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Author Topic: [Ends and Means] Werewolves in L.A.  (Read 2678 times)
Adam Cerling
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« on: April 28, 2005, 07:46:03 PM »

Half my regular group was busy last night, so the remaining three of us got together for Chinese food, the card game Munchkin-Fu, and an impromptu playtest of my nascent Ends and Means LARP system. A basic description of that system is here.

In order to get things off the ground fast, we decided not to invent entirely new settings and characters, but instead to simply use the PCs from the ongoing Werewolf: the Forsaken chronicle I'm running. We played through a "what-if" scene that simply allowed us to explore their Werewolf characters more and experiment with my system.

Both players created their characters with 4 or 5 Ends and 5 Means. They both undercut their Weight Limits enough to net five Focus Tokens each. Examining their Ends, I found that both of them had major goals to accomplish in Los Angeles. So I opened the scene there, in hopes of drumming up conflict between them. The rest of their pack was dead at the hands of a rival pack, and they had fled to L.A. as their first stop on their way out of the country. The rival pack was big, strong and hot on their heels.

It turns out that my players wouldn't initiate conflict. They were used to playing cooperatively as packmates in the Werewolf game, resolving differences mainly through roleplaying without resorting to dice-rolls. They did the same here. They preferred to roleplay out a compromise in Actor stance than invoke the mechanics and get their way.

This wasn't unexpected: I'm designing my system for Blood Opera LARPs, not for cooperative tabletop play.

Their characters reach a compromise. G.'s character Mei, an identity-theft expert, is going to use false information and the post office to order passports for them on short notice: then they're going to go lay low. I decide to introduce some conflict at the post office. The pack that's hunting them has police contacts, and Wanted posters are everywhere.

G. establishes her Stake as filling out the forms and sending the passport applications unnoticed. She chooses the End and Means she wants to apply to her Stake. My Stake is that somebody recognizes her from the posters. As Stage Manager, I arbitrarily set my Stake at a Weight of 15. She reveals that her End (Escape the Rival Pack, 3) and her Means (Sneaking, 8) total a Weight of 11. She would lose, but instead she chooses to Steal the Scene, paying me one Focus Token.

We describe how her plan goes off without a hitch. I throw descriptions of standard obstacles at her, like the nosy guy at the mail counter, and she throws back descriptions of her sneaky means of escaping their attention. Narration feels a bit awkward, but I chalk it up to G. and I testing the waters. We've never really done anything but Task Resolution before.

Next, M. tells me that his character Jerome -- a former gang member -- is calling home, in accordance with one of his Ends (Say Goodbye to his Little Brother). I decide to lay on the pressure by having a member of the rival pack pick up on the other end. They've got Jerome's family. And unless Jerome and Mei surrender soon, they will kill them all.

At this point, Jerome and Mei agree that they have to take the fight to the rival pack. They start to work on detailed plans, asking questions like "what's the layout of the house?" I point out that we don't have to do it that way: we can resolve the entire confrontation before describing a word of it, using the system.

I enjoyed what followed next. I set my Stake: that the rival pack captures them. G. set their Stake: that they kill one of the rival pack and escape. But then M. jumped in with his own ideas: he wanted to kill two of the pack and save his family -- but die in the process. Our descriptions of these Stakes were actually much more complicated: I dread to think of what a conflict between five or more people would be like, unless I establish some guidelines to simplicity in declaring Stakes.

Thus, we had a three-way conflict. They chose Ends and Means. I set the difficulty (too?) high, again -- 16 this time. G.'s Stake weighed 11 again, and M.'s Stake weighed 14.

The lowest Weight had first dibs. If she wanted, she could Steal the Scene from both M. and I by paying us both the standard fee. It'd cost her one Focus Token to steal from M., and two to Steal from me (I was trying a rule where it costs +1 Token, cumulative, every time you Steal from the same person). She was willing to pay three Focus Tokens -- but I successfully bribed her with three of my own not to.

Now, in order to win his Stake, M. had only to Steal the Scene from me for one Focus Token. I tried to bribe him with three Focus Tokens, and he thought about it, but chose otherwise. He won the Stakes. He chose that both G. and I would lose our Stakes. And we proceeded to Narration.

The awkwardness this time made it clear to me that I have a lot of work yet to do with structuring Narration. My players were still looking to me for cues, trusting me to run things. I need to impose an order of Narration. The idea of sub-conflicts also came up: what if there's a disagreement over how to Narrate Stakes that have already been decided?

Furthermore, it wasn't clear how far their Narrative power could go. As a guideline, I said that they could narrate anything "an average human could do, or anything you have among your Means." So Mei Narrated hacking the power grid to knock out the lights in the house, using her Means: Computer Hacking. Where were the limits to her power, though? Could she as easily have hacked into NORAD and launched nuclear missiles? I need to add something like "Scope" to the game that sets these limits, but which varies by style of Story.

Style of story also came to mind. It feels like my system would be easier to use with super-heroes or with Nobilis than with gritty street-level stuff. Conflict Resolution, as opposed to Task Resolution, is quite simply a damn powerful technique: Settings which encourage rather than limit wild imagination seem the more natural fit.

In any case, Jerome rallied his old gang buddies, Mei hacked the power grid, they invaded Jerome's family's house with guns blazing and kicked ass. Jerome killed one rival werewolf and died horribly at the hands of another, who was finished off by Mei. Jerome's family was saved: and the only goodbye Jerome left for his little brother was his own mangled corpse.

In the end, even with the awkwardness, the three of us had a lot of fun, and I'm encouraged to continue working on this. I welcome your observations and ideas, particularly in regard to establishing structure and distributing authority in Conflict Resolution. Thanks for reading.
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Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.
Andrew Morris
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« Reply #1 on: April 29, 2005, 05:53:04 AM »

Adam, I'm glad to see you had a chance to playtest this. My first thoughts are on stakes and conflict resolution.

You note the difficulty of determining stakes, especially in conflicts with multiple participants, and I feel your pain. That's been the reason I've created and torn down multiple systems for my game. I've toyed with the idea of defining the potential categories of stakes by function, but that's a difficult thing to do well. I'm currently leaning toward requiring consensus on stakes, with some token/resource-expenditure mechanism to force the issue if consensus cannot be reached.

As to conflict resolution not being suited to gritty, street-level stuff, I strongly disagree. I think it's more a matter of what the narrator puts into it, than a conflict vs. task issue.
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Adam Cerling
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« Reply #2 on: April 29, 2005, 07:28:37 AM »

Andrew --

Fortunately, I don't think I'm at the point of tearing down anything yet. I think I have my mechanic for handling multiple participants, which I'll elaborate on later in Game Design (once I've had the chance to update my own drafts). In a conflict between multiple participants, one and only one player emerges the victor, and to that victor goes the power to determine whether all other Stakes are won or lost.

The complexity of estalbishing Stakes came out of all the variables that came up. If I recall, the negotiations went something like this:

Me: For my Stake, the Steele Twins (the rival pack) capture you both.

G.: Well, I want one of them to die.

Me: If the Stakes are going that high, then I'll add to my Stake that they capture you and kill your friend Jack.

M.: I want them both dead. But if I do, they kill me.

Me: Okay, but if I win they kill your parents too. But not your little brother.

M.: But if I win, my parents are fine.

We were trying to resolve so many variables at once: whether Mei and Jerome were captured; whether the Steele Twins were killed, and how many of them; whether Jack was killed; whether Jerome's parents were killed. And this was only a group of three people!

Perhaps I should institute a rule that requires all these things be separate Stakes, each resolved individually to form the whole. At least we could then approach such a complex scene in bite-sized chunks.

In regard to Conflict Resolution and style of story, it just seems to me that gritty, street-level stories need more controls in place to ensure that description of the conflict resolution doesn't go against the style. High imaginitive romps like superheroes or Nobilis would need fewer such controls.
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Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.
Andrew Morris
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« Reply #3 on: April 29, 2005, 07:39:32 AM »

Quote from: WhiteRat
In a conflict between multiple participants, one and only one player emerges the victor, and to that victor goes the power to determine whether all other Stakes are won or lost.

The first thing that comes to mind with this is what happens when two players tie. More accurately, if A, B, and C are in a conflict, and A and B both spend their last Focus Token, who wins? The easy out on that one is to default to the player with the highest or lowest total Weight, which will make tieing almost impossible. But still, what happens when A and B both have a weight of 12 and one Focus Token, which they both want to spend?
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #4 on: April 29, 2005, 08:33:00 AM »

Quote from: WhiteRat
the negotiations went something like this:

Me: For my Stake, the Steele Twins (the rival pack) capture you both.

G.: Well, I want one of them to die.

Me: If the Stakes are going that high, then I'll add to my Stake that they capture you and kill your friend Jack.

M.: I want them both dead. But if I do, they kill me.

Me: Okay, but if I win they kill your parents too. But not your little brother.

M.: But if I win, my parents are fine.


Ben Lehman's in-playtest game Polaris has a formal negotiation mechanic for this sort of thing -- see this Actual Play thread for an example or two.
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Adam Cerling
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« Reply #5 on: April 30, 2005, 12:34:54 PM »

Andrew --

You're right to bring up ties; I keep forgetting about the possibility. The system is much neater without ties, I 've decided, so now I plan to eliminate them entirely.

If the Weight of your Stakes are the same, compare the Weight of the Ends of those Stakes. If the Weight of those Ends are the same, Auction off victory in a bidding war (where the winner pays his bid in Focus Tokens to the loser). If both of you are unable or unwilling to win the Auction... well... nothing more elegant comes to mind than determining the winner randomly with a coin flip.

(Ewww, I got Fortune in my Karma. I hope nobody notices!)

Sydney --

Thanks, I did notice that thread. Formalized language for negotiation strikes me as a clear and colorful technique. I'll definitely be reading further Polaris posts with great interest.
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Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.
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