XP: On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon

23 May

On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon by Ben Lehman with Alexis Siemon, art by Kevin Moore is a quick playing humorous game about the pathetic and frankly juvenile behavior exhibited by the lowly Mud Dragon.

This has been kind of a difficult game to write about. The game text is so focused on its particular style and approach, and the game itself is so slim that there is surprisingly little to say that the text does not make explicit

Even just reading the text it’s pretty clear how it all works. I could have used “Hey, you are going to be constantly rolling dice, and that’s just how you do it” but that becomes clear in the first minute of gameplay anyway.

ONCE MAJESTIC

When it get’s down to it Mud Dragon is ultra-functional. The meager size of this game makes it possible.

So, I’m going to talk a bit about why some of the conventions really work to focus gameplay toward comical hijinx and how these conventions encourage the desired kind of participation.

First of all, everything related to characters and scenario is determined by rolling on charts. Even your Mud Dragon’s name. Even whatever it is they are trying to do. You get stuck with a set of assorted details and you have to connect them up, and that probably means it’s going to be ridiculous. But, that’s the point.

Second, when dice hit the table and a success or failure is determined, the player may choose to succeed in spite of themselves or fail anyway. The Ginormous Mudhole (“GM”) then chooses to raise or lower the stat in question. Raise or lower. This gives the player a great reason to focus not on the numbers, but on the humor of the situation. It also gives the GM a means to help the player when some stats get into dangerous (and potentially less fun) waters.

This brings up an interesting point. It seems like some games are so focused on the randomness of implemented mechanics that simply allowing a player choice to determine results is looked down upon. Here is a great example of how player choice can be used to great effect, and it certainly does not take away from the experience of play. Last I checked dice don’t make story decisions, people do.

Finally, if you are just doing something pathetic, stupid or reprehensible then yeah, whatever it is happens. No dice, no question. So go ahead with all of your silly antics.

These three conventions steer the players head on into the cartoonish antics Mud Dragons are known for. Why not misbehave? There is no reason not to.

PETTY GREED

There are a couple of small concerns that the play group should keep in mind.

It is fairly easy to allow gameplay to degenerate into a spree of bumbling stupidity and childish jokes. Which is fine and dandy, but can be a bit unfulfilling. An effective session requires the Mud Dragons to actually do things and get into trouble too big for them to handle. Fortunately, the text is aware of this pitfall and as long as the Ginormous Mudhole is as well there is little to fear.

The only other possibility of things going awry would be a mismatched set of expectations. Mud Dragon is a game for a specific mood, energy and purpose, and if you aren’t into it it just isn’t going to work. Still, I have to wonder why a person wanting neither the light-hearted nor the comical would consent to playing this game. I mean, the premise is so clearly up front and obvious.

Though Mud dragon is a simple game in every facet, it truly delivers on its expectations. No fuss, no confusion. No tricks, no dead ends. It seems like some kind of cosmic irony, On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon is an example more games ought to follow. Few games are this tight.

Go have some stupid adventures! Visit http://www.tao-games.com/?p=25.

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