The Forge Forums

Independent Game Forums => Adept Press => Topic started by: James_Nostack on December 02, 2010, 02:09:53 PM

Title: [Trollbabe] Harmed relationships - pg 61
Post by: James_Nostack on December 02, 2010, 02:09:53 PM
Maybe I'm reading it wrong, but page 61 of the print edition of Trollbabe says, in effect,

IF (Goal fails) AND (Trollbabe ends at inconvenienced) THEN (any relationships invoked the conflict get killed).

Some questions:
1.  Seriously?!  Even for social conflicts with Billy the Beggar Boy? 

2.  When the goal fails, or the roll fails?  (For comparison, harm to the Trollbabe seems to be inflicted when a roll fails.)

3.  How can this outcome ever occur, mechanically?  The Relationship only shows up mechanically on a re-roll, which means the Trollbabe has been inconvenienced already.  For the Trollbabe to then fail at the Goal without becoming injured seems . . . mechanically difficult.  (I'm assuming, I guess, that once the Relationship shows up, the Trollbabe will still take harm in the usual way.  Maybe that's not true, but I can't find any indication in the text.)

Title: Re: [Trollbabe] Harmed relationships - pg 61
Post by: James_Nostack on December 02, 2010, 02:16:28 PM
Hell, I am a very lazy man.  The answer is here. (

For those too lazy to click through - which would be me, sometimes - the official answer is:

The "She is currently" column should have Injured in the top box of the Fails section (or rather third one down overall) and Incapacitated in the one below that.

Going through the final column, top to bottom, box by box, think of: (i) foe lying dead, trollbabe grimacing and blowing on a scrape, relationship character (who saved the day) spurting blood but going to live; (ii) foe lying dead, trollbabe spurting blood but going to live, relationship character (who saved the day) pumping his or her fist in the air; (iii) foe not dead, trollbabe spurting blood but going to live, relationship character lying dead; (iv) foe not dead, trollbabe lying unconscious in pool of blood, relationship character spurting blood but going to live, and in this case, the relevant point is that he or she is still mobile/active.

Title: Re: [Trollbabe] Harmed relationships - pg 61
Post by: James_Nostack on December 02, 2010, 02:18:54 PM
Although, come to think of it, #1 and #2 are still viable questions even with the substitution for injured for inconvenienced.

Title: Re: [Trollbabe] Harmed relationships - pg 61
Post by: John S on December 02, 2010, 02:36:28 PM
I remembered that post when I saw your question, but you found it before I could post a reply.

Seriously?!  Even for social conflicts with Billy the Beggar Boy?

Should you be using the social conflict rules for Billy the Beggar Boy if there's no risk of dangerous escalation? I can think of plenty of ways a social conflict could get out of control, but then, I've done volunteer work with inmates-- and I've seen kids do a lot of stuff too.

Title: Re: [Trollbabe] Harmed relationships - pg 61
Post by: James_Nostack on December 02, 2010, 04:02:03 PM
John, in Trollbabe sometimes the player will want to declare a Conflict strategically, in order to form a Relationship with that character later on.  So, Thora the Trollbabe might go out of her way to squabble with Billy the Beggar Boy simply to befriend him later. 

But I think the root of the issue here is that words like "inconvenienced," "injured," and "incapacitated" can be understood to apply in a very, very wide array of fictional circumstances.  (Okay, maybe "incapacitated" is a stretch, but I think it could work.)  In contrast, "killed" as an outcome seems to suggest a fairly specific fictional context, and I'm wary about having to always ensure that a sufficient threat is lurking around the corner.

Title: Re: [Trollbabe] Harmed relationships - pg 61
Post by: Moreno R. on December 02, 2010, 05:36:17 PM
Hi James!

Why Billy the Beggar Boy would be lethal to relationships? Well, it's because the trollbabe don't go straight to "incapacitated". She is not fainting in the middle of the street after the first roll.

First roll: she fail. She is inconvenienced.  Note that this can be caused by Billy that push or hit her.
First re-roll: she fail. She is HURT. This can mean a psychological, magical (for example, if she has used a spell to get the reroll) or even physical wold. Maybe Billy stabbed her. Maybe she was hurt by her spell, but SOMETHING happened. Something that turned the situation in something SERIUS.
At this moment, the trollbabe use the relationship for a reroll.
What doest it mean? Well, he could push the boy away, he could try to stop the effect of the botched spell, or he could some other thing.
But then the trollbabe fail the second reroll.

And kill her friend, not recognizing him, during a bout of madness caused by the spell
And Billy, scared (he think that the relationship want to hurt HIM because of what he did to the trollbabe) stab him in the neck, killing him.
Or any other thing.

At the time of the relationship's death, the conflict is really, really escalating out of control. People got hurt (the trollbabe is one of them), No matter what started it. And if people got hurt, other people can get dead. It's not even necessary that that death will be caused by the trollbabe's opponent in the conflict.

Title: Re: [Trollbabe] Harmed relationships - pg 61
Post by: James_Nostack on December 02, 2010, 06:19:16 PM
Hi Moreno! 

I understand that, for one NPC, you can imagine a social interaction where a friend gets killed.  But it is hard to imagine a world where this could happen in any social interaction, at any time.  I don't argue with people very often, but when I do, my friends don't usually die.  Apparently that's not the case with Trollbabes...?

Title: Re: [Trollbabe] Harmed relationships - pg 61
Post by: John S on December 02, 2010, 06:32:13 PM
But it is hard to imagine a world where this could happen in any social interaction, at any time.

My view is that you don't use the social conflict rules for every single argument-- you only call a Conflict when you or the GM recognize the risk of a situation. Also, the Stakes are usually in such a volatile state, and a Trollbabe is such a pressing concern for the NPCs that anything can happen if there's a real Conflict. If there's no chance that the argument could escalate into something dangerous, you shouldn't be using the Conflict rules. If the Stakes aren't in such a volatile stake that the NPCs are beginning to shake off normative constraints, then something has gone amiss.

Title: Re: [Trollbabe] Harmed relationships - pg 61
Post by: James_Nostack on December 02, 2010, 07:02:56 PM
.... I guess I can see that.  I like the way you phrased that, although I still feel the rule is a little extreme. 

The emergent effect seems to be: either don't invoke your relationship at all, or if you're already injured and the relationship is involved, you might as well burn off another re-roll item to go all the way to incapacitated.  Mechanically incapacitation isn't a huge deal since you get to heal up very soon after, and at least your relationships will survive.  (Note that at higher Scales, getting a relationship killed might involve mass-murder or genocide.)  To the extent that I care about the relationship as a fictional character, this rule strongly discourages me from bringing them into deadly danger.  Maybe that's the whole idea, but in the past I haven't regarded Trollbabe as being quite that bleak.

Title: Re: [Trollbabe] Harmed relationships - pg 61
Post by: Moreno R. on December 02, 2010, 07:43:40 PM
Hi Moreno! 

I understand that, for one NPC, you can imagine a social interaction where a friend gets killed.  But it is hard to imagine a world where this could happen in any social interaction, at any time.  I don't argue with people very often, but when I do, my friends don't usually die.  Apparently that's not the case with Trollbabes...?

If they are your friends, they are your relationships. You don't need a conflict to say what they do, in Trollbabe...  ;-)

But yes, the world depicted in the game text, illustrations and examples is a dangerous world. With monsters, trolls who want to eat you (or humans that want to kill you). evil spirits, blood feuds, and worse. People go around ARMED! Just imagine that every time you argue with someone, that someone has a weapon and probably has already used it in some local skirmish, blood feud or war. Maybe he has already killed someone.

I think that in this kind of situation, you would tend to argue less, and anyway, you would try to avoid escalating to conflicts, yes?  (It was Robert E. Howard, who wrote in "The tower of the Elephant" that "Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing")

John's answer is the correct one, by the rules: if there is no chance of a violent escalation, it isn't a conflict.  But, by the description of the setting, it's very EASY for a conflict to escalate to violence.... (and remember, the conflict rules don't say that the trollbabe's opponent must be the one doing violence. The player can use anything and anybody present at the conflict to justify harm)

Title: Re: [Trollbabe] Harmed relationships - pg 61
Post by: James_Nostack on December 03, 2010, 06:04:28 AM
Thanks for your replies, John and Moreno.  I appreciate your time, but I think ultimately I'm not convinced.

I understand that in a game of Trollbabe all Conflicts are potentially dangerous, but I have a hard time envisioning how all conflicts are potentially lethal to third parties.  I'm not talking about mere violence or danger.  I'm talking about murder or some strange, lethal accident.

Specifically, this was not how conflicts worked in the PDF version of Trollbabe.  See pages 30-31 of the PDF, which I'll quote from...

Quote from: PDF Version
Relationships can be damaging to the people involved. If a re-roll based on a relationship fails, no matter how the whole series turns out, the person in question will wind up at one “consequence" level worse than the trollbabe does, if he or she is physically present during the conflict.
Retta finishes a [social conflict] Series during which she used her relationship with Skalgar Hog’s Son, in which she happened to fail at the “injured" level.  He was present during the conflict, and thus he is incapacitated and may be considered unavailable for rerolls for some time, which may be specified by the player as part of his or her narration of the result of the Series.
This is how people with relationships to the main characters can die: when a trollbabe is incapacitated, and if any relationships were involved in the Series as re-rolls–and if those people were physically present or otherwise directly involved–then they die. Note that Skalgar Hog’s Son, in the debate example, is
not at risk because he is not present in the conflict itself.

Why is a rule requiring Skalgar's death a better rule than one requiring Skalgar's incapacitation?

I understand that the rules on page 61 change the connection between a Trollbabe's harm and the Relationship's harm.  Under the old rules, the Relationship only suffered harm if a roll ended in a failure, and the Relationship's status was directly (and boringly) linked to the Trollbabe's stauts.  But the new rule strikes me as being crazily (and boringly) aggressive, as if compensating for the weakness in the earlier rule.

I also understand that given the nature of the Goals in the conflict there's bound to be some tension between accomplishing your goal and avoiding harm.  But this rule is like the GM constantly asking, "Well?  Well???  Are you going to get into a conflict even though it could mean your friend's DEATH?!?!?!  If you could only save your girlfriend, or your mom, and you had 5 seconds to decide, which would you pick?!?!?!?!  Come on, wussy!  CHOOSE!"  To which the sensible response is, "You're crazy.  I just asked if you wanted to go out for pizza."

Instead of "killed" I suggest, "The relationship breaks up," with that being understood to range from "I don't want to be friends anymore" to "I'm dying."  It's still pretty aggressive, but it doesn't completely break my suspension of disbelief.

Title: Re: [Trollbabe] Harmed relationships - pg 61
Post by: Gregor Hutton on December 03, 2010, 08:46:43 AM
For me, it works as it is in the book because when I use a Relationship for a re-roll I'm not just invoking it like a Trait. I mean, I'm really putting this person that I have the Realtionship with at risk, to get what I want. And if it goes wrong and I want a different outcome I can use other re-rolls to change the outcome again. I think it's punchy and dramatic, and it stops people getting "easy" re-rolls from Relationships (i.e. where the choice of using a re-roll is a no-brainer).

Title: Re: [Trollbabe] Harmed relationships - pg 61
Post by: jburneko on December 03, 2010, 10:38:25 AM
This conversation has reminded me of this brief exchange between Ron and myself, from WAY BACK (pdf version of Trollbabe).

Ron, never did tell me what the "essential variable" was.

I haven't really run into a problem with the Injury/Death stuff for Relationships in Social conflicts because the context in which they occur are usually pretty volatile.  One of two things seems to be the case.  Either the stakes are so high that there's at least one NPC in the scene whose got a finger on the trigger anyway OR the stakes are so low that the PC is usually willing to bail on the conflict long before any of her relationships are at that kind of risk.


Title: Re: [Trollbabe] Harmed relationships - pg 61
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 07, 2010, 09:41:59 AM
Hi James,

Before I compose my contribution to this thread, how tequila are you feeling? If I write the post straight from the hip, it could be construed by a reader as abrasive and pugnacious. If you can accept that in the spirit of the tequila forum, though, with a foundation that you and I both like the game and each other, then it will be easier to write and much faster.

Best, Ron

Title: Re: [Trollbabe] Harmed relationships - pg 61
Post by: James_Nostack on December 07, 2010, 01:33:06 PM
Ron, in the spirit of tequila: it's difficult to imagine what you could say that would affect my self-image.  But a few things at the outset:

* Are you okay doing this slowly?  This is a busy week for me, and I suspect it is for you too.  I'm engaged in the topic!  But I can't do full-auto.

* Maybe this thread bleeds into the other Trollbabe threads I've opened - and possibly an AP if I have time for it.  I'm okay with that if you are.

* If I think I'm not getting enough rigor, or a claim's been made that I think is bullshit, I'll let you know.

Other than that - I'm buying this round.

Title: Re: [Trollbabe] Harmed relationships - pg 61
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 07, 2010, 10:23:41 PM
Hi James,

Slow is excellent. Here are the points this thread has raised for me. I don't know if outlining them as follows will really answer your question. Maybe it will. Or maybe you don't actually have a question at this stage, I'm not sure.

1. Confounding the lethality issue with the third-party issue. These are separate things. For instance, when you say, "Even in social conflicts with Billy the Beggar Boy?", are you talking about the person the trollbabe is in conflict with, or a Relationship she's bringing into some conflict that is otherwise undescribed? In this thread, it's difficult to tell when you're saying, "Social conflicts shouldn't turn lethal" vs. "Relationships shouldn't get killed when they help with a conflict that's social." It doesn't help that both are nonsensical statements as far as I'm concerned (which I hope to clarify through the next three points), but I can't even try to address one or both when they're mashed together like this.

2. Safe space thinking. At least some of your concern seems to be that some kind of situations, or more specifically, subsets of resolution mechanics, put death off the table. I don't really know how to deal with this except to say that such thinking is simply out of place in Trollbabe. Yes, in D&D 3.0, for instance, it is probably impossible for a Diplomacy attempt to have direct lethal results. Well, in Trollbabe, it can. Death is always lurking around the corner. That's a difference between those two games and I don't see any reason for one or the other to be considered the single right or reasonable alternative. Both work.

However! This point is completely misleading until you read #3. Please don't reply to it in isolation.

3. Missing the role of narration. If you as the player of the trollbabe don't want death to be a consequence for your Relationship in this conflict, then risk Incapacitation; in other words, don't stop at Injury. You see the equation, right? I'm forcing the player to choose between risk to the trollbabe in order to protect the Relationship, or risk to the Relationship to protect the Trollbabe. My point, though, is that avoiding the very outcome you seem to find problematic is sitting right there as a play-option: don't stop at Injury.

This also solves your concern about getting into a conflict with an NPC with an eye toward forming a Relationship with them. (Which, incidentally, has nothing todo with the Relationship injury or death mechanics, illustrating my #1 above.) If I'm reading you right, the player wants his or her trollbabe to form a Relationship, and enters some kind of conflict with that in mind. I have all sorts of things to say about this, but will restrict my tangential points to saying that player intentions are not sufficient; you must state some kind of in-game, to-the-trollbabe Goal as part of this conflict. But to get to my point, let's look at what can happen.

i) You succeed in the conflict. Fine, the GM narrates the outcome, you take the Relationship.
ii) You lose in the conflict. Fine, you narrate the outcome commensurate with wherever you ended up in the diagram, and then you take the Relationship.

What I'm not seeing is some unexpected, awful, interfering lethality suddenly appearing.

To go back to the Relationship as helper-at-risk, the only way that their death can come into play is if you, the player, make it happen. And if you don't want it to, then don't. That's your choice. I cannot imagine how this is a problem. Unless you're concerned, not about your choices and statements as player or GM, but about how someone else will apply theirs. Which brings us to ...

4. Simple and straightforward social distrust. Is all this simply that you think someone else will apply damage and injury through their choices as a player in ways that you, as GM, don't like or worry that it will be hard or weird? If so, I can't help you with that. First, it works. It's not hard, even if you're imagining it as hard. Second, play with people you expect to enjoy the game and material as much as you do, and stay flexible when they take a conflict into dire consequences

Jesse, you're absolutely right to link to that older thread. It is entirely pertinent here.

Best, Ron

Title: Re: [Trollbabe] Harmed relationships - pg 61
Post by: jburneko on December 08, 2010, 12:39:27 PM
Regarding #4:



Oh, Oh, Oh!

So... I can identify all kinds of trust issues about the social environment and system properties in myself.  I'm fond of talking about how when I played D&D in high school there were a lot "gotcha" games going on that STILL cause me problems today.


I wanted to highlight another phenomenon that I think is more directly relevant to this point in particular.  I've run into situations where a player will make that choice in full knowledge of the consequences because they don't expect the GM to really back it up.  They assume that because the death of Relationship would be a "stupid" thing to happen now that the GM won't allow it.  They GM will just fudge the result or allow a re-roll.

I see this a lot with Humanity checks in Sorcerer.  Players go to summon an new demon with a Humanity of like 1.  I point this out.  I talk about it.  They do it anyway specifically, BECAUSE they think this would be a pretty dumb way for their character to bow out of the story and they're counting on the GM to share that aesthetic and thus fudge the result for the sake of "the story."  And then I don't.  And then they get mad.  Not like crazy hostile angry but still I can see profound disappointment that I let the dice "ruin" the story.  It was apparently my job to keep them safe.


Title: Re: [Trollbabe] Harmed relationships - pg 61
Post by: James_Nostack on December 09, 2010, 08:38:24 PM
Hi Ron,

Thanks for the thoughtful reply.  I'll try my best to reciprocate.  For openers, on your point #1, I'm talking about "Relationships shouldn't get killed when they help with a conflict that's social."  (That isn't my exactly my position, as I hope I'll make plain below, but of the alternate readings you flagged, that's the one I'm talking about.)  So, addressing the other points:

It's like this:

I think this is a bad-mannered rule.  You know?  Like a bad-mannered child.  Here we are enjoying our evening, having some laughs or enjoying an earnest conversation, and this kid starts banging on the table.  The kid can be quieted down, right, but that might take a while and be kind of a drag.  And the thing is, if the kid were just a smidge less pushy, it would've been totally fine.

The "bad manners," from my point of view, is that this rule says a shitload about the fictional world of Trollbabe - far more, in fact, than the game's fictional premise itself.  To put it another way, the rule breaks the formal abstractions of the rest of the Trollbabe rules, because "killed" isn't as flexible and as open to interpretation as Inconvenienced, Injured, and Incapacitated (or Break-Up).  Granted that the player has freedom to do some narration, it's dictating content in a way that (say) Injury isn't. 

Relatedly, the rule, when triggered, either (a) requires the player to retroactively modify the fiction to rationalize the death ("Oh, I guess that little girl my trollbabe was talking to, had a shiv behind her back all along and she knifes Robby the Relationship"), (b) requires the relevant authority to seed all conflicts from the get-go with potentially lethal outcomes so that the player doesn't have to ret-con later ("You see a little girl.  She's got something behind her back"), or (c) the player narrates the death as some kind of freak accident ("Well, goodbye little girl - Robby, what's wrong, is it a heart attack?!"). 

To make matters worse, the rule seems to cut off more narrative possibilities than it opens.  Consider a variation where, instead of killing the relationship, you have to narrate a Break-Up.  Player's still stripped of a mechanical resource, it's still a huge deal that likely overshadows whatever the original conflict was about, it's still determined by the dice (in this case, an override of the "choose when you break-up" rule elsewhere in the text), and it still can be avoided through the trollbabe's self-sacrifice.  But with a Break-Up, that relationship is still around for future Story Now mischief-making.  Thus requiring a subsequent conflict to "win them back" (if the player so chooses) or to deal with consequences of the Break-Up.

(Other variations: instead of "killed," you could use "Player narrates Break-Up or Killing of Relationship," for a symmetry with the Third Re-Roll failure results which also preserve the option for the Relationship to get skragged.  Or instead of "killed," you could use, "Player narrates Death of Relationship or Change in Relationship."  So that a Friend becomes a Lover, or an Opponent becomes an Ally.  I want to make it clear that I'm not objecting to the possibility that the Relationship get killed, but rather the requirement of killing once the rule is triggered.)

As to point #3, I understand that the rule is only triggered under specific circumstances, but a bad-mannered child seen rarely is still bad-mannered.

I would phrase #4 in a different way: my aesthetic distrust is aimed at the designer!  (Obviously tongue in cheek.)  Because, like that bad-mannered child, I just wish the text would simmer down just a little here and everything would be cool.  Can you explain to me why "Relationship killed" is a better rule than "Break-Up or Killed" here?  Because that's ultimately the question I'm asking.

None of this is a game-breaker for me.  I've liked Trollbabe for a long time and that won't change.  I'm just rolling my eyes at one piece of it which, though small, is absolutely critical to its design goals (assuming I can see what you're going for) and I don't quite like how it was implemented.

PS.  Man, I wrote this whole long thing about David Hilbert ( and non-euclidean geometry (, in the spirit of tequila and digressions, to sort of provide an opening example.  But I am going to spare the good people of the Forge from garrulousness not immediately applicable to Trollbabe.

Title: Re: [Trollbabe] Harmed relationships - pg 61
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 14, 2010, 02:13:03 PM
Hey James,

Sorry about the delay. Part of it is that I'm not seeing any reason for dialogue. I mean, you're pretty set in your reaction - it's phrased as fixed, definite, formed, and final. Is there some response or interaction that you're seeking?

I am reluctant simply to launch into a defense. For one thing, I'm not seeing much reason to swing a heavy bat at what is effectively a snap judgment. My heavy bat is composed of two things, (1) extensive playtesting on exactly this point, and (2) what I consider to be the primary thematic mechanic of the game, which is articulated most clearly (which is not to say fully clearly) in my See Page XX interview ( Your take is based on your reading of the new text and a sharp reaction to it. I am not belittling your grasp of the original version of Trollbabe or your intelligence in general. I am saying that I'm finding it hard to treat our two perspectives equally.

Let me know what kind of dialogue you're seeking here, if any. If all you want to do is log your reaction to reading the text, then that goal has been reached.

Best, Ron