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Author Topic: You May Be at a Disadvantage, But It's Gonna Cost You!  (Read 3913 times)
Le Joueur
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« on: July 26, 2002, 07:35:16 AM »

There's something I've been thinking about for some time.  (Hiding it from game design actually.)  Everyone knows Scattershot is a fairly familiar 'buy abilities with points during character creation' game, right?

Well, except that those oh-so-familiar points aren't what they seem to be.  There's no character point limit; only the players can set such limits and only for themselves.  That means that the points aren't strictly a character-efficacy management system.  I've gone into fair detail explaining and supporting this idea (despite continued arguments over what the point of it is).  Anyway, the actual point is that these 'points,' these 'fundamental particles of character class,' are the way the player says 'this is what I want to play' (for whatever their reason is).

So how does that relate to the title of this article?  I'm so glad you asked; I've been harboring an idea since about the time I was on the rpg-create forum, waaay before I moved to the Forge.  In most point-based systems (GURPS, Champions, and et cetera), you take Disadvantages and get points back (or get more points) to spend on character creation.  That works if you're using points as a character-efficacy management tool.  But we're not!  So the idea I've been secretly nursing has been Disadvantages that cost points.  That's right, on top of 'buying' all your character's other abilities, you need to spend even more points for them to have Disadvantages to boot.

Why would anyone (except the most died in the wool, 'I want my character to have a hard time,' Avatar player) want to do that?  Remember what Ron said about my 'lurking desire'?  The reason you take Disadvantages is so you can 'pump up' your Experience Dice.  Running low?  Play on your Disadvantages.

I mean; I know that most games require 'outside enforcement' of Disadvantages.  "You can't do that!  Your character has no left hand!" or "I don't think a character with Acrophobia should be crawling on the ledge outside a high-rise window."  Well, I always felt that was too much work for the gamemaster.  If you're going to the trouble to take Disadvantages, I don't think they're something you should spend your time 'hiding' from; you bought 'em, you oughta get some use outta 'em.

So I turned another familiar tradition on its ear.  You take Disadvantages because they let you 'get' more Experience Dice right when you need them.  Seems weird, but its been working in playtest; Disadvantages as an empowerment device.  After reading the review for The Riddle of Steel, I realized I was doing something not entirely unlike Spiritual Attributes.  The difference is (as far as I can tell without seeing Jake's game), there are no 'positive' ways to 'pump up' your Experience Dice.  They only come from facing (player imposed) adversity.

To use the classic The Riddle of Steel example, each time Inigo Montoya says, "My name is Inigo Montoya; you killed my father, prepare to die," he's invoking his obsession (a Disadvantage in Scattershot) and especially how it looks like it is going to get him killed.  This is both accurate (if you keep getting up and fighting, injured, you'll likely get killed) and cool.  It really fits the cinematic Genre Expectation of The Princess Bride.  Subsequently, his player tosses the Experience Dice gained right into the character's Hit Points and the battle resumes.

So in that way I see the 'hint of Scattershot' in how The Riddle of Steel was reviewed.  I don't know how this fits into The Riddle of Steel, but I have another example of how Scattershot's Disadvantages work.  Take James Bond movies for example; here Bond is, infiltrating the enemy base, when he stumbles on a bevy of beautiful ladies.  Does he keep sneaking towards his goal?  No, he succumbs to his Disadvantage in regards to beautiful women and takes time off to carouse.  In doing so, the player receives a bevy of Experience Dice, based on how much and how well the player plays out the Disadvantage.  These come in really handy when Bond is later captured and strapped to the deathtrap.  This both supports the character's Sine Qua Non (his conception) and the Genre Expectations of a 'Bond flick.'

The first question I have is has anyone seen anything like this?  Players rewarded for evoking a Disadvantage with meta-game currency?  (Instead of being policed for them.)  Or rewarded with anything?  All I can think of are games where the players are limited by enforcement of their Disadvantages.  I need a little help here figuring out both how to write this and what the potential pitfalls might be.  (Technically, we are 'ramping up' the effect Experience Dice have in the game and need to reinforce something the playtesters have been doing unconsciously for a long time.)

But that's not all....

...Then there are the Advantages.  If you have Disadvantages, ya gotta have Advantages.  What are they?  Simple (though not initially intuitive), they're like 'freebie' Experience Dice.  I've long felt that Advantages were 'rights' to certain parts of meta-game, if you're rich, you can have a plane anytime you want one.

Yesterday I had one of my favorite kinds of epiphanies; if Disadvantages let you 'harvest' Experience Dice, then Advantages would let you act as though you already had Experience Dice for the appropriate situation.  I could've called them 'Advantage Dice,' but I want to keep the game simple so I am basically saying, 'when you are in a situation where an Advantage comes into play, it works by you rolling an Experience Die (or Dice) to achieve the effect; pick one up out of the shared stock and throw it.'

James Bond again (and we'll go a little rules-monkey here), there have been two usages I have seen so far for, "Bond, James Bond."  In the first, it accentuates the Genre Expectation for this type of movie (perhaps that might be a positive that generates a die); in the second, he's invoking his reputation.  A reputation is clearly an Advantage in the traditional point-based game and it's no different here.  How does it play mechanically?  Anytime that a situation comes up where his reputation should affect things (like a reaction roll) he gets to throw in a 'freebie' Experience Die (more if it is a world-wide reputation, but I think his is only amongst an elite community).  It doesn't come from his 'hand,' nor does it 'come back to haunt him' like loans from his kharmic bank account (where he gets Experience Dice when his hand is empty); it's free!

Now, has anyone ever seen anything like this (Disadvantages that result in player rewards and Advantages that function as though they were those rewards), in whole or in part?  I really would like to know, because I'm afraid that I am getting 'way out there' and would like to know if anyone else has tried something like this.  (This is the bane of innovative design.)

Anyway...now (for the first time) I have enough 'bits and pieces' together to finally write the 'persona creation' stuff.  (This cements the last of the Mechanix and with the Sine Qua Non stuff all of you have been so kind in helping me figure out, I can 'get started.')

Thanks for all the input, it really has helped more than I can express.

Fang Langford

p. s. Is this where I beg for at least some input on this thread?  Sorry.
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Seth L. Blumberg
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« Reply #1 on: July 26, 2002, 07:53:57 AM »

Nobilis also does this. You can define a Limit or Restriction for your character, which nets you extra Miracle Points either every session or whenever it comes up in play.
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Zak Arntson
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« Reply #2 on: July 26, 2002, 07:59:50 AM »

Awesome! Along the same lines, in Chthonian, each Skill has a Descriptor. At times, you can use a Descriptor for bonus dice whether the Descriptor is an advantage or disadvantage. Chthonian's mechanic doesn't have the "earn XP" -> "burn XP" steps, but the philosophy is similar.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: July 26, 2002, 08:09:57 AM »

Hi Fang,

Great post!

The technique/rule you're describing has been cropping up across a variety of games lately. For an early example, I somewhat forlornly try to convince people that Score descriptions in Sorcerer are both advantages and disadvantages, not that anyone listens. IE, being a user/manipulative is not a "good" thing at all, but it's often how the character gets done what he does.

For much better examples, there's Soap, which is all about getting effectiveness (tokens) for expressing (a) personality traits of any kind, positive or negative; and (b) exposing one's filthy Secret to being guessed, which in traditional game design would be a clear and simple Disadvantage, ie, "hoser" in the GM-driven sense that you describe for acrophobia, etc.

Another is InSpectres, in which, during a Confessional, Player A can assign a descriptor to another player's character. This may be positive or negative, but no matter what, Player B can later incorporate that descriptor into a scene as a bonus.

My current game of choice to do this very thing is Violence Future, which is scheduled to go live (available) on August 5th. It is literally an astounding game, arguably a quantum leap in personality-mechanics RPG design. Also, Trollbabe, which will be available about the same time if not sooner, includes any sort of relationship as an effective part of getting something done, up to and including the actions of one's rivals and enemies.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #4 on: July 26, 2002, 10:23:26 AM »

For Universalis (and later in Synthesis), we realized that there are no advantages or disadvantages. There are merely Traits. They are all good things from a player's POV, whether they are from a character's or not. Why? because they all potentially add spotlight time, and protagonism to the character. All.

Think about it for a minute.

It is only because of the traditional Gamist mindset at all that we think of "disadvantages" as being disadvantageous to the player (and thus worth some reward for buying or using). Or rather, what does winning or being successful have to do with Narrativism (or even Simulationism for that matter). Turns out that when you allow players to decide to take "disadvantages" and charge points for them, that they will buy them, even if there is no in-game advantage to doing so.

I recieved proof of this just yesterday, when an independent playtest of Synthesis (the very first such test, I might add) produced a character with a "Negative" Trait (the classic Town Guard Enemy to be precise) from a player that I don't believe has ever played a Narrativist system previously.

I can't take credit for this theory, Ron and others here put me on to it a long time ago. At first I struggled with the idea that there should be some recompense for such traits. But when we took PCs out of Universalis suddenly it became crystal clear. Turns out it works with PCs too.

Huh, whooda thunk it?

Mike
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #5 on: July 26, 2002, 10:32:40 AM »

It's great that many games are coming up with new ways to handle restrictions and disadvantages, but I'm not sure how any of these compare.

What I was looking for was either an "'earn XP' -> 'burn XP'" system for it (as Zak puts it) or that and Advantages work like "burn XP."  It sounds a little like Nobilis does this and I couldn't quite get what Ron wrote into his review of The Riddle of Steel about 'recovering' spent ones, so I am equally curious about both matters.

To make it 'program code' simple:[list=a][*]You make a character with Advantages and Disadvantages
[*]In play, you have your character suffer from their Disadvantages
[*]You get Experience Dice for it
[*]Later, you spend them saving your character's butt
[*]Then you get into a situation where your character's Advantages come into play
[*]Instead of using hard-earned Experience Dice, you invoke the Advantages and 'grab one off the stock' free and clear
[*]You use that one only for the effect of the Advantage[/list:o]What I'm asking is, have you seen a game that uses b through d and have you seen any games that uses a through g, in any form or fashion.  Did they have any problems?  Does this scheme miss anything obvious (like the 'Double Jeopardy' limitation I missed with the Solomon's Auction Technique)?  Or should I just clean it up and call it a part of the Mechanix?

Fang Langford

p. s. Note, I am not calling for advice for creating Mechanix, but advice on my writing of the them.
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xiombarg
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« Reply #6 on: July 26, 2002, 10:52:51 AM »

As long as we're noting other games that do this sort of thing, I'll note 7th Sea (by the not-quite-dead John Wick) has Backgrounds which are essentially disadvantages -- enemies and other complications. They cost points to have, and you get more XP when they come up in a story.
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #7 on: July 26, 2002, 12:02:42 PM »

Well, how similar is similar Fang? I think that many of the mechanics that people have mentioned are close enough to say that yours will work too. No, they aren't exacly the same. That's a good thing, though, no?

Mike
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Valamir
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« Reply #8 on: July 26, 2002, 12:09:03 PM »

Thanks Kirt!!

As I read Fang's initial post I thought "yeah, that's a great thing, I really like how that worked in..." and drew a complete and total blank.  I was so frustrated I'd almost determined to spend some silly amount of time combing through my game collection looking for the game that did this...you've just saved me all that ;-)
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #9 on: July 26, 2002, 01:00:08 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Well, how similar is similar Fang? I think that many of the mechanics that people have mentioned are close enough to say that yours will work too. No, they aren't exacly the same. That's a good thing, though, no?

They don't have to be exactly the same.  I wanted to avoid things that sound like what Zak described, "Each Skill has a Descriptor. At times, you can use a Descriptor for bonus dice...."  That implies that only the skill in question gets 'the gimme;' that's not what I'm talking about.  I guess the minimum criteria is that 1) you get 'something' for doing something with what could be loosely called a Disadvantage, 2) you can spend it on something else unrelated, and 3) you can explain how well it works (because I probably haven't seen it).  Like I said, I'm trying to get a grasp on how to communicate this idea based on how others have presented it and what I have above (as my presentation).

It would be just gravy if anyone could describe examples of games that use something like 'story points' in the exact same manner as Advantages, but I suspect that may not be something anyone else has done.  (Now if you had a game that did both, I'd be impressed - and a little frustrated; it is so hard to be original in this biz.)

Fang Langford
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Andrew Martin
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« Reply #10 on: July 26, 2002, 04:20:04 PM »

Quote from: Le Joueur
The first question I have is has anyone seen anything like this?  Players rewarded for evoking a Disadvantage with meta-game currency?  (Instead of being policed for them.)  Or rewarded with anything?


Yes. My games, Star Odyssey (with it's Ratio game system), does this. As does my Swift system. Any time a player claims a failure for their character/s based on their character faults, the player gets rewarded with a token which can be later traded for a character's success. In play test with a power gamer, rules-lawyers, and two munchkins, it gave exactly the right feel in the game, players had their characters behave like either fantasy characters in a movie or book (Swift) or like SF characters in a TV show (Star Odyssey). And, because it was based on a reward system, players could optionally ignore the system -- it wasn't forced on players. Basically the tokens act like karma does in the game world.

Quote from: Le Joueur

Now, has anyone ever seen anything like this (Disadvantages that result in player rewards and Advantages that function as though they were those rewards), in whole or in part?


Yes. It's in my Star Odyssey game. Tokens can be spent to claim a success for a character with support of the character's advantages. For advantages, it's the opposite of disadvantages.

In summary:

Player spends Token. -> Character get success with advantage.

Character fails with disadvantage. -> Get Token for player.

For token management, we use a big pool of tokens in the middle of the table; if we run out, we'll just get more. When the game is about 3/4 over (in time), I take away the tokens. This signals to the players that it's time to clean up the game. This approach made the entire game just like a TV episode in play test.

By the way, in Star Odyssey, Disadvantages and Advantages are the same; they're just called 'Vantages. Either can be used to claim success or failure for the character as appropriate for the 'Vantage. For example, (in my Swift fantasy session) a character that had the "hard of hearing" 'vantage claimed a token for failure by not hearing approaching bandits; and at a later time, spent a token to claim success for the character by not being able to hear a command!

There's no character "point cost" for either advantage or disadvantage, players just add 'vantages to suit their character concept, so allowing a god to be "balanced" with merely mortal heroes and incompetent peasants (from my Swift fantasy game).

It's also self balancing in play. In a Swift session, a new player designed a character with only "advantages", and found that though the character was extremely capable in play, the other player characters had increased power and interest. So, in play (because 'vantages cost nothing in design), he added more interesting 'vantages to his character. So balancing out his character with the other, all without intervention from other players or GM.

I hope that helps!
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Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
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« Reply #11 on: July 27, 2002, 02:59:56 AM »

I forgot to mention:
When a character's 'vantage negatively affects other characters, for example, a character is hunted by a group of enemies, the players of the other characters also get a token reward.

Similarly for a character's 'vantage positively affecting other characters; the other players must pay a token to gain success.
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Andrew Martin
Le Joueur
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« Reply #12 on: July 27, 2002, 08:32:22 AM »

Quote from: Andrew Martin
I hope that helps!

Yes, it does.  How's it been working in playtest?  Have you encountered any problems?  Are there any things you have changed?  (And questions like that.)

Fang Langford
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Andrew Martin
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« Reply #13 on: July 27, 2002, 01:18:12 PM »

Quote from: Fang Langford
How's it been working in playtest?  Have you encountered any problems?  Are there any things you have changed?  (And questions like that.)


In play test, we came across the situation where a player had no tokens and their character would logically use an advantage to succeed. In this case, the player goes into debt, and owes the pool a token, unless the player can come up with an interesting complication to avoid this. For example, "I escape the ambush because I can fly (the advantage), but the bandits have archers (created on the spot by the player), and one of their fired arrows clips my wing as I fly out, causing me to tumble to the ground, with a broken wing." The advantage of the wings to escape the ambush (pay one token) is paid for after the fact by the complication of the injury of the broken wing (get one token).

For the situation where the player and fellow players couldn't think of a reasonable "but..." complication, all the other players get a token, leaving the owing player at zero. Basically, redefining the zero tokens point for all players.
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Andrew Martin
efindel
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« Reply #14 on: July 27, 2002, 07:43:59 PM »

Just to throw my own two cents in... the game Theatrix has Descriptors, which can act as both advantages and disadvantages.  Players can activate their characters' descriptors against themselves, if they wish, and gain Plot Points for doing so.  The GM (Director, in Theatrix-speak) can also activate characters' descriptors against them.

Further, other players can indirectly activate another character's descriptors against them -- any player can propose a Subplot involving any of the characters at any time, and subplots can involve activating a character's descriptor against him/her.  Thus, if one character has a "weakness for women" descriptor, one of the other players could suggest a subplot involving that character with a woman.

BTW, one of the folks on rpg-create was talking about a system using tokens, much like the one Andrew Martin's been describing here.  I think it was Brett Paul, but I'm not sure at this point.

--Travis
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