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Author Topic: Emotion mechanics and losing control of your character  (Read 10773 times)
Sydney Freedberg
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« on: May 25, 2004, 05:03:33 AM »

Over in the "Fear and Confusion" thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?p=121164#121164), a discussion on how to include morale effects, e.g. fight or flight reactions, in combat systems touched on a wider issue. The question being: "Is it okay to lose control of my character because of game mechanics that simulate his/her emotional reactions? Or is this too deprotagonizing?"

Such game mechanics can mean rules that make your character panic if you're shot at and fail a morale check, or rules for falling in love at first sight, or rules for certain characters (deities, kings, Great Leaders) have overpowering charisma, or simply rules for one character (PC or NPC) being able to Charm / Influence another. The key factor is that at some point, the decision about what your character's choices is taken away.

(In the original thread, comrades Dauntless and Noon suggested this might be a GNS issue -- i.e. gamists don't like losing control of their "game piece," narrativists don't like losing control of their part of the story, but simulationists wouldn't mind. I don't want to wander into the wilderness of GNS angels dancing on the heads of pins, but it's something to bear in mind).

I myself am VERY skeptical about doing this. I am okay with emotional modifiers making it harder to TRY to do something (you're Scared level 3; you don't want to run away? Fine, but you take a -3 penalty to stand your ground), but I worry about ones that simply take over a player's choices. On the other hand, some very interesting rules (notably "Unknown Armies," which I've read but never played) have been written to do just that, where the idea seems to be to force your character (and you) to deal with the aftermath of helplessness.

So what kind of games would benefit from what kinds of emotion mechanics? And what do people feel about the idea of losing control of their character's choices for a time?
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montag
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« Reply #1 on: May 25, 2004, 05:38:08 AM »

I'd say it depends on (1) what other options a player has to influence the game (from Hero Points to the ability to coerce the GM into something) and (2) whether lack of control in a particular instance is helping or hindering the kind of gameplay the player (and the group) desires.

For instance, with regards to the latter, in certain cases it might be desireable to loose emotional control because it makes the game more challenging or because it feels more "real" or because it's a useful constraint which provides a twist in the story or a helps prevent the degeneration into pure wish fulfilling.
If however, the loss of control removes player input in situations the player considers essential, it's obviously bad. So for instance, it can be interesting if the group's vehicle-guy is prone to cracking under stress if the player choose to have better skills in exchange for lower stress resistance. It's decidedly lame if a badass assassin suddenly panics due to bad luck. Similarly, it's interesting if the PC is suddenly affected by an intense emotional reaction, if one is exploring the character. If on the other hand, the PC's panic reaction makes it impossible to continue the exploration of the duke's social circles, that sucks. If the group is exploring "what would you sacrifice for power?", a PCs panic reaction might be fine, whereas it would be horrible if the game where about "how far are you willing to go, to get what you want?" it might keep the player from deciding that his PC would be willing to face X {whatever caused the panic reaction}. (the latter example is a bit flawed in that loss of control might be bad in the first case as well, depending on the particular notion of "sacrifice" used. While I'm at it: all the above is meant "in general", YMMV).
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markus
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"The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do."
--B. F. Skinner, Contingencies of Reinforcement (1969)
pete_darby
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« Reply #2 on: May 25, 2004, 05:47:20 AM »

Well, even in the example you gave ("-3 to stand your graound") that implies that at some point (when you fail your stand your ground roll), the system will dictate behaviour. Unless and until the rules enforce the "role-play it" option, it's pretty much a given that those sort of rules will dictate character behaviour on occassion.

This is related to a point in the latest GNS furball on RPG.net: even with rules at times dictating character behaviour, a determined player will move expression of their agenda to the arena of risk assessment, into managing if and when they place their characters at risk of coming under the control of the system, and, as you say, to dealing with the consequences thereof.

That being said, this approach, or rather these rules systems, arise from the idea that the interests of the player are those of the character, that players will be motivated to get the "best" performance out of the character from their mutual viewpoint, and that sub-optimal but realistic choices should be mandated by the system to prevent unrealistic actions.

Plus, it looks to be a little grounded in fortune at the end, task resolution, where emotional conflicts are resolved as a series of individual tasks, rather than fortune in the middle conflict resolution, where the psychological can be played as a justification for the mandated outcome. Or I may have fried my brain.
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Pete Darby
Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #3 on: May 25, 2004, 07:42:19 AM »

Quote from: pete_darby
Well, even in the example you gave ("-3 to stand your graound") that implies that at some point (when you fail your stand your ground roll), the system will dictate behaviour.


True,  but if we're talking about a mechanic (as opposed to "just roleplay it out"), then it has to have some impact on the resolution system at some point, which by definition has to control the outcome of character actions. Of course there are some games where you control the outcome of your own character's actions (does Ron Edwards' review of Octane go into the problems with this?) but most systems impose some outside control. The distinction I'm struggling to make is between resolving outcomes and dictating choices.

Quote from: pete_darby
it looks to be a little grounded in fortune at the end, task resolution, where emotional conflicts are resolved as a series of individual tasks, rather than fortune in the middle conflict resolution, where the psychological can be played as a justification for the mandated outcome. Or I may have fried my brain.


Hrrm. My brain blew a few fuses on this one too. But I'm not sure you're right. I mean, you could use Sorceror-style currency to carry over from one conflict to the next, right? (You got scared level 3 in the "fight the bad guy" conflict, so now you have a -3 in the next one). Ultimately I think "task resolution" and "conflict resolution" are more two ends of a spectrum than binary, mutually exclusive alternatives.

In any case: Anyone have examples from games they've played, designed, or just read of these mechanics? And how satisfying or problematic were they?
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Sean
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« Reply #4 on: May 25, 2004, 07:49:35 AM »

Check out the Dying Earth RPG on this. It's a totally different paradigm. You may not like it, but if you're thinking about this stuff you should look at that game.

OK, so you're a "Cugel-level" character and you didn't put any points into Resist Rakishness. A hawt chick comes along and the situation is such that she represents a practical temptation.

You now are obligated to put the moves on her and hop in the sack if she's amenable, unless you have another relevant ability that you can convince the GM to allow you to substitute for Resist Rakishness.

I personally think that resistance to social mechanics comes from the old school, 'GM is God' approach to play, where the social dimension of your character was pretty much the only one you had real control over. There, it's totally a bummer if on top of your limited spells, choices, etc. the GM is telling you what to say and think too.

On the other hand, if you're open to getting sucked into weird things not of your own making and playing them out, there's no reason this can't be a really fun way to play. Especially because in the DERPG it cuts both ways: if you want to con a shopkeeper into giving you half his stock on credit, which no GM of the old school would allow, it's just a Persuade contest away. So the social mechanics are empowering as well as disempowering; it just depends which aspects of your character you're willing to 'game'.
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xiombarg
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« Reply #5 on: May 25, 2004, 10:39:46 AM »

I'd also point out that in my own game, Unsung, the Lapse mechanic takes control of a given character away from the usual player. Do a search for "Unsung", particularly in the Actual Play forum, and you can see how my players felt about this. If anything, I think they were more protagonized by the loss of control, as the mechanic set them up for interesting fallout to deal with.

I'll also note that in Universalis, control of a given character can pass around the table. You might want to see if anyone who plays Universalis finds this deprotagonizing.

I think it's a matter of how such mechanics are written, and how they are contrained. "Roll or run away" is boring, and depotagonizing, at least in part because it specifies a single, robot-like behavior. "Roll or you do something interesting" is less so.
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simon_hibbs
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« Reply #6 on: May 25, 2004, 01:31:51 PM »

Quote from: Sean
On the other hand, if you're open to getting sucked into weird things not of your own making and playing them out, there's no reason this can't be a really fun way to play. Especially because in the DERPG it cuts both ways: if you want to con a shopkeeper into giving you half his stock on credit, which no GM of the old school would allow, it's just a Persuade contest away. So the social mechanics are empowering as well as disempowering; it just depends which aspects of your character you're willing to 'game'.


You beat me to the point. It realy does come down to the questio of what the game is about. Call of Cthulhu is about Lovecraftian horror, so it has game mechanics for terror and insanity. Pendragon is about Arthurian knights, so it has rules for expressing the Knightly Virtues and tempting the characters to stray from them. HeroQuest is often about community, so it has rules for relationships. If you're going into a contest to achieve a social or psychological goal game emchanicaly, then you're probably also opening yourself up to influence in the same area.

Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
Shreyas Sampat
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« Reply #7 on: May 25, 2004, 02:14:41 PM »

I submit that a game only needs to dictate events and (simultaneously) provide meaningful freedom of choice in its area of focus.

I don't see any useful distinction between "you are shot and must panic" and "you are shot and must lose consciousness."

To give an example of a game (which, unfortunately, I have not playtested), my The Calligrapher's Sword is set in a dream-world. (Unknown Kadath crossed with Fantastica is how I see it.) The characters are in fact dreaming, so they are in that hazy state where comprehension is fleeting, events provoke odd emotional reactions, and they lose access to volition occasionally. So the game's mechanics are all emotion mechanics which dictate the character's inner reaction to world events (which the players have authority over). I don't know how satisfying this is in play, but I believe that it serves the purpose of the game precisely, in a way that a game without emotion mechanics could not.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #8 on: May 25, 2004, 02:27:15 PM »

Quote from: Shreyas Sampat
I don't see any useful distinction between "you are shot and must panic" and "you are shot and must lose consciousness."


Well put.

Quote from: Shreyas Sampat
I submit that a game only needs to dictate events and (simultaneously) provide meaningful freedom of choice in its area of focus.


In other words, having mechanics for something
1) emphasizes that thing, whether you meant to or not (see Mike's Standard Rant on combat systems)
2) structures player choices about that thing, since you're no longer purely freeform -- which both limits player choices AND, simultaneously, gives them something to work with?
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Eric J.
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« Reply #9 on: May 25, 2004, 02:35:55 PM »

I am very very skeptical about this kind of thing.  The idea is that you loose control of your character.  It's a certain kind of 'you loose control of your character' but that's the issue nevertheless.

There are times when it can be okay, maybe fun times when you loose control of your character.  Maybe it's part of the GMs naration:

"You can't help but drool slightly at the sight of the every-small piece of meat.  It could have been crafted by an angel.  Well it was, but your character doesn't know that."

Then there are bad times: "Your character runs in fear at the orge, knowing that he can't, will never be able to fight with it long enough to gain any sense of pride from the effort."

Or the possibly more destructive: "You're characters hungry.  You go to the nearest reasteraunt which is pretty nice.  To eat, costs 20 woolong.  While you're there a group of bandits comes over to your table and knocks it over.  It looks like they want to fight.  As your search for your weapon you find that it was left at the base.  After all you don't need a sword to eat your french toast."

Maybe, a game could have rules like the ones you've described in a humerous game or a horror game or something.  Otherwise you're taking away oppertunities for the players to roleplay or you're trying to tell a game that the players are a part of.

May the wind be always at your back,
-Pyron
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Callan S.
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« Reply #10 on: May 25, 2004, 05:13:14 PM »

Okay, I think were getting ahead of ourselves a few times here. Before we get to being a protagonist, or whether people might enjoy the effects of something or (oh god) whether its realistic, lets look at the basic stem.

If your mechanics cut off a player from contributing to play, they are on a fast road to hell.

Basically, the more the mechanics make someone's presence at the table meaningless/the more  they could be absent and it wouldn't effect a jot, its really screwed.

Only sim guys have a high tollerance for this and I think most of them want to be exploring actively.

Other than that, this core point is not a GNS issue. You don't bring people to a table only to have mechanics that make them redundant. By redundant I mean any amount of time (a minute or a large chunk of the session), particularly if someone is made more redundant than other players.

That's why its bloody important to have things like the suggested example of scared factor three, where you suffer -3 to actions if you stand your ground. You might have a G, N or S goal in mind, but something like this does not cut off input from the player, making him redundant as his PC spends time running off.

Don't look to the integrity of your G, N or S goal, look to the integrity of player input first. Once you've ensured the integrity of your players input, then you can move on to forfilling G N or S goals.

I don't know if I'm missreading the term deprotagonisation here, but only a players PC can be a protagonist. The PC's protagonist state is secondary to whether the player has input into the game. Don't make deprotagonisation your first goal to surmount...it'll miss the point.

Note: My angle here is a little different from the thread this was spawned from, because I'm not trying to fit the context of that other thread here.
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Philosopher Gamer
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #11 on: May 25, 2004, 05:40:09 PM »

Quote from: Noon
If your mechanics cut off a player from contributing to play, they are on a fast road to hell.


Amen.


Quote from: Noon
That's why its bloody important to have things like the suggested example of scared factor three, where you suffer -3 to actions if you stand your ground. You might have a G, N or S goal in mind, but something like this does not cut off input from the player, making him redundant as his PC spends time running off.


So ... you're saying you like this idea? (Nudge, nudge). I only ask because it's, err, becoming the central mechanic of My Eventual Game (to appear in the "Indie Design" forum sometime before the Hell of which you spoke freezes over).
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Dauntless
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« Reply #12 on: May 25, 2004, 08:49:18 PM »

In computer design, the interfaces that you design into the game limit the choices available to the player.  You have to design such built-in limitations because software engineering hasn't reached a point where AI is smart enough to truly make freeform decisions and truly learn and adapt from the problem domain.

How does this relate to pen and paper RPG design?  As Sydney pointed out, when you create a mechanic for something, you emphasize that thing.  It in effect becomes a limitation to choice.  But it also provides the interface (what the character can do, or how a character's actions are affected) that the player has to the gameworld itself.  The more abstract the rules, the less limitations there are, but also the more arbitration that creeps in and the more shaky the shared imaginings amongst the player group and the GM becomes.

So it becomes a tradeoff to a degree.  Morever, the choice of creating mechanics which can take away choice and volition from a player also stems from the often subconscious realization that there is a difference between the player and the character.  In my game, player choice is constrained by the context of the situation around him.  THe player can try to defy his character's personality or impulses, but the player can't simply shirk it off and conjure it up to roleplaying.  The constraint isn't so much in the choice of what the player wants his character to do, rather the constraint comes from the fact that the choice of action is not guaranteed.

So for example, a character might have values similar to Pendragon, and when a situation is presented to a character in which one of his values comes into play, the character is motivated to follow his convictions, for better or worse.  Good roleplayers will probably see such rules as overkill and unnecessary, since good roleplaying is about stepping into the shoes of your protagonist.  However, the desire to weave a good story can overcome the ability to be in the shoes of your character.  The game mechanics can also act as "directorial guidance" in that it suggests what the player should be making the character do.

You can never fully get away from the seperation of player and character.  But depending on the game setting and the experiential gameplay the system tries to provide, losing control of one's character may reinforce the genre or intentions of the premise.  Not all game settings are going to need this level, but realistic settings would probably benefit from it.  The more Simulationist the game system is, the more I would advocate such mechanics, the more narrativist, the more I would stay away from them.  The gamist perspective for including these mechanics are very much premise or setting dependent.  So depending on the genre, setting or premise, it could work for a more gamist approach.
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Dauntless
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« Reply #13 on: May 25, 2004, 09:09:54 PM »

I think the point here needs to be made that while certain events may make the players lose control of their characters, the system should also have options for the players to try to avoid or minimize the effects of the loss of control.

For example, let's say your character has a conviction of extreme piety to a certain religious cause.  Now let's say that the character is captured, and forced to renounce his beliefs, and if he does, he will be let go.  If he does not, then another innocent NPC hostage will be killed.  For those who are not too pious, they may think, "so what, I'll go ahead and say it".  But because this character has a strong belief system in place, what would the character do?

It's hard to say, perhaps he has a stronger motivation to protect innocent lives.  In which case this principle can outweigh his conviction.  But what if he doesn't?  

There are two ways to handle this.  One is, just let the player chose.  Let's say the player decides not to give in because he believes he'll be sent to some sort of damnation if he denounces his beliefs, and perhaps his religious beliefs also tell him that an innocent who is murdered in the name of one's creator is sent to heaven.  In which case, not only does this make sense, the character won't even feel any remorse over what happened.  But what if the religious context isn't like this?  What if the player keeps silent so the innocent NPC dies.  Would the character feel remorse?  If he does, how does this remorse or guilt factor in to actual game play?  In TROS, spiritual attributes could affect actual gameplay, and it got a lot of good press for doing so.  Perhaps you could also set up a situation where the choice is in the hands of the player, but the game effects are system dependent.  So in this case, the player retains his choice, but the guilt he feels will now act as a penalty until some later time (confessional or some other cathartic measure is taken to purge the guilt).

The other option is you have a mechanic in place which affects the chances of the character's choice from taking place.  For example, let's say the player wants to renounce his religion to save the innocent NPC.  However, because he has such a high piety rating, there's less of a likelihood that this would happen.  You can either make some sort of resolution roll against the Piety rating, which can be modified by the player in some game system dependant way.  For example, in my game, one can spend Discipline points precisely to override emotions, principles or beliefs.  

Something else to think about is how to reward  experience for being in character or OOC.  If the player's choice is in character, then the GM can reward the action with experience/hero points/fate points, or what have you...perhaps even extra points can be awarded if the action results in the death of the character.  OTOH, the GM can penalize experience for acting out of character.  But "acting IC or OOC" depends greatly on how well you've defined the characters emotions, convictions, beliefs, principles, mental resilience, etc etc.  If they are not well defined (whether quantitatively or qualitatively) then it becomes much more subjective as to whether the player was acting IC or OOC.

I'm currently trying to figure out if I want to use the first or second method.  In the first method, player choice is retained, but the choice affects in-game benefits or penalties.  In the second method, player decision is not guaranteed depending on the context of the situation, but the player has a chance to modify the likelihood of his choice actually happening.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #14 on: May 25, 2004, 10:53:25 PM »

Quote from: Sydney Freedberg

Quote from: Noon
That's why its bloody important to have things like the suggested example of scared factor three, where you suffer -3 to actions if you stand your ground. You might have a G, N or S goal in mind, but something like this does not cut off input from the player, making him redundant as his PC spends time running off.


So ... you're saying you like this idea? (Nudge, nudge). I only ask because it's, err, becoming the central mechanic of My Eventual Game (to appear in the "Indie Design" forum sometime before the Hell of which you spoke freezes over).


I like that it maintains player input rather than prioritising other goals ahead of player input. I will add that a recent post by Vallamir/Ralph showed me that policing when such negative effects should apply is probably best left in the hands of players rather than the GM, by rewarding them for applying such things...see here and scroll down to Ralphs post to get more of the reasoning behind it. Christ, I think the reasoning even applies to raising children! :)
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Philosopher Gamer
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