Over in a thread about skill-flagging
, Justin asked me this awesome question:
Posted By: Justin D. JacobsonHow does [Agon] make every ability relevant to play?
This was a key design goal for the game, which I tried to solve in a couple related ways:1. Closed ability list.
There are 16 abilities in Agon, no more, no less. No one, including the GM, gets to create any more. This helps make the abilities relevant because the closed list defines the entire scope of activities that the game system cares about. The ability list answers the question, "What do I do in this game?"
To put it another way, the game is about earning Glory. You earn Glory by engaging in contests. The abilities tell you what kinds of contests you can have.2. Each ability has a defined mechanical effect in relation to the reward cycle.
Check out pp. 64 & 65. In addition to the general action of the ability that you use in most contests (Orate is the ability to affect others with speech) there's a special mechanical function for each ability that impacts the core activities of the game. For example, Orate is used to determine who will lead the hero group. Music gives a bonus when you refresh abilities. Cunning is used for tactical maneuvers in battle. &c.
Since Agon is a game that is played out as a long series of interactions with the game system (everything is a contest), this makes each ability important during the course of the game. There are no pure "color" abilities, in other words, or abilities that the GM must create a special scene around. The stuff covered by the abilities is the only
stuff you will be doing during play, and each of those things always impacts the reward cycle of Contests > Glory > Quests > Fate.
Posted By: Justin D. JacobsonIsn't it still incumbent on the GM to take note of the specific abilities of the PCs and respond accordingly? E.g., if a character "maxes out" on oratory, it wouldn't do to have the GM pose only obstacles like golden boars, raging rivers, and ascensions of Mount Olympus.
Nope. That's not how Agon works. The gods hand down their quests, and the GM comes up with some objectives for the heroes to accomplish. The objectives are not set in stone, though, and they are not specific contests. They're just a guide for the GM to fall back on as material to introduce if the heroes get stuck. The heroes decide where to go and what to do to complete the quests, and by taking action they say what their characters are doing, which then sets the stage for certain types of contests. In Agon, it's not the GM's job to pre-plan specific contests that the heroes have to make, only to create opposition for whatever the PCs decide to do.
So you don't
look over their sheets and see what they're good at and then try to plant stuff in their path that will provide opportunities for them to shine. Never, ever do that in Agon. Finding opportunities to use their good abilities is the players' job.
It's an important one. And there's lots of fun to be had when two heroes disagree about the next course of action because one of them is really good at Hunting and the other is really good at Athletics and they have to settle it with an Orate contest. Which they then lose to a third hero who starts an oath bidding war to see which hero he will support with his leadership. :-)
Hmm. I have to step away from the computer. I hope that's enough to answer your question. If not, maybe Shreyas or Fred or someone will drop by and explain further.