[Dead of Night] initiative -- player, not character?

Started by David Berg, April 24, 2012, 06:01:22 AM

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David Berg

Finally got to play this game!  Very neat indeed.

I just want to describe one thing that went screwy:

James GMing for me, Mark and Rohit.  My character was alone on our ship, while Mark's and Rohit's guys were in port. 

The monster's attacks in the session were reasonably scary/cool when they hit, but really became fun when the PCs fretted over them afterward and tried to puzzle out what was going on (in this case, a virus taking over tech and attacking us with it).  So, when Mark and Rohit began an animated in-character discussion about their latest harrowing assault, I tried to listen in.

"The ship's lights start blinking, and the medical bot raises a needle," James said to me.

"One sec," I said, turning back to face Mark and Rohit.  James had already explained the game's initiative system to me as, "Whoever talks first," but we hadn't discussed why, or the ramifications.

Just as Mark was delivering some nice signs of insanity, James cut back in, "Dave, the medical bot stabs you.  Lose 1 Survival Point."

Upset that I was missing out on Mark's big character moment, I figured I had no choice but to deal with the robot, so I engaged it as loudly as possible, hoping that Mark and Rohit would hold whatever other cool ideas they had for later, when I could be in on it.  "I desperately dash for the airlock!!!"  No luck; nothing happened to alert their characters, so Mark and Rohit just continued their conversation.

So, this looks to me like an issue of Technique vs Social Contract.  In retrospect, I don't think it would have been hard to align these two.  Perhaps James could have clued me in like so:

"Part of the way Dead of Night creates a suspense-horror experience is by frantic pacing in times of danger.  Whenever I threaten you with danger, that means that I'm saying it's now adrenaline time in this movie.  Whatever had been going on, now it's move fast or die.  So, whoever speaks first goes first!  Hesitate and be gored!  Act rashly and be gored some other way!  Either way, it's quality suspense-horror!"

Such clarification wouldn't have meant that I'd have agreed with James's timing in this specific case, but hopefully it would have meant that Mark, Rohit and I would have all picked up on where the movie was going and responded accordingly: them, by pausing, and me, by reacting.  GM threatening Dave = "spotlight's on Dave now", right?

Or perhaps James was using the initiative rule incorrectly?  I'd be curious to hear from folks with more experience with this game.  This was the first session for all of us.
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Frank Tarcikowski

Hi Dave,

Maybe I don't understand the situation. So your character is not listening in anymore because he has to fight off the robot while the character drama next door is just going on. How does that prevent you as a player from listening while Mark has his big character moment? Why do they have to continue their conversation at the same time that you and the GM are playing out the fight? In what way does the DoN initiative system say that people have to talk at the same time? It's been a long while since I read or played DoN and I only have the 1st edition so I don't know about the rules but it doesn't make sense to me. From the rationale of "horror movie RPG", in a horror movie, they would also be cutting back and forth between the scenes, not showing both scenes in split-screen!

- Frank
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David Berg

I haven't played with James before, but he seemed like a polite guy.  When he interrupted Mark's moment, I don't think he was just being rude, I think he was upholding what he saw as the proper pace/tone/approach of the game.  Might he have inferred that from a rule that says "Whoever talks first acts first?"  It seems plausible to me.

I hate split-screens, so your response makes perfect sense to me.  But it seems so obvious; what I'm wondering is why it wasn't obvious to the rest of the table.  When I'm the only one bothered by it, it makes me wonder if I'm the one bringing in the wrong priorities/expectations here.

The answer may be as simple as "different player tastes".  But the "talk first, act first" technique does make me wonder if there's more to it.
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Frank Tarcikowski

Well. I think it's a relic closely related to "thou shalt separate player knowledge and character knowledge". In my experience, in many groups it has habitually been the rule to play scenes only with the involved players, to the point where one time they made me wait next door for more than an hour simply because "my character wasn't present". Luckily the guy at whose place we were playing offered me his collection of Playboy magazines to pass the time, but still, I would have preferred to witness what became one of the most talked-about scenes of the entire campaign.

Personally I think this has not so much to do with "player taste" as with habit. Many role-players I know would not find anything wrong with Mark and Rohit continuing their conversation while the GM was playing that robot fight with you because your character was not present in that scene. In my (possibly biased) opinion, they are just being stupid. Part of it is just a lack of reflection and part of it is maybe owed to playing with boring players who tend to play boring "shopping scenes" which nobody cares to listen to.

As far as I understand, the DoN initiative rule applies only to players in the same scene. I think the best thing for you to do in that moment would have been to be insistent and call for a timeout, and explain that you would really like to listen to Mark's and Rohit's dialogue.

- Frank
BARBAREN! - The Ultimate Macho Role Playing Game - finally available in English

Frank Tarcikowski

P.S.: Also, the DoN initiative rule cannot mean that everybody keeps talking at the same time for the whole scene. It just means who calls out first goes first, but after that, the actions get resolved in the order of initiative, with everybody else shutting up and paying attention.
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Ron Edwards


My reading of the text, and application of that reading, is that it has nothing to do with stopping or interrupting others' actions in progress, but only with determining what to do when we don't know what anyone is doing. So the characters are looking around a spooky mansion. Instead of consulting some chart of initiative values, the GM just waits for someone to say what they do, and that's the person whose action we now resolve. Same goes for fights, obviously at a somewhat faster in-fiction pace.

That's why it's really important to pay attention to the rule about not rolling twice in a row; it's phrased rather delicately and precisely, and I found it to work very well.

There is a mechanism for pre-empting someone when they've announced an action, i.e., going first instead of that person, requiring spending a Story Point. But even that doesn't interrupt an action in progress.

Best, Ron


I was James Daniel is referring to above.

This was the first time I'd run it - I may have goofed several times following the rules for initiative. I do recall trying to keep hard to the "who ever talks first, they get iniative".

If a person was not saying "I do X!" then I took it to be just color, essentially, and fair game to ignore as far as "doing something" declarations.

I remember at one point all three players were looking back and forth at each other, each one not quite sure what to say when confronted with danger, especially Rohit, who was sitting between Mark and Daniel. It was comical to me, the observer, as Rohit turned back and forth with a "What the fuck do we do now?" look.

When I sensed no one was going to step up, I grabbed the dice and went from there. I don't think I ever rolled twice in a row, but it's possible in the heat of things I forgot or flubbed that.

When I run this again, I will take a few minutes to establish how the initiative works. I feel bad I didn't make that more clear. You guys were super patient and a lot of fun to play with.

David Berg

Hey James!  Thanks for chiming in.  It was definitely a fun game, and we should do it again!  (I'll be in touch about that when my schedule frees up.)

The shared moment of "Oh crap what do we do?  What do we-  Agh, now something's happening!" was great.  I think the initiative system shines in situations like that.

Do you remember the specific moment I described above?  The 3 PCs had just returned from the collection vessel, talked to the NPCs at the docking structure, and then my guy had gone off to do something (tend to an injured dude?) while Mark and Rohit's guys had begun a private conversation. 

I, as a player, wanted to listen in, as the conversation seemed like a good moment in the game, where we see Mark's inner psycho coming through as the stress of the ordeal gets to him.  That's a big part of the horror movie for me! 

At that moment, you threatened my guy with danger, and when I said, "Just a minute, I want to hear this conversation," you attacked with the danger and I lost a Survival point.

Do you remember that?  I'm just curious about what your rationale was at the time.  Was there some game rule or principle you were following, or were you bored by Mark and Rohit's conversation, or were we simply running out of play time, or something else?

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I think I do remember that part.

It might have been nerves, but I think my thinking was "No one is saying what they are doing in a declarative sense." Given that, I felt it perfectly OK to grab initiative for myself. I'm trying to remember if the tension was above 10, which may also have really been a signal to me to start putting on more pressure.