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Author Topic: [Poison'd] Burning down Cartegena  (Read 3132 times)
lumpley
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« on: March 05, 2008, 12:37:55 PM »

This is about a problem with Poison'd that Ralph raised, here. I have zero interest in talking right now about how well the text communicates. I'm going to go back over it and make sure it says everything I want it to say, and for now please let's leave it at that. No, this is a design thing, not a text thing.

The design thing is: the game gives you absolutely no guidance when it comes to deciding whether Cartegena burns, on purpose. The game doesn't care whether it does, so doesn't participate in your decision making about it. I think this is a pretty important rpg-theoretical point.

In Poison'd, if you fail a success roll, the rules say that your character's action fails, or else succeeds but to no advantage. the game doesn't tell you which, it doesn't give you any way to decide which. Again, that's on purpose, and it's because the game doesn't care which. Neither do I! It might matter enormously to the game's fiction which happens - or whether Cartegena burns - but it doesn't make any difference to the workings of the game's mechanics at all.

So how do you decide? Is it my responsibility as the designer to provide a mechanism? What if it's not? Poison'd's design says "hell, you're the ones with the functioning social contract and creative agenda, you decide." (Again, whether the text communicates that, I don't want to discuss. This is a design thing.) I could say "flip a coin." In the case of success rolls, I could build some sort of secondary reading into the dice - something like, "if the GM rolls more 6s than you, you fail, but otherwise you succeed to no advantage." But, every possible way seems just as good to me - and just as irrelevant to the goals of the design - as any other.

Is there any reason to decide whether Cartegena burns in any other way than case by case, at the whim of the group and according to its (presumably) functional creative dynamic?

-Vincent
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Valamir
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« Reply #1 on: March 05, 2008, 12:57:43 PM »

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Is there any reason to decide whether Cartegena burns in any other way than case by case, at the whim of the group and according to its (presumably) functional creative dynamic?

Let's say the answer is no, there isn't.

Can't you make the same arguement about "is there any reason to decide whether Dirty Pete gets an advantage other than case by case, at the whim of the group"? 

Can't you make the same arguement about "is there any reason to decide whether Dirty Pete suffers a serious wound other than case by case, at the whim of the group"?

Can't you make the same arguement about "is there any reason to decide whether a ship engaged in a broadside battle suffers Wear other than case by case, at the whim of the group"?

Can't you make the same arguement about "is there any reason to decide whether a hated NPC gets ganked in a combat other than case by case, at the whim of the group"?

Those are not BS questions.  That's where the rubber hits the road for me.  I see no functional difference between "I use the game mechanics to tell me whether my ship suffers damage", "I use the the game mechanics to tell me whether I suffer a fatal wound",  "I use the game mechanics to tell me whether Joe the Cook dies", vs. "I use the game mechanics to tell me whether Cartegena burns down."


Because ultimately, there ARE reasons other than "whim of the group" for all of those things.  If there weren't we'd all be playing free form and damn the rules.  That's a given.  I'm interested in knowing what's different to you that makes you want to write rules and mechanics that cover all four of the other items I list...but be adamantly opposed to having mechanics that cover burning Cartegena.  There must be some key differentiation you're making, yes?

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lumpley
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« Reply #2 on: March 05, 2008, 01:08:19 PM »

Exactly, some key differentiation.

Now that differentiation is extremely local to Poison'd. I'd expect any game, every game, to differentiate on different keys, if that makes sense. In Poison'd, there are no rules for failing vs succeeding to no advantage, or for burning Cartegena; in Dogs in the Vineyard, there are no rules for travel between towns or for the emotional tenor of relationships.

-Vincent
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Darren Hill
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« Reply #3 on: March 05, 2008, 01:16:27 PM »

Snother way to put "at the whim of the group":
Is it possible in a group with a socially functionaly dynamic to still have earnest disagreements about the direction taken in the fiction? I think it is.

Dogs had the "Say Yes or Roll The Dice" rule to fall back on. If the group actually did have creative differences over how they travelled between towns, or how a relationship was going, they could always use the dice, even if that wasn't what the dice was meant to be used for.
Poison'd doesn't seem to have such an option.
I think groups do look to the rules to find out where the authority lies (whether that ultimately goes to dice, GM, group vote, etc.) in situations of creative differences, and I think the rules should have an answer for them.
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lumpley
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« Reply #4 on: March 05, 2008, 01:37:13 PM »

Ooh, more. This isn't an answer to you, Darren, it's just me following my own thoughts.

Okay, so in Dogs in the Vineyard the stuff that the rules don't care to answer is compartmentalized from the stuff of the game. Travel between towns is the perfect example, but the emotional tenor of your Dog's relationships too - you can see how the rules for relationship dice work to make the emotional content of your Dog's relationships safe. "Safe" in game terms, like in hide and go seek, the antithesis of "out of bounds."

In Poison'd, the stuff that the rules don't care to answer is sometimes stuff that the pirates care about a lot, and tightly interwoven with stuff that the rules DO care about. It's not safe, it's in bounds.

I like that about the design, I'm proud of it. I think it's pretty bold, actually.

-Vincent
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #5 on: March 05, 2008, 01:51:08 PM »

Actually, Dogs has rules for those things mentioned. Or rather, folks read procedures into how the game is represented, as indicated by their personal backgrounds. For example, in this case:
  • The rule for moving between towns is that it happens off-stage, with the GM narrating a bit of it, except for some minor color players provide when they go through the experience mechanics. Oh, and the players of course choose where they're going. Getting to the next town, for example, is not an issue, as the GM advice/rules make it clear that the game is framed in terms of towns, not in terms of travel between towns; the omission of travel rules from the otherwise detailed GMing rules implies that travel shouldn't even get any scene time.
  • In relationships the tenor of the relationship is determined by the players of the characters involved. If they disagree ("No way, we're just friends."), that's part of the relationship, too. Conflicts have whatever impact they have as the rules allow on all this, well documented.
Whether the above stuff is in the rules or not is actually not pertinent for the actual group playing the game; if they share enough expectations with Vincent to realize that's how it works, then they find the game functional and will not miss the rules in question. On the other hand, if there were a group that missed the cues in the text and actually invented some other procedures for doing the abovementioned things, they might or might not hit on anything that worked.

My point being: the success of Poison'd will not be gauged by whether Vincent was aware that he was leaving an issue for the group to solve; the success will depend on whether individual groups are actually comfortable, ready and willing to insert the undefined system in the spots where things are left unsaid. This does not depend on having a functional creative agenda as far as I can see, as it has much more to do with the group's expectations and experiences with one another. It might go many ways:
  • If the group came to a place where they need to find out whether Cartagena burns and got stumped for procedure, they might start flipping through the rulebook to find a place where its explained. When they can't find that place, what are they going to do? Depending on the people, they might get into an argument or invent a decision for themselves; regardless, they would probably be mystified and frustrated if they felt that this was something important.
  • Meanwhile, another group might play the game and not even notice the lack of such rules. Perhaps they would instinctually assume that whoever opens his mouth and starts narrating would make that call; I know that this would be likely and natural with me.

Now, the difference between Vincent's examples from Dogs and with the Poison'd situation might be said to exist in the strangeness factor, simply enough: even if we can't speak for individuals, we might hazard that if Vincent insists on not providing any clues, some players might be more mystified by some omissions than others. Thus it might be a smart move to explicitly tell the reader of the rules that you're leaving something for the group to suss out if they're something that the group would expect to have. Even better, clarify it for them whether you're thinking of pre-game agreement or case-by-case agreement, here. Alternatively, write your rules within a paradigm where the players never even expect to have the rules for whatever it is that is lacking. I did this with my zombie game by writing the rules into a boardgame-rules booklet; nobody ever expects strategic advice in boardgame rules, so I could leave out all rpg advice on those grounds without anybody starting to wonder whether they're supposed to speak in character or whatever.

As an alternative example, consider how some games have combat chapters that basically just say that you should use the basic conflict resolution system for doing combat. Why is that chapter there in the first place if there are no special combat rules? It's there simply because otherwise players with traditional expectations might not realize how to use the existing rules for running combats, of course. This is the same principle: even when you don't have rules or don't have any extra rules, you still might need to point out in an educational manner how a person might use what exists (such as the rule on page X or the procedures the group already has) to make do.

So yeah, I guess that what I'm saying is that Vincent's question is a matter of rules writing, not of rules design. You don't need to write any rules at all for a roleplaying game (there is plenty of rpg material to prove that point), but whether players will be able to play it successfully depends on how successful they are in combining their own knowledge with what you do write. Some groups are virtually incapable of playing a game with firm rules as they already have so strong and functional group-based system procedures; another group might be very open-minded and willing to follow the rules, and thus would get lost without rules for many specific points. What's more, that latter group won't even need rules necessarily, as long as you do tell them that there are no rules available and that they're supposed to determine things for themselves.

To put the above into a short answer, I agree with Darren! The game text should provide enough context for the group to arrive into a functional social arrangement that may be used for any procedural points that may rise: is this going to be a game with a strong GM who makes the calls? Are we all going to have separate stories, so that each player should get to decide on the minor details in his own story? Is there some beat where the spotlight moves from player to player, so that when it's your turn to narrate you get to make the calls? Should the group decide amongst themselves how they're going to determine things where the rules don't make any calls; if our group doesn't have such dynamics, should we make some before starting to play? I would certainly hope that whichever of the above and other possibilities you're going to use, you'd be telling the readers about it as well!
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lumpley
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« Reply #6 on: March 05, 2008, 02:15:43 PM »

Thus it might be a smart move to explicitly tell the reader of the rules that you're leaving something for the group to suss out if they're something that the group would expect to have. Even better, clarify it for them whether you're thinking of pre-game agreement or case-by-case agreement, here.
Yeah, that's where I'm going to (try to) go with Poison'd's text. We'll see whether I can amply communicate it in the space I've got, but that's where I'll try to go.

-Vincent
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Valamir
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« Reply #7 on: March 05, 2008, 04:25:34 PM »

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To put the above into a short answer, I agree with Darren! The game text should provide enough context for the group to arrive into a functional social arrangement that may be used for any procedural points that may rise: is this going to be a game with a strong GM who makes the calls? Are we all going to have separate stories, so that each player should get to decide on the minor details in his own story? Is there some beat where the spotlight moves from player to player, so that when it's your turn to narrate you get to make the calls? Should the group decide amongst themselves how they're going to determine things where the rules don't make any calls; if our group doesn't have such dynamics, should we make some before starting to play? I would certainly hope that whichever of the above and other possibilities you're going to use, you'd be telling the readers about it as well!

Yes that's it exactly (which is also the exact point I made on the Anyway thread, also).

Dog's actually does this pretty well, I think...although I admitt I might be confounding what's actually in the book with the many many online discussions I've read...but I think that in addition to "say yes or roll the dice", Dogs also instructs the group to abide by the aesthetics of the most critical person at the table (which is a pretty simple and elegant bit of social engineering).  Also, I believe the text includes (and not just on-line) a good bit of instructions to the GM on how to deliver the town and the NPC wants to the players...proactively, don't play "hide-the-clue" etc.  Which also provides strong guidance on what play looks like.

I'm looking forward to seeing what you come up with in the Poison'd text to convey those sensibilities and provide the context for decision making.


Quote
Exactly, some key differentiation.

Now that differentiation is extremely local to Poison'd.

Is it a secret, or are you willing to share?  I, for one, would be very interested in what (for Poison'd) makes "I kill Joe the Cook" a mechanical rules thing (spend 3 Xs before a fight to kill an NPC), and what makes "I burn down Cartegena" not a mechanical rules thing.

I look in the rules and find one, I'm gonna expect to find the other...because to me at least, they look like exactly the same thing..."I do something that has a lasting effect that other NPC-type people wouldn't want me to do" (Joe the Cook isn't going to want me to kill him, and Joe the governor of Cartegena isn't going to want me to burn his town down)...so if killing NPC Joe is 3 Xs, why isn't burning Cartegena...30 Xs?

Understanding that dividing line might be key to unlocking the whole puzzle of how to play Poisn'd differently from other games.
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lumpley
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« Reply #8 on: March 05, 2008, 05:29:05 PM »

It's not a secret, but I don't have any idea whether I can articulate it. I mean, I design games as a statement about fiction; I design them to articulate something I see about the underlying structure of a particular kind of fiction, especially as relates to its own creation. That means, I'm afraid, that when the rules don't specify between failing and succeeding to no advantage, that IS the articulation.

The "most critical player" rule in Dogs is in the text, yes, but it wasn't in the original edition. I added it when it became obvious that lots and lots of people thought that "as a group, over the first few sessions, you'll come to an understanding about what counts as a valid raise" meant "make whatever raises you want, rolling dice for traits no matter how desperate a stretch, and nobody can tell you no."

-Vincent

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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #9 on: March 05, 2008, 06:00:59 PM »

Shooting from the hip (and assuming that Vincent's not being coy and he's really having trouble verbalizing the difference), it seems to me that the difference between Joe the cook and Joe the governor probably has to do with one being a member of the ship's crew (and, in a larger context, one of the seafaring men), while Cartagena is just some town out there. Perhaps the book simply needs some sentences about how it focuses on things on the sea and on the ship, with the rest of the world being so much set dressing and not quite "real" as far as the system is concerned. I'd imagine that something like that would move in my head if I was making a game about isolated, violent men on a ship. As I understand it, the big deal about leisure is that it allows characters to interact with the world outside the ship, which isn't usually that possible.

Then again, not having read the game, what do I know.
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Matt Snyder
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« Reply #10 on: March 05, 2008, 09:29:13 PM »

seems to me that the difference between Joe the cook and Joe the governor probably has to do with one being a member of the ship's crew (and, in a larger context, one of the seafaring men), while Cartagena is just some town out there.

But it isn't really different, if a player has "Be revenged upon the Governor of Cartegena" Ambition. And, in that case (or a zillion other we might imagine that are like it), I'm not clear about the articulation. I think "on the ship" and "out in the wide world" is NOT the distinction being made here. It's not geography. It's "closeness" to the guts of the character and the character's fiction (and ambitions and relationships, and so on).

Also, I'm not yet seeing how "Suceed or fail vs. Succeed with advantage" is different from several fortune-in-the-middle games. I'm not trying to say those should be like this one, or vice versa. I'm saying I don't get how this articulation is different from those others, yet that seems to be important here.

I mean, Sorcerer first blew my mind in this regard. "You mean, if I want to, I can actually sorta succeed in the story when the dice go wrong, even though mechanically I'm sucking on a big fat consequence? Awesome! FUCK YOU, WHIFF FACTOR!"

I don't think Sorcerer comments much at all on who gets to "narrate" what happens, whether success or failure or success with "advantage."

I know, I know. Poison'd ain't Sorcerer. Is Poison'd saying something different, though, on this issue? If so, I'm not getting it. If not, totally ok by me! I like those games.
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Matt Snyder
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lumpley
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« Reply #11 on: March 06, 2008, 06:54:07 AM »

Oh no, not different. I think that Poison'd is procedurally closely related to Sorcerer.

Oh hey, that's a very good question. In Sorcerer, how would you know whether setting fire to the barn meant that Cartegena burned?

My play of Sorcerer is limited, but I think the answer is, well, that's complicated. It depends a lot on what else is going on. In one circumstance, someone says "Cartegena burns down, the fire rages for days and days and the loss of life is tremendous" and everybody else is like, "yep, cool, what's next?" In another circumstance, there's a closely-described hard fight with the guy who owns the barn, then a running battle through the streets with Cartegena's constabulary, and the fire becomes both pressure on and a consequence of all these little small-scale engagements. There's not any one rule for whether Cartegena burns.

-Vincent
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Piers
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« Reply #12 on: March 06, 2008, 08:33:56 AM »

Quote
In one circumstance, someone says "Cartegena burns down, the fire rages for days and days and the loss of life is tremendous" and everybody else is like, "yep, cool, what's next?" In another circumstance, there's a closely-described hard fight with the guy who owns the barn, then a running battle through the streets with Cartegena's constabulary, and the fire becomes both pressure on and a consequence of all these little small-scale engagements. There's not any one rule for whether Cartegena burns.

Reading the recent threads, I've been struck by how procedurally similar in some ways Poison'd and IAWA are.  (I mean, not surprising really.)  That is, they have very similar components configured differently:

A rule about whether or not you succeed at actions.
A rule for contests when players disagree about what happens.
A rule for negotiating outcomes.

In IAWA:
Characters always succeed unless someone challenges.
When challenged, there is a contest, which causes damage.
That damage can be negotiated into particular outcomes.

In Poison'd
Characters make rolls to see if they succeed.  (This is actually a mechanical check to see if the GM should challenge.)
Players challenge by bringing the fight.
The bargaining rules are decoupled from the contest, but fit with it.  ("Bargain with me, or I'll cut your liver out")

While the game doesn't say so procedurally, fictively a fight is a stop on what can happen in the fiction.  When someone objects and the game moves towards a fight, the time scale gets smaller.  As Vincent suggests in the above example, unless the players deliberately choose otherwise, bringing a fight shrinks the scope of action because it doesn't make sense for the results to extend past the fight.  Actions become more and more granular, reducing their scope. 

In this context it becomes clear that, when a fight is coming, rolls in the system are exactly what they say they are: a means of negotiating the context of the fight.  This is also why flashbacks are important: they give room to set the scene for the fight without pushing the timescale past the moment of the fight. 
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rafial
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« Reply #13 on: March 06, 2008, 11:24:50 AM »

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A rule for contests when players disagree about what happens.

Quote
In Poison'd ... Players challenge by bringing the fight.

Is that truly so?  I hard sort of gathered from here and here that when player A says "I do X", player B doesn't even get to start bringing the fight until it is determined if X happens via a success roll on the part of Player A.  If Player A succeeds then X happens.
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lumpley
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« Reply #14 on: March 06, 2008, 11:43:31 AM »

Rafial, that depends on what X is. The Xs for which that's true are pretty limited. Here's a classic Poison'd exchange:
Player A: I hold Young Zeb down and fuck him hard.
GM: Young Zeb, are you fighting back or enduring duress?

Since player A's character isn't enduring duress, going into danger, attacking someone helpless, or using stealth or great care, player A doesn't roll for anything at all.

-Vincent
« Last Edit: March 06, 2008, 11:45:13 AM by lumpley » Logged
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