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Author Topic: [Solar System] Rules question: spending advances  (Read 8082 times)
JMendes
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« on: July 21, 2009, 02:13:29 AM »

Ahey, :)

As I said in the orher thread, we came across a couple of snags in our play of The West.

On page 52, where you're talking about using advances, you say:

Quote
It is quite acceptable to invest in an Ability just before you need to use it

What about after? At our TSoY and The West tables, we're in the habit of allowing the player to advance an Ability after the dice are on the table and the results are known. This has the effect of actually "guiding" character development along the dramatic action that naturally develops throughout the campaign and has a nice, resonant feel to it. Original TSoY allows for this, with its "advances at any time" policy, but I'm not entirely sure this is implied in this wording.

Quote
the same Ability should not be increased several steps at once

We're not exactly sure on where the limits are, what "at once" means. No more than once per check? No more than once per scene? No more than once until something else increases, like in original TSoY?

Quote
the character may only improve a Pool once in each scene

Does "a" Pool mean any one Pool or does it mean each Pool? That is, as written, can a character improve two Pools in the same scene?

Also, on that last bit, we are all curious as to why you chose to include that particular restriction, as it has a weird interplay with the Transcendence mechanics. Could you wax poetic a bit on why that's in there? :)

Cheers,
J.
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Joćo Mendes
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #1 on: July 21, 2009, 05:11:14 AM »

I probably wouldn't allow improving an Ability after the dice are on the table, mainly because it's a relatively frivolous reason for such a drastic development. After all, the player could just buy, I don't know, Secret of Enhancement and get bonus dice for his roll, improving it even more. There's nothing broken or unfun about allowing Ability improvements at any time, though, so this is entirely an individual SG call.

For the limit between improvements, I would consider a discrete situation, most simply a scene. For Pool, I mean each individual Pool per scene. Even then I'd allow getting several levels of Pool if there weren't a conflict in the scene.

All of the limits on character improvement in that chapter are intended as simple rules of thumb the group can use to keep a sense of constraint and verisimilitude in how characters are improved. I use those limitations simply because I like it that banked Advances are not a completely arbitrary store of character-build possibilities the player can swing into action at a moment's notice. This isn't even because players would be inclined to use them that way (they aren't) - it's because I as a co-player like the knowledge that the limits are there. It's an aesthetic thing, and removing those limits completely would not break anything in the game as long as the players play harmoniously.

(Those rules might be important if a player doesn't have any aesthetic constraints in how he spends and regains Advances. For example, technically speaking a character should never buy Pool unless he has an immediate need for it, as keeping the Advances in undiluted form preserves flexibility. It's rare for this level of tactical thinking to lead to good play, but at least the rules are there to make sure that the players do not need to choose between the fun dumb thing and boring smart thing.)
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JMendes
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« Reply #2 on: July 21, 2009, 07:08:08 AM »

Ahey, :)

I like it that banked Advances are not a completely arbitrary store of character-build possibilities the player can swing into action at a moment's notice. [...] It's an aesthetic thing, and removing those limits completely would not break anything in the game

Ah, gotcha! I guess we're looking at different sides of that same aesthetic, then. :) I can't say right away whether we'll keep doing what we've been doing or we'll start doing it your way, but at least, now we know what's behind it. (We like the store of character-build possibilities, for the reasons I indicated in the first post. :) )

For Pool, I mean each individual Pool per scene. Even then I'd allow getting several levels of Pool if there weren't a conflict in the scene.

Right, on this point specifically, though, I want to make sure I see everything you writing into it.

The way our group has traditionally done Transcendence is that each character's play proceeds along a story path until such a point as a player suddenly decides that they've said all that they want to say about that partticular character and that particular story arc. At that time, typicaly, the player will have one or a few skills at Master (3), some decent Pool sizes and a few advances banked. By a few, I mean something along the lines of ten or more...

What happens, then, is that the mode of play for that player changes from wanting to see the character developing, as the character is already fully developed, to waiting for, or even actually maneuvering play towards, a scene where transcendence would be a cool climax/wrap-up for the character's story. When that scene comes up, the player will purchase the Grand Master (4) rank for one of the skills, along with Secret of Enhancement, and have at it.

Still, even with all the dice on the table, it might happen (and it has happened) that the player might fail to roll the +3. When that happens, the player will then proceed to buy Pool and spend it, burning the rest of his advances in the process, until the +3 finally comes. Naturally, there's still no guarantees, but with each extra die, there's an extra 33% chance of that last + you need. :)

The limit to Pool improvement per scene limits this process somewhat.

Any thougths?

Cheers,
J.
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Joćo Mendes
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Ralek
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« Reply #3 on: July 21, 2009, 10:08:04 AM »

Hi,

I'm one of the players in the West and I really got some issues with this sentence...

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen
I use those limitations simply because I like it that banked Advances are not a completely arbitrary store of character-build possibilities the player can swing into action at a moment's notice.

Ugh... bad technical clash here. I like banked advances exactly for that reason. I guess it is just a matter of how you interpret what spending an advance actually means. I don't really see the actual character getting better at it right then, but rather the character showing everyone that the character is good at something (and possibly always was). It allows the player (and the other players at the table) to discover things about a character they had no idea were coming as opposed to seeing it coming a mile away. Imagine a scene where a young aristrocat lady from the east riding inside a stage coach with the other players and they suddenly falls prey to a group of outlaws. The lady grabs a rifle, climbs on top of the coach and shoots the hell out of the outlaws. Now, imagine the character actually had no firearms skill, but decided to spend all the advances necessary to raise it to master and then proceeded to win the conflict. After the conflict the other characters are like "whoa! I didn't knew you could shoot." - "Yeah, my father was a master huntsman back in England and taught me to shoot an early age. I do dislike the damn things though... they're so loud". Now the character didn't actually learn how to shoot in that scene. Her shooting prowess just had never manifested in the fiction before. This is a nice surprise that shapes the character well. It probably will surprise both the controlling player as well as other players at the table and more importantly, it wouldn't be possible if you had to trickle down advances scene by scene.

There are several mechanical considerations that make this scene possible that conflict with your own views on how to spend advances:

 - The ability to spend advances after the roll is made. The scene would fall totally flat if the lady didn't actually save the day (won the conflict).
 - The abiltiy to spend advances without pacing restrictions. I'm somewhat good with firearms (skill at 1) is entirely different than I am a master with firearms.

In fact, I even dislike the old TSoY limitation of having to spend advances somewhere else before you are allowed spend in the same skill again, because it disrupts (though doesn't completely forbid) your ability to learn more about your character and forces you to spend advances on stuff that might never see the light of day and bring nothing to the fiction. Would it be entirely up to me, I'd remove any and all limitations on how advances are spent. If you want to control pacing, mess with the number of xp required per advance, or the number of advances required to improve.

-- Rogerio
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #4 on: July 21, 2009, 10:41:27 AM »

I agree with you 100%, Ralek. Perhaps I phrased myself too strongly (busy writing, not much time for forum posting). What I should have said is that usually the way I swing is to celebrate and enjoy the limitations and vulnerability characters feel when they can't be remolded easily to answer the challenges before them. However, there's a huge exception here, and it's that the value I point at there only ever makes sense when the player has already firmly internalized the character's concept and what his limitations are. It's quite common for players to shift around stuff on the sheet and spend Advances very freely when their character concept is still shaping up, and I don't usually interfere with that as the Story Guide in any way.

Anyway, I really do mean it when I say that this is a matter of taste, the game works just fine either way. Retroactively revealing character abilities has not been on the table lately because I've been playing TSoY, which has features that discourage it; in pure Solar System with a light crunch environment - why not; been there, done that and got the t-shirt. It's fun, it just means that the players can be less above-board about their character concepts, and the game is more cinematic and less gritty when they can pretty much declare their characters to have whatever abilities suit the plot at the moment. The way I deal with Advance debt (meaning, let players take it if they want) makes this even more free.

In a word: if your group is up to it in terms of being able to handle the retroactive character fitting, and they don't mind the plasticity of the fiction, there is no problem at all in removing all restrictions from spending Advances.

Joao - the above addresses the Pool thing as well. It's pretty much a question of how much oracular control you want to leave up to the system and how much you want to be able to act yourself when the vision grips you. Solar System has definite flex in this regard, so everybody can play within the technical framework they prefer. In TSoY I absolutely adore the idea that a player pushes his resources to the limit to get the Transcendence at the right moment, and then fails; it works for my sensibilities there. Were I playing something more television-like and stylized, something of the sort games like Primetime Adventures produce, then I would totally expect to have a great degree of freedom from fiction-based realistic sensibilities in favor of shaping the fiction to fit the style. It's a matter of genric flavour, organic vs. synthetic story-telling.
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JMendes
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« Reply #5 on: July 21, 2009, 09:27:00 PM »

Ahey, :)

In TSoY I absolutely adore the idea that a player pushes his resources to the limit to get the Transcendence at the right moment, and then fails; it works for my sensibilities there. Were I playing something more television-like and stylized, something of the sort games like Primetime Adventures produce, then I would totally expect to have a great degree of freedom from fiction-based realistic sensibilities in favor of shaping the fiction to fit the style.

Ah! This! This, QFT. Makes total sense. I shall have to pondermore on it, but yes, I totally see where you're coming from.

Cheers,
J.
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Joćo Mendes
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Ralek
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« Reply #6 on: July 22, 2009, 09:47:03 AM »

There is a lot of interesting stuff in this thread, especially in Eero's last post, which pushes my buttons in a lot of different ways, but discussing it here would be a huge derail. I may end up posting about it in AP if I do get the time to actually write something coherent.

Back to the thread's original point...

First, I just re-read the spending advances chapter of the Solar System rules and they don't really forbid advancing an ability more than once, but rather discourage it. The use of word should is where I get this from, in contrast to the pool advancement rules where it is strictly forbidden (may not is used there). This may be a semantics discussions or it may have been intentional.

In any case, I digress. I still stand by the notion that removing any and all limitations on character advancement is better overall. If those limitations have been put there so that players don't play the game the "wrong" way, by tactically gaming advances so that they can overcome any challenge thrown their way, then instead of limiting them mechanically so they are unable to do it, just tell them how to play "right", by stating that the game is not about overcoming all challenges your character will face, but which challenges he chooses to address, how and why he chooses to address them and how he is changed by those challenges and choices. By limiting players in that fashion, you are also inadvertently limiting the players who are trying to play "right".

It is a matter of system philosophy, but in the Solar System rules, that philosophy is definitely not consistent. In this specific case, you have actual mechanical limitations to try and guide play in the correct direction, but for example, the pool refreshement rules make no mention whatsoever of any mechanical limitations and instead focus entirely on instructing players on how to use the pool refreshment mechanics "correctly". This lack of consistency is what prompts threads such as this (and the pool refreshment thread posted at the same time).

Quote from: JMendes
Quote from: Eero Tuovinen
In TSoY I absolutely adore the idea that a player pushes his resources to the limit to get the Transcendence at the right moment, and then fails; it works for my sensibilities there.

Ah! This! This, QFT. Makes total sense. I shall have to pondermore on it, but yes, I totally see where you're coming from.

Makes total sense... except it doesn't. Quoting the rules:

Quote
Transcendence is the natural end-point of a character's story... It is a combimation of mechanical and narrative pressures telling the player that it is time to make some final decisions over who and what this character is about.

I've written at length about character transcendence here. So I have all this pressure, both mechanical and thematic, to end my character's story, I setup myself mechanically to end it, I maneuver my character into a scene where I want his story to end and then.... it fails. Now what? Normal play (looking for thematic material and exploring character growth) at this stage is no longer fun so all I have left to do is transcend. I continue trying until I am able to. It's like watching a great movie getting ruined by the fact that it should've ended 20 minutes ago. What exactly is so great about having an attempt at ending the character's story fail?

Some AP. My most memorable transcendence happened in this story arc. My character entered some peace talks between two warring maldorite kingdoms and convinced them that he was the true descendent of Absolon and went on to rule the two kingdoms, now united, in an attempt to rule all of Maldor and bring back the glory of the old empire. What if I failed to transcend in that scene? Where would play go on from there? Would I really have to drag on in scene after scene until another opportunity presented itself?

The reason this didn't occur to me before in TSoY is because the possibilty of failure (as in failing to roll a 7) is somewhat small in TSoY if you setup yourself right for it, but it is still there and that really feels wrong now that I think about it. Due to the limits present in Solar System, the possibility of failing to transcend is bigger here, kind of exacerbating the problem.

Now, there is something I would like to see in transcendence and that is the possibility that things don't go exactly as the player intended them to go, but not that the character's story didn't end. I would much rather have a structurally different scene type to deal with transcendece, much like pool refreshement and "normal" scenes are structurally different. The moment you try to transcend, you reach a point of no return. No matter what happens, your character's story will end there.

You can include the same pacing mechanism to determine if a transcendence is possible and whether or not it is sucessful (meaning things go as the player intended them to go). In order to setup a transcendence scene, you have to come to a point in a "normal" scene where a conflict will involve an ability you have at grand master level (you can always spend the advances right before the conflict to set it up if you have the advances required) and then declare that your character's story is at an end - you are going to transcend. Whatever happens next will depend on the conflict result. If you do happen to achieve a transcendent result in the conflict (rolling a 7) transcendence would proceed pretty much as before, if you fail, things didn't go exactly as planned. How far off from the plan would be determined by the actual result, whether or not the character actually won the conflict and a comination of input from the player, the SG and the rest of the players at the table.

Drawing back from the above AP example, my character failed to achieve a transcendent result when he presented the forged proof that he was the true descendent of Absolon and failed to convince the rulers at the peace talk. The character would've been arrested and taken away. But there are some among the present that believed the character and a secret following would eventually emerge to free and put in power the true descendent of Absolon. As time goes by the exact location or who exactly this person was is lost to time and a cult dedicated to finding him spreads. And so was born the legend of the return of Absolon...

PS - Gah... this ended up being a much larger post than originally intended. Expressing one's views on these matters is a rather non-trivial pursuit, so apologies for the wall of text.

-- Rogerio
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #7 on: July 22, 2009, 01:02:42 PM »

I don't disagree with any of your points, Ralek, except insofar that the way you prefer it is objectively always the best rule. Not everything needs to be rules, some things need to be method. These things are method, not rules; part of the skills of playing the game.

Particularly, if I were viewing Transcendence as a pro forma issue of good story structure, I would indeed make it a matter of declaration: get an Ability to the right level and declare your character transcendant. Actually, I think I'll put that into my TSoY book as a Secret now that you pushed me into verbalizing it, that's completely fine if a player thinks it's a good idea. Anyway - the point is, I don't consider Transcendence as a necessary thing you have to get exactly right or the game is ruined. I just don't frontload my expectations that much. Rather, the Transcendence comes when it comes and we retroactively adapt to the necessity of having the story end here and now; it's not perfectly controllable. I mention this in the second to last paragraph of the Transcendence chapter in the SS booklet. It's supposed to be an exciting and surprising creative constraint, and I like it that way. If I wanted a game that didn't set mechanical constraints on my story-creation and allowed us a perfect, non-biased environment for any story, I'd play something like Universalis or Primetime Adventures or such, games with much more fluid narrative controls.

Compare with character death, by the way - that's entirely pre-meditated in the Solar System, can't happen accidentally. I like it that the two ways for the story to end are mechanically different.
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