2005-01-16 : Archive 155


Okay, new plan for the Skiffy RPG. At least, new wrinkle.

In my Meg's and Emily's Ars Magica game, my guy Acanthus did something really bad. He totally violated the trust of Meg's and Em's main characters Damwild and Soraya. He did it in play, but in secret - Meg and Em have known about it right along, but Soraya and Damwild just found out a couple nights ago.

Farscape, Babylon 5, Firefly - we get crises from without and crises from within. Some of the best and baddest conflicts come when one protagonist simply must do something simply unacceptible to another protagonist. Scorpius wants to destroy John Crichton, but Aeryn Sun does too, in her way. And John wants to destroy her right back - he can have everything he wants, if she'll only stop being who she is.

How do you have good adversity without a GM? There's the answer.

But it poses a new question: how do you create PCs who'll provide good adversity for one another? When did Acanthus become someone who must betray Soraya and Damwild? How did I know to make him so? How did I know how?

This is far past "as GM, spend a grief to break something."

1. On 2005-01-16, Chris said:

1) Unspoken social contract- you know who you're playing with, and you're all on the same tip for the types of conflicts that get everyone jazzed. Try it with some other groups, and the players will get personally offended at the idea of in game conflict between characters.

2) Inherent understanding of the nature of conflict in stories, after a lifetime of dealing with them. "...we get crises from without and crises from within." This shows up even in kid's shows like Thundercats or Digimon, where you not only have external conflicts, but problems between members of the protagonists, along with internal conflicts like self-doubt, fear, arrogance, etc. These themes keep appearing as issues, because they're inherent to life as a human on this planet. You'll have problems with nature, people you don't know, people you DO know, and yourself. How to deal with them? That's a story.

3) External conflict can only go so far in terms of entertainment. Extrernal conflict alone is basically videogame conflict- the situations and problems change, but the protagonist always stays the same. That's not a story, that's a plot. A real story involves some change, learning, or revealing of deeper layers of the protagonists. Betrayal, disappointment, resentment, hard choices either show a growing of a character or a refusal to grow. Either way, character gets revealed during the process.


2. On 2005-01-16, Vincent said:

Yep. Formalizing all that into rules, though - that's going to be hard.

The rules need to provoke the players into creating the right characters, not force them to. That's important - the characters' conflicts have to be the players' idea.


3. On 2005-01-16, Vincent said:

Also, damn it to hell. I'm starting to consider this game seriously.


4. On 2005-01-16, Chris said:

Hi Vincent,

I'm not sure what you mean by provoke vs. force... consider, the conflict ideas presented in the setting for HeroQuest are supposed to "provoke" people into handling them, but there's a wide variance in how people actually do it, and whether they "get it" or not. Then you have the Riddle of Steel, which is supposed to force people into producing a certain type of conflict, but you still get a lot of folks who don't get it. By way of Lumpley principle, isn't the whole provoke thing a matter of whether folks will pay attention to the suggestions offered or even follow the "hard" rules?

I don't know, I think the Shadow of Yesterday's Keys do a great job of presenting something that can be easily a conflict device, external, internal, or with other characters, depending on which ones you pick and how you mix and match them. Kinda like an thematically loaded version of a magic deck :)


5. On 2005-01-17, Emily Care said:

It also has to do with making "fit characters". The worlds & races etc. can contain nesting themes of the overall premises that the characters too can reflect and refine. Part of the parameters of a regular NPC is that it is created specifically to protagonize a PC. If you want a group of people to be able to do that to and with one another, then it would make sense to have the character creation and development give folks a way to think/talk/feel out this kind of dynamic and provide it for one another.

It's no coincidence that Kreighton and push each other's buttons, the characters were formed to provide that kind of conflict for one another.

Oh, also. Acanthus has been someone who "must" betray everyone probably since the start. That thread surfaced as soon as Acanthus started drafting the super-secret blood-oath part of the charter for the mages to swear together. I've always been curious about what you intended/wanted from it. Now I get to see.


6. On 2005-01-17, Ben Lehman said:

Here's a point:

When a main character betrays another main character, we see it coming. We totally know that this is going to boil over into a conflict between the characters for, like, whole episodes.

But they almost always aren't for real. They totally come back afterward.

So, how about each character gets made with a certain number of "betrayal chits" which mark moments when betrayal can happen. That way, everyone knows it's coming and can build up to it dramatically, and won't feel betrayed by the player when it comes.



7. On 2005-01-18, Matt said:

Dude, this is so far beyond resembling anything I'm working on. I feel like I'm drawing pictures of mammoths on cave walls compared to this stuff.


8. On 2005-01-19, Olle Jonsson said:

How Do I Minimax In "The Skiffy Game"? How Do I Construct A Character (or Pair of Characters!) to Get Betrayal?

Fill me in on the chits idea: I get "points" for opening myself to betrayal, by opening myself to personal betrayal, as opposed to doing daredevil stuff (going out alone in the dark, et c)?

very interested now,Olle

My email address would be my first name in lowercase typed three times without punctuation followed by the @ sign and the string


9. On 2005-01-19, TonyLB said:

Well, my (possibly naive) thought is that if the rules system objectively rewards players for being in conflict with other players's character in small ways then the players will look at that, see that it's important, and optimize their characters to be able to achieve it.

Not substantially different, really, from wanting your fighter in D&D to have an 18/00 strength. You say "This will be a useful resource for me every single time I try to cut an orc in two, which will be all the time."

Likewise, you work up unresolved (perhaps unresolvable) character issues in character creation (or later in the game) because you say "This will be a useful resource for me every single time I try to create a conflict, which will be all the time."

My experience is that many games promise "If you create intra-party conflict you will be rewarded". Some games cannot fulfill this promise (e.g. AD&D). Some games fulfill it, but only to the extent that the GM is active about doing so (e.g. Vampire). Some games fulfill it by the very structure of their rules.


10. On 2005-01-19, Bryant said:

Hey, did you ever read my game Into the Sunset (PDF, smallish)? It's a GMless game, and one of my goals was to create character conflict during character generation. Short form: every character has to choose a Driver (an overwhelming goal) and a Roadblock (a perceived conflict between two Drivers). You wind up with two goals; one is personal and one conflicts with someone else's personal goal.

It is not designed for extended campaigns; it's meant to provide a narrative framework for a series of events lasting about as long as your average romantic comedy. So it may not be applicable to what you're thinking about, or it just may not be applicable for other reasons. But it's how I came at the question you're posing.


11. On 2005-01-19, Eric Finley said:

James Brown (forge: blankshield) and I were actually jazzing about something pretty darn similar to this last night; he came up with an idea-seed around prison stories and trust, and we started tossing mechanics back and forth.

The core idea seems to be that the primary, perhaps only, stat of a character is how much the PC trusts [or relies on] them. The concept we were tossing around modeled a PC's character sheet as nothing but a set of goals and a relationship map reaching out toward those goals. Everybody relies on somebody else (to get stuff done, to watch their back, for what they know, for who they know). Everybody also has something that can make them crack. Once one cracks, catastrophe propagates along the relationship map until (a) you cut out a link - knife 'im in the shower! - or (b) you buttress the failing chain with further reliance links - Joey can get him hooked.

This relates to your question somewhat, and I'd offer as cogent the insight that trust itself might be a good quantified mechanic.

A second insight for you, if - as it sounds - you're considering extending the causality linkages to intercharacter relationships. Do it. Honestly it sounds (to me) much stronger than the whole 'spaceship' use of the causality tool.

I can think of one possible implementation wherein each PC is statted up fourfold, in four different states - Gresham angry, Gresham disciplined, Gresham emotional & confused, Gresham paternal. Those states are the states of a causality tree linking the characters. I just removed further details of this because they were distracting the comment; email me if you want to go further down this specific thought-path.

The point is that if you want betrayal to be made best possible, then the thing you want out in the open isn't the nuts and bolts of the ship's hyperdrive... it's the nuts and bolts of the people and the stuff that makes them tick.

So - nothing concrete, but if you want Acanthuses, I would suggest starting with something which makes trust a big part of the system.

- Eric(forge: Harlequin)


12. On 2005-01-19, Vincent said:

It's a delicate line, because I don't want all betrayal all the time. I want one betrayal, once when it matters, and I want one non-betrayal, once when it looks like betrayal is eminent.

Other than those two times, I want other things to be happening that are just as cool as betrayal-or-not.

I like the prison r-map a whole lot. I think it fits with the causal grids well, and it sets up relationships beyond betrayal, just as I want. I don't want to have emotional states on the grids, though. I want concrete physical states, like Sorcerer's demons' Needs: fulfilled or unfulfilled?


13. On 2005-01-20, Eric Finley said:

Rrrright. That's a good point, although I had been seeing the Gresham example less as emotional states and more as discrete avatars of the core persona. Distinguishable states even from the outside, as it were. The captain (whose name presently escapes me) on Firefly was the inspiration for that thought. His different "states of engagement" are writ as clear as ink on his forehead, that's part of what makes the character both strong and vulnerable.

However the point about concreteness is very solid, and is probably why the prison game (state: has-cracked, not-cracked) feels more tenable than the Gresham example.

Here's another lens on the thing - Sorcerer as an example of the tightly-knit interdependence that makes betrayal hit harder. Again the reliance is woven right into the core of the game. In causal-grid terms, the important element seems to be that *other characters* (in this case the demons) have access to the causal-elements upon which your own capability utterly depends.


14. On 2005-01-20, Vincent said:

"In causal-grid terms, the important element seems to be that *other characters* (in this case the demons) have access to the causal-elements upon which your own capability utterly depends."

...Yeah. Oh yeah.

Sweet. I think that's the direction this design goes. Thank you!


15. On 2005-01-20, Eric Finley said:


It's mutual; now that it's been spoken, that dependency will also go straight into the Pilot/Engineer romance rules for the TROS space-opera sister I've pitched to George & Brian and co. It's not just that your characters are IC dependent on each other; you're flat-out OOC using dice pools which fall apart if they don't hold up their end. And they may well have motivations not to.