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Author Topic: [Final Hour of a Storied Age] Adding a "relief valve" to my dice mechanic  (Read 945 times)
Dan Maruschak
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« on: September 16, 2011, 10:48:05 AM »

A few months ago, one of the listeners of my podcast (Designer vs. Reality, my AP podcast about playtesting roleplaying games by independent game designers) was kind enough to run a playtest of my game Final Hour of a Storied Age and send me an audio recording of the session. One of the things that sets my game apart from most others is that it has a dice mechanic determine which characters and players get focused on at any particular time rather than using round-robin or player judgment to decide this. Listening to the recording really highlighted for me how uncomfortable this element of the game makes some people. The idea that it's theoretically possible to never get spotlighted seems to loom large for people, even if that possibility is statistically unlikely. One of the playtesters seemed to make a joke or comment about this possibility every time he had to roll the dice, indicating that it was really on his mind. I got the impression that it was keeping him, and possibly the others, from fully engaging with the game.

In the latest draft of the game I've decided to add a limited mechanism to override the dice mechanic with some human intervention, basically a few times per game a player can add/subtract some small numbers to their dice in order to win the focus roll (the mechanic is on pages 31 and 32 of the 0.70 draft). My idea is that this mechanic probably won't be used very often, but I'm hoping that including it in the game can function like a psychological like a safety valve to keep people from obsessing about the unlikely theoretical possibilities that could happen with the dice mechanic. I'm hoping that this change doesn't end up overcomplicating the mechanics.

I really want to get some more external playtesters so I can get a better view of how people engage with the mechanics, especially if I can get good data like recordings of the session. While listening to people articulate their feedback and impressions is interesting and useful, I have found that actual observation of the game in play has been tremendously helpful for my design.
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my blog | my podcast | My game Final Hour of a Storied Age needs playtesters!
Callan S.
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« Reply #1 on: September 16, 2011, 02:17:13 PM »

Hi Dan,

How does it work - are they kind of rolling to see if they get a turn? And when do they get to roll - does that have a turn order?
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Dan Maruschak
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« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2011, 05:01:34 PM »

The full rules doc is available at the download page if you want the complete picture, but here's a quick summary: The game proceeds in chapters, which are sort of analogous to scenes in other games (sometimes a chapter is made up of multiple short scenes instead of one big one). There are two active players per chapter, the viewpoint player (who is determined by every player rolling dice and identifying the highest roll) and the adversity player (who is determined by all the non-viewpoint players rolling dice and identifying the highest roll). The viewpoint and adversity player then play though the chapter, and there's essentially a mechanical budget that influences how long the chapter goes. After the chapter ends the process starts over again with everybody rolling to see who the viewpoint player is. In the 0.70 rules, the basics of this subsystem are explained on pages 27 and 28. The new change gives you a limited ability to tweak your viewpoint or adversity dice by a couple of points after you roll them.
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my blog | my podcast | My game Final Hour of a Storied Age needs playtesters!
Callan S.
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« Reply #3 on: September 17, 2011, 03:51:18 PM »

Dan, have you played under such a mechanic yourself? Is there something in playing underneath it, some feel that you get and that you have it like a dice off, so as to give that feel? Have you played underneath these rules?

If you are shooting for some sort of feel in that dice off (hope that's not a bad name for it) then cool, okay, your shooting for something and it's something you've felt in playing yourself. Indeed in such a case, perhaps this valve adjustment is just watering down that feeling?

But if there is no feel your aiming for, then perhaps this valve adjustment is a relatively pointless watering down? If there is no point, no feel aimed for with the dice off, why have it at all? Why preserve it, with little relief valve concessions to try and make up for something that has no point? As said above, if it gives some feel, one that you'd also get if playing underneath the games rules - even if it's a mild feeling (as long as it seems essential) then it has a point in your design (I'd say). I'm just trying to awkwardly pitch the question of whether it has a point?

Are you just not sure on what other principle to determine viewpoint and adversity player and so you went with an impartial mechanic of dicing off?
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Dan Maruschak
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« Reply #4 on: September 17, 2011, 04:42:59 PM »

Callan,

No, my design decisions are not pointless. Thanks for suggesting that they are, though.
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my blog | my podcast | My game Final Hour of a Storied Age needs playtesters!
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: September 19, 2011, 06:48:09 AM »

Enough.

Dan, I do not have time or energy to deal with sarcasm here. If you think someone is not posting in good faith, then click on the button to report it to me and I'll take your perspective very seriously. If you insist on retaliating in this way, then I am forced not to take you seriously.

Callan, please pay attention to when someone does not want your input. And let others post before you, once in a while.

Best, Ron
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mark2v
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Posts: 17


« Reply #6 on: September 23, 2011, 10:07:01 AM »

Hello,   
I admittedly only skimmed your WIP document, due to time constraints. I do however plan to really dig into it when I can, as it looks very interesting (you had me at the plot flow chart.)
Concerning your question here I read the following.
 “To determine which character to focus on, each player with an
unfinished plot phase rolls a set of viewpoint dice based on their
individual plot track (supporting characters who have finished their
subplot do not roll for viewpoint). Whoever rolls the die with the
highest number showing becomes the viewpoint player”
Without giving the game a proper read this implies to me that some players who have resolved their subplots will not roll in a given test. This would in effect make the chance that any one player would never have focused pretty slim (as you stated.)
I personally would not add a thing. I am not for adding things for situations that “might” come up, but that’s just my view.
I was wonder at my initial reading, if adding a flat bonus to a characters roll, equal to the number of chapters that have gone by wherein they have not been the focus, would be a simple solution? In this way every one would get a turn at some point.
I will say that at a glance it does not look like the kind of game that would naturally appeal to players who have an overwhelming need to be the focus. Dedicated players would probably not mind playing supporting cast for a bit longer if the dice dictated it.
Again very interesting, I look forward to giving the game more of a fair read.
-Mark.
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Mark 2 V
Dan Maruschak
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« Reply #7 on: September 24, 2011, 08:48:50 AM »

Mark,
I actually considered a mechanic like that for a while, but I ultimately decided not to go that way. It seemed to me that an accumulating bonus would make the game feel a lot like round-robin, which I wanted to move away from. I also thought it would make the dice seem less relevant to what was happening in the viewpoint/adversity determination part of the game, which would be a problem since it's a reasonably complex subsystem (I don't want anyone thinking "why are we bothering with these dice?") and because there's another subsystem in the game which rewards you with more dice for the viewpoint roll, and reducing the importance of the dice would weaken the incentives of that feedback mechanism. Plus, I wanted to avoid the overhead of keeping track of the number of rounds since you've won (which would also potentially focus people on the issue, perhaps cueing them to get worked up over that rather than going with the flow and enjoying their friends' roleplaying and the evolving story).

I agree with your assessment that people who always need to be the center of attention would have a problem with this game (on the other hand it's not always fun to play with people like that, so...). I'm more concerned that some gamers have been trained by other games (such as those with a "don't split the party" philosophy baked into them) to think that their character needs to be involved in every scene for the roleplaying to be fun. Most other games that split up the focus time do so with mechanisms that are easier to rationalize: if it's GM judgment for when to cut and who to cut to, the nervous player can rely on his friend to bring the focus back to him if he's feeling left out. If it's round-robin, the nervous player can rely on progress around the table to get a chance at focus. Since my game puts a non-trivial mechanic in charge of this, it presents a bigger hurdle to people who are having their expectations challenged. I think the mechanic works reasonably well once you decide to trust the mechanics and get invested in the story that's developing at the table, but new players will often not start out trusting the game, and if people need the story to build some momentum before they can get invested in it they may not have that hook at the beginning either. My thinking with the "relief valve" analogy is that it makes it easier to trust a system if it has a conspicuous "safety" mechanism, which will hopefully get some more people over that initial hump and let them engage with and have fun with the game.

Thanks for taking a look at the game. I hope you find more interesting stuff when you get a chance to go deeper with it.
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my blog | my podcast | My game Final Hour of a Storied Age needs playtesters!
mark2v
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Posts: 17


« Reply #8 on: September 26, 2011, 05:24:43 AM »

In that case  I would absolutely leave it as is with the safety valve as an option. I agree, once the players learn to trust the game they will play with out it.
No use messing with a mechanic that plays so heavily into the overall View point and focus parts of the game.
Some times in the end, it is worth letting the players adjust to what is going on rather than vice versa.
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Mark 2 V
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