The Seven-Sided Die

Shock: initial impressions

Posted Tuesday August 19, 2008 at 06:04 AM

I just received my copy of Shock: social science fiction in the mail this morning. I'd forgotten that I'd bought it some time ago, so I can't praise the shipping time. However, at US$24 shipping included, it's relatively cheap for a complete game. (For someone used to paying nearly twice that after tax for a single volume of the World's Most Popular Roleplaying Game, that's pocket change. I skipped buying coffee for a week and came out even.)

First some context. Shock is a science fiction roleplaying game from Joshua Newman. (Although the preferred title appears to be shock:, colon and small-cap included, that conceit is textually awkward and I'm going to forgo it.) Designed for 3 to 5 people, you create a setting with real-world issues and science-fiction twists (called Shocks), create some Protagonists and their Antagonists at the intersections of those issues and Shocks, and then take turns playing out your Protagonists while the player to your left plays your Antagonist. There is no GM—the Antagonist player assumes much of that role in this game. The intent of the game is to re-create, in roleplaying game format, the sorts of stories that get told in science fiction novels, which largely focus on questions of how technology influences society as a whole and the lives of individual people.

The physical book is modest but loud. And by loud, I mean shockingly orange. Other than the cover colour, at 87 perfect-bound square pages it's an unassuming game book. The orange will make it easy to spot on my game shelf, despite the narrow spine and tiny lettering.

I've only just started reading it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it uses the gender-neutral pronouns "zie" and "hir" instead of "he/she" and "his/her". This is the first time that I've seen these used outside of feminist writing or MUDs, so it's a milestone of sorts. The usual objection to gender-neutral pronouns is that they're awkward to read, but I found that I stopped noticing them pretty quickly. As a real-world test of their applicability, I think that's a good sign.

That's the first major error that I noted in the text, though. The editorial explanation of "zie" and "hir" gave the wrong male/female equivalents, likely confusing 99% of the game's readers. This being the second edition of the book, that's somewhat surprising. Then again, that 1% remainder just might not have given Newman any feedback. I should fix that.

The second error that I found is in how the Audience is supposed to use their dice during Conflicts. When it's first mentioned it says only the highest-rolling Audience die gets used and ties are rerolled, but later it says that ties are broken depending on whether it will be used for or against the Protagonist's Intent. I think I prefer the former rule since it preserves the game's position that having the Protagonist fail is just as interesting as having them succeed.

I will have more to say about it when I finish reading it. I'm really looking forward to being able to play it.

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