[Trollbabe] Harmed relationships - pg 61

Started by James_Nostack, December 02, 2010, 10:09:53 PM

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Ron Edwards

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


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.



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.

Ron Edwards

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