Friday, October 28, 2005

Resolution: Task, Conflict, More?

Okay, so various threads at the Forge (which I'll link if I feel energetic) have got me thinking about resolution systems.

Common thinking revolves around Task Resolution and Conflict Resolution. Both of these systems are set to resolve a different thing, namely tasks and conflicts. Tasks are things that the players want their characters to do. Task Resolution tells us if the character does so. Conflicts are composed of two parts: character desire and obstacles. Conflict Resolution tells us if the obstacles are overcome and the character's desire is fulfilled. If this sounds like it's rather simplistic and you've heard it before, read it again and remember that I use really fucking precise language.

Task resolution does not address anything but the character's chances of doing something. This may or may not be limited to the character's ability to do something -- a basic actor-stance resolution system can be supplemented with plot points, for instance, or you could be playing Feng Shui where you can retroactively state that your character had whatever ability that you want them to use right now. This is important -- task resolution begins with the player and uses the character (and other imagined content) as a mediating factor. In any case, Task Resolution can only be used in scenarios where the players will want their characters to do something. That may sound like any roleplaying scenario out there, but it's not.

Conflict Resolution does not address anything outside of a conflict. That is, in order to even start using Conflict Resolution, you need both character desires and obstacles to those desires. If you don't have one or the other, Conflict Resolution cannot do anything for you. Do you successfully ride your horse down the road to get to the next town? Unless it's important to your character to ride their horse and there's something preventing that, no conflict, no Conflict Resolution. If there is desire and no obstacle, it simply happens; if there is no desire but there is an obstacle, it simply doesn't happen. (I suspect that this is the root of what really wigs out players used to Task Resolution.) Since the character may have no interest in having their desires interfered with by obstacles, Conflict Resolution begins with a player and uses the character (and other imagined content) as an expressive element.

Now a short tangent in regards to the very term Resolution. It sucks. First of all, it sucks because it interferes with the use of the word 'resolution' in narrative terms. I want to talk about resolving danging plot points, but using that word in exactly the way that it is defined by the rest of the world conflicts with how we define it in gaming. Secondly, however, Task Resolution especially does not really resolve anything. In an antagonistic GM vs Players setup, it "resolves" the table argument about whether you crack the safe, but when the GM wants the players to succeed in getting their characters up the sheer cliff and into the cave where the real fun stuff is... what's being resolved? So I'll try and be really clear that Resolution (game term) is different than resolution (narrative term) and in fact not use that incredibly useful narrative term unless there's no other options.

Both Task Resolution and Conflict Resolution are by their very natures limited. Task Resolution requires a character attempting to do something; Conflict Resolution requires both pieces of a conflict. A roleplaying game's procedures determine a whole lot more, though, than whether characters can do something and whether they can overcome challenges and fulfill their desires. Most of these other things get pushed out of the spotlight, and not because they're unimportant or because they're not game procedures. I'm talking about esoteric things like the composition of the immediate situation but also plainly important stuff like character generation.

Now I start blathering on decisions indemic to roleplaying games that can be fiddled with. Without exception, there are already procedures (and many procedures) for making all of these decisions, some of them obvious and some of them not so obvious. Most are implicit. What happens when we take these decisions and start writing explicit rules for how all the players around the table can start fiddling with them? What happens when these are dragged back into the spotlight? What happens when these are made the focus of an entire game?

Creating the Setting While we typically consider this as happening before "play" begins, I submit that this step is an element of play and that this process is continually happening throughout all play as the setting is expanded, focused, contracted, defined, and complicated. Even in instances where the Setting is theoretically "selected" (We're playing Changeling) it must always be refined and customized (...in the Kingdom of Apples). The procedures for this process may be "The GM creates the setting" or they may be as pinned down and exacting as Dogs in the Vineyard's Town Creation Rules. Wondering if this process could be made the focus of play, I wrote Conquer the Horizon, which seems to work. CtH is interesting in that Discoveries form the bulk of play, and are neither Task nor Conflict Resolution. Exploitations, it could be argued, are Conflict Resolution with powerful Director Stance afforded to all players. Is this "Setting Resolution"?

Character Creation and Development Strictly speaking, this should not be considered as a separate issue than "Setting Resolution". Characters are a element of the Setting, after all. However, traditional distribution of authority makes the Setting the GM's and the Characters the players'. The line is fuzzy, allowing players a strong ability to influence the setting by the kinds of characters they create (this power is often obliviated by a "GM Approval" clause to all such decisions) or requiring the GM to strongly delimit player options from the outset (make a Rebel fighter, not an Empire goon). Everything that applies to Setting applies to Characters -- they are under a continual process of creation, not just "before play", and any selection (a Priest!) must be refined and defined (a Priest of Rock!) by the player. Theoretically speaking, a player can at any time declare that their character was raised by wolves and lied about their parents -- either this is allowable, or it's in contravention of a procedure of play. As a less extreme example, did my character's time spent as a guardsman translate into an understanding of street crime? Someone has to decide if the experience is applicable, and there is a procedure (however hidden) that they use to make that determination.

Composing the Situation The topic of a Forge thread of marginal utility, the fact remains that the players decide what the immediate situation is somehow, and the elements included in that situation come from somewhere. Credibility distribution and the root inspiration work in either the same way or in a handful of similar ways each time, so there is one or more procedures at work, here, and yet we have few tools to examine this process directly. How many kobolds can the GM throw at the PCs at once before he's violating those procedures and is "unfair" or "stupid" or simply "not a good GM"? Alternately, if a player wants their character to swing from a chandelier, slide down a bannister, or hijack a nearby car, what procedure determines whether the chandelier, bannister, or car is there to be exploited? What if the player wants their character to get run over by that car? Or have the fleeing badguy get run over? Or or or...? We've talked about Scope and Focusing the Scope, which may serve as useful terms for this process.

Pacing the Story Flow What procedure tells a GM whether or not to spring a character's primary thematic conflict on their player in the first scene? What procedure tells them not to let them resolve it immediately and permanently? PTA and Buffy both outline how to plan out what happens when, and other games such as MLwM or the Roach embed tension-increasing mechanics into the game to pressure play into a predefined shape. But how can these be turned from passive to active? How can I call for a climax scene, or request a day-in-the-life episode? How do I negotiate my preferences with the preferences with those at the table, rather than submitting to the pacing dictated by the GM or Designer? Call this "Pace Resolution."

Now I get really esoteric:

Setting the "Premise," "Goal," and/or "Agenda" While we tend to think of this as something that you should do before play begins, consider the majority of gamers who do not do this at all. Consider the pickup group that learns each other's play styles and preferences and forms a lasting monthly game with functional play. It is possible for these sorts of things to be determined in, during, and through play; unless this process is wholly idiosyncratic for every situation (unlikely), there must be procedures for doing so. Is it possible to imbue significance in a character, or an idea, or a nation, thereby making the player-directed statement, "This is important to me." Is this "Agenda Resolution?"

Adopting, Modifying, and Ignoring Procedures Call it "Meta Resolution." We decide what game to play, we decide which sourcebooks to use, we write house rules, we ignore rules we don't like. While most of this interaction occurs on a purely personal level between players discussing options, consider how many games are now being written with dice systems which are intrinsically tied to their settings/premise. If you have a Soul Drain stat and your character defeats the Evil Lich who causes the Soul Drain, declaring the game over is not the only option. At its extreme, this sort of play and rules-jockeying could result in an RPG equivalent of Nomic.

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Now, I'll say this before anybody else does: these are all techniques. I'd call them interactions. Whatever. Fact is, techniques and interactions can either be explicit, formal, and manipulable rules or they can be implicit, informal, slippery, and uncontrollable habits. The more light we throw on them, the better we're all able to use them to produce what we want -- whatever it is that we want. Not every game needs a formalized system for players to influence the pacing of the plot -- but some games could. I'm excited by the possibilities that open up when we start tinkering.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Full Light, Full Steam in Tony's Power 19

Yeah, you saw the short form before, but now here's Full Light, Full Steam as expressed in Tony's extended "Power 19". Pizzow!

1.) What is the game about?
Full Light, Full Steam is about strong characters in a fantastic setting, and how their strident character elements are challenged by and leave imprints on the setting.

2.) What do the characters do?
Characters are naval officers and sailors in the Royal Astronomical Navy, typically the crew running an ethership or port in Her Majesty's service. They fight pirates, quell native uprisings, investigate mysteries both technical and obscure, practice gunboat diplomacy, and try to earn enough money to marry well.

3.) What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?
First and foremost, the players collaboratively determine the scope and parameters of the game in the First Session. Thereafter, the players narrate the events of the story, interrupting each other with dice checks in attempts to take over direction. Players use the relatively static and predictable Attribute-and-Skill die mechanic to do this, voluntarily hampering their chances to 'charge' their character's thematic batteries, and thereafter claiming advantage by 'discharging' their batteries. NPCs, ships, and ports also have thematic batteries which the players may tap for their advantage.
There is a central GM player to whom direction defaults when the pace idles, and who is responsible for presenting the other players with fodder with which to exercise and express their character. The GM is expressly allowed and encouraged to delegate both narration and game prep to the other players, but she remains the central responsible party for these elements being provided.

4.) How do the various parts your system reinforce what your game is about?
Character is reinforced primarily through the Thematic Battery. Disadvantaging your own character in accordance with your Thematic Battery allows you to advantage (increase game effectiveness) of your character at a later date. Additionally, referencing other players' characters' Thematic Batteries earns you XP (Spoils, but whatever). Winning die checks grants the player narration rights, which allows them to add or elaborate on the fantastic setting with a more or less carte blanche range.

5.) How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
The setting is all broad and heavy strokes with highly archetypal character instilled in not just people but also nationalities, their colonies, navies, and the like. The fantastic is a normal thing; the people of the FLFS world commonly have tea at the base of gigantic alien shrines... because there's a nice bit of shade there. Conflicts with character are front-loaded; lady officers are discriminated against, the noble ideals of justice are inequally distributed, and imperialism's touch is ubiquitous.

6.) How does the Chargen of your game reinforce what your game is about?
The first thing that you pick out is your Thematic Batteries; your Atts and Skills (which provide a sort of baseline to modify with the batteries) flow from there. Furthermore, the Thematic Batteries and character histories are explicitly tapped to generate the conflicts prepared by the GM for roleplay.

7.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?
The game rewards collaboration, mutually reinforcing eachother's characters, and disadvantaging your own character (in in-character ways). It rewards with narration rights because this is seen as an end in itself.

8.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?
XP for reinforcing or challenging others' characters; game-effectiveness for disadvantaging your own. Narration rights for success, which is more common when increasing game-effectiveness in this way.

9.) How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?
The GM is responsible for details beyond the player characters, but can delegate these details to the other players at will. Narration begins with the GM or her delegate, and then is directed to the winner of die checks. Said winner can direct narration rights to any other player afterwards, until another die check is called for. As any player may call for a die check at any time, any player may make a bid for gaining those rights at any time.

10.) What does your game do to command the players' attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)
The spoils scrip is passed hand-to-hand, which gives a nice, tangible punctuation to the intraparty character references. Similarly, the narration and direction rules are built to drag in any player who is left out.

11.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?
Choose an appropriate Atribute and Skill, both ranged 1-4. Roll four dice and put them in ascending order. Take the dice corresponding to the ranks in your Attribute and Skill and add them together (Intellect-1 and Ether-3 means you count the first and third die). Modify with Thematic Battery, either demoting or promoting your ranks in Atts and Skills. Compare to a difficulty factor or opposed roll.

12.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?
The basic die check is relatively deterministic; there are few surprises and players will have a good idea of character effectiveness (strong character control). Additionally, players may modify that character effectiveness in accordance with Thematic Batteries. Success allows players to narrate more of the fantastic setting (and failures can just as easily be delegated back to the player, as well).

13.) Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?
Characters advance by spending Spoils (XP) earned by their player making references and addresses to other players' characters.

14.) How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
You advance your character by characterizing other players.

15.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?
Players should feel free to collaborate and feel rewarded for doing so, able to express character in a reliable fashion while exploring some fantastic territory.

16.) What areas of your game receive extra attention and color?� Why?
The alien world of Victorian naval culture (partly to address realism, partly to provide for the fantastic nature), the addition of women in the armed services (I feel strongly about good strong female character opportunities), general nation character (to provide the players with guidelines for NPCs), and lots of fantastic setting content (to inspire player narration and options).

17.) Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?
I have to pick one part? I... can't single any of it out. I tossed all the parts I didn't care for.

18.) Where does your game take the players that other games can�t, don�t, or won�t?
The game should lead players to embed their characters in a developing storyline in fundamental ways; it is very difficult for the characters to be unimportant to the course of events.

19.) What are your publishing goals for your game? Who is your target audience?
Print publishing, distribution at cons and through web sales. Target audience is mature players, both experienced gamers and people who have never roleplayed before, with some inkling of history and an interest in active, collaborative creation.

Dogs Character - Rebecca Meyer

Rebecca Meyer
Slightly confused but absolutely determined Dog from Bridal Falls

Rebecca was brought up by a good, Faithful family in Bridal Falls, horse ranchers who lived a comfortable life supplying travellers moving through the center of the Faith. She had a supportive, loving childhood free of hunger or extreme want, but as she became a woman it became clear to her that something was off. Rebecca was courted but received suitors cooly and without real interest. As the weight of expectations mounted, she began to realize that she was not attracted to men. She turned to the Faith. Doctrine told her that love between women is not virtuous (but is not a sin) while sex between women is a sin. Unmarried women are expected to accept the courtship of men and eventually marry, which is a loveless prospect for Rebecca.

Living in Bridal Falls, Rebecca saw Dogs come in green and untrained and go out into the world sure and steady, and also outside the rules of courtship and the strictures of small communities. She came to see the Order Set Apart as her only escape route, inspiring in her a sort of desperate dedication that, combined with her searches through scripture, was recognized by her Steward as potential to be a Dog. Finally on the path to the only viable option she sees, Rebecca plans to be a Dog the rest of her life, understanding that said life will probably be short.

She comes from a Complicated Community background.

Acuity 4D6
Heart 3D6
Body 3D6
Will 5D6

Pragmatic 2D8
Patient 2D6
Broke Horses With Father 2D6 (I swear I didn't copy that from the book!)
Knows Her Scripture 1D6
Self-Sacrifice 1D6

The Order Set Apart: 2D10
Abigail Tomson (the girl who wanted Rebecca to stay): 3d4
Joseph Meyer (Father): 2D6
Free Dice: 1D4 1D6 2D8

Gun: 1D6+1D4
Coat: 2D6 (patterned strips of blue, grey, and white; across the back are pictured the Four Brides; Abigail did the chestpiece)
Prudence (Horse): 2d8

I am jumping up and fucking down looking forward to playing Dogs on Saturday -- I mean, I'm sitting at work, but I'm jumping on the inside.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

I Demand from Brand

I demand from Brand an "After-Action Report" on his soon-to-be published India supplement that has a funky Indian name I've forgotten. You mentioned in passing the difficulties of game balance so important to d20, and translating Eastern material to what is an often unconsciously Western RPG structure.

I know you've got your back to the wall with other deadlines, so I thought I'd throw another item on the pile. That, and you haven't updated Yuthie's Dice in like, forever.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Conquer the Horizon pdf

So, experimenting with microgame publishing, I've put Conquer the Horizon into a tiny (5.5" x 4" profile) format that can probably fit into your back jeans pocket. The registration of the upper and lower pages is still pissing me off, and will be fixed as soon as I get around to it, but that may be weeks. So here's the file now:

Download Conquer the Horizon!
(Some assembly required)

The format is specifically not geared for retail sale, but instead as a give-away advertisement deal. You'll notice my soon-to-be website is plastered on every spread, on the back cover, and in the inside cover. The last spread is blank -- that will be adspace for other products. I figure I will publish a new version for each con I attend / have a booth at, giving a booth number for where I (and my actual retail products) are at, and advertising whatever I or other folks have for sale at the Con. I'll be able to turn out a ton of these for cheap, and make a good effort to saturate the con with little CtH books. They can come to the booth or go home and go to the website -- either way it should increase exposure.

Gasp! Actual marketing!