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Author Topic: [IaWA] Breaking Bad Habits  (Read 23550 times)
lumpley
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« on: April 17, 2008, 06:43:58 AM »

Bad for In a Wicked Age, that is. All of them are good habits for other games, variously.

These are some rules restrictions I recommend if you're having trouble breaking these habits.

Bad habit 1: creating driven characters

From now on, every character you make, do one of these:

- Make her best interests mutually incompatible. "It's in my best interests to seduce and marry the monk. It's in my best interests to drive the monk out of the region forever."

- Give her a best interest incompatible with her driving goals. "It's in my best interests to fail to seduce and marry the monk, even though it's what I intend to do."

- Give her a best interest totally dependent on other characters to make true or false. "It's in my best interests for the private negotiations between you, the new young king, and you, the elder of my cult, to go in the cult's favor."

Bad habit 2: setting stakes

Do not set stakes! It'll kill your game. You have to really genuinely not set stakes, too; it's not enough to not formally set stakes, or not all the way set stakes, or whatever. No setting stakes, even in your secret heart. So:

- From now on, in every action sequence, have the first round fully resolve the initial action. Here's how this might look:

Me: I run down the pier and I cut the anchor rope.
Mitch: I stop you.
We roll initiative. I win.
Me: So yeah.
Mitch rolls to answer and wins the advantage.
Mitch: Okay, you cut the rope, twang! I don't reach you in time to stop you. But the boat's only drifting, they're still fighting to get the sails up.
(We go on to roll initiative for round two etc.)

Bad habit 3: wrangling your forms

- From now on, in every action sequence, before you roll dice, think of what action you'll have your character do if you win initiative. Tell the GM. GM, you tell the player which forms to roll.

Me: I run down the pier and cut the anchor rope.
Mitch: I'm going to run after her and knock the knife from her hand. GM?
GM: Directly and for others (the wives of the men on the boat).
Mitch: Okay!

Bad habit 4: limiting consequences to the mechanical

- From now on, whenever anybody gets exhausted or injured, have the winner describe how. It must fully account for genuine exhaustion or a serious injury, so keep prodding until it does; otherwise, no input from anybody, especially the loser.

Me: Nah, I'd rather be exhausted or injured.
Mitch: Okay, exhausted. You sail away but I'm behind you. We chase through the archipelago for four days, and finally I corner you on some rocky barren island. You're starving and bone-weary from the chase.
Me: Crap, dude.

Bad habit 5: pacing hard

These are for the GM.

- From now on, in every scene, at least once ask one of the players to describe something about her character, her character's people, or the immediate setting.

- From now on, circle as many conflicts as you drive to.

- From now on, in every chapter, at least once set up a scene to open on two friends having a peaceful conversation. Let them have the conversation before you introduce anything else.

For goodness sake, let the characters sip tea together once in a while.

The end. Go and do.

Rules talk:

All of these are fair, by the book play. If you adopt every single one of these restrictions and stick to them diligently, you'll still be playing by the book.

As written, the rules allow you to decide when, for instance, you'll resolve the initial action in the first round, and when you'll hold it unresolved through the first round and beyond. What's happening now, though, is that you're never resolving it in the first round, even though you can and would, because you're promoting it in your head up to "stakes." Practice resolving it first thing and moving on, so that you can see how the resolution rules really work.

Same with all the others. Once you've seen how the game works with characters whose best interests aren't driving goals, you won't limit yourself to driving goal best interests. Once you've seen how the game works when the winner describes exhausting or injuring the loser, you can open it up to everyone having input. I recommend that you play with as many of these restrictions as apply to you, for at least a couple of solid chapters, before you start relaxing them again.

Questions very welcome!

-Vincent
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Valvorik
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« Reply #1 on: April 17, 2008, 07:00:48 AM »

re Bad Habit #3, Form Wrangling.

That sounds like the forms would then change action sequence [round in original] to action sequence, within the same conflict?  I though the rule was that forms stay the same throughout the conflict?

re Bad Habit #4, I think "negotiating with a stick" became "negotiating with an even bigger stick", but like it.

Otherwise, all I can say is sounds like excellent advice both to keep play fresh/exciting and to keep it a "story game" not just a "character game".

I posted recently in another discussion thread about using "conflict" not "plot" as a guide to sandbox style play (cf Chris Chinn's writing) that IAWA is a game designed around that whole concept and #1 in particular will emphasize that.
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lumpley
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« Reply #2 on: April 17, 2008, 07:08:12 AM »

#3, just at the start of the action sequence. Tell the GM what you'll do if you win the first initiative. If you want to change forms for the second and third rounds, you'll have to negotiate it with your opponent between rounds, same as always.

-Vincent
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lumpley
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« Reply #3 on: April 17, 2008, 07:46:17 AM »

Oh! Rob. What you're calling a conflict, I'm calling an action sequence (like in a movie). Each set of initiative-challenge-answer rolls is one round in an action sequence.

Also: My example for #4, with the 4-day chase, was always fair by the rules. If the stick seemed to get bigger to you, that's great! That's how big the stick is.

-Vincent
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Valvorik
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« Reply #4 on: April 17, 2008, 08:15:12 AM »

re action sequence clarification - thanks and then "oh, it's all golden" becomes my comment.
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jburneko
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« Reply #5 on: April 17, 2008, 11:15:01 AM »

"From now on, in every action sequence, before you roll dice, think of what action you'll have your character do if you win initiative."

Heh, I was doing that this weekend unconsciously based on my Sorcerer training.  At the top of the round I had everyone announce what action they were planning on taking.  It was only AFTER the game I realized, "Oh wait... you don't do that in this game..."  Glad to know it was within the spirit of the rules though.

Jesse
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Troels
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« Reply #6 on: April 17, 2008, 01:29:01 PM »

#s 2-5 look sweet and good to me. However I have trouble with #1.

The clash of strong wills at the table and in the story seems to me to be one of the most central features and attractions of IaWA. Picking best interests that the character really doesn't share, or will have trouble influencing in a meaningful way, appears unattractive to me.

I see in my mind's eye a conflict between two characters with best interests of the type "It's in my best interests to fail to seduce and marry the monk, even though it's what I intend to do", competing to suck the hardest. OK, it's bound to be comical, but also dispassionate, which in my IaWA book is bad.

Failing can be fun and make for great stories, but that's pretty much bound to happen for a great deal of the characters in any given chapter, anyway, and isn't it more fun to fail despite trying to succeed, than to fail because you're trying to suck?

Am I missing something here?

Yours, Troels
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jburneko
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« Reply #7 on: April 17, 2008, 02:08:30 PM »

Troel,

I'm going to take a stab at this and then let Vincent correct me if I'm wrong.

You're looking at a Best Interest as something to be actively pursued, whether by the character in fiction or by the player at the meta-level regardless of what the character is up to.  My understanding is that NEITHER is the case.  Best Interests are not something to be pursued by anyone.  They are simply facts of the situation.  I think the hardest part about them is that WHY this or that is in a character's Best Interest is left undefined until someone has an epiphany moment mid-play and says, "And THAT'S why it's in that character's Best Interest to such and such."

I'm reminded of something that was once said about a rule in the Sorcerer supplement Charnel Gods.  In that game when one character reaches Humanity 0 end game is triggered.  That character becomes co-GM and helps narrates how the world ends.  It was once described that rule should be, "Articulated, Acknowledge, and promptly Forgotten."  No one should drive to Humanity 0 and no one should jump through hoops to stop it either.  I feel like that's how Best Interests work in this game.  They are not something to be driven towards but rather something that the state of the fiction should be constantly compared to.

For example, I played the game this weekend.  I was the GM and I had an NPC whose Best Interest of was, "To kill the Demon God of Blood and Vengeance."  However, the Demon God of Blood and Vengeance and I started to make deals with one another and join forces and plot against my ward (the NPC was a Guardian Spirit).  But it was also clear that the Demon God was gaining power over me.  That I was being unfairly manipulated.  So, yes, it was absolutely in my Best Interest to kill him, but I didn't.  I didn't even try because I liked plotting against my ward and I liked scheming with the demon from a character perspective.

Does that help?

Jesse
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lumpley
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« Reply #8 on: April 17, 2008, 02:15:04 PM »

Jesse's right.

To the very point, though: restriction 1 is for people who aren't enjoying the game because their "characters" are made 1-dimensional by their pursuit of their driving goal-style best interests. If that's not you, you don't have the bad habit, and I don't recommend the restriction to you.

-Vincent
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Troels
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« Reply #9 on: April 18, 2008, 05:47:15 AM »

You're looking at a Best Interest as something to be actively pursued, whether by the character in fiction or by the player at the meta-level regardless of what the character is up to.  My understanding is that NEITHER is the case.  Best Interests are not something to be pursued by anyone.  They are simply facts of the situation.  I think the hardest part about them is that WHY this or that is in a character's Best Interest is left undefined until someone has an epiphany moment mid-play and says, "And THAT'S why it's in that character's Best Interest to such and such."

I'm totally on board with the desirability of having charaters who aren't all monomaniacs. However if all you do with Best Interests is write them down and "forget" about them, they're a waste of space IMO. If you take the trouble to define them, they should be brought into play. If they aren't brought into play, nobody will play with them, and no play, no epiphanies (or very rarely), in my experience. Writing down something that the character doesn't even want, and then not pursuing it as a player on at the meta-level screams "dead stat" to me. How does...

Quote
They are not something to be driven towards but rather something that the state of the fiction should be constantly compared to.

...actually enter play and become relevant in practice, especially if there's more than half a dozen of the little buggers flittering around the table at the same time?

BTW I have no problem with being flexible regarding the best interests of NPCs, but then they aren't protagonists, and that makes it different. I'm also totally cool with having two BIs that don't point in the same direction, or even aren't compatible.

Yours, Troels
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lumpley
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« Reply #10 on: April 18, 2008, 06:03:28 AM »

Troels, this isn't a general purpose rules discussion thread, nor am I making general recommendations. I'm giving targeted rules restrictions to people who're having specific problems playing the game, to reveal some of the breadth of the rules.

If one of them doesn't work for you, that's because it's not for you. The thing to do is to go "huh, that's not for me," not argue that it's wrong.

-Vincent
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Troels
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« Reply #11 on: April 18, 2008, 07:08:05 AM »

OK. But I'm not trying to argue that it's wrong, I'm trying to get it. It feels like I'm missing something potentially important with these Best Interests.

In any case I'll go away now and come back if this gets a thread of it's own.

Yours, Troels
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #12 on: April 18, 2008, 07:12:15 AM »

Well, and to play Devil's advocate for Vincent, I think he's not saying that nobody should persue the Best interests. I think what Jesse is trying to say is that the Best Interests might not be something that the character even realizes... but the player does. Meaning that instead of being a direct advocate for the character to obtain their Best Interests, we're supposed to be creating stories that center around what we as players believe are the character's Best Interests.

And I think that's a good model. I'm just not sure that the rules support it.

A lot of this text reads to me like, "Well, I know the game didn't support everything in the most functional way possible, so just don't play the way it supports for you. Be a better player."

Akin to the "rules" in The Window that tell you what good play is, but which behaviors at not supported in any way mechanically. Not that bad, I think IAWA is a pretty good game, and generally does what it sets out to do. I think that it falls down slightly here and there, however.

And, sure, I'll admit that this might only be a problem for a player like myself. How can I be certain that others will have the same problems that I have with it?

But... I'm not a good player. I do what the system promotes in very lazy fashion. And so, for me, the system has a little problem here. Let me get into specifics:

#1 This one isn't very controversial, but along with Jesse's advice it does feel to me like "Don't make the character you would make, and play them to the hilt, instead make a character that'll make you play so that the system doesn't have problems." Will that be fun for me?

#2 I get what you're saying in terms of positive outcome stakes. But... the stakes are always set the instance a resolution begins. If you want the ring, and narrate to get it, and I say, "Oh no you don't," the stakes are that if you win, you get to negotiate for the ring with the stick. I mean a player could, if they wanted, change these stakes at this point, and negotiate for something else... but why wouldn't they be focused on getting what it was that they were attempting to get in the first place?

More to the point... we never once did set stakes. So we were all good players in this regard. We were, in fact, disappointed by the fact that we could not resolve anything, without resorting to repeating a contest, or getting it through negotiation.

#3 I think this is a good idea. But it is a change to the rules. Narrow construction says that any right that is not given to any one player specifically is had by all. As it reads, the player can call his shots on forms. You're saying to restrict this to only the GM. Good call, but you can't fault us for not having played this way from the rules.

#4 Same thing here, I think. Moreover, I'm skeptical that this will really help. This is, actually, a related and important point. If you narrate me out to a desert isle and hungry, etc, then on my next turn I simply narrate a sudden return and in good health. There doesn't seem to be any way to make results, other than the mechanical ones, stick. So that's why I think you get a focus on the mechanical results. Or, at least, that was my experience. This relates to what you said in the other thread about promises, that you'll want to have some way to secure a promise. Like what? Let's say I take a hostage to enforce my will. How does that actually stop another player from betraying me? He'll simply narrate how he attacks me by surprise (or does stuff such that I'm not aware), negating my ability to even potentially kill the hostage. Not that there's any way I can kill the hostage on his turn. On my turn, if I want to kill the hostage, he'll intervene. But, note, I don't have to take a hostage to be this dangerous, I can merely threaten the player. "If you don't do that, I'll try to kill your favorite NPC." Mechanically it's identical, and I don't need him to acceed to it in negotiation.

#5  Not sure how this is going to help. But they don't sound like bad ideas.

Anyhow, I think the problem is that my monkey-brain sees gamism here, and so I play it that way. I want to beat the other players to getting my character's Best Interests resolved in his favor, and prevent the other players' from doing so, and claim victory. All the above is very "Game Theory' and I just can't turn that part of my brain off.

I get the feeling that I'm going to get a "well it's probably just not the right game for you" response here... But I think there are solutions to this problem.

Mike
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Alan
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« Reply #13 on: April 18, 2008, 07:44:43 AM »

#1 This one isn't very controversial, but along with Jesse's advice it does feel to me like "Don't make the character you would make, and play them to the hilt, instead make a character that'll make you play so that the system doesn't have problems." ....

#2 ....if you win, you get to negotiate for the ring with the stick. I mean a player could, if they wanted, change these stakes at this point, and negotiate for something else... but why wouldn't they be focused on getting what it was that they were attempting to get in the first place?

#3 I think this is a good idea. But it is a change to the rules. Narrow construction says that any right that is not given to any one player specifically is had by all. As it reads, the player can call his shots on forms. ....


HI Mike,

I'll speak from my own experience with the game. When I first read it, I immediately envisioned Best Interests as something story-related, not the goal the character would be aware of. I believe the whole point of Best Interests, as a part of the system, is to give the players a lynch pin for something to drive for -- not the characters. In my play experience, I've designed great characters that I wanted to play _and_ which had Best Interests they were not aware of. In fact the tension between their awareness and their best interests was part of what made it cool. I think you're "makes it feel like" paraphrase is way off base from the actual intent and function.

And Best Interests _are_ part of the system. You can't say "they're not part of the system cuz they don't have a mechanic." They do -- it's right there in character creation and part of our agreement with the group is that you'll use those as one of your main tools of play.

About #2 -- why negotiate for something other than what you started out for? Cool story outcome. A desire to have cool events happen that can drive your character toward his best interests or away from them or just make a cool situation. Maybe instead of getting the ring, I get to capture my opponent and lock him in a cell. Especially if the character is not aware of any best interests involving the ring....

Re #3 -- to me narrow construction has always included group approval of a player's choice of Forms. In any game I've played, I've always been ready to support someone who spoke up and objected to a choice of Forms that did not match action described. While I've never seen anyone game forms to the point where someone wanted to veto, I do regularly see players ask the group "do you think these forms work?"

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lumpley
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« Reply #14 on: April 18, 2008, 07:53:07 AM »

Mike: #2: You missed my point. My point is: resolve grabbing the ring in the first round. Don't leave the ring ungrabbed until final negotiation, don't even leave it ungrabbed until round 2. By the end of round 1, somebody's grabbed the ring, decisively. Go into round 2 with the ring no longer up for grabs.

#4: Wait! What's this business about turns? You don't take turns. You never get to just narrate whatever you want.

The rest, yeah, pretty much what I'm saying is, try playing the game by these (stricter but fully compatible) rules, instead of by the full rules, until you get the hang of it.

-Vincent
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