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Author Topic: [Poison'd] Trying to understand Currency and Reward Systems  (Read 9729 times)
lumpley
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« Reply #15 on: January 31, 2011, 11:27:32 AM »

There's a medium-term reward cycle in changing your stats - committing new sins, suffering new violence, achieving and/or abandoning your medium-term ambitions. Changing your stats shifts the balances between the various success rolls, fighting, and the consequences of skipping out on a bargain. In the early game, the shift might be in almost any direction, but over the course of play it'll be toward desperate and impulsive violence, away from patience, trust, and perserverence.

That is, the position from which your pirate pursues his ambitions doesn't just change, it decays.

Of course and on the other hand, some ambitions are better achieved from an utterly corrupt position.

-Vincent
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lumpley
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« Reply #16 on: February 01, 2011, 05:32:56 PM »

Oh, here's kind of a thing about play at the longest term. Do you have Sorcerer, Steve? If you do, it might be interesting to compare the list in Poison'd on page 19 with the list in Sorcerer on page 123.

-Vincent
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hix
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Steve Hickey


« Reply #17 on: February 05, 2011, 03:19:59 PM »

Vincent, I'm really pleased you mentioned that list in Sorcerer: it was in the back of my mind when I was thinking about Poison'd's end conditions. I have this theory that the end of long-term Poison'd play is about judging your pirate or positioning them for the closing credits. I'm figuring that because it seems that three of the key variables in the 'This is the final session' conditions are:

  • you're alive or dead (and possible judged by God/The Devil)
  • you're either a pirate or you're not
  • you're either someone the players admire or you're not.

I see how that shares similarities with the four extremes of possible outcomes in Sorcerer (total failure and horror, pyhrric victory, success using sorcery, and success by renouncing sorcery). In Poison'd you could have a range of potential endings for your character including (but definitely not limited to) being: a pirate forever, stuck on the Dagger; a retired pirate, owning land but rejected by society; a noble pirate Captain; a former pirate, redeemed by God and trying to atone, but tempted to take revenge. There's a lot of exciting, interesting ways to finish your character's story (or, in some cases, not finish it but bring the curtains down on it).

For the moment, though, I'm happy to leave the question of figuring out the longest-term reward cycle for Poison'd to one side. I might have to get a game together and figure that one out for myself.

-- -- --

I also like the 'Changing your Stats' medium-term reward cycle you point out. When I first read the following quote, I thought I could see a little bit of authorial judgment about how the game should play out:

Quote
In the early game, the shift might be in almost any direction, but over the course of play it'll be toward desperate and impulsive violence, away from patience, trust, and perserverence.

... but on reflection, it seems like that your choices for ways in which you can change your states are totally designed to continue destabilising the situation (even being redeemed and having your Devil score drop to zero is going to be a pretty provocative action).

-- -- --

Ron, I'm happy that we're on pretty much the same page about this. Our hopes for the character having a good outcome are because we're being the character's advocate, but as authors and audience we can be satisfied by tragedy, catharsis (as well as upbeat happily-ever-after endings). I can think of a couple of Primetime Adventures games I've played where tragedy for a character led to way more satisfying stories and endings (I still feel the moment where my Troll King sadly shuffled down Venice Beach having failed to win the heart of a Californian real estate agent who taught him about self-esteem was a brilliant ending for that character).

... Anyway. That's a tangent.(*)

(*) Also a tangent: I don't really follow your jargon answer yet.
I may ask you some follow-up questions if you think it's
important to clarify its meaning.


Let's talk about Currency

So, the other thing I wanted to figure out in this thread is what Currency means. That's because I don't really understand the definition in the Provisional Glossary:

Quote
The exchange rate within and among Character Components. Currency may or may not be explicit (e.g. "character points"), but it is a universal feature of System, specifically as it relates to Character.

My best guess is that Currency is what we use to measure the changes in characters as they go through the game's reward cycles. Is that accurate?

To use Poison'd as an example, Currency would include Xs, Bargains, changes in stats, Leisure, Brinksmanship, (possibly) whether the character is Captain or not, land ownership and marriage.
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Cheers,
Steve

Find out more about Left Coast (a game about writers, inspired by the life of Philip K. Dick) on Twitter: @leftcoastrpg
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #18 on: February 05, 2011, 03:43:14 PM »

Poison'd has the virtue of providing a visible transition between successful rolls and other concrete elements of play. A lot of games have a causal but (unless you know what you're looking for) invisible connection. Consider the relationship between successful rolls and leveling up in any iteration of D&D, for example. It's mediated through concepts like character survival or not, victorious fights or not, various types of teamwork or not (which is an interesting one because if you're a good teammate, you can still get XPs even without successful rolls in an encounter), actions which do not require rolls, and more. Whereas in Poison'd, an X is achieved in a particular way, and it can be expended in particular ways, all out in the open.

I provided that comparison to illustrate what Currency is. It's the way certain game mechanics can be traded off among one another. The most obvious example can be seen in character creation in point-build games. In old-school Champions (3rd ed. and before), I can spend 10 character points, on 20 more Endurance, 5 more Ego, or 1 more Speed. And I only have so many character points. That's very easy because all of those are attributes, but there are sneaky elements and breakpoints, e.g., you have higher base Endurance (a secondary attribute) by buying a high Constitution (a primary attribute). And I have a base value for every skill derived from my attributes, but I can buy up a skill or two cheaply from there too.

So, that's Currency among various numbers on the sheet. The tricky thing is that I consider less point-build games to still have Currency, but with a fair amount of it already "fixed" into certain proportions, like a planned economy, if you will. This can be illustrated by a very common hack of the 1977-79 AD&D, in which GPs and XPs were equivalent, and every item had a cost in GPs, and every magic item had a rating in XPs, as did levels. The hack was to assign a base number of generic points (XP/GP), and then let everyone buy a character as they saw fit from there, to whatever level, armed with whatever equipment and items, that they could afford.

Now add the element of time, and it should become clear that the quantities of system in action are directly linked into the Currency as well. Sometimes it's obvious: in old-school T&T, when you made a saving roll, you added exactly the number you rolled, multiplied by the level (difficulty) of the saving roll, as XPs. Sometimes it's not: in old-school D&D of various sorts, you got so many XPs from defeating a specific monster, but exactly what you did to accomplish this was left wide open ... but often had a great deal to do with what magic items, equipment, and other GP/XP rated things you had with you. And in either case, so many XPs meant you leveled up, i.e., changed stuff on your sheet.

Is this making more sense now? Plus, the realization that improvement mechanics (i.e., gaining more hit points upon leveling up) and damage mechanics (i.e. losing hit points in combat) are all the same thing (and modulated by the intermediate version called healing)?

Best, Ron
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David Berg
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« Reply #19 on: February 15, 2011, 02:26:02 PM »

I'm enjoying this thread.  At this point, I'd find it helpful to see an illustration of Currency in action via changing a stat in Poison'd.  The full arc (shortest possible path is fine), from "right after I changed my last stat" to "and now I'm changing this one".  Anyone feel like obliging?
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hix
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Steve Hickey


« Reply #20 on: February 15, 2011, 04:45:50 PM »

    I'm going to restate Ron's post above, just to check I get what he's saying:

    The key phrase seems to be, "Currency is the way certain game mechanics can be traded off among one another."

    Using the Provisional Glossary and
Vincent's post about "Things on a character sheet (2)", the categories of things that currency can be exchanged between include:

  • Effectiveness, which seems to be about the character's ability to take action (in the Provisional Glossary, "quantities or terms which are directly used to determine the success or extent of a character's actions during play.") Some generic examples would be skill levels, stats, weapons you're currently armed with.

  • Positioning, which I think covers the character's place in the world, their relationship with other people, and the amount they care about events (either what's happening right now or what they want to achieve in the future). Would I be right in saying that all of this can either be defined on the character sheet or exist purely in the fiction?

  • Resources, which I'd describe as the character's ability to keep taking actions. The Provisional Glossary calls it, "an available quantity upon which Effectiveness or Positioning mechanics may draw, or which are reduced to reflect harm to the character." Some generic examples would be hit points and endurance.

It feels like their might also be a fourth category: the character's position in the fictional world. This might be covered by 'Positioning', but in Vincent's post on Reliable and Unreliable currency he talks about having the advantage for higher ground. And that reminded me of some of the sort of D&D play Ron was talking about above with actions that don't require rolls, like moving successfully through the dungeon, or finding an undetectable spot to spy on the enemy.

... anyway, the way that changes in these 3 (or 4) areas affect each other is what currency is all about.

But based on the D&D and Tunnels and Trolls examples, it looks like current can either be 'easy to see' (the accumulation and spending of Xs in Poison'd) or 'hard to see' (everything that's involved in eventually levelling up a D&D character). Related to that, I wasn't quite sure what this means:

Quote
Now add the element of time, and it should become clear that the quantities of system in action are directly linked into the Currency as well.

I think this is talking about the number of 'inputs' that lead to gaining some currency. Sometimes it can be simple: In the Tunnels and Trolls example, a single input (the saving throw) leads to XP. In a D&D combat, there can be multiple inputs (skill checks, saving throws, numerous successful and unsuccessful to-hit rolls) that lead to defeating a monster that lead to XP.

If that's the case, then I think I get it. And I think I get how improvement mechanics and damage mechanics are different expressions of the idea of currency.

-- -- --

David, here's a simple way a character's stats change:

Before arresting him, the constables who were pursuing Hugh McMinn beat him brutally [he's suffered a new violence]. That means his Brutality increases from 6 to 7, as there's no upper limit to Brutality after character creation, and his Brinksmanship goes up to 7 as well.

Escaping from his captors would be tricky, and it's made even trickier when he rejects the Devil's offer of aid. So, Hugh is imprisoned [which is not a new violence for him], but his Profile drops to 1 (because in prison, of course, he's unarmed.)
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Cheers,
Steve

Find out more about Left Coast (a game about writers, inspired by the life of Philip K. Dick) on Twitter: @leftcoastrpg
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #21 on: February 15, 2011, 05:24:31 PM »

David and Steve in a thread - together? No! This is like seeing your mailman and Captain Midnight at the same time!

Android technology ... gotta be.

Anyway, Steve, I think you have stated it fairly. Positioning definitely includes larger-scale issues about the character, such as alignment in D&D or most setting-based information such as country of origin, and any number of similar things. Oh yes, and notably, many of common psychological descriptors (somewhat confusingly billed as "Disadvantages" or "Limitations" in many games). One of favorite my Positioning variables from the older versions of Champions were Public Identity, Secret Identity, and the very interesting option of having neither.

Best, Ron
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David Berg
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« Reply #22 on: February 15, 2011, 10:56:59 PM »

Huh.  Steve, apparently we've been tasked to collaboratively make Ron's brain explode.

Let's see:

Hugh's player's choice to reject the Devil's aid nabs him two Positions, "in prison" and "unarmed", the latter of which is recorded as a loss of Profile.  Had Hugh's player chosen to accept the Devil's aid, Hugh might have kept his Profile and improved his Position to "free" but at the cost of... uh... what's the downside of accepting the Devil's aid?  I'll just call it Devilness for now.

Anyway, so that's one level of the game's Currency system: the possible exchange between Position ("in prison"/"free"), Profile ("armed"/"unarmed") and Devilness in that moment, and between other Positions and game quantities in other moments.  Right?

To the extent that Currency-manipulating mechanics are triggered by player decisions made based on the fiction (rather than, e.g., "It's my turn, I can do one of these 5 moves, I'll pick this one."), every iota of narration is Currency.  If the GM narrates that the thug is yelling about revenge as he attacks, that gives me an opportunity to turn a crappy Fighting roll into an excellent Manipulation roll if I'm clever enough to re-position my character accordingly.  "It was a cover-up!" I yell.  "I'm after the real culprit too!"  Hey, maybe I even earn XP for rolling Manipulation and not for Fighting!

Ron, any synapses auto-destructing yet?
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lumpley
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« Reply #23 on: February 16, 2011, 06:28:07 AM »

The downside of making a bargain with the devil is that now the devil can mechanically smack you (with, I believe, the hardest smack in the game) if you don't hold up your end.

So, yes! The simple principle throughout is: mechanical causes have fictional effects, and fictional causes have mechanical effects.

Steve, the way I think of your proposed fourth category is that wholly fictional things can easily be part of effectiveness, resources, OR positioning. The fact that my character's at the top of the stairs looking down at yours might figure in effectiveness; the fact that mine's the loyal lieutenant of the mob boss and yours is a rookie cop might figure in positioning; it all depends on how the game's designed to treat those facts.

-Vincent
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #24 on: February 16, 2011, 01:34:25 PM »

Vincent's final paragraph is key. In some games, information like who's at the top of the stairs has a specific role to affect the way Currency-based stuff is currently distributed, and in others, it doesn't. When it does, then how that information gets there either has Currency-based ways to get into play, or it doesn't.

Vincent's more recent designs aim at nailing down both ends, for "yes it does" for each, but without relying on such explicit devices as in Universalis or more recently, Annalise.

Specifying and shaping the extent to which the fictional input may draw upon non-Currency sources, which is to say, "I do this," "I say so," "This happens" more or less out of the blue, is a very touchy topic. I think it is possible to provide such shaping-procedures in productive ways - Spione is an example, I think - and I think other designers have gone this route in a variety of ways.

My reading of many of Callan's posts and points leads me to think he is mainly criticizing play/games in which "it" (above) does have a specific role to affect existing Currency distribution, but doesn't have any Currency-based way to get into play. Instead, it gets into play just because a designated person says so, all the time, in an unconstructed fashion. So for Callan, the vast majority of what in most games is calling "GMing" is a flat-out disruptive interjection into what could otherwise be a solid Currency-interactive activity. it makes all Currency-based play into a kind of little kids' plastic steering wheel, and they get to turn it and go "Pbbbbt" while the GM actually drives the car. And I think he's right about that, actually, although we may differ regarding the extent of the problem, or whether it's present in, for example, my own games.

Best, Ron
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David Berg
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« Reply #25 on: February 17, 2011, 05:19:05 PM »

My reading of many of Callan's posts and points leads me to think he is mainly criticizing play/games in which [information like who's at the top of the stairs -D.B.] does have a specific role to affect existing Currency distribution, but doesn't have any Currency-based way to get into play. Instead, it gets into play just because a designated person says so, all the time, in an unconstructed fashion.

I'd like to discuss this with an example.  Let me see if I can concoct one: 

The GM narrates a security guard walking the perimeter of the catacomb entrance.  The players narrate waiting for him to leave, then sneaking into the catacombs.  While down in the catacombs, a player character fires his shotgun.  The GM decides that the noise would attract the guard.  The GM narrates the guard opening the door, standing atop the stairs, and then leaping down toward a player character with a Flying Elbow Smash.

We roll some dice, which reveal that the guard's move connects!  Now we roll damage.

In the rulebook's damage table, it says that Flying Elbow Smash does double damage if executed when leaping from a height.


There was no Currency involved in the guard attaining the height from which to leap.  Is that what we're talking about?  If so, I'm kinda blanking on how to change that without (a) quantifying every time the player characters walk down some stairs, or (b) reworking the game to be some other game that doesn't care about added damage from heights.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #26 on: February 17, 2011, 05:42:38 PM »

Hi David,

There are in fact games which link that kind of thing (in fact, everything) to Currency. Universalis is the perfect example. Your account of the guard would most likely be a piece of narration by the winner of a dice comparison, placing the coin gained by one of the successful dice into the play-space, on a card or otherwise recorded as notes, as "flying elbow smash." Or conceivably it could have been established by spending a coin in a non-combat situation, in the same way, only from one's own coin reserves instead of "earning" a coin through a die roll, and then applied during the combat scene setup narration.

There are some few bits of stated material in Universalis which are free, simply pure Color ... but not much. Not much at all. Everything we ordinarily think of as just talking, in most games, costs money in Universalis. A lot of games have been influenced by it, including Fastlane (an underrated variant) and more recently, Annalise.

My take is that there exists a working middle ground between hard-and-fast paid for and effectively dysfunctional freeform under one person's control. I think my own games are built in that middle ground, especially Sorcerer. It does mean that the talking has to have some kind of understood constraint and scope and content, and although (in that game) the GM and others have different kinds of such limitations and formalizations, they all have something of the kind. My Life with Master is similar but with far more fixed and explicit features of this kind, as are all of Paul's games. Whereas Polaris is situated in a nice equidistant spot between Sorcerer and Universalis regarding such things.

H'mmm. OK:

Universalis ................... Polaris ....... My Life with Master .. Sorcerer ............................ (a long way!) ........ [Shadowrun, Vampire, AD&D2, et cetera]

Put Dust Devils and Dogs in the Vineyard exactly where Sorcerer is. Put Annalise just to the right of Universalis.

Best, Ron
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David Berg
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« Reply #27 on: February 17, 2011, 06:05:00 PM »

Hi Ron,

I get your overall point, and my personal taste tends to lie in the middle ground you spoke of, but I'm still confused about Currency in my example.  I played Universalis for the first time (only a few hours) last month, and my takeaways were exactly what I suggested as problematic in my last post.

1) Paying for everything slows down the fiction and is a pain in the ass.

2) Even if you paid for (a) the guard and (b) his elbow attack and (c) the fact that the elbow attack does more damage from a height, you still didn't pay for the event (the characters walking down some stairs) that granted him the height advantage.

I'm not trying to prove a point here; instead, I'm hoping to be shown a functional solution so that I can understand how to act on some of the criticisms Callan voices.  I have a better grasp on "understood constraints on the talking" than I do on how a perfectly pervasive Currency can coexist with the activity of imagining fiction.
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David Berg
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« Reply #28 on: February 17, 2011, 07:18:42 PM »

Actually, strike "activity of imagining fiction".  I know how that can coexist with pervasive Currency: daydreaming about checkout desk payments when someone lands on your hotel in Monopoly.  (I might even say, "Please come again, sir!" at the table.)

What I really meant was, how can Total Currency (that's for you, Dutch soccer fans) coexist with active fiction, in which fictional states and events invoke Currency mechanics?

Passive fiction is always an option, but that'd be a shame if it's the only one.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #29 on: February 23, 2011, 07:48:27 PM »

Hi David,

Sorry for missing your post for a few days.

I'm going to stay with the elbow strike. As I remember Universalis, the degree to which you enforced every last little contribution to the fiction was left open to the group. In my games, we were a bit strict about it. Getting the higher ground would indeed have cost a coin. Free input was limited to extremely minor things, so minor that I'm not even remembering examples. Even the color of a character's eyes cost a coin.

Regarding the pain in the ass part, well, yeah. That can be the case.

I do not agree with you that active fiction is Currency-linked at all times, and passive fiction is not. When one first grasps my idea of Currency, they often get really excited and want to make an all-Currency-for-talking, all-the-time game. That's fine. Universalis is actually damned functional, and I like stuff like Annalise and the current alpha idea of Realization Dawning. But Currency exists within an SIS framework, it doesn't itself make that framework.

The framework is actually constructed of talking and listening. That does not mean freeform, which is an abomination. It means good game design means good rules, i.e. dynamics and constraints, for talking and listening, and then good Currency rules inside that for organizing further procedural dynamics and constraints.

Also, if you haven't seen my post to Elizabeth in the They Became Flesh Ronnies thread, about hard and soft rules, check it out. That concept can apply to the talk-and-listen rules and to the Currency rules.

Best, Ron
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