2010-02-23 : Can your brains just do it?

I was all like "circumstance-responsive vs circumstance-analytic," but friend, whatever. This is what I mean.

Take a look again at the resolution rules for Rock of Tahamaat, Space Tyrant. Particularly, identify the place where the weapon a character has in her hands, if any matters. Yeah?


Characters' Actions, not Rock of Tahamaat's
Recall that you're here because somebody said that her character takes an action that would bring her into conflict or expose her to bodily danger, and you interrupted her before it became so.

First have the player roll dice for "I'm craven." That many 6-sided dice, take the highest.

If the highest die is 1, 2 or 3, the character can't bring herself to take that action after all. Instead she must (player's choice, but choose one that applies) cower, flee, hide, back away, back off, back down, humble herself, give in, keep walking, hold still, or submit. Return to free play.

If the highest die is 4, 5 or 6, the player keeps it and discards the others, and the character does actually take action, as the player said.

Now GM, you have to judge. You can ask the player for more information about her character's action if it helps.

1. Is the character now making an attack upon someone? Either a direct attach upon their person or an indirect (but concrete) attack upon their life or livelihood otherwise? Then call for the player to roll for "I'm vicious."

2. Is the character now blocking someone, preventing them from doing what they otherwise would do? Then call for the player to roll for "I'm desperate."

3. Is the character now exposing herself to danger intent upon her, personally? Then call for the player to roll for "I'm desperate."

4. Is the character now exposing herself to insensate or indiscriminate danger? Then call for the player to roll for "I'm unlucky."

5. Otherwise, call for the player to roll for "I'm unlucky."

Start at the top, and stop when you get to one that's true! If others are also true further down the list, that's fine, ignore them.

Anyway, the player rolls that many dice, takes the highest, and adds it to her high die already standing. Now she has a sum from 5 to 12.

If her sum is 5, 6 or 7, something interrupts the character mid-action. Instead, she gets (your choice, but choose one that applies) thrown aside, pinned down, diverted, blocked, turned around, misled, caught out, parried, overthrown, pushed past, overruled, overwhelmed, undercut, brought up short, knocked down, put off-balance, or held off. Return to free play.

If the character's opponent was another player's character, have that player choose the interruption, and give that player's character the initiative when you return to free play, to follow through or respond with an action of her own.

If her sum is 8 or more, though, her character follows through, completing to concrete effect the action that started all this.

Time to make another judgment, GM. Look at the list below and choose 3 different effects that the character's successful action might have. Choose the worst possible effect, a good effect, and the best possible effect (all from the character's point of view). Again, you can ask the player for more information as you need.

It's fine to create standard sets of outcomes. Every time a character's in a rock slide, for instance, maybe she - jumps clear - manages to drag free - barely survives.

Now, looking at all three possible effects, what is the worst human harm that the character's successful action might inflict upon someone else?

1. If it might kill them, call for the player to roll for "I'm vicious."

2. If it might, at worst, cripple, maim, break, terrorize or shatter them, call for the player to roll for "I'm desperate."

3. Otherwise, call for the player to roll for "I'm craven." (If the character has no opponent, it'll always be "I'm craven.")

The player rolls that many dice, takes the highest, and adds it to her standing 2-die sum. Now she has a sum from 9 to 18.

If her sum is 9-13, the worst possible effect happens.
If her sum is 14-16, the good effect happens.
If her sum is 17-18, the best possible effect happens.

Return to free play.

possible effects: the acting character
jumps clear
gets away
holds onto it
gets rid of it
finds out
keeps it secret
avoids notice
gets away with it
arouses suspicion, but goes unchallenged
wins free
bears it without breaking
barely survives
protects it
sails through
slips out
makes it
powers through
manages to drag free
she gets [specify] from the next list

Possible effects: the character's opponent
put off course
caught out
bruised and battered
left culpable
forced to flee
robbed of goods
left for dead
they [specify] from the previous list

(It's possible for a player's character to die this way.)

Did you spot where the character's weapon comes into play?

Here's a thing I wrote a long, long time ago: Guns and Stuff. Couple it with some quick and dirty rules, maybe like these -

Quick and Dirty Resolution Rules for Guns and Stuff
When you use a gun or stuff:
- If you're using it for what it's ideal for, roll 3d6 and sum them;
- If you're using it for what it's good for, roll 2d6 and sum them;
- If you're using it for what it's lousy for, roll 1d6.

On a 10+, it goes perfectly and you get what you hoped for.

On a 6-9, the GM will offer you a couple of choices, none of which will be everything you hoped for. Choose.

On a 1-5, the GM will make something terrible happen. Smooth move.

- and you've got a resolution system that's responsive to fine-grained details of your immediate circumstances, but handles super-smoothly, just because you're letting your brains handle the things they're already good at.

Otherkind Dice work on the same principle, so much so that you don't even need a character sheet.

Thanks for reading along so far, by the way. I believe that I'll finally talk about reliable vs unreliable currency next, I think that with this post all the pieces are in place. Questions and thoughts, meanwhile?

1. On 2010-02-23, Roger said:

I find this part of it interesting because it seems to address very directly that persistent concern lurking in some corners:  videogames are coming to kill us and take our stuff.

If I take a close look at what the GM is called upon to do in those rules, it's obvious to me that it can't be automated with anything short of strong-AI.

It's not only that your brain can do it, but also that nothing short of your brain is sufficient either.


2. On 2010-02-23, John Mc said:

I love this stuff.  Unfortunately I'm only able to sell these sort of concepts to half of my players.  The other half are like "but that doesn't accurately simulate reality!"

I'm working on it though.  I think that Guns and Stuff rule would work better for my players than the Rock of Tahamaat rule.  Baby steps...


3. On 2010-02-23, sneJ said:

I understand your point, but an entirely valid objection is that you've entirely sidestepped the issue of how to arbitrate "what you hoped for" and "what the GM offers you" (not to mention "what the weapon is ideal/good/lousy for") against what the opposite party thinks is reasonable.

A reducto ad absurdum is when I claim that my peashooter is an ideal anti-tank weapon and should be able to blow it up. Or if the GM says that a club is lousy against leather armor because it's not pointy.

It doesn't even take silly or malicious players to break this. We might just not know the domain well enough to be able to say. If I'm playing Settlers Of Plymouth, I don't actually know what a 17th-century musket is capable of doing, whereas the author of the game has probably done the research and can include some reasonable numbers in the rules.

I firmly believe that an RPG is like playing make-believe as a kid, except that when you and your friends disagree you can consult rules instead of hitting each other. (And the rules can either give the answer or provide a framework for compromising.) The Guns 'N' Stuff mechanic doesn't provide adequate rules if the players aren't already able to negotiate the meta-issues of handling disagreements about physical consequences.

Me, I long ago got over teenage kicks like memorizing the minutae of AD&D weapon tables, but I do want to have a rough feel for how the game world works, and whether a mook carrying Weapon X is capable of taking me out in one round of combat or just mussing my hairdo. (Or the opposite, if I'm the one with Weapon X.)

Again, I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you, just saying that your answer isn't valid for all types of games or gamers.


4. On 2010-02-23, Josh W said:

Vincent talked a bit about this on comment 17 to the full rules, and I'll try to explain why that is important:

Roger mentioned that strong AI would be required to resolve this, and technically that's not true; (relatively) simple pattern matching AI could do it IF it was working with situations that the programmer was familiar with. In other words those arbitrations would be made according to a standard pattern matching formula that gave them their in-game significance.

This is exactly what many rules systems provide, a ready made heirachy of significance, importance, effect on plot etc. In fact, loads of guys design games because they want to swap out the existing "what is important and how important is it" schema and put in their own. And then put in different mechanics in order to make it "look different", hiding the fact that their really just wanting to say

"Hey guys, lets play D&D in my world today, where a knife is more dangerous than a broadsword".

An alternative to this is to have players explicitly make such a heirachy, and then force themselves to be consistent: If in Jame's world knives are more important than broadswords, then they should be more important in a specific way he doesn't go back on.

(For importance/dangerousness etc, you could fit a whole host of different factors like flexibility or speed or appropriateness or whatever else people are trying to rank)

In other words, you could pull the geek-wrangling out of the general form of the system and put it up in front of the players, so they agree to play in one guys world with it's own rules, and play by their own arbitrations in their own game. They can then pragmatically show that their way leads to more fun games for the group, or not, without having to reinvent hitpoints every few weeks in order to justify it.

On the other hand, doing that seriously leads you on the path to reproducing something like universalis, with all the advantages and disadvantages that entails.


5. On 2010-02-23, Chris said:

I'm just enjoying this series, especially as a great followup to the "moment of judgment" bit from before.


6. On 2010-02-23, Simon C said:

Right on.

Play always requires judgement of the fiction.  This is just about making sure that the judgements you make are open, in the sense that there's a clear place for them in the rules, and easy, in the sense that you're making judgements about discrete categories - ideal, good, or lousy, are you in personal danger?, could this kill them? Rather than fine variables - Is this roll difficulty 15 or 16? Is the darkness worth -2 or -4?


7. On 2010-02-24, Mathieu Leocmach said:

Thumb up for Simon C on #6.

And I think that Rock of Tahamaat's rules do this better than the Guns&stuff rules. The later has more room for sliding away from the group aesthetic (or to make the group's aesthetic diverge from the designer's intended aesthetic). Whereas RoT's rules are more rooted in the aesthetic of the game. We can expect that they should be more coherent.

Roger (#1): try to make video games that rely on such players' jugement, and you'd have a real RPG video game.


8. On 2010-02-24, Vincent said:

sneJ: Oh! Yeah, yes. I'm not talking about handing this stuff off to the players, all unprepared and unsupported like that. No. The games I'm imagining would include weapon lists of the designer's creation. At the very least they'd have to include concrete rules for the players to follow in writing up their own weapons.


9. On 2010-02-24, Alex D. said:

You asked "Did you spot where the character's weapon comes into play?"... my opinion?

It's not explicit, but this is the place it's most likely to come in:

"1. If it might kill them, call for the player to roll for "I'm vicious."

2. If it might, at worst, cripple, maim, break, terrorize or shatter them, call for the player to roll for "I'm desperate."

3. Otherwise, call for the player to roll for "I'm craven." (If the character has no opponent, it'll always be "I'm craven.")".

The kind of weapon you have (and how you wield it!), will, of course, inform what kind of damage you can do.


10. On 2010-02-24, Simon C said:


I'm interested in "circumstance-responsive vs circumstance-analytic."

I guess I find it interesting to think about exactly what kinds of judgements are easy to make, and which kinds are difficult.  I think I know what you mean by the above phrase, but I'm not sure.

Is "discreet vs. continuous" a good distinction? Discreet, like, counting things, putting things into one category or another.  Continuous like judging how much of a particular quality something has, etc.

I think there's also something to be said for what kind of consequences rest on the decisions you make.  Maybe I'm anticipating your reliable vs. unreliable stuff here, but for example, I find Burning Wheel has the worst combination of these qualities: As GM when you're saying what the obstacle of the task is, you're making a quantitative judgement of a bunch of continuous variables, and the consequnce of your decision is often whether the task is feasible or impossible.

On the other hand, in Dogs for example, judging whether a raise is just talking, physical, or fighting or whatever is a judgement of categorical variables, and the consequences aren't immediate or predictable.


11. On 2010-02-25, Vincent said:

All I want in this beautiful green world is to design a game to show what I mean. But listen good, Baker! It has to wait. HAS TO WAIT. You got things to do.


12. On 2010-02-25, Simon C said:

I hear you.

It's exciting stuff though.


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