[7th Sea] Problem Solving versus(?) other Roleplaying things

Started by Big J Money, July 04, 2010, 12:33:10 AM

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Big J Money

The main theme of this thread is player (not character) problem solving at the table in relation to other common elements of role-playing.
Even better would be: and what games address this? From any angle; using any tack.

In a game of 7th Sea, I was playing a rogueish character who was born of a noble family he left behind (oppressive parenting) as a young adult to pursue the means to become a man on his own. He was an anti-hero who was raised among nobility but educated and seasoned by the streets.  A few years of this kind of education prompted the interest of an uncle he hardly knew who began to pay and supply him for espionage services involving courtly affairs. Eventually he found himself freelancing on a privateer vessel both as a cover and a means to acquire some allies; of which he had none beside his uncle.

In one encounter, the characters who were played by us were tasked with breaking into a (presumably) corrupt Governor's mansion during a party to locate some documents and possibly an item of mysterious archaeological significance.

The story was set and, as players, we began to brainstorm the challenges we imagined our characters would face.  We investigated the mansion for a week in advance of the ball and probed the GM for as much info as we could get. Then we formulated a plan.  Mostly, we role-played the formulation of this plan through the voices of our characters, but there were some clarifications that had to be made outside of the use of the character's voices and minds before properly completing our brilliant plan. I certainly didn't limit my character's plan formulation abilities to his statistics, yet I imagined him to be mentally similar enough to me that this wouldn't have been a concern anyway.

Our plan got the characters into serious trouble and it exploded, although they survived the situation and somehow managed to piece together the mission from the scraps of disaster. (Note: they did not fail through dice or anything, but our plan simply was not a good one in the context of the situation we arrived at)

I remember my thoughts at the time well enough to know that I had absolutely not a single concern for the fiction or the story.  My only concern was helping invent a plan to get the characters to where they would succeed the mission.  I would later take the time to enjoy the story as it played on in real-time; but no concern was given to it beforehand. In my mind, they were as separate events: 1) the players' planning stage and 2) the characters' story stage. (Yes, this thinking is inconsistent with the fact that we were creating fiction during the planning stage too; but in those days I didn't catch this distinction.)

We had fun, but the group was a little down about the failure of the plan.  We had definitely failed and we knew it.  Yet, in the end we were completely satisfied due to the cool story it created.


I think the underlined is what has always drawn me towards role-playing over the years: I like being presented with a fictional challenge and having to help the group solve it, creatively. I may be limited to the resources of 1 protagonist in the challenge, yet I never imagine the plan formulation itself to be limited by any 'plan formulation skills' of that character.  If it seems necessary to be consistent with fiction, then I step outside the character and continue to plan by suggesting how other characters/resources belonging to the group could fill roles I imagine.  Of course, being a social activity this involves back and forth discussion of everyone's input until a final synthesis is agreed upon. Then you get to see how that plan hits the situation as the GM relays back to you the situation's response and asks for updates on the behavior of whatever resources the players control. It should go without saying this requires a group that is able/willing to go through the planning process.

However I have a concern that if a game or GM isn't prepared to handle this element of play, that it could ruin the process of play and story generation. I'm also interested in the notion that this isn't really part of the basic play cycle of role-playing; it's almost like an optional mini-game. Yet still I think it is my favorite.

Are there any thoughts, experiences or games on this topic?

-- John M.

Callan S.

Hi John,

You could look at beast hunters, which was designed with an aim to try and support this type of play (assuming I understand you) more so than you usually see.

As I understand you, it's usually how I play, or atleast where I as a group member lean toward in play. Though I find the GM just listening to the plan often unsatisfying. It's hard to tell if it really outmatched his conception of the situation and he conceded, or if he just decided to let it work, or where on the scale between the two it was. Personally I prefer there to be hard game currencies, some of which can be garnered by coming up with game plans, then it also requires clever manipulation of the currency to suceed. And by clever I don't just mean someone (like the GM) thinks is clever, but something I'd often fail at if not concentrating on the resource management, and even fail sometimes when concentrating.

I'm honestly not sure about my group anymore though - while they'd ra ra killing something tough, I once made up a combat system for a new game my friend wanted to make. It involved a lot of mechanical rules for leap dodge from cover to cover, shooting foes. I showed it to my friend and...he just said the GM would have to put in work so the players didn't just go leaping around in circles. He was right, they would, but it would be hard - and it didn't seem to show on his radar - indeed it seemed the aesthetically unpleasing 'going around in circles' was his priority. The guy who used to make up characters with huge strength and a huge axe, etc thought the circles would be a glaring thing in the fiction??

Anyway, I like your distinction between making the plan and then after having done so, the fiction/story making rolls on. Kind of a 'roll up your sleves' mode and then a 'continue with the story' mode. It's good to make a distinction so you and everyone else knows what your doing.

BTW, I heard you couldn't die in 7th sea? Or have I heard wrong?

Mike Sugarbaker

There's a passage from Nick Montfort's book Twisty Little Passages: An Approach To Interactive Fiction that's stuck with me. He's writing about the digital medium of the text adventure, but he situates it in the tradition of the literary riddle, which is "older than history." He quotes the poet Richard Wilbur on riddles:
QuoteTo make a riddle, or to answer one, was to see the peculiar qualities of an object or creature, to discern its resemblance to other forms and forces, and to have an insight into the relatedness of all phenomena, the reticulum of the world.
Montfort goes on to emphasize that "[t]he riddle can accomplish certain things by inviting the riddlee to awaken to a new vision of the world." This puts the riddle in RPGs firmly in place as a tool of immersion - but specifically immersion into the world, not a character or even a story.

That seems like it squares pretty well with your experience. I don't know of any design work that addresses it specifically; I know the NASCRAG group that organizes a large amount of D&D play at Gen Con every year puts heavy emphasis on puzzles, although they don't seem articulate about it at their site.
Publisher/Co-Editor, OgreCave
Caretaker, Planet Story Games
Content Admin, Story Games Codex

Callan S.

Really skeptical about that conclusion, Mike. Someone can be at the table and look and act exactly like someone who puts the fiction first, and yet they can have not a single concern for the fiction or the story, as John puts it. Think of it as a gamer equivalent of a bodysnatchers moment - you assume you'd know if someones not putting the fiction first, but actually you could be surrounded by them and not know it at all.

Big J Money

Thanks Callan!  I'll check out Beast Hunters and then post what I think here.  I'm taking a trip to Warsaw for several months and.... who knows, maybe I'll have the opportunity to introduce some people to it.  Otherwise, I'll post my thoughts on the Beast Hunters text as it relates to my 7th Sea experience.

Another game I've found recently that has me intrigued is Blood Red Sands.  It's not quite everything I'm talking about (possibly because it doesn't have a GM role?) but it does certainly have some element of using your creativity to invent a paradigm that helps you "win".  Actually, in BRS, the "win" shouldn't even go into quotations because it really is about winning.

Also, your last comment really has be spooked.  I had never considered that before.

-- John M.

Callan S.

Hi again,

I've had a look at BRS, and basically at this point in it's development I think it shoots any play to win in the foot
QuoteIt's a rule of the game that every player is responsible for embedding their mechanical choices in the fiction according to the story aesthetic appropriate to your group. Failing to do so not only produces lame play, it's against the rules.
Again it's the usual gamer blindness confusing their own individual perception of spoken fiction as being a galactic standard on what is 'aesthetically appropriate', so they don't see it's just that Jim and Mel follow the Wally feels on things and it's Wally who decides what can happen because he's grabbed those votes, not some sort of 'aesthetic' that's adhered to. That's not play to win - it's not like trying to jump over a hurdle, it's like trying to jump over a hurdle that Wally will raise or lower on his little whim of whether he wants you to win.

The worst bit? It's actually made this rubbish perception a rule. Can't get around it without falling right back into the lap of 'Oh, lets just ignore the rules and do what feels good from moment to moment'.

It even says that mechanics must be called on in a way that fits the fiction.

The only way anyone is going to have their imaginations at all challenged is when mechanics come first. Otherwise it's another walk in the echo chamber. Maybe they don't want how they imagine to face rattling change via brutal contact with reality every single second of play, fair enough. But if mechanics don't come first in even part of play, it's a complete echo chamber.

Would they want to hear that on the ramshead forum? Ironically I bet alot of people would 'stand up' on the forum to block out hearing it. It wouldn't be any sort of design discussion. Maybe I'll try anyway - I've wasted plenty of time doing so before, anyway...


I've been playing Shadowrun and it is one of the few games where planning really makes a difference.  Because it is essentially a caper game (like your robbery) instead of a combat game.  So we have essentially unlimited options on how to deal with the problem, so planning is probably 90% of it.

A couple of problems we have:
1. determining what is likely or "realistic".  We often think something like "a corporation would have a security camera in an area like that".  But being fiction, the GM often has to have the enemies doing dumb things to make a game possible.  So planning sometimes has to include meta-"if that were true there wouldn't be a game" sort of thinking.

2. the GM gets bored and interferes.  Partly related to #1 - the GM often offers advice in our planning which really spoils things.  Because he has no character offering advice, it is just the GM telling us what he wants us to do.

I find the planning to be a lot of fun because of the open thinking element.  And it is one of the best times for roleplaying because nothing is critical at that point.  So it is easy to have a more relaxed session.

Paul Czege

Hey John,

For me the state of the art in mystery solving RPGs is Mutant City Blues. It's about solving crimes committed by super-powered mutants. Think NCIS meets Heroes. Here's what makes it work:

1. All of the core forensic clues necessary to solving the mystery are available to the players if they get their characters into the right fictional circumstances and ask for the clue. No die roll necessary. So, you're in the bedroom and you say, "Y'know, I'm going to check for psychic residue," or whatever, and if there's a clue from that you get it.
2. The various mutant powers and psychological aberrations are arranged in an elaborate web of relationships called the Quade Diagram. So you can draw conclusions about the perpetrator of a crime by using the diagram. "Gee, if he has invisibility he might also have voyeurism."
3. So the dynamic of play is a virtuous cycle of roleplaying interactions with NPCs and clue gathering and thinking about the Quade Diagram. These three activities inspire your thinking about who can satisfy the method, motive, and opportunity for committing the crime, and lead you back to more roleplayed interactions, clue gathering, and thinking about the Quade Diagram to confirm, until you figure it out. "Hmm, how do we figure out if Steve or Jason is a voyeur?" And sometimes there are fights.

"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton