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[Afraid] Party is split up, not understanding the game, frustration galore.

Started by opsneakie, December 04, 2007, 01:52:47 PM

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Ok, so I've been running Afraid for a few weeks now, and the problems I thought would work themselves out in a few sessions aren't working themselves out. The party is playing characters of a more supernatural flavor  than is traditional, as a setting thing, but that isn't causing any problems. They're fighting a daredevil/motorcycle monster, which they're all having a lot of fun opposing. This game is more overtly supernatural, but that's a fun flavor we're really enjoying.

Here's the problem: the party is split into two factions; the two characters (who, it should be said, are newer gamers) who are all fighting skills, and the two who are social/mental and research-y. The fighters are all for just chasing the monster around trying to beat him in a strait-up fight (which is basically impossible for them to do), while the other two are working to find the monster's motivations, his strengths and weaknesses (which in turn leads to their understanding of how to destroy it). The two aren't really communicating, so while the social characters are figuring things out, they never have an opportunity to put their plans into action because the fighty types are running about the city after this monster. The players playing the fighting characters have a history of basically making the same kind of character over and over, a somewhat min-maxed fighter type, only in D&D it's an elf and in WoD it's a werewolf, etc. and I think part of the problem is that they assume that if they just go toe-to-toe with the monster they'll win.

I'm not sure how to make this work. I love Afraid as a system, and the last time I ran it it went beautifully. Do I just approach my players about this on Saturday, and say, "hey, you have to work together and start breaking some of this monster's bonds if you ever want to win"? Or do I let them stumble around, while the Monster still has all his bonds and victims, and is off and about terrorizing the city?

If you need a more detailed example, here's a rundown of last session:

So, the players have learned a couple things, through inflicting some fallout on the monster in the previous couple of sessions. They know one bond ("I keep my heart locked in a puzzle box") and one victim (they've even gone to see her, she's in the hospital all cut up from an accident with the monster), but they've taken no steps to deal with either of these.

So, right off the bat one of the fighters (we'll call him Player A) decides to take Player B (the other fighter) into into the creepy, monster-filled Chicago streets to go hunting this monster. They ride out on their motorcycles (being the uber-stylized badasses they are) and go searching. Meanwhile, one of the reasearchers (Player C, I guess) has been finding out about how monsters are formed and destroyed, but she can't tell the other players because they're so busy off chasing the monster. The monster gives them a bit of a beating, but they inflict a tiny amount of fallout too, and they feel good about that. But then, instead of taking any time to regroup, they pick themselves up and go running off again.

I'm kind of at a loss as far as knowing how to proceed here. The players are attacking the monster ineffectively, not really inflicting any fallout, and not doing much about the victim they know about, whose condition continues to worsen. Is there something I'm going wrong here? This is my second time running Afraid, and I'm not sure how to get across the idea that they can't just slug it out, because the fighters (in and out of character) are so confident in their ability and badassery that it's never entered their minds that they might not win.
- "aww, I wanted to explode..."


I feel like a little more information would be pertinent.

Why can't they win? If you know why, why don't you communicate it to your players?

I sometimes find the case for fighty-optimization players is that a lot of their fun comes from the challenge to overcome the GM's provided method (In White Wolf, going along with the railroad, in your game, breaking bonds) by sheer mechanical manipulation to make punchy characters. Do you think that may be the case here?

Do the fighty characters and the researcher characters want to play together? Do you really want to play with these specific people?

Christoph Boeckle

Hi John

I've two questions that might look similar to Sirogit's,  because I'm not sure I grasp some aspects of your play. If you find they don't add anything, you don't need to address them directly.
Why can't the players decide on stuff together, even if their characters are rarely together?
Why not let the two players who'd like a good fight have it? If they get their asses handed to them, they can immediately make new characters (at the same efficiency as the dead ones), it adds to the horror (characters actually dying! omg, this is serious!) and the rules seem to provide some nifty mechanical things when that happens (at least in the version of the rules I've read).

Since I haven't played this game, I might step back if others join into the discussion, but that wouldn't mean I'm not interested in what's being discussed.

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

I have some questions about Afraid. I don't know the game, so these are not leading questions - I have to know the answers in order to provide suggestions for you.

What are the consequences if the group does not kill the monster? Is there any provision for the story to end under those circumstances?

For example, in Sorcerer (to pick a very different game), there is no "goal" to keep the character's Humanity above 0. It might fall to 0; that's something that can happen. Or if I, as GM, play a character's demon as being out to kill him, well, I do (there are rules I follow in deciding that and carrying it out), and if my NPC demon rips out the player-character's heart, that's the end of that character. There's nothing in the contract of play to prevent that or to keep us, as a group, away from considering options of that kind.

Is Afraid like that? Basically, if they can't get their act together, does the monster win in some way? Or is play stalled out?

Best, Ron


Okay, thanks for the slew of replies, I certainly didn't expect to see this much response this fast.

Firstly, to Siroget. The players can't win for basically a mechanics reason. The monster has vastly more dice to use, plus the GM story dice (some extras I can roll into any conflict once per session), plus minions, each of which are pretty strong. The monster's stats and traits are higher and better, plus he has a ton of dice of bonds (based on both his victims and other rituals he has). If the players can prevent hsi access to victims, prevent him from doing those rituals, etc. he loses those dice until he can reestablish contact or resume his rituals.

The fighty characters hurl themselves at the monster, but they have a ton of fighty dice, so the monster has a tricky time killing them. They're taking fallout and stuff, so they are getting weaker in some ways, but they also have the annoying tendency to roll experience fallout and get better.

The characters mostly get along ok, but the fighters are on kind of a one-track plan for taking the monster out. While the researchers have suggestions, the fighters are all sure they can just ride out and they'll kill him the next time.

Next, Chirstoph Boeckle. I'm not quite sure why there's the player/character disconnect going on there. The players of the fighty types are convinced (as are their characters) that they don't really need to plan this stuff out, and are pretty straightforward in their play style. In other games I've played with them, their characters have tended to be fairly linear, strait-line characters, which isn't necessarily good for fighting the monster, who has many things protecting him from harm (in the sense that they give him huge numbers of dice). Every time they fight they come out a little worse, so I think there's going to be a death should they ride out like that again. It would be great for the horror to have the super-powerful guy get killed.

Third (whew) Ron Edwards.  If the group does not kill the monster, it will continue to victimize more and more people, gaining more and more power (1-4 d10 per victim, which in Afraid is huge). Eventually, I guess, the monster will become so amazingly powerful it can't be stopped. The story would end with the monster going on a rampage (I'm winging it here) or some such, because it is too powerful to be killed. The characters would die, game over, I guess. Afraid assumes that the characters are going to try to take out the monster, and assumes they're going to have some success. Play is kind of stalling out, so I think the next step is, since the monster isn't being stopped, for it to take another victim.
- "aww, I wanted to explode..."

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

I think you found a serious, deal-breaking flaw in the game itself. From what you've written, the game simply does not handle failure/inaction in a consequential way. This is bogus.

What it means is, if the players go "I don't wanna" or otherwise dink around, the GM must respond (a) without rules/procedures and (b) with total game-ending, overruling authority.

That's the trap you're in. They play badly/not-at-all, but you are the one who takes the social and creative heat for saying "OK you all die." There is no connection between the two except for pure fiat, or better, for pure acknowledgment that you had total control all along (which itself sucks).

Even worse, the response on your part is not only completely obligatory, but it's also a punt - basically, you're saying, "you win" to the players, "I have to stop playing."

I suggest that your only solution is to enlist the players in the playtesting - tell them, "look, we found the problem with this game. Let's tell Vincent. Thanks for helping him make the game better." I strongly recommend not taking responsibility for the flaw yourself, i.e., don't buy into the false notion that you were supposed to provide them with ecstatic fun and then let them down.

Vincent, I'm dismayed that the game doesn't make the monsters matter. I mean, if they're not stopped, then so what? Where's my system for that? Or another way to put it is, as GM, if I get to play monsters, then I want them to have some God damn teeth.

Best, Ron



It's kind of like finding the landmines by letting civilians work in the field. It's pretty good for me, sitting up here on the hill under a parasol, but...

So hey I have a question for you, opsneakie! This won't point to a solution for you, but it may point toward a solution for me designing the game. Which backgrounds did the fighty players choose for their characters?

(Also I feel like I should know your name already, but I can't bring it to mind.)



Ron: Well, yeah, this is a bit of a trouble. I feel like the fighters just aren't reasoning through their conflicts very well. The last couple fights went: they attack monster --> monster beats the crap out of them, but they think beating their head against that particular wall will make it go away. If they thought about it for a second, they should arrive at "hey, the monster has way more dice than I do. Maybe we should do something about that," and maybe it's just that they haven't gotten there yet.

Hi Vincent! I've been here before, a while ago, and I made a few posts regarding DitV and Afraid, although it was quite a while ago. I've been running Afraid in the style that DitV was run for me the first time I played, where the players gave me concepts, and I gave them backgrounds based on that - both players were leaning towards Veteran, and their character concepts certainly made it clear that they would fall there. One of them is the former minion of a monster, who has now broken free and is hunting down other monsters, while the other styles himself as more of a professional monster hunter.

- "aww, I wanted to explode..."

David Artman

Quote from: opsneakie on December 05, 2007, 11:16:17 AMOne of them is the former minion of a monster, who has now broken free and is hunting down other monsters, while the other styles himself as more of a professional monster hunter.

And I presume these are the "fighty types," not the researchers? Well, hell, man: you're problem's solved: just TELL THEM they're barking up the wrong tree. Surely, a "former minion of a monster" would know (on some narrative level) that monsters use these mystical, murderous rituals to gain power and effectiveness, so why not let the player know that, too? Just say, "Look... your guy *knows* that monsters do this stuff to get powerful... and, man, look at all these dice I already have! You *sure* you just want to chase after him, rather than break some of his bonds and free some victims? I mean... dude, you're going to lose; you're already halfway to a world-ending failure!"

Ping their "gung-ho, gonna win" tendencies while at the same time making the mechanics of rituals and bonds crystal clear--it's not some secret you've got to hide from the players (in particular if one of the characters once lived the life!).

Then, if they still want to chase and get beaten down... well, make it fun, GO LARGE, rip out old ladies' hearts, curb-stomp kittens, etc. Make it *hurt* them (i.e. the players!) to bang their heads on that wall; push at them with the ethical--not just narrative!--consequences of these bad decisions. Even the dumbest brick should eventually realize that, when the sky is falling, no amount of throwing rocks up at it will stop that... in fact, that will just cause more shit to drop on his head.

Designer - GLASS, Icehouse Games
Editor - Perfect, Passages

Filip Luszczyk

I haven't played Afraid yet. However, one thing strikes me as I'm reading this thread: in DitV the players have no obligation to do anything at all to deal with the town's problems. If they decide so, they can just sit and watch, unless directly threatened, and whatever would happen if the Dogs didn't come will come to pass. Which, in fact, probably won't matter anyway if they indeed refuse to engage the town's problems actively.

So, if the consequence of inaction is the aggravation of the victim's state, in what way does it differ from worsening situation in town?

The problem is, in DitV the characters are interested in saving the community (whatever it entails) by default. There is, in fact, no other meaningful thing to do for the players. In Afraid, if I recall, the background says why you're in this shit, and Veteran is the only one that doesn't have a default connection with the victim. He's there only because he fought some other monster before, which is a good reason to engage with the monster but not the best reason to care about the victims. And it seems the monster is only meaningful as a threat to the victims - the characters struggle not as much to slay the monster as to stop victimizations.

Two thing come to my mind:

1. Obviously, Veterans need stronger ties with the victim. However, what if there was no Veteran background as such, but rather Veteran "template" that could be added to one of the remaining backgrounds? This could, in fact create place for more such "templates", like ex-victim or the like. Characters could be created by combining two pieces: one determining the ties with the victim, and the other determining the ties with the supernatural.

2. Actually, why not get rid of a monster that mechanically functions as a character? Possibly, victimization levels are the only mechanical thing about the monster that might be needed. I mean, there are no stats for demons in DitV, and the only way to determine whether the characters "won" or "lost" is the players deciding that they're done with the town.

Also, John, have you considered victimizing your fighty guys' Relationships?


Thanks for the feedback, this is really helping me understand what I need to do next.

One of the fighty types has another hunter he's very close to, who's already been attacked by the monster. The next step is to have this NPC get victimized, and as the monster gets stronger, I think they'll gravitate to a different solution.

I think the next move is pretty clear now, thanks a ton.

- "aww, I wanted to explode..."


I'm going to sound incredibly old-school saying this, but have you thought about just trying to kill them?

Reading your posts I get the impression—and I may well be wrong, here—that the possibility of character death isn't on the table.  You talk about threatening victims who the characters are attached to and hurting or maiming then, but not to putting their survival on the line. 

This is, of course, one of classic asshole GM behaviours: insisting on conformity to an aesthetic vision by punishing characters for the players' undesired.  I don't know what the implicit social contract about is in your group, but as a system Afraid very much puts this option on the table.  In fact, getting your character killed (intentionally) is one of the routes to improving the characters' chances of defeating the monster.

I don't think this is what your players are up to, but if I were playing the game—I've run it twice, and rather unsuccesfully—one of the options I've considered is to do exactly what they are doing.  The difference would be that, in doing so, I would deliberately (and gleefully) be trying to get my character killed.  This makes sense both narratively and as a mechanical tactic.  It distracts the monster (and the GM)) from the work the other characters are doing in identifying the victims and weaknesses of the monster, and when you are killed, everyone (including yourself) gets Reflection fallout.  On a story level, it shows that the badass monster hunters are in over their heads and that another approach is the only way they are going to win.  I'm sure you can think of books and films in which this is exactly what happens.

Now, I don't know what would happen if you went ahead with this, but it is one of the ways in which Afraid is different from some older assumptions about roleplaying, to which the gung ho attitude of some of your players seems connected.  The realization that the monster is dangerous to the characters is not a substitute for emotional identification with the victims.  However, it is better than a situation in which the characters run up against the monster, fight, lose and then don't pay a price for that loss—which is where you seem to be.  I don't know whether the Reflection fallout will be enough of a sweetener to counteract the buzzkill of being offed.  I do think things will change if you really go for them with your conflicts.


Oh, character death is so on the table. I'll be running again a week from Saturday (have to make room for the beginning of another game, and I'll throw up another post about it when I get the chance to put some of these ideas in action.

The feedback really cleared my head, thanks a million guys!

- "aww, I wanted to explode..."

Adam Riemenschneider


Okay, I'm unfamiliar with the system, so take this with a grain of salt, but...

I don't see why this can't be solved from a storytelling point of view. If sounds like your fighty players think they're in a super hero-ish kind of game (grab the flaming motorcycle guy! Throw him through a building! Cool explosions!), while your social/research players are in a horror/suspense game. Your fighty players are wrong. Simply, they think they can win by going toe to toe, ala X-Men.

Some of the suggestions already mentioned can (hopefully) clue them in.
1): Have someone come up and tell them.
2): Kill one of them, or come close enough to it.
3): Make it obvious that the monster is becoming more powerful than they are, at a faster rate ("We need bigger guns.").

There's also the issue of spotlight time. The fighty players may not be winning in the story sense, but they are winning in the fun sense; when they fight the monster, they get to roll dice, they get to describe their actions, they get to make decisions... in other words, they get to play, and due to their relative inexperience, this may be the only way they know how to play.

Give them a reason to hang out and do fighty things with the other players. Sic the monster's minions on the researchers (but give them some kind of warning, so they can call in the fighty guys to "save" them). Heck, send in a minion who does the horror thing, taunting the researcher as he slaughters his way through the building with no escape route. Get the researcher to call for the fighty guys' help, and have them make crazy motorcycle control rolls as they rush to get there in time. Let them be fighty characters, within the context of the story that is being told.

I mean, isn't it our jobs as GMs to give players the kinds of obstacles that they want to overcome? I don't mean for that to sound harsh. I just think you've hit some players that require you to be extra creative at the gaming table.

Best Luck!

Creator and Publisher of Other Court Games.

Callan S.

Quote from: opsneakie on December 06, 2007, 03:26:48 AM
Oh, character death is so on the table. I'll be running again a week from Saturday (have to make room for the beginning of another game, and I'll throw up another post about it when I get the chance to put some of these ideas in action.
I think it'd be good to double check on something Ron said (as I understand it)
Quote from: RonThat's the trap you're in. They play badly/not-at-all, but you are the one who takes the social and creative heat for saying "OK you all die." There is no connection between the two except for pure fiat, or better, for pure acknowledgment that you had total control all along (which itself sucks).
Is character death on the table, or are you going to use pure fiat to kill them? Is their potential death supported by the game system?
Philosopher Gamer