2008-03-03 : The Owe List

For the record, I'm perfectly happy that there are people out there responding to the Wicked Age's owe list the way Mo does: "where the hell does Vincent get off, telling me I have to earn the right to play my character again?" If that didn't bother some people, I'd worry that my will-bother-some-people-o-meter was busted. I just read someone on Story Games who doesn't like it either.

1. On 2008-03-03, Bret said:

Hahaha. That's great.

Personally, I think it's kind of neat, forcing people (and by people here I mean 'my friends') to loosen their grips on their characters and try something else.

Though they can still play their characters even if they're not on the owed list. They just have to find a way to fit them into the list of characters.


2. On 2008-03-03, Chris said:

Character Death- "Where the hell does Gary Gygax get off telling me I have to earn the right to play my character through the whole session?"

You know, when you shift context...


3. On 2008-03-03, Per said:

I think the Owe list is the shining gem in Wicked Age. Not saying there aren't other gems in there, but THE shining gem.

If your character is not on the Owe list after a chapter, he won't come back in the next, because he's been either too passive or overly trying to win conflicts. That's a good thing. I'm curious to see how it affects players typically playing those kinds of characters.


4. On 2008-03-03, Jonathan Walton said:

Don't worry, Vincent.  The We Owe List was the first thing I cut from 108 Bravos.

Also, I think some folks are misreading your paraphrase of Mo.  Mo would fight for the right to NOT play a particular character again too, I imagine.  She just wants to make that choice herself or with the other players in her group.


5. On 2008-03-03, Vincent said:

Chris, Mo's objection to the owe list is exactly her objection to dice-mandated character death. I thought it was a smart connection to draw.

In my game, you're presumed dead! It's like you start the game at 0 hit points, and if you don't manage to win some from somewhere, you die at the end.


6. On 2008-03-03, Vincent said:

Jonathan - yay!

Also it should be really easy to arrange things so that you never have to play a given character again, if you don't want to. Very rarely will you find your character at the top of the owe list and you never had a chance to cross her off.

So (other than very rarely) the game preserves your right to NOT play a character again. Not your right TO, though!


7. On 2008-03-03, Vincent said:

And just to make it perfectly clear: I think Mo's smart, good, and right on in her analysis (although neither emulating the world nor providing more tangible danger is the reason for the owe list).

I've been designing games with dice-mandated character death right along, knowing that lots and lots of my peers, including the majority of my gaming group, really strongly prefer, say, Trollbabe's "your character can't die unless you choose it" or Primetime Adventures' "your character can't die except on her spotlight and you choose it."


8. On 2008-03-03, Vincent said:

Oh, one more. In my local group, the most controversial of the owe list rules is the one that says that if you go up against bigger dice but get doubled in round 1, you don't go on.

It's the most important owe list rule, though. If you're going to drop it, as far as I'm concerned you might as well drop the owe list altogether.


9. On 2008-03-03, Seth Ben-Ezra said:

>In my local group, the most controversial of the owe list rules is the one that says that if you go up against bigger dice but get doubled in round 1, you don't go on.

See, this makes perfect sense to me.  Otherwise, you'd just try to throw conflicts to get on the owe list.  This way, you try to undershoot just a little.


10. On 2008-03-03, Emily said:

I love how it makes you work for it if you are invested in a given character. As well as the freedom the game gives you to not invest. It is a sweet feeling to be able to play a character to the bloody hilt, not having to worry that it will necessarily ever have to be heard from again.


11. On 2008-03-04, Chris said:

Hey Vincent,

That wasn't a criticism of Mo's outlook on it, but rather, more of the general gist of criticism I've heard echoed.  As a design idea, it makes a nice vicious cycle of character investment leads to driving conflict, which tends to lead to more character investment...


12. On 2008-03-04, Julia said:

I'm in that minority of your game group who thinks dice mandated character death is a wonderful thing. In fact dice mandated character death might just deserve its own die in some cases.


13. On 2008-03-04, Vincent said:



14. On 2008-03-04, John Harper said:

I heart the skull die.


15. On 2008-03-05, Julia said:

At Dreamation Clinton game me an Alabama die. For those who don't want a roll of the dice to determine whether their character lives or dies, the Alabama die can help deliver another fate: get sold to a plantation somewhere in Alabama. Your character would be out of the game, but just not dead.

Not to denigrate that fair state, but consider that getting sent to Alabama—the Deep and Dirty South, your journey to escape is that much longer. One might argue it would be a fate worse than death.


16. On 2008-03-05, Joshua A.C. Newman said:

Yeah, hey, who are we talking about here, not liking mechanically mandated character death? I think your statistical analysis is faulty.

Julia: that's really funny.


17. On 2008-03-06, Brand Robins said:


That's cool. I think I must now buy and Alabama die.

Of course, while it deals with the die/not die problem it doesn't deal with the forced out of the game/not forced out of the game issue.

(But then I don't have a problem with that in most games. Especially any where you have to have chosen to roll the Alabama die.)


I find it fascinating the way in which possibility can be as formative as probability.

Like, Mo is really right on in her statement of her issues. But at the same time, right now if you look at the We Owe List for our game, you will see like 3 of Mo's characters with like, 5 to 9 listings of each of their names. And the only character who has ever been forced out of the game is mine—and that because I totally chose to get the fuck-head murdered off.


18. On 2008-03-06, Brand Robins said:


Mo may or may not fight to be able to not play a character. I can conceive of it, but I've never seen it.

I, however, would fight to not have to play a character again. As Emily says, that's one of the awesome things about Wicked. As opposed to, say, D&D.

Cause really, in D&D you do (at default) get forced to play the same character over and over again. At least, if you want to not suck toe.


19. On 2008-03-06, Julia said:

In Steal Away Jordan at least, death doesn't mean you're out of the game. You can take on a character, including your master, a free person, a ghost, or another slave. In a sense you're rewarded for dying.


20. On 2008-03-06, Brand Robins said:


Huh, that makes me think of something.

Does anyone know of a game in which it is possible for the mechanics, as a result of a roll, to remove a Player from the game without removing their character?


21. On 2008-03-06, Mo said:

I have, in fact, fought several times for the right to not play a character again. Notably, each time it's come at a time when the character's story or the character's role in the story or the story itself had come to a satisfying end and further play would only serve to cheapen that end without adding any value to the game.

Well, I guess there were times I fought for the right not to play the game at all because the social dynamic was freaking toxic or the game beyond hope, but that's a different thing altogether.


22. On 2008-03-06, Mo said:

Oh yeah, and...

I didn't think that world emulation or a sense of tangibility in danger was the reason for IaWA's rule in particular, just that I see that those are some of the reasons why others like dice-mandated character death rules. Now you have me curious, though, how *would* you articulate the reason for the we owe list?


23. On 2008-03-06, Piers said:

It is a spotlight mechanic.  The game gives attention to characters who struggle over characters who consistently win—which is why you can trade off the chance to reappear for the a bonus.

It is worth noting that if you want a character to come back, there is nothing to stop you bringing them back even if they do not appear on the we owe list.  You just have to _wait_ until they are thrown up again by a draw from the oracle.  (If you are really desperate, you can always ask someone to pick an appropriate element.)

But what the we owe list really does is force a narrative tension onto the game.  When you are fighting, simultaneously, to get on the list and to achieve your goals you (the player) are continually forced into hard choices.  Removing the We Owe list removes the mechanical incentive to do anything but win, win, win.


24. On 2008-03-06, Mo said:

I'd still like to hear Vincent's answer.

If that is the case, It makes sense that it's not something that I feel I need to add tension to the games I'm playing. I don't need a mechanical incentive to force my character into hard choices or to choose a different path than the win. That's the default of the way I play.

It's worth noting that I've *never once* made a decision or taken an action in a game of IaWA that was predicated on or informed by the dice I would earn to position myself for resolution or in an effort to get on the We Owe List. I'm there those 5-9 instances for each not because I engage with the system to do so but because I don't engage in the system (read: even in a strategical sense) until the very moment before we roll and I look down and see that the dice that fit the action I've declared happen to use the forms that are lower valued. I don't play to win, win, win. I play to feel, feel, feel. I push my characters into situations where they can't or shouldn't win, or where winning is hard won and difficult for the sake of the drama and the cathartic output of play.

That doesn't mean it's not valuable to some folks, I'm sure it's critically so.


25. On 2008-03-07, Vincent said:

My answer is pure where the hell does Vincent get off?

My engagmement with my character (I'll use me as an example) isn't a compelling enough reason for everybody else to let me keep playing her. Neither is their engagement! She has to pull her own weight, objectively, not just be likable or whatever, to deserve a slot in a future session.

I expect most people to play like Mo and I do, unswayed in the moment by the "reward" you get for going up against bigger dice, instead playing the character passionately and with integrity. It's important to the game that you know during character creation how a character goes onto the owe list, so that you can create a character such that playing her passionately and with integrity is more likely to give her long-term legs, if long-term legs is what you want for her. But in the moment of play, I expect my character to take over.

The owe list rules are there to make objective judgments about whether my character's worth our time, when all of our personal subjective judgments are clouded by our engagement with her - stuff like how much we like her and my portrayal of her and whether she's on top or on bottom and whether her story's done or not. PTA fan mail stuff. That stuff's irrelevant to whether she deserves to see more play.

See? Where the HELL do I get off?


26. On 2008-03-07, Mo said:


That's a damn fine answer, V.


27. On 2008-03-07, Jonathan Walton said:

I guess I don't see why Rolling Smaller Dice = Pulling Weight, V.  And if the We Owe List is so easily forgotten in play, I'm not sure how you ensure that it consistently gets used.  When we played with it, we kept forgetting to add people to it, because it didn't seem important at all.


28. On 2008-03-08, myrthe said:

Brand @20 - "Does anyone know of a game in which it is possible for the mechanics, as a result of a roll, to remove a Player from the game without removing their character?"

like CoC sanity rules? At zero san your character goes crazy and becomes an NPC.

I've never seen those NPCs play a continuing role tho, really. Normally by the time we got any PC to that point, the whole game was pretty much a wipe. It'd be wicked to play a CoC adventure around the crazy evil done by our previous PCs.


29. On 2008-03-08, Brand Robins said:


Yea, that's almost it. Might be interesting to have a con CoC game event where you put up different tables to represent different cities or places or times where people are confronting the mythos. You then play hard to the rules and GMs really try to drive PCs crazy.

If your PC goes crazy you give them to the GM as an NPC and then leave the table. You can then go to another table and sit down there to join that fight, but you can't ever go to the same table twice. You had your karmic chance to stop the horror there, and you failed.

As PCs get NPCed, they then become the main antagonists for folks going forward at that table. So as play progresses the people you are now fighting are those who used to be just like you, played by other players who failed to stand against the madness.

If you could make the turn over fast enough and the game long enough, it'd be vastly cool to see if you could have every person at every original table no longer there—so that all of the adversaries at all of the tables are fully made up of ex PCs, and everyone has been destroyed at least once.


30. On 2008-03-09, John Harper said:


Rolling Smaller Dice = Pulling Weight simply because that's how it works in Tanith Lee and Jack Vance. The stories are about the consistent underdogs who scrape by and/or manage crazy reversals of fortune. In those tales, the coolest or most engaging characters aren't necessarily the ones that recur.

In other words, I think it's a stylistic choice.


31. On 2008-03-09, Jonathan Walton said:

Interesting, John.  I've never read those stories, which may be why it doesn't make sense to me.


32. On 2008-03-10, Vincent said:

Pulling her weight = her strengths don't align with her best interests. A character whose strengths and best interests align can't continue as an interesting character (for "interesting" particular to this genre - she's too known).

When she finds herself in circumstances where her strengths and best interests do align, that means she's wrapping up. In the terms on the back of the book, she's made her fate. She gets a session to drive it home and then we move on to other characters.

Notice how well buying bonus dice off the owe list works, now. I say that you're trading your character's future for her present, but that's not quite it. What you're really doing is saying "aha. THIS is her fate."


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