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Author Topic: [Within My Clutches] my game can be won, so they played to win it  (Read 1466 times)
David Berg
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Posts: 997


« on: January 26, 2012, 01:46:43 AM »

Within My Clutches (old; still revising current version)

Oops. 

This game operates on a structure of pursuing your protagonist's goals, and there are some strategic decisions you make that impact your success at that.  Overall, though, it's supposed to be a character exploration game, where the point of the struggle is to examine, experience, celebrate and expand upon the classic flawed super-villain.  You go after Goals, getting gradually more taxed by the cost of maintaining the ones you've achieved, until we see what this character does with desire and success and juggling and failure and disappointment, and then the story's over.

That was the intent, anyway.

When I was pitching the game in an attempt to get friends to come playtest it, I said this:

"Can you be the first supervillain to achieve all your goals, or will the burdens you've saddled yourself with drag you down and out of the race?"

And then in my in-person introduction, I described how, when you get all your Goals, you get to declare "Time to wrap it up.  Final scenes, everyone."

Like I said, oops.

No one really got into the character psychology of the decisions being made, they just chose according to the aim of achieving the 3 Goals on their sheet.

My intent had simply been to forecast where would be a good place to stop, and to communicate that character success and character failure were both reasonable to expect.  "If you lose two Achievements, you crash and burn, and you get an epilogue where you describe how you go out in an epic meltdown," was supposed to be seen as a fun thing to do with your character, but in light of my earlier statements, people just took it as a description of the consolation prize for not winning.

Simply re-setting the endgame to what it originally was -- "play until you feel you've done all you can with this character; if you win all your Goals, keep playing under the burdens that come with those Achievements" -- should do wonders to fix the expectations.  I'll highlight that next time: completing your character's stated objectives does not mean you've won the game.

Design issues remain, regarding the interface between in-character decisions and system-manipulating ones, but I think I'll instantly be a lot closer by establishing the proper expectations on this particular front.

(This may seem obvious.  All I can say in my defense is that one of my objectives was to test out the math, and playing to win was good for testing that.  Required successes are going up from 5 to 6 and starting Moxy is going down from 6 to 3.)

That's all I have to say for now.  I hope the title observation is useful to someone out there.  I'll be back to discuss the game more once I have an updated document.

Feel free to ask questions or share experiences regarding unintended playing to win in RPGs.  Just because I have a plan doesn't mean the issue's conclusively resolved.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #1 on: January 26, 2012, 04:12:19 PM »

Hi,

Did they define the three goals on their sheet?

Could you give an example of the pursuit of those goals the players made in their narration or such?

I'm not really sure you can have characters doing stuff and not have gotten into the characters psycology? It'd be right there. Unless the players simply weren't interested in it - but it's still right there to be picked up on. It doesn't sound like the game is removing that element?
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Sp4m
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« Reply #2 on: January 26, 2012, 04:57:29 PM »

How did your different (competing?) villains cooperate to tell a single narrative?
Were they ever at odds with one another's evil plots? Is this game run as a campaign, or during a single session?

What are some examples of the goals these villains are trying to accomplish, and what are some drawbacks?
I'm curious to see how you systemize psychological burden.

In my experience, character development is best when it happens naturally, over time. Trying to squeeze major psyche development (like call of cthulhu's sanity loss) into a single game session makes it feel forced. IE. the character develops when game events have weight, and they only get weight by having a player invested in them.
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #3 on: January 26, 2012, 06:28:33 PM »

Hi Callan,

You might be right, I'm not sure.

Much was warped by trying to squeeze 3 hrs of testing into what turned out to be 90 minutes of actual time.  So we were in fast-forward mode almost the whole time.  We did slow down a bit for Melanie and Dustin.  Melanie seemed pretty into her character concept, and did some cool roleplaying, but then when it came time to resolve the scene and choose he path, an extremely lucky dice roll kind of made it no contest.  Dustin's turn was a more interesting case.

Dustin was playing Frenzy, a wealthy scientist who gets super-strength from injecting himself with an experimental compound.  Kind of the Hulk crossed with Bane.  Frenzy's family life was a bit of a disaster, with a cheating wife and a rebellious daughter.  His first Goal was to make it in good with the old money, to become respected rather than viewed as an uncouth upstart.  We rolled his Attempt dice and he got 2 successes, meaning he'd need to Commit for 3 in order to achieve this Goal.  This would in turn saddle him with a 3-point Expectation in future turns; not the greatest way to start off.

I'd been hoping that this moment would be Frenzy's decision about how desperate he really was for respect vs how afraid he was of an entanglement sapping his ability to pursue his family goals.  Either some agonizing or a strong statement of priority, or long- vs short-sighted character portrayal.  Instead, Dustin simply looked over his resources, looked over the options (1 - don't Commit, wait for next round, hoping for a better die roll, but taking a hit to his Moxy for not pursuing what he's desperate for, or 2 - Commit now and have to deal with a 3-point Expectation eating his dice pool for the rest of the game), calculated that Committing now gave him the best odds of being the first player to achieve all 3 Goals, and thus chose that.

I'd hoped that, rather than being a "best" strategy, there would simply be different strategies invoking different probabilities of different outcomes, to be discovered in play.  Some risks would be inevitable, but which risk you take when would be largely a matter of "what would this character do here?"  I don't know for sure what sabotaged that -- the hurried circumstances of play, my setting the wrong expectations, or the rules themselves.

I'll post the ruleset shortly, and I'd certainly welcome your analysis!
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David Berg
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« Reply #4 on: January 26, 2012, 08:12:28 PM »

Hi Spam (or whatever you'd like to be called?),

It's intended for 2-3 sessions.  The villains' stories stay separate, but they interact with the same supporting characters, so the "universe" of the story is tied together somewhat.  But as far as spotlight on protagonists, it's a turn-taking game.

I'm with you on investment and weight building over time.  I generally prefer to gradually build into that stuff too.  That said, I have had successful short games of various systems where people got very into their characters' heads very quickly, so it is at least possible.

I hope my reply to Callan addressed your other questions.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #5 on: January 26, 2012, 10:09:21 PM »

Quote
calculated that Committing now gave him the best odds of being the first player to achieve all 3 Goals, and thus chose that.

I'd hoped that, rather than being a "best" strategy, there would simply be different strategies invoking different probabilities of different outcomes, to be discovered in play.  Some risks would be inevitable, but which risk you take when would be largely a matter of "what would this character do here?"  I don't know for sure what sabotaged that -- the hurried circumstances of play, my setting the wrong expectations, or the rules themselves.
It's probably the hurried circumstances.

BUT, damn, he's just that cold? I know this is a player choice, but if you transpose the players method of thinking out his choices as being a reflection of the characters psych, this is a character with ice cold veins. None of it matters, he will have the world and...not a thought to whether it all burns!

If you express your genuine (not made up to provoke) reaction of how you see his character, when you transpose player method of thinking onto the character - the player might suddenly see their character come to life in someone elses eyes and thus, also in his own. Not to change the choice, but to see a living being be that single minded about winning it all.

I think if, instead of waiting for a portrayal, you see portrayal right there in the mechanics use, then your seeing the character. Even if the character didn't realise that about himself. Don't let any board gamey use of mechanics just be a meta fiction thing - it's all a reflection of character! Sometimes a very explicit reflection! Verbalise your genuine reactions to character portrayal via mechanics use and players realise they can't do something without defining their character!

Or those are my rambly thoughts, anyway!
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #6 on: January 26, 2012, 10:38:18 PM »

Verbalise your genuine reactions to character portrayal via mechanics use and players realise they can't do something without defining their character!

You know, I actually do that a lot when I play!  "Whoa, he's not panicked with all that on the line?  Is he super slick, or is he just emotionless?"  For this playtest, I felt like that would have biased the results, to assert my own tastes and expectations.  I would have been psyched if Melanie or Rohit (our 4th player) had said that!  But they didn't.

I think a potential factor is the player/character disconnect between the mental process of choosing.  The same factors apply to the choice (now/later, risk/reward), but as Dustin looked over his resources and did the math, it was as if the fiction was put on hold.  Then when he reached his decision, we rolled and flipped dice until the outcome was determined, and only then was it back to the fiction for a "what happens?" that was more about product than process.

I actually wrote a part in the rules about "when you choose to Commit, author the Expectation right then" so we could see the character motives come to life.  But rather than turning that into a narration, Dustin did it as accounting and proceeded to complete the other resolution tasks.

I tried to create some mid-resolution space for fiction by saying, "When you choose to Commit, narrate how you cross your Line," trying to connect the psychological commitment to a further action in pursuit of the Goal.  Unfortunately, though I think the basic idea of "do something you weren't eager to do" is solid, trying to apply the Line on his sheet ("can't hurt my family's reputation" in Frenzy's case) to the present situation was simply onerous and I let Dustin hand-wave it rather than forcing him to think up some contrived way to apply it.

The Line isn't supposed to be a challenge, it's purely for help and inspiration.  So maybe I need something better for that.
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David Berg
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« Reply #7 on: January 27, 2012, 02:07:55 AM »

Here's the version we played, finally written up.
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Rubbermancer
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« Reply #8 on: January 29, 2012, 03:40:02 PM »

I read the pdf, and I gotta say, there's nothing in there that seems to be encouraging a "play to win" mentality.  My guess is, your player just wanted to win, because that's how he plays games.  I don't think you should have to change your game in any way solely to make it more effective in pulling gamist gamers over to the narrativist dark side.  Perhaps just rephrase a few things?

Quote
Itís all about what you want and what happens when you go after it and get it.

Players could take this to mean "Make your Goals, and then achieve them".  Perhaps some re-wording will help, something that makes the game's goals more explicit from the outset.  For example, "Itís an exploration of what your character wants, and of the changes he goes through in pursuing those desires."
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Callan S.
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« Reply #9 on: January 30, 2012, 12:31:44 PM »

Quote
For this playtest, I felt like that would have biased the results, to assert my own tastes and expectations.
Yeah, I get what your trying to avoid. But I think your boned! You or someone has to do it.

Perhaps it's worth trying to describe the genuine responce to player system use (as if it were character thought process) in the text, with a prompt to try and think that way as often as possible. And see if a player or two engage that. It might even be worth writing in the text it's not just a side thing - that unless atleast one person at the table reacts this way, it just doesn't work out.

Quote
I think a potential factor is the player/character disconnect between the mental process of choosing.  The same factors apply to the choice (now/later, risk/reward), but as Dustin looked over his resources and did the math, it was as if the fiction was put on hold.  Then when he reached his decision, we rolled and flipped dice until the outcome was determined, and only then was it back to the fiction for a "what happens?" that was more about product than process.
Yeah, I think I know the mode your talking about. For awhile they dedicately absolute to math - and the creative, artistic side of thier brain has a nap!

Maybe the various options are given names and the rules prompt people to verbalise the names of options they consider, as they consider them - to stop this 'player dissapears inside themselves for awhile' thing. Though I wouldn't make that a hard rule as I think people would often forget to name options as they consider, but more like an urging in the text and a GM duty to urge, so they atleast mumble a few option names and other players/the GM can get an inside glimpse, a little bit, to the thinking process.

Just some ideas!
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #10 on: January 30, 2012, 06:47:02 PM »

Joe,

The main thing I'm worried about in the latest version of the text is "IX. Ending the Game" on page 10.  I'm planning to change it back to the version linked in my first post.  While the endings listed are nice options to have, I think the idea that by achieving all your Goals you will end the game makes it feel more like "I won", whereas the earlier version says "play until your character exploration is complete".

I'm not sure how much of an issue "agreeing on a good place to stop" is.  I don't want to be overly constraining -- e.g., timing it with the end of a session is probably a good option to have -- but something to look forward to, a la Sorcerer's kicker resolution, seems like a good idea.

In superhero comics, the end of a villain's story is always a defeat.  But the end of a given issue might well be a villain's triumph, or worsening threat.  Hmm...

Quote
Itís all about what you want and what happens when you go after it and get it.
Players could take this to mean "Make your Goals, and then achieve them".  Perhaps some re-wording will help, something that makes the game's goals more explicit from the outset.  For example, "Itís an exploration of what your character wants, and of the changes he goes through in pursuing those desires."

Good call!  In truth, it's all about what happens when your character pursues and achieves.  As a player, the "what happens" is the important part, as defined by the experience rather than the mere facts of pursuit and achievement.  That could definitely be communicated more clearly.  I mean, I think the very first paragraph of the game covers that, but for anyone who skims or forgets that, a punchier version might be wise.  I'll work on it.

Thanks,
-David
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #11 on: January 30, 2012, 07:26:56 PM »

Perhaps it's worth trying to describe the genuine responce to player system use (as if it were character thought process) in the text, with a prompt to try and think that way as often as possible. And see if a player or two engage that. It might even be worth writing in the text it's not just a side thing - that unless atleast one person at the table reacts this way, it just doesn't work out.

Yeah, a play example where the player is sort of thinking out loud might help.  "I really want this new Goal, but I can't let my last Achievement get away from me!  Rrrgh!  I'll devote most of my resources to holding onto the old one.  Captain, send in every last killer robot!"

Perhaps this is easier if Goals are kept tangible?  The villain whose Adoration Goal is, like, the love of his daughter... that player might feel creatively strained to portray the act of investing in the daughter at the expense of his current Respect Goal attempt at joining the League of Destruction. 

What I was hoping for was, "As I give my speech to the league, I can't get my daughter's disappointed glare out of my head, and the league members see me take a moment to compose myself."  But that hasn't been happening.

The contest is supposed to be internal and psychological.  That said, a lot of the strength of the genre (I think) is manifesting the internal in very dramatic external ways.  Perhaps I should include one remotely-operating Instrument to be defined in char-gen, so those characters who have more modest means will still have at least a single flunky or something.  Then in the moment of decision they can say, "It would have been nice to have my lackey kissing my ass in front of the League, but I must send him off to bring daughter flowers!" as the push the dice around.

Maybe the various options are given names and the rules prompt people to verbalise the names of options they consider, as they consider them - to stop this 'player dissapears inside themselves for awhile' thing. Though I wouldn't make that a hard rule as I think people would often forget to name options as they consider, but more like an urging in the text and a GM duty to urge, so they atleast mumble a few option names and other players/the GM can get an inside glimpse, a little bit, to the thinking process.

Hmm.  So given the choice of how many dice to spend on the current Goal vs past Achievements, I could label "more dice on Goal" as Forward At All Costs and label "fewer dice on Goal" as Protect Treasured Assets?

Actually, that dividing line could be a useful narration guide as well.  "If you Protect Treasured Assets, narrate how your attentions in that direction negatively impact your pursuit of your Goal."
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #12 on: January 30, 2012, 07:39:08 PM »

Separately, I've been thinking that perhaps the player/character disconnect has been fostered by extensive procedures.  Like, there are too many required steps.  Rather than needing to go through a checklist in order, it might be better to give players rewards for performing a small number of tasks apiece.

If the SC player gets a point for the Protagonist achieving their Goal, and the owners of Achievements get points for the Protagonists spending dice to defend their Achievements, and I rule about when you can Commit and spend Moxy, the rest might take care of itself.

I'm not sure what the above points would be for, though.  I'm not sure what's the ideal way to reward "you've helped the other players really explore their protagonists by giving them compelling situations".  In another game, I'd be tempted to say, "best GM gets to GM the most," but I don't think that sort of competition is appropriate here.

There's already a "fan" mechanic to see who winds up on the issue cover (page 10, item 11 -- I should repeat that in "Ending the Game").  Maybe something in that direction would make sense.  Or maybe you can spend 5 points to narrate an interlude scene?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #13 on: January 31, 2012, 12:29:13 PM »

Quote
What I was hoping for was, "As I give my speech to the league, I can't get my daughter's disappointed glare out of my head, and the league members see me take a moment to compose myself."
Yes, but who is the character talking to in doing that? In terms of psychology, it seems to be talking to an audience and...only people with broken psychology frame their thoughts as if an audience is listening *he said, thumb to chin, thinking solemnly...hehehe*

I think it's actually hard to think in character, freeze, go back and remember it all then restate it in a book or comic book like format. Never mind the freeze point, which involves ceasing to play the character, and when it's the right moment for that.

Clearly you don't want it all internalised. But in terms of psychology, I think generally the structure people think by isn't one that speaks to an audience.
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David Berg
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« Reply #14 on: February 01, 2012, 07:27:20 PM »

That quote represented what I want the player to be thinking.  If they do, I'm happy, and however they choose to express it is fine by me.  Personally, I'd probably just do it with facial expressions -- pensive/fuming to suddenly self-conscious, followed by a deep breath.

The point is the thought process as the resolution is played out.  Thinking fictionally, as the character, rather than just mechanically, as a player.
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