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Author Topic: Evil Influences on player characters  (Read 966 times)
simon_hibbs
Member

Posts: 689


« on: March 21, 2011, 01:45:10 PM »

So I'm working on a diceless Lord of the Rings game and have completed one playtest run. I've also used the same system for a non-LoTR one-off game. It uses karma/narative style resolution as per Amber, but with a pseudo-plot point mechanic.

The rules system is called Wyrd for historical reasons. Genneraly speaking I think the game mechanics work ok, but there is one aspect of the game design that is eluding me, and I'm going to need it for campaign play. That is, how to handle the baleful influence of Rings of Power on player characters. The game is set in an alternate Middle Earth timeline so the One Ring, and the nine rings of the Nazgul are around and some of them will end up in the hands of the players.

For a long time I had no ideas on this subject, but I'm beginning to come up with a plan. The game uses cards to represent something like Hero Points or Plot Points. They empower characters to tip the situation in their favour, or against their opponents in some way. Often such card play goes unopposed, but if the narrator chooses, player invoked cards can be opposed by a random card from the deck, highest value wins. So far, so good. The only problem I've had in play is I often have to remind players that they can use cards, they very rarely come up with the idea themselves. I think that's just unfamiliarity with that kind of mechanic though.

So I think I know what to do with the rings. My plan is to remove the spades from the deck before play begins. Anyone with a ring gets 3 random spades. I'll probably need several decks on hand. When a player character plays a card, the others don't know if they're using a spade or not, only the GM and the player get to see the cards. The narrator then keeps track of which characters have spent spades and how many, and these can be used to represent the ring's influence on the character.

The problem is, what to do to represent those spades weighing on the character? I'll need to note them down for future reference. I imagine the narrator expending the spades to impose effects on the character, representing the ring pushing the character's behaviour in certain directions.

Obviously a character can't use spades in his own hand to fight off narrator spades?

This is where I'm running out of steam. I need creative ways to use these cards to affect the game.

* What do I use spades for, more specifically? Pushing characters towards 'evil' actions is one possibility. Maybe build in a mechanic so that if the ring succeeds, the character accumulates more spades against them?

* My experience with players is that some of them are massively allergic to the narrator having any psychological influence or effect on their character. I suppose I'll just have to tackle this one head-on and be totally up front about the fact that this is what the rings do. Suggestions on how to handle this?

* When the narrator spends a spade against a PC, is it's effect removed from the game or can it refresh? i.e. if the character has spent 2 spades and the narrator uses one against him, does the character now only have 1 spade against him? I can see arguments for and against. I think probably if the spade won against the character then it's retained, otherwise if the character fought off the baleful influence, it's gone. But really it shouldn't ever be possible to shake off the ring's influence completely. I'm not sure how to handle that.

Does anyone here have experience of using a mechanic of this kind, such as Dark Side points in Star Wars, or whatever the D20 SW games had? I'd love to hear how those mechanics worked out in play.

If I'm using spades in a specific way in the game, logically it might be an idea to use the other suits in more specific ways. I've not thought that one through either, so comments on that welcome. I'm not aware of any existing games that used cards in ways like this, but I'd love to hear if there are.

Best regards,

Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
stefoid
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Posts: 657


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« Reply #1 on: March 21, 2011, 03:53:10 PM »

I dont know about the cards, but the ring makes people progressively more paranoid, possessive and prone to violence, right?

So why not just have the bearer character mark those traits on the character sheet, the longer the ring is in possession?  The greater the characetr's 'niceness' or 'resistance to the ring', the longer the period between taking on the next trait. 

Dont impose actions on the player, but have the player choose how to play out those traits.

1. no effect
2. admire the ring
3. irritable
4. suspicious
5. possessive of the ring
6. cranky
7. paranoid
8. craving the ring
9. aggressive
10. gollum!
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contracycle
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Posts: 2984


« Reply #2 on: March 21, 2011, 04:08:59 PM »

I'm curious to know what sort of psychological influence things the players have pushed back against in the past. That might help with understanding what might work instead.

So some things about your card system. You might want to initate card conflicts yourself, if the players are inclined not to use them.  It may be that the device needs to be more prominent; if they can get by most of the time without using them, then they stand as an exception to the norm.  Plus, if you played out cards from your deck, and they could then see for example the kings and queens come out, they may have a better sense of the probability of success.

I'd suggest that maybe when a spade is used by either party, it passes into posession of the other.  So if a player uses a spade to win a contest, that spade is then controlled by the GM and can be played against the player.  Similarly when the GM plays a spade, the player gets it.  In this why the spades change hands, but never go out of circulation.

This means that a character only becomes vulnerable to the rings by relying on them.  Also it's tempting because the fact that they come back means they are essentially "free".  Lastly, I would be inclined not to bother tracking spades by character, and just to have one pool of GM-controlled spades that can be used against any character, and not use them for regular contests.  Textually, the ring in the books affected other people around it as well as the carrier.  Thus, just having one ring in the group makes everyone susceptible to its influence.

For the effects, then, I would be inclined to do things pretty explicitly, and tell a player that they must act in accordance with a perception or attitude.  You activate this simply by handing them the card. So if hey are interacting with someone, you would say "act selfishly" or "assume the worst possible motives" or "be suspicious".  Other effects might be things like "you feel as if you are being washed" or "you can sense his envy", stuff like that.  If the players are familiair with LOTR, that shouldn't be much of a stretch for them to buy into.  This avoids telling them what to do, though, it still leaves the execution in their hands.
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"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci
simon_hibbs
Member

Posts: 689


« Reply #3 on: March 22, 2011, 01:38:47 AM »

1. no effect
2. admire the ring
3. irritable
4. suspicious
5. possessive of the ring
6. cranky
7. paranoid
8. craving the ring
9. aggressive
10. gollum!

Ok, that's nice. More cards equals more obvious effects. The other players won't know how many cards each other has, but might be able to deduce it from each other's behaviour.

I think I'll need a mechanism to reduce the number of spades a chaacter holds though. There should be some possibility of redemption to at least some extent.

SImon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
simon_hibbs
Member

Posts: 689


« Reply #4 on: March 22, 2011, 01:46:37 AM »

I think contracycle's nailed it. Yes, the cards should be able to influence other player characters, just look at what happens to Boromir.

I think I need to playtest this now. I'll start off by accumulating a flexible hand of GM spades from the players and just see what situations come up in play that give opportunities to use them. Keep it flexible, and then derive a set of rules from what works and what doesn't in play.

Maybe not the most systematic or rigorous approach to designing a mechanic, but the rest of the rules system is pretty solid so I think I'll manage.

Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
dindenver
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Posts: 1049

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« Reply #5 on: April 06, 2011, 08:51:18 AM »

Simon,
  I designed a vampire game (it is at the Editors now) and I struggled with the same conundrum. How to mechanically represent the temptation to become more of a monster and less of a human. It is easy (and ineffective) for the GM to say, you feel temptation. But it is hard to give the players that feeling of "If I just take this one step towards the dark side, I could get what I want" feel.

  In the end, I found a pretty good solution. That is I made the vampire powers outshine any other mechanic in the game. In essence, you roll one die and add for each aspect of what you are trying to accomplish. But if a vampire power is helping you obtain that goal, you roll two dice and keep both and still add.

  I would suggest a similar idea for your game. Make using the ring a trumping power. And then instruct the GM to invoke consequences every time the players succumb to the ring's temptation. So, maybe the ring lets you play a Spade after the original card and the GM's card is revealed. That would be tempting to use. But every time a spade is used, the GM gets to invoke a consequence (maybe based on the value of the card, like 2 of spades means you act odd and a 10 of spades means you betray your friends). The difference I am trying to highlight here is that if you use the ring, you will win. But that win comes at a cost. As opposed to the system you have suggested where if you use the ring, it may or may not help, depending on the random value of the opposing card. There is no reward for using the ring and the only benefit to having the ring is a larger hand size.

  I am not saying your way is wrong, this is just a solution I came up with for my game. Typically, we end up with 1-3 vampires per group and they either dip their toes in the water and realize they made a mistake or they go full bore and get tons of vampire powers (and weaknesses). I learned this trick from CP2020. In that game, you can power up your character by sacrificing some money and humanity. It proved to be very tempting to most players and I think I did a decent job of capturing that feel (temptation) in my own game.

  Your game sounds cool, I'll check it out this weekend.
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Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
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Gwynplaine
Member

Posts: 7


« Reply #6 on: April 10, 2011, 06:57:30 AM »

Heya

One thing I note; you’ve said that in your experience players tend to dislike the narrator having influence on their character actions/ personality.  Unless I misunderstood the mechanics idea, the ‘spades’ influence is not player controlled – it arises through the narrator or a random chance.  Perhaps you could change it a little so that it is ‘player’ controlled to some degree, but not ‘character’ controlled (necessarily)?  As mentioned above, the idea of Risk v. Reward of awesome powers but the downside of negative things happening to the character (important to make the distinction that it’s the character bad things happen too – and this can be helped if the player has a little choice as to how/ when they occur).

Also, perhaps the ‘negative’ influence may not necessarily be on the character’s actions/ personality itself.  They could cause misfortune in the areas around them while ‘high on spades’ (or some other more sensible term), or even be a focal point of baleful forces.  So rather than influencing character behaviour directly, you do so via the responses/ interactions of the world around them (of course you could combine the two methods, so that players that embrace the challenge of a descent into madness can have that, whilst other more defensively minded players have the world acting out against them – or if they’re defensive regarding character control –and- combat orientated it could be a literal ‘world against them’ type of thing).
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