Ghost/Echo's influence

Earlier this week, I ran a game of Ghost/Echo, the 2009 “oracle game” by John Harper. My blog post talks about our experience and things I might do with it, but what I really want to ask is:

Why didn’t this lead to more in the space? It’s about the same “weight” as Lasers & Feelings, which seems to have gotten more traction. I know a bunch of hacks came out right after G/E, but it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of traction. My players loved how the Otherkind dice system gave them so much agency in deciding what happened but within constraints so it didn’t just become wish fulfillment, and I loved how the structure gave me just enough to run a game without forcing me to do tons of prep.

Is there something I’ve missed, or have I just found a “road less traveled”?

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I rather enjoy Ghost/Echo myself. Still, when I ran it for a small group with experience in other RPGs, I was struck by how all of us, at some time or another, stumbled a bit over the rules, simple though they are. The two main things that tripped us:

  • When you define risks before rolling, the risk needs to not be mutually exclusive with success. I think for players who are mostly used to pass/fail resolution, or used to being told what the risks and complications are (whether up front by a PbtA move’s text, or afterward by the GM), it felt like putting their head in GM space a little more than they were used to.
  • After you roll, there’s an extra decision point that you don’t get in PbtA games or in D&D. You might have to weigh which matters to you more—success or risk avoidance. That, of course, is the whole point of the system, and definitely a feature, not a bug. But an extra step is still an extra step, and it’s not just a relatively passive extra step (like “roll for damage”), but a very cognitively demanding extra step.

Plus, I think the lack of numerical stats actually limits an RPG’s potential reach, even though I personally love games without numerical stats. It just renders the product less familiar to folks who enter the hobby through D&D (which is to say most Americans entering the hobby, at least), and demands more interpretation at the table of when qualitative descriptors should apply than a clear cut “roll X when Y” approach.

All of that said, I still think elements of Ghost/Echo have leaked into my own designs since reading it, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out others were similarly inspired. The idea of releasing a game that’s avowedly incomplete, with just a bunch of prompts, a starting scenario, and some dice rules, feels very much in line with the explosion of microgames and pamphlet dungeons I see gathering on Itch these days.

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Ghost / Echo was hugely influential to Goblinville, Mutagen Trail, and Picaresque.

https://narrativedynamics.itch.io/

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Building on @JasonT, Ghost / Echo is an oracular game (the term I’ve seen John Harper use for it). It leaves a ton of blanks to be filled in. This allows for a lot of creative interpretation / world-building, but the cognitive load of bringing it to life can be high.

I think there is a lot of potential for games to give more GM support for OtherKind, especially by introducing player-facing currencies that can help pace the conversation of play (stress, conditions, cash, etc - depending on the system).

I love the OtherKind resolution (which is why I use it in my own designs). Jason’s observation is one I’ve heard a lot: that it’s hard to consistently think of a distinct risk in addition to the possibility of failure. I think the best adjustment to this is for the GM to say yes more often than they would in a pass/fail system: if there’s no dramatic stakes, nothing that could clearly go wrong (besides a whiff) then there’s no roll.

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Agreed: if there’s nothing at stake, I just let them do the thing. But I also liked injecting my own potential dangers: in PbtA terms, I was showing the threat just by doing that. Keeping the list of “remaining dangers” helped a lot with this: if we had a bunch already on the table, then I just needed to pick one that was relevant to what the player wanted to do. If we didn’t, I’d create one (or, just as often, they did).

Conditions as sort of a replacement for harm are good, and I’d like to find a minimal progression system to bolt on. My first thought is in the form of equipment that could be used to get that extra die more often, because that die is the best way to start whittling down the list of remaining dangers.

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I suspect the setting being a bit offbeat compared to Lasers & Feelings had a lot to do with it. (Even Blades in the Dark draws on enough familiar media to be accessible to a lot of people.)

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@technoskald

Thank you so much for sharing this, I don’t know how I missed this. Lot of interesting stuff in such a small package.

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I suspect it didn’t go further because the resolution system is… counter-intuitive? It’s got that same thing going on as Psi*Run where because you’re always choosing options from a list I never felt like I really knew in advance exactly what the stakes were, I guess?

Like, the dice don’t actually resolve anything. You make a decision, pick options, and roll, and it sure feels like that should yield an outcome, but it doesn’t, it just yields another list of options to choose from, and that’s always been a serious sticking point for me.

I’m also of the opinion that it’s too open-ended. It’s entirely unclear whether it’s supposed to be cyberpunk, fantasy, horror, etc, and while I get that some people love that blank genre slate, I feel like blowing it up to even just the size of Lady Blackbird and giving some guardrails and a few more details (a map, some pix) would make it come into focus in a way that’d make it much more appealing.

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