[Fifth World] A Game of Awareness

edited February 2008 in Game Design Help
Sgëno, all! Sorry I don't post here much; I find I rarely have much to add to the discussion. I do follow it all pretty closely, though, and try to follow those ideas through in the game I'm designing, The Fifth World. (A post from my design blog—"Introducing the Fifth World in Forge Parlance"—might help here)

Anyway, we have lots of RPG's with rules that model different parts of a literate, domesticated culture. I want the Fifth World's mechanics to model on the outlook and assumptions of oral, wild cultures. So, for instance, it doesn't use a randomizer, because animists don't see the universe as really involving randomness; it's always about your relationship with others. A hunter does or doesn't find prey not because of luck, but because the animal decided to either reveal himself or not, based on their past relationship, and whether the hunter has treated the animal with respect. Randomizers do a reasonably good job of modeling the way we think the universe works; but animists don't see the world working that way. Running a game about hunter-gatherers with rules that fundamentally spring from an agricultural idea of how the world works doesn't draw you into an animist lifeworld, it actually seems a little condescending: they might have their quaint beliefs, but we know how things really work.

In that vein, I've undertaken a fairly large task: trying to understand hunter-gatherers in their own context. David Abram's Spell of the Sensuous, Graham Harvey's Animism and Tim Ingold's Perception of the Environment have helped me greatly in this, and I'm glad I can put that anthropology major to good use, but I've come to this: it all comes down to perception. That's your atomic action in the animist lifeworld, just like the attempt against fate or chance is the atomic action in ours, which we model with a die roll. Some examples of how this is expressed:
  • Most band-level social life focuses around the rather slow-moving process of building consensus. To express this with a Diplomacy check suggests that you achieve consensus by overcoming someone else's arguments. That's not typically how it works. For this to work, consistently and long-term, you need to achieve consensus by understanding the other's point of view, and aligning your points of view, so that you can match. (That's why it so often takes so long!) So, you're fundamentally talking about a problem of perception--awareness of the other's ideas, opinions and values.
  • With a primitive bow and arrow, a hunter must get very close to an animal to take it. At those ranges, there comes a critical moment when a deer notices the hunter. The deer looks directly at the hunter and stands there. This evolved in conjunction with wolves, where it gave both a moment to gather themselves before the final burst. Cree hunters see in this behavior an offering; the deer offers itself to the hunter. In fact, they do not see any violence at all in hunting. To take an animal that has not offered itself, that would be an unforgivable act of violence. The animal would punish you; no other would present itself to you, and the revenge may not end there. Sickness, when it did occur, often stemmed from such offenses. But because of this, hunting requires a great deal of effort in tracking, but the kill itself happens quite easily. With each track, the tracker comes closer to the animal. Most trackers describe the experience as an exercise in empathy. To represent the moment of the kill with a die roll would be blasphemy by the animist understanding: it suggests overcoming resistance, which means that you're taking an animal against its will. The challenge, rather, lies in being aware of what is offered at the critical moment that the offering is made.
  • Shapeshifting doesn't involve emic vs. etic accounts, nearly so much as a basic ontology of the universe. In our dualist worldview, owing to Plato ultimately and Descartes more recently, mind and matter belong to entirely separate categories, so when we think of dreaming, we think of a mind "unplugging" from the material world, so what we experience in dreams is internal to the mind. That doesn't make sense in an animist sense, because they don't separate mind from matter. Rather, "mind" acts as a verb, something the body does, not something it has. Dreams, like everything else, are precisely what they appear: a different means of perceiving the same world they perceive at all other times. So if they see themselves become a deer or a bear in a dream, vision, or trance, this is not a metaphor, analogy, or ceremony; this is something that truly happened. Shapeshifting, then, is a matter of shifting one's perception to mimic, as close as possible, that of a different animal. You could consider it the utmost extreme of empathy, but successfully shifting shape doesn't involve overcoming a challenge--it means adjusting your perception to match the animal's perception.
Now, I've already figured out that rather than skills, traits, or other attributes which reflect the cognitive consequence of literacy that makes us think of the universe as a collection of object with definite characteristics, the Fifth World should use relationships to define a character. This is reflected in many animist languages; the word to "sneak," for instance, is often the same word as "coyote." So to sneak into the village is, in their language, to coyote into the village. So rather than, say, a "sneaking" skill, you have a relationship with Coyote that could guide physical sneaking, clever planning, guile and trickery, etc. These would be fairly broadly-defined, and you'd have a lot of breadth in choosing relationships, so I see them as somewhat related to Traits in Dogs in the Vineyard, or Keys in The Shadow of Yesterday.

I've been experimenting with the Lakota medicine wheel as a character model, and it seems to have built into it the idea of different realms of perception and awareness. With perception or awareness as the fundamental challenge, we don't need randomizers, since a different kind of game immediately presents itself: resource management. In this case, the resource is attention or awareness. Wide-angle vision, like trackers rely on, means compromising focus, for example. Paying more attention to one thing may mean paying less attention to other things. Adding concentric circles on top of a medicine wheel could model not just what direction your attention is focused in, but also how broad or focused that attention might be at the moment.

What's got me stymied is how to model where the Other is. Matching the other's pattern doesn't seem right. When does your configuration of awareness equal success? At the moment, I'm thinking a relationship you have with the other could serve as a margin of error; if you have 10 points in a relationship with Coyote, then you can succeed in tracking a coyote even if you're +/- 10 from the real goal. But there has to be a better way of generating the successful configuration than simple GM fiat.

Any ideas?


  • Wow. This is one of the most enlightening posts I've come across in awhile. Looks like you have a good foundation for the game!

    As for how to model it: Seems like you'd want to model any troubles with the tribe with a relationship map according to the local spirits. The hunts are going badly? Well, what does Coyote say about that? What does Raven say? What opinion do the animal spirits have on the situation? The forest spirits? And, most importantly, what can be done to change their minds? Because if you change their minds, they'll act to tip the balance of things back into your tribe's favor. Of course, you'll have to do a favor for them, as well.

    Also, the concepts of "shaman-space" and having the players play the tribe occasionally, as well as individual characters, might add a lot to the setting. Individualism isn't as valued as the place in the tribe; the tribe is considered the fundamental unit. (This was why expulsion was about the worst thing a tribe could do to an offender.)

    Just some ideas. You might want to look at Greg Stafford's Heroquest for ideas. I'd recommend the one written by Robin D. Laws, and the section on what makes a Heroquest.
  • To shorten my above post: I'd simply match the Other (the problem the tribe is currently presented with) the same way you'd match skills above: relating them to the spirits in charge of them, as well as what other spirits have to say.
  • edited February 2008
    Thanks, spookyfanboy. Sounds like you understood my idea perfectly. That's probably one of the most common outlines for a story in the Fifth World right there: things are going badly, you seek out the offended persons (human or otherwise) responsible, and persuade them, one way or another, to stop. I think the relationship system kind of makes a relationship map already, just not one explicitly drawn out for you. And yes, your relationship with the land (which includes the local culture), your clan, your tradition (the closest thing to "class"), etc. all play very important roles.

    I'll take a look at Heroquest, and see if that offers any help. I actually did have an idea of alternative formats, where you might play a tribe or clan instead of an individual person. I posted a while back on my design blog that animism rather requires a fractal like FATE's.

    But my current problem's a little more fundamental. I have some ideas about how to model your attention, but that's only the first part of modeling awareness. Think of a radar screen. You can model out where your radar is centered and how far out it reaches, but you still need one more piece of information: whether or not the thing you're looking for is inside that area. How do I determine what is a successful allotment of attention? How do you tell when your distribution of attention results in perceiving the Other? The game has a Genius loci, who fulfills some of the critical roles of a GM, but even if the "GL" has to make the call, I'd like him/her to have a better guideline for it than just fiat.
  • Oh, so you're looking for GL advice on how to frame tribal problems and fit them properly to the map? Or am I really missing something here? Because now I suspect the latter...
  • Not necessarily GL advice ... I'd like there to be some mechanic for situating where the Other is, or what configuration of attention successfully perceives the Other. Navigating the world and interacting with others, whether through the physical senses or in dreams or trance, comes down to a series of attempts to perceive, to be aware: of another's location, of another's thoughts, of another's point of view, etc. You're shooting out to the main story arcs (and doing so perfectly, might I add, which I love!). I'm trying to figure out how the core mechanic works.
  • Oh, I think I've got it. You're looking for a sort of handy randomizing table to determine where the Other starts, in order to kickstart the adventure! Is this for those times when the GL/group doesn't have an idea of what trouble they'd like to solve?

    Hmm. Hang on a tick. "Or what configuration of attention successfully perceives the Other." So you're looking at making "solve the mystery" a big part of this game, then? Well, I guess that makes sense, given that emphasizing perception is a big part of this game.

    Now, here's a question for you: How much work does the GL do in regard to prepping/laying the groundwork for scenarios? Is it shared among the players, or is it the responsibility of the GL? If it's done by the players, and not just, the GL, I may have an idea.
  • BTW, if the GL does all of the scenario preparation, I'd strongly recommend taking a look at Vincent Baker's Dogs In the Vineyard, especially the Town Creation rules. You could drift those easily, I think, into a format about the types of trials and tribulations a tribe would experience.
  • Yeah, I love the town creation material in Dogs, and I can definitely see an application here for one means of generating a story: every story begins with an offended person (rather than Pride), and build from there.

    I try to keep the GL's light. He fills in the rest of the cast, and that often means framing the basic outline of the story, since so much will depend on the motivations of all the others the PC's deal with. But the GL isn't really expected to map out everything; referree'ing and such gets distributed amongst all the players. The GL's main job is to have an idea of what all the others want, what kinds of personalities they have, etc. He's the actor for all the remaining roles, basically, and that's about it. And since these are local epics, you really just need to do this once for the campaign (assuming you do it well), and just keep it up to date as the story progresses.

    I'm thinking of hunting as the archetypal pursuit here, off of which basically everything else is patterned. So, in the sense of tracking as natural mystery solving, yes, solving the mystery figures prominently. But, for instance, going back to that tracking pattern; you see one track, two tracks, etc. Each one brings you closer to the Other. You widen your vision, and see movement in the bush. You focus in. But at what point does all this equate to the critical moment of perception, when you see the Other? Tracking builds tension, as each track brings you closer and closer. The moment of release comes with the moment of confrontation. That's the critical moment that makes it all worthwhile. But right now, I have no idea on how to determine when that moment occurs. You could just leave it up to the GL, but I don't like giving the GL that kind of absolute power. It just feels inadequate to me. I have some ideas about how to model one person's awareness, but how do you model where the other person is? If you have both, then you can tell when one perceives the other.

    The other challenge is, whatever it is, it also needs to accommodate when one party lures the other in, when one party reveals itself to the other, the possibility of failing to recognize such a revelation, or one person trying actively to hide from another. I'm not sure simple "GL fiat" is really adequate to address all those possibilities. For something so core to the game, I think it needs something more than that.

    So it sounds like whatever idea you had, it could well be very useful. By all means, do tell!
  • My idea is simple: take a good long look at Jared Sorensen's Inspectres.

    Set a threshold of successes for discovering the Other, depending on how severe the circumstances are. Trying to get tonight's meal? Set it fairly low. Trying to solve some discord in the tribe? Set it higher. Trying to solve a murder? Higher yet. Is it something threatening the whole tribe? High Threshold. How high these benchmarks should be set is something I leave to you. In short, let the players create the mystery and solve it, and include mechanisms so that cool ideas can be woven into the outcome. This allows for these players to include film-noir reveals, witchcraft, the discovery of a foreign tribe's involvement, etc. The players will make it interesting, meanwhile, in the gaming world, the characters are stumbling onto things that they never would have seen or connected had it not been for their enhanced perception, honed by necessity.

    Here's where the GL steps in. Okay, they've found the mystery. Now, how do they solve the problem they've uncovered? If it's a hunt, it's a simple hunting roll, with difficulties due to establishing a proper kill. If it's a quarrel between the tribe, they not only know who is arguing for what, but also what spirits are involved, and what they want out of the deal. And thus, they can go about appeasing the humans and spirits to put the quarrel at rest. With a murder, you have a tribal murder mystery with both spirits and humans as potentially unreliable witnesses. And if it's a threat to the whole tribe, you have a plethora of spirits and people you have to negotiate with or fight. The GL is the one who takes the player's mystery and attaches the relationship map to it, figuring out who really wants what, what really happened, and how to solve the problem so that other issues don't keep recurring.

    For this, you may want to leave an option where, if you don't get the threshold amount, you can declare victory, but there will be clues and problems that you didn't see, allowing the GL to surprise your characters later with a sudden twist.

    Now, Jared's InSpectres game uses dice to get to the threshold necessary to solve the mystery, with good rolls getting you closer, and bad rolls setting you back. Since your game is resource-based, this will be a bit more problematic to implement. But it's potentially worth it: you are more often guaranteed a mystery that engages the players if they get to contribute to it somehow, rather than one lone guy stuck coming up with the story, and either spoonfeeding the clues to the players, or sitting back frustrated as the players get stuck and can't somehow make the leap necessary to tie the clues together. This frustration with the Ghostbusters game was what led Jared to create InSpectres in the first place.

    Just a thought. The characters still get to solve their mystery by being extra perceptive, but the players aren't stuck with a mystery they can't figure out and they might not enjoy if they did. But I'm not sure how to work something like that in a currency-based system.
  • Actually, I do have an idea: bribery. Resource points are valuable, right? So, if they take some resource points and let the GL give them false information, it's a fair trade. They may need to use those points later, right? So the player disseminates false information, and the difficulty to solve a more complex mystery goes up depending on how many resource points were spent to bribe the player.

    Builds a tension between the player and the tribe. Take the hit for the good of the tribe and end up without later? Or take the bribe and hope the tribe picks up the slack?
  • As I read your comments, a light clicked in my head. Tracking as mystery. I hadn't really considered the full impact of that until I started reading what you had to say about InSpectres, but we have a whole host of narrative, collaborative mystery games out there to draw inspiration from, and a string of clues that lead you to the murderer doesn't differ all that much from a string of tracks that lead you to an animal. I was just reading Ingold's Perception of the Environment on Saturday, and he was writing about the animist perception of a person's life as a trail, tracks, laid down on the earth, and relationships as places where trails cross each other. It gets us away from the medicine wheel idea, but I think there's a lot there to draw from.

    I like the direction you're going with the different thresholds, but I guess that just brings me back to the original problem, of how do you count a success? If it takes 1 success to do this, 2 successes to do that, and so on, what are we counting with those successes?

    I'm not sure the idea of setting up tension between the player and the tribe really fits this game, though; it certainly fits our own ideas of the Individual vs. Society, but we're typically talking about cultures here for which that dichotomy just doesn't make sense.

    This morning, I thought of a mancala board. With its two stores, and two trails leading each store to the other, it seems like there should be something in there with the beads we're already using that could make a good model of approaching the Other. Not sure what that is, yet, but it seems like there should be something in there....
  • True enough.

    To be honest, I think I've gone as far as I can with trying to help. I don't know how, mechanically, to set thresholds like InSpectres does in a resource-management mechanic. I'm at this point at a loss as to how to do so that maintains the ideal of perception and the themes of this game. Hopefully, I was of some assistance.

    But yes, when I think of perception and how it relates to a tribal society, the first thing that popped into my head was a mystery. Setting it into a mystery phase and a resolution phase seemed natural to me, but I can see times when it would make more sense to do both at the same time.

    Well, I wish you the best of luck, and hopefully someone savvier than myself can get you on the right track.
  • I have one last idea, and then I'll bow out unless you want me to take it further.

    Perhaps we could still keep mystery and resolution kind of seperate, but I can't help thinking back to the InSpectres model. Keep mystery thresholds, make them dice-dependent, and when thresholds are hit, resources are gained for the resolution phase. Once the mystery is solved, in other words, all that remains is tying up the problem.

    It's not a good thought, because you want your game resource-based, and I can respect why. But it might be something.

    In any event, good luck and keep us posted.
  • Thanks, spookyfanboy. You've been a great help; just making the connection of tracking to mystery has helped immensely. I've had a few mechanics revelations while reading Ingold's Perception of the Environment, so hopefully with this floating around in my head, primed for mystery mechanics, I might have a few more as I finish the book.

    I'm not sure how, yet, but it seems like a mancala board could work well for this. I just need to figure out how it should work. I don't think any of the traditional mancala games quite work as they are, but there's a lot of different games in that heading.
  • edited February 2008
    There are a lot of Mancala games out there -- like 100's. Here's a site that seems to have a bunch of them. You might be surprised at the number of different mechanisms available. (I realize you're certainly already aware of a lot of these, but more couldn't hurt, right?)
  • edited February 2008
    Absolutely--I found WikiManqala on my lunch break today. Haven't found one that works yet, but more never hurts.
  • Hey Jason,

    You're kicking my ass with this. Lots of potential for a uniquely culturally significant gaming experience. Can I ask how much of the ecotopian post-apocalyptic setting you were talking about last year has survived to this incarnation of the game?

    Perhaps rather than quantifying the interactions with the other, you need a scale of quality.

    I have heard of the Coyote
    I have seen the Coyote
    I have...etc
    I am the Coyote

  • You're kicking my ass with this. Lots of potential for a uniquely culturally significant gaming experience. Can I ask how much of the ecotopian post-apocalyptic setting you were talking about last year has survived to this incarnation of the game?

    Wow, thanks! That made my day, coming from you! But yes, the setting remains the same. The title refers to the Emergence mythology of the southwest; the Hopi and some of the Maya agree that we currently live in the Fourth World, and they see worlds as coming and going like seasons. The Hopi in particular predict that civilization will destroy itself, so after that would come the Fifth World. What I've spent the past year banging my head over and researching all revolves around this question of how to represent the feral world in terms of a universe feral people would understand. I suppose you could make the argument that, since we exist in their past, they'd have as much familiarity with our way of thought, but then again, hunter-gatherers exist in our past, but for most of us, the way they perceive the world would seem far more alien than any of the species on Star Trek ever did.

    The end of the scale seems problematic to me. Identification like that doesn't even really fit in the context of shape-shifting. Also, part of this lifeworld the game tries to model involves a rejection of the verb "to be," because it fundamentally deals with verbs, rather than nouns. Dan Moonhawk Alford's speech, "God is a Verb," gets into some of this difference between English and many oral languages.

    The earlier part of the scale seems interesting, but given the primacy of synaesthesia in hunter-gatherer experience, do you think that scale privileges some senses over others?
  • What sort of qualitative progression would make more sense? My thinking is that there's is a filtered awareness of the other (knowing it through stories perhaps, or through its footprints, or scat, or its effect on the environment), followed by direct, but objective perception (a sighting), followed by a subjective perception (recognition of affinity), followed by a relationship, followed by an intermingling of identity. Not verb enough?

    And you have to get some of the dynamics of sacrifice (described in The Gift) into these relationships.

  • In Sex and Sorcery, Ron Edwards has a cool little intimacy diagram (page 28 in my book), that consists of concentric circles, going from Self/Nuclear family (those essentially indistinct from one's own body), to Extended family/kin group, to Community, to Mankind/Other.

    I think this provides one really cool way to show a progression. What would you sacrifice for your children/spouse? For a cousin? For a neighbor? For a total stranger? Wouldn't the same apply to, say a relationship with a Deer? Would you sacrifice food for a day, for the health of a neighbor? For a cousin? For your children? Maybe you rate the relationship based on how much you've already exchanged. What has Deer given you, and you given Deer?

    Then you get into Paul's 'intermingling of identity' once you reach the Self/Mate/Offspring central level of intimacy.

    To know a Deer through stories, may fall roughly equivalent to the Community level. You offer stories to Deer, and receive them. As you sacrifice, relate, and exchange with each other, you enlarge your relationship pool, until you become of 'one skin'.Fun link on this here..

    Animals and tribes that you don't speak of much belong in the Other category, you have no relationship with them, except as strangers.

    For me this would nicely tie up the primacy of all relationships, indistinguishable except by the measure of intimacy/interdependence/sacrifice. Meaning, a human/human relationship doesn't differ from a non-human/human one in this animist setting.

  • Also, as far as 'setting difficulty levels', this as a Story Game should really revolve around making a good story, shouldn't it?

    Not realistic, but relational, right?

    So shouldn't the Genius Loci, much like the Producer in Prime Time Adventures, decide how much of a challenge they want to make any particular thing? If they see this as a critical plot point, where a character will make a defining decision one way or the other, then you know to pour on the challenge, and really press the issue, right? In a PTA sense, the time has come to spend that budget.

    For stuff that doesn't feed the story, who cares anyway?

    If, for the animist, the Land shapes and creates those that live upon it, than the Genius Loci would make these kinds of decisions.

    Random thoughts.
  • I've put off answering this for quite some time now, thinking in just another day or so I'd have some idea of what I can do with this mancala idea ... but so far, just one possibility, and I don't know if it really works.
    Paul Czege wrote:
    What sort of qualitative progression would make more sense?

    Frankly, I don't know if any qualitative progression makes more sense; I suspect that the basic idea of a qualitative progression just fundamentally does not fit into the animist perspective.
    Paul Czege wrote:
    My thinking is that there's is a filtered awareness of the other (knowing it through stories perhaps, or through its footprints, or scat, or its effect on the environment), followed by direct, but objective perception (a sighting), followed by a subjective perception (recognition of affinity), followed by a relationship, followed by an intermingling of identity. Not verb enough?

    Well, rather, I don't know if it really breaks down that easily. In trying to make sure I really understand the animist perspective, I've started reading Tim Ingold's Perception of the Environment (still not entirely done, though), and he talks about art in traditional cultures not as symbolic, but as a means of directing your attention deeper into things out there in the real world, a way of communicating skilled experience and perception. So, someone who knows the stories of Coyote very well might well have a deeper perception than someone who saw a coyote, but only briefly as he ran past, for instance. So, we still come back to varying degrees of perception, but you could have an elder who knows every Coyote story, someone who observes coyotes every morning, someone who listens intently to coyote howls and knows what each one means, and they all have the same depth of perception, though they've perceived coyote by different means.

    Then we get to the whole question of synaesthesia, the union of the senses. We have some good evidence that outside of literacy, synaesthesia occurs much more commonly. In a sense, the critical distinctions that the written word allows us to use train our minds to distinguish between other things, like what we see versus what we hear. But in oral cultures, where language always occurs as an event, and always socially grounded, you find a lot more experience of sight, sound, touch, etc. as a single, unbroken phenomenon. I'd add to that other senses, like emotion and imagination, that would take far too long to explain here, but it all underlines the main point, particularly when trying to pin down mechanics of animist perception, distinctions between the different senses mean much less.
    Paul Czege wrote:
    And you have to get some of the dynamics of sacrifice (described in The Gift) into these relationships.

    Absolutely! As I see it taking shape, since you need relationships to accomplish much of anything, you'll spend a great deal of the game making sacrifices to keep your relationships strong enough to keep going. I expect that most of the game play will center on the constant back-and-forth and sacrifice of so many competing relationships.

    Willem, you offer a very intriguing idea with the concentric circles. I wonder how that might mesh with the idea of a medicine wheel, too? Unfortunately, it still brings me back to the original question of the core mechanic itself: how to establish when contact occurs, when you perceive.

    Your point about the "GL" might make some sense, too; I suppose I'll need to actually play PTA, instead of just read it, and see how that works out to know for sure.
  • So, I decided to dig through some of the Story Games Forum archive here, and found this post by Daniel Solis from last October, and thought, "Hey! Those prayer beads look an awful lot like my relationship strings!" I actually even said that they start to turn the character sheet into a quipu line. Even uses three colors, just like the Flesh/Breath/Word concept I had in mind. The counting, and the use of phrases, calls or songs to count off beads, all tie it back into process, rather than thing, which I had started to worry about.

    (Also, it introduced me to "Bone White, Blood Red," which looks awesome, so I'll link to it, too, so more people will find it.)
  • edited March 2008
    It seems like what you want is a pacing mechanic of some kind, not a resolution mechanic. Or is there a chance the hunter will fail? And what would that failure look like?

    Perhaps it would be useful to consider the obstacles that exist between the hunter and that moment of perception. I don't think you need to break it down into pre-defined stages, but you could certainly have some number of stages. These obstacles would appear, and require some act of empathy to overcome. I don't know anything about the medicine wheel, but if you had a wheel of the Zodiac (for example) each act could simply shift you one to the right, and the Zodiac themselves could suggest appropriate challenges. There doesn't have to be any kind of hierarchy.

    How to pick the number? Well, it sounds like you have statistics of some sort, so a simple comparison seems adequate (if they have numbers). Otherwise a set difficulty seems quite appropriate -- the worldview you describe seems like on in which every hunt is ultimately the same as the last, so why shouldn't they all have three stages of perception? Why shouldn't the deer always be the easiest animal to hunt, and the coyote the most difficult?

    Or, riffing off the concentric circles, you could just have (say) three identical concentric wheels, and the moment of perception occurs when they are aligned 'properly'. Each action taken moves one of the wheels one step. So depending on the starting position of the wheel (which was the 'success' alignment of someone else, presumably) a task could be easy or hard. Relationships could be used to freely shift the wheels to particular positions. There's a lot of opportunity there for mechanical interest, but everything is also entirely predictable -- you just have to look at the wheel to know how hard it would be to hunt right now. In this way you can also create a natural trend or order of things, as players are less likely to pursue less appropriate/auspicious/easy actions -- as defined by how 'far away' they are on the wheel.
  • All hail the Ice Cream Emperor!
    I.C.E. wrote:
    Or is there a chance the hunter will fail?

    Or, you absolutely have a chance of failing. Not in the sense of, "I tried to overcome X, and failed," but more in the sense of a failure to notice something. You could fail to notice a track. You could get thrown off the track. You could fail to notice the critical moment when the animal makes its offering. Resolution still needs to answer the question, "Did I succeed?" It simply changes the nature of "success" from "overcoming obstacles" to "awareness."
    I.C.E. wrote:
    the worldview you describe seems like on in which every hunt is ultimately the same as the last, so why shouldn't they all have three stages of perception?

    Oh, no, no, no! A thousand times, no--did I really leave that impression? Oh dear, did I ever fail to communicate that idea properly, then. No, no, every hunter differs completely from every other. Every encounter involves an attempt to approach some heretofore unknown mystery. Even if you've tracked a thousand caribou before, you've never tracked this caribou before, and this caribou has his own, distinct personality. The moment you lull yourself into the idea that each hunt seems the same as the last, you lose. You miss the critical track, you get thrown off the trail, you miss the moment of the offering, whatever the case, you fail to approach the Other, your perception fails. You go home hungry that night.
    I.C.E. wrote:
    Why shouldn't the deer always be the easiest animal to hunt, and the coyote the most difficult?

    Ideally, you'd want to model an evaluation of the prey. Does he seem sick? Old? Young? Weak? The emergent mechanic should favor taking the weakest, not always the same species. Different deer have different personalities and different strengths. You should have far more difficulty hunting a healthy deer than you would hunting an old coyote.
  • edited March 2008
    How about treating every obstacle as a mystery if you're going that way? mysteries are very much about attunement, about uncovering that which is important to the matter at hand, about aligning yourself with the world around you to eventually, arrive at the right place at the right time to do the right thing.
  • edited March 2008
    Perhaps I overlooked something, but I'm wondering what you're using to give variability to the game. I can accept that there's no randomness just fine, but a lot of games that eliminate that have the same problem: the gm sets a target number of 9, the character has an 8 in that, and therefore will always fail.

    Resource management is the common fallback. I know it was suggested earlier in the thread, and I think an attention pool may be the way to go, given what you've described thus far. If that route is taken, then I could see how certain things could demand attention, whether the player character wants to give it any or not. For example, an argument with the wife in the morning could distract a character during the hunt later in the day (too busy thinking about it to notice the moment of offering).

    Perhaps I'm missing the mark, but I get the sense that focusing only on one problem at a time works well for hunting, but might make the wrong social dynamic. The pace at which points are recoverd might mitigate this problem, particularly if there were more opportunities to recover in social situations, so here's some suggestions for different patterns:
    - recover points once the problem is dealt with
    - recover points at a fixed rate (X per day)
    - recover points per resolution (must be combined with some other method)
    - personality trait-based (perform certain personal rituals or quirks to recover your attention)
    - cultural traits (like personality traits, but common to everyone, or almost everyone, in the culture, such as rituals to honor the spirit of the animal just hunted)

    May I suggest another pattern of resource management for your consideration? It's sort of an upside-down pool I've used in other systems I've built. I'll call the distraction pile for purposes of this discussion. Instead of starting with a pool of points and spending them, start at 0 points in the distraction pile. Each time points are used, add them to the distraction pile. The number of points in the pile then becomes penalty on future actions. There would have to be some limit on the number of points that could be put into any particular action (say, the level in the ability). Again, the mechanic you use for recovery is very important.
  • Well, glad to see that this game is chugging along!

    As for the post above mine, I'll second it, as there appears to be lots of suggestions about common pitfalls to avoid.
  • timeLESS wrote:
    How about treating every obstacle as a mystery if you're going that way?

    Absolutely! But how? Dirty Secrets had an interesting take on mystery mechanics, but by and large, we haven't really cracked the mystery nut, if you will. The mystery game usually comes down to the players trying to figure out what the GM already knows, i.e., GM fiat.
    madunkieg wrote:
    Perhaps I overlooked something, but I'm wondering what you're using to give variability to the game.

    I don't know--hence the discussion here. If we use some mancala board, the variation comes from how you play out the mancala mechanic. If it comes down to simply betting, then from differing risk-aversion in different players. If we use the ideas from the "Let's play with necklaces" thread, it would come from what phrase you use to count off beads (which you may not control). If we use a medicine wheel-adapted version of the color wheel mechanic, it would come from randomly picking colored beads from a bag.

    What I'd really like to figure out from this thread would answer that specific question: how do we resolve questions that come up in the story, and where does the variance come into that resolution?
    madunkieg wrote:
    I can accept that there's no randomness just fine, but a lot of games that eliminate that have the same problem: the gm sets a target number of 9, the character has an 8 in that, and therefore will always fail.

    Exactly the situation I want to avoid, yes.
    madunkieg wrote:
    Resource management is the common fallback. I know it was suggested earlier in the thread, and I think an attention pool may be the way to go, given what you've described thus far. If that route is taken, then I could see how certain things could demand attention, whether the player character wants to give it any or not. For example, an argument with the wife in the morning could distract a character during the hunt later in the day (too busy thinking about it to notice the moment of offering).

    Exactly; and failure to notice something the wife cared about certainly lies at the root of most morning arguments like that, no? I think that points in the right direction, but it still leaves open the question of how you determine when your allocation of attention succeeds? If it just comes down to the GL looks at how you've arranged your attention and says, "You notice X," that still comes down to GM fiat, the same problem as before. I want to have some mechanical way of determining where the X sits, so that you can compare where it sits, to where you've directed your attention, and say, "Yes, I noticed it," or, "No, I missed it."
    madunkieg wrote:
    Perhaps I'm missing the mark, but I get the sense that focusing only on one problem at a time works well for hunting, but might make the wrong social dynamic.

    I think focusing on just one thing at a time fails equally for both, particularly in the animist perspective where hunting is a social dynamic. You need to remain aware of many different factors simultaneously in a social situation; likewise, when hunting, you need to remain aware of which way the wind blows, the tracks of the deer you hunt as well as the wolf tracks hunting the same deer, the time of day and the current weather, so on and so forth. Which speaks well, I think, to the idea of allocating attention, because it really points out the drawbacks of complete focus.

    I have some ideas for recovering lost points, including eating, sleeping, telling stories, performing rituals, and so on, varying according to different possible types of attention. As I see it, you'll often have to burn off points of your relationships to succeed, so a good amount of the game will also revolve around your need to keep your relationships strong; which quite nicely gives you an emergent mechanic for the sustainability of animist cultures, not because I as the game designer sits there and preach to you about such things anymore than such cultures do these things for charity, but because the game mechanics have sufficiently mirrored the way animists live to make you, the player, appreciate the logic of their behavior, and why it makes sense for you to give back more than you take.

    The "distraction pile" adds an interesting twist. So, the first time you try to perceive something, it costs you just one bead? One beats zero; that bead goes into the distraction pile. Then the next one costs two beads? I don't know if it works straight like that, but in conjunction with something else, particularly if it comes into effect when you fail, it could work.
  • OK, to summarize what we've got so far, I see four major candidates right now:

    The Bet

    The simplest (and original!) mechanic, this one assumes that each person has:
      [li]Some number of pools, representing different kinds of effort (Possibly Flesh, Breath and Word; possibly the four directions of the medicine wheel)[/li]
      [li]Some number of relationships[/li]
    So, in the straight form of the bet, each person makes a secret wager of some number of beads from the appropriate pool, depending on the nature of the conflict. Then, the reveal. Whoever bet more, wins. The number of beads in the relationship determines how many beads you can recover, the rest you lose. That would model sudden decisions, like, did your arrow hit the target, or did you make that jump? In the iterative version, modeling things where you can escalate like fights or arguments, you could add more beads, and that stops when both sides stop adding beads. Once again, the person with the most beads bet wins; you get to take back a number of beads equal to your relationship, and lose the rest.

    My thoughts on this. Does the escalation lead to a back-and-forth of one bead at a time? Does this really make for a game of awareness, or just overcoming an adversary?

    The Mancala Mechanic

    Andrew posted the best version of this that I've heard yet on the Forge, especially when combined with Daniel's early post in that thread. You have a starting configuration, and then, based on the appropriate relationship, you can either:
      [li]Add some number of beads to one of your pits[/li]
      [li]Remove some number of beads from one of their pits[/li]
      [li]Move some number of beads from one of your pits, to another of your pits[/li]
    So, let's say you want to hunt a deer. You have 10 beads in your relationship with deer. So, you can add beads to one of your pits, remove beads from one of the deer's pits, or move beads from one of your pits to another of your pits. Let's say you decide to add three beads to one pit. 10-3=7, you have seven moves left. This can conclude in one of two ways:
      [li]The encounter. The two sides match. Whoever moved last gets to narrate how the encounter unfolds, based on the previous narration. So if the hunter moves last to align the two sides, he would likely narrate that he takes the deer; the deer might narrate that he bolts away at the last moment. So, the encounter occurs, and whoever moves last gets to narrate the encounter unfolding on their own terms. Which means you not only want to reach that alignment, you want to do so on your terms.[/li]
      [li]The escape. One side or the other runs out of moves without any alignment. No encounter occurs. I think madunkieg's suggestion of a "distraction pile" on the Story Games thread might work here: every escape adds beads to the distraction pile, which could hamper you in future encounters (perhaps you don't get your relationship beads to move; you get your relationship beads minus the beads in your distraction pile?)[/li]
    My thoughts on this. Does a better job of modeling the idea of the encounter, and certainly Daniel's idea of starting configurations drawn out with cave art styles, even to the extent of posters, adds an exciting new element. Opens up the potential to either actively hide, or actively reveal oneself, by either avoiding alignment, or pursuing it. This might offer the best possibility so far. But where does the possibility to burn up your relationship for extra power come in? Maybe after you've exhausted your relationship's normal store for moves, you could begin taking beads straight from the string to buy more moves?

    The Necklace

    In this model, different colored beads matter more. These could differentiate between Flesh, Breath and Word, or between the four directions of the medicine wheel. For now, let's use Flesh, Breath, and Word for example's sake, but keep in mind that we could change the colors and dividing lines, too.

    For relationships, you still have a string of beads, but now the kinds of beads matter. So, an encounter with a physical coyote would add a Flesh bead to your Coyote relationship; hearing a Coyote story would add a Breath bead; exchanging gifts with Coyote would add a Word bead.

    So, you come to a particular encounter where you need Coyote. Let's say you want to coyote around the village perimeter so no one sees you. Now you use your Coyote string almost like prayer beads or a rosary; you make a quick plea to coyote to help you, thumbing off beads in some set pattern as you do. Now, look at the bead you currently have in your finger and thumb. That will give you your result. The third red bead in a row, right before a blue one, would give you 3 Flesh. If the village gets a 2 Flesh from, say, their Hawk relationship, your 3 Flesh wins. If you have a Breath bead, though, it won't help you; you need to coyote fleshly for this, so you have 0 Flesh vs. 2 Flesh. They spot you.

    My thoughts on this. I like the free-wheeling dynamic of actually calling on other-than-human persons for help, but I see a lot of potential for abuse. To avoid that, and to keep it functional as a game, we'd need some kind of rules for keeping the exact form of the plea out of the player's direct control, lest every player figure out exactly how many words/syllables/lines/whatever that it will take to get the result they want. This seems to encourage players to specialize with variation. Sure, having all 10 of your beads with Coyote will help if you want to coyote about the woods all the time, but without some Breath or Word beads in there, how will you ever coyote up a clever plan, or coyote someone out of a deal? By the same token, you'd never want something like red, blue, yellow, blue, red, blue, yellow, because everything would have a power of just 1! You'd want red, red, blue, blue, blue, yellow, yellow, so you get the most out of each type. So it seems to me like you'd optimize for runs of 2-4 at a time, before switching over to a different type. Also, this mechanic seems to get us back to the problem of overcoming adversity, rather than approaching the other.

    The Color Wheel

    This one comes straight from Jared Sorenson, I've just spun it around to the medicine wheel.

    So you have the medicine wheel, which gives you four different pools of differently colored beads. All the beads go into an opaque bag. First, you decide the nature of the conflict, whether it comes from the north, east, south or west. Then, you pull a number of beads from your bag equal to the number of beads in the appropriate relationship. For each bead you pull of the appropriate color, you have one success; the player with the most successes, wins.

    So, consider an intellectual debate about the next tribe over. The conflict comes from the north, associated with intellect and wisdom. You use your relationship with that tribe, in which you have four beads. So you pull four beads from you bag. You pull two white (north) beads, one black (west) bead, and one red (south) bead. So you have two successes. The other player have six beads with the tribe, and pulls six beads from his pouch, but he pulls one white, three red, and two yellow (east) beads, so he only has one success. You win.

    My thoughts on this. The idea of competing numbers of successes certainly fits into the general range of existing RPG mechanics, which puts me on the most solid ground of any of these alternatives. But it also recapitulates the notion of overcoming adversity, rather than approaching the other.
  • edited March 2008
    I'm starting to see a need for a split between actions and endeavours. Tracking an animal is an action, sneaking up on it is an action, noticing the moment of offering is an action, making the kill is an action. Altogether, those actions form an endeavour, a collection of complimentary actions.

    Mechanically it works like this: some of the attention points (perhaps one less, or half, or just one) put into tracking carry over into sneaking, to which more points may be added, and so on. That allows a series of little actions to occur without needing a massive pool of points. At the same time, that morning argument would be a completely separate endeavour, needing its own points.

    There's more to it, though, playing off the mystery approach you seem to be looking into. Imagine you have two clues, seemingly unrelated and having their own paths of inquiry. Points are seperately put into both of them. Later on a third clue is discovered that ties the first two clues together. The points allocated to both those initial clues transfer into the third (minus a few). It seems to work just like a mystery story.

    When to trigger: Right now the target number seems to be fixed: the player adds points until success is achieved, but that doesn't fit what you're going for. Your game world is active, and therefore should have its own attention pool (or whatever mechanic you decide to go with). Unlike regular games, where opposed parties just roll off and be done with it, it's too easy to just luckily allocate 1 more than opponent. It might be better to make it a process, and only trigger when the difference is a certain number over the opponent. The size of that number would depend on how long it takes to perform the action. Noticing the moment of offering would be 1 because it's instant. Tracking could be quite high, and modified higher by weather or other factors. The question arises, though: should there be only one attention pool for the GL, should there be a pool for each npc, or should it be some sort of hybrid?

    Needing to deal with multiple things at once: I'm starting to think this emerges mostly as part of the story structure, which means if there's a mechanic that guides the GL to set difficulties, it should encourage providing multiple challenges at once, but not very high difficulty, whereas the player should have to struggle to deal with multiple challenges at once, but be able to tackle any one of them really well. I can say this pattern works well, as I've used it in another game design.

    Upside-down pool: there are a lot of ways to do it, and not just with single points, but I'm starting to think it won't really work right for this game, except perhaps as an emergency thing ("I can pay full attention right now, but it's going to wipe me out later" sort of deal).

    Of course, all of this may become moot if you decide to go with a different mechanic, but I'm enjoying exploring the concept and thinking back over what I learned taking anthro courses when I could squeeze them between courses for my majors.
  • One of the things I like best in the options so far lies in their ability to scale up or down so easily. You can have all the PC's throwing in on one side of the board, across from the GL, in some big showdown; you can have the whole fight, or all the tracking, or the whole argument, narrated from the escalation of activity and commitment. So, I don't know if I like the idea of separating actions and endeavors. It reminds me of Conflict vs. Task resolution, and I agree with Vince Baker on that subject.

    I do like your idea about the clues, though (perhaps "track" sounds better here?). Invest your awareness in each track to find the next one--it has the same advantage as the Gumshoe system, where you never have the game grind to a halt as you sputter about because you missed a crucial clue. You can always find the next track by investing enough awareness to find it. But that seems like a problem, too. I don't know if I fully understand your idea, though, madunkieg. Could you possibly give me an example of play?
  • edited March 2008
    Reading the Vince Baker bit I can see why you'd want to avoid using defined endeavours, but the mechanic I suggested might still work. If one action leads to the next, then carrying some points from one action to the next might make sense. for example, taking the time to gather and prepare proper tinder leads to an easier time of lighting a fire. It also makes a lot of sense for forager societies, where taking the time to do each step properly is part of life's pace.

    (Fictional) Play Example: As for the clues idea, imagine player1's character is stalking monkeys through the jungle. We open with player1 having already allocated 2 attention points of 9 on looking for dropped fruit under a fruit tree that might indicate the recent presence of monkeys.

    GL: There's some fruit with bite marks on the jungle floor. It has a couple insects on it, but it isn't bruised yet.
    Player1: Excellent, a monkey must have dropped it recently! I'm going to circle around a little ways away from the tree, to see if any fruit was dropped as the monkey left. That's another point I'm allocating.
    GL: A few paces out you spot another fruit on the ground, away from the tree's branches, but just as you do, you also hear the rustling of something moving through the branches a little off to the side and further away.
    Player1: That must be the monkey! But, just in case, I'll make note of where that dropped fruit is for 1 point. Now, I transfer my points from looking for fruit to following that sound. I lose 1 to the transfer, giving me 2 points, so I think I'll boost it back to 3 with an extra point.
    GL: So that's 5 points spent thus far. Alright, there's a bit more noise in the branches, but you're having trouble making out a form.
    Player1: well, I'll try to get a little closer, but only a little, adding only 1 point, not 2.
    GL: (thinking: still tracking and not sneaking? Hmm, it's close enough, and the animal has a few points to spare, so it will put 1 into listening since it's prey has dissappeared and notice him). Leaves burst from the branches and then fall as a harpy eagle takes flight! It looks like there's no food in that direction. Lose your allocated points.
    Player1: Darn it! Good thing I made note of where that fruit was, though the monkey probably left in a hurry if there was a harpy eagle nearby. Wait, maybe there is a way to transfer the points instead of lose them...
    GL: ?
    Player1: ...if the monkey was over there, and the eagle was to the other side of me, maybe I can take a guess at which way the monkey ran? It's a long shot, but I'll look for fallen branches on the ground that might indicate an escape and keep an eye on where branches hook up at around the height of the fruit tree's branches. That should let me put 2 more points in.
    GL: I'll buy that. You can transfer the points then.
    Player1: Great, that's 5 being used for tracking and 8 of my 9 spent. I really hope I can spot this monkey before it spots me so that it's easy to sneak up on.

    ...And so the hunt continues. If the 1 point that was put intto remembering where the fruit was hadn't been spent, Player1 would have had to spend 3 more points (the number needed to find it the first time) to find it again. If Player1 had put the point into remembering that, but not thought of how to transfer the points, then the attention points would have likely run out long before the monkey was found.

    Even with points transfers you can see how quickly the points go, but the same set of clues, done with points spent separately on each clue, would have cost 12 points. The player also wouldn't have been pushed to think of a way to use the harpy eagle's position as a clue.
  • Posted By: jason(Also, it introduced me to "Bone White, Blood Red," which looksawesome, so I'll link to it, too, so more people will find it.)
    BWBR is needing more awesome than the initial release, so I am working on that in upcoming months. :)
  • Holy crap, madunkieg, that even covers "concentric circles"! Have you read Tom Brown?

    Kynn, I don't know how much more awesome it can take, besides perhaps some polishing on the layout and graphics.
  • edited March 2008
    <blockquote><cite>Posted By: jason</cite>Holy crap, madunkieg, that even covers "concentric circles"! Have you read Tom Brown?</blockquote>

    No, I follow Ray Mears and his chats with people from various forager societies around the globe, plus a bit of anthropology education. And, of course, stealing some ideas from a couple games that I've already built that included or were about animist cultures.

    Should I keep elaborating along the line I've been going, or would you like to explore a different mechanic for a bit?
  • Ah, Ray Mears, that makes sense. He's got some really good stuff out there.

    So, after thinking about this as a game of awareness, I started thinking of it as a game of movement, but now I've started considering how it might work as a game of trust. Specifically, using the prisoner's dilemma as a resolution mechanic.

    For now, let's say we use coins. I'll probably come up with something more evocative later, but let's stick with that for the moment. You have beads in your relationships, you have a pool of free beads, and you have a coin. You want to go hunting, since that seems like the archetypal challenge for a game like this. You pick a place to go hunting, and the player playing that place tells you if any animals reveal their tracks to you here. Let's say a deer reveals her track there. You now face a resolution. The genius loci flips a coin and covers it without looking. You hide your coin under your hand, heads-up to indicate "Trust," meaning you agree to share the deer meat with your whole community, and offer the proper rites of thanksgiving for the deer. If the deer also chose trust, your village will have venison for dinner tonight; if not, you'll go home with nothing.

    The deer has ten beads; you only have seven in your bowl, but then you also have six beads in your relationship with deer. "Okay," you say, "I follow the tracks and start to get a feel for the deer's health, weight, and age. Three beads in to gain the deer's trust."

    But then the genius loci matches your bet, and raises you two beads; does that mean the deer chose "trust"? Or does he just want to compel you to trust, to screw you over? Have you offended Deer before? Might he want to punish you now?

    No matter, you need to press on. You see the two beads, and raise him two more. "I keep on tracking, and find where she slept last night. Still a little warm; she must have slept late. Does she feel alright, or has she taken ill?"

    The genius loci matches you again, and raises you two more! "I won't burn beads from my relationship with deer," you say. "You win." You raise your hand. "I chose 'trust' anyway. You?"

    The genius loci raises his hand. "Trust!" he calls out. "You enter the clearing, and there she stands. She sees you, and stands silent and still. You draw back your bow, and shoot. She falls to the ground. You offer the appropriate thanksgiving, and prepare to take her back to the village."

    Because you had an encounter with the deer (you both chose trust), you gain a bead to your relationship with Deer.

    I've got a lot of things to still work out here. What happens to the beads you bet? How do offer the proper staggering to make betrayal lucrative? I think answering the first question will answer the second, though. How does this work with group effort? How does this work with multiple parties involved at once? Even so, I think this gets us farther than I've gotten so far, and I feel good about this--better than I've felt about most of these mechanics. What do you all think?
  • So, trust instead of mystery?

    Honestly, I think that works better for a game about shamanism and living with the land than, perhaps mystery does. sounds like a step in the right direction.
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