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Started by John Adams, August 23, 2008, 03:33:19 AM

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Alexander Julian

Hi all

I'm interested in a similar style of play to John maybe so I thought I'd share my thoughts.

I think Raven's overview has a lot of merits but in my experience it absolutely was the system that was the primary factor in the spiral into Sueness.
When I first started role-playing I wanted to be a badass action hero (still do really) but then I started play using Warhammer and find that 78% of the time I swing my sword I hit thin air, I mean I completely miss my opponent. So I get frustrated because I'm not being bad ass. Then I describe my bad ass doing some wicked cool stunt and the GM decides that's my intent and re-describes the actual stunt as Effect. So he's stealing my thunder and I become more frustrated. Then I come up with some badass way of dealing with a problem, but it doesn't work because the GM already knows what the solution is and we go through the whole combination lock routine of trying various things until we hit upon the 'right' solution. Also Raven hit it dead on with the whole go down, resurrected by Cleric, damaged by Vulture thing.
So my response is to start hitting the nail of badass harder to actually be a badass because the GM and the system won't let me. Then suddenly we're in fantasy as Special forces operations land. I'd begin to find myself playing up and getting really annoyed over loosing because I'd not yet really had a chance to win. Being passive aggressive is a big problem of mine and so my acting up tended to be playing like a jerk bad ass instead of a hero bad ass.

Now in the play that John's described it seems that some of the task resolution combat roles are too much in the tactical wargame department to provide consistent cinematic badassery. This could be my preference blinding me though and another big factor is how much real world play time is taken up by combat and how important it is. In my last campaign for example the protagonist killed 300 orcs single handily protecting a village. It took us about 2 and a half hours game time to play out but it was really fun. During this time several shops exploded, he went over a waterfall, destroyed a bridge, all sorts of things.
My single biggest annoyance as a PC was never being able to do that type of stuff until the forge theory forums allowed me to get what I want out of play. So yeah in that case the system mattered quite a lot. It allowed us to get to the same aesthetic understanding because the system became our tool instead of us being slaves to it.

John Adams

So, to sum up, AMMF ...

... is in fact, A Thing.
... is a valid and worthwhile reason for role-playing. (Filip)
... pretty much describes classical sword & sorcery (Eero)
... is just Mary Sue wrt roleplaying, but that's in the eye of the beholder (greyorm)
... allows for setbacks, but setbacks just make PCs more badass
... PCs are big softies, not just stone cold killers. They need something to motivate them or there's no play. (Ron)
... is going to be the focus of Barbaren, which I really need to get ASAP! (Eero)

Ron Edwards

Hi John,

Actually, I think you're blending two different points together in a way which overlooks problems.

The AMMF in classic pulp sword-and-sorcery, tough-guy film, and superhero comics is not actually an AMMF. He is eminently touchable, rather than untouchable; he seeks human contact and connection feverishly although tacitly or under the cover of denials, rather than avoiding it. Despite all the yipyap about "anti-heroes," he is in fact a hero, merely a rather unwashed and superficially iconoclastic one.

The AMMF as a role-playing goal is very different and represents the literally adolescent inability to understand any of the characters in those stories. The insecure, frustrated, and probably inhibited adolescent can only see two things: these characters repay disrespect or torment with savage retribution, and no one ever questions the fact that they are manly men. To that adolescent, this seems like heaven on earth. AMMF play is the way to try to experience a state that the person attributes to the fictional character, but which is not found in that character at all. (This translation often occurs in texts as well, as the character becomes an icon rather than a figure in a given story. I particularly call attention to the character of John Rambo in First Blood, as opposed to the Rambo franchise icon. That's the AMMF transition in a nutshell.)

All this is to say that Eero's point was incorrect. One cannot glibly replace "adolescent" with "primal," and "masturbatory" with "focused" and say, hey, that's just like classical sword-and-sorcery. Those aren't synonyms. If you replace the terms like that, then you don't get AMMF any more. You get Conan, Wolverine, et cetera, with the features of internalized softness and responsibility which are the real strengths of the textual characters - and that's anathema to AMMF goals.

None of this is a judgment, by the way. Should people care to play with AMMF as their goal, I suppose they could, but the fundamental contradiction I pointed out in my earlier post will act as a halter and a source of frustration at all times. As your own play-experience testifies, system or no system. I also think you've summarized that point incorrectly in your latest post - I am not saying, "Gee, if you provide the right motivation, the AMMF player will be happy." I'm saying that the AMMF player is absolutely uninterested in playing with such motivations at all.

Best, Ron

John Adams

Ron, we're talking past each other a bit, so let me clarify my position.

None of my players qualify as one of your "Wolverine" players, and though I have heard about and can imagine them, I don't think I've played for any length of time with such a player. My players accept failure as long as there is no Force behind it.

We agree there are two different phenomena here, seperated by whether or not the player will EVER accept defeat. Would you call it Sword & Sorcery if the players accept defeat and AMMF if they don't? I see that distinction, but I would simply dismiss the case where players reject any kind of failure as clearly non-functional play. So let me draw up another distinction.

I'm imagining a Sim RPG where the driving goal of play is to make your PC look really badass. This is not the same as a Sim game where the goal is to celebrate the Conan material! So even if John Rambo (in First Blood) is a fairly deep, meaningful character and in the following movies he's a characature, that depth of character is beside the point. We need failure to make the game functional but not for any thematic reasons.

Now I would still consider such play pure wish-fullfilment. We don't watch "Predetor" or "Die Hard" or anything we'd call an action movie because of the emotional themes; we watch because we want to identify with this mythic badass character and see him be a badass. And it's much more interesting when he gets his head kicked in first then comes back to win. So it's still wish fullfillment and I'd still call it AMMF. For me Sword & Sorcery would fit either the Sim game celebrating Conan or the Nar game set in that genre.

Ron Edwards


Sorry - I got slammed with stuff outside the screen. I'll reply later.

Best, Ron


I think there is a perspective missing here, that of the players.

I can think of a few situations where I have been forced into these situations through circumstance, and as such I wonder if part of this problem is conditioning.

For instance in a game a few years back I decided I would be the combat monster of the group, and by doing so I accepted a few responsibilities. I was expected by everyone to be the guy who ran into combat despite the odds, and it was equally expected that I should succeed when it mattered, which forced me to use the system to maximum advantage and meant that my actions in each became very similar and repetitive . In this situation failure became an intolerable option, and I would face an inward struggle as to me failure was not only acceptable but interesting, but to everyone else including the GM it was clearly not. The rewards I gained from this were all about the respect of important NPCs, and as a politically minded person I used this as leverage, and was able to get my role-playing kicks from this side of the game, but importantly this was GM provided reward, indeed the GM has since admitted that he didn't always get where I was heading with my political sub-plots but let them happen anyway.

On a more human level many times that I have played a character that is perceived as highly competent there has often been a feeling of unspoken collusion with the GM, many times in the middle of things that really can't fail there is that half smile of approval that the plot is moving as expected and we both know it.

These and many similar experiences have made me reconsider the extreme forms of play that have been described in this thread as potentially due to conditioning.

I imagine what it would be like if my whole gaming experience had been shaped by these things: unspoken understandings and peer group expectations. I then consider what would I feel like if suddenly the situation turned into a real possibility of loss or of letting down the players around me. I imagine this would be horrific in the extreme, and very disorientating. And, if the only proven mechanism of success or acceptance has been to push back harder then such situations would no doubt escalate.

So, whereas a player may come across as attempting to impose an image of bad-assery on the game, it may not be the case. Instead it may be that the player is lost within a rigid and defined role and seeking the unspoken reassurance of the GM.

To put it another way, I suspect it may all be due to an unintentional negative feedback mechanism existent at many tables, and like many negative feedback systems it is regulated by external adjustment, in this case by the approval or otherwise of the group and especially the GM.

Ron Edwards


You're right - my post went off in another direction, mainly due to disagreeing with Eero in about a dozen ways, and some of your reply goes that way too, and probably neither of us wants to go there. To be brief, the whole idea of any sort of play being valid (or not) is itself worthless, and although that's not what I wanted to address, it's easy to get there from what I wrote.

I'll say something I think you're saying, and make one point about that, and then I think whatever good or relevant stuff I've said can be left as is, and the rest ignored.

Basically, you're saying there's something you do want to accomplish with this sort of (for lack of a better word) energy in play, and I'm with you on that. In fact, I would have thought it nearly impossible before playing Barbaren, which I love to play for just that sort of fun you're talking about. My point is that it hasn't been realized for you and others in play to date, and I still think it's helpful to think about why. You're pretty much the only person who can do that, though.

For fun: [BARBAREN!] Raiders in a foreign land, [Barbaren] Today, I am a man!, and [Barbaren] My manly guy.

Best, Ron

Big J Money

I played a game of 7th Sea where the GM told us before we started playing that it was highly unlikely that our characters would die.  In fact, he said that even when our characters attempted dangerous and ridiculous stunts as long as it was suitably dramatic, appropriate to the story-at-hand, and exciting for everyone at the table our characters would not be killed.  This was an awesome game.  Knowing that we could push the creative limits of the situations our characters found themselves in without fear of losing our character contributed to this.  Notice that I did not say the GM said our charcters could never fail; only that they would not die.  Our characters were at times bested, humiliated, and even tortured.  And simply using the dice mechanics the way they were written, even the things our characters were supposed to be good at we could lose a dice roll too.  (I'm tempted to go into how it feels in a D&D game when this phenomenon happens and ask why it leaves a bad taste in a players' mouth) I probably don't have to say that our characters could have died if it would have been apparent that the story was moving itself in that direction from both the owning player's and the GM's standpoint.

To translate this to the topic, what about games that allow players to outline what it is about their character they want to be unchangeable?  The group gets together and the players decide from among a list of elements which of those elements the GameMaster is never allowed to touch based on the results of dice rolls?  Using my 7th Sea game as an example, character death would be that thing.  For either a Sword and Sorcery or AMMF style game, would it be beneficial to do something like this?

-- John M.

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

Here are some interesting tidbits about character death from the many years of discussion here about this issue. From oldest to most recent ...

Fate and death shows how death eventually worked its way into the design of Dust Devils, totally reversing Matt's original notions about it.

Death & GNS doesn't get very far but Do you care if your character dies? and Character death mechanics? are very strong.
There are some interesting issues in Character death in Torchbearer as well.
Schismatic Puddle is brief, but includes some some really interesting ideas about death and play.
Death and dying was kind of a turning point for the general discussion of the matter.
[The Shab-al-Hiri Roach] DU MUMUA AK/ÑAR, Shab-al-Hiri Roach] Revisions, Questions, Kušu Barultag, [Shab-al-Hiri Roach] The Horror in the Museum, and Shab-al-Hiri Roach] PC Death show how Jason wrestled with why and how character death might or might not be appropriate for a given design. (Jeez, I'd forgotten how many threads this took!)
[D&D 3.5] Adjust my CA for this game! shows how goals of play have everything to do with the function of character death.
Special Damage less lethal shows how I wrestled with the same issues as Jason, but found a different solution because I was designing a different game.
Interview with Vincent and me, beginning with Marshall Burns' second post on the third page, includes a useful list of how character death is defined in rules-terms across a number of different games.

Geez, that was kind of  walk through history. I think it applies to this thread because again and again, it became clear that character death was best considered as an expression of the goals of play.

Best, Ron

Marshall Burns


So, I've been following this thread, and it gave me an idea.  It's really rough, and you might be able to use it and you might not, but hopefully it's helpful either way.

So, here's the deal.  Two kinds of conflicts:  simple and serious.   In simple conflicts, the GM says what the opposition does, and then you describe how your guy runs rough-shod over it.  These are just to make your guy look cool.

Serious conflicts happen when, if your guy loses, he would suffer some sort of setback, humbling, crushing defeat. That's when we roll dice.  I don't know what rolling system to use, but I don't think it particularly matters; just pick one that you like.  You could do roll+stat, or you could do Sorcerer-style dice pools, or anything else, as long as it gives you a margin of victory.

Okay, so, if you win, then your guy wins.  If you lose, you get a choice.  You either accept the loss with all its attendant consequences (which maybe should be made clear before rolling), or you don't. 

If you don't accept the loss, then you get to win, but you suffer "damage" in the process, an amount equal to the margin of the loss.  This "damage" doesn't really represent how injured or whatever your guy is, but you should feel free to color it that way if you want.  When you accumulate a certain amount of damage (I don't know where to set the threshold), your guy is taken out of the story -- dead, retired, banished to another universe, whatever makes sense (maybe you get to choose?).

If you accept the loss, you suffer the consequences.  Don't worry, your guy will overcome them, because your guy is a badass.  But you get VENGEANCE!! points equal to the margin of the loss.  You get to spend these points to get re-rolls in later conflicts. 

So, the idea is, you get to choose when you lose, and losing makes you more dangerous.