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Author Topic: How can a SS-derived system make failure interesting?  (Read 16049 times)
Erik Weissengruber
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« on: October 03, 2010, 05:59:09 PM »

Hey Eero,

I was thinking of setting up a game where players were in competition with each other.

When one teams obtains its objectives, I wanted the characters to be redefined in the post-game fallout.

Since I don't want one team to develop an overwhelming advantage over the other in future campaign sessions, I didn't want to totally devastate the losers by depriving them of resources.

What would be the repercussions of having the winners assign the losers new secrets or keys?
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #1 on: October 04, 2010, 05:08:43 AM »

Player competition is tricky. I'm totally behind the idea of having the characters situated in a highly competitive situation and genre, but players competing on a mechanical level, depending on what sort of creative drive is intended, exactly, can be a game-wrecker. Usually competition comes into my SS gaming in the form of unwelcome player priorities that encourage players to curtail communication and fruitful forms of participation in play: for instance, I once had a player who did not care why his character fought or who he fought as long as he personally got to feel like he was the king of the hill; this type of priority doesn't interact well with the rules systems of Solar System due to how such a player will ignore and discount most of the interactive arsenal the SG brings to the table and due to how simplistic the game's tactical model is; there's simply not much in the game for a competitive player to play over, the game's already all over but the dice rolling if you sit down with the firm intent to ignore value-based conundrums and expressing your character.

Assuming that we're talking of some more fruitful sort of competition, such as in-character antagonism, then I see no problems with your suggestion: by all means impose conditions on the player characters, and even have other PCs involved in causing and determining them. It's not a good idea to undermine a player's role as the advocate for his character's motivations and goals, but it's definitely a good idea to heap all sorts of externally-originating fuckery on them. Heroes thrive on adversity.

More important than relative advantage or whatnot in PC-vs-PC conflict and competition is probably going to be dramatic coordination and pacing, though. The most important thing a character gets from triumphing over his enemies is not an improved position in a resource cycle, but rather the fictional value they were after in the first place when committing to their fight. This extends a bit from your initial question, but I think it's an important point, so I'll babble about the theory a bit:

A typical roleplaying idea is that the reward of victory is spoils, and spoils translate into further strength that improves the fighting chances in the next fight. This is all well and good in the context of a game that is built to offer an increasing curve of challenge; however, in the context of a fictional world with its own internal logic we often see that the internal consistency of the world needs to be tortured awfully to cause it to conform with our reward cycle expectations. For some weird reason the dark lord only ever sends orcs to fight the hero until he's garnered enough XP to step up against more serious foes.

Especially serious the above phenomenon is in conflict games where both sides have protagonistical rights. This is the case in head-to-head wargames, but also in competitive RPG set-ups. One reason for why these don't sometimes work very well is that if both sides are heroes, then both sides function from the same increasing power curve, perfect marshalling of resources assumption. This in turn means that the death spiral for the loser is abrupt and massive: the winner of the first conflict gets bonus strength for it while the loser loses resources, thus going to the next conflict in a worse position than the first one.

In literature the dramatic course of conflict is different: heroes rarely get "power-ups" from winning battles, and there is no guaranteed and logical challenge curve; in fact, typically the hero gets more beaten up as the story advances towards its finale, with the enemy getting more fearsome despite their constant losses. This process has its own literary devices that justify it: the enemy grows in strength because it takes time for them to marshall their full strength, for instance. This type of story is not rewarding because the hero gets more strength from each conflict, but because each conflict protects and nurtures values important to the hero.

All this is pertinent to conflict-ridden Solar System in that it draws attention to the idea of how the dramatic arc of conflict should be managed: the traditional game-like way of doing it is to say that the opposing sides clash against each other, then one side gets the upper hand and finishes the other off after they've been pushed into a death spiral. This is not very fun dramatically, so it's better to follow the literary model here: each individual conflict has discrete stakes that are not the equivalent of full destruction for either side, and neither side goes into a death spiral due to the conflict. Both sides gain experience points for playing to their Keys, win or lose in any individual conflict. Further battles are set up not on the basis of beat-ups deliverable to the weaker side, but rather on the basis of dramatic coordination: which issues are still unresolved? Which still require development? What would be the logical next step? Is this character positioned in the fiction to credibly resolve this conflict, or does he need to maneuver still?

In concrete terms, the way I run inter-PC conflict in Solar System is to focus on why they're fighting and what they need to do to position themselves to achieve their goals. There is no particular mechanical reward involved in winning, either; the measure of victory is in the fictional positioning a character gains by it. For example, a character might half kill themselves and still "win" a conflict by rescuing their family from the enemy force; in terms of mechanical rewards the character is worse off after the battle despite being the nominal victor. This does not matter to the player as a strategic matter, as he's not thinking in strategic terms in this game: the important issue is what his character believes in and what he has to do due to his convictions, not what would be the smart thing to do to be the last man alive on the field.
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Erik Weissengruber
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« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2010, 07:20:24 AM »

Thanks for the thoughtful post Eero, lots to think about.

Off topic: I am not Finnish, but my daughter's nickname is Taika (and her Icelandic nickname, in honour of my Bjork-loving spouse, is Taika Robbinsdottir)
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Courage75
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« Reply #3 on: October 05, 2010, 09:51:52 PM »

All this is pertinent to conflict-ridden Solar System in that it draws attention to the idea of how the dramatic arc of conflict should be managed: the traditional game-like way of doing it is to say that the opposing sides clash against each other, then one side gets the upper hand and finishes the other off after they've been pushed into a death spiral. This is not very fun dramatically, so it's better to follow the literary model here: each individual conflict has discrete stakes that are not the equivalent of full destruction for either side, and neither side goes into a death spiral due to the conflict. Both sides gain experience points for playing to their Keys, win or lose in any individual conflict. Further battles are set up not on the basis of beat-ups deliverable to the weaker side, but rather on the basis of dramatic coordination: which issues are still unresolved? Which still require development? What would be the logical next step? Is this character positioned in the fiction to credibly resolve this conflict, or does he need to maneuver still?
In my Werewolf game inter-PC conflict comes up a lot. Indeed, all the PCs are members of a werewolf pack with a Key that gives them more XP if they challenge each other, so I am actively encouraging this kind of conflict. Usually the conflict revolves around the pack's response to something; a crisis has occurred and the pack has to deal with it. The question is how - this is what the pack differs on. Usually, two characters feel very strongly about different approaches enough to have a conflict over it. This is usually a Reason or Instinct conflict, but it can stray into Vigour (these are werewolves after all). In the fiction, the pack adopts the winner's approach, although individual packmates are free to do their own thing later - and bear the consequences. Mechanically, the winner doesn't get anything, although I suppose they could make an Effect out of it to spend as bonus dice on something, such as using against the aforementioned recalcitrant packmates. Even though it is a fictional thing, it is a very important part of the game as it puts an end to in-character agruments, which used to eat up precious game time, and the players all feel vindicated once they go to the mechanics. Since I converted Werewolf to SS, this "pack challenge" mechanic has been one of the most important ones in the game, and propels the story in interesting directions.

I suppose if you really wanted a mechanical advantage in inter-PC conflict you could always engage the extended conflict mechanics. The advantage would be that you potentially Harm your rival, and they have to spend resources to heal that could otherwise be used against you in the future. However, noting that PCs can usually Refresh their Pools with a refreshment scene, this isn't a surefire tactic and I don't think it is in the spirit of the system to use it in this way.

Another thing you could try is a Secret that allows you switch around the Ability ratings of the loser depending on how successful you are against them, for the scene. You'd probably want to narrate how this happens - why does their Expert rating in Brawl (V) transfer to their Poetry (I), for example? Some sort of mind-scrambling psychic power? You might also want to restrict it to certain Abilities; can swap ratings in Vigour Abilities for Instinct Abilities, for instance. Otherwise this is a very powerful Secret, which should be reflected in its Pool cost.
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Erik Weissengruber
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« Reply #4 on: October 06, 2010, 04:33:53 AM »

Good comments.

How could I make it work in a set of mechanics like this?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPZgcWDcjpM

I will come up with some comments along this line later.
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Erik Weissengruber
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« Reply #5 on: October 06, 2010, 05:27:48 AM »

Vimeo is more capacious

http://www.vimeo.com/15595315
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Courage75
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« Reply #6 on: October 19, 2010, 03:18:29 PM »

Erik, can you summarise what you are after here? It is a bit hard to tell from the video. To me, it looks like you want crunch for a game about individuals who have the resources to claim habitable planets (and purchase Secrets from them), but I am not entirely sure if that is correct. I know Eero came up with some crunch to model a militaristic space navy game a while back, that might be a good place to look for ideas.

Happy to offer suggestions, just need to know what it is you are after.
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Erik Weissengruber
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« Reply #7 on: October 20, 2010, 07:45:26 AM »

Quote
Erik, can you summarise what you are after here? It is a bit hard to tell from the video. To me, it looks like you want crunch for a game about individuals who have the resources to claim habitable planets (and purchase Secrets from them), but I am not entirely sure if that is correct. I know Eero came up with some crunch to model a militaristic space navy game a while back, that might be a good place to look for ideas.

Happy to offer suggestions, just need to know what it is you are after.

a) Thanks for reminding me about Eero's space navy crunch stuff.
b) You put into a few words exactly what I am getting at.

Quote
it looks like you want crunch for a game about individuals who have the resources to claim habitable planets (and purchase Secrets from them), but I am not entirely sure if that is correct

Individuals work as part of species teams.  As a result of planning and untertaking missions individual players players acquire XP and the right to spend those XP on acquisition of secrets and keys tied to the planets.  Moreover, by interacting with other players in conflict (including with members of their own species) a player may learn the secrets and keys involved.[1]

There is a between session mechanic as well.  Individuals may chose to pass on secrets that they have acquired to a collective pool from which fellow species members may select their advancements. [2]

So teams are given loose orders by their homeworlds.  Using a combination of oppen and hidden maneubers they find a way to adapt HQ's commands to present circumstances.  Moreover, like the commanders of ancient armies -- and some not so ancient -- they have great individual leeway in achieving personal goals.




[1] This is a very lose adaptation of Maynard-Smith's contention that interspeices conflict is a kind of "communication" where the results of interaction with another population -- even one which results in the extinction of many individuals and in a decrease in population numbers -- can stimulate the development of evolutionarily stable strategies on the part of the temporarily disadvantaged population)

[2] This is falling prey to the Lamarckian temptation -- the belief that an individual's strenuous efforts may result in changes that are passed on to descendants.  It is outmoded by genetics and research into DNA but Lamarckian ideas exert a strong hold on the imagination.  Why do we obsess about the achievements of space opera heroes like Donal or Paul if not out of some hope that the achievements of a great individual will filter down throughout the whole "people" or "species"? 
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Erik Weissengruber
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« Reply #8 on: October 21, 2010, 08:23:06 AM »

I am stuck on how to give more orthodox notions of heredity in my game.

Most mutations are non-functional or disadvantageous when they first appear.  But they can contribute to fitness when conditions change. 

If sickle-cell anemia makes you weak and easily tired and decreases your fitness, later generations to whom you pass on that trait will find it advantageous when the rest of the population is exposed to an onslaught of malaria-carrying mosquitoes breeding in recently formed swamps.

How to turn something non- or dys- functional into an advantage when a species comes to a new planet ... ?  Just an idea I am toying with.  Again, my game is about individuals and their heroic roles in a culture's space-opera, not simulating hundreds of generations and populations of millions with differential chances for reproductive success.

Frank Herbert leveraged mitochondria into neat story elements in Dune and I would like to do something similar in my game.
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Mathew E. Reuther
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« Reply #9 on: October 21, 2010, 11:11:19 AM »

Brittle-bone syndrome is not as large an issue in low-gravity, one would imagine, but would be a crushing disadvantage on a heavy G world.

Skin pigmentation would of course come into play depending on the atmospheric layers and spectrum of the star around which a planet revolves. Could make an albino actually advantageous under some extreme circumstances, while they might nearly instantly burn in others.

Eye color would again be an issue dependent upon light sources . . .

Extra non-muscle mass is exceptionally bad when you're on a high G world.

Height would be an issue if you were on a world that catered to short/taller beings in terms of shelter, flora, etc.

There's tons of options out there. Some more or less obvious.
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Erik Weissengruber
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« Reply #10 on: October 21, 2010, 11:25:20 AM »

Excellent.

Perhaps some kind of Key where the character gains XP for getting the character in trouble because of some trait.  Then, on another planet, you can wipe out the key and acquire some Secret relevant to the new planet.
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