2005-02-16 : Archive 175


How about you summarize the state of the art as you see it. You've been talking "this is better than that" and you've mentioned obsolescence in game designs a couple times recently. Want to synthesize it all?

Uh... Want to? It all? Not really.

I'm with you, of course. I want there to be a summary of the state of the art too. I just am wholly daunted by the prospect of making one.

Maybe it'll do to say what the newest coolest games have, right now:

1. Characters1a. Character creation requires you to make no more than 49 decisions, usually much fewer. Dogs is up there.

1b. Your character sheet fits easily on one side of one sheet of paper, often only on half a side.

1c. Yet, at the end of character creation, if someone turns to you and says "what do you do?" you have an answer.

2. GMing2a. What Ron calls "GMing duties," right? The game tells you clearly who's responsible for which, and usually they're divvied out among the players, with the GM keeping only a carefully orchestrated few.

2b. Furthermore, the GM has both clear direction what to do, and a visible, transparent method for doing it.

2c. This means that, yes, the players oversee the GM's work.

3. Mechanics3a. Only Fitm Conflict Resolution will do. Task Resolution, gone. FatE ... mostly gone.

3b. People are still struggling with IIEE. That's okay. The next wave of best games are going to have it down.

3c. Positioning matters, matters, matters. Usually you have a resource you can invest in the conflicts you really want to win.

3d. Reward mechanics are getting more and more interesting. We can probably identify two main trends: the Universalis trend, where people toss coins around all the time, and the Hero Wars trend, where people change things on their character sheets all the time.

3e. Curiously, we haven't yet seen a game that mechanically rewards the GM for good GMing.

4. Inter-player Interaction4a. Trust in the Mountain Witch will knock your socks off. Expect that game to have a whole generation of tributes.

So that's a little bit state-of-the-art-y, yeah?

1. On 2005-02-16, xenopulse said:

3e. Curiously, we haven't yet seen a game that mechanically rewards the GM for good GMing.

Interesting. I am not quite sure how that would work in games with a set GM. I might just be caught up in the traditional division of power, where the GM can whip up anything she wants. In traditional games, the players have characters whose development is limited by mechanics, whereas the GM is not so bound. In fact, binding the GM to reward mechanics in her power might interfere with the purpose of the GM as I've read it around here (providing the right kind of adversity for the PCs).

On the other hand, if the GM was rewarded somehow, that would indicate a structure that's closer to GM-less gaming or shared/alternated GMing. E.g., in games such as Universalis (or even Capes, from what I can tell without having read it), people who provide good GM-like services to the others are rewarded for their specific input with the reward being more ability to provide input.

So, would you not consider those things GM awards in these games (or others that I don't know/can't think of now)?

- Christian


2. On 2005-02-16, Matt said:

4a. Trust in the Mountain Witch will knock your socks off. Expect that game to have a whole generation of tributes.

Holy crap yes. Count me among the tributors.


3. On 2005-02-17, Chris said:

Hi Vincent-

I'd say that these two are pointing to two sides of the same coin:

"1c. Yet, at the end of character creation, if someone turns to you and says "what do you do?" you have an answer."

"2b. Furthermore, the GM has both clear direction what to do, and a visible, transparent method for doing it."

All the participants have a clear idea of what play is about and how to engage it.


4. On 2005-02-17, Per said:

Very, very cool list. Have it handy when checking out a new game. Could save you some money ;)I am not familiar with the term Positioning. Is it a bad ass theory term or just straightforward as is?



5. On 2005-02-19, Vincent said:

It's theory jargon. Positioning is: Spiritual Attributes in Riddle of Steel, Hero Points in Hero Quest, Fan Mail in Primetime Adventures, Unassigned Relationship Dice in Dogs in the Vineyard. Often points you spend, but whatever - some discretionary way for you to say "it matters to me more than usual how this turns out."


6. On 2005-02-19, jwalton said:

"3e. Curiously, we haven't yet seen a game that mechanically rewards the GM for good GMing."

Hello, Rune? It's Gamist as hell, but it rewards you for sticking it to your buddies. Now we just need variations for different styles of play.


7. On 2005-02-22, Ben Lehman said:

3e. Curiously, we haven't yet seen a game that mechanically rewards the GM for good GMing.

Uh, PTA?

GM creates appealing conflict.Players spend fanmail on appealing conflict.GM gains budget.



PS Dogs was played. I did the town with the polygamy and the Mountain Person wife. They were super-touchy-feely liberal, and didn't compromise. There was death.

PPS Polaris has FatE, I think, now. Why don't I finish writing that instead of commenting on your journal?


8. On 2005-02-22, Vincent said:

Jonathan: I am not wise in the ways of Rune. I don't hear much about the game - how much play is it seeing, out in the world?

Ben: Yeah, okay, the budget->fanmail->budget cycle rewards the GM, sure. I want the game where the players give the GM fan mail, though, as directly as that.

This raises certain technical problems, as I'm sure you can see. If the GM's job is to hose the players' characters, what, they give the GM fan mail for it? and she spends it to hose them harder? This game needs a very particular setup.


9. On 2005-02-23, Ghoul said:

Rune is a somewhat extreme example, with adventure design on a very mechanical level and rewards the GM based on how often the characters fail at tests and are severely injured (but not killed) by opponents. The second idea is sound (hard fights are more interesting than easy fights), the former is a bit more questionable (failure isn't inherently interesting). Players are rewarded for succeeding at tests and killing opponents, and the points all go into a pool (i.e., points you earn for GMing one segment are the same as points you earn playing in other segments), so conceptually there is balance.

Here's an idea that might be closer to what Vincent wants without adding a GM-generates-fanmail mechanic. Create a situation where resource (whatever form it takes) is conserved rather than consumed. PC's start with some, and when they use it the GM takes control of it. When the GM uses it, it goes back to the player. Thus, the GM gets a resource whenever they develop a scene that sufficiently challenges the players to use their resources, naturally rewarding the GM for doing the job of challenging the PCs. Perhaps the resource could go back to the PC who originally had it, but I think it's more natural if it goes to the player it is used 'against'. This way, players could even use resource to escalate PC/PC interaction.

Here's the real trick, though... Each time the resource changes hands from GM to Player, it grows slightly more powerful (a d4 becomes a d6 becomes a d8 or some such). This way, the "power level" of the total campaign grows automatically, as the pool of total resources remains constant but the effectiveness of the resource improves. Still, either the players (individually or as a group) or the GM can slow or accelerate this economy of influence by hording or freely spending resources.

Perhaps resources re-set to the lowest level at the end of a story or a set series of stories, perhaps they can be traded in for permanent ability improvements and a new minimum-level resource when they max out... Either would work, though the latter would elegantly combine an escalation mechanic, a reward mechanic, and an experience mechanic all into one. I like elegance in my game mechanics.


10. On 2005-02-23, Michael S. Miller said:

I've been thinking about this, too. Particularly in the face of WGP's GM problem. What feedback, beyond the purely social, is appropriate for the GM doing his thing? I mean, in MLwM, when the GM is doing his thing really well, everybody at the table wants to kill him! Er, I mean, his character. Yeah, his character.

As for ludographical precedent, check out WTF? in the NPA. Ghoul's idea also reminds me of Pace by Fred Hicks.

Michael S. Miller


11. On 2005-02-24, Ben Lehman said:

For what it's worth, my attempt at summarizing the state of the art can be found here



12. On 2005-02-25, lordsmerf said:

3a. Only Fitm Conflict Resolution will do. Task Resolution, gone. FatE ... mostly gone.

What about Fortune at the Beginning? We haven't seen much that uses it, but I bet it could be pretty dang cool.



13. On 2005-02-25, Vincent said:

I dunno. People want there to be something called Fortune at the Beginning, out of a sense of symmetry, but I don't see what it could be.

How about this for new terminology: Impervious Fortune vs. Pervious Fortune. Impervious Fortune, once you've rolled the dice there are no more significant decisions to be made; all the significant decisions come before the roll. Pervious Fortune, there are significant decisions to be made after the roll.

...So, see how FitB can't really exist? You'll always make at least one significant decision before the roll, usually many more. The "at least one" being: do we roll for this?

By the way, this all refers to when you consult the dice, not when you roll them. Like if you roll up 10 Alertness Checks at the beginning of the session, so the GM can use them without giving away that there's something happening, that's still (almost certainly) Fortune at the End.


14. On 2005-02-25, lordsmerf said:

Yeah, I know... Here's what I'm thinking about FatB...

At the beginning of the scene you roll, straight up. This roll references stuff on your character sheet (or maybe a table) and provides you with the type of conflict this scene will entail and the outcome of that conflict.

So, you have a character sheet with (say) 10 loyalties for each character. At the beginning of the scene you roll 2d10s, one read and one white. If they are the same, reroll them both. Those two relationships will come into conflict in this scene with the red die relationship winning.

The meat of play would be in how they come into conflict and how that gets resolved...

That would be FatB, right?



15. On 2005-02-25, Vincent said:

No, that'd be Fortune at the End. The stakes are: who comes into conflict, and who wins? The answer is: we roll, and there's the answer.

If the answer were: we roll, then spend Loyalty to pitch the results one way or the other, then it'd be Fortune in the Middle. Or: we roll, and then details of the conversation that follow might lead us to reroll, that'd be FitM too.

What options do I have to change the outcome after the dice are on the table?


16. On 2005-02-25, lordsmerf said:

I think I must be missing something here...

If I roll the dice to determine what the conflict is, but then use pure Drama in order to figure out which side wins, is that FitM? I mean, the Fortune is clearly happening at the beginning of the conflict. It is, as I see it, setting the stakes. Am I using a different definition of "stakes" than you are?



17. On 2005-02-25, Vincent said:

The "in the Middle" and "at the End" parts are relative to the real-world decision-making process, not the in-game events. Think about Pervious and Impervious. Whatever the dice decide, do the dice decide it, or do the dice plus further human manipulation decide it?

Say that we're deciding what the conflict is about. Does rolling the dice end the decision-making process, or does it fall somewhere in the middle of it?

It can't fall at the beginning because the beginning is all full of stuff like narrowing the field to possible outcomes and deciding whether to roll at all.

Where rolling the dice falls in the conflict, that's IIEE.


18. On 2005-02-25, lordsmerf said:

It can't fall at the beginning because the beginning is all full of stuff like narrowing the field to possible outcomes and deciding whether to roll at all.

What if the possible outcomes are predetermine (i.e. at chargen, such that each character only has 10 possible outcomes ever)? What if every scene always starts with a roll?



19. On 2005-02-25, Vincent said:

Doesn't matter - do we get to manipulate the dice after we've rolled them, or does the roll end the decision-making process?

"Now we're deciding something, and these are the possible outcomes" begins the decision-making process, Fortune or not, even if all we're doing is recognizing that it's a new scene and pointing to the list on the character sheet.


20. On 2005-02-25, timfire said:

Hi y'all,

Vincent, I'm not fond of your definitions here. As I see it, FatE is [Decision -> Fortune]. FitM is, however, [Decision -> Fortune -> Decision].

You define FitM, however, effetively as Decision after Fortune. That definition, of course, eliminates the possibility of FatB. But I think it doesn't take into account that FitM utilizes Decisions both before and after.

I believe FatB is theorectically possible, but I think it may be impractical. If a mechanic randomnly determines the stakes and what not, I would guess that it might lead to a disjointed chronology of events.


21. On 2005-02-25, lordsmerf said:

Okay then... It seems that we have a fairly significant difference in term usage here, but I'm not sure that it really matters.

For what you're talking about with FitM and FatE, I see that there can be no FatB. Now, my next question: why is FatE necesserily bad? What's bad about a final decision by the dice? (Note, I'm not saying it's good, I'm just not clear on why it's bad).



22. On 2005-02-25, timfire said:

BTW, what do you mean that people are still struggling with IIEE?


23. On 2005-02-25, Ben Lehman said:

You can have fortune at the beginning. It's unclear why you would want to, or whether you would still be playing something that could be counted as an RPG.

More to the point, I'm not yet convinced about FatE being all bad. Vincent, have you seen the Polaris resolution post I made? What do you think about the fortune there?


P.S. Also, I really dislike the term "fortune," because (of course) some games don't have fortune at all, but are still essentially similar (Nobilis and Active Exploits come to mind.) Mechanics in the Middle versus Mechanics at the End?

P.P.S. The middle is a big place. Dogs' FitM is pretty different from HeroQuest's FitM. Should we start talking about the differences here?


24. On 2005-02-25, Vincent said:


Thomas: FatE isn't necessarily bad. I think FitM is more fun, all other things being equal, but all other things aren't ever equal. Nailing IIEE is more important. Nailing stakes is waaaay more important.

The most straightforward way to make functional Positioning is to have a "here's what you can do if you don't like your roll" rule, which is necessarily FitM.

Tim: what I'm saying is that there's always decision before the Fortune. Decision->Fortune is FatE; Decision->Fortune->Decision is FitM. Fortune->Decision would be FatB, but you'd have to somehow decide to roll and decide what to roll for without making any decisions, and I don't see how you can!

Regardless, using "Fortune at the Beginning" to mean "we roll to decide what's at stake" is a conflation of FatE/FitB with IIEE. Just like using "Fortune at the Beginning" to mean "we roll to decide what my character wants to do" would be.

Ben: I haven't had a chance to read it yet. My LiveJournal time is limited!


Now I'm going to criticize a game I truly, truly love, so everybody take this accordingly.

Say that we're playing Primetime Adventures and Emily says, "I question the demon for an hour and a half, threatening to send it back to hell where it belongs, tormenting it with sacred mantras. I force it to spill the beans."

We deal cards and I win the stakes and narration.

Am I allowed to say "as you're walking toward the workroom, you get a phone call, one thing leads to another, and you never do get around to torturing the demon"?

...All the way through IIEE to...

Or must I say "yes, the demon spills (since you already said it does), but it spills in Aramaic. You've got the whole thing on tape, but you'll need to find a translator."

The answer is: the rules leave it up to me as narrator, providing no guidance. That means that they're leaving it up to my group to negotiate socially.

Now, if the rest of the game design weren't so extremely functional, this might be a real problem. As it is, I think it contributes to first-session awkwardness but isn't ongoingly bad.

How does IIEE work in The Mountain Witch? I didn't get a clear sense of it from our game.


25. On 2005-02-25, Ben Lehman said:

Did anyone here ever play Tales From the Arabian Nights? It's an old boardgame by some people who went on to be big RPG honchoes.

At the beginning of each turn of play, you draw a card to determine what sort of encounter you have. Now, there are other fortune mechanics, etc, in the game, but the point is that the resolution here is coming in before the players have made any decisions—as soon as the last player has resolved their turn, you are rolling (well, drawing) to determine what happens on yours.

That, I think, is Fortune in the Beginning. Randomness -> Decision.

(In the case of Arabian Nights, it is Randomness -> Decision -> Randomness, but that's a little off the point.)

A game with a strong turn structure can have Fortune at the Beginning. It just, frankly, isn't as much fun.



26. On 2005-02-25, lordsmerf said:


As I understand Vincent, his point is that you actually have Decision->Randomness here too. The decision just happens to be "We're playing Arabian Nights, so we'll follow the rules." He may choose to correct me, but that's what I'm hearing.



27. On 2005-02-25, Vincent said:

Yurg. We don't have to decide anew to play by the rules, but we absolutely do have to decide where we are in the rules. Has my turn started? Yes. So I draw a card? Yes.

I'm tellin' ya, you're talking about IIEE. Fortune can ABSOLUTELY come at the beginning of the conflict, at the beginning of my turn, at the beginning of my character's action. Or the middle, or the end. That's what IIEE means.