Justice Playthrough #164: The Colors of Magic

I think I’m just not a storytelling-RPG kinda guy.

Page 59, Game 1: The Colors of Magic by Jon Lemich

As always, the disclaimer, because on the off chance the person reading this is not my wife, there’s almost no way they’re reading these entries in chronological order: I don’t actually play most of the tabletop entries in this list because I have neither the time nor the ambition. I could claim “Covid!”, but that’d be a big damn lie. For tabletop role-playing games like this, I read the ruleset until I start getting bored, skim until the end, and then write-up a review based on how much I’d be interested in playing it.

Is it fair? Probably not. But it seems more fair than just skipping them entirely.

Does Colors of Magic make me interested in playing it? Not really. Even though everything about it stacks the deck in its own favor. It’s aiming to capture the feel of high-end non-kiddy fantasy cartoons, to which I can only say, hells yes! Steven Universe! Last Airbender! The Dragon Prince! I’m all over that shit!

And the primary mechanic involves eating candy! Like, providing actual physical candy at the table and eating it! I have the dietary preferences of a twelve-year-old child! I have candy on my desk right now! I’m going to eat some candy!

Oh, bananas. Truly you are the best Runts.

You play with precisely four players — I don’t know why the game is so adamant about this, but it sure the fuck is. (It’s not the primary reason I’m not feeling it, but the author seems to have a VERY specific vision of how this game should be played, and the rules have a tendency to come off surprisingly heavy-handed and arbitrary.) Under the guidance of the “gamerunner,” exactly three people shall create protagonists, in the form of wizards who all know each other and are more or less friends. You define your beliefs, your spells, and the important people in your life with a character creation process that’s very loosey-goosey about HOW you define this stuff but oddly very specific about just WHAT you’re defining. Once everybody has their characters, off you go!

There are no dice or game stats or anything. The GM takes a moment to think up a general plotline (possibly using a literal Mad Libs worksheet provided by the game which uses all the information you just defined, which I actually kind of love), and away you go.

When the game starts, the GM will lay out some multi-colored candy. There need to be pieces of five colors; the six Big Boys, minus blue. In other words, Skittles. (Or, if you’re going for color-blind accessibility, Runts.) When conflict arises, as it inevitably shall, you resolve it by eating a Skittle. The color of the Skittle determines how successful you are; purple means it was a catastrophic failure clusterfuck, green means it was a total success, everything else is somewhere in between.

Note that you do not choose your Skittle out of a bag — you just choose the color. (I mean, technically, you don’t even have to eat it, to which I say fuck you you sucrose-shaming bastard.) The game is quite adamant about this: every time a conflict arises, you choose whether or not you succeed or fail, and to what degree.

Obviously, this requires you to be in a completely different headspace than, say, D&D or Apocalypse World. The goal is very explicitly not to succeed; success is as easy as pounding green-apple Skittles until you’re sick of them. (Hell, the game actually advises you to just fake it if you run out of a given color; there’s not supposed to be a resource management aspect of any kind present.) The goal here is to tell an interesting story.

Which I’m on board with, as far as it goes. But what has me giving this particular game the side-eye is how you and your friends have COMPLETE control over how the story unfolds. There are even non-candy mechanisms for undoing things if the story winds up going in a direction somebody doesn’t care for.

At that point, is it even still a game?

The games that hook me, the games that really pull me along, are the games that make me want to see what happens next. In this game, that’s going to be whatever we all AGREE happens next. That doesn’t feel like a game to me, that’s just a group storytelling exercise, one where everybody involved has veto power.

Everything about this game feels safe. Meticulously safe. Exhaustively, emphatically safe. I appreciate that modern RPG designers are trying to make their games more inclusive by empowering players to nerf or avoid topics they find personally upsetting, but Colors of Magic takes it a step further and cultivates an environment where you only subject yourself to even the mildest of upsets by explicit consent.

And I’m not interested in that. I don’t want absolute control over my environment. I want to be pushed. I want to subject myself to the unexpected. I want a game that’s capable of disappointing me, of taking my careful plans and pissing all over them.

I want to be able to fail.

What’s going to happen next in this game? Whatever me and the (EXACTLY) three other players at the table say happens next.

Unless the other three players are just dynamite storytellers, I find it hard to imagine I’m going to get terribly invested.

The game is shooting for mid-teens cartoons, but it’s so emphatic about bubble-wrapping its players that it reads as way, way younger than that to me. This seems more appropriate for full-on kiddie fare, where the important thing is to keep the little fuckers placated and not screaming at Mom for a half hour at a time. Keep things shiny, but don’t do anything that might upset them.

For the cartoons its emulating, the game needs the capacity to be unpredictable, to surprise, to upset. Reveal to me that my sainted mother was actually the villain all along. Wreck my carefully planned eclipse assault, defeat my allies and scatter them to the winds. Get me invested in the story, and then when it blows the fuck up, force me to roll with it.

If I want absolute control, I’ll just write. If I’m playing a game, I want something else.

If somebody I trust were to tell me “Dude, you are SO wrong, this game is fucking AWESOME!”, then sure, I’d be willing to give it a try. If nothing else, I’ll get some Skittles out of the deal. But this just doesn’t look appealing to me at all.

Will this next game tease me with a title that’s one letter off of a Terry Pratchett novel and then give me absolutely nothing resembling Discworld?

Page 51, Game 13: stop by daichifob

“stop time to solve puzzles”

Honestly, “Stop” could totally be a Pratchett novel, but it isn’t. And I’ve found some puzzle games here that I’ve really enjoyed. Could be a keeper.