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Author Topic: [Caterpillar] A Space Game of Space Pirates in Space  (Read 2426 times)
Josh Porter
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Posts: 58

I want to be old.


« on: November 17, 2011, 07:35:16 PM »

I'm currently working on this game: Caterpillar.

It is a silly game about space pirates, inspired by 3:16 and Poison'd, of course.  The tone, as I mentioned, is quite silly. The mechanics operate the way I hoped (at least in the playtests I've done so far), and the play is fun.  I am a fan.

I would like some feedback, though, on a few aspects of the game.
  • Are the rules organized in a comprehensive order/format?
  • Does the silly tone of the game come across through the rules as written?
  • Does the currency of the game flow in a way that drives interesting play?
I know the game is fun when I play it with my friends, but will that fun translate out of my play group?  Can the game be picked up and played as-is by the average fun-seeker?  That's what I hope to learn from you fine folks.  There are three PDFs linked here, the rules so far, the different character sheets for each kind of pirate, and the examples that will be inserted as sidebars into the final copy.  Let me know what you think!  Thanks, everybody!

The Rules
The Character Sheets
The Examples
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Kyle Van Pelt
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« Reply #1 on: November 18, 2011, 07:28:27 PM »

Honestly, this looks like a lot of fun. As far as your bullet points:

1. The rules seem to make sense and are laid out in a decent fashion.
2. The game seems most silly when reading about Skulls, looking at sample character names, and perusing the random roll tables.
3. Observing how the currency flows will require play, which I'll try to do soon if you need playtesting done.

Out of curiosity, how often do you plan on Promotions occurring per character? Once per session?

The game, at the very least, is enjoyable enough of a concept to play. I'll give it a shot with some friends and see how it goes. Are there any specific goals you have in mind for playtests?
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Josh Porter
Member

Posts: 58

I want to be old.


« Reply #2 on: November 19, 2011, 10:09:11 AM »

Thanks for reading!  It's really good to hear that the game sounds fun and appealing to a complete stranger (you).

As far as your questions are concerned:  I expect promotions to happen roughly once every session or so.  Maybe you won't quite get one one session, maybe you'll get two next session, etc.  One thing I did realize after the last playtest, was that I need to shorten the accident track for promotions.  Previous playtests had all the pirates chain-rolling off each other, and one player racked up enough accidents to become an ensign in the first 50 minutes of the game.  So with that, I created the skull boxes to temper the die-rolling, and make sure everyone gets a fair shake and equal spotlight time.  But it means that now the accident track needs to be shortened again to reflect the revised pace of the die rolls.

I would love it if you (and/or anyone) would playtest the game.  I don't know if it would quite fit to post actual plays in this thread or not (or whether they need to go in the AP section of the forums), but I'd love to see some to see how it plays with you.  I'll write up and post some APs here as well, and even post the recording I made of our last session, which was tons of fun.

As far as the goals I'd like to see for playtesting, they are phrased as questions below:
  • Does the pacing of the game match up with the promotion system and the BoneTracks of each pirate.  (Does the game promote/kill them too fast or slow?)
  • Is the RA able to run a session flying by the seat of his/her pant with no prep? (Are there enough tools to support it?)
  • Does the game inherently motivate the players enough to drive the game forward in interesting ways without a Beliefs/Best Interests/Ambitions mechanic?
  • What issues or problems did I not foresee yet in my own design and playtests?  (What breaks the game?)

Thanks for your interest, Kyle!  I'll get to posting some actuals plays on here in a bit.
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Josh Porter
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« Reply #3 on: November 19, 2011, 10:59:03 AM »

The first playtest:

Characters
Mya: Turquoise Jacket (the Earthling) - She is a lady with a beard
Morgan: Hngh! (the Primer) - He has a secret kitten and infinite ammo.
Nathan: Nokia Qwest-Lockheed (the Fairy) - He has about 20 fake _book accounts (pronounced "space book")

What Happened in the Fiction
The new recruits are arrayed on a stage in the mess hall, just as laid out in the "Starting the Game" section in the book.  When Dugan the NPC goes up to the lectern to address the crew, Hngh! walks up and smacks his head into it, which is a hilarious Primer prank.  We then decide that the standard Primer handshake involves grasping the other's collar and head-butting each other as hard as possible.  This action results in a gigantic brawl, where all the recruits are fighting against each other to prove how cool they are.  Nokia hacks people's _book accounts and tries to defame a poor, hapless Fairy named Compaq Presario.  It goes on for a while and all are accepted, except for the spy who pulls his gun on the captain. 

Hngh! shoots the guy, but keeps having accidents, so the spy stays on his feet for a while, but is eventually taken down.  At that point, the giant head of a Royal Naval Admiral (Enron Hewlett-Packard) appears in the mess hall, just like The Last Starfighter.  He laughs at the crew and reveals that his spy has hidden a tracking device on their ship.  The Caterpillar will be surrounded when it surfaces.  Gasp!  Nokia searches the webbernet and reveals to everyone that Enron has secretly been writing Who's The Boss fanfic for years.  Enron is embarrassed and signs off in a huff.  The captain gets the crew ready for battle, and  sends the new recruits to find the tracking device.

What Happened Around the Table
The first session was a wild success.  It was chaotic in a good way, and full of comedy.  The players all embraced the ideas of declaring new facts about the world, and loved having accidents when they didn't succeed.  The game did need a way to keep all the players a little more balanced in terms of spotlight, however, and Hngh! got a promotion incredibly fast because his player, Morgan, kept rolling and rolling constantly.  The whole session was a little over two hours long, and did an excellent job of fleshing out the setting and the mechanics.  Session two post to come.
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Josh Porter
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« Reply #4 on: November 20, 2011, 03:09:51 PM »

Actual Play Session Two:

A New Character
Tim: The Hammer-Polisher (The Rocket) - He has a chimp named Tungsten and a gigantic wrench

What Happened in the Fiction
Turquoise Jacket discovers a secret tracking beacon the size of a table nestled in a Jeffries tube above the kitchen.  She talls Hngh! about it and he shoots at it through the ceiling, but his success becomes complicated as the laser from his bullet narrowly misses Turquoise Jacket.  With the transmitter destroyed, Nokia back-hacks it and declares that Enron Hewlett-Packard and his battleship are hiding inside old earth's hollow moon.  He updates Enron's hacked _book account and broadcasts it to everyone (and gets a friend request from Captain Swallowtail).  The Hammer-Polisher meets and old friend from home (The Pants-Loser) who introduces him to the captain.  There, The Hammer-Polisher reveals his ingenious plan: to "repair" the tracker and send it out through The Deeps on a boarding pod, giving the enemy a false trail.  The Caterpillar will then catch the Navy ship from behind.

The plan goes off swimmingly.  The H-P fixes the beacon and sends it out, but the remote blows up in his hands, prematurely.  The Caterpillar lunges out of The Deeps and finds the enemy battleship right in their sights.  Hngh! brilliantly chooses to ride a torpedo (Dr. Strangelove style) toward the enemy bridge, and fires himself off almost immediately.  The crew engages in battle.  Nokia launches all of the escape pods and pilots them as a single giant organism (like the gore crows in Sabriel, if you've read it).  Turquoise runs the targeting computer, but cocks it all up, having an accident.  Uh-oh!  It looks like the sensors missed that destroyer behind you!  The Hammer-Polisher cranks the guns to 11, McGuyver style, while Hngh! sends back telemetry data from his torpedo mount.

The crew is SUPER-EFFECTIVE!  They do enough damage to the enemy (in a single exchange) to immediately board.  But first they must dodge that sippery destroyer.  They succeed (with just a little mishap-ery) and proceed to close in to board the battleship.  Meanwhile, Hngh!'s torpedo has flown through an open (broken) window on the bridge, and he hits his head on the ceiling, knocking him on his ass.  He pulls his gun and fires at the fanciest man he can find (and succeeds), who turns out to be the ship's magician.  A dove flies out of his wound.  Back on the Caterpillar, the crew readies the boarding pods, and The Hammer-Polisher mistakenly gives his pet chimp a block of C4.  Tungsten the chimp blows himself up, along with many other pirates.  How sad.

Regardless of setbacks, the crew successfully sends its boarders over.  They meet some marines upon arrival, but Turquoise Jacket bypasses them with the angry mob she has assembled and heads for the control room.  Nokia Qwest-Lockheed (who sent his flunky over in his place, along with his floating robot eye) jacks into a marine and guns down several more.  Hammer-Polisher throws his auto-hammer into the fray, and rigs up a downed marine's gun as a turret.  The marines hadn't a chance.  Turquoise Jacket arrives at the control room, and throws her mob into a frenzy, they defeat the hapless door guard and storm the room.  Inside Turquoise proceeds to force the control-room-ers to get very drunk, probably to screw up all the systems aboard ship.

On the bridge, Hngh! sees the admiral (who has been endowed with an irrational fear of vaccuum) rushing down a hallway.  Hngh! shoots out a nearby window, sucking them both out into space.  The admiral's re-breather and epaulets are stolen, and he is Falcon Kicked out and away, only to thud into the side of the destroyer.  Nokia begins hacking the destroyer's computer systems, while Hngh! races back to the bridge and charges up the experimental Yamato gun.  Concurrently, Nokia flubs his hack and launches all the destroyer's torpedos and Hngh! fires the Yamato gun, draining every single iota of power from the battleship.  The massive gun blast daisy-chains an explosion of torpedos and utterly destroys the destroyer, while a suffocating admiral Enron Hewlett-Packard rides the shockwave, screaming noiselessly.  As the power drains, one of the drunk idiots down in the control room pulls the "eject control room and plasma core" lever, and Turquoise Jacket barely leaps through the blast doors in time to save herself.  The pirates have won their first battleship, but it is completely drained of power and control.  How fittingly hilarious.

What Happened Around the Table
This session flowed much more cleverly than the previous one.  I give the credit to the Skull Boxes, which were not a part of the game as of the first playtest.  The spotlight naturally switched from one pirate to the other, leaving no one out, which was quite satisfying.  Accidents were, again, a huge part of the story.  They created most of the interesting wrinkles that developed in the fiction.  In addition, this session I began complicating low successes far more than I had previously, and it was incredibly fun.  It got to the point where the other players were requesting complications to add to their successes.  That's how much fun they were.  There were a few minor math oddities that I noticed during play (and will probably revise), but they didn't break the game at all.  The other players barely noticed or commented on them.

I achieved more insight on the Skull Box mechanic and on the promotion mechanics during this session.  The Skull Boxes not only move the spotlight, but also nudge players into performing actions that do not seem obvious, but create more interesting fiction.  The big stompy man can't keep shooting things over and over; he is forced to use his "non-shooty" die when the shooty one is in the Skull Box.  It created some really great stuff. 

In addition, I realized that the promotion mechanics allow pirates to min-max the ever-loving crap out of their (minimal) stats, and that's OK.  Since the most common way to get promoted is by having accidents, being too good at anything actually slows down your advancement.  It encourages players to keep their stats at a level where they can still fail.  Also, having a high target on a stat means that you are more likely to roll under by a larger margin, thus increasing the likelyhood of complications accompanying your success.  I think the promotion and die mechanics balance each other quite well.

And if You Have Some Free Time
I recorded about 95% of our session and you can listen to it here.  It begins with the crew looking for the secret transmitter that the Royal Spy had hidden on the Caterpillar.  Be warned, not only is it two hours long, but it is also full of tangents about such things as: cats presenting, can there be raw ham?, the Penn State scandal, modem dubstep, and many others.  My group loves to bullshit and talk over each other, but the tone of the game really comes across, and you can hear some fun stuff.  If you're like me and love listening to actual plays (The Walking Eye in particular), you may enjoy listening to this.

Thanks everyone!
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Kyle Van Pelt
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« Reply #5 on: November 21, 2011, 09:04:06 AM »

Good stuff! I'll check out the play recording soon.

I'm setting up a playtest soon for this game. Are there any insights you've gained from the playtests you've run that would help?

This looks to be a fun game, and I'm excited to try it.
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Josh Porter
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Posts: 58

I want to be old.


« Reply #6 on: November 22, 2011, 12:01:02 PM »

Awesome!  Thanks for being a playtester!

My best piece of advice for running the game is this: make the pirates' die rolls consequential.  If they succeed, their success becomes an important part of the fiction.  If they fail, their accident becomes an important part of the fiction, and usually creates a new wrinkle.  The players are assigning stakes to things by deciding to roll.  Without a roll there is never anything at stake.  If you make all rolls consequential, it drives play to really fun places.

Oh, and here are the slightly revised versions of the rules and character sheets, and the skull box sheet for good measure.

Thanks, Kyle!  I am super excited for you to test this.
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Josh Porter
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I want to be old.


« Reply #7 on: November 24, 2011, 10:58:57 PM »

This is a different question than the one in the opening post, but this is the concept that I have been obsessing over for the last few days: consequence.  I feel that every time dice are rolled, the resultant action should have consequence, be it positive or negative.  I know this is not a new concept by any means, but it has been popping out at me in other games that don't specifically employ it. 

For instance, I am currently in a DFRPG (Dresden Files) game, and one of the players decided to roll resources to fill up his truck with gas.  This seems like an obvious "Say yes or roll the dice" scenario, but it got me thinking.  While I love DFRPG and FATE in general, you can roll the dice and have it mean virtually nothing.  Yes, your truck is full of gas.  And yes, you can pay for it.  But that does nothing to drive the fiction forward.  (It might in a zombie survival game, I guess.)

  Or, take this example: my character, a sasquatch, decides to punch a ghost in the face, and I roll terribly.  All that happens is that I don't punch a ghost in the face.  My roll has the same effect as if I had stood still doing nothing.  Upon failure, my roll had no consequence.

All of this led me to write the following little chunk for the RA (GM, if you prefer) section of Caterpillar.  It's not yet in the linked version.

Quote
Die Rolls and Consequence
   Players roll dice not only to bring a random element to the game, but also to show what is important.  If a player says, “My guy goes and eats some fish and chips,” he probably doesn't roll any dice.  Why would he?  He's just having his lunch.  But what if the pirate's player says, “I'm going to roll Eatery to eat some fish and chips”?  Do you say no?  Of course not.
   You see, the pirate's player has just communicated to you that eating fish and chips is somehow important.  He is spending a resource to accomplish a goal, even if it seems like a silly one.  If he rolls too high and has an accident, eating fish and chips will have made life harder for him.  If it is unimportant, how could it have any negative effect on him whatsoever?  The pirate has made his fish-eating consequential.  By rolling dice to do it, he has decided that whether he succeeds or fails, there will be consequences.
   So what if he succeeds?  We know he'll have an accident if he fails, but how can fish and chips matter in the slightest?  It is up to you, the RA, to make it important.  This is your greatest responsibility: making the pirates' action consequential.  Maybe, by eating exceptionally well, the pirate impresses a new NPC, who (while offering congratulations) lets slip news of a fabulous space treasure.  It's your call.  But always make die rolls matter.  When a die is rolled, the player is giving his action consequence, and if he succeeds it is your job to make that a reality.

So here's my question: what are some other games that take a similar approach to die rolls and consequence, both on positive and negative outcomes?  I would love to look at some other material and get an idea of how to tighten this idea up and pass it along as clearly as possible.  It's a philosophy I had in mind during the entire writing process of the game, and I want it to be specifically mentioned, as it drives the game's fiction.  Anyone have any helpful advice?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: November 25, 2011, 06:53:40 AM »

Hi Josh,

I think I can help with that question. In the final analysis, "consequence" is a humanocentric issue, I mean, as long as we're talking about stories. Something is consequential if it matters, changes things, for someone. (OK, it could be an alien, an animal, a cartoon anthropomorph; I'm using "human" here in terms of audience identification).

Even if the immediate visual concern is, "Oh no, does the mainmast snap!" (or mizzen or whatever it's called), the genuine concern is what that means to the character's safety and ability to proceed toward some end. It's not about the mainmast.

Therefore, let's focus on what is happening prior to the roll, not merely its consequences. This is what I'm always blathering about concerning conflict of interest. What is happening as established so far, often inadvertently or unexpectedly, which puts one or more character's existing interests in jeopardy?

For example, the rule in Sorcerer (a bit tacit, but there) is, when there's such a conflict, always roll. When there's not, never roll. The difficulty, or capability, or any other aspect of the immediate situation is absolutely irrelevant. If a character decides to bake a cake or build a fence in the middle of play, and no imaginable conflict of interest is involved, then go by the character's descriptors and say "Yes" or "No" to establish whether it happens.  But if there's a conflict of interest involved, then the dice must come out.

(Sorcerer is quite harsh and straightforward in this regard, whereas all of Vincent's game designs fiddle with this idea, teasing out new ways to establish such things, providing subroutines for instantly losing once in one, and other nuances.)

You were actually right onto this when you felt a little twinge, while typing, and clarified that filling one's tank with gas is a conflict if this is about getting away from zombies, but not if ... well, if not. That's exactly correct. The in-fiction fact that the physical actions are identical in each case is a distraction, and it must be abandoned. If possible, taken out back and shot.

I do not claim to be a good advisor for Poison'd, as I have not yet played it successfully, but my current thinking is that it would be a very flaccid way to play by saying, out of the blue, "Conflict! Roll! Yeah! I got it! Uhhh ... what does that mean, again?" And then to hunt around for consequences in order to make it important.

Let me know if this makes any sense to you.

Best, Ron
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Josh Porter
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I want to be old.


« Reply #9 on: November 25, 2011, 09:43:33 AM »

Thanks, Ron.  After two read-throughs I think I see your point(s).  Let me see if I understand what you're saying.

In order for a character's action to have consequence, the action must have some bearing on the character's interests in some way.  That may be safety, life goals, or what have you.  So if, perhaps, in the quoted text, the pirate eating fish and chips has an allergy to seafood and wants to prove something, that action should be consequential.  If his player is merely looking for an excuse to roll dice (to try for a promotion via one more accident, or to get the dice back for the other players, maybe) then his action would not be consequential, and therefore not be deserving of a die roll.  Is that pretty close?

If so, let me follow up with another question.  Would this be an idea likely clarified with a task v. intent clarification in the rules?  In the same example, the pirate wants to roll to eat his fish and chips, and the RA asks the player to clarify what his intent is.  This would inherently answer the question of consequence, wouldn't it?  If the player really wants to roll, he'll need to make eating more than just a task.

I ask because I'm looking for a happy medium through which the players get to assign consequence to their actions simply by picking up the dice.  When they go to the dice, they know that this roll will matter.  It's a piece of authority that is often left up to the GM (who often lets it go by unnoticed, as his plate is pretty full already), and I'd like to mechanically allow the players choose what is consequential.  Is there another game out there that does this (maybe even one I've played, but missed this aspect)?
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« Reply #10 on: November 25, 2011, 11:16:17 AM »

Hi Josh,

I’ll do something a little out of character for me and get picky with your phrasing as my way to reply. That’s because you are very close and it might be helpful to see your own words “shaved” a little.

Quote
In order for a character's action to have consequence, the action must have some bearing on the character's interests in some way.  That may be safety, life goals, or what have you.

My only change: “… some bearing on some character’s interests in some way.” So it could be the acting character or it could be anyone else.

That raises an important point about who is and who isn’t a character, too. Typically this is straightforward, but in many cases, we see “people” in the fiction who are mere furniture, and “things” in the fiction which functionally operate as characters. Let me know if you want me to elaborate on this.

Quote
So if, perhaps, in the quoted text, the pirate eating fish and chips has an allergy to seafood and wants to prove something, that action should be consequential.  If his player is merely looking for an excuse to roll dice (to try for a promotion via one more accident, or to get the dice back for the other players, maybe) then his action would not be consequential, and therefore not be deserving of a die roll.  Is that pretty close?

Very close – but the second half, “merely looking for an excuse to roll dice,” depends a little too much on mind-reading and psychology. Stay focused on the internal fiction (frankly, “SIS” or shared imagined space is the exact term for a reason; I’ll explain that if you want), in terms of the pirate.

Therefore, yes, if it is in fact already established that the pirate has an allergy, and if eating the seafood is right then and there, without some wearily explained/negotiated explanation of it, socially opposed to someone’s interest , then sure, roll.

But my advice for such a game is, “I’m eatin’ some seafood! And I’m rolling …” “No roll. You eat the seafood. Unless you can explain why that matters to anyone.”

Bluntly, I think your advice in that section is ass. It puts the GM on the spot to entertain the players even if they’re merely fucking around, at best. At worst, the road you are traveling with your advice is only to enter into bogus bullshit negotiations either before the roll (“If I can justify it …”) or after it (“No! He doesn’t have an allergy! You just made that up!”).

Quote
If so, let me follow up with another question.  Would this be an idea likely clarified with a task v. intent clarification in the rules?  In the same example, the pirate wants to roll to eat his fish and chips, and the RA asks the player to clarify what his intent is.  This would inherently answer the question of consequence, wouldn't it?  If the player really wants to roll, he'll need to make eating more than just a task.

Task vs. intent is all right, but open to frequent misinterpretation and bogosity. It leads us to conflicts in which the player says, “I’m trying to fix the mainmast, but my intention is to make Dirty Joe long for my sweet buttocks.” (There is a system which does in fact permit this kind of thing nicely: Elfs. Note that it is played for competitive comedy and the two actions are resolved independently; neither is ignored.) People pollute the rules of Primetime Adventures with this kind of nonsense all the time. It also gums up the mechanics of Polaris through the “But only if” mechanic, which borders on being broken.

As long as intent means what the character is clearly dedicated to accomplishing, to ourselves as audience, as opposed to merely being claimed as an internal hidden agenda, then it’s fine.

Quote
I ask because I'm looking for a happy medium through which the players get to assign consequence to their actions simply by picking up the dice.  When they go to the dice, they know that this roll will matter.  It's a piece of authority that is often left up to the GM (who often lets it go by unnoticed, as his plate is pretty full already), and I'd like to mechanically allow the players choose what is consequential.  Is there another game out there that does this (maybe even one I've played, but missed this aspect)?

The only game which nails it to the wall, in my opinion, is one of mine: Trollbabe. And even then, although it is perfectly legal for anyone to holler “Conflict!” and seize the dice, the system cannot proceed from there until the character’s Goal (capitalized; it’s formally defined in Trollbabe) is explicit at least to the people at the table.

I think your happy medium needs to return to the midpoint, rather than going too far toward the seize-the-dice, leave-it-to-the-GM method.

Best, Ron
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Josh Porter
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« Reply #11 on: November 25, 2011, 12:26:21 PM »

OK, I think I'm a bit closer to what you're saying, Ron.

The clarification of some character's interests is what made it click, I think.  Basically, the actions taken by characters are either a) relevant to the characters' interests in the game's fiction (SIS) and require a roll because of their inherent consequence, or b) a piece of color that may be enjoyable, but does not impact the interests of any character.  Option b should not require a roll because there are no inherent stakes for any of the characters.  How close is that?  8 out of 10?

So again, let me follow up with another question.  The mechanics in Caterpillar give importance to every failed roll (accident) by allowing the player to choose a roughly specified consequence from a list (the pirate gets hurt, a mishap befalls him, an ominous NPC arrives), or he can give the option to the RA (GM) who chooses from a similar but slightly different list.  From the playtests conducted so far, accidents are perhaps the strongest force of introducing new things into the fiction.  The intention is to give a possible negative consequence to every die roll and to give the "failing" player some new authorship, and it turns out to be very fun.  The question is: how important does a goal need to be to give it consequence when it succeeds?  Let me explain.

Tim is playing a very McGuyver-like pirate, and he has decided to modify his trusty, old hammer to make it "automatic".  He wants to go smash a marine's head in with the hammer, and make it extra effective.  He rolls Moddery to mod his hammer out.  There are (at least) two possible outcomes.  A) He succeeds.  His pirate's hammer is now automatic and will hurt a marine worse than before.  B) He has an accident and something ill befalls his pirate.  Is "I want my hammer to be more dangerous" truly consequential, or just cool?  Is it worth going to the dice?  There is an inherent risk with every roll, but does that undermine the possible success?

I see your point regarding the ass-ness of the example.  It sure doesn't help that I chose the stupidest possible thing to roll (on purpose) to try and illustrate it.  I didn't foresee the way it implicitly made the RA a dancing monkey for the players.  The real point I was trying to make is that the RA should not let a roll mean nothing when it succeeds.  I should probably specify something along the lines of "You are not the players' bitch.  They have to put some work in, too," to not confuse the point.  The players need real, fictional (not an oxymoron) reasons to do things that matter.  But if they do have their reasons, the GM should reciprocate by making the results of their actions matter.  Am I getting a little closer to the heart of the issue with this?

Thanks for your input, Ron.  I'm not as well-versed in Forge-talk as I probably should be, so I appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions and shed some light on some of these concepts.
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« Reply #12 on: November 25, 2011, 06:32:51 PM »

Hey Josh,

A little more sanding and rubbing … although the work is much finer than it was a couple of posts ago, so I’m calling this successful so far.

Quote
...  Basically, the actions taken by characters are either a) relevant to the characters' interests in the game's fiction (SIS) and require a roll because of their inherent consequence, or b) a piece of color that may be enjoyable, but does not impact the interests of any character.  Option b should not require a roll because there are no inherent stakes for any of the characters.  How close is that?  8 out of 10?

10 out of 10 if we understand that your (b) does indeed enter the fictional material as solidly and thoroughly as anything else might have. Yes, it didn’t impact anyone’s interests. Nonetheless, there is indeed a fence newly built out there on the prairie, or a rock was lifted, or whatever. Or if the stated action was flatly out of the character’s range, then the converse, X (whatever it was) is equally solidly established not to have happened.

In other words, (b) is not nothing. We’re still talking about making things happen in the fiction, either way.

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…  From the playtests conducted so far, accidents are perhaps the strongest force of introducing new things into the fiction.  The intention is to give a possible negative consequence to every die roll and to give the "failing" player some new authorship, and it turns out to be very fun.  The question is: how important does a goal need to be to give it consequence when it succeeds? 

At the risk of touting my own stuff even worse than I did in the previous post, do you know Trollbabe? I was directly influenced by both The Pool and Dust Devils in designing its narration rules, but reversed expectations when people realized that they only narrated their characters’ failures. It’s proved itself in practice, but I do enjoy seeing the principles involved appear in dialogue about other games.

Anyway, on to your McGuyver pirate. There are two things to talk about.

1. The point of having Moddery in there at all; same goes for Constructery or any similar Skull. The easiest fix of all is to bag such things entirely, all done. Pick Skulls which are so adverse (Punchery) and/or fucked-up (Buggery) and/or personally risky (Explodery) that they do in fact initiate conflict of the kind we’re talking about, by definition.

2. But if you don’t like that and decide to keep what you’ve got, including Moddery, then all I can say is that your Tim example is functional but adds an annoying, non-immediate delay into the mechanic. Mod up your hammer all you want, and I suggest that no rolling occurs at that time. But when the day comes that you want to crunch someone’s head with it, then roll Moddery and use it for doing the damage. If you’re good at Moddery, and if you get a good roll, then narrate the fuck out of it as you see fit. But screw this whole “roll to beef up later rolls jack the system heh heh” nonsense, right out of the system. Your game works if a roll is a roll is a roll, not if someone can build a tinkertoy construction of strategic rolls into some kind of end-run around the effectiveness parameters.

You can see the fun part if the roll fails, right? Boom! Sucks to be you, stumpy.

Regarding the earlier example,

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The real point I was trying to make is that the RA should not let a roll mean nothing when it succeeds.  I should probably specify something along the lines of "You are not the players' bitch.  They have to put some work in, too," to not confuse the point.  The players need real, fictional (not an oxymoron) reasons to do things that matter.  But if they do have their reasons, the GM should reciprocate by making the results of their actions matter.  Am I getting a little closer to the heart of the issue with this?

I think that if you focus on the conflict-of-interest points I’ve raised here, tuned and phrased however you find that they work best for your game, then your real point is 90% made already, and the simple phrase, “don’t let a successful roll mean nothing” will suffice. Or perhaps, “every roll moves things along, no ‘you’re back where you started, try again,’ moments.”

Best, Ron
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Josh Porter
Member

Posts: 58

I want to be old.


« Reply #13 on: November 25, 2011, 09:19:27 PM »

Thanks, man.  I think I have a good grasp on how to fit consequence into the game better than I did before.  And thanks for reading my game and giving some real feedback.  It's much appreciated.

Insofar as color is concerned, yes: it always, always becomes a true and solid part of the fiction.  Color can inform later decisions that will require rolls too, which creates more interesting options for the players (the GM included, of course). 

The example of the hammer modification in real life turned out to be a color decision as well.  Kind of.  Tim rolled for it and modded the hammer successfully, but the modification only gave him a fictional (color) benefit at the time, not a mechanical one.  Later in the game, the "automatic"-ness of his hammer came full circle and allowed him to do something he otherwise couldn't (an automatic hammer frantically banging around in a Jeffries tube to cause distraction).  That was the only real example I could think of from playtesting in which a roll was rolled without an immediate fictional consequence, and as such it stuck out.  Your #2 point regarding it was a good thought-provoker, and I think I have a better idea on how to handle it if it comes up again.

As far as Trollbabe is concerned, no I haven't played it.  It is on my (medium-length) list of indie games to read at the moment, along with Sorcerer, The Mountain Witch, and a couple of others.  I am a huge fan of "failure as a kind of success," so it may have to skip to the top of my list.  I have been gorging myself on Vincent's games in recent months (ever since Apocalypse World came out, really), and doing a lot of break-downing on the way he constructs his games.  Trollbabe may need a similar breakdown soon, it seems.
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I am playtesting Flawed and Caterpillar.
I am playing Dresden Files.
David Berg
Member

Posts: 997


« Reply #14 on: November 27, 2011, 10:12:04 PM »

Hi Josh,

As I see it, you have an interesting decision regarding how to implement your core mechanic.  Where do you fall between (a) giving the players a magic button that they can go to at any time for consequences, and (b) making them roleplay until their fictional actions can be judged to have produced a conflict of interest?

I have two examples from other games that might be interesting to you.

Mendel S. ("wyrmwood" here) has a game in development called Space Cowboys of Independence, where, if I remember right, the core mechanic throws in-fiction causality out the window and acts as a pure story-advancer.  Fred's character's attempt to eat fish and chips could mean that bikers arrive on the spaceship.  "Bikers arrive" is established by random card draws and a look-up table.  I don't think it would be any great leap to add "Josh's character is attacked by his arch-nemesis" to that table, so that the consequence spotlight gets spread around regardless of which player tends to be the first to invoke the mechanic.

My other example is Apocalypse World.  Being the fiction-first enthusiast that I am, I simply tried to have my character pursue his interests, and when the MC told me to roll something, I rolled.  So, how was it determined when I'd receive mechanics-derived consequences?  It was determined by Vincent's design for what sorts of narrative occurrences* get you mechanics-derived consequences, as interpreted by the MC.  That is, I have my character do something risky; the MC says, "I think that qualifies as acting under fire"; and Vincent says that when a character acts under fire, here are the possible outcomes, and here's how you use dice, stats, and judgment to arrive at one.

Several of my fellow players, however, chose a very different approach.  Realizing that rolling dice got them guaranteed consequences (as well as spotlight time), they would often simply look at the Basic Moves sheet, pick the Move corresponding to their highest stat, and say (e.g.), "I try to manipulate him!"  As per the game's instructions and goals, the MC and I would jump in and say, "Okay, how?"  And if the player couldn't answer, we denied them the roll.  But they could usually answer.

I'm not trying to make a particular point here.  As you're deciding what sorts of results you want, and which approaches will best produce them, I just hope these anecdotes might be useful!  Caterpillar sounds fun.

Oh, a final note!  I can't tell if you have or had any impulse to use mechanics purely to generate color, but if so, I wouldn't rule those out.  I think Ron's example of rolling Moddery when you attack is nice, but generating extra color that could manifest in totally unexpected ways is also nice.  If I roll Moddery long before the attack, and the roll outcome establishes that my hammer glows blue with awesome energy... and then later, I want to sneak up on a guy in the dark, and I realize I can't, because my fucking hammer's glowing... I love that shit.

Ps,
-David

* in the context of this thread, think "fictional actions that also address conflicts of interest"
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