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Author Topic: Drifting toward Narrativism, Part 2  (Read 4563 times)
John Adams
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Posts: 90


« on: January 09, 2007, 07:47:14 AM »

This is a follow up to part 1 and my first thoughts. Read back for info about me and me group.

Thanks to all of the great feedback, I have a better idea now of what I want and how to get it. I'm going to try a new technique tonight, any last minute suggestions welcome. I'll post the results tomorrow.

Reevaluated Goals:

* Get more players more involved in the game at all times
* Let players narrate what makes the PC "cool"
* Make resolution more meaningful and avoid GM-obstruction
* Focus on what is interesting and meaningful to the players (please some of the people all of the time)
* Get more done, less fooling around and more focus
* Keep the backstory safe, GM retains all Content Authority
* Encourage cooperation among players. A little competition is OK, but this is mainly a co-op game.

Technique: Loss-bidding Conflict Resolution

1. The GM frames a scene and narrates until a player proposes a conflict. The winning side of the stakes should be clear when the conflict is proposed. Players can counter-propose and discuss as needed.

Me: "Sail ho! There's a pirate ship about 5 miles back and closing fast."
John: "We should try to avoid the pirates."

2. At least one other player must bid to accept a proposed conflict. This ensures two or more players are interested in the outcome and encourages cooperation. One player can't direct the story alone. No bid, the proposition is dead and the GM narrates his original intent.

3. Players bid up the Loss side of the stakes. This puts the outcome firmly in the players hands, win or lose. Personal losses trump general setbacks in the story. When you bid, declare which skill you will use and how it will resolve the conflict.

Andy: " I'll take it. I'll use Leadership to motivate our oarsmen and outpace the pirates. If I fail, they catch us."
[The lowest possible bid.]

Paul: "I'll cast gust of wind and give us an advantage sailing. If I fail, they catch us and combat ensues."
[The likely result anyway, but now it must happen.]

Andy: "I really want this one. If I fail, they catch us, combat ensues, and the crew blames me for the results."
[This personal stake easily trumps the rest and Paul gives it up.]

4. The player with the highest bid resolves the conflict. Roll your skill check and narrate the results, win or lose. You must narrate the given stakes, but may add other complications or details as you see fit. (Full Narrative and Plot authority only. You can twist the current Situation or frame a new scene if the GM allows it, which I would unless it clashed with Content somehow.)

5. Any player who bid may assist in the resolution and may narrate only the results of his action. A successfull assist in this system allows a +20% chance when the conflict resolves, so this is another incentive to cooperate and to bid up; the more players bid and assist, the better your chance of getting that +20%.

Because Paul bid, he casts his wind spell and gives Andy a +20 on the roll to resolve the conflict. Paul narrates his action before Andy narrates the final resolution of the conflict. Andy wins the skill test and narrates a stirring speech to inspire the men at the oars and how their ship outpaces and finally outlasts the pirates. He narrates the ship all the way to it's home port (framing a new scene) which I allow because it doesn't mess with the Content.
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John Adams
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Posts: 90


« Reply #1 on: January 09, 2007, 07:49:41 AM »

Note: We never did try the technique I outlined in the First Thoughts forum. The Story Token thing might come in handy later, but I like this new approach better for this game.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2007, 02:32:50 PM »

That's actually a pretty inventive system idea! By which I mean, we've just lately started seeing stuff like that in published games. Interesting.

Not much to critique at this point, actually, you'll have to test it to see how it flies. What you have there is majorly radical compared to traditional ideas about character control, as players have to weight their own stakes for failure as pure narrative bids. By which I mean: you could have a conflict resolution system and player narration without forcing your players to separate from their actor stance so much. But if you think that they won't be bothered, that's absolutely great.

Keep up the good work Wink
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John Adams
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Posts: 90


« Reply #3 on: January 10, 2007, 08:13:32 AM »

Last night was clunky and a bit awkward. We spent about a third of the night discussing this new technique and related topics in general, so we didn't "get more done" as far as the story is concerned. We only executed this conflict resolution technique once, and it wasn't a good example of how I felt it should work. I thought last night was a good time to introduce this, but in hindsight it really wasn't. Almost all of the content last night was pure Exploration: they entered an as yet unexplored nation, dealt with a new culture, new NPCs, new plot thread, new "clues" (setup) ... so there wasn't much meat for them to work with. Also, see the tail end of the railroad below.

The Good:

* Our discussion felt like a discussion, not a power struggle, and it was generally positive.
* The Exploration was really cool and it seemed to me that all of the players were interested and involved in it.
* We wrapped up and resolved the worst of the railroading ... it's behind us now. (I hope.)
* Conflict resolution mostly worked as I hoped, but too early to tell.
* Paul's winning narration was great.
* We exposed a possible flaw in the technique, easy to fix.
* I'm getting into a groove of seeing any opportunity to use player input and that's working very well.
* I explicitly warned the players against interrupting each other and going off-topic and they bought into that, at least for one night.
* I put out a plot hook and Andy loved it, jumped all over it.


The Bad:

* We only used conflict resolution once, and it was a poor example.
* Players are unsure about the boundaries of narration. We need more discussion and some explicit written rules.
* I screwed up several times and added to the confusion. Just a lot of unfamiliar questions to juggle, I felt a little bit out of my element, I was guessing.
* I explicitly shot down several Conflict proposals. "Not yet, you need more info first." I wasn't railroading them, they really did need to be more informed to handle the conflict, but it didn't help illustrate the system and I'm sure it was frustrating. Giving out that info in Actor Stance via exploration scenes was really slow, just hitting the players with it at a metagame level would have been faster but less interesting.
* Then there was the real railroading. See below.


The Ugly:
* We have major issues to deal with as a group. Mark actually said "Railroading is fine, it has it's place." Paul and John agreed that it was OK but a matter of degree. This cut deep, there's a lot of bad history there, mostly my fault. I proposed alternatives, like metagame agreement and Scene Framing, which Mark astutely noted "but that wouldn't be railroading. Go ahead and do it, don't even use lube." And he was serious. Very sad about this.


The tail end of the railroad:

I really screwed myself when I set up this portion of the adventure. I had no intention of railroading the group but the Situation I set up (starting a couple of months ago) left them no viable choices at all. I didn't see a way to open things up without doing serious violence to the established facts so I opted to just push through in one night and hopefully that's the end of it. From here on I can "faithfully play the NPCs motivations" and let the players choose their own way.

Basically, being stuck on a ship from an unfriendly nation doesn't leave you many options. Once they hit land, the Captain was forced by custom to turn them in to the local Judge to determine their fate as they are essentially prisoners of war. Now, naturally, they need to "do him a favor" to win their freedom. Classic (and cliche) railroading techniques. Fortunately, the "do me a favor" adventure is loaded with Premise and their options are wide open from here on out.

This is the pain you all warned me about right? It would have been much easier to start a new game with new characters and a new system if that had been an option.


Eero: I think you are saying that this technique forces players out of Actor stance for the resolution. From the bit last night I agree and that was one of the player concerns we discussed. We need to get a clear picture of when and how that transition happens. Need more playtesting.

Open issues:

* I want to ensure two or more players are interested in any challenge. Last night Paul proposed a challenge, when I told him he couldn't bid on his own challenge he got Mark to propose it instead so that Paul could bid. Mark didn't care much either way. Simple fix: you can bid on a conflict you propose, but there must be at least two bids to run it.

* When do players propose a conflict?

* Narration bounderies. Narrate the winn loss condition *exactly*, or can you add to it and how much can you add?

I ordered Roach and proposed that we take a break from our regular game in a few weeks to run a one-shot. Same time slot, same players. I want to give them a different (hooo boy! how different!) example of play to compare and contrast with what we've been doing. At the very least it will be a nice break and Roach sounds like tons of fun.

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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #4 on: January 10, 2007, 10:02:40 PM »

I don't want to play the wise monkey, but I'd like you to note that there is hardly ever a genuinely bottled up situation - any situation can be turned into meaningful choices and drama, if desired. All it takes is some determined scene framing and a willingness to be flexible with the setting (which is necessary anyway). For example, how to find drama and interest in being taken captive by a foreign national ship going to port? Let me count the ways:
- The ship comes to port at night, a local robber gang with scary reputation makes a go at looting it; players have the choice of helping their saviors or escaping while the situation is hot.
- A sailor is from the country of the PCs, and warns them well in advance that they'll be arrested when they land. Regardless of what the players do, this warning is overheard and the captain goes all punitive. Will the PCs stand up for a guy whose only crime was being nice to them?
- The first mate of the ship offers the PCs a chance to escape for a fee. If they take it, however, they will be considered fugitives.
- The PCs might simply want to escape when the ship comes to port. Simple and most basic conflict situation, that. It can be made interesting by adding NPCs that suffer if they choose to escape, or by giving the PCs reason to believe that the local government might have some positive interaction in store for them.
- When being escorted to see the judge, the PCs witness the judge's men harassing and beating an innocent belonging to a local minority. Or perhaps they are outright contacted by a local resistance hoping for their help, if they're prominent.
- When the judge offers them the chance to do him a favor, make it clear that this is outside the law; the characters might want to try and expose the corrupt judge, especially as agreeing to his favor only leaves them more completely at his mercy.
That's just off the top of my head. Nothing railroady in the essence of being captives in a foreign country.

You issue with player investment in challenges: you can stop players from supporting frivolous challenges by making them pay for it in some resource. However, this doesn't remove the fundamental problem that you're essentially saying that player characters can't stand alone; that's a heavy message, and while I'd have no problem with it if it was appropriate for a game, it seems rather advanced for your group. Trad gamers are often used to and schooled to ignoring each other, so forcing them to artificially render judgement over each other's play seems heavy-handed. If a player is used to not paying attention, the best way to make him do it is probably not by forcing the other player to whine to him about it. Rather, consider rewarding players for paying attention to other players' play.

Your pondering on conflict engagement and narration limits is good, that's an important procedural area in thinking about a game. In practice you'll probably find that it's best to resolve this by listening to the group and going with whatever everybody is comfortable with. If a player wants to declare a conflict, most of the time it can and should be accepted, generally speaking. In my own play the most typical conflict I'm forced to take down is the one where a player just declares a goal for the story without caring whether his character can reasonably bring it about (the "I want a conflict about tomorrow's weather" conflict); apart from that situation I usually don't see a need to torpedo players in this manner. And even in that situation, I'm sure to answer with a suggestion as to how to do it, not with an outright no. (To whit: "Well, surely your character has no means whatsoever to affect the weather? How about we conflict about whether you can predict the weather, instead? Or you could go seek a magical artifact that allowed one to control the weather, how about that?")

Roach: good game, fine choice. I don't know if it's too much like a parlor game for your players, as there's no GM and play is not very purposeful in the fiction (even if it is that for the players); it just might be the right choice for the situation, who knows. I hope you like it.
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John Adams
Member

Posts: 90


« Reply #5 on: January 11, 2007, 08:13:14 AM »

I don't want to play the wise monkey, but I'd like you to note that there is hardly ever a genuinely bottled up situation - any situation can be turned into meaningful choices and drama, if desired. All it takes is some determined scene framing and a willingness to be flexible with the setting (which is necessary anyway).

That may come with practice. I don't want to be too flexible with the setting though; it's a big, well established world and I want to play in that sandbox. Let me point out that there are meaningful choices and pseudo choices. I felt that in this case yes, the players could choose between suck1, suck2, and Do What The GM Planned. Those aren't meaningful choices.

I didn't give you enough detail to really help me with that issue, so in the interest of me learning from experience here's the deal, yo:

The Malachite ship found the PCs foundering on the rocks and risked life and limb to save them. The Captain was very kind to them and they in turn thought the Captain was really cool, budding friendship even. Two problems which I had designed way back specifically to railroad the PCs to the beginning of the next adventure tied into some exposition I still feel is important:

1) The Captain doesn't own the ship and duty requires that she sail directly back to her home port. A long side trip to drop off the PCs is out of the question. She offered to let the PCs off anywhere along the way in her country, but then they are wandering friendless in potentially hostile country and likely to come to grief. (suck1) She didn't want to inflict that on either the PCs or her countrymen.

2) Once they get there, custom dictates their fate must be determined by the local Judge. the Captain warned them that the Judge is capricious, he might condemn them to slavery or he might offer to pay their way home, no way to predict it. So they could have run as soon as they hit land, or killed the Judge just because, or any other variation of suck2 ... but the only sensible thing is to face the Judge, give him a chance to be reasonable, and then deal with the fallout. (Escape, kill the Judge, whatever.)

Now I could have easily changed condition 1 and let the Captain take them home; but we had already agreed at a metagame level that the players were psyched to run through the large, classic dungeon crawl I have planned. It's in Malachiar, spitting distance from the ship's home port but hundreds of very inaccessible miles away from the PCs homeland. Also, once they finally get home there are many, many other things demanding their attention so the dungeon was either now or in the far future. It was just MUCH easier to let it ride for one session than to redirect all of that prep. The players didn't really object either, though Andy really wanted to be off the ship in as little real time as possible, precisely because his options were so limited. Finally, I wanted to show that Malachites are'nt the bloody, barbaric pirates your mother warned you about, they're just people with a different culture and they too know the meaning of honor and duty, even if the details differ with yours. (Hence the irony of the Malachite ship getting attacked by pirates ...) There was a lot of new exploration here too, so you could view it as one loooong, somewhat interactive scene-frame with an encounter in the middle. Or not.

This is the beginning of something very Premise-y which is why I felt it was still important. I want to explore a stark contrast between the authoritarian Empire the PC's come from and the freewheeling Malachites. The Judge represents an aspect of American culture I find strange, even ironic: the Law is so arcane, so costly and potentially dangerous that people go to great lengths to avoid litigation. The Judge has absolute authority to settle disputes but is petty and capricious, so Malachites settle their differences without him whenever possible. It works, but is this Justice? Who benefits in a situation like this and who loses? What abuses does it invite? The Empire is, in theory, a no-man-above-the-law, compassionate-justice kind of system. Later we'll dive into how that succeeds and fails, how it's a great idea that's damn hard to put into practice.

The bang in this case is the Judge's "favor": bring me back a certain "heretic" dead or alive. The fellow in question is from the PC's homeland, a Cleric of the Law proselytizing to the locals about no-man-is-above-the-law which naturally undermines the Judge's authority.



Quote
...or by giving the PCs reason to believe that the local government might have some positive interaction in store for them.

They did need to see the local Priestess to lift the Geas. She comprises half of the local government in this case, the Judge is the other half. So they had another big draw to play nice and face the Judge.


Quote
You issue with player investment in challenges: you can stop players from supporting frivolous challenges by making them pay for it in some resource. However, this doesn't remove the fundamental problem that you're essentially saying that player characters can't stand alone; that's a heavy message, and while I'd have no problem with it if it was appropriate for a game, it seems rather advanced for your group. Trad gamers are often used to and schooled to ignoring each other, so forcing them to artificially render judgement over each others play seems heavyhearted. If a player is used to not paying attention, the best way to make him do it is probably not by forcing the other player to whine to him about it. Rather, consider rewarding players for paying attention to other players' play.

That's an interesting take. My players interect with each other quite well, just not often enough IMHO to really stay engaged and get mutual creative juices flowing every time we play. Combat and the general flow of an adventure, level of opposition, the distribution of critical skills, mages v fighters ... there are many ways in which the system encourages or requires group cooperation.

Cooperation is the goal, and I can see how any bidding system could be highly competitive. I'd like to downplay the competition and reward cooperation. I also want to ensure that several players are interested in a conflict, rather than spend our time on a series of personal goals. We should be playing together, not waiting around for a time-slice.
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Danny_K
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Posts: 198


« Reply #6 on: January 11, 2007, 02:54:13 PM »

Let us know how the "opening out" goes.  The main issues see with your new conflict-resolution system are two:

1 It works on a very "meta" level, and I wonder if it will hamstring play.  Concretely, if pirates show up and someone says "we should escape the pirates" and nobody supports it, then the groups seems to be forced into a stance of standing and fighting, or anyway NOT trying to escape the pirates.  So you'd have the group committed, by this rather abstract mechanism, to plans and positions that maybe nobody actually wanted. 

2. The bidding mechanism seems to require your players to argue about what's cool and bid against each other for anything to happen.  But what if one person gets a cool idea and everybody else likes it?  Or what if one player really really really wants X to happen, and the other players don't care one way or the other?  The one player's strong desire will get blocked by the apathy of the others.  That could be good if "X" was a stupid idea, but it seems to punish people for trying to take the game in new ways. 

Have you seen either of these problems so far?

P.S. It also occurs to me, if you see a chunk of railroading ahead before you get to the "meaningful choices part", you can summarize and frame the scene to the next interesting part.  That always seems to work for me when my GM'ing skills falter.
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I believe in peace and science.
John Adams
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Posts: 90


« Reply #7 on: January 12, 2007, 06:34:24 AM »

1 It works on a very "meta" level, and I wonder if it will hamstring play.  Concretely, if pirates show up and someone says "we should escape the pirates" and nobody supports it, then the groups seems to be forced into a stance of standing and fighting, or anyway NOT trying to escape the pirates.  So you'd have the group committed, by this rather abstract mechanism, to plans and positions that maybe nobody actually wanted.

The heavy meta nature of it is definitely an issue. Bidding and resolution could take a minute or two. My concern is figuring out exactly how and when to transition from dialog/narration to meta-CR and back. If it's in the right place it should be a positive.

But I don't follow the rest of your point here. If Paul proposes "we escape the pirates" and no one else bids on it, doesn't that imply the other players want to fight? or at least don't care either way? How is that a problem?

Quote
2. The bidding mechanism seems to require your players to argue about what's cool and bid against each other for anything to happen.  But what if one person gets a cool idea and everybody else likes it?  Or what if one player really really really wants X to happen, and the other players don't care one way or the other?  The one player's strong desire will get blocked by the apathy of the others.  That could be good if "X" was a stupid idea, but it seems to punish people for trying to take the game in new ways. 

That's the nature of the player cooperation that I want. If "X" is stupid, it will die on the table. If "X" is only important to one player, he only needs to convice one ambivalent player to bid and it will fly. I expect a certain amount of "you scratch my back ...", in fact that's exactly what I want. And if everyone thinks it's cool, it should go in with the minimum bids, no problem. If two players are really invested in narrating an event we could have a bidding war which drives the Loss condition through the roof, which is also a good thing IMHO.

Situations I don't know how to handle yet:

1. Two players propose two different WIN conditions for the same situation.
2. Any rights to veto, for players and GM. I'm pretty clear about Authority issues, more concerned with disputes about what is "cool" or appropriate. It may just come back the the GM in those cases.

I'll keep my eyes out for your concerns as we play. So far we've only executed this once and we need more testing.

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cydmab
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« Reply #8 on: January 12, 2007, 11:02:27 AM »

The act of a player calling for a conflict itself sounds meta to me. For example, _characters_ with an interest in self-preservation might, say, always run from the pirate. So a player who says from the character perspective "We run from the pirates" doesn't tell you anything about whether the player thinks the PCs should escape the pirates. The player needs to tell you directly "Hagar tries to evade the pirates, and I want him to succeed. I call a conflict" or "Hagar tries to evade the pirates, but I Bob thinks he should fail and get caught." That is the player always has to leave the character-level interaction and come up to the player-level interaction in order to communicate he wants a roll. Worse, if you don't explicitly remind the player regularly when a conflict is possible "Pirates are closing in and will catch you. Do you want to call a conflict to stop them?" the player will have to stay at the metagame level constantly, watching for subtle conflict cues GM:"Pirates are coming, and closing in" Player: "Is that supposed to be a conflict cue?"

There's also something a little wierd about what it takes for the player to refuse a conflict (which are implicitly proposed by the GM here by stating something bad is about to happen). If a player is not "interested" in a conflict, he needs to submit to something bad happening to his character. The GM could make all conflicts "interesting" by making the downside of refusing them sufficiently bad.

-William
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John Adams
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« Reply #9 on: January 13, 2007, 07:15:34 AM »

The act of a player calling for a conflict itself sounds meta to me. For example, _characters_ with an interest in self-preservation might, say, always run from the pirate. So a player who says from the character perspective "We run from the pirates" doesn't tell you anything about whether the player thinks the PCs should escape the pirates. The player needs to tell you directly "Hagar tries to evade the pirates, and I want him to succeed. I call a conflict" or "Hagar tries to evade the pirates, but I Bob thinks he should fail and get caught." That is the player always has to leave the character-level interaction and come up to the player-level interaction in order to communicate he wants a roll.

I agree it's more meta than typical task resolution, I don't see how it's any more or les meta than CR in, say, The Pool. (I've read those rule but never played, so take that with a big grain of salt.)

Either way, I don't see this as a problem for our group, given the culture we have. Part of that is the way I traditionally handl IIEE: players know that declaring an action is never more than Intent. It doesn't pass into Init, Execution, or Effect until I explicitly say so, even if that's just a nod of the head, a grunt, or "OK". I will never try to screw a player by saying "No way! you SAID ...", anyone can back up, modify or cancel an Intent.

The character/plyer intent thing is also pretty clar for us so I don't see a problem.

Quote
Worse, if you don't explicitly remind the player regularly when a conflict is possible "Pirates are closing in and will catch you. Do you want to call a conflict to stop them?" the player will have to stay at the metagame level constantly, watching for subtle conflict cues GM:"Pirates are coming, and closing in" Player: "Is that supposed to be a conflict cue?"

There's also something a little wierd about what it takes for the player to refuse a conflict (which are implicitly proposed by the GM here by stating something bad is about to happen). If a player is not "interested" in a conflict, he needs to submit to something bad happening to his character. The GM could make all conflicts "interesting" by making the downside of refusing them sufficiently bad.

I'd like players to use this techniue any time they want to take over narration. It doesn't have to be a tense, dramatic moment with a lot on the line. THose tense moments will amsolt always become Conflicts, but not all Conflicts will be loaded or dangerous.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: January 13, 2007, 07:36:39 AM »

Hi John,

I think you're right about the "meta" issue not being too important. Long experience has shown me that fear about that issue is common, but problems with it are actually quite rare. I've observed that most problems associated with it can be identified as starting at the Social Contract level instead, usually things that have nothing to do with role-playing.

If you're interested in game texts which have run in the directions you're talking about, then check out the original Maelstrom (1994, Hubris Games; you can see a review here on the Forge, too), as well as HeroQuest's extended conflict rules.

So ... looking over this thread, I think you've presented the plans and ideas very thoroughly, and one thing we should probably not do is put you in the position of defending it against reactive criticisms. You know your group and what may work best for them, and people's fear of "no! too meta!" isn't more important than that. My only recommendation for you is Mike's Standard Rant #7: You can't sneak up on mode, and to use your own judgment from there.

Is there anything else to be discussed? I'm getting the idea that the thread is over, and the next thing to do is see how it goes.

Best, Ron
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cydmab
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Posts: 48


« Reply #11 on: January 14, 2007, 10:51:14 AM »

To be clear, I did not mean to say that meta was a problem, I was just noting that there seems to be no escape from it in this conflict method. And as Ron says, the standard "solution" to the "meta problem" is to just ignore it and not worry about it.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: January 14, 2007, 11:24:53 AM »

That's cool! No slam on you in particular. Let's see where John wants to go with this thread, next.

Best, Ron
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John Adams
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Posts: 90


« Reply #13 on: February 02, 2007, 08:22:50 AM »

Update:

Mike's rant was extremely useful and relevant, add my experience to the pile validating that you can't sneak up on a mode.

Hence, we ran Capes last week as a one-shot break from our regular game. IMO it was a huge success and I love the game as much as I thought I would. My players liked it too, ranging from "hmmmm ... interesting!" to "I can see how this can be really fun." Noone had much trouble with Director Stance, the mechanics took more time to gel but I think they all got the major points.

For my part, I'm pulling my hair out and ready to tear my system to shreds but I'm trying to take a deep breath and run this campaign with what we have now. The players are happy with the system for the most part, so let's get on with the game eh?

As for the Loss Bidding Conflict Resolution, we haven't gone back to it yet and may not. I think it's a good idea that needs a fair amount of work and playtesting. Capes is setting my standards pretty high. I love the way it organically drives the story, how conflicts are always win-win propositions and how the mechanics are the focus of play yet somehow they never seem to obscure the story. Good stuff.

So I have lots of ideas to toy with, but I probably won't have time to playtest them and I'm not going to drop them into my existing game, so I think this wraps it up for Actual Play.
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