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Author Topic: [Messenger] Introduction  (Read 6284 times)
Wood
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Posts: 43


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« on: September 01, 2006, 04:01:11 AM »

Hey there. I'm Wood. I write RPG books for (what passes for) a living on behalf of, among others, a big-ish publisher that doesn't get a huge amount of love here. So much for that. I have my own preferences as to what my own perfect game might be. This is not it.

But I have been working my own fairly straightforward narrative RPG, with a view to sticking it on my site for a free or nearly-free download. I'm calling it "Messenger", for the time being.

Its main focus is one personal politics, the politics of responsibility, conscience and morality. The setting is a vaguely satirical quasi-SF setting, around the Indian Ocean, revolving between Mumbai, Delhi and this prefab island state owned by a number of multinationals, where everyone, to some extent or another is an employee ("asset") and, essentially, owned, body and soul by a huge corporation. In essence, in order to survive, characters will be forced to do terrible things; in order to succeed, they have to retain some sense of self, and some sense of compassion.

I'm aiming to be:
-arbitrary in system;
-diceless;
-politically biased.

I'm not planning on being overly innovative. I'm no genius. I'm good, but I'm not going to be reinventing any wheels. I would be interested if Forge bods thought this viable.

Stats
There are two: they represent the resources of self a character has. There are two of these "Resources" : Compassion and Control. The idea is that if the character can't do this stuff, he has the emotional resources to push himself further, either through concentration or simple heart.

We measure Resources in Circles and Points (in much the same way as you would with WW's dots-and-points tracks for Willpower, Health, etc).

A starting character has 10 Circles, divided between two traits: Compassion and Control. A character can't begin with a zero score in either of her Resources: a player has to assign at least one Circle in each of them.

What Resources don't do is measure how skilled, bright, charismatic, fit or highly trained a character is. The player decides that and includes some idea of that in her character description. We assume that any reasonably well-trained character can do most things, and if it's in doubt, it's open to negotiation.

Compassion
Compassion represents humanity, the power of human connection and responsibility towards others.

Control
Control is a measure of poise, self-control and ability to concentrate. 

Example: Tara Singh begins with a total of ten Circles. Her player assigns to two to Compassion and eight to Control.

At the beginning of her first session, the character has a number of Points in each of her Resources equal to the number of Circles she has.

At the beginning of any game session, the narrator has possession of a number of Story Points, which can be equal to at least the total of all points (or Circles?) currently held by all the players.

Task resolution works like this:

1. The Divination
The narrator asks himself: can the character do this? Everyone should have enough of a grasp on what and who the character is to have a good idea whether the character can overcome the difficulty of a situation or defeat the skill of a member of the Supporting Cast.

2. The Choice
The narrator asks the player to make a risk. The narrator can, if he wants, stipulate which of the character's Resources the player has to risk. For many tasks, however, it doesn't matter; the player can spend either, as long as he rationalises it in terms of story. If you're using counters, the player takes some of the points from his character's Resources pool and hides them in his hand.  The narrator takes some Story Points counters and hides them in his own hand, basing his own assessment of how many he's going to spend on how hard the task is, or how skilled, smart or strong the opposition is. He also hides them. The narrator can, if he so wishes, choose to risk nothing.

Alternatively, both player and narrator can write the number of points they want to spend on a piece of paper and place it face-down in the middle of the table.

3. The Reveal
Both sides reveal at the same time, opening their hands, turning over the paper, or whatever. If the player has more points in his hand, the character succeeds, and he gets the points back, while the narrator loses his. If the narrator has more points, the character fails and loses the points, while the narrator gets his back. If it's a draw, the character just edges it, succeeding in what he is trying to do, but losing the points.

If the player risked three or more points, and the task is one conducive to the Resources at hand, or the character will gain a Disloyalty Point (see below) from the task, or both, the character gets the points back, and one more.

Example: Karinder K's player tries to infiltrate a street gang that isn't yet officially sanctioned. She has to stand back and watch them murder an acquaintance without cracking or revealing she's not fully one of the gang. She risks four Control points, and succeeds. She gets five points back. It's going to weigh on her conscience, though...

Example: Tara, meanwhile, stands up to a superior who is planning to bulldoze a load of civilian homes, offering a spurious argument about profits. If she's caught lying in order to squander company profits for the sake of a bunch of people who aren't even Resources, she could get into trouble. She risks two Compassion points, but she gets a Disloyalty Point (we'll bring that up) for talking back to her superior. She succeeds, and gets back three Compassion.


4. Consequences
There are consequences for both success and failure, obviously. But suffice to say that I doubt I'm going to detail them. I'm not sure an actual system for injuries beyond what I have here would work.

Conscience and Composure Tasks
I was going to use the same stats, Compassion and Control, as a conscience/sanity mechanic, respectively.

Basically, when the GM rules that something's happened that should weigh on a character's conscience (like killing someone, duh), or which could give the character nightmares (getting tortured, for example), he can call for a Compassion or Control task.

If the character has done something terrible, the player has to risk some Compassion points. This is called a Conscience task.

If the character has experience something traumatic, the player has to risk some Control points. This is called a Composure task.

The narrator, meanwhile takes a number of Story Points that he feels fits the crime or the trauma, which could be anything from one to ten (to be expanded in later drafts, but note that with lower numbers of Circles, there's - possibly? - less need to call for a task).

If the player wins, the result works the same way as with any other task: the player gets the points back. If it's a draw, the character still succeeds, but the player doesn't get the points back. However, if the player loses, the character loses a Circle in the appropriate Resource. His points in that Resource become equal to the new number of Circles, minus one.

If the player succeeds in a Conscience task, the character experiences remorse for what he has done. He'll agonise about it for a while. Eventually, he'll get over it. If the player loses, the character doesn't think he's done anything wrong. He justifies it to himself, and becomes that bit harder.

If the player succeeds in a Composure Task, the character manages to get a grip on himself. If he loses, the character dwells on it, perhaps having nightmares about it or developing a phobia or other neurosis.

Buying Up
If a player, through shrewd risks, manages to gain more points in a Resource than the character has Circles in one of the character's Resources, the character can gain a Circle (and thus a higher maximum pool of points) by cashing points equal to the current number of circles the character has.

Example: Tara manages to amass four Compassion points. She decides to gain another Circle under Compassion. She currently has two Circles under Compassion. She pays two points and gains one Circle under Compassion. She still has two points left.

Cashing In
On the other hand, if a character runs out of points, the player can choose to dissolve one of the Character's Circles, turning it into a pool of points equal to the new number of Circles she has.

Example: Tara runs out of Control points. She decides to cash in, reducing the number of Circles she has under Control to seven. She now has seven Control points, the same as her new number of Circles.

Cross-Spending

A character can also choose to spend Compassion points to buy Control points (the character hardens herself in order to make herself concentrate and gain a bit of composure) or vice versa (the character softens, forces herself to become more open to others). Two points from one Resource buy one point in the other. 

Disloyalty
This is where it gets vague.

It occurred to me that if we're doing the paranoia thing (to a degree - it's less cartoony), there would have to be a mechanic to express the danger of getting executed/brainwashed/fired etc. I'm wondering how this mechanic fits in with the other main mechanic, which I'm unwilling to adulterate.

There it is so far. Not hugely innovative, but I hope playable. I'd like to know what holes there are in it, conceptually and mechanically.

Also, I'm wondering whether I should allow players a pool of Story Points, which they can use to trade in for story elements.

Over to you.
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Troy_Costisick
Member

Posts: 802


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« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2006, 01:48:37 AM »

Heya,

To help us learn more about your game so perhaps we can help you better, could you answer these three questions for me?

1.  What is your game about?

2.  What do the characters do?

3.  What do the players do?

Peace,

-Troy
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Skallagrim
Registree

Posts: 3


« Reply #2 on: September 05, 2006, 02:35:21 AM »

Wood -

cheers Mate!  good to see you sluming it with the rest of us  ;)

For those not familiar with Mr. Ingram's work I heavily recommend taking a look at it, he is quite talented.

any ways welcome to the forge!

Now down to the nitty gritty -

Quote
if the player risked three or more points, and the task is one conducive to the Resources at hand, or the character will gain a Disloyalty Point (see below) from the task, or both, the character gets the points back, and one more.

If Im reading this correctly, even if I lose the reveal, as long as I bid 3 points on an appropriate task, I get to keep my points? While this does wonders for minimizing penalizing me for failed attempts, I see this as possibly being an venue for a marginalized resolution, I mean if I always bid 3 points and always ensure ( or at least convince the narrator, beit through cunning or browbeating) that my task is conducive to the Resource being risked, then I have effectively nullified the risk.

-Skal
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'tis an ill wind that blows no minds...
Wood
Member

Posts: 43


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« Reply #3 on: September 05, 2006, 07:35:54 AM »

Thanks for the welcome.

Heya,

To help us learn more about your game so perhaps we can help you better, could you answer these three questions for me?

1.  What is your game about?

2.  What do the characters do?

3.  What do the players do?

Peace,

-Troy

You know, I thought my baby was going to be completely ignored. :)

Answer 1a. OK. The game's about being workers for a multinational company that fundamentally owns you. The company owns the state, too, which is an Island in the Indian ocean called the Commercial Free State. The company is the state. Essentially, its business, well. No one is quite sure what the corporation does. It has a brand, but produces very little.

1b. The game's really about balancing the issues of conscience with being involved with a society that is basically corrupt, and being complicit in this.

The characters are either contractors (technically freelancers who have to do their own taxes and stuff, and who handle most of the nation's business - police, detection, the like), assets (people who are literally owned by the company and who are fitted with various "enhancements", which, because the nation operates according to a future American law that bans genetic engineering and stem cell research, aren't actually as good as the biological ones they have in Japan) and proper human resources, who are all in management. Characters belong to one of those three categories, and are charged with either expanding one quarter of the business, as in setting up a franchise in a third world country, or in ensuring the management of a department of the company.

so...

Answer 2. They have to manage people. This could involve having people brainwashed or killed, arranging for people in the area controlled by the Delhi and Mumbai offices to starve, getting mixed up with the mob (the company owns the crime families, too, although only a couple of people know that). An ideal adevnture would involve a whole lot of questions of conscience.

Answer 3. The players have to play the parts of people who balance conscience with corporate loyalty, the consequences of being disloyal being potentially lethal. They become aware of their characters' conscience eroding, and possibly their sanity too as the company that owns them screws them over, repeatedly, even while they've bought into upholding its principles.

Quote from: Skallagrim
If Im reading this correctly, even if I lose the reveal, as long as I bid 3 points on an appropriate task, I get to keep my points? While this does wonders for minimizing penalizing me for failed attempts, I see this as possibly being an venue for a marginalized resolution, I mean if I always bid 3 points and always ensure ( or at least convince the narrator, beit through cunning or browbeating) that my task is conducive to the Resource being risked, then I have effectively nullified the risk.

OK, no, I phrased it badly.

You have to have won to get your points back.

You have to have won, risked more than 3 points and done something risky or dramatically appropriate to get your points back and to have earned an extra point.
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Troy_Costisick
Member

Posts: 802


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« Reply #4 on: September 05, 2006, 10:21:24 AM »

Heya,

Awesome.  It seems like you have a very strong concept about what your game should be when it's done.  Those first three questions are part of a larger group called the Power 19.  If you get a chance, do you think you could answer the rest of them for me?

4.) How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?

5.) How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about?

6.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?

7.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?

8.) How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?

9.) What does your game do to command the players' attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)

10.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?

11.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?

12.) Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?

13.) How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?

14.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?

15.) What areas of your game receive extra attention and color? Why?

16.) Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?

17.) Where does your game take the players that other games canít, donít, or wonít?

18.) What are your publishing goals for your game?

19.) Who is your target audience?

Peace,

-Troy
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Wood
Member

Posts: 43


WWW
« Reply #5 on: September 05, 2006, 11:11:58 AM »

Heya,

Awesome.  It seems like you have a very strong concept about what your game should be when it's done.  Those first three questions are part of a larger group called the Power 19.  If you get a chance, do you think you could answer the rest of them for me?
Thanks. Sure. OK. The answers to these questions are less definitive answers than answers I would like to be true. I'd like any incoherences pointed out ruthlessly (I've already spotted, for example, that it's almost impossible for a character with less than three Circles in a Resource to advance, and I'm wondering how I can fix that).

Quote
4.) How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
OK. I think that the central theme - that of a vague, directionless big-brotheresque company exploiting its peons right, left and centre, and forcing its peons to exploit others in turn - creates the central conflict of morality in the game. You're challenged to retain your sense of self and your connection to other humans in the face of this. The dateless cyberpunky age exacerbates this. People get brainwashed and turned into commodities at the drop of a hat. The alternative setting - India - plays up the clash of ultramodern and new (last time I was in Delhi, I saw a traditional street-seller selling bits of mobile phone on his laid-out blanket. That set the wheels spinning, I can tell you).

Quote
5.) How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about?
Well, you're forced to start with one of nine numerical combinations. Otherwise, that's it. Outside of that, you're invited to create a character in the setting. The game will include a half-dozen or more sample characters, all of whom have very specific personalities and motives. They should be a jump-start for players.

Quote
6.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?
OK. The game punishes the use of violence, exploitation of others, mindlessly following orders and being a bastard to people. It rewards serious thinking, compassion and creativity. Or I'd like it to, anyway.

Quote
7.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?
Through the mechanic of the Composure and Conscience tasks, basically.

Quote
8.) How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?
Still working on that one.

I'm toying with the idea of rotating narrators, and also with players having and earning Story Points, as well as the narrator, which can be used to influence plot developments. I'm also toying with the idea of democratic resolution.

One thing which I hope is conducive to trust is that the narrator has only as many points of his own as the sum total of those held by the players, meaning that the narrator:

a)can choose not to spend points on tasks, holding out an empty hand;
and
b)cannot create a storyline that is necessarily more than a character can handle. I'm thinking of capping the number of points the narrator can spend at any one time, too, but unsure of how to do that. Suggestions would be welcome.

Quote
9.) What does your game do to command the players' attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)
I'm hoping the tension inherent in the adversarial and secret bidding of counters will help. I'm also hoping that a vibrant setting and serious situations will help, too. Advice on this will be appreciated. 

Quote
10.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?
See my OP.

Quote
11.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?
By moving psychological resources to the forefront above physical and mental faculties and learned skills, we make them the centre of the game's tansion. They are the most important mechanical factor in the game.

Quote
12.) Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?
They develop mechanically through the gaining or losing of the two psychological resources. Although starting characters must total ten, there is no upper limit.

Quote
13.) How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
It's hard and it's made all the more difficult by the nature of the setting. Becoming a better person (as opposed to degenerating into a soulless corporate drone with no real sense of self above corporate loyalty) is dificult.

Quote
14.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?
Well, I want it to be effective. I designed it for my own group. We realised after playing several different systems that we generally find that rules get in the way, and that we prefer not to bother with them much at all. While a bit of tension is nice, and mechanics can supply that, it's only really useful for us in situations where the moral centre of the game comes into play.

For example, in our recent Vampire: the Requiem games, it quickly became apparent to us that the only mechanic that really mattered was the Humanity mechanic, and the Frenzy/self-control mechanics that surrounded that. The rest of them we only really rolled out of duty, if at all. We had an amazing time, though, but it was at the expense of most of the rules.

Also, my group are all possessed of graduate degrees, and we're all politically of a similar mind (ie. passionately against things like globalisation, supporters of Make Poverty History, that sort of thing). So really, I wanted something that'd stimulate my friends and give us adventures that we could meaningfully enjoy.
 
Quote
15.) What areas of your game receive extra attention and color? Why?
sex and romance; poverty contrasted with wealth; moral difficulties; and specifically, character. There are few numerical stats, and so characters need to be detailed in words and persona. i'd like the game to be immersive inasmuch as players identify and buy in to their characters.

Quote
16.) Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?
The setting, because I've been kicking it around for about a decade now, in some form or another and I'm finally doing something with it. The system, because it came to me in a flash that I want something that concentrates on psychology, specifically morality, to the expense of all else.
Quote
17.) Where does your game take the players that other games canít, donít, or wonít?
Er, I don't know. I suppose, it's all about morality, self and compassion. In the end, I would like the game and setting to concentrate on these psychological resources above all else (see answer to qn. 14).

Quote
18.) What are your publishing goals for your game?
PDF, no more than about 40-60 pages in the first run, either free or for a pittance (50p or the like). I'm not intending to make money out of it. This is a spare-time project for fun.

Quote
19.) Who is your target audience?
me and my friends, and anyone else who wants to play a game that reflects these politics and these issues, which, I would guess, is probably a very small sector of the market. But then, I'm not out to make money. I'm out to create something that inspires and stimulates my friends.

How'm I doing?
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TonyLB
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« Reply #6 on: September 05, 2006, 12:37:31 PM »

Maybe I'm misunderstanding here but ... it seems to me that the automatic-win strategy is (as a player) to always "risk" 11 tokens.  The narrator can't bid more than ten, so you automatically win and get your tokens back, plus one.

Am I missing something?
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Wood
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« Reply #7 on: September 05, 2006, 01:02:42 PM »

Hmm. That's a fair point. Maybe I should cap the number you risk at nine or ten (although not Circles or number you can hold). Would that fix it?
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TonyLB
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« Reply #8 on: September 05, 2006, 01:25:44 PM »

There's still very limited risk to going hog-wild and applying massive overkill above and beyond what a roll "requires," unless the narrator is spitefully popping 10-difficulties on things that don't deserve them.

What if you get back tokens equal to what your opponent risked, rather than getting back your own tokens?  Then if you bid 10 to the narrator's 3, you lose seven tokens in order to get the victory.  If you bid 4 to the narrator's 3 you lose only one.

Increase the "plus one for winning" and you make a game of trying to bid the least you can win with but not a token less.
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Wood
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« Reply #9 on: September 05, 2006, 09:48:47 PM »

There's still very limited risk to going hog-wild and applying massive overkill above and beyond what a roll "requires," unless the narrator is spitefully popping 10-difficulties on things that don't deserve them.

What if you get back tokens equal to what your opponent risked, rather than getting back your own tokens?  Then if you bid 10 to the narrator's 3, you lose seven tokens in order to get the victory.  If you bid 4 to the narrator's 3 you lose only one.

Increase the "plus one for winning" and you make a game of trying to bid the least you can win with but not a token less.
That's a really good idea. Yeah. I'll implement that.
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Wood
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« Reply #10 on: September 06, 2006, 12:29:30 AM »

Sorry for the double post, but...

it occurred to me that the reason it's better is because it rewards you for the amount of psychological resources you invest.

And in the shower this morning, I realised that I had got it all back-to-front. Why punish a character for overcoming nearly insurmountable odds?

So what if the mechanic works like this:

Cap on risk of ten tokens.

Reveal:
Player wins: character succeeds; player gets back counters equal to those riskred by narrator;

Draw:
player's character still succeeds; player gets back narrator's risk +1 (see what I did there? Opposite of previous version);

Narrator wins:   narrator gets back either his own investment, or a number equal to the player's (which is better?);

Player wins or draws and group considers action dramatically appropriate: Player gains extra +1 bonus.

I think this is an improvement. But does it work yet?

I do really appreciate honest feedback. Writing for yourself and your friends is a risky proposition, because your mates are rarely critical and objective. If you're not careful, you could end up writing FATAL, and nobody wants that. Except the bloke who wrote FATAL, obviously.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #11 on: September 06, 2006, 04:11:27 AM »

It's hard to earn tokens in this one, compared to how easy it is to lose them.

Best possible scenario:  You exactly match the secret bid of the narrator, and your action is appropriate ... you earn two tokens.

But if you overbid you're likely to lose more than two.  And if you underbid you can lose handfuls.

It looks worth playtesting in its current form, but I suspect that there will be a slow spiral into incapacity for the players.  Just a suspicion though.

Maybe there is something other than conflict that should be encouraged?  Then you could have other players reward folks for doing that (much like PTA's famous Fanmail system).
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Wood
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« Reply #12 on: September 06, 2006, 05:55:58 AM »

It's hard to earn tokens in this one, compared to how easy it is to lose them.

Best possible scenario:  You exactly match the secret bid of the narrator, and your action is appropriate ... you earn two tokens.

But if you overbid you're likely to lose more than two.  And if you underbid you can lose handfuls.

It looks worth playtesting in its current form, but I suspect that there will be a slow spiral into incapacity for the players.  Just a suspicion though.

Maybe there is something other than conflict that should be encouraged?  Then you could have other players reward folks for doing that (much like PTA's famous Fanmail system).
The slow spiral to incapacity, of course, could be part of the setting. A kind of hopelessness that sets in. Like the Humanity system in Vampire (if it's implemented in its strictest form, which it rarely is).

So maybe that works.

I like the idea of players rewarding other players.

Perhaps there could be a pool of reward points that players (or the narrator) can offer to each other for impressive play.

What were you thinking of? I'm not familiar with the fanmail system. How does that do the business?
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Adam Cerling
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WhiteRat


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« Reply #13 on: September 06, 2006, 07:35:20 AM »

Quote
6.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?
OK. The game punishes the use of violence, exploitation of others, mindlessly following orders and being a bastard to people. It rewards serious thinking, compassion and creativity. Or I'd like it to, anyway.

I'd just like to chime in with a comment on this point.

Shouldn't this game reward players somehow for using violence, exploiting others, mindlessly following orders and being a bastard? It should just be a different reward than what you get for serious thinking, compassion and creativity.

Consider, for example, instead of forcing a Compassion or Control check after you've performed a cruel or violent action, a rule that allows you to permanently sacrifice Compassion or Control in exchange for a big bonus on your next cruel or violent action.

That way, even if violence erodes your soul, it is always tempting because you will clearly benefit from it.
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Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.
Wood
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Posts: 43


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« Reply #14 on: September 06, 2006, 08:28:40 AM »

Consider, for example, instead of forcing a Compassion or Control check after you've performed a cruel or violent action, a rule that allows you to permanently sacrifice Compassion or Control in exchange for a big bonus on your next cruel or violent action.

That way, even if violence erodes your soul, it is always tempting because you will clearly benefit from it.
That has some legs, inasmuch as in metagaming terms, it's no reward at all. I like that.
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