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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 158 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre  (Read 11743 times)
Callan S.
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« Reply #15 on: October 17, 2005, 12:13:45 AM »

And it hit me: if CoC was a game like DitV, instead of having a genre convention for foolish/reckless behavior fighting with the Sanity mechanic, the game would give rewards for investigation and going insane. The game would be driven forward by a constant urge to lose Sanity. Instead, you get this strange situation where you can either play to lose, for the fun of having characters meet horrible fates (I maintain this is the #1 reason to play CoC). Or you can play to win, and essentially do the minimum investigation/discovery needed to still defeat the bad guys.
I'm interested to know why losing sanity isn't seen as a reward? Plenty of card games give you a hand of cards and instruct you to try and get rid of all of them. CoC is easily driven forward by the urge to lose sanity, if you see losing sanity points as a good thing.

Is it a lack of player/character disjunct? That losing sanity is bad for my character, therefore it is bad for me as a player?

Is it a sim aversion to all things gamism? That avid pursuit of losing all your sanity just seems wrong and not an exploration of insanity at all (seems like hardcore gamism?). 'Winning' by losing all your sanity is just revolting?

And I wonder if that push me - pull you is system pursuit (usually associated soley with gamism) fighting with simulationist exploration priority.
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Philosopher Gamer
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Chris Geisel
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« Reply #16 on: October 17, 2005, 10:39:34 AM »

That's an interesting question, Callan, because certainly in the game I was describing in my OP, losing Sanity absolutely was one of my goals. I was trying to shove my character in harm's way at all times, because my feeling is that's where the game is: CoC (for me) is about the spectacular destruction of characters at the hands of horrific creatures. It's all about the bragging rights, who got killed most spectacularly, by the coolest elder thing, or got the most royally screwed in the end.

However, I don't think losing Sanity is rewarded, even so. Whether my character loses all his Sanity points, goes insane from losing some fraction thereof, or is gobbled by a tentacled horror--all are equally satisfying, provided they give me bragging rights.

Touching on your card game example, typically in those games getting rid of one's cards results in winning the game or is the path to winning (eg Go Fish or Hearts, respectively). In CoC, once you get rid of all your Sanity, you're not rewarded, you're disempowered. I don't think it's a player/character disjunct. Either you sit the rest of the game out, or you make a new character--and unless you get lucky, not the one you chose to start with.

I think you may have hit the nail on the head with regard to system pursuit fighting with a Sim priority. Exploration is punished with Sanity loss, which tends to curtail exploration by removing the character from play. (Or does it? Even if all the characters are killed, presumably the next batch can pick up where they left off, opening the same tomb, etc...)
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Chris Geisel
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #17 on: October 17, 2005, 12:43:18 PM »

Hello,

A good way to look at the issues currently being raised is that you cannot play with your foundation being a conundrum.

Therefore groups will arrive at local solutions. In many cases, CoC players pride themselves on "striving" toward Sanity loss, with a strong emphasis on doing it in-character. In others, they pride themselves on strategizing through the loss and recovery, adventure after adventure. In still others, they pride themselves on being bad-assed (and rules-knowledgeable) enough to minimize the loss per encounter.

There is absolutely no merit to talking about how "the game" solves the problem, because it doesn't. However, to be functional, play must solve the problem, and so we see various solutions.

One of the key points of CoC as a design, worth thinking about very carefully, is that its text leads people to prioritize celebrating a genre, specifically the Mythos (which is not the same as Lovecraft). Therefore, with that Sim-agenda in place, the various solutions at least share a creative, imaginative anchor to hang their various hats on.

Two different groups may not share one another's details of how to arrive at that celebration; one may be more "combat-happy" than another, for instance. But most groups committed to playing CoC will touch ground, if you ask the right questions, at that celebration of genre as their first priority. Even bragging rights tend to be about that rather than about personal strategy and guts.

Please note that I am talking about a strong empirical tendency, not what the game "can" do or what has been done in some cases.

Best,
Ron
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Callan S.
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« Reply #18 on: October 17, 2005, 08:44:00 PM »

Hi Chris,

In Uno, your supposed to get rid of all your cards. But I noticed you have less and less game power, the fewer cards you have. It's like your penalised more and more and more and then...you've won. It's quite a gauntlet...possibly more of a system engagement than a sim dude would want to make.


Hi Ron,

I can see how that tendency then goes to solve how play is to proceed (in many different ways, for various groups). But there has to be more than celebration of genre to answer the questions above (which these groups are answering). What else, besides the celebration of genre, rises up in them to take control of play?

Side question: How many groups take their own invention as 'how the game plays - were just playing the rules'.
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Philosopher Gamer
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Chris Geisel
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« Reply #19 on: October 17, 2005, 09:37:42 PM »

I'm rapidly approaching the point at which I have nothing further to say about this, for the time being (possibly after I play CoC again, next week). However, I would like to add two comments.

Callan: very interesting wrt Uno. I'd forgotten about that card game. I may try to play it once or twice prior to my next CoC game, just for the hell of it.

Ron: it's also entirely possible that the 'solutions' to CoC some combo of the above. A player may strive for Sanity loss during one scene, then pull back and play it strategically or tactically for a while, to prolong the experience.

I plan on pushing the hell out of the Sanity envelope at our next session. I'm actually very curious to see how the game functions if a player concentrates on burning Sanity, rather than the push-me-pull-you I mentioned earlier. Does it break? Does the simulation break down?

Should be interesting.

p.s. Does anyone know where the development of Eldritch Tales stands? I'd like to see it.
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Chris Geisel
carnival
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« Reply #20 on: October 18, 2005, 12:00:34 AM »

Last night during a very enjoyable (and typical) CoC session, I noticed something about the play that struck me as schizophrenic: the genre requires that characters start out innocent/unsuspecting, until they are confronted with the Awful Truth. At the same time, there's the Sanity mechanic that encourages cautious/paranoid play. Not to mention the apparent goal of protecting the world from the Awful Truth for one more night. So there's this strange push-me-pull-you in play.

...

And it hit me: if CoC was a game like DitV, instead of having a genre convention for foolish/reckless behavior fighting with the Sanity mechanic, the game would give rewards for investigation and going insane. The game would be driven forward by a constant urge to lose Sanity.

Chris,

I agree. IMO Coc was/is an excellent game, but as you point out it has conflicting-concerns inherent in its design.

As an (almost) aside: a small encouragement to lose sanity could be a mechanic such that the sanity of your next character starts at (100 - sanity of the previous one). Those players who enjoyed having their characters sanity plummet have the reward of their next character having a good potential to survive the sanity free-fall for longer. It would obviously not work for one-shots. 
I believe early versions of Bushido, amongst others, had examples of this style of rule (minor mechanical reward based on the style of the previous character's death).

cheers,

Mik   
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Ice Cream Emperor
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« Reply #21 on: October 18, 2005, 02:23:23 AM »

I plan on pushing the hell out of the Sanity envelope at our next session. I'm actually very curious to see how the game functions if a player concentrates on burning Sanity, rather than the push-me-pull-you I mentioned earlier. Does it break? Does the simulation break down?

My suspicion is that it will break the simulation in the sense that your character will probably go insane long before the dramatically-appropriate point at which the rest of the conservatively-played PCs will go insane. This is going off the idea that the genre demands that characters go insane in some climactic, life-turning way. Because CoC relies so heavily on GM planning, having players who take wildly different approaches to sanity will make it increasingly difficult for the GM to get them to snap at interesting moments. It's kind of like designing a challenging D&D encounter for a party of 5 min-maxing gamists and 1 immersion-happy sim player who is playing a str 12 cha 17 fighter who multiclassed into wizard two levels ago and still wears full plate. Either the ogres smash up the fighter or the rest of the party slaughters the orcs.

If I (a theoretical GM) design a CoC adventure for conservative players, I might have a bunch of encounters with moderately sanity-damaging creatures, expecting my clever players to avoid or mitigate the majority of the sanity loss... only to then encounter some truly unholy scenario that will climactically send them scurrying over the edge. If my group then includes one player who has his character constantly throw himself in the way of zombies, gawping and gibbering all the while... well, that character probably won't make it to the unholy scenario in one piece. Whether or not the GM can account for this and work it into the story arc will probably depend on his/her ability and/or the scenario itself. Of course, if you have a strong enough idea about your own character's mental journey, you may be able to force his ultimate demise into meaningfulness, whether anybody else is helping you or not.
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~ Daniel
Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #22 on: October 18, 2005, 06:28:43 AM »

Jared wrote:

"the game says it's about one thing but in reality is just D&D where you lose and don't feel bad about it"

Right, but this is why it was an important game for its time. By killing the 'win conditions' of D&D the game went way farther in supporting Sim play than I think any previous game, certainly any previous game I played, did.


This of course assumes that Sim play exists and is valid. Hah! Sucker.

Still, I didn't say the point of CoC is to lose -- it's not. The game is written with the intent that even in the midst of insanity, chaos and death, the PC's can win (or at least run away and survive). The play structure remains identical to D&D.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #23 on: October 18, 2005, 08:26:50 AM »

Hiya,

Well, Chris has stated that the thread has served its purpose, and yet I really like a lot of points that continue to be made.

Solution: let's start new threads with specific sub-topics from this one, and call this one closed.

Best,
Ron
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Eric J-D
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« Reply #24 on: October 18, 2005, 09:02:28 AM »

This has been a good discussion, one that has enriched my thinking about my experience with CoC.  Thanks especially to Ron and Rob for directing us to those threads.

Like Chris I don't know how much more I have to add to the discussion, but one thing occurred to me in light of Ron's post.  I think some of the problems of the sanity mechanic (and its impact on play) in CoC become more apparent when one compares it with Humanity in Sorcerer.  On the surface the two things might appear to be very similar, but I would argue that they actually have very different effects on play and are designed to promote very different goals.

Let's start with the surface similarities (and my apologies in advance if this all strikes everyone as obvious):

In CoC Sanity is mobile, increasing and decreasing in response to in-play events (although the latter tends to be they more typical CoC experience).  Humanity in  Sorcerer is similarly mobile.  Both games clearly specify the conditions under which Sanity or Humanity loss might occur, although in  Sorcerer the exact conditions under which Humanity might be threatened depend entirely on the definition of Humanity being used in the game.  In other words, to use two western-inspired examples of  Sorcerer play as examples, a  Sorcerer game modeled along the lines of Unforgiven would call for a Humanity test for almost all forms of gunplay whatsoever (even those enacted for seemingly just reasons) while a Sorcerer game modeled on  Shane would probably not.  Defining Humanity and what constitutes gains or losses to it thus depends a lot on the source material.  Finally, both games specify the conditions under which loss to Sanity or Humanity might result in the character's either temporary or permanent retirement from play.  In CoC where Sanity is a percentile, there are clear thresholds that, once passed, removes the character from play.  This can be through temporary insanity (which renders the character incapable of action for a variable period of time) or permanent insanity (which places the character under GM control until sanity is restored).  In  Sorcerer when the character achieves a zero Humanity he or she is removed from play (although there are suggestions for alternate ways of handling this in  The Sorcerer's Soul.  A major difference between the two games obviously lies in the fact that in  Sorcerer a character is never under serious threat of removal from play until he or she reaches Humanity 0 while in CoC the character is threatened every time he or she crosses a particular tier or threshold. 

But the bigger difference between the two games and their respective mechanics lies in the way they affect the players themselves.  In CoC, Sanity loss is understood to be a feature of the game, but it is a rather peculiar feature on closer inspection.  Generally Sanity loss occurs whenever a character encounters a member of the Mythos or reads a book containing knowledge of the Mythos.  The rules specify exactly the range of loss that accompanies encountering a Deep One versus an encounter with Yog Sothoth.  The problem here is readily apprent.  In CoC Sanity is threatened by the passive encounters of characters with the Awful Truth.  Since these encounters are assumed to be a staple of play (otherwise what is the game about?) they are unavoidable and lead inexorably towards loss of player control of encounter.  The only solution to this is to engage in the kind of strategizing behaviors Ron suggests in his post.  The solution, in other words, is to mix some gamist agenda with the heavy dose of Sim priorities encouraged by the game.

By contrast, in  Sorcerer Humanity loss is threatened by the active decisions of the players to place their character's Humanity at risk in order to achieve some other thing deemed important to the player.  Although it is expected that, since the characters are sorcerers, Humanity checks will be a regular feature of play, players always have the option of refusing to bind or contact that next demon or otherwise jeopardize Humanity.   Sorcerer thus places the power over the character's Humanity squarely in the hands of the player, and play thus becomes making important decisions for the characters that involve heavy player-consideration of the kind of story the player is interested in generating.

The contrast between the two games could not be more apparent.  Whereas CoC mandates Sanity checks for what amounts essentially to character passivity,  Sorcerer requires at every point an active decision by the player to risk a Humanity check.  For Sanity to work in CoC, players must simply accept that this is one of the conventions of the game and to throw themselves into it without receiving any corresponding reward.   Sorcerer on the other hand places all decision making power of Humanity in the player's hands (well, and the hands of the dice ultimately if the player submits to the temptation to risk Humanity) and rewards this play in a variety of ways, whether that be in the form of giving the player an active hand in the creation of his or her character's story or through bonuses (or penalties) to subsequent rolls through the games Currency rules.  It should be obvious that my strong preference is for the latter.

Now, of course it needs to be said that CoC and  Sorcerer are quite different types of games in terms of what they are emulating.  CoC attempts to emulate stories about largely weak and overmastered characters who are ignorant of the malignant forces that lie behind the curtain of what we call reality while  Sorcerer is about creating stories about very powerful characters who must decide when to use their outlaw power to achieve things that are important to them. One might conclude, therefore, that the way Sanity functions in CoC is thus entirely appropriate to its source material just as  Sorcerer's Humanity is appropriate to its sources.  But I would argue that for play to be enjoyable, CoC actually requires a mechanic like Humanity even more as otherwise there is little to curb the feeling that you (the player) are as impotent and ineffectual as your character.  This is why I have argued that CoC really needs to give an even higher dose of rewards to players who adhere to the genre conventions and put Sanity at regular risk.  The player needs to have some corresponding control over something else that is important to play in order to be given an incentive (other than a Sim incentive) to risk Sanity.  Otherwise, your only real options are the ones Ron describes, and I can say (and perhaps this is no more than my long love-hate relationship with the game talking) these are not very satisfying options in the long term.

Eric
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Eric J-D
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« Reply #25 on: October 18, 2005, 09:03:51 AM »

Oops.  Sorry Ron.  I missed the notice that we should move this to a new thread.  Closing now.

Eric
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Chris Geisel
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« Reply #26 on: October 18, 2005, 09:27:58 AM »

If anyone does start a sub-thread (Eric, I think your last post is a great starting point), please link to it from here.

Thanks.
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Chris Geisel
Callan S.
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« Reply #27 on: October 18, 2005, 08:20:11 PM »

A split off thread: Burn sanity for narrativism?
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Philosopher Gamer
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Chris Geisel
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« Reply #28 on: October 21, 2005, 05:00:26 AM »

Here's a thread in Game Design where I try to describe the HPL-inspired game I have in mind, and a call for mechanics suggestions.
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Chris Geisel
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #29 on: October 21, 2005, 08:53:47 AM »

Actually, guys, no. Don't do that.

When you start a new thread, link back from it to this one. Don't post in this one any more.

Best,
Ron
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