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Author Topic: [TSOY] Transcendence (split from First Impressions)  (Read 13597 times)
Stephen
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« on: January 26, 2005, 04:44:33 PM »

Quote from: Clinton R. Nixon
Quote from: Andy Kitkowski

* I LOVE the idea behind Character Endgame (sorry, the book's in another room: "Transcendence", is it called?). Very cool idea, saves the game from being bogged down with "high level characters".


Thanks, especially after my recent experience with a guy who just didn't get it on RPG.net.


Would that be me?  :)

I apologize for reviving an old debate here, but I'd like to think my objections went a little beyond me "just not getting it".  I honestly believe I "get" the point of Transcendence, that is, I understand what it was intended to do -- place an in-game structural limit on the length of a character's story, and provide a resolution for the character once he'd reached the absolute pinnacle of ability within the system -- and why you would want to do it.  I simply had reservations about its implementation in practice.

For the room (and to invite other commentary), my reservations were as follows:

1)  System-imposed character loss presented as a good thing

If we take it as given that loss of control over a character when you're not yet tired of playing that character is a bad thing, then Transcendence is, to a player who isn't tired of his character (this distinction is important later), the same thing as death -- it takes away the character for good.

The difference is that, everywhere else in the TSOY rules and especially in Bringing Down the Pain, loss of character control, and ultimately character removal, is presented as a penalty and a consequence of character failure.  Transcendence as it's structured now makes character removal the ultimate consequence of character success, in that once you hit 10 in any ability, the first 12 you roll (in the standard rules) means your character has Transcended.

Put simply, I've always believed that the player should be the one who decides when he wants to retire a successful character -- the system can terminate characters who have failed, but it shouldn't put arbitrary caps on success stories.

(Clinton addressed this by putting in a note about making Transcendence optional -- i.e. the player had to choose when he rolled that 12 if he wanted his character to Transcend -- and I felt this was a good compromise solution.  But this didn't address my second reservation, as below.)

2)  Tying dramatic resolution to character power

If Transcendence is meant to be "the end of that character's story", then it should be tied not to the character's gamist aspects (an Ability reaching 10, the maximum), but to its narrativist aspects.  Successful character stories should end when dramatically appropriate, and in TSOY there's only one way to measure that: Ability level.  This is certainly one way to denote the climax of a character arc, but it's not the only way -- and if the system is going to structurally impose endings at all, it should allow for other ways of defining it in-game.

(This is my counter to the reasonable point, "Well, you can always just say your character's accomplished his goals and retire him yourself," but if you don't need rules for resolving arcs for characters with Ability 9 or lower, why do you need them for Ability 10 characters?)

My suggestion (which I'll present again here for other thoughts) was that Transcendence be tied not to Abilities but to Keys and Key Buyoffs, which are the most obvious signposts on the character's narrative journey.  There are a number of ways this could be done:

1)  Define one Key for each character as an Essential Key, which can only be bought off through a Denouement, an ingame dramatic resolution; when this Key is fulfilled, the character's story is over.

2)  Set limits on the number of Keys a character can go through, depending on the desired scope of the campaign, and when that number is reached the character cannot buy more Keys with advances; eventually, he will find reasons to Buyoff all the Keys he has in play, and the last Key to be bought off determines the nature of his Denouement.

3)  Create a new Ability called "Destiny" or "Fate" or some such, which works like an Ability as a fallback "uber-stat" to get the character out of any desperate plight (perhaps it can only be used when the character is Broken; a successful Destiny Check thwarts any Opposed Ability).  This score starts at 1 for all players, and rises by 1 for every Key Buyoff (or 2 Buyoffs, or 5 Buyoffs, to set the scale), and when it reaches 10, the first roll of 12 the character makes on that Ability indicates that his Fate has finally arrived, and the player must provide a resolution.  (The difference between this and normal Transcendence is that the player controls his dramatic progression not through becoming more powerful, but through the evolution of his character's personality.)

Ultimately, my objections to Transcendence as it stands come down to this:  I don't like the system taking my character away from me as a result of becoming the best I can -- the system should take my character away from me as a punishment, not as a result of success.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #1 on: January 26, 2005, 07:08:43 PM »

Stephen,

You and I aren't going to see eye-to-eye on this topic. Your ideas are all good, though.

I'm going to change the subject a bit, though:

Why choose Transcendence?

Stephen makes a good point above - you can retire your character whenever you want. Why wait for Transcendence? As written, the rule looks like it punishes people who play their characters too long. What's up with that?

My answer: it's not a punishment. It's a reward. It is the only time in the game where narration does not come from consensus, but from one player. Even more, the text explicitly tells you to change the world in your narration. A transcending character might:

* Become a new type of being.
* Discover another world.
* Blow up a walled city.
* Unite two of the Ammenite Houses.
* Stop a war.
* Wander off past that hill over there and never be seen again.
* Die a brutal and wonderful death.

You've been playing for this moment the whole game. Do what you want with it.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
James_Nostack
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Posts: 642


« Reply #2 on: January 26, 2005, 07:59:19 PM »

Quote from: Stephen
...what [Transcendence] was intended to do -- place an in-game structural limit on the length of a character's story, and provide a resolution for the character once he'd reached the absolute pinnacle of ability within the system


One design factor was left unmentioned: Given TSOY's [2d6+skill] system, a character with a skill rank of 11+ will always defeat a character with skill rank of 1, no matter how many Bonus, Penalty, or Gift Dice are involved.  From this perspective the issue isn't transdence per se, but rather that the player has broken the system.

Why is this breaking the system?  Once you become some kind of uber-dude who can shrug off the nobodies, it starts playing havoc with one of the game's themes.  The impression I get from reading TSOY is that it's a world where little people matter--maybe not much, but some.    No one is invincible.  That feels like a very deliberate choice on the designer's part: TSOY is most decidedly not about Drizzt, or Elminster, or any of those other infallible supermen of fantasy fiction.  It's simply not that sort of game.

But there are other consequences beyond gamism.  Once a guy hits 11+ in skill ranks, not only can other characters not stop him, the players cannot stop him.  No matter how many penalty dice the uber-dude gets, or how many Gift Dice the other players assign to an opponent to give him an exciting challenge (or knock him down a peg for story reasons), they can't.  The guy wins--even in the face of 25 Gift Dice, including any given by the character's own player!  The people who are telling the story no longer have any influence over that character's story.

Such characters have literally transcended: not only are they more powerful than anyone in their world, they're more powerful than the "gods"  who control their reality.  

That's weird territory to be in, and it looks like the choice was to say, "All right, this guy wins!  Congratulations!"
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: January 27, 2005, 05:38:05 AM »

Hello,

James, I'm staring in admiration. That is brilliant.

Best,
Ron
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Stephen
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Posts: 172


« Reply #4 on: January 27, 2005, 08:06:54 AM »

Quote from: James_Nostack
One design factor was left unmentioned: Given TSOY's [2d6+skill] system, a character with a skill rank of 11+ will always defeat a character with skill rank of 1, no matter how many Bonus, Penalty, or Gift Dice are involved.  From this perspective the issue isn't transcendence per se, but rather that the player has broken the system.


Perhaps -- but there are different kinds of breakage.  Breaking a system through revealing an inner inconsistency in its mechanics is one thing; breaking it by simply becoming too powerful for it to support is another.

If the design goal is to ensure that nobody is invincible, and that everyone has some chance of success or failure regardless of power, there are other ways to do it than by simply putting an arbitrary structural cap on character power.  A simple "2 always fails, 12 always succeeds, regardless of Ability Level" rule would do it, and retains the ability of bonus/penalty dice to tilt the probability outcome as desired.

As for Transcendence being a "reward" by giving sole narrative control to one player and one player alone: that's not quite true.  The player is still obliged by the game to narrate the end of his character's story.  If he doesn't want to do that in the first place -- if he isn't finished with the character yet, regardless of what his scores are -- no amount of narrative control over how he does that will make it feel like a "reward".

It's like saying to me, "Congratulations -- you cooked the best steak!  You now get full control over the kitchen!  You can cook these eggs any way you want, make any kind of egg dish, and none of us can interfere!" and me staring blankly back at you and saying, "But it's still eggs.  I hate eggs. I don't want to cook eggs.  At all.  Why can't we keep making more steak?"

I think Clinton is right in saying that he and I will never see eye-to-eye on it, and that's fine: it's pretty clear that TSOY is not the game for me, and nothing's wrong with that.  But I also think it is worth pointing out that the structure of Transcendence as it stands does seem to me to be confusing narrativist and gamist goals in the system.  By conflating the gamist goal of acquiring Supreem Powahr with the narrativist goal of achieving a desired single-author dramatic resolution, it seems to me to be trying to reward an Actor stance by requiring a last-minute switch to Authorial stance -- something that could stand to be made clearer in the rules or the presentation.
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joshua neff
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« Reply #5 on: January 27, 2005, 08:39:56 AM »

Stephen--

ALL games force characters to do things their players may not want to do at that moment. In D&D, your character dies when your character's hit points drop to -10. You may not want the character to go at that moment, but your character is dead. Same in Sorcerer; if your character's Humanity drops to zero, by the book, your character is removed from your control. Now, in both games I've seen groups wiggle with those rules, allowing the player to retain control of the character in some way.

Retaining complete and total control over the character is not a narrativist hallmark. My Life With Master has an endgame mechanic which forces characters into certain outcomes. Paul Czege won't come to your house and beat you around the head if your group tweaks the endgame mechanics, but endgame is a part of the game's mechanics, and in actual play I've found that it doesn't inhibit or frustrate narrativist play at all.

By that token, don't completely discount Transcendence in TSOY until you've actually played it and actually been frustrated that your character had to transcend when you didn't want the character out of the game yet.
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"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
Christopher Weeks
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« Reply #6 on: January 27, 2005, 08:52:12 AM »

Quote from: Stephen
The player is still obliged by the game to narrate the end of his character's story.  If he doesn't want to do that in the first place -- if he isn't finished with the character yet, regardless of what his scores are -- no amount of narrative control over how he does that will make it feel like a "reward".


But, if he weren't "done" why would he have set it up so that this outcome could happen.  I mean, the player does have total control over the possibility.  

Further, and while I get that maybe this isn't the kind of game for you, I'll be planning the transcendant event from the get-go and thinking about very cool ways to change the world.  In fact, the very idea that to make "real" change, one must use themselves up is neat theme and supported by the history of Near.
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Stephen
Member

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« Reply #7 on: January 27, 2005, 09:43:31 AM »

Quote from: joshua neff
ALL games force characters to do things their players may not want to do at that moment. In D&D, your character dies when your character's hit points drop to -10. You may not want the character to go at that moment, but your character is dead. Same in Sorcerer; if your character's Humanity drops to zero, by the book, your character is removed from your control.

Retaining complete and total control over the character is not a narrativist hallmark.


No, but losing narrative control of your character before you choose to release it is almost always presented as a bad thing.  Character death in D&D is seen as the ultimate consequence of player failure, if it comes about as a result of error, misjudgement or bad luck; likewise with character loss through depleted Humanity in Sorcerer.  A game that makes this character loss the ultimate consequence of successful play feels frustrating -- like an editor telling me when my story "should" end.  (Which real editors do all the time -- but we game to escape reality, don't we?)

To use a gambling metaphor, you may find it satisfying to simply give your winnings to the dealer once you're finished playing, rather than stake it on another contest, but that should be your choice; I'd be very suspicious of any game whose rules made this the result of both winning and losing.

As to "why set it up so the outcome's possible at all if you aren't finished with the character yet" -- simply, because the rest of the game's structure encourages you to do so.  The game is designed to encourage Ability improvement to the point of Transcendence, and consciously avoiding this means you have to work against the rest of the game's thematic and mechanical structure to do so.

Again, the gambling metaphor is: play until you lose your stake, or play until your winnings pass a certain level at which point you lose them anyway, or carefully balance your winnings and your losses so you can play as long as possible but with a rather unsatisfactory feeling (to me, anyway) of working hard to stay in the same place.
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joshua neff
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« Reply #8 on: January 27, 2005, 10:54:04 AM »

Quote from: Stephen
No, but losing narrative control of your character before you choose to release it is almost always presented as a bad thing.  Character death in D&D is seen as the ultimate consequence of player failure, if it comes about as a result of error, misjudgement or bad luck; likewise with character loss through depleted Humanity in Sorcerer.


I disagree. Losing Humanity in Sorcerer isn't a "failure," it's an outcome of player decision on what to do with one's character. The last time I ran Sorcerer, my wife's character went to zero Humanity, and she was fine with that--it was all due to the actions she had her character perform and the decisions she made. Her character didn't have to kill his foster parents, but his demon egged him on and she had her character go through with it.

In Nine Worlds, Dust Devils and Primetime Adventures, you lose narrative control of your character whenever another player--not necessarily the GM--gets final control of the narration of conflicts. In Burning Wheel you lose a certain amount of narrative control of your character when ever you fail a Steel test. In Trollbabe, you lose narrative control of your character whenever you succeed at a roll (but if you fail, the GM loses narrative control). Never is the loss of narrative control of your character seen as a "failure" of the player, it's simply part of the game.

Now, as Christopher pointed out, you have control over how you spend your advances in TSOY, so you have control over when you hit that level of skill. I just rolled a pair of six-sided dice and added them to 11, pretending I was rolling for a TSOY character. This was, admittedly, without any bonus dice--just two dice. It took me quite a few rolls to get a 22 as an outcome. Which means you, the player, get to choose when your character hits that plateau, and then you can plan for what you want to happen when you get that magical 22. It's not like it will happen out of the blue without any decisions on your part. It's something (again, as Christopher said) that you can plan for and look forward to with anticipation.

You may still not like the concept of Transcendence, and that's fine. But I don't think it's the "loss of control over your character" or the "failure of the player" that you seem to think it is.
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
Valamir
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« Reply #9 on: January 27, 2005, 02:17:08 PM »

Quote from: Stephen
 
No, but losing narrative control of your character before you choose to release it is almost always presented as a bad thing.  Character death in D&D is seen as the ultimate consequence of player failure, if it comes about as a result of error, misjudgement or bad luck; likewise with character loss through depleted Humanity in Sorcerer.  A game that makes this character loss the ultimate consequence of successful play feels frustrating -- like an editor telling me when my story "should" end.  (Which real editors do all the time -- but we game to escape reality, don't we?).


Hey Stephen, I think maybe you have your facts wrong.  Unless I'm greatly misremembering Transcendence can't happen unless you roll a very high number.  And the only way to roll that very high number is to have a very high score to add to the roll.  And the only way to get a score high enough to make that number is if you the player buy it.

Therefore there is never a time in the game where the mechanics of transcendence are taking your character away from you without you wanting it to happen.  If the story of your character is not finished you simply never by your score high enough to hit the Transcendence number and then you never have to worry about it.  

When you the player buy the attribute up to that threshold level, you the player are essentially deciding "my characters story is fulfilled, I'm ready to Transcend".  Until you're ready you simply don't make that purchase.

How is that a problem?
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James_Nostack
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« Reply #10 on: January 27, 2005, 03:25:54 PM »

I can't answer for Stephen, but it sounds like the objection is, "Why should my desire to make the character really good at something translate to enforced retirement?"  For one thing, because he still wants to play.  But for another thing, why tie retirement to skill ranks, which is one of the more gamist-y parts of TSOY?

I suspect this may be a fruitless argument, since it comes down to design aesthetics on a fairly minor part of the rule set.

Stephen, did you ever play AD&D 2e?  Way back in the early days, before they released ten million supplements, there was a level cap on the game: if you hit Level 20, that character had to be retired.  Did that annoy you for the same reason?
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Judd
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« Reply #11 on: January 27, 2005, 10:20:21 PM »

In play, I would imagine, this isn't going to happen all at once, out of the blue.  

Transcendence is going to be the slow train-a-comin' and you will know it is coming down the tracks.  You will have taken your abilities up that high with purpose, knowing that it could take your PC out of the game.  Otherwise you could do something else with your well-earned advances.

When you see that your PC is approaching Transcendence, it should be a conversation with the table, thinking about how they could go out.

On paper it might read as cold and all of the sudden but I don't think it would play that way.  And I think, and I could be wrong, having just read the system once and not played it yet (but will get to at Dreamation...YAY) that it'd be the choice of the player to make their stats so the PC is transcendable.
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John Burdick
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« Reply #12 on: January 28, 2005, 11:48:48 AM »

When I read the section on Transcendence, I looked for comparisons in books, tv, or movies.  I quickly thought of examples where a character, through actions taken, established himself as too strong to fit in the story as it had previously existed. In the cases when it was the end of the story, it was for me a satisfying conclusion. When the author or authors kept writing the character in the same kind of story, it was usually disappointing. Usually only a new approach to character or story, as in rewriting a Sorcerer character after resolving the kicker, can make the character continue to work.

I think that trying to extend the Matrix beyond Neo's transcendence was almost doomed because all the drama of the first movie is redundant from that point on. Neo fighting one or many agents can never be cool again after that point.

Stephen R. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series works after the first trilogy, because he changes the nature of the conflict.

Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series has the main character achieve beyond what the naively eager youth concept could support.

Okay, that's a couple non-anime examples for those that don't watch it. Witch Hunter Robin and Sailor Moon each ends with the title character transcending. In order to deal with the absurdity of extending Tenchi Muyo as an action series, they restarted the story as a disconnected origin. Twice. Dragonball completely ignored the idea of transcendence and kept expanding the scale. You wind up having a comic relief sidekick that can destroy (unarmed) two planets per scene. I haven't watched anything after Saber Marionette J, because it finished with the end. Slayers Next ended with such powerful enemies and magic that trying to crank it up another level is boring. If the show took the end of Slayers Next (personal relationship, rather than adventure) as the basis for the third season, I might watch that. More of the same, no, I'm not going to buy it.

I make these comparisons with fiction not because I think games and fiction are the same, but to show how I picture transcendence ending a character's story. I can easily think of counter-examples, and to play something similar to those stories, I wouldn't want such a rule. I might want a lifetime model along the line of Pendragon.

My actual play experience tends to have such short play times with a single game that the rule would never come up.

John
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Stephen
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« Reply #13 on: January 28, 2005, 01:43:40 PM »

Quote from: John Burdick
I make these comparisons with fiction not because I think games and fiction are the same, but to show how I picture transcendence ending a character's story.


But those stories ended for every character at once.  An RPG can't do that.  What would the reactions of people "gaming" The Matrix have been if the player running Neo had hit Transcendence, and the Story Guide then ended the campaign?  I'd be willing to wager you'd get at least a few people saying, "Buh? Whah?  No, wait -- I haven't gotten to X-level / do Y / pull off Z yet!"

Certainly it's possible for a player to avoid Transcendence as long as he likes by merely never buying an ability to 10.  But given the fact that three of the six options for advance spendings are ability improvement, you can only have 5 Keys at a time, and there are most likely a finite number of Secrets available to buy, that just means that eventually you wind up with a character who's almost the best at just about everything -- which makes it progressively more difficult for other characters to find a special niche/role in the group.

And, again, there is a difference between the following scenarios:

- A player chooses to sacrifice narrative control of a character, temporarily or permanently, in order to accomplish an in-game goal;

- A player voluntarily risks the loss of that control via a system mechanic which is one of several options, in order to accomplish a goal;

- A player involuntarily risks the permanent loss of that control via a system mechanic which is not optional (in that you have to work against everything in the system to avoid this eventuality and artificially stagnate your character).

The first two I find acceptable.  The third I do not.  Put simply, I don't want a system that tells me: "Your character has *this much* room to grow, and that's *it*.  He outgrows this, his story's over."

It's pretty clear I'm in the minority on this point, and I don't want to exasperate people to the point of irritation (I've already sent a message to Clinton apologizing for dragging this up and being a pain).  Likewise I appreciate the patient responses here.  My thanks for listening to me airing my opinions.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #14 on: January 28, 2005, 02:28:16 PM »

Quote
A player involuntarily risks the permanent loss of that control via a system mechanic which is not optional (in that you have to work against everything in the system to avoid this eventuality and artificially stagnate your character).
Again, there are loads of people here saying that they think that spending advances on other things is simply not working "against everything in the system to avoid this eventuality and artificially stagnate your character." I mean, what makes a decision not to raise that one last point "artificial"? It's going to be implausible to use that advance in any other way? There's just some point where it's going to be obvious that the character "has" to spend that advance on that point, or plausibility is blown?

And, even if you do have to "fight" this at some point, again, as John says, won't you see it coming a long way off? Won't that allow you plenty of time to start thinking about the end of the character's story? This isn't forcing an end to a character, it's just giving an indication to the player that it's time to start thinking about it.

There's another option:
- A player chooses to sacrifice narrative control of a character, temporarily or permanently, in order to accomplish a player goal;

The goal in this case being to end the character in a satisfactory way.


On another note, I'd have no problem with the game ending when the first character ascended if that seemed appropriate. That is, again as said above, I'm sure that not only the player sees the end in sight, but everyone else. And, in fact, in some RPGs, the game does end this way: All the games of Sorcerer that I've played have had all of the characters end their kickers within a session of each other, and in MLWM, endgame is endgame for everyone.

But, in any case, the analogy you make doesn't matter. It's not fiction, and you can have people endgame in different sessions. The point he was making is not that TSOY ends like fiction, but that each character's end is, like the examples he gave from fiction, thematically interesting. Just as enjoyable as a similar ending from one of the examples.

Mike
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