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Author Topic: I seem to have designed a waiting game...  (Read 1249 times)
Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« on: June 17, 2011, 10:28:45 AM »

Hey all,

One of my two primary RPG design projects is a game for exactly four players. It has four pre-generated characters who are locked in a mutually unresolvable situation. Each of them has a personally unique victory path consisting of some combination of roleplayed actions and conversations on specific topics with specific other characters. The first player who manages to accomplish everything on their victory path ends the story.

But accomplishing your victory path is made challenging by the game mechanics. The core mechanic is a quickie card game (basically a comparison of cards) at the beginning of a scene. Winning the card game, or tieing for the win, gets you a "negation," which enables you to prevent someone else from performing something on their own victory path when they make an attempt in the subsequent roleplayed scene.

Here's the problem I'm seeing consistently in play. With generally only one or maybe two negations in play for a given scene, player roleplaying becomes an un-dramatic waiting game, because it makes sense to let the other players attempt something on their victory path, risking negation, before you do. And then when all the negations have been used you can roleplay something from your victory path free and clear.

I can't figure out how to solve it. I've tried using a timer, with the rule that it ends the scene, to encourage more aggressive play. But it doesn't work. Because it still makes strategic sense to wait until the last minute and hope other players can't squeeze in roleplaying of something from their own victory path after you make an attempt yourself, whether you get negated or not.

What do you think? There has to be a board game that solves this?

Paul
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"[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
Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #1 on: June 17, 2011, 11:53:25 AM »

Seems like it would be simplest to either make the negations blind to ordering, or give out an alternate currency for going first.

The former might be accomplished like this, for example: when a new thing comes up for resolution during a scene, anybody who's already spent a negation so far in the scene may choose to move their negation to this new thing. This way going first would certainly attract a negation, but it would also be possible that the player in question would choose to move the negation to somebody else later in the scene; going first or second would not be an advantage, as the guy with the negation would choose where to put his negation freely. This would also change the story-telling in that new developments in the scene could provide a new lease of life to previously failed actions, which might or might not be something you want.

That latter approach is exemplified by bidding mechanics: instead of just waiting for others to make their move, have the players bid some resource for initiative. If the case is that people always want to move last in your game, then this would be primarily a bid for not having to go now: have everybody make secret bids and the one with the lowest bid doesn't need to pay, but does need to move. Continue this until everybody's made their moves. Presumably the players will pay according to how likely they find that their actions will be blocked, which means that the system is self-regulating. Those who don't have the resources to bid will just have to go first, taking the biggest risk of being negated.
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Warrior Monk
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« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2011, 12:31:13 PM »

Does it have to be always a negation? can it bi a sort of complication? It's like adding "Yes, but..." and "No, but..." options on the system instead of "No, you can't"
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #3 on: June 17, 2011, 12:34:55 PM »

I guess the obvious "board-game-y" solution would be a set order of players and a limited number of attempts per scene? So there's nothing to gain by passing on your turn. That's probably not the kind of thing you are aiming for?

- Frank
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #4 on: June 17, 2011, 01:13:40 PM »

Hey man,

Does it have to be always a negation? can it bi a sort of complication? It's like adding "Yes, but..." and "No, but..." options on the system instead of "No, you can't"

The victory paths have things on them like "kill a named NPC" and "have a conversation with Magdalena about Wayne" (where the back-story of the game suggests why the character would want to have that conversation). So if I were to impose a "Yes, but..." or "No, but...," it would seem like the specific victory condition has still been satisfied. Which would mean every player would satisfy something on their victory path every scene, and the game would end in a very predictable number of scenes, with the player who managed to snag his final victory condition first in the final scene as the winner.

Paul
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"[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
Chris_Chinn
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Posts: 280


« Reply #5 on: June 17, 2011, 01:21:38 PM »

Hi Paul,

The first thing that came to mind was Uno.  For most people, they play with the house rule that cards played against you can get passed on with an appropriate card - "Take 4 cards" is played against you, so you play "Reverse" and now it's passed back to the original person, etc.

Maybe you could do some kind of thing with Negations that allow players to either pass it along, or reverse who it lands on.

Alternatively, maybe there's a mechanic that will allow people to remove other people's Negations?  At which point you want to spend your Negation before it gets taken from you.

Chris
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #6 on: June 17, 2011, 01:29:53 PM »

Seems like it would be simplest to either make the negations blind to ordering...

...for example: when a new thing comes up for resolution during a scene, anybody who's already spent a negation so far in the scene may choose to move their negation to this new thing. This way going first would certainly attract a negation, but it would also be possible that the player in question would choose to move the negation to somebody else later in the scene; going first or second would not be an advantage, as the guy with the negation would choose where to put his negation freely. This would also change the story-telling in that new developments in the scene could provide a new lease of life to previously failed actions, which might or might not be something you want.

Now that's interesting. Maybe instead of "negations" I call them "blocks". The game already has tokens for another purpose. Maybe I make four tokens that say something on one side that indicates an unspent block, and "blocked" on the other. Then in play you have your unspent token in front of you, and you flip it to "blocked" and put it in front of another player when they try to claim something on their victory path that you want to stop. But you can always move it later. Which frees up the player you blocked first to try again to "murder a named NPC" or whatever.

Then when does the scene end? When all players who aren't blocked have claimed something on their victory path? What if a player with a token decides for whatever reason he doesn't want to use it to block someone? Probably doesn't matter? Scene ends when all players who aren't blocked have claimed something on their victory path.

Hmm. What prevents a player from moving his block back and forth between players as running interference to keep them from claiming something on their victory paths? Can only move the token once? That re-institutes the waiting game. Can't give it back to someone who had already been blocked? That creates a kingmaker strategy where I maybe use my token to block you, and then I unblock you, to give you unblockable access to a victory condition that other players can't block. So, you can move it as much as you want, but you can't give it back as a block to someone that you personally had blocked previously in the current scene?

What do I call the unspent side of the token?

Paul
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"[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
davide.losito
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Posts: 37


« Reply #7 on: June 17, 2011, 03:22:38 PM »

Hm... sad to know the timer didn't work, it seemed a good suggestion at the INC table.

Maybe you can try something like this: you can use a number of negation in the game equal to the steps you already achieved in your victory path.
So a player that have 1 victory step achieved may use 1 negation. If he wants to use his next negation, he needs to achieve another step.

Then you may insert a "fan-mail"-like rule so that a player can have ONE AND ONLY ONE free negation to use, if he is the one who got the more "fan-mail"-like token in the previous scene.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #8 on: June 17, 2011, 03:44:51 PM »

Quote
And then when all the negations have been used you can roleplay something from your victory path free and clear.
Why is that part there? How is it important to the design that someone can get off scott free like that? I'm not saying it isn't important, but just on it's own I don't understand why there is a 'avoid all adversity' path available?

A design thought comes to mind to hinge this entirely on sympathetic reaction from other players. They all have the capacity to crush the free and clear, any one of them. Much like a GM duty, they judge whether they crush it based on whether the player paid with enough roleplay (whatever 'paid' means to the subjective listener), or just sat there waiting cagily.
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #9 on: June 17, 2011, 04:05:46 PM »

Hey Callan,

That's the core mechanic of the game. You win the little card game, and it doesn't give you the sole right to fulfill something from your personal victory path. It gives you the right to stop someone else from fulfilling something from theirs. If I switch it to the winner(s) of the card game getting the exclusive power to fulfill things from their victory paths, I think it would take a lot of energy out of what the other players choose to do in the scenes; all of their roleplaying would be just...uh...the roleplaying equivalent of good sportsmanship; they'd just want to end the scene and get on to another one where they might be able to actually progress on their own victory path.

Paul
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"[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
Paul Czege
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« Reply #10 on: June 17, 2011, 04:13:56 PM »

Also, for some unfathomable reason I keep designing things in the RPG-with-victory/win-conditions space. And gamism always, always trumps narrativism in games like these. It would always make strategic sense for players to crush another player's free and clear if that were a rule. They would always do it.

Paul
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"[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
Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #11 on: June 17, 2011, 05:42:04 PM »

Well, victory condition is actually an arbitrary cultural construct. You can create a game that has something that looks like and acts like a victory condition, but if the players do not engage with it creatively as a victory condition, then it's something else. I make use of this in Zombie Cinema intentionally: keeping your guy alive looks like a victory condition, which can be used as an early organizing principle for your play while you familiarize yourself with what's going on; later on you'll presumably realize, thanks to the creative interaction, that it's not a victory-winning game. I find this a pretty useful phenomenon as long as you're completely aboveboard and entirely clear about the game's agenda; I still get some dumbkopf gamers who manage to play the game through thinking the entire time that the point is to get their little playing piece over the finish line, but overall the existence of the fake victory condition has been a very useful organizing principle.

Of course, I'm telling this to the man who pretty much invented the phenomenon in that game where you're racing to kill the bad guy before you run out of hope and end up killing yourself when somebody else gets the guy.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #12 on: June 17, 2011, 08:10:12 PM »

Quote
think it would take a lot of energy out of what the other players choose to do in the scenes; all of their roleplaying would be just...uh...the roleplaying equivalent of good sportsmanship; they'd just want to end the scene and get on to another one where they might be able to actually progress on their own victory path.
Also, for some unfathomable reason I keep designing things in the RPG-with-victory/win-conditions space. And gamism always, always trumps narrativism in games like these. It would always make strategic sense for players to crush another player's free and clear if that were a rule. They would always do it.
I think we should take a quick look at the idea of an adversity that is outside of gamism?

My own take is like this - I have a creative idea, you have a creative idea. The practice is that not to just monomaniacly go with ones own idea, but listen to the other guy. Maybe their idea, in the moment, sounds cooler (and no, this does not mean if the rest of the group thinks it sounds cooler you bow to peer pressure - see the following mechanics use). Or if it doesn't sound cool to ones own subjective ears, instead of trying to verbally convince them, we have points to bandy back and forth via system to try and get the idea in mechanically*. Sometimes you'll win at that and your idea gets in, sometimes you lose  at it - but instead of there being one cultural force at the table who decides through cult of personality, the mechanics make participants more like equals, making it a genuine group creativity activity. But the backbone of it all is that you actually humour the idea of conceding to someone elses idea, even though mechanically you might very well be able to crush them. There was a TROS account awhile back where the players had well enough dice to convince the prince of a castle they'd broken into to let them go when they were discovered. They opted not to - because going with the GM's direction seemed cooler. Why do that? Because the option was, to them at the time, creatively more interesting - they weren't playing to win.

I don't think gamism always trump this (I wouldn't call the above 'narrativism' - it's simply a method of creativity). It's that if people don't know they are meant to think like this, because they haven't been instructed to, by knee jerk reaction they go to play to win gamism.

Sorry if I wrote too much - I imagined it would be shorter when I started writing!

* Which is one reason I fuckin' hate any RPG text that tells people or even makes a fuckin' rule that says 'Don't let someone do something mechanically if people thinks it doesn't "fit the story"' as it just made the whole fucking ruleset redundant and reinstates the effin' cult of personality and let the design give responsiblity the slip. ....Did I say the F word just then.........call it a standard rant.
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Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #13 on: June 17, 2011, 08:39:50 PM »

Hey Callan,

I don't think gamism always trump this (I wouldn't call the above 'narrativism' - it's simply a method of creativity). It's that if people don't know they are meant to think like this, because they haven't been instructed to, by knee jerk reaction they go to play to win gamism.

I would love to believe in this. But I just can't. I have years of playtesting Acts of Evil, with lots of different playtesters, that consistently contradicts it. In AoE there's a clear advancement path, of actions you attempt, to increase stats, which advance you on the path to fighting an occult god to supplant him. And only one player can accomplish it. So scene after scene is characterized by players bombing into the situation of NPCs framed by the GM and doing something abrupt and maybe not particularly creatively inspired to provoke the kind of conflict they need for a desired stat increase. There's minimal character play, basically just what's necessary to justify the specific desired conflict type. There's no player enjoyment of inhabiting the character, of roleplaying, of creative exploration and expression of the impossible godlike power the character has, or of exploring the situations prepped and presented by the GM in any meaningful way. The race to occult godhood trumps it all. Players say they want roleplaying, and story, accomplished narrativist players who aren't lying, but the gamism trumps it in play, in the same way you say you want to have a nice dinner out with your girlfriend and then wreck it by spending the whole time texting with your usual dumb posse. It is the one and only one design problem that I was unable to solve.

Paul
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"[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
Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #14 on: June 17, 2011, 10:14:00 PM »

Man the what, can you imagine that I only just now noticed that link in Paul's signature about Acts of Evil. Bears thinking about, we had some excellent time with the game a few years back when it was in development, I thought that it was coming in swimmingly at the time. The decision to open up the project for others to try is a very wise one, too. Not dissimilar to the Kagematsu situation, I note.

Anyway, I disagree that gamism per se is categorically going to override other creative possibilities, that's just your local play culture talking. Around here it's the other way around if anything. I'd hazard that what you have here is a tendency to create rules systems that are naturally and effortlessly parsed in a gamist way by players. This external shape resemblance causes them to basically force play into channels that affirm a gamist interpretation of the system. I've sort of had similar experiences with narrativist interpretations of simulationistic games, so I think I know what that feels like; the players see something that walks like a duck and sounds like a duck and then they're off to Ducksburg, and damn the non-regulated portion of the game text that would've explained all about the rooster. It's not that the invasive agenda is more powerful or more natural, but that the combination of players and systems is resonating in a way that was not present on paper, in clean laboratory conditions.

That aside, I like the block interpretation of negotiations, it's more flexible that way. The way I would expect something like that to work, boardgaming-wise, would be that the process of the scene during which the blocks are placed and moved is essentially about negotiating an optimal equilibrium: we have a certain number of blocks in play, and a certain number of actions (doesn't have to be one per PC, you could give a character more if the currency seems to need it), and the point of playing through the scene is to find out what the players are going to do with their actions in the scene, and which of this set are going to be blocked. Ideally you'd have more actions in play than blocks, of course, so that the players have to actually make choices in what to block (except if you can translate blocks into some other currency, of course). I don't think that this sort of structure necessarily requires limiting block movements as long as the system can reach an optimal equilibrium where nobody wants to move their blocks anymore. An example to clarify what I mean here:

A, B and C are playing the game. A scene rolls around. A has two blocks, B has one and C has none. However, C also has three actions (maybe it's his spotlight scene or whatever), B has one and A has one, for a total of five actions and three blocks in play. The scene itself essentially proceeds as free roleplay that the players use as an opportunity to declare how they're expending their actions, and where they're setting their blocks.

A begins by narrating how his character boldly goes for an important goal, which is promptly blocked by adversity narrated by B. This means that one of B's blocks is now committed to A. Next C takes two separate actions to achieve a lot of things - maybe the scene was such that he had to expend an action to do set-up, or maybe he had two things he wanted to get done. A blocks one of C's actions, which inspires C to narrate further, committing his third and last action as well, which goes through.

Now, at this point in the scene B has expended all his blocks, but A still has one left. B takes the initiative, narrating an action that gets blocked by A simply because he has a block to spend, so why not. Now everybody's taken their actions: A is blocked by B, C has two actions that are going through and one being blocked by A, and A is also blocking B. Is the situation at equilibrium - are all the players happy that the two actions that are going to happen are the particular ones so far established, both by player C? Assuming they are, then the scene is over.

However, let's say that A doesn't want C to succeed so well; my ideal would be that he's thinking this way because he doesn't like the particular activities that are going on in the fiction, but perhaps it's just that he doesn't want C to score the points or whatever he's getting by being almost unopposed here. Whatever it is, A moves a block from B to C. What this means is that now B has a free action again: we do not rewind the action, the foiled action earlier still happened, but now B's character is renewed and finds a new opening - B is free to expend the action anew on the same or a different goal.

Meanwhile, C is now being blocked on two of his three actions, the two the other players (player A, really) considered the most important to block. The third action still goes through, but that's because B is choosing not to move his block as well. B is happy with the situation, though, as his own action is going through: he narrates how his character claims his goal in the scene. One of the other players might decide at this point that B's declared action is so outrageous as to warrant moving another block his way, but neither do, so the scene is over simply because nobody wants to move anymore: moving your block would always allow the unblocked player to make a new action after all, so you'd only want to move your block if another player had declared something you wanted to block even more than your current target.

The entire scene was processed without anybody taking turns to act, really: everybody could contribute narration as necessary to establish actions and blocks, but because all the actions are essentially reversible (not in the fiction, but in mechanics), there's no need for figuring out whose turn it is to act. Therefore the structure of action is free to flow from the fiction: which characters are present at the moment, who would naturally act first and so on.

The question here is, does the above sort of system actually need limitations like you suggested, like not putting the block back on a player who you'd already deblocked. I would personally expect that the players would always find their equilibrium as long as the currency of actions and blocks is clear: it would only actually benefit a player to continuously move his block between players if there was some sort of time limit or if he found it aesthetically interesting in the fiction or if he was just obstructing play. The middle reason is actually a good one and the other two we can ignore, so I'd say that this is looking pretty good.

Probably better to call actions "openings", by the way - that expresses the idea that when somebody removes a block, your character is finding a new opening for acting in the situation.

It occurs to me that were I using this mechanical framework myself, I wouldn't make actions in a scene automatically convert into victory points the way you seem to be doing. This is a stylistic matter, I recognize - you design very boardgame-like games where it's pretty typical that we just get a mandate to "narrate until you've established event X". Still, I would find it more interesting if the victory track goal of assassinating a specific NPC or whatever would actually be translated into a series of activities in the scene that might be achievable with one opening, but might also require several. Like, you have three actions and the archduke is totally exposed, so you only really need one of those to succeed, or alternatively the archduke is in his castle, so your paltry one action can't really get to him, so you have to satisfy yourself with secondary objectives like seizing a scene framing right or whatever (have to have minor goals to expend actions on, for fungibility). The overriding benefit of this for your action-blocking thing would be that it'd obfuscate the valuation of blocks a bit: if every action always is the same value as every other action, then it's not that difficult for a logical player to just always block the guy in the lead. Of course you might have some other angle on this whole thing, I'm just musing.
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