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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 263 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Deathwish: Internal Affairs  (Read 2110 times)
jburneko
Member

Posts: 1351


« on: March 25, 2003, 11:12:55 AM »

Hello All,

So, in a bold move I signed up to run the Deathwish varient rules for Dust Devil at upcoming con in May.  I was a little nervous because I've never run either version of the game.  However, yesterday an opportunity presented itself.  A friend from out of town, who used to play with us, was visiting.  So, I ran my con scenario last night instead of the usual game.

It was... interesting.

Here's the setup:

The CIA has uncovered a leak coming out of MI-6 and have come in to clean up their mess by investigating their organization.  MI-6, slightly embarassed already, wants to make sure the CIA doesn't embarass them further and also find their mole.  The KGB, are currently monitoring their source to make sure he doesn't switch sides.

I like this setup because it effectively removes the "solve the mystery" goal of play because five minutes into play the players of the CIA and MI-6 agents instantly learn who the mole is when I tell the KGB agents who they're monitoring at the top of the game.  It also puts all the players slightly in conflict with each other which I hope would become a little nuclear reactor of conflict and story.

The results were mixed.

My players in general just have a problem with shared narrative mechanics.  I, personally am facinated by the concept, but I just haven't gotten as good results as I have with High Author/Low Director Stance games like Sorcerer.  Whenever I use a shared narrative game I always run into these problems.

1) Players will get "stuck" in a scene.  That is, someone will initiate a conflict.  The mechanics will be applied but then whoever narrates simply doesn't reveal enough to move the story along.  Gentle poking and proding helps but I ALWAYS encounter this problem.  The result is that the players will sort of spend a long time in a single scene going around in circles with these sort of strange incremental conflicts and never really providing any push to keep things going.  In InSpectres the team will earn 90% of their franchise dice in the opening scene and in Deathwish a lot of people were getting massive Difficulty early on.

2) Pacing.  This sort of follows from #1.  My players don't seem to process the metagame cues to bring the game towards resolution.  My InSpectres games always seem to just stop suddenly.  Player's just build and build and build and build and then go, "Oh we have enough dice to finish the game."  Roll, "Oh, I got a six, story over."  In Deathwish the players knew it was a single session game and some of the players even had attributes go to zero but none of them ever brought the game closer to resolution.  Even once the sharred narration was producing more managable results, they just avoided using the abilities that had gone to zero and just kept building on the situation with their narrative power.

If there's one thing I've learned about my group it's that I've got to be the sole purveyor of Situation otherwise things get a little out of control.  They either go nowhere or they get silly.  I will admit that I've never played more than a single session of sharred narrative system before and things were looking up near the end of session.  Perhaps if things had gone on for 3 or 4 session they would get the hang of it and it would smooth out.

System Issues:

1) I found it very difficult to figure out how to apply the Deathwish.  I don't know whether the slightly different Devil in the core Dust Devil games would be any easier.  I think, in general, things just didn't get personal enough with the characters.  Again, this maybe something that smooths over in multi-session play.

2) Difficulty.  I remember reading a more thurough example of this somewhere but the core book isn't very clear about how Difficulty works in a multi-participant conflict.  So Players A, B, C and D are all in a conflict.  Let's say Player A wins with a full house but Player D has high card.  Now, that's five points of difficulty to let's say Wits and Cool.

I KNOW the player receving the difficulty gets to decide how many go to Wits and how many go to Cool.  Player D then gets to say what that means.  However, who recieves the difficulty and how much?

Do, player's B, C and D ALL get five points to either Wits or Cool?  Are the five points destributed between the three players?  If so, who decides that distribution?  Can player D absolve himself of Difficulty since he won Narration?  I'm not entirely sure.

3) Gadgets.  Gadgets replace Traits in the core rules.  However, Traits are inseperable from the character.  Gadgets can be passed around and used to aid and influence others.  Sometimes it was clear that there were two types of conflicts going on but there were too many times where really someone wanted to use their Gadget simply to "aid" the primary person in the conflict rather than involve themselves in a seperate sub-conflict of their own.  Since this was a varriant rule, I simply allow the player to apply his two card gadget bonus to another player's hand.

The one thing the mechanics are really good at teaching you is the difference between meaningful and trivial conflict.  Because if you apply task-level resolution thinking to the game the Difficulty will hose you.  I'd like to play more of this game just for that practice alone.

So, in the end we just kind of stopped although things were picking up towards the end.  The KGB agents (the two players who caught on to how things work earliest) were in the process of initiating a incident involving the IRA.  Another character who's Deathwish was Bloodlust was piling on problems by her violent behavior and in a theoretical future session I would really relish watching her deal with being suspended from the service.  And yet another player who's Deathwish was Forced Servitude was making a deal with the CIA agents to come work for them if they could free him from his legal bonds with MI-6.

It's just all that happened in like the last hour of play.  The first three hours were spent going around in circles in that opening scene with a lot of borderline pointless or repetitious conflict and a lot of wasted Difficulty.

Also, it was kind of funny how the players occasionally seemed to be playing two different styles of spy thriller.  The CIA agents and the MI-6 agents were pretty much doing Ian Flemming.  However, I'm fairly certain that the KGB agents were doing Tom Clancy.  Go figure.

Jesse
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #1 on: March 25, 2003, 12:34:15 PM »

Did the players have any comments? Fun?

Mike
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Matt Snyder
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« Reply #2 on: March 25, 2003, 12:35:45 PM »

Quote from: jburneko
Hello All,

So, in a bold move I signed up to run the Deathwish varient rules for Dust Devil at upcoming con in May.  I was a little nervous because I've never run either version of the game.  However, yesterday an opportunity presented itself.  A friend from out of town, who used to play with us, was visiting.  So, I ran my con scenario last night instead of the usual game.


I love it when a plan comes together!

Quote

1) Players will get "stuck" in a scene.  That is, someone will initiate a conflict.  The mechanics will be applied but then whoever narrates simply doesn't reveal enough to move the story along.  Gentle poking and proding helps but I ALWAYS encounter this problem.  The result is that the players will sort of spend a long time in a single scene going around in circles with these sort of strange incremental conflicts and never really providing any push to keep things going.  In InSpectres the team will earn 90% of their franchise dice in the opening scene and in Deathwish a lot of people were getting massive Difficulty early on.


I truly hope (and believe) that this is a matter of groups getting used to a really different RPG experience. From other bits in your post, it sounds like they got over this problem somewhat and sparks really started flying. The IRA bit was inspired! Also, losing Difficulty without getting anywhere should be illuminating, if painful, for them as players. Hopefully, it doesn't make them Never Want To Play Again.

Quote

2) Pacing.  This sort of follows from #1.  My players don't seem to process the metagame cues to bring the game towards resolution.  My InSpectres games always seem to just stop suddenly.  Player's just build and build and build and build and then go, "Oh we have enough dice to finish the game."  Roll, "Oh, I got a six, story over."  In Deathwish the players knew it was a single session game and some of the players even had attributes go to zero but none of them ever brought the game closer to resolution.  Even once the sharred narration was producing more managable results, they just avoided using the abilities that had gone to zero and just kept building on the situation with their narrative power.


This tells me they're still clinging to "survivability of my character," a long-standing sacred cow of RPGs. Dust Devils comes right out as says not to beat around the bush. It will be No Fun and you will have boring sessions. Get off yer keister and raise hell -- die even! The players need to understand the game is far less about Their Character than other games, and far more about The Story in which everyone participates. This understanding is crucial.

Quote

If there's one thing I've learned about my group it's that I've got to be the sole purveyor of Situation otherwise things get a little out of control.  They either go nowhere or they get silly.  I will admit that I've never played more than a single session of sharred narrative system before and things were looking up near the end of session.  Perhaps if things had gone on for 3 or 4 session they would get the hang of it and it would smooth out.


Interestingly, silliness is a frequent symptom of the game system. I have mixed feelings about it, but generally think it's ok. Think Sneakers -- it's quite funny, but remains a serious and suspenseful flick. For Westerns, think Maverick.

I have no mixed feelings about going nowhere in play. This is a terrible symptom!

Quote

System Issues:

1) I found it very difficult to figure out how to apply the Deathwish.  I don't know whether the slightly different Devil in the core Dust Devil games would be any easier.  I think, in general, things just didn't get personal enough with the characters.  Again, this maybe something that smooths over in multi-session play.


Interesting -- I wondered if this wouldn't be an issue. I think a good, relevant Deathwish is actually harder to concoct than a good Devil, and I'm sad to say I have too little actual play experience to better inform it (one half-assed playtest session).

Quote

2) Difficulty.  I remember reading a more thurough example of this somewhere but the core book isn't very clear about how Difficulty works in a multi-participant conflict.  So Players A, B, C and D are all in a conflict.  Let's say Player A wins with a full house but Player D has high card.  Now, that's five points of difficulty to let's say Wits and Cool.

I KNOW the player receving the difficulty gets to decide how many go to Wits and how many go to Cool.  Player D then gets to say what that means.  However, who recieves the difficulty and how much?

Do, player's B, C and D ALL get five points to either Wits or Cool?  Are the five points destributed between the three players?  If so, who decides that distribution?  Can player D absolve himself of Difficulty since he won Narration?  I'm not entirely sure.


According to "default" rules, all opposed characters (i.e. all character's that Player A's goal "targeted") receive 5 pts of Difficulty each. In no situation that I've seen (or endorsed for that matter) is Difficulty allowed to be spread around among separate characters. The winning hand applies to each character in full. (To your credit, the Dust Devils text isn't as clear about multiparticipant conflicts as it probably should be.)

To recap: the key on distributing multi-participant Difficulty hinges on what the winner has delivered. Remember that in many situations, Player A can "target" (though maybe not literally) Players C and Player D. Meanwhile, Player B "targets" Player D and Player E. These are, in effect, separate but overlapping conflicts in the single Deal. Player D might have real problems on his hands, being a target of both A and B. Or, he might lose to Player A (ouch) and beat Player B (yay!).

Think of it this way -- it matters only who is in conflict with your character's stated goal. But keep in mind, there's no real limit to your potential targets. You could impose one, I guess, by limiting that target to either the lesser of your two used Attributes (for a slightly grittier feel) or the greater of the two (for an ever-so-slightly more cinematic approach). In fact, I rather like this variant! I may include that in an upcoming Dust Devils expansion (War is Hell, anyone? It's coming, likely under a different title, and will be a full, stand-alone product with art from Chris Martinez.)

One thing I've realized is that in complicated, multi-participant conflicts, there can be several separate winners. The highest hand overall does not trump other lesser, but still winning hands for other conflicting characters.

HOWEVER, here's the squishy "on the other hand" -- the Narrator (High Card holder) has full rights in saying what goes down. The Dust Devils text sorta leaves it vague what this can mean (quite on purpose), but it does say, for example, that the Narrator can choose to have Difficulty from his losing hand affect the conflict winner, or maybe even some of that Difficulty affect the winner. I do not recommend, however, that Narrators can absolved themselves from winning Difficulty. This immunity could easily and quickly ruin both the spirit of the game and the cooperative, enjoyable agreement among players.

Quote

3) Gadgets.  Gadgets replace Traits in the core rules.  However, Traits are inseperable from the character.  Gadgets can be passed around and used to aid and influence others.  Sometimes it was clear that there were two types of conflicts going on but there were too many times where really someone wanted to use their Gadget simply to "aid" the primary person in the conflict rather than involve themselves in a seperate sub-conflict of their own.  Since this was a varriant rule, I simply allow the player to apply his two card gadget bonus to another player's hand.


A couple points. First, one the one hand, you're right about that gadgets can be "passed around." BUT, I see this as characters duplicating gadgets, rather than using other ones. Characters should not be allowed to use more than their allotment of two gadgets. Now, sharing the exploding gum is ok, but the second character to use it needs to eliminate one of his other two gadgets. He's unable to use that now. Just 'cause, and that'll have to be good enough for an explanation.

Second, characters do not "aid" others. They either enter the conflict themselves or they don't. Conflict matters. Aiding someone opens your character up to potential Difficulty, pure and simple. (This does make me wonder if there is a way to share cards, though. Seems too overpowering at first though, however.)

Quote

The one thing the mechanics are really good at teaching you is the difference between meaningful and trivial conflict.  Because if you apply task-level resolution thinking to the game the Difficulty will hose you.  I'd like to play more of this game just for that practice alone.


Wonderful! As I'm sure you realize, that's the point!

All in all, the game sounds great fun to me. Thanks for posting this! On Fleming vs. Clancy angles -- how did you describe the game to your players, and do you have any idea why they took the different approaches?
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Matt Snyder
www.chimera.info

"The future ain't what it used to be."
--Yogi Berra
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 10459


« Reply #3 on: March 25, 2003, 12:44:07 PM »

Quote from: Matt Snyder
On Fleming vs. Clancy angles -- how did you describe the game to your players, and do you have any idea why they took the different approaches?


Yeah, did you show them the logo? The logo says Bond, Bond, Bond. Well done on that, BTW, Matt.

Mike
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jburneko
Member

Posts: 1351


« Reply #4 on: March 25, 2003, 01:06:23 PM »

Hello Again,

Mike,

I didn't MUCH feedback from the players directly as it was late when we broke up.  Yes, the players have fun.  We rarely DON'T have fun no matter what we're playing.  They're good player's and I have a fair amount of confidence in my GMing.

It's just there are clear points where a game feels like it's stalling and going nowhere and other points where it really just starts zipping around.  The last hour of the game was really kick ass, but there was that stalled, start, jump, bump, jerk, scree, section in the beginning and I'm always trying to figure out how to reduce that.

Matt,

Thanks for the feedback.  Your clearification of Difficulty and sub-conflicts was GREAT.  I'm going to save that somewhere.  That would have helped a lot last nice since there was a lot of confusion over how to interpret some outcomes especially since I had six players working as pairs of partners.

As for sharing cards, I ONLY allowed this on Gadgets and ONLY when it seemed that the character wouldn't be involved in the conflict.

Example A) Okay so character A is interrogating a suspect.  Character B is helping him out by using his lie detector sunglasses.  Character A and Character B get their own deals.  Character A is "interrogating" and Character B is "detecting lies" two seperate but related conflicts.

Example B) Character A has a pen that turns into a tracking device.  First she plants the tracking device on the suspect using her own deal.  Several scenes, latter however, the suspect is attempting to escape and Character B is the "driver" in the group.  So, Character A wants to go take care of something else while Character B chases the suspect following the tracking device that Character A planted.  In this case I allowed Character A's two cards to apply to Character B's "Chase" conflict.

As for the style, I actually told them that I was going for more of a low key John LeCarre feel.  I've always had trouble getting style across when I'm GMing.  It's because I'm not very descriptive and setting and Tone and Atmosphere is not one of my strengths.

Jesse
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