Fanmail: limits and possibilities

edited May 2014 in Story Games
I learned the "fanmail" mechanic for RPGs via Primetime Adventures. Here's how it works: there are some chips in the middle of the table, and when someone does something cool, you toss them a chip. When you get chips, you can use them to increase your odds of winning conflicts for your character. The number of chips in the middle is prescribed so as not to put too much of this currency into circulation (we don't want characters wining all the conflicts). "Doing something cool" refers to contributions to the fiction.

At first I thought it was weird. "The fact that I'm a good actor means my character is better at stuff?"

Then I thought it was awesome. "When I entertain my buddies, I don't have to look around the table to check -- they toss me stuff!" And even better, "Everyone wants chips, and the giving and receiving reminds us why we're really here! After all, the kind of roleplaying I like is about player interaction, which necessarily includes listening and appreciation!"

Later, though, I saw how it could make some people uncomfortable, being judged by their fellows. "Whoa, you actually seem pretty bummed out about not being awarded more chips, and now you're playing with less than your usual verve."

I also started to tire of the same old incentive, "increase odds of character success." It's too familiar, from "roleplay bonus" rules in games from Sorcerer to D&D homebrews. Just as the presence of fanmail drew my attention toward group storytelling, it drew it away from single-minded character advocacy. If there's any game where I'm just as happy to see my character fail as succeed, it's probably Primetime Adventures.

I thought I had a solution, whereby I'd replace "character success" with something that really mattered and fit the award -- namely, story-telling power -- but recently I've discovered that if it matters too much, then subjecting it to the whims of player taste runs the risk of a less fun game. If you don't get any Master Plan scenes in Within My Clutches, you're missing out!

It's easy enough to take away the judgment calls -- e.g. "you get tokens for doing this or that thing during play that I, as the designer, have decided that your group should value" -- but that ruins both the feedback and the spontaneity. I like using fanmail to gauge who likes what, so I can roleplay better to my table's tastes. I like not having to evaluate play for "that gets a chip" triggers -- tossing tokens while talking enables a smoother conversation.

I've tried to find an in-between, where the mechanics ask you to get what you need from another player, and then award them a chip when they deliver.

Example: The Villain player asks the other players for potential Distractions that could beset them if they choose to succeed in their Goal despite the costs. The ideal Distraction should render the Villain's achievement tenuous and high-maintenance without rendering it "not really a success". The first two players to offer Distractions that the Villain player deems suitable each earn one token. Villain player, hand out the tokens to indicate your acceptance.

It works well! But it's not perfect. It retains some subjectivity, but maybe not enough, and it discards spontaneity altogether. I still have the feeling that there are better ways to fit fanmail into roleplaying, to maximize its strengths and avoid activating its weaknesses.

What do you think? What have you come up with? What have you played?


  • Later, though, I saw how it could make some people uncomfortable, being judged by their fellows. "Whoa, you actually seem pretty bummed out about not being awarded more chips, and now you're playing with less than your usual verve."
    This, lots, especially when you're really keen when it comes to awarding fanmail to other players for their awesomeness, but they never seem to engage with the mechanic enough to give you any. It works better as players gain experience with it, but there still tend to be givers, who award fanmail a lot, and receivers, who rarely if ever hand out fanmail. It really can suck the wind out of your sails when you think you've delivered a great piece of exposition and nothing happens, then someone else cracks a joke and they get fanmail for it :-/

    Another issue to add to the list is metagaming & strategizing: "Hmm, we need more of these tokens in play so that we can do better, so I'll award one now even though I didn't think what they did was all that awesome."

    I think the mechanism you've come up with is the best iteration of the fanmail mechanic I've seen yet; it tackles a lot of these issues and even if it doesn't resolve all of them completely, it mitigates them a heck of a lot! By having a system that dictates when fanmail must be handed out and gives you criteria for doing so, you've encouraged everyone to engage with the mechanic and incorportated the strategy side into the game play.

    I might offer a suggestion to tweak it more:
    The Villain rolls and gets two Distractions, so the GM hands over two Othello tokens, black side up; these can be spent by the GM or other players at any time to complicate his plans or add drawbacks & penalties to the outcome of his later actions. Rather than keep them, the Villain can appeal to the other players to suggest awesome ways to overcome these Distractions; any idea he likes he can reward by handing over a token which now gets flipped white side up and can be spent by the player to add to their chances of success at any time or to add a positive outcome to any of their later actions.
  • edited May 2014
    I employed this mechanic for my Game Chef entry, All That Glitters, turning it into a formalised voting procedure. If you look in the sections for Phases One and Two (pages x and xviii respectively) you'll see that the voting actually has an important in-game mechanical effect, to whit in Phase One it set the tone/mood of Phase Two, and in Phase Three it potentially exacerbates the absorption of Ozgurdia by the Wild (via the Absorption track).
  • Dave it seems like you've come up with a mechanical solution to a social problem. What you guys are describing is selfish, unfriendly play - if someone isn't getting much fanmail, either pay more attention to that player, refocus the game to let their character shine, or stop playing. If someone isn't giving out fanmail, they are either not engaged with the game (talk about it) or they are being an asshole (talk about it).
  • I don't know. You can be really engaged with the game and absolutely not liking your fellow players' contributions, even if in the planning phase you were satisfied or even psyched about the possibilities.
  • edited May 2014
    Great post, Dave. I agree with all these things - fanmail is a cool and innovative mechanic that never seems to have quite hit its stride in other ways.

    I suspect looking at Universalis might give you some other interesting methods and techniques, due to the way the game interprets "narrative weight" of various details and situations.

    Jason has a lot more experience with this than I do, but my instinct here is to say that this kind of dynamic can happen regardless of social problems like selfish play. (An easy an obvious example is a player who really likes fanmail and thinks about it more often than you do - they might pass out all the tokens in the middle of the table before you even had a chance to do so.)

    I've fooled around with various permutations of similar mechanics in the various storytelling games I worked on. I'll try to see if I can remember any particular examples, but one version I liked was very much like your example above.
  • I've tried to find an in-between, where the mechanics ask you to get what you need from another player, and then award them a chip when they deliver.
    So basically, it's a bounty system -- you want a particular kind of thing, so you offer to pay whoever brings you that thing. I dig it.

  • Have you read Hillfolk? There's a dramatic currency, similar to what you describe but focused on the in-character interactions and needs rather than player/narrative desires. Two (or more) characters enter a scene, usually one desiring some sort of outcome. If the other delivers, the first pays the second a token. If the other refuses, the second pays the first.
  • edited May 2014
    Tenra Bansho Zero does something similar with its Aiki chits. It posits the option that the other players are an 'audience', who reward protagonist players with tokens they can spend in a variety of ways. The mechanics are quite complex, the person on here best able to disentangle them being @Andy, Tenra Bansho Zero's English translator.
  • edited May 2014
    Jason, yeah, no rule is gonna fix an ungenerous table, but at the same time, I've played with players who were perfectly nice about informal appreciation, but just didn't remember to toss the chips. That's just one example -- I think the spectrum of ways in which fanmail might or might not thrive is broad enough to make different sorts of tweaks potentially quite valuable. Perhaps I'm muddying things by tying too many different concerns into one subsystem, though...

    AFT, well put. Offering a bounty is pretty different from clapping in appreciation, but the occasion of awarding the bounty certainly creates an opportunity for showing some love. If I had enough moments in my game where I could expect "that's awesome how you earned my bounty!" then I might not feel any need for fanmail at all! It's tricky, though -- once the bounty is explicit, then you have people taking shots at it, and you run into a less inspiring situation of awarding mere competence rather than excellence. I wonder how "1 chip for competence, 2 for excellence" would feel...

    Paul, good call -- Universalis is indeed instructive in some respects. When I played, I found the constant formal procedures (spending tokens every time anyone said anything at all consequential) to be quite maddening. Ralph gave me an excellent suggestion -- rather than having to pick up and spend tokens when you talk, just grab a big handful, hold your hand over the middle, and then start talking, dropping tokens while you speak. I think it's still more intrusive than I want, but it's still good to see some extremes and some options.

    PASchaefer, can you relate your observations to my initial musings? I don't see how they connect (probably just cuz I haven't played Hillfolk yet).

    Leo, thanks for the heads-up on TBZ. I have a friend who knows it well, I'll ask him about the audience role. The one time I played, there was nothing fanmailesque going on, but maybe we weren't using all the rules. As for voting, Within My Clutches uses that too. I like it for measuring contributions with respect to a goal (in my case "would that likely work?"), but it strikes me as a terrible method for any sort of "that was awesome" appreciation. The other limit of voting is that it's enough of an interruption that I don't want to do it too frequently.

    James, thanks! I like your idea too, though I'm not sure I follow the details. Let me see: I've got a black token in front of me, which you can use to harm me if you wish (others can too). However, you can instead suggest to me a way to avoid harm. If I take you up on it, then I lose my nasty black token, and you receive a white token to be used for your own benefit (with some passing and flipping to get there). Is that correct? If so, I'm not sure what prevents a cycle of "here's my merely competent idea for avoiding harm" -> "yay I'm glad to get rid of my black token, go ahead and 'earn' a white one". Or am I supposed to solicit alternatives, so that it's not a matter of whether I give my token, but rather who can earn it with the best idea?

    Alternatively, in a competitive game, where your victory (your white token) is my loss (just like having my black token), then I could see such decisions being made purely on what's most awesome for the story, which could be pretty sweet!
  • I really like your way of tackling fanmail issues: the tweak I suggested was made to handle one extra issue that I think it creates, which is that the Villain has to award players who make life harder for him. I can see that creating issues with player expectations at the table, so what I was proposing instead that the Distractions are represented by the system in the form of tokens: if the black tokens sit in front of you, anyone can pick one up when you try something and say "Yes, but also...", creating the Distraction on the fly at that moment.

    As the Villain, you can instead offer to give away these tokens upon earning them, to anyone who suggests a good solution to the problem they represent; you don't have to and no-one else has to offer a solution, but you only get the choice to do so now, not later, and anyone who does help you out gets rewarded with a white token for their ingenuity.

    Or something like that, anyway... :-)
  • If you chop someone with a sword, then it's appropriate to give XP fanmail because it's a mechanical reward to a mechanical solution. A reward is nothing more than feedback. A response that someone has done what the game is suited for. There are several ways of giving responses more appropriate to the task than having to rely on mechanical rewards.

    If someone makes up something good, then a proper response could be to respond to that and let the situation continue. It's a cool situation, so why not feed it more so it can continue to live? Picture this happening in a conversations (or at a forum). If someone brings up a topic and no one replies, the topic will die out. A good topic will however continue to live for a while, and the person starting the topic would learn what worked. Why are we even playing PTA? To create a good story together within the theme. That's what the focus on the game should be about, and not chasing XP to make things start moving.

    A reward mechanic also shows what the game is about, but I'm saying mechanical rewards only appropriate in games that only focus on the game mechanics. A pawn is turned into a queen in Chess = nice implementation. Now, compare this to fanmail.

    Fanmail divides people into two camps. Either you don't care, or you do care in the negative way you describe. When I want to collaboratively create a story with my friends, I want people to feel that they contribute; that they feel that they make a difference. I want people to feel acknowledged; that someone care about what they do. We got tons of social rules for this. Use them. Here are some different proper non-mechanical rewards (social responses):
    - give something back to them after they contributed.
    - involve your character in their story.
    - give your own perspective on what happened.
    - have a discussion about what they did.
    - reuse what they invented later in the session.
    - say "wow", and mean it.

    The last one is incredibly effective for what you want to accomplish: to steer the game/story atmosphere in the right way.

  • - say "wow", and mean it.

    The last one is incredibly effective for what you want to accomplish: to steer the game/story atmosphere in the right way.
    I've always felt that Fanmail existed solely to encourage people to engage in this behaviour, which some people do quite naturally and others do not.

    It may be valid, of course, to say that you should, instead, just teach people to do this, or say something like this. However, I'm not 100% sure about that - I know plenty of people who don't say such things in normal life, under circumstances where they really should, or where they are thinking it but don't think to (or don't want) verbalize it.

    If you got a token which was redeemable for an ice cream date every time you said "I love you" to your parents, would your relationship with them be better?

    For some people, no - it would just make them feel like there's a layer of unnecessary "reward" on top of what they do and want to do anyway. But for someone who never remembers to tell their parents that they love them - but secretly wishes they could go have ice cream together - it could change their life.

    In short, I don't think it's a very simple question.

  • edited May 2014
    Why shouldn't we say "no" in a storytelling game? Because it blocks, and gives nothing back*. Presence, which is another word for all kinds of immersion, is created by having a player take a stand through it's role in the game and do an action in the game world. The "game world" then gives a response that the player takes into consideration, updates it's stand point and send back into the game world to get yet another response. This circular exchange will make the player fall deeper and deeper into the game. It doesn't matter if it's a Chess player, a LARPer or person discussing with friends—to loose yourself in a task follows the same pattern.

    A redeemable ice cream doesn't have anything in it's structure to make this circular exchange. A fanmail doesn't have anything in it's structure as well, and for XP for good roleplaying, it's the same thing there. You could say the same thing about the "wow", but here's the tricky bit: it's a social thing. A wow creates an intrinsic reward though the acknowledgment where the fanmail is extrinsic as it's a mechanical reward. Some may say that there is no difference, that both are reward, and it's true for some people**. Research on kids shows the opposite, but as we grow up we learn to accept extrinsic rewards as a proper rewards for when we do something. But not everybody have done that. I did, but during my research about reward mechanics, I realized how hollow extrinsic rewards are*** for non-physical tasks.
    Learning to give out social rewards
    When I was attending a night course to become a football/soccer trainer for kids, I got the advice to always say something good about each player every session. I started to do that, and after a while I began doing it without thinking of it. I then brought it into roleplaying sessions, and I can see - in a more clear way in beginners - how it does make a difference in storytelling games. I had a beginner this weekend who doubted herself a lot in how well she contributed, but after a lot of sincere cheering, she started to take up more and more room****.

    Here is one thing I think The Daughters of Verona does really well. It's a game where you play a troupe who has to improvise a Shakespearean comedy, and the participants who aren't in the scene plays the audience. The audience should shout out things, laugh at the jokes, cheer for the good guys and boo the bad guys. It seems like a gimmick, but it turns out to be a mechanic for active listening (which is always important) and giving social feedback. It's weird because even if the audience's response isn't sincerer in the beginning, because it's acted out, it invokes more and more real emotions as the play continues. My conclusion from playing that game is that if you had given out a mechanical reward when you cheered/booed, in this case a coupon for ice cream, then that mechanical reward would feel enough without having to invest emotionally into it.

    * This is why I don't like dice rolls that says "no" through failing in storytelling games. I also dislike that the default state normally is failing, because it sends a weird message that succeeding should be something to strive for. Here is something I think Fiasco does well in it's scenes.

    ** I would actually say "most people". We also have those who sees what the fanmail is really about - social rewards - and can ignore the whole mechanical point bit, but I wonder then why those people need the mechanical reward in the first place. It seems redundant.

    *** (The following is more about receiving fan mail, rather than giving them out.) Like I said before, mechanical rewards tells clearly what the game is about but you don't need rewards to tell what the game is about. I want instead the game to force the structures of play onto the player rather than leaving a false choice by using bribes to make the player do something. If the player doesn't want to do what the reward is about, they will do it rather for the reward than for the task. I want the the tasks in a game to be autotelic, meaning doing the task is a reward in itself—that it serves it's own purpose. So what's the difference between forcing the player into doing something, rather than bribing? First of all, I don't think anyone should play any game. If you don't want to, for example, play out your character, a mechanical reward will never change that, and you should instead play another game. A game that would instead force you to play out your character is, IMHO, more honest both to the player and to itself. Take Ludo for example. You want it to be a game where you move the pieces. Ludo forces you by telling that you should roll 1d6 and move a pawn. A bribe would instead say that you may move up to one pawn 1d6 steps. It's a false choice, because it's better to move the pawn rather than not, but the bribe also creates a game that's not fully honest to itself. Sure, the player can choose not to move but that's not what the game is about.

    **** The structure of the game also made her more confident, as structures do. When we played another game with a much looser structure, she lost her confidence and blocked herself. Me and another player then had to implicitly create a structure, and so she created a scene by us asking her questions about her character. It's true that some people can't verbalize their thoughts but it's my belief that it is so because they don't have the proper structures. To be able to communicate is something we learn as we grow up, and roleplaying games should focus on reminding us, or teach us, on how to do that.
  • It's true that some people can't verbalize their thoughts but it's my belief that it is so because they don't have the proper structures. To be able to communicate is something we learn as we grow up, and roleplaying games should focus on reminding us, or teach us, on how to do that.
    Isn't this precisely what the Fanmail mechanic does?

    At least, that's how I see it.

    I've seen a lot of players who were so surprised at the invitation to say "wow" to another player that they now do "fanmail" in every game they play, even when it no longer functions as a mechanical incentive: "That was really great, Julie! I'd be giving you fanmail right now, if this game had that. Keep doing it! You're awesome."

  • edited May 2014
    Given what I've written, here are two ideas I got from rereading my post.
    Creating social feedback
    In a GM-less game, the maximum participants in a scene can be everyone but two players. One of those two takes the role of an angel and the other a devil. The devil should tell the character how stupid it's actions are and suggest destructive actions, where the angel should encourage the character in what it's doing and suggest things that can be beneficial.
    Giving points without judgement
    In a GM-less game, the story can only proceed through communication with another character. A scene framer can involve someone else in a scene, by giving that character a point. The points can be used to boost rolls (even in the same scene). This is a forceful structure - involve another character to proceed - combined with an initiative system for taking part in scenes. You want to involve people with the least tokens, unless you don't care if you loose, which could mean that it's usually the ones with the least tokens that are getting involved.
  • edited May 2014
    I've seen a lot of players who were so surprised at the invitation to say "wow" to another player that they now do "fanmail" in every game they play, even when it no longer functions as a mechanical incentive: "That was really great, Julie! I'd be giving you fanmail right now, if this game had that. Keep doing it! You're awesome."
    But it also comes with the bad stuff that David is talking about. If you don't have the mechanical aspect, you will still have the positive effect above.
  • Indeed!
  • edited May 2014
    From my reply to a G+ post (that led me here):

    "fanmail-like mechanics" doesn't say a lot, though...

    Fanmail works really well in PTA because it's reallty well integrated into the other parts of the game... it's a finite quantity and it's in your own interest to give it to the other players (so they are incentived to give it to you, too), so the net effect usually is that the giving of x fanmail is a fixed quantity, but the "reason why" is specific to the play experience. It become a way for people to simply say "I liked it", the incentive is NOT on people to play "well", but it's on TELLING OTHER PEOPLE THEY PLAYED WELL.

    Being a finite quantity it doesn't unbalance the game, and give new resorces to the Producer too. It give players more screen time (even with the rule about showing up in a scene) and narration chances, but it doesn't make characters stronger or more powerful in the fictional world.

    I have seen really few so-called "fan-mail-like mechanics" hit all these points in other games, though... let's see the bonus dice in Shadows of yesterday for example. They allow other people to increase your chances in a conflict of thir choice, but they don't feed in the reward cycle in the same way. They increase your results in a conflict that maybe for you is not even so important, but they don't allow you to "play more" the same way fanmail in PTA does. it's given out strictly on a tactical base, to help your allies to win conflicts. In play its often feels flat, I have never seen anybody go high-fiving another players giving him bonus dice, I have seen it a lot with fan mail.


    I also add, after reading David's initial post, that he is using fanmail wrong, in a very technical sense: it's not true that the only thing that you can do with fan mail is to ""increase odds of character success.". If his group is using fanmail only for that, they are not using it well even in a tactical sense.

    Fanmail increase your chance if narrating conflicts outcomes, and that is a really big deal, more important that winning them (you decide everything else apart "who win", you decide who lives, who dies, what gets destroyed, what gets decided, who flee, who stays, etc.)

    Even better, fanmail allow you to narrate a conflict EVEN IF YOUR CHARACTER IS NOT INVOLVED IN THAT CONFLICT.

    And it allow you to enter every scene. Every one you want. No matter where is, when, with who (you can appear out of a air duct in the Evil Overlord inner sanctum, if the producer frame a scene there with the overlord talking to another PC that was captured)

    Fanmail is much more powerful than a +10% increase in the odds.
  • edited May 2014
    Moreno, agreed completely about the aesthetic hollowness of tactical ally-supporting. I've even run into that a bit in systems I generally quite like, like Sorcerer's bonus dice. It's really difficult to purely express an aesthetic judgment when other incentives are in play. At the same time, if a fanmail mechanic doesn't feed into a game's system, that can also be underwhelming.

    As for using fanmail in Primetime Adventures to win narration, I know that rule and use it. I only declined to mention it because this thread isn't really about PtA, and my first draft of the opening post looked like it was going to open a big can of worms by going there. But perhaps it's good to have more examples on the table so people can draw inspiration from more angles. So, cool, I'm glad you mentioned it. I personally have not found narration rights to be much of an incentive in PtA, but in a game where the cards resolved less and the narrator resolved more, I could see it being a huge deal.
  • Hi Rickard, I'm still reading through your posts, but wanted to briefly chime in to say that I completely agree with your desired outcomes (e.g. "I involve my character in your story", "I give my own perspective on what happened"), but I don't think getting that to happen in play is as simple as telling players to do it. Given that, the question I ask is, "So how do we get there? And can formal approval/appreciation procedures play a role?"
  • edited May 2014
    Nice, I was hoping someone would ask those questions. The trouble is that some may feel social awkward and not willing to contribute on their own. I got "Cheer for each other" on several places in This Is Pulp but it doesn't get the attention I want, unless I step in and start doing it (which I do anyway without thinking of it). In my last game, I made a rule physical by turning it into a role and I did the same thing with the angel and the devil example above. This is something I will experiment more with in the future, but even if you got physical roles that should produce feedback, it doesn't assure that a player will start doing it.

    So we need to take a step back and watch how the group communicate. We need to make everyone comfortable enough so they don't block themselves by either not thinking that their ideas are good enough or by feeling judged by others (the later is an effect that fanmail can produce). There are several ways of achieving this and the following are few suggestions from a larger pool.

    There isn't a coincident that This Is Pulp is set in a genre filled with clichés and that my murder mystery game has names like Mr Rat and Mrs Cow. A game that has a lighter touch to it wont demand that the player needs to come up with something good, which is an unnecessary burden created by the player(s). I'm not saying that all games should be light-hearted but it's something to think about.

    Have hard structures for how to play a game. Structures brings comfort, and when people are getting used to them then they can go outside the structures. I feel that Forge games tend to have waay too loose structures, especially when it comes to how to framing scenes. You want people to feel comfortable enough to contribute. Feeling unsure is your enemy.

    Improv and LARP got exercises to make people more open for contribution. One exercise can be to give someone an imaginary packet, where the other must other reply with "Oh, how lovely. I always wanted a/an [something made up]". This is an exercise that establish both accepting other ideas and giving them a spin. So by doing exercises, you can teach people in how to communicate but also giving them the experience to do so. Experience, like structures, brings comfort.

    As you can see, to be able to make people contribute, even if it's just cheering, it's not really about patching up a game with a subsystem or a rule but to change the structure for communication and lay the grounds for a positive group relation. PTA has (IMHO sadly) fanmail so deeply rooted into the game that if you want to lift it out, you will have to pretty much create a new game. And I see the same trouble in games like FATE, Mouse Guard, Prosopopée and The Shab Al-Hiri-Roach.
  • edited May 2014
    Further on. Shy people wont get as much praise as initiative takers. This goes with both social (cheering) and mechanical (fanmail) praise but in the latter it's more obvious. In the latter, it can create a situation where the social awkward player contributes less because of all the judgement, which now has turned into a physical thing that can be compared to others. You're spelling it out that the player is performing bad.

    When I trained my kids, I gave out praise depending on who did what. One player could get praise by just passing the ball correctly while another only got it if he scored. This is within our way of thinking, to set the bar based on the situation, and because it's not something you can touch and compare with others, people wont think about it. For some reason, the same doesn't happen when you give out physical rewards. If someone is getting the same thing for less effort, that will diminish the whole aspect of getting fanmail.
  • My own experiences, in using "fanmail-like" mechanics in most of the games I've run over the past 10 full years (that is, "10 years of experience in using these kinds of systems"), my experiences mirror @Paul_T 's . They help people get motivated. They bring people out of their shells. They don't cast a large shadow on the table. They have demonstrably improved my gaming experience for every game using them.

    Most of the above experiences were of course with friends.
    However, many of them were con demos with strangers as well!

    I'm reading @Rickard 's academic look at fanmail mechanics, and while it seems very reasonably thought out, it's demonstrably false; again, proven through 10 years of doing this with hundreds of people, many of whom I never met before sitting at the table. If humans were all robotic pegs that didn't react well to external stimuli, or could not address and adjust to each others needs at the table, or every player had a true Asperger's level of interaction where they couldn't read/understand others, or simply you had people who just could not be nice/polite/friendly to each other and acted like assholes, then yes that sort of thing would happen.

    But in practice; demonstrable practice, at the table, those presuppositions that are required for the thesis "fan mail mechanics are bad/fail their goal/penalize players" again is demonstrably false. It's a nice thinking exercise, like the "Mind-Body Problem" or "Allegory of the Cave", but like those thinking exercise they fall apart with experiential evidence.

    The main warning sign, frex, was this:
    Shy people wont get as much praise as initiative takers. This goes with both social (cheering) and mechanical (fanmail) praise but in the latter it's more obvious. In the latter, it can create a situation where the social awkward player contributes less because of all the judgement, which now has turned into a physical thing that can be compared to others. You're spelling it out that the player is performing bad.
    This never happens. People who play games with these kinds of mechanics are all nodding their heads going "I hear your concern... but no. It doesn't happen. It just doesn't happen."

    It's along the lines of saying, "RPGs with single die mechanics rather than resource mechanics will absolutely cause frustration and angst, causing people to reject the game; because if one person rolls very low all night (a definite possibility with randomizers), then they will become frustrated with the game, and reject it." Heck, maybe 1-2 people have! But while that looks nice and sensible, what we've seen is...

    ...well, millions of people playing D&D, Pathfinder, etc for the last 40 years, in the clear majority of gaming, all having fun with the experience even when they roll 1s all night.

    ex, in the above example, what actually, really happens at a table with non-asshole human beings, is this (if the social awkward person, again, isn't a completely stressed out basket case with severe human interaction issues, and at the same time the other players aren't an asshole to them; which is all the games I've ever played in, ever):
    * Everyone IMMEDIATELY adjusts their expectations to meet the level of the roleplayer. The shy guy says a line, they get a happy coin. The lady who is in a theater troop and performs onstage regularly, who always talks in character and can drop great speeches at the drop of a hat... does NOT get a happy coin for every line they drop unless it raises the bar *for that player*, or helps out another, etc. This is always the way of things.
    At the table, as player, I'll notice that one of the players that night might have fewer happy coins in front of them. I'll adjust to make sure I "check myself", that I'm not hogging the spotlight, and that for a few minutes or a scene or two I'm helping That Person get a little spotlight time.
    As GM, I'll do the same: If I see a player with fewer coins, it means that they're not getting enough chance to shine, or shine in a way that's comfortable for them. I'll take a different approach to bring their character into the action or a conversation, or ask them "What do you want to do next?" and aim to present a scene that makes that player comfortable, etc.
    In fact, it's a great mechanic to physically represent the flow at the table.
    But indeed, it's not that the shy people get one coin while the theatre people get a pile; in every single game, be it friends or strangers, people immediately adjust when they realize the skill of those around them: The shy lady gets coins when they come out of their shell a little; the theatre prince has to step up Even More Than They Do in order to receive the same reward.

    So... yeah, that's my experiential, demonstrable play of 10+ years using these mechanics.
  • I'm tempted to throw some qualifiers at Andy's ultra-positive portrayal, but overall, I pretty much agree, and would be happy to move beyond the "Is fanmail tough for shy folks?" questions. Personally, I'm more interested in fanmail as game currency, and whether we can tie "yay I liked what you did" into the gears of a game in new ways.
  • @Andy, it's great that you have ten years of successful games but when David writes "Later, though, I saw how it could make some people uncomfortable, being judged by their fellows.", don't you think that there is any truth in that? And your main counter-argument seems to be that I'm making the negative effects up. Those things have happened, both when I played and when I have read about other people playing PTA or games with a similar mechanic. I also do research in human communication and been doing research in how reward mechanics works, and when I see similar results in some situations in fanmail mechanics to what they describe, I start to question the design behind it. If you want sources, then I can give you that.

    It seems like you conveyed fanmail to be a social reward, pretty much as I said how social rewards works, and that's great. I'm all for social rewards and that's what fanmail is intended to be. It would be interesting to hear about how you explain fanmails to others when you're about to play PTA.
  • I would say "It's a reward cycle. When someone says that they liked a line/plot element/what have you that you've included in your show, they can give you fanmail from the central pool here in the middle of the table. You can spend this fanmail to add material to other people's scenes, kinda like a guest star in a TV series. Like Angel showing up on Buffy, or Agents of Shield cross-fertilizing with various big-budget superhero films. You can also use it to tilt things in your favor during conflicts, kind of like people writing in to Supernatural's director to make Bobby a long-term character rather than a one-off replacement for a character whose actor had another engagement."

    Or in other words: you do awesome stuff, and folks acknowledge it. This gives you the opportunity to do more awesome stuff. The awesome stuff you do gives other players an opportunity to riff off of that aforementioned awesome stuff, and then they'll be acknowledged with fanmail that will in turn let them do more awesome stuff. It's an "describe awesome and dramatic stuff like what you'd see on a top-rated TV series" cycle.
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