Inverting the capable, proactive adventurer paradigm

All the RPGs I can think of off the top of my head define characters by what they're good at, and put them in situations where those attributes can help, and allow the players to choose their steps forward (even if that's just "I enter the next dungeon room").

I'm sure I could think of exceptions, but I'm pretty sure they're pretty rare.

So, right now I'm pondering play where your character is defined by what they're bad at, and where they face situations where those weaknesses act to their detriment, and where their most consequential game decisions are reactive (to events inflicted upon them) rather than proactive.

And here's what I'm wondering:

Would it really be that different? Is it basically familiar gameplay with different color? Familiar procedure with different emotional tone? Do the color or tone change the whole equation and reason to play, or not?

Would it be fun? Could it be fun without being nasty and mean? Is it harder for us to empathize with characters defined more by their flaws than by their strengths? If so, is that fixable, and worth fixing?

I actually think the underdog struggle to triumph over one's shortcomings amidst truly external adversity (i.e. adversity you didn't sign up for by charging into a dark hole for treasure or something) should be pretty engaging. I imagine there are plenty of RPGs which do something similar. I guess the big unknown is the psychological impact of the mechanical and textual framing...?

Comments

  • edited August 2016
    Fate does both sides of the coin, since your character's Aspects are all things that can be Invoked for positive effect by the player and Compelled for negative effect by the GM or by a different player. The "fate point economy" more or less ensures that you can't just exploit Aspects; you have to be willing to take some complications as well.
    Could it be fun without being nasty and mean?
    You're not forced to take a Compel in Fate, but you have to spend a fate point to veto a Compel that someone proposes. So you're never being entirely yanked around by your character's flaws (unless you're out of fate points?).

    The Fate games I've played weren't much different in tone from D&D, even though the mechanics are pretty different. I think in a setting-agnostic game the tone depends on players more than system.
  • In Penny For My Thoughts, you don't get to decide what you say or do, the other people at the table decide that.
  • In When Bad Things Happen to Good Magicians, the characters are inept fantasy heroes who spend the whole game passing the blame for their failures to each other and bickering about which of them was the worst.
  • I think Fate is just one of many games where your awesome character isn't perfect. I don't see that as a significant departure from the standard paradigm. I'm talking instead about a game where things like "clumsy" or "gun shy" or "asthmatic" or "skittish" are the core, maybe even the whole deal, and then such characters are faced with situations that'd benefit from dexterity or boldness or cardiovascular endurance.

    When the clumsy character faces a lock that need to be picked, how is that different than the deadly character facing a hard-to-kill foe? Is there a huge difference? Is there not much difference? Does the difference only add up over time?

    @JDCorley I do find that feature of Penny provides a pretty unique play experience. That's part of what makes me think there might be something new and interesting in what I'm proposing, even without going as far as me narrating what your guy does.

    @James_Mullen that sounds like comedic fun! Is it? Or does it ever play out more, uh, drama-y?
  • It plays out as farce, usually: each game begins with a statement of how the heroes have failed in their quest, so gameplay consists of reaching that pre-stated condition and finding out whose fault it is. There is much back-stabbing and denial of responsibility, in a light fun way!
  • "Elfs" by Ron Edwards does this, and it's supposed to be farcical, mostly, rather than depressing. It's fun and reliable for it, too.
  • I like comedy games. Not really where my head was at with this idea, though. I was thinking something more like dramatic struggle or tragedy or everyday heroism or even something akin to 0th Level adventuring. Can we play inept characters without laughing about it, or would that just be a drag?
  • edited August 2016
    I think it could be interesting. I feel like play would require lateral thinking, since the obvious approach to whatever is being thrown at you either isn't an option or is unlikely to work. A game of people getting by using their wits instead of by brute strength.

    And yeah, I agree about Fate; there's an explicit GM directive to "make the charatcers look awesome". And characters are still badasses compared to ordinary oppositon, etc. But it came to mind since it focuses more on character flaws more than anything else I've played.
  • Seems like the fundamental disconnect to overcome is this:

    1. Players naturally want to make their character succeed at things.
    2. Maximizing your chances to succeed means nothing on your character sheet explicitly comes up. In the negative space, sure, but what we'll see and remember is everything else.
  • Dave,

    I think this is very insightful, and would be very interesting to do.

    Good fiction (and even some less "quality" adventure fiction type stuff) is generally all about a character's weaknesses or flaws, not their strengths.

    There aren't too many games which do this well. I think it's excellent ground to explore, and I'd love to see some good designs tackle this.

    IaWA does this, with its "We Owe List". Not a perfect implementation, but a step in the right direction.
  • Of course, there are also genre approaches to this concept, which don't necessarily build the game around flaws but start with basic assumptions of failure, incompetence, or weakness.

    Basic D&D comes to mind, as do Fiasco and My Life with Master.

    Games like PTA can do this, since they center on a character's "Issue" (which is likely or at least possibly a flaw or problem of some sort).
  • I've been thinking about characters being defined reactively. For a while I was bouncing around the idea of OSR D&D played entirely with Save Against.. rolls.

    So, y'know, the players go about making Save against.. saves for everything and anything - whenever it would be a legitimate D&D challenge or at the sadistic whim of the DM: Death, Injury, Taxes, Being Annihilated, Getting Lost, Not Knowing Something, Knowing Something, Infestation, Fire, Being Used as a Hostage, Intoxication, The Displeasure of the Gods, etc.

    If someone tells me that might be fun to play (and maybe helps me work out how), then I'll write it in a second.
  • edited August 2016
    Seems like the fundamental disconnect to overcome is this:

    1. Players naturally want to make their character succeed at things.
    2. Maximizing your chances to succeed means nothing on your character sheet explicitly comes up. In the negative space, sure, but what we'll see and remember is everything else.
    Yeah. I think point # 1 is the crux here. Character embodiment/identification tends to mean that we (players) strive as they (characters) strive. When faced with problems, we want to do all we can to come out on top. I think there are a few ways forward from that default:

    a) Work with it. The player does their best, using the character's limitations as constraint.

    b) Ditch it and replace it. When faced with a problem, choosing the worst possible approach is absolutely something that real people and fictional characters do. It's just not a thing that game-players tend to do. So, give players an incentive to play this game differently. (Example: Fiasco. More on that to come.)

    c) Take it out of the players' hands entirely. In situations of struggle, where you might succeed or fail, your character's behavior is entirely programmed reaction, and not at all your choice. Roll to see what they do, and then rationalize why they did it afterward.

    d) Some combo of the above. Where the character excels, (a). Where they have developed suboptimal routines, (c). Otherwise, maybe some version of (b) where we don't even resolve success/failure... (b) is the one I'm fuzziest on. I've seen (c) in failed Stress Checks from Unknown Armies and in Triggers from Hope Was the Last Thing in the Box.
  • edited August 2016
    2. Maximizing your chances to succeed means nothing on your character sheet explicitly comes up. In the negative space, sure, but what we'll see and remember is everything else.
    I could totally imagine a character sheet which is just, "When you try to do these, you definitely fail:" and then a list of moves or actions or whatnot.

    ("When you try to do these you almost definitely fail, but in just the right situation you might succeed, and wouldn't that be a cool moment and a chance for character growth" might be cooler, though.)
  • edited August 2016
    @Potemkin I vaguely recall hearing about OSR dungeons which are just traps. If you narrate your way forward carefully enough, you win. Otherwise, save vs the traps you trigger. Sounds pretty compatible w/ some OSR fun I've had.

    Saving vs everything on your list, on the other hand, sounds like total "What'll happen to these poor suckers next?!" comedy to me.

    @Paul_T I'm not sure what to think about Fiasco. The game elicits buy-in to make bad choices, for sure. I'm not entirely sure why it doesn't feel to me like that game does the thing I'm talking about. Maybe because the player is complicit or removed, or the character strengths and weaknesses aren't defined enough or important enough? Hmm...

  • @Paul_T I'm not sure what to think about Fiasco. The game elicits buy-in to make bad choices, for sure. I'm not entirely sure why it doesn't feel to me like that game does the thing I'm talking about. Maybe because the player is complicit or removed, or the character strengths and weaknesses aren't defined enough or important enough? Hmm...
    I don't think Fiasco actually engages with weaknesses/flaws in any specific ways. It's, rather, a game where we look forward to seeing some things go wrong, so we are prepared to make them up.

    That's a different process. We're not saying, "Hey, this character has these weaknesses, let's build a story around that." We're saying, "Hey, this story will have some bad things happen. Let's all collaborate to shape our characters' choices in that direction."

    The Aftermath is the only part that really drives it home.

    I think it's totally different from what you're describing.

    I like the idea of a game where, kind of like in various OSR games, engaging the mechanics is a very, very unappealing thing. Simon's "Losers of the Apocalypse" was doing that, but perhaps to ham-fistedly. If you know that your character is likely to fail anytime they do X or Y, that might inspire some really creative roleplaying. Lots of potential here!

  • Ben,

    That's cool. Is there any more information on the game out in public?

    Arguably, Polaris does some of this indirectly, much like Fiasco, by being a tragedy where things are bound to go very, very wrong.
  • @David_Berg This is a pretty cool idea, but I'm not a 100% on the concept. I can see two possible ways of it going down:
    • Players pick up a ton of flaws: poor eyesight, loss of hearing, crippled, afraid of spiders, acrophobia, etc. When they perform an action, they've got enough of these flaws that they hinder them in most every situation. Sum up the value of the flaws and they increase your TN. Players roll whatever and see if they can struggle past their flaws to accomplish something.
    • Players pick up a ton of flaws: they autofail when confronting a flaw situation head-on. Their objective is to find a way past the obstacle without confronting it head on and thus engaging one of their flaws.
    So which of these methods is more akin to what you were envisioning? I feel like the latter is probably the more appropriate approach. In either event, I think it would make for a great system for a horror game. Pretty much the kind of thing that would really heighten tension cause you're getting forced to survive in a situation where all of your flaws are kicking your ass. I could see the former option being a way to do the 0th lvl adventure. I would probably say, "hey you're gonna pick up a ton of flaws. Each flaw is reflective of the life you lead up until this point. So maybe you lost your hearing in a mining accident, but that means you do know some stuff about mining/geology. Might have been crippled in the war, so at least you know something about military tactics." etc. etc.
  • It could be interesting to combine flaws with "experiences". Let's say you lost your hearing in a mining accident: that means that you can't hear well, but have a ton of mining experience.

    Or vice-versa, your experiences and skills are all reflected in some kind of flaw. You became an accountant because you were Lazy, while your friend went into Law School because she has a penchant for being Self-Destructive.

    (I disagree, though, that those are the only two options - there are many more ways to work character flaws into the structure of a game! I'd encourage thinking a little more outside the box for this.)

  • (I disagree, though, that those are the only two options - there are many more ways to work character flaws into the structure of a game! I'd encourage thinking a little more outside the box for this.)
    No, you're right. I didn't mean to imply that there are only two ways to implement it. Rather, I'm wondering which notion better fits the tone that the idea is after.
  • Yeah, the more I think about this, the more it sounds like old-school D&D, where everything can kill you and (if you're going to get very far) you'll be awfully careful about the way you approach potential problems. Even if you have a "fail forward" design: if you know you're going to reliably fail seduce or manipulate and read a person because you're just absolutely terrible at social interaction, then why do it in the first place, right? (Answer: because you're a self-defeating masochist or you're in a situation in which you essentially have no agency as a player.) Avoid those moves like the plague, then!

    So, similar to avoiding melee confrontation of that chamber full of 3d6 tarantellas when you're a first-level adventuring party, you'll want to avoid having to parley with that garrison when you're a first-level clueless social outcast. Better find another way to deal with it; the best way to succeed at something is not to need to roll for it in the first place.

    Maybe one reason for the popularity of able, proactive characters is that it can be fun to actually engage the mechanics…
  • I feel like Solipsist did this a bit. Sure, your characters we're walking godheads with the ability to shape reality to their will, but if players didn't invoke their characters flaws, didn't make their character fail sometimes, their character would lose touch with reality and transcend. Not exactly what you were looking for, but it is one way that character failure could be incorporated into that desire to want to see your character succeed.
  • @David_Berg said:
    All the RPGs I can think of off the top of my head define characters by what they're good at
    [...]
    So, right now I'm pondering play where your character is defined by what they're bad at
    [...]
    Would it really be that different? Is it basically familiar gameplay with different color?
    [...]
    I actually think the underdog struggle to triumph over one's shortcomings amidst truly external adversity [...] should be pretty engaging.
    [...]
    @Paul_T I'm not sure what to think about Fiasco. The game elicits buy-in to make bad choices, for sure. I'm not entirely sure why it doesn't feel to me like that game does the thing I'm talking about. Maybe because the player is complicit or removed, or the character strengths and weaknesses aren't defined enough or important enough? Hmm...
    Reading these comments my thoughts are that there is a fundamental between what you want to achieve, and what you then do to achieve it.

    You say you want the underdog struggle.
    But the classic underdog struggle is all about success, although achieved in dramatic ways against "impossible" odds.
    Many of the games mentioned achieve exactly this... which doesn't sound fitting to you because your preference or at least your current focus (seems to me, but maybe I'm wrong) is all about player ability, character skill, system mastery.

    You look at ways to make characters fail in their tasks and actions as a way to have Players feel challenged, to force them to be creative and work around the limits imposed by the rules. Fundamentally you offer a puzzle to be solved.

    But failure in and of itself does not translate into drama and tension, and in most cases the best drama comes out of "positive" intentions and results.

    In FIASCO characters always strive for success, and try to do the best with what they have.
    But because the dice mechanics make it impossible (or very difficult and far fetched) for the player to approach the game as a challenge, then victory/loss dynamics go out the window, which in turn encourages the players to have the story go wherever seems more fun... usually towards a beautiful disaster.

    Prime Time Adventures focuses hugely on the PROBLEMs of the protagonists, yet nothing forces the characters into the ground artificially. Yet, the story is dramatic and challenging, even though the characters (and players) have great agency power.

    Polaris is a tragedy that you know from the start will only end in grief and disaster; yet you play an incredibly powerful being.

    ...

    In general I'm also thinking about all the movies and series and books that I would gladly throw out the window when the protagonists just act like morons for no good reason.
    This kind of fiction often makes me think "the writer is unskilled, he can't handle real drama so he creates tempests in teapots by forcing characters to act stupid, otherwise the story will end in 5 minutes because of some obvious/clever idea".
    Sounds familiar? :P

    Stranger Things was AWESOME exactly because it managed to be the opposite of this. Everyone was smart and sensible; sure they were under emotional stress most of the time, and this prompted some less than ideal decisions here and there; but for the most part they were acting like they had a brain.
    And yet, because they were "just normal people" everything was a challenge, and filled with tension and drama.

    ---

    Going back to Simon's "Losers of the Apocalypse"...

    (where for me the most stunning thing about that thread was how it was summarily closed after he politely and reasonably asked for explanations and guidance. I don't know if there was any backchanneling involved, but from the outside it looked like a swift display of exceedingly PC moderation, which sadly seems to be a defining trait of parts of the current "indie" community in general, these days, but I digress)

    ...his design was ham fisted, for sure.
    But why?
    To me, it was because it outlined characters with no fighting chance, no redeeming qualities, no hope for improvement.
    You are crap because yes and you can never be anything other than crap, because crap is what you are. Now FEEL this and I hope you enjoy the experience.

    I mean, a full playthrough with My Life With Master is, on many levels, a way to have the players (through their PCs) endure a relatively strong psychological violence.
    But that is ok because the game focuses that negative experience towards a final release; it gives a purpose to the suffering, so it becomes a struggle instead; and however deep and dark the voyage might be, there is always a light (sort of) at the end of it.
    Plus, tons of techniques to put the players at ease and moderate the content... which is NEVER offered by the game itself. All the horror is summoned by the players themselves, and the rules only offer a structure to facilitate this.
    In a PbtA game each move "imposes" a specific fiction, as we have seen with the Losers playbooks, which amplifies the unsavory effect :/

    Gang Rape (the jeepform game) is even harsher than this, but it is ok because the focus is clearly not about being a "loser", or even a "victim". Actually the fictional victim is the player in the safest and strongest position, while the aggressors are the players experiencing the brunt of the game's psychological backlash in spite of (and really because of) their fictional position of strength and advantage.
    And again, all content is provided by the players, not by the game.

    ---

    So back to the original question: yes you can play an underdog... it works just like any other "hero game" reskinned to be more down to earth.
    Usually games aim for the drama of it, and you get Fiasco, Polaris, etc.

    What you are looking for I think is more along the lines of Level Zero ORS games where the difficulty is cranked up but, for aesthetic purposes, instead of adding more dragons you hamper the characters... those games capture the underdog vibe relatively well, although the drama is pretty much lost in the numbers as usually focuses more on survival than personal drama; more on performance than personal struggle.

    ---

    As a final not, a game that explicitly uses rules to limit characters in such a way that "if you do X you always fail" is actually my horror game Touched by Evil.

    In that game the players get to experience nasty stuff like powerlessness and alienation thanks to how the mechanics work.
    Characters are normal people, and there is a LOT they can do, and the dice mechanics actually give them a helping hand and lots of agency.
    Except when it comes to a few specific things, that are fixed "because yes":
    - no one believes you, when you try to talk about the Evil and its Shadows
    - violence is never a solution against the Evil
    - (real) magic does not exist, except the Evil can defy the laws of reality
    - even if magic existed, it does not work on the Evil
    - the Evil is alien, it can not be understood or reasoned with

    These rules basically take away from the players the most common "tools" used by any character in any story to achieve their goals and to feel agency. By selectively taking them away, the game lulls the players into a false sense of safety (I can roll, I can act, I can succeed, business as usual) and then hits hard in very specific and targeted ways.

    The effect is much worse than the usual frustration present in an underdog story. But then again, this is a horror game :P
  • It's not really about success or failure though, but in presenting challenges which are personally relevant to the character.
    Would it really be that different?
    No.
    Would it be fun?
    Depends.
    Could it be fun without being nasty and mean?
    Yes.
    I don't think Fiasco actually engages with weaknesses/flaws in any specific ways. It's, rather, a game where we look forward to seeing some things go wrong, so we are prepared to make them up.
    In FIASCO characters always strive for success, and try to do the best with what they have.
    But because the dice mechanics make it impossible (or very difficult and far fetched) for the player to approach the game as a challenge, then victory/loss dynamics go out the window, which in turn encourages the players to have the story go wherever seems more fun... usually towards a beautiful disaster.
    I'm not sure what to think about Fiasco. The game elicits buy-in to make bad choices, for sure. I'm not entirely sure why it doesn't feel to me like that game does the thing I'm talking about. Maybe because the player is complicit or removed, or the character strengths and weaknesses aren't defined enough or important enough?
    Fiasco simultaneously gives permission to and absolves responsibility for creating the results it does in ways I need more time than here to address, but damn those comments are a good start.
    Reading these comments my thoughts are that there is a fundamental between what you want to achieve, and what you then do to achieve it.
    There is.
    Simon's "Losers of the Apocalypse" was doing that, but perhaps to ham-fistedly. If you know that your character is likely to fail anytime they do X or Y, that might inspire some really creative roleplaying. Lots of potential here!
    Going back to Simon's "Losers of the Apocalypse" his design was ham fisted, for sure.
    But why?
    To me, it was because it outlined characters with no fighting chance, no redeeming qualities, no hope for improvement.
    You are crap because yes and you can never be anything other than crap, because crap is what you are. Now FEEL this and I hope you enjoy the experience.
    But games like that are great for building empathy which often transcends the bounds of the issues faced by the specific character.
    I mean, a full playthrough with My Life With Master is, on many levels, a way to have the players (through their PCs) endure a relatively strong psychological violence.
    But that is ok because the game focuses that negative experience towards a final release; it gives a purpose to the suffering, so it becomes a struggle instead; and however deep and dark the voyage might be, there is always a light (sort of) at the end of it.
    Monsterhearts provides something similar with its adult moves. And though I've only ever seem them in action once, thy're a light at the end of the tunnel simply by being there.
    (where for me the most stunning thing about that thread was how it was summarily closed after he politely and reasonably asked for explanations and guidance. I don't know if there was any backchanneling involved, but from the outside it looked like a swift display of exceedingly PC moderation, which sadly seems to be a defining trait of parts of the current "indie" community in general, these days, but I digress)
    It saddens and troubles me that we can't engage these issues in RPG design anymore. And at two mentions it's apparent folks wanted to discuss things further.
    As a final not, a game that explicitly uses rules to limit characters in such a way that "if you do X you always fail" is actually my horror game Touched by Evil.

    In that game the players get to experience nasty stuff like powerlessness and alienation thanks to how the mechanics work.
    Characters are normal people, and there is a LOT they can do, and the dice mechanics actually give them a helping hand and lots of agency.
    Except when it comes to a few specific things, that are fixed "because yes":
    - no one believes you, when you try to talk about the Evil and its Shadows
    - violence is never a solution against the Evil
    - (real) magic does not exist, except the Evil can defy the laws of reality
    - even if magic existed, it does not work on the Evil
    - the Evil is alien, it can not be understood or reasoned with

    These rules basically take away from the players the most common "tools" used by any character in any story to achieve their goals and to feel agency. By selectively taking them away, the game lulls the players into a false sense of safety (I can roll, I can act, I can succeed, business as usual) and then hits hard in very specific and targeted ways.

    The effect is much worse than the usual frustration present in an underdog story. But then again, this is a horror game :P
    #Subscribed
  • Lotsa cool thoughts here.

    Agreed that "avoid engaging the mechanics!" can be weird, but it can also not be weird. I quite enjoyed the demon-binding and demon-banishing rules which I never used in Sorcerer, because they established meaningful constraints for my character. "Banishing a badass demon is not impossible, but it's REALLY HARD," is a setting truth that it can be fun to see reflected in the system. And then, you know, if you actually try it, it had better be represented in the system.

    I do think "never engage any mechanics" is probably not ideal, though.

    Why are we assuming that the player gets a choice, though? "Social stuff happens at you, roll your awful Social stat, see just how it goes wrong," is mechanical engagement, right?

    Maybe the meaningful choices in play occur after the rolls rather than before them.

    Maybe your crappy character's crappy attributes are really just situation generators.

    The underdog story is about success, but only in a relative sense. Winning the championship is optional. Simply staying on your feet to the final end of the final fight might be victory enough. Any time you did something it didn't seem like you could do, that's a success, no matter the scale, I think.

    Would I play a character who spends 5 sessions working up the nerve to call his ex-girlfriend? Well, if it was clear why it was that difficult, and if making the call at the end actually felt like an achievement, then I dunno, I'd at least be tempted to try it.

    How do we suck at everything but then achieve any sort of success? Maybe that's all we really need to answer here? Is it through grinding until you get that one lucky roll? Is it through roleplay that convinces the GM or the group that this time is different? Is it through a "lose to win" strategy that improves your stats each time you fail but survive? Is it a tactical maze where you handle what you can handle first, to grant incremental boosts in subsequent endeavors, and maybe there's a Push Your Luck mechanic and a time limit?

    Is there a progress ladder to climb like in Kagematsu? A diagram of unlockables like in Spellbound Kingdoms?

    What are the rules about which failures break you vs strengthen you, and what feeds into those determinations? What internal and external dynamics are at play, where getting better at one thing always makes you worse at another, but slightly better at a third, etc.? Or do the rules not tell you at all when you grow and learn vs just collapsing, and that's all up to the player to inhabit the character and determine what feels authentic in the moment? Or is there an element of both -- the player decides, but the rules determine some costs of those decisions?

    I'll look over the specific points I've failed to address here and hopefully get back to some of those soon.
  • Great brainstorm, Dave!
  • edited August 2016
    To me all of these insights and the lessons of Fiasco suggest the necessity to abandon any paradigm in which

    (1) a player makes a suggestion or assertion about the fiction ("I jump over the chasm!")
    and then (2) has their assertion challenged by the structure or mechanics of the game (first you must roll dice, spend tokens, consult character stats, etc.)

    In other words, a character's failure shouldn't coincide with the rejection of a player's input.

    Fiasco does this nicely by prompting for the outcome a scene with enough time for the player to incorporate that outcome into their input.

    Swords without master also does this similarly, though the dichotomy is shifted to a thematic polarity rather than success/failure, good/bad.

    I guess in this way both SWM and Fiasco are using "luck (or choice) at the start" rather than "luck at the end" (D&D) or "luck in the middle" (most pbta moves.)

    I'm imagining a game now that's basically a hack of SWM, but each character has their own set of thematic polarities, or maybe even a plethora of them. A hypothetical character might have a die for drunkenness, a die for despair and a die for heroism. At the start of a scene or "conflict" (how ambiguous) roll the dice and play to the result. Could maybe even admix the two highest dice. What does the "despair and heroism" result look like? "Drunkenness and heroism?" 'Drunkenness and despair?"

    All three dice showing the same number results in a moment of wholeness and clarity, an escape from your prescriptive notions of self. Maybe these are the moments of progress, an opportunity to discard a theme and write a new one.
  • Interesting thoughts, Dirk.

    What if the black and white dice in Fiasco stood for:

    * The character's incompetence

    and

    * Something (outside the character) goes terribly wrong

    Add in a rare circumstance where the character can get a third, positive outcome, and attach that to situations where the character is dealing specifically with their flaws/drawbacks/failures.

    (There is a fine line between "this character has a characteristic of being bad at this" - the clumsy swordsman - and "this character has a history of screwing this up" - the once-brilliant swordsman who has lost his confidence because of recent defeats.)
  • "Mechanical input at the start" definitely has some things going for it. And I think this would be pretty cool in the right context:
    All three dice showing the same number results in a moment of wholeness and clarity, an escape from your prescriptive notions of self. Maybe these are the moments of progress, an opportunity to discard a theme and write a new one.
  • I think a system where you roll when something happens to your character holds a lot of promise, but I'm not sure how far we can discuss such a design here. My current 7th Sea hack uses a variation of this idea by describing characters not in terms of what they're good at doing (because success is the default anyway), but what they're good at avoiding.

    I also think a system which focuses on the unique reasons why your character fails rather than at what holds a lot of potential. It's the difference between 'you fail at investigation' and 'you fail because you're too close to the case'.
    a character's failure shouldn't coincide with the rejection of a player's input.

    That's one of my few hard rules when it comes to RPG design, and the only way I've found to consistently achieve it is by making sure the things which must be decided by the system are as clear and explicit as possible.
  • edited September 2016
    I think a system where you roll when something happens to your character holds a lot of promise
    Yeah!
    but I'm not sure how far we can discuss such a design here.
    Not sure what you mean; if you have thoughts on this, I'd love to hear 'em!
    My current 7th Sea hack uses a variation of this idea by describing characters not in terms of what they're good at doing (because success is the default anyway), but what they're good at avoiding.
    I imagine this would have more impact if treated like an attribute list than a skill list. In other words, I think a consistent set of things to avoid on every character sheet would be great, because the stuff you suck at avoiding would be called out and expected to come up at some point.

    What does your list look like?

    Stuff To Avoid that comes to my mind:
    - melee blows
    - traps
    - set-ups, ambushes, or being cornered
    - being deceived
    - confrontation
    - humiliation

    Actually, huh, that's pretty close to being a list of what adventurers do to their opponents. Lemme try again, with that inspiration guiding me:
    - melee attacks
    - missile attacks
    - being distracted, or losing track of someone or something
    - being physically outmaneuvered -- snared, cornered, trapped, flanked, surrounded
    - being outmaneuvered in terms of power and leverage -- coerced, blackmailed, etc.
    - being outperformed in a contest -- out-run, out-fenced, out-sung, etc.
    - ambushes and surprise attacks
    - being robbed
    - being conned or seduced, or believing lies
    - uneven deals or bargains
    - being physically destroyed, like by fire or acid

    Some of those are more or less participatory than others. Getting suckered might seem more like a personal failing resulting from personal weakness than getting shot with an arrow. Or not, depending on the opponent, I guess.
    I also think a system which focuses on the unique reasons why your character fails rather than at what holds a lot of potential. It's the difference between 'you fail at investigation' and 'you fail because you're too close to the case'.
    Ooh! Yes! I can think of all sorts of ways to do this:

    - you simply fail; now let's establish why
    - pick best fit from list
    - roll randomly, then make it fit
    - you fail only if there's already a reason why, but you've got a lot of reasons
    - GM's call
    - group's call
    - your call (there'd have to be some longer-term benefit, at least potentially, from failing)
    - somebody's call invokes dice mechanic, possibly based on your stats, and then dice decide
  • Here's a brainstorm:

    Playing out an adventure is worth a certain number of experience points.

    Each time you succeed at [one of those things called out by the system], that costs you experience points - perhaps a large number of them!

    This means you need to avoid getting suckered or attacked or poisoned or whatever, and you'll generally want to fail except when it's really really critical and you just can't see turning it around.
  • @Paul_T in an inversion of a capable adventurer story, how do you make experience points valuable? Does the game slowly transition back into the default adventuring paradigm? And if the primary way to succeed at things is by spending xp, how does that interact with the stuff on your sheet that also (this is an assumption) helps you succeed at things?

    Maybe the character has some larger goal or investment they're spending xp on, like "improving the village" or something. So personal success comes at the cost of a greater good.
  • I like that idea!

    Although I think "inverting the paradigm" doesn't mean that characters are incompetent or useless, nor that they never improve. It just means that we're structuring the game around their shortcomings. I have no issue with the XP being used to improve the character (which could be highly desirable in the case of a rather incompetent starting position!).
  • Hmm. So, Paul, "Do I spend XP now to succeed, or do I spend them later to improve?" Interesting. Suggests that we learn from failure, which is cool, but will fit some situations better than others.

    Some musings:

    Being bad at something can be neutral. Or it can cause despair and lack of effort and zero progress ever. But, if you have to deal with it, over time you'll either get better or develop some sort of dysfunctional coping mechanism.

    So, maybe if you spend your XP in the moment, that doesn't mean you succeed at the immediate task you're bad at; instead, it means you succeed in your overall aim somehow, by either avoiding the task you're bad at or rendering your failure irrelevant. Depending on your aim and the situation and what skills and habits you have, this circumventing can either be harmless or quite harmful. If you succeed by doing something that's bad news in the longer term, maybe the XP cost increases.

    If you don't spend XP in the moment, and just fail the task and don't get what you want, then you may or may not have learned anything from that. Each point of XP becomes a die which is rolled, perhaps modified by the situation and whether you really even tried. Good rolls, you improve at the thing you're bad at. Bad rolls, no such luck.

    This kinda mirrors real life, where it's tempting to take shortcuts and learn nothing, because the reward is more immediate and more guaranteed.
  • edited September 2016
    in an inversion of a capable adventurer story, how do you make experience points valuable? Does the game slowly transition back into the default adventuring paradigm?
    I think progress in a positive direction is probably a good option here (though it shouldn't be the only one, and maybe shouldn't be the default) -- as long as your starting and ending points are far enough from Capable Adventurer, I think we're all good.
    Maybe the character has some larger goal or investment they're spending xp on, like "improving the village" or something. So personal success comes at the cost of a greater good.
    Hmm, so incompetent people's best hope is to be martyrs? I don't like hard-coding that. It's a cool option, but there should be others.

    Honestly, I might be tempted to do the exact opposite of your XP idea, and say that contributing to larger goals or investments gives you back at least what you put in. There'd be delay and uncertainty, though (maybe the villagers don't acknowledge your help! maybe the village gets flooded!) so "just be an altruist" wouldn't be a clear or easy path.

    Actually, I wonder, this might make more sense for something like "energy" than for XP...
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