[Haunted] Ronnies feedback

Started by Ron Edwards, February 15, 2011, 01:50:01 AM

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Ron Edwards

Haunted by Jesse Burneko is one of those newspaper on the nose Runners-Up for me, in that I was writing things on my copy like "good!" "strong!" and so on, then hit the roadblock that made me go "oh shit - no Ronny," when I realized that I was suddenly unable to play due to confusion. Great terms, great idea, a bunch of features that excited me, a rising sense of looking forward to playing it, and then the newspaper bushwhacks me and I make a Scooby noise.

I'm starting to think there's a whole family of design best described as "jeep sitting down," including Sign In Stranger and my game It Was a Mutual Decision, which is definitely where your creative tendencies seem to tend, Jesse. Haunted seems at least to nod to Mutual Decision, with a great twist similar to what I always liked most about Wraith. Certainly the character sheet is similar to Mutual Decision, but better, with that excellent Venn diagram, and the dice-based established attributes method is similar too, and also, I think, better.

One of the great strengths of jeeps and these semi-jeeps I know is providing plot structure around certain story facts, but without illuminating content, leaving that open to the participants' input. As in, we know that this character is on the verge of cheating on his or her partner, but not why, or whether the answer will stir sympathy or antipathy, or on what basis. In this case, the murder is a fact, but the content is utterly up for grabs regarding how and about what - which is to say, permitting any relationship at all between the legal guilt of the murderer vs. the audience, real-person judgment upon him or her. As the story plays out between police investigation and the murderer's ambitions, this judgment is really what's at stake. You know, the whole game seems to me to be a great expansion of the banquet scene in MacBeth (III, iv):

QuoteThou canst not say I did it: never shake
Thy gory locks at me.

The design is especially ballsy because the murderer might actually succeed in outlasting the ectoplasmic guilt-trip, and the ghost might fade away, leaving that aspect of the story resolved.

I applaud eliminating all presence of a guiding Director figure, which is a bit too present for my tastes in many jeeps in terms of guiding player input. I really like the "soft" rules for scene changes, in that anyone in the non-murder non-ghost roles can do it and there isn't any lock-step, "move to next scene" instruction in the rules. I am not unilaterally opposed to such things and have used them in my own games more than once, but it's nice to see this jeep/semi-jeep form design without it. The crucial design pitfall for this form is over-scripting, and I think I see a little bit of that in Haunted, perhaps to compensate for the scary lurch upon daring to proceed in that absence.

I really like the dice, which look to me like a surprising combination of Sorcerer (reading highest-die) and The Pool, or perhaps one of the Pool variants (dice-gambling features). The bit in which the ghost gets to add a die if the murderer complies with the advice, but doesn't if he doesn't, seems very well placed to me.

Well, after all that, now for the roadblock. OK, let me see if I can summarize what I know is true from the rules:

1. The cops start with Evidence 1 and rack it up point by point, every scene they appear. They have a 50% chance of appearing after the closure of any scene, and this chance increases based on the murderer's current Heat.

2. Evidence vs. the murderer's Influence always gets rolled in a police scene; if the latter fails, he's off to prison.

3. In a police scene, if the murderer wins the Influence roll and was trying to frame someone else, with or without the ghost's help, then that someone else gets a point of Heat.

... and then things get weird. There's nothing in the rules at all about the murderer getting Heat. And all that business about transferring Heat around, the second two paragraphs in the Heat section, is impossible for me to understand, as I can't tell whether it's linked to the baseline "dodge'em" roll in a police scene or not. And if I'm playing a secondary character, and I get some Heat, apparently I can just dump it back on the murderer entirely? Which seems to contradict much of the point of framing someone. And is that the way the murderer is supposed to accumulate Heat? Anyway - I won't go into my long list of specific questions about all this because it's clear to me that I can't understand the basics from what's on the page.

So there you have it, the saga of almost a Ronny. Help me out, Jesse - I'd love to playtest this once I know how.

Best, Ron


Hey Ron,

Wow!  MacBeth!  Thanks!  You totally get it!


The only reason the game has a formal scene structure at all is because I wanted the murderer to have to deal with the police periodically and I hate real world timing mechanisms in RPGs.  I didn't want to say, "The police show up every 30 mintues of real time."

The police have a base 33% chance of showing up.  They only show up on a 1 or 2 of d6 and that goes up with Heat.  This is inspired by the board game Pandemic where between each players turn you flip over a series of cards to determine which cities the various diseases spread to.  It's a really interesting pressure mechanic and I've wanted to see something similar in an RPG.  So, here it is.

You realize the ghost can *force* its will on to a scene right?  So in a police scene you have this break down:

1) Police win, murderer goes to jail.

2a) Murderer wins by taking the ghost's advice and places Heat onto someone of the ghost's choosing.

2b) Murderer wins despite NOT taking the ghost's advice and places Heat onto someone of his choosing.  (He does this by beating BOTH the police AND the ghost).

3) Ghost wins when the Murderer does not take his advice.  This places Heat onto someone of the ghost's choosing via supernatural effects.  The ghost does this by beating BOTH the police AND the murderer).

On Heat.

I'm not surprised that Heat is the most confusing aspect of the game.  It's the only part of the design that underwent multiple revisions.  Everything else just kind of poured out.  Like I said in my initial email to you, I can't ever "just participate."  The design is either there nigh instantly in total or not at all.  That's why the 24 hour limit is never an issue for me.

The main reason Heat exists at all is because I needed some kind of refresh mechanic for Reserves.  A secondary purpose was to give consequential meaning to Police scenes other than, "You don't go to jail this round."

How It Works:

Police scenes either generate new Heat or transfer Heat off the murderer.  If the murderer has Heat then if suspicion is cast on someone else he simply moves Heat off himself and on to that person.  This act refreshes his Reserves.  If the murderer has no heat then a new point of Heat is generated and added to the person.  This does NOT refresh the murderer's Reserves.  As written this happens whether or not the ghost forced his will on to the scene.  I think I may revise this such that if the ghost forces his will on to the scene then the murderer loses the opportunity to transfer his own Heat and gain the refresh.  A new point of Heat is generated if the ghost forces his way.

So, how does the murderer gain Heat?  It's in the second paragraph under the section called Heat.  When one of the secondary characters is picked up by a player at the top of a scene he can move Heat off that character and on to someone else.  This refreshes that character's Reserves.  He can transfer that Heat onto either a secondary character OR the murderer.  Basically, any character who is not part of the police.

I agree this is probably the weakest section of the game.  My thinking is this is how the group's "judgement" comes into play.  If the Murderer wants to refresh his Reserves he's got to engage people who have previously had Heat thrown on them AND when they choose to transfer that Heat they have to put it back onto the murderer.  Basically Heat needs to go to characters players want to see more of AND have enough sympathy for that they want to keep their Reserves up.

Sort of... maybe... yeah, I'm not 100% sold on it myself.

Probably the weak point is that generating Heat has a strong fictional component in Police scenes but Transferring it from character to character after that point does not.  In my mind it's those characters dealing with the Heat "off screen" and maybe providing material of scene content.  "Jesus!  Joe the police were here!  Why the hell were they talking to me?  Anyway, I had to tell them about the affair Bob was having with Mary...."  Again, maybe.

Is that clearer?


Ron Edwards

Hey Jesse,

I still don't get the Heat at all. Why bother throwing all that suspicion on others when the Heat just comes back and dumps on you later anyway? (As if anyone would put it on anyone else besides the murderer.) I think this whole section of the rules is weirdly fiddly and needs a re-boot.

Or maybe I need an explanation that doesn't start with the murderer already carrying Heat, which is totally starting in the middle.

Best, Ron


Hey Ron,

I'm not sure if your confusion is about what Heat means fictionally or procedurally how it moves around the table, or both.  So I'll address both.  Fiction first.

I think maybe Heat is too strong a word.  This is backed up by your use of the word "framing" in your original post.  I, honestly, never thought of the act as a deliberate frame job.  Trying to get someone else arrested is not necessarily a primary concern for the Murderer.  It *can* be but it's not what Heat is about.  Look at the end game conditions.  Notice that that if the murderer is ghost free AND resolves his crisis AND no one is carrying Heat greater than their Influence then the case shelved in Cold Case basement or whatever.  I would suggest that this is the optimal outcome for someone shooting for a sympathetic murderer.

So "Heat" is much, much softer than "frame job."  In fact, in light of this discussion I'm tempted to rename it Leads.  As in the police are following up on Leads.  Imagine for a moment that you're a person close enough to a murder that the police are going to talk to you BUT (a), you're not the murderer and (b) you have no inkling who could have done it.  When the police talk to you, your answers are going to give them a list of things to look into.  You're going to mention the daughter the police didn't know the victim had or a boyfriend or reveal something the police didn't know about one of those relationships.  That's why this is the only mechanic that can generate new characters.  It isn't a hard attempt to make someone look bad, it's the casual mentioning of something that would catch the police's interest.  The only person DELIBERATELY moving Heat is murderer and it's an attempt to buy time, not necessarily making sure someone else takes the fall.

Huh, in light of this description I'm almost tempted to change how the new character rules work.  You can generate a new character ANY time you move Heat/Leads.  But that's an aside.  Okay, let's look at procedures from the top.

So we're playing.  The murderer has no Heat.  At this point no one can generate any Heat.  The police are only going to show up on a 1 or 2 on a d6 die roll between scenes, period.

BAM!  A 1 or a 2 the police show up!  In this first police scene these are the possible outcomes.

1) Police win Murderer goes to jail.

2) Murderer wins without the ghost's help.  Heat goes on a character of the Murderer's choice.

3) Murderer wins WITH the ghost's help.  Heat goes on a character of the Ghost's choice.

4) Ghost wins in the face of the murderer refusing his help.  Heat goes on a character of the Ghost's choice.

Assuming 1 doesn't occur the police go away presumable to start following up on this new information which sends them after whomever got Heat.  Let's call this person Bob.

If Bob NEVER enters a scene then we're in the exact same condition as before.  We just keep playing and the cops only show up on a 1 or 2 between scenes.  And each time the procedure is the same as the above.

But now we have a scene with Bob and Bob has Heat.  At the top of the scene and ONLY at the top of the scene they commit to one of these things.

1) Do nothing with Heat.  They just keep it.  Why would you do this?  Maybe Bob is an asshole.  Maybe the Murderer IS trying to frame Bob and the player wants to help out in achieving that outcome so he let's the Heat lie.  Or maybe it's the opposite.  It would be so fucking tragic if Bob goes down for this and we're pushing for that to happen.  Or it's a simple numbers game.  Bob's Reserve doesn't need refreshing so he holds onto Heat for later.

2) Transfer Heat onto a character who isn't the murderer?  Why do this?  Similar answers to above except this isn't the character you want to see go down for the murder for whatever reason.  Or if the Murderer is gaining sympathy you want to keep the number of police scenes low.  Or the Murderer has really been beating the shit out of Jill in conflicts and you really want to see Jill get some payback but her Reserves are low.  So you pass Heat to Jill so that when Jill is next featured she can refresh.

3) Transfer Heat on to the murderer.  Why do this?  You want to see the Police show up more often.  You want to give the Murderer a shot at refreshing his Reserves for what reason.

So, if play sticks with 1 and 2 then the Murderer never gets Heat.  Police always show up on a 1 or 2.  Police scenes either end the game or generate new Heat into the economy.

Only after 3 happens do things change.  After the first time 3 happens then police show up on a 1, 2 or 3.  When they do show up and assuming the scene doesn't result in the arrest then the Heat transfers OFF the Murderer RATHER than generating a new point.

The longer play stays in a state where the Murderer has no Heat the more Heat enters the economy.  As soon as Heat is routinely transfered on to the Murderer then the total amount of Heat in the economy stays the same.

Any clearer?


Ron Edwards

Hi Jesse,

I was kind of afraid that was how it worked. I can't see it as a functional mechanic at this point, with the usual qualifier that I'm talking about a text and haven't played the game.

Most generally, I'm seeing a variable take over the game. All the Influence-based ghost-murder stuff, all the character-play, all the stuff that is so nicely developed and full of interesting possibilities of the kind I described above ... it's now inconsequential sound and fury in the face of this big mechanic that is, in essence, a Story Control Lever. And it's not a fun variable. All of a sudden everyone's voting on how they "want the story to go."

Procedurally, I simply cannot stand the idea that the murderer gets Heat dumped on him for no reason at all, in-game. Nor, as it turns out, for any reason at all concerning his or her own tactics. All of a sudden, he's at everyone's mercy. There's no choice in police scenes except to generate Heat on others. There's no way to stave off that same Heat landing on your head. It's a mug's game - lose now or lose later.

There are aspects of it that I like. The basic distinction between the Heat being on the murderer or not makes sense, and the sole purpose of Heat being to draw in the cops more often (when on the murderer) makes sense too. I think it might work better if Heat were binary - you have it or you don't - and on only one character at a time, ever. And one thing the murderer can strive for is to make it go away entirely.

Maybe the timing is also getting up my nose, in that Heat is generated through the police scenes. t seems to me that it makes more sense to be both generated and assigned (including transfers) during ordinary play, and then that affects police scenes. Maybe the dynamic concerns the value of getting Heat placed on another person, given that the police are bound to show up eventually, vs. the chance (and I mean chance, mechanically) that it gets on you and makes the police appearance more likely.

Best, Ron

Ron Edwards

Clarification: my final sentence is talking about a possible revision of the Heat rules, not the way they work now.

Best, Ron


Ron, that all makes total sense to me.  My designs usually break down right at the point where I try to wedge in some hideous hybrid of the fan-mail cycle from PtA and the formula's from My Life with Master.  I'm either bad at it or grossly misunderstand what makes those things functional.

So, putting Heat aside for a second here are the two unanswered issues that arise without the mechanic at all.

1) What are the murderer/ghost fighting for in police scenes OTHER than "don't get caught."?  What's the narrative consequence of Murderer/Ghost success other than block and delay?

2) How do you the various characters refresh their reserves?

These don't need to be tied together.  I just did that because, hey, my answer to #1 produced a currency so you might as well use it for #2.

So, those are the two points I'm stuck on.  I have ideas but I'm not happy with any of them.


Ron Edwards


For #1, I think that the big variable of interest to me is the murderer's ambition. I'm thinking about how in Doctor Chaos, I finally realized that the lesser villain should be able to rebel against Doctor Chaos no matter what else he or she is doing, with the exception of willingly obeying him. So perhaps the thing to do here is have the murderer always be able to get some traction toward his or her goals, arguing with the ghost or not, arguing with the cops or not, whatever. I'm not sure - this is purely food for thought.

For #2, I have to say, I don't have a really clear idea of how reserves get worn down, and what the consequences of them doing so is. And I'm a little confused about how the plethora of NPCs (for lack of a better word) are involved with the reserves ... it seems to me as if all their reserves are kind of one big reservoir of grief for the murderer, rather than individual scores.

One last thing - that business about one detective or two detectives. Is there merely a sop to genre, referencing the fact that single-detective and detective-duo are both observed in murder fiction?

Best, Ron


Hey Ron,

I was at OrcCon all weekend so haven't had a chance to reply until now.  I got a chance to play Doctor Chaos so I'll write about that in the Development Forum later.

The one or two cop thing is partially a genre-nod but more importantly its to make sure that the police are Characters and not simply a Force.  You know that scene at the beginning of Marv's story in Sin City where 100 cops come charging up the stairs while Goldie's dead in the bed?  I absolutely DO NOT want police scenes to look like that.  My games are often about psychological intimacy and this is no exception.

This is maybe an aside but in pondering your question it's what came to mind: For whatever bizarre reason my games/creative drives often have Catholic themes under them.  I'm not Catholic, nor was I even raised Catholic and I keep coming back to imagery and themes you find in stories about Catholicism.  So here, you have a murderer and you have the ghost which is a manifestation of the self-destructive nature of guilt.  That makes the police detective(s) the priest awaiting his confession and offering penitence (i.e. going to prison).

Along these lines I realized two things.  The first thing is that if this were a True Jeepform then the whole game would probably be just those three characters.  The Murderer, The Ghost and The Cop sitting in an interrogation room somewhere.  This not being a True Jeepform I much prefer the notion that we see a lot more of the murderer's personal goals weighed against the Ghost and the Cop.

The second thing is that I'm not sure Heat as I originally formulated supports what I wanted out of the Police Scenes to begin with anyway.  The more I thought about it the more I realized that I think I want the Police to be pretty sure from the get go that the murderer is guilty they just can't prove it.  Each time he/they come by is another attempt to trip the murderer up enough to justify an arrest.  They only go away because they realize they don't have enough leverage... yet.

So, I'm thinking about maybe just dropping Heat all together.  That drops the chance of someone being falsely arrested from the endgame but that's okay with me.  It was kind of tacked on to begin with.  The variables simply are crisis resolved or not, murderer goes to prison or not, ghost is banished or not.

I *think* that the "what's at stake in Police scenes" is handled okay by the fact that I said it was okay for other characters to be there.  That sort of relates to your point about the murderer's ambition.  If police scenes more or less work like any other scene with the exception that (a) they're on this semi-random timer and (b) if the detective wins then the murderer goes to jail; I think that may cover it.

For #2 I'm thinking of borrowing a page from Dirty Secrets.  I may pull out the "Confronting The Ghost Directly" thing into its own type of scene.  Or maybe leave it as an embedded action like it is now but that this detail: Win or Lose when the murderer does this EVERYONE refreshes their reserves.  This would mean the murderer can't use his Reserves for confronting the Ghost.


Ron Edwards

That all sounds great. Write it up!

Best, Ron


Okay, I updated the document with my latest thinking and sent it to the 1km1kt guys.  I also uploaded it to my site and so the document is available here: http://bloodthornpress.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/haunted-v2.pdf

Ron Edwards

Hi Jesse,

I've been looking over the file. It seems so do-able now ... amazing how much was accomplished mainly by taking certain things out.

As for the possibility of someone being falsely arrested, I think it's still there. We're just talking about a possible element of the role-playing as the murderer attempts to stay free from the police. So it could happen.

Best, Ron