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46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13297 Members Latest Member: - Shane786 Most online today: 29 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Looking for suggestions on "against the odds" style game  (Read 1645 times)
Shimera9
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« on: November 13, 2011, 09:58:25 AM »

Hello, all.  I've been planning on running a really rules light game.  However, I noticed some of the top candidates like Risus has limited room to expand after the first session.  Since then I've cobbled together a few posts about what I'm looking for, including:
  • Requirements: rules light, easily extensible, fast start with detail added in play.
  • Flow: build up to a final confrontation by taking on lesser challenges
  • Big Three: The game is about character overcoming something more powerful than themselves through determination, cooperation, and luck.  Character actions determined by role (extra, main character, adversary, supporting character).  Player actions guided by side (nemesis, neutral, heroic).
There are also some posts up about character progression and plot drivers, but those are more design musings than firm requirements.

My questions to your fine folks are:
  • What systems already handle this?  If there's already a really strong match out there, I may just use that instead.  Otherwise, I'll be designing a new system.
  • If this were made into a new game, what name might fit?  I've been thinking of a few different names, but nothing's gelling yet.  Current ideas include things like: Lurking Menace, Perilous Paths, Nemesis Mine, and My One Weakness.

Let me know if you'd like any more detail on any of this.  I tried to keep this post as light as possible to avoid walls of text.
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happysmellyfish
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« Reply #1 on: November 13, 2011, 08:00:08 PM »

I'm curious about how you'd define "against the odds" sort of play. Do you actually want players to pursue mechanically unlikely outcomes? Or simply have characters that can perform seemingly unlikely outcomes?

The first would be something like: "Wow, I've only got one hit point left, so I need a super unlikely roll in order to beat this guy - screw it, I'm gonna give it a shot!"

The first would be unlikely fiction, but mechanical aspects that actually make these "unlikely" events quite common.
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happysmellyfish
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« Reply #2 on: November 13, 2011, 08:12:13 PM »

*Obviously that should read "The second..."
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Shimera9
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« Reply #3 on: November 14, 2011, 11:01:04 AM »

It's more like "No one can defeat the overlord!", then discovering what makes then unbeatable and finding a way around it.  I suppose that makes it more like the second instance.  After despite the obstacles seeming insurmountable in fiction, the mechanics should support the eventual triumph of the heroes.  That being said, I have been thinking of scaling rewards up with risk.  There is definitely some appeal to giving long shots an even larger payoff to encourage risk taking.
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David Berg
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« Reply #4 on: November 19, 2011, 01:43:07 AM »

I dig those player roles!

If you want "against the odds" leading up, through skillful play, to eventual success, here's an idea:

The Nemesis side starts with a ton of resources that give them power to effect the fiction and the fate of the Main Character.  The various Nemesis players get to strategize with each other about the best way to spend these resources.  Perhaps the mechanics should prevent them from killing the Main Character, but their goal within that constraint could be to make his/her life as hard as possible.

The Heroic side starts with very few resources.  Initial build-up is slow.  If resources are tokens, you (the Heroic players) get one token at a time for each small achievement you make.  At any time, you can try for a bigger achievement called a Coup, but before you've scored any Coups, your odds are very bad, as the Nemesis side will have way more tokens.  When you lose a Coup attempt, you're either back where you started, or almost, or maybe even worse (if you like the arc of the hero being beaten down before rising).  But when you win a Coup, your number of tokens multiplies.  So each Coup dramatically shifts the odds going forward.  If you want an arc of "struggle, struggle, struggle, struggle, turning point, victory" then you plan one Coup that suddenly flips the balance of power.  If you want an arc of gradual progress, then you have multiple Coups required.

So that covers determination and luck.  As for cooperation, maybe a Help mechanic where you can give a token to someone else's attempt, and if the attempt fails, you lose your token, but if it succeeds, you get extra tokens back.

As for the Neutrals, maybe they shift the Heroic-Nemesis token balance based on some other criteria of play, like which side is judged to be better hitting aesthetic or narrative targets the Neutrals establish.

I apologize for doing the "I'll design your game for you!" thing, but all that blather was really meant as illustration rather than advice.  I just hope it gives you some ideas you can use.

Ps,
-David

P.S.  I know plenty of games that do bits of what you're after, but nothing that does even close to all of them.
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dindenver
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« Reply #5 on: November 19, 2011, 07:32:20 AM »

Shimera,
  You might want go look at FATE or Solar system. In fate, you have to use prep and teamwork to overcome tough opponents. For instance, in the last Dresden game I ran, I wicked a leprachaun on the players. The first setup.an ambush by creating aspects for.later use, then some players did maneuvers that gave other players a big enough bonus to overcome their defenses. It was really neat for me to se, because this group does not always do well in the think first/team play.
  The interesting thing about solar system is that the conflict rolls are super simple, until the players backs are against the wall. The benefit of this is that you don't really use the same rules for PC vs Kook combat. And it is also a way for the players to.signal to.the GM that the current conflict is not significant to them.
  There are probably other systems that meet these criteria, but these ar the two I thought of when you said it.
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Shimera9
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« Reply #6 on: November 25, 2011, 09:51:16 AM »

First off, thanks for the feedback.  I'm actually getting close to working out chance mechanics now.  I'm just fleshing out the "heroes can push the odds when they need to" mechanics.  After than I'll have to decide if I want the cards or dice route for my randomizer.  I've done some initial math and have a good idea of the probability curve I want, but I'll put that up in a later post.

David,

I've actually been toying with some similar mechanics myself (http://dancingchimera.wordpress.com/2011/11/17/against-the-inevitable-threat-pools/, http://dancingchimera.wordpress.com/2011/11/22/against-the-inevitable-breaking-down-the-walls/).  Essentially, I've got the nemesis side starting with a large threat pool which can in turn be invested in obstacles.  The heroes thin out that pool by taking down those obstacles.

Threat can also be invested in an obstacle to improve it's abilities as needed.  This potential creates an interesting tactic where the heroes "feint".  The way it would play out is the heroes attack an obstacles strong point to get the nemesis side to invest more in it.  There's a good chance they'll fail in that first assault, but the heroes are resilient so they may fall back and try again from a better angle.  By hitting the strong points first they draw more threat into the obstacle so they make more progress when it's actually defeated.  This actually makes, "fail then win" a valid tactic from the heroes side.

As for the Neutral side, I'm thinking they should mostly support whatever results make for the most entertaining story.  Since they're not set to "win" in a traditional sense, they should be free to go with whatever appeals to them.  This matches them up nicely to act as "fickle fates" or "lady luck" in game world terms.

Dindenver,

I did look at FATE for this.  While there's definite appeal in some features I'm looking to go a bit more free form and less structured with my character traits.  In short, I'm more likely to borrow things like Aspects and less likely to use things like the skill pyramid.  The pyramid does help characters grow organically, but I'll have to mull over whether it allow for fast character set up.

I'm started looking into Solar system.  I've got some familiarity with the Shadows of Yesterday game it's based on, and have had a lot of fun with offshoots like Lady Blackbird.  I may borrow some elements from this side after I've dug through it more.

As far as I know neither system has built in mechanics for supporting that "lurking menace" feel, so even if I go from one of those as a base I'll need to add that system.
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David Berg
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« Reply #7 on: November 25, 2011, 04:29:40 PM »

So, looking at it from the Heroes' perspective, what's the incentive for feinting now and then overcoming later, as opposed to just overcoming (with or without feinting) now?

Given your aims for the game's arc, I assume you'd want a very strong incentive here!
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Shimera9
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« Reply #8 on: November 25, 2011, 08:39:45 PM »

The feinting tactics basically plays off the following:
  • Threat can be invested in obstacle to either improve it's traits or make it more persistent.
  • Obstacles with boosted traits are significantly harder to overcome when those traits apply.
  • Each trait usually applies to a limited range of challenges.
  • When an obstacle is removed, the nemesis side loses most of the threat invested in it.

So let's say the heroes take on a threat directly.  The nemesis side could decide to pump it's traits, making it difficult to score a victory on that challenge.  However, in doing so, they've raised the amount of threat that will be lost when the obstacle is overcome.

The heroes can play to this by setting up a challenge where the nemesis side will want to spend threat buying traits for the obstacle.  If they fail the first challenge, they can try setting up a secondary challenge where the traits purchased in the first challenge don't apply.  The nemesis side will then have to decide if they want to sink more points into improving the obstacle's traits or if they want to leave the an opening for the heroes to win out.  The nemesis side can keep trying to block the heroes, but eventually they'll run out of threat.  The heroes will likely also be building up their own resources in this time, so they will eventually break through one way or another.

I'm also planning on making "can not retry this challenge" a common price of failure, with retries as a possible reward.  As such, when heroes fail they'll often need to change their tactics.

I'll admit I currently don't have anything keeping the heroes from immediately starting their secondary challenges.  Forcing the heroes into a new scene does seem like an appropriate reward for the nemesis side when they win a challenge though.

On a side note, I'm currently looking into reward mechanics for both sides.  For the heroes, thing like moments of characterization might help fuel their ability to push for long shots later.  For the villains, things like being the kind of enemy the players lover to hate might help them survive or otherwise mitigate the results of the heroes' victory.
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David Berg
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« Reply #9 on: November 26, 2011, 01:16:55 AM »

they can try setting up a secondary challenge where the traits purchased in the first challenge don't apply.

Ah!  Now I get it.

Hmm.  That doesn't seem to me like it would feel like a desperate struggle against the odds.  It seems like it would feel like a strategic grinding down of a reactive opponent.  I guess it depends on how much risk there is of the strategy not working out, and also the costs.

Forcing the heroes into a new scene does seem like an appropriate reward for the nemesis side when they win a challenge

Yeah, I think some sort of consequence is crucial.  In addition to "you can't just try again", I'd want something to make sure the loss felt like a loss to the heroes.  Maybe a menu of options including the sorts of things that directors use to put heroes through the wringer in action movies?  Stuff like:
  • home destroyed
  • loved one killed
  • status ruined (job, bank account, innocence in the eyes of the law, etc.)
  • gruesome injury
  • witness to something awful they couldn't prevent

As for the rewards, I like your line of thinking.  I think it'd be especially cool if those achievements could be measured via fictional outcomes rather than just through votes or fanmail.  Like, "prove you really hate this villain by spending your resources against them rather than some other equally valid expenditure".  But that may just be my personal taste.

Ps,
-David
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Shimera9
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« Reply #10 on: November 26, 2011, 10:27:51 AM »

Hmm.  That doesn't seem to me like it would feel like a desperate struggle against the odds.  It seems like it would feel like a strategic grinding down of a reactive opponent.  I guess it depends on how much risk there is of the strategy not working out, and also the costs.

I was aiming for a certain "seek out their weak points" approach.  It's also a common genre convention for the first plan to fail.  I'll need to consider if I want to add a "secret weakness" mechanic or maybe just a way to throw more complications at the players on a failure.  That being said, there is some precendence for trying two challenges in rapid order, such as the heroes talking down a villain after being beat down in combat.  This will take a bit more mulling over.

Yeah, I think some sort of consequence is crucial.  In addition to "you can't just try again", I'd want something to make sure the loss felt like a loss to the heroes.

The thing is the challenge mechanics apply to small things like picking a lock as well as to climactic battles.  Having the character's home destroyed for failing to climb a wall seems a bit drastic and is likely to dull the edge of those big stakes.

That being said, I am setting rewards for a challenge to be roughly equal to chance of failure * cost of failure.  So big risks yield big rewards.  If the players want to do something big they have to either ante up something valuable or be ready to slowly build up through smaller challenges.

I may want to make anteing up big stakes neccesary to progress, but I want to limit how often I force that.  As I said, if that's overplayed it may lose it's edge.

As for the rewards, I like your line of thinking.  I think it'd be especially cool if those achievements could be measured via fictional outcomes rather than just through votes or fanmail.  Like, "prove you really hate this villain by spending your resources against them rather than some other equally valid expenditure".  But that may just be my personal taste.

I'll have to see how that works out as the rest of the mechanics evolve, but it should be possible to track where the players are focusing their time and resources.  Heck, players investigating a villains weakness is another sign of their interest.
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David Berg
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« Reply #11 on: November 27, 2011, 10:44:25 PM »

Do you want the players to feel like the odds are against them?  Or are you cool with them simply portraying characters who see the odds against them, while the players see a path to victory?

My misgivings pertain only to the former. 

If you're after the latter, I think you're in good shape!  The main thing I'm missing is color.  What's going on in the fiction to make the Hero feel like they're up against impossible odds?  If you already described how this is determined, and gave examples, then my bad, I must have missed it.
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Shimera9
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« Reply #12 on: November 29, 2011, 07:32:04 AM »

First, I'd like to say thanks for the responses.  I've set up a couple posts that flesh out the player incentives I talked about earlier.
  • Drive encourages heroic player to flesh out characters and tie them to setting by letting those character shift the odds in their favor.
  • Notoriety encourages nemesis players to make tough obstacles which hit the heroes on a personal level by letting them mitigate the heroes victory narration when those obstacles are defeated.
This should create an interesting back and forth where heroes build up power over time, but taking too long can let the nemesis side sour their eventual victory.

Second, I've been thinking over the "against the odds" theme and how the game's been shaping up.  What I'm actually aiming for involves a shifting balance of power.

At the start of the adventure, the odds actually are against the heroic side.  The nemesis side is fully capable of making obstacles that are extremely difficult for the heroes to overcome.  However, as play progresses the heroes will build up Drive and find ways to counter obstacles and enemy strong points.  At the same time, the nemesis side will start running low on the resources that power up their obstacles.  By the end of the adventure, the heroes should be looking at a far more even battle.  In fact, the heroes may even have favorable odds if they've built up a good supply of Drive.

In short, "against the odds" isn't meant to be a constant theme.  Instead, it's part of the larger theme that heroes are those willing to face things that are beyond their ability to handle, but that in facing those things the heroes can grow to rival and even overcome those threats.  That feeling of growth and progress is a significant part of what I'm shooting for.
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David Berg
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« Reply #13 on: November 29, 2011, 07:34:20 PM »

Cool.  So, let's say I'm playing the Hero, and it's early in the game.  A Nemesis player points to their big ol' threat pool and throws an Obstacle at me.  (That's how it works, right?  I'm trying to do something -- a heroic quest? just live my life? -- and then an Obstacle comes and interposes itself, right?  As opposed to me going out and finding the Obstacle because it's my Mission or something?)  Let's say the Obstacle is a ninja who will fight me to the death.

So now my big choice is how many of my own resources to spend in pursuit of victory.  That choice will depend on the odds and outcomes of winning, losing without spending, and losing with spending.  So, outcomes:

I think I understand what happens when I win.

What happens if I give up, spend no resources, and allow the ninja to defeat my character?  The ninja gains Notoriety, which is cool, and bad news for my character's future happiness!  Does anything else happen?  (Example: Does my character simply take a beating and escape?  If so, does that beating matter going forward?)

What happens if I spend all my resources, but the Nemesis spends more, so I get tapped out, and am defeated that way?  Does that produce different outcomes than if I spent nothing? 

What if I spend some of my resources, then give up before I'm tapped out?
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Shimera9
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« Reply #14 on: November 30, 2011, 08:24:40 AM »

(That's how it works, right?  I'm trying to do something -- a heroic quest? just live my life? -- and then an Obstacle comes and interposes itself, right?  As opposed to me going out and finding the Obstacle because it's my Mission or something?)

Actually, the game is set to the heroes starting with a reason and desire to overcome a larger problem.  Obstacles are primarily a pacing mechanic to keep them from jumping straight to the final conflict too soon.

That's not to say the character can't start of just living their lives, but you need to establish why they're involved in the main conflict.  Otherwise they're bystanders or supporting characters, not heroes.  For the first hero, this means their motives should be established in the first scene.

What happens if I give up, spend no resources, and allow the ninja to defeat my character?  The ninja gains Notoriety, which is cool, and bad news for my character's future happiness!  Does anything else happen?  (Example: Does my character simply take a beating and escape?  If so, does that beating matter going forward?)

What happens depends on how much the player was willing to risk.  The pay off for any challenge is tied to how much each side risks and how likely failure is.  I'm still working on how risks are set, but it will probably come down to the active chracter / initiator setting the risk.

In this case, that means what happens is determined by the ninja.  At this stage is the game, permanently taking the hero out of play is of the table (tough removing non-heroic characters is a possibility).  I'm still working out the list of possible nemesis awards.  Off the top of my head that could include forcing characters into a new scene (possibly one of their choosing), inflicting wounds, adding complications, locking traits, and removing or transforming unprotected setting elements.

However, it's worth noting that the chance of success won't reach 100%.  Since reward scales with chance of failure, that means a highly skilled ninja (low chance of failure) will need to set their own personal risks pretty high to have a big impact.  That also means if the character is shooting for a big impact on a win, they'll hand the hero a very sizable reward if the hero pulls off a lucky win.

What happens if I spend all my resources, but the Nemesis spends more, so I get tapped out, and am defeated that way?  Does that produce different outcomes than if I spent nothing?

Not at present.  I'll mull it over some more.  The thing is Drive is meant to be largely saved up for the final confrontation.  Making it renew on failure would encourage more use early game.  That's a possible option, but it might dull it's impact if it's used all the time.  That being said, I might let Drive be applied after the roll, so it's never actually wasted.  The problem there is that makes accumulating enough Drive an effective auto-win.

I think there's some confusion here over Drive's role.  It's not meant to carry you through all or even most challenges.  Most of the time it will work out more like this:
  • Heroes try to progress toward the final confrontation.
  • Nemesis players introduce obstacles.  The difficulty of overcoming the obstacle is set by how much threat is spent.
  • Heroes bring previous awards into play either gain an advantage or counter the obstacles advantages.
  • On success, heroes defeat obstacle and may gain award that helps with future challenges.
  • On failure, the heroes fall back and need to either look for an approach where the obstacles strengths don't come into play, or they need to hunt down more rewards to bolster their chances on a rematch.

This does mean the nemesis side can play aggressively and try blocking the heroes at every turn.  However, if hey do so they will run out of threat sooner.  At that point the heroes the heroes are free to hunt down easy challenges and start running over already established and fully known threats.

What if I spend some of my resources, then give up before I'm tapped out?

Same as the previous scenario.  Drive is relatively slow building, so you probably want to save it up for high stakes events rather than spending bit of it in every challenge.
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