yet played the game.

Moirai is a rules-light universal RPG (no fixed setting) which uses an unusual randomizer. The author bluntly says she fears lawyers so never mentions the device by name, but describes it so well that the reader knows exactly what she's talking about. Since this is a review, I feel I'm protected by the Fair Use clause of the copyright act, so I'll call the "Fate Ball" by its real name: Magic 8 Ball (R) made by Mattel.

Now, I have to admit to being insanely jealous that I didn't think of this first, and it's the only reason I bought the game. This has got to be very close to the coolest randomizer ever used in an RPG. I suppose the stove from the German boardgame In Teufels Küche would come close to rivaling it, but I haven't yet seen an RPG which uses that.

All right, enough of being jealous. On with the review.

Character Creation

Each player uses the Fate Ball to determine how their three attributes (Physical, Mental, Social) will be "populated" with Aspects. This means you ask the Fate Ball, for example, "Is the outlook good for my Physical attribute?" and it will return either a positive, a neutral or a negative result. By the time you're done, you might have, for example:

Physical: positive
Mental: negative
Social: neutral

You then pick a character Concept based on the results. Looking at the above, I might think I'm a low-ranking soldier or perhaps a modern-day sports figure. Your concept will help you pick your Aspects.

Based on the answer for each Attribute, you must then pick 3-4 Aspects from the Physical, Mental, or Social Aspects lists, at least one of which will be positive, and you may have one or two negative ones, also. These are clearly marked with (+) or (-) after each one, though you can also tell from the descriptions.

Aspects come in three types, Physical, Mental and Social, and the game lists an equal number of positive and negative ones of each type. Some can be customized, such as "Specify a Physical talent: juggling, dancing, sharpshooting, etc."

When you're done, you'll have anywhere from 9-12 Aspects, fairly evenly divided between the three Attributes. You will have chosen Aspects which match what your concept of the character is. For example, a character with a positive Physical attribute might look like a professional weight-lifter or he may look like a lithe fencer. Such effects are created by the Aspects chosen.

You then check your Destiny (i.e., consult the Fate Ball) to determine your equipment level. This can be either very broke, about average for the society, or well off depending on the result you get. No real equipment is recorded - you and the GM work out what you might have on an as-needed basis.

Finally you check to see if you have any Destiny Control during the game (meaning you can check the Fate Ball yourself instead of the GM doing it, and perhaps mitigate a negative result in your description of the result). And you're done.

Game Mechanics

Light, very light. A bit too light, or perhaps it would be better to say, a bit too lacking in examples.

You may have noticed from the Character Creation section that there are no real numbers. You have a positive Aspect that might apply in a given situation, or you have a negative Aspect that might apply in that situation, or you don't have either. The GM has a copy of everyone's character sheet (they're designed to be filled out twice and torn or cut in half so the GM has a copy), and she'll generally use that to decide if:

1. you can succeed in something without consulting the Fate Ball, or
2. can't succeed at all in that particular attempt, or
3. can try with a Destiny check.

So it's largely a free-form, narrative-style of game, checking the Fate Ball only occasionally as needed, with no modifiers to worry about or numbers to add. Some people like this style of game, and others of us put up with it just because it's so cool to use the Fate Ball.

She does give a single example each of a negative, a neutral, and a positive Fate Ball result, by the way, so it's not completely devoid of examples. I would just like some more.

There is a separate chapter on combat, though she admits it's not meant to be a combat-heavy game. I'm actually satisfied with this chapter - it accomplishes what she sets out to do, and, though I have yet to play, I think combat would work fine with these rules. The Healing rules are generous to the characters, and the wound track is similar to what I'm used to, so I'm pretty sure it would work well.

She also discusses experience and admits the game is not designed as a campaign game. It's designed for a single scenario, though that may incorporate numerous gaming sessions. I agree this is a good decision - it's not really the type of system you'd want for a lengthy campaign, anyway.

She also gives conversion rules for using a d20 with the game system, BTW, in case you don't have access to a Magic 8 Ball (R).

Adventure

Finally, the game includes a sample adventure in a modern setting. It's pretty simple, but the first time using this system, you wouldn't want a complex plot, anyway. There's enough of a secret going on that the players should enjoy figuring it out.

There is also a free science fiction adventure on the publisher's website.

Summation

By now you've guessed that I totally love the concept of the Magic 8 Ball(R) as a randomizer, and am dying to try this as soon as I can talk a couple of friends into playing. Which shouldn't be hard, as the toy has nearly universal appeal. While I'm not normally a narrative style player, I have to admit the rules would work given the constraints of the Fate Ball. I'm willing to try them as written, and I can't say that about 99% of the game systems I've read - really.

I do have a caveat, though, and it concerns the Magic 8 Ball(R). When I was a kid in the 1950s, we had one, as did a few families on the block I grew up on. They all worked pretty well: we would shake it while asking a question, then turn it upside down and wait while it bobbled for a few seconds then finally revealed an answer. It occasionally would end up showing an edge or point of the internal d20, but that was pretty rare. Usually a face showed up, and always within 5-6 seconds, and always flush with the window so it was clearly readable.

When I bought Moirai earlier this year (2009), I didn't own a Magic 8 Ball(R), but wanted to play badly enough to order one from Amazon.com. It's a piece of junk. Made in China, it simply does not work worth spit. I can get an edge, I can get a point, and if I patiently tap the ball with something hard, like a spoon, for about a full minute, I can get most of a face to show and almost read the fortune.

So be warned: do not buy one by mail. Go to a store that carries them, and try before you buy - the packaging has a "Try me!" window so you can do that. Don't settle for a lousy Magic 8 Ball(R), get a good one! Or use those d20 conversion rules ...

[Note: this is part of my series of semi-reviews of Indie game products.]

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Richard
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Excellent review.
One question:Is this available in PDF only?

Edit:
I just read in Wikipedia that 10 of the possible answers are affirmative , 5 are negative , and 5 are non-committal.

I wonder what impact will this have when running the game since it is not balanced.
 
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Steffan O'Sullivan
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Plymouth
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"All history is made up. Good history is made up by good historians; bad history is made up by the others." -David Macaulay
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"We talked a little more of Milesians and Firbolgs; but I do not write what he told me here, as it is at variance with things I have written already, as is often the case with legend, whence comes a pleasing variety." -Lord Dunsany
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Thanks! At this point, it's only available in pdf, according to the publisher's website: http://ajwgames.wordpress.com/ .

BTW, they now have two additional free adventures for this game available for downloading: a Science Fiction one and a Steampunk one.

Given that the game is designed for a single scenario (which may take multiple sessions), I don't think the 50% success rate skews things at all - it probably would be an issue if this system were used for long campaigns. But it's not, and the Eight Ball is too fun to use to ignore!
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Steffan O'Sullivan
United States
Plymouth
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"All history is made up. Good history is made up by good historians; bad history is made up by the others." -David Macaulay
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"We talked a little more of Milesians and Firbolgs; but I do not write what he told me here, as it is at variance with things I have written already, as is often the case with legend, whence comes a pleasing variety." -Lord Dunsany
Avatar
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And ...

How to salvage a piece of junk Magic Eight Ball (R). Here's what I did: disassemble the stupid thing and use only the important part!

Yes, the images are blurry - they're deliberately blurry because, when it comes down to it, I too fear lawyers to protect intellectual property.

The first is a shot of the d20 itself; the second is how I use it - mysteriously, deep in a dice cup that only the GM can read ....



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Richard
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Hahaha! This is great, so you can either fudge the magic ball if necessary or give it to the players to roll it!
 
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