Embedding resolution mechanics in physical game avatars

edited June 2007 in Story Games
Battle Beasts were a late 80s toy that were little posable models of anthopomorphic animals - an elephant man, fox woman, etc; all bipedal and opposable thumbed and armoured up, that were engaged in some massive fighty conflict. They all had a little heat sensitive sigil, normally on their chests, and when you warmed this up, it revealed their position - wood, fire or water. Fire beat wood, wood beat water, water beat fire.

When you played with them, one thing you could do (we often did) was play out a battle with the toys, and then rub the two sigils toward the end to determine what the outcome would be, then play that out. It was a totally intuitive way to do things, didn't need to be taught, even though we were kids.

The idea of embedding resolution systems within artifacts that are themselves the object of play is pretty cool, and I wanted to throw it out there for others to think some on. I'm sure people are already doing stuff along these kinds of lines, and I'd like to hear about that too.

I could imagine a more sophisticated battle beasts where the environment also had sigils built into it, to determine whether crossing the bridge or entering the boat caused a complication or advantage. The exact event, of course, would be down to the imagination of the participant.

An advanced set could introduce cards with a sigil on them and a single word: Treasure, honour, love, where the resolution mechanic would determine the thrust of the next story element.

I could see a really nice entry level system for kids being forged from this process.


  • Cool idea for an intuitive introductory system. Of course, as you face each challenge, you lose replayability, because you know how different conflicts are going to play out. You could have a shutter that covers up the symbol and a wheel you can spin to randomize which symbol is hidden behind the shutter.

    An interesting variation: have three symbols instead of one, and assign each to a broad category of actions. I just picked the number three because it was a low number, so I'm not sure what would be the optimal set of actions... maybe just Push, Block, and Change. "Push" is the quintessential "attack", but can be used for any attempt to involuntarily change something. It is resisted by Block. Change covers anything else, and has to be matched to succeed, exceeded to succeed fantastically.

    You fight your way through the Wall of Thorns: the wall's Block resists your Push.

    You try to outrun a tiger you meet on the other side: use your Block against the tiger's Push.

    Your friend tries to heal your wounds after the scrape with the tiger: compare Change to Change.

    Various tools would have task-specific Push, Block, and Change values that you can use in place of your own. Use a shield's Block against physical attacks, a potion of speed's Push or Block in a chase.

  • I vaguely remember one of the many sets of rules for Lego miniatures battles having a character generation mechanic where you can use a certain number of pieces to assemble a character and the shape, color, etc of the pieces involved determined your stats, i.e, (and I'm totally making these examples up), "if your character's torso is green, you get +1 to Magic; if it's holding a gun, sword, or other weapon, you get +1 to Fighing", and stuff like that.
  • This makes me think of the game in Banks' The Player of Games, which had such things.

    That's a caution. Building it might create a dysfunctional, violent ludocracy!
  • Ever seen the rules for Clay-o-rama? (That's a PDF link, though it's a small one). We play every year at Genericon, though probably with different rules. You usually end up knowing what the other guy's things can do, but every so often you run into this... ungodly... thing that gives you no clue as to its capabilities. And the GM just smiles...
  • edited June 2007
    Mike - I love that book, should dig it out. But you say violent ludocracy like it's a bad thing! (Dysfunctional, I grant you. The violence should be well-regulated and effective.)

    Ron - that's really cool. And of course, mechaton is totally like that too. These are nice examples of this idea being pursued for a gamist agenda.
    Colin, also cool! And really tactile and 'get stuck in'. As the others, seems primarily tactically oriented.

    John, yes, there is something about replayability that needs consideration. I really like the idea of multiples - and I think that 3 would be the upper limit - and an alternative would be some kind of built in dial, like the shifting faces of the He-Man figure Man-E-Faces, so you could set the approach just before the conflict [edit: sorry, I see you did suggest exactly this!]. However, to my recollection, as kids we could go ahead and play with just the one sigal per character and things would still work - partly because we had a bunch of them, and distracted kid memories, but also because we didn't incentivise each other to remember them. You see, we weren't playing to win, and characters wouldn't get knocked out of play or confiscated by the other side, except to the extent that it suited our ongoing play at any given time. We were basically making story - probably no richer than "and then she did this!" - and this was just a handy way to mediate the outcomes of crucial events.

    So there are a few good examples of interaction between the avatar/playing piece and tactical considerations. I think what I'd find particularly useful from this thread is discussion of two things:

    a) using an embedded resolution mechanic as a technique to support and constrain exploration. I think there's something potentially very intuitive about this and I think there's much more to dig into.
    b) how to build around this a system that produces reliable imaginative play that falls between natural toy play and the structure of rpgs. A formal resolution system draws some decisions about play out of the realm of drama and the social realm, but can other techniques work in concert to extend and enrichen the play experience? And can they do this whilst doing the minimum to limit and negate imaginative contribution?

    or any other thoughts you good good people have.
  • Posted By: Alex FI love that book, should dig it out. But you say violent ludocracy like it's a bad thing! (Dysfunctional, I grant you. The violence should be well-regulated and effective.)
    I guess you'll be first up when 'body bets' become legal then? Ick! Certainly a great book, but I am happy that my gaming doesn't have to take that form.
  • I wrote a long and rambling response that looks to have been eaten. Let's see if my second chance is any better.

    Battle Beasts. Awesome. I have a lunchbox filled with those guys that I use from time to time as foot soldiers in Fuzzy Heroes. There's another game that uses physical artifacts as clues to in-game stats. For example, large purple dinosaurs are much easier to hit than medium-sized brown dinosaurs.

    To storygame-ize this, how about a system wherein the chest emblems are like the Chinese Zodiac systems employed by the Mountain Witch and Panty Explosion? They give guidelines for personalities as well as mechanical bonuses -- an extra die against the target if dice are used, or an automatic success unless the losing side bids story tokens in something more freeform.
  • Posted By: talysmanOf course, as you face each challenge, you lose replayability, because you know how different conflicts are going to play out.
    Actually, I found that it didn't so much reduce playability as it changed how you played. Try to remember what sigils are on which objects, and deploy accordingly.
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