Feedback on Ma Nishtana

I’m taking this here from @Ben_Bisogno’s “What are your working on” presentation :

First, I want to thank you Ben_Bisogno for presenting the game, and also now I know what Haggadah is.

I read the game and I think the expectation is for the players to be a bit shy, maybe ? Because I find the moves have very open conditions.

“In a scene you may” could be “once per scene”. And even this way, it’s a bit “push button”-ey. I’d expect more specific triggers to not work badly, even for shy new players. Like : For Aaron’s move “If you find yourself advocating for your faith in front of non-believers”. Or for Pharaoh “If you run the risk of civil unrest”, or a tad more pushy “If you lose your composure”. The triggers can serve as prompts, costs, and more important in my eyes, they keep the moves safe from abuse. Of course the triggers themselves are not without flaws, but if you don’t set them 1° it’s not a RPG (JUST KIDDING THERE) and 1° you leave it to the players to find good triggers.

On the same note, contributing “actions” is a bit unclear. Like negotiated scene framing : overall, it will work, but it puts a lot on “Wait wait wait”. Which, I guess, is the point, but maybe you can state : “your character’s actions” is your agency always, but “a whole group of people” or “the environment”, like “The waters of the Nile”‘s actions are typically hard to agree upon. What would happen if Alexis didn’t “fold” and play the environment against her character’s move ? How was that even possible ? It means the player’s denied their move and the character is not redeemed. I, for instance, don’t think that is right or fair : what if I was in Alexis’ seat ? What can players default to if they don’t share the same vision ? So, if you had to detail “actions”, what would that be ? I came up with “ordinary or cannon actions”. Would that work ? I don’t know…

The game is simply edited, and the instructions are clear, to the detail of the W sign for ritualization. And yes, “Wait x3” can go well if everyone behaves : I love how it leads to discussions and fosters and “preserves” meaning and detail in scenes. Only, it’s more negotiating narration and aesthetic than safety, really. I see you make it clear on the game sheet, but it’s not so in the playbooks.

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Good morning @DeReel,

Thank you so so much for giving your time and energy to giving a fine reading of our beta game Ma Nishtana: Why is this Night Different?

It is feedback like this that really fine tunes our writing and challenges us to think about our commitments when writing - whether unconscious or other wise.

Below I am going to sum up how I read your post and my immediate thoughts regarding them. Please clarify if I missed anything.

Point - Shy Players

You are spot on. This game was made with shy players in mind; specifically, more than half of players who play this game have never played a role playing game before. This is made for a general audience of maybe one Jewish player and her friends in mind.

Point - Specific Triggers

You show that triggers, by being specific provide two functions: 1) they establish tone and reinforce the aesthetics of the game; 2) they put pressure on players to act.

We were afraid to add triggers that were too specific in play in order lower the bar for players to use moves. I see now how not having a specific enough trigger might in fact paralyse and prevent engagement by players, and will aim to be more aesthetically and mechanically specifc going forward.

Point - The role of "Wait Wait Wait!"

You notice that the system puts a lot of weight on “Wait Wait Wait!”

“Wait Wait Wait!” is inspired by how we share the passover story at home - in a form of lighthearted, but engaged discussion and argument. The mechanic is the core of the game in fact, as it is the base arbiting device.

We see it as a blended safety tool and play mechanic because it adjusts the tone of the game without the pressure of breaking the flow of play. Players feel very comfortable in using it, because it helps steer play and creates a more level play space. We are inspired by Alex Robert’s use of the X Card which was so well blended into her game For the Queen.

Point - The play to lose/play to lift aesthetic

You point out that in our example of play, one of the players made a meta choice to steer the story in a way that worked against his character.

What you feel is very real, powerful:

“How was that even possible? It means the player’s denied their move and the character is not redeemed.”

You notice that the players are playing to lose. It is a play aesthetic we grew up with working as a camp counselors at a larp summer camp in Massachusetts. But specifically, you ask how we aim to encourage that in the mechanics of the game, and not just in the culture of the table? And more explicitly is a question of consent to this aesthetic of play, especially for a majority of new players:

“What can players default to if they don’t share the same vision?”

In a link you posted awhile back @DeReel, you shared a one page tool to clarify what type of play we are at the table to engage with.

One of the choices for the player’s roles is: c) “…to fling their characters into tough situations and make hard, sometimes, unwise choices.”

Key to this article is that players should consent together in an informed way before the game how it is supposed to flow. DeReel, I read you as asking us to set expectations better.

Through the enacting of the rituals and the constant meta-conversation we have built into the system through “Wait Wait Wait” I think we have gone far into setting a cooperative tone and sacrificial aesthetic through the course of play.

But you are right of course. We should better telegraph the core aesthetics of play when players first open the book. By reading the first page section, “What is this?” it should already be clear, so players do not find themselves in a play space they are uncomfortable in.

My question, I guess is: How do you encourage a play to lose aesthetic other than by setting tone?


I’m not really surprised to find that my feedback speaks of game concerns I have in mind at the moment. More so by the clarity with which you establish the fact.

The answer would be to reassure players. If the characters die, how do they keep playing (play abstract influence) ? If they are emprisoned (easier this one : carry on) ? Tell them, so they never feel cornered.

The hardest part is the reflex to have one’s character shown in good light. It’s hard to know when the reflex kicks in. Probably in this case, a note about depicting good or bad behaviours vs good or bad characters. Attention to words (suspect vs witness) is key, but you already have got that.

Also, one thing I like is to have a status carnival : the characters with more status among the players played by the youngest players. The bump in status make them more confident and positive.