2006-06-15 : The who and why of the owe list


Imagine a world where what a person wants is undiluted by ideas about what they ought to want. A world where the idea of having laws at all is brand new, for instance; a world where the gods are just demons size XXL, as capricious and petty as people, just with more obscure appetites; a world where principles and ideals are assumed contingent, convenient or inconvenient never right or wrong. A world where you don't have any reason to expect justice, where it would never occur to you that God or the state might make sure you're okay. The idea of having laws at all is brand new. Laws haven't become part of the human psyche.

Imagine that there you are and you're bold, capable, and sure. You can have what you want, if you can win what you want.

What do you do? If you can do what you might do, will you?

It's an interesting question, but not all the answers are interesting. Here are two answers that I simply do not care about:

"I dedicate my strengths relentlessly to a selfish pursuit of my own interests."

"I flutter ineffectively against others relentlessly pursuing their own interests, without hindering them in any way."

I become a bully; I become a victim. Not interesting.

That's why they don't go on the owe list.

1. On 2006-06-15, Vincent said:

Also, Jess Hammer's Roman name list (pdf) for the Story Games Names Project is fantastic. WMSG, let's play some Roman-flavored AG&G, set in a fantasy-ized Roman North Africa, yeah?


direct link

This makes...
MB go "Soooooo down for that!"

2. On 2006-06-15, Larry Lade said:

Libertarian wet dream, blah blah blah...

I'm missing something. Why is it called the "owe list"? Past thread I need to dig for?


3. On 2006-06-15, Vincent said:


Libertarian? The HELL?

If people can't tell the difference between a libertarian wet dream and a game about your responsibilities as a human being, then shit, I dunno. I wash my hands.

Please, lord, please just everyone notice that the libertarian wet dream characters DON'T GET TO GO ON THE OWE LIST AND DON'T GET TO RECUR. They're one of the two uninteresting answers.


4. On 2006-06-15, Vincent said:

Oh -

The owe list is a list of who gets to recur. We owe them future attention. It might legitimately be called the deserve list instead, as in they deserve future attention.


5. On 2006-06-15, Avram said:

Y'know, I can't tell which of those two characters is supposed to be the libertarian wet dream.


6. On 2006-06-15, Vincent said:

That makes me laugh! Thanks Avram.


7. On 2006-06-15, Valamir said:

I'm squinting real hard and not following.

Seeing that the Libertarian philosophy could be summed up as "be self reliant and leave other people alone" I'm not sure how either of those uninteresting characters would be identified as a Libertarian anything.

Perhaps there is some underlying something here I'm not privy too?


8. On 2006-06-15, Larry Lade said:

The libertarian thing was a joke, (libertarians would likely flip out at the "never right or wrong" bit) but that's honestly how it read to me the first time through.

There's a lack of context here or something.


9. On 2006-06-15, Valamir said:

I'm squinting real hard and not following.

Seeing that the Libertarian philosophy could be summed up as "be self reliant and leave other people alone" I'm not sure how either of those uninteresting characters would be identified as a Libertarian anything.

Perhaps there is some underlying something here I'm not privy too?


10. On 2006-06-15, Chris said:

I like it.  It seems like the question behind that is, "When is it ok/not ok to use my power in the world?" The bully and the victim have already answered that (always/never), so there's no point in playing with them anymore.  The characters who haven't come to a final conclusion, those are the characters best used to explore the details and twists of it.


11. On 2006-06-15, Vincent said:

Anybody wants to argue politics with me, go post in Ask a Frequent Question.

Chris: there's an interesting thing with the victim, who'll wind up badly misnamed if we keep saying "the victim," so let's say "the ineffective" instead. That character may have fully and passionately opposed a bully and just been smacked down, not having made any choice to be so.

The position the game takes is that being simply smacked down is uninteresting, even if you were hoping hard to make a difference. I know that a couple of playtest groups have decided otherwise - I'm not reconsidering the rule, though. Anybody want to tell me I ought to be? Jason maybe?


12. On 2006-06-16, Chris said:

Yeah, "The ineffective" is a better term.

I remember Ben saying one time that Riddle of Steel uses a brutal method of determining who the protagonists are- losing removes you from the story rather quickly.  This would work in the same way.

On the other hand, I don't see much of a problem with it- you figure anyone who gets their character into enough conflicts ought to be able to get at least one "owe" on the list.


13. On 2006-06-16, Ben Lehman said:

This is also why no NPCs on the list, right?



14. On 2006-06-16, Jason M said:

I think your reasoning is sound, for sure.  I'd just encourage you to make expectations very clear in the rules, which I know you will.  I don't recall anyone being tore up over characters who faded out of the story - that's a feature, not a bug as far as I'm concerned.


15. On 2006-06-17, Larry Lade said:

Is this for AG&G?


16. On 2006-06-17, Brand Robins said:

I'm way out of having any sense of context here, other than context of story and theme, so I may be off base but...

There is also an important difference between the Vanquished, the Victim, and the Ineffective. In the semi-mythic sense that you're talking about, Vincent, I can't think of a single lasting culture hero who was ineffective, and only some post-modernists who were the Victim. The Vanquished, otoh, have some damn powerful stories.

So, in the theme of Rome, let us cast our swords upon the scales and call out "Woe unto the vanquished."


17. On 2006-06-18, Natz said:

Actually I think the Libertarian comment was spot on.  Those are the exact same questions one has to answer when dealing with any ethical system—including that of Libertarianism.

Why is it invalid to play "a game about your responsibilities as a human being" and come up with the Libertarian answer?  It really is the best possible scenario in the minds of a Libertarian.  And you might actually get into some interesting conflicts about individualism vs a group consciousness.

Whatever premises get put forward, they're going to reflect an influence of a variety of current moral, ethical and political thought.

Will it be nihilism?  Might making right?  Perhaps Sartre's idea that every action contributes to the defining of what it means to be human.  Perhaps someone will invent law.  Perhaps they'll contest the idea that "principles and ideals are assumed contingent, convenient or inconvenient never right or wrong."

Infact, it becomes self contradictory. Simply ask the follwing questions:
—Why is the principle/idea that "principles and ideals are assumed contingent, convenient or inconvenient never right or wrong" right?
—Why isn't that itself only considered true when it's convenient or contingent?"

I would say that the lack of laws in the human psyche in the situation that you set up is, well, wrong.  The gods/demons are capricious and provide no higher standard.  No one believes in right or wrong as anything more than convenience.

I say it implodes the very first time people ask "what is good?" or "what should I do?"  They can then arrive at almost any conclusions they like, from the nihilist bully to the ineffectual.  The ansers you consider most interesting answers will likely be somewhere in the middle.

However NO anser can be given without establishing some sort of nomos.

Is this exercise of any value to determine what belongs on an "owe" list?

You said, "I become a bully; I become a victim. Not interesting."

What about the time when the bully realises the consequences of what he/she has done?  The isolation?  The impact of being hated by others?  When he/she questions whether or not it was worth it?  Or when the victem realises that avoiding conflict with others has not given what he thought it would?

And even if you played the actually becoming of a bully, there could be very intersting statements made about the consequences and where it leads.  Themes of isolation, definition through one's actions or perhaps even the exposue of a need to appeal to something greater.

Or perhaps the group playing might explore themes of powerlessness and other issues that weigh very heavily on many people today.


18. On 2006-06-19, brianm said:

I think this one proves my brain does not operate in the same orbits as the denizens of ???anyway??? and its creator.

???If you can do what you might do, will you????

Without any countervailing impulse or restriction, why not?  What, beyond mental instability, would lead anyone to pursue anything other than their own desires?  (And, in that respect, how would the hypothetical world be different from this world?  It merely lacks one of a host of desires that we weigh and judge as most desirable, pursuing it at the cost of others.)  If we???re assuming an absolute absence of any moral imperative, and an adventurous spirit undaunted by fear of conflict, even against mighty foes, where are we to look for a force to counter the simple vector of desire?  And thus the object of desire can only be mildly interesting, while the struggles and conflicts to achieve that desire could be extremely interesting.

But I???m not sure how any answer beyond, ???I strive for what I want,??? can make any sense.

So I???m clearly not understanding the question at all.

- Brian


19. On 2006-06-19, Vincent said:

We've been playing the game, and a couple weeks ago was my first time as a player, not as a GM. My character was the ghost of a long-dead soldier; my interests were to prevent people from dying and to secure an advantageous rebirth for myself.

I put my d10 and my d12 into the same stat, assigned that stat to pretty much everything I figured I'd be doing, and I went to town.

I DOMINATED the session. Nobody did much of anything but deal with the problem of the ghost. I possessed all the principles, ran roughshod over their interests, and would up right where I wanted to be.

...But I never went onto the owe list, because I never rolled against better dice. The one time I rolled against better dice, it was because I'd made a misstep, and I rolled against WAY better dice, and I got smacked down, quite appropriately.

So my ghost prevented (practically all) the impending bloodshed, and secured an advantageous rebirth, and ... the end. That character need never appear again. All the other characters, battered a bit by this furious ghost, get the chance to learn and reflect and develop. My guy, nope, he did his thing and that was it.


20. On 2006-06-19, Natz said:


your latest post with actual play info about the Ghost really explained to me what you're after.

I get it now.

And I have to say:  Awesome.


21. On 2006-06-20, colin roald said:

brianm, I think what Vincent is saying is something like this:  our far, far distant ancestors faced problems like this, looking upon a world with new minds and no conception of what they were capable of.  And now we are bound pretty thoroughly by ten thousand years of their solutions, of the invention of ideas of law and honour and justice and fealty and obligation.

If you could start over again, would you do it the same?

I find that a pretty interesting idea, too.  Though the part about "laws are brand new" is maybe a bit of a red herring, since the setting pieces from the oracle bespeak a pretty clear civilization.  But this is a fantasy game, and characters with sufficient power are effectively unbound by law, so maybe it comes to the same thing—see Vincent's ghost story.

Though—the ghost story brings up something I'd been meaning to ask.  The rules are explicitly limited so that it's impossible to kill a player character as the result of just one conflict.  But, there are no such limits on mind control.  In our last game, a mad priest character summoned the power of his god and a couple of good rolls in just one conflict, owned the entire room and forced the girl (a player character) to marry him.  Mechanically, I wasn't happy with how easy it was to take over someone else's character and force them to do whatever I wanted.  But from the sounds of it ("I possessed all the principals, ran roughshod over their interests, and would up right where I wanted to be") you're okay with it.

Ironically, had the priest been a PC, he would have got on the We Owe list for that trip as well, since he was up against two opponents who together had more dice.  He just rolled better.


22. On 2006-06-20, Vincent said:

How come you decided to make your priest capable of that kind of mind control, if you didn't want it?


23. On 2006-06-21, colin roald said:

I wanted it, I tried it.  I was sort of surprised when it worked, and suddenly the bad guy won everything he wanted.  Seemed kind of anticlimactic.

Apart from not being able to kill another character with one conflict, the rules leave almost everything about what your character can do up to the honour system.  You have to be thinking all the time, "will this be fun?  should my guy be able to do this?"  I think I prefer having some rules to provide more framework for that kind of thing.


24. On 2006-06-21, Vincent said:

Fair enough.


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