[Fifth World] Resolution mechanic idea: Prisoner's Dilemma & Gifting

edited April 2008 in Game Design Help
So, last time I grasped about at straws, trying to figure out a direction.

Thanks in no small part to you fine people, I've come up with an idea I actually have some confidence in--
  • A Game of Trust. Using the Prisoner's Dilemma as a resolution mechanic.
  • The Gift. Using beads and relationships as a basis for competitive gift-giving to compel the other side to trust.
I haven't entirely thought through the terminology or accoutrements, so please don't take them as anything but preliminary. The betting terminology in the original article, for example, doesn't work at all, but I really like it now that it uses the terminology of the gift. I like that it puts relationship, gift exchange, trust, and relationship as a stratigraphy of trust, right there at the forefront. But what have I missed? I come to you fine people again--what do you think of this idea? Does it head in the right direction, or should I junk this notion before I waste too much time on it?


  • edited April 2008
    I'm following you so far, and coming to believe you're on the right track, but I'd like to read a play example. Find the monkey tracking I described in the previous thread, and reword it so that it works with your new system.

    Actually, I'm really getting sold on the prisoner's dilemma as an underlying structure for rpg mechanics. If it's okay with you, I'd like to steal the prisoner's dilemma (but not the precise mechanics you're developing) for one of my own homebrew projects.
  • edited April 2008
    Sure thing!

    Carlos says he'll go to the Dense Forest Bank to try to find some spider monkeys. Patrick has the strongest relationship with Dense Forest Bank, so he plays the genius loci for scenes set there. He notes that Carlos didn't say he'd go hunt spider monkeys, which spider monkeys take as an offensive level of presumption on a hunter's part. He decides that he doesn't have anything based on Carlos' actions to decide whether to trust or not, so he decides to flip his coin. He covers it without looking at it.

    Carlos chooses trust--he wants to act like a good, proper hunter of his people should. But no one, not even Patrick, knows what the monkeys have chosen. Carlos looks over what he has--a bowl of six beads, and a relationship with spider monkey with three beads on it. "Carlos offers a song to the spider monkeys as he walks along the Dense Forest Bank, singing the song his people learned from the spider monkeys singing to their children." He offers three beads from his bowl to Patrick.

    The spider monkeys have a bowl of five beads. With the gift of three, they now have eight. Patrick gives Carlos four beads. "The spider monkeys return your gift of song with a song of their own, a new one you've never heard before."

    From his initial bowl of six beads, minus the three he gave as an initial gift, and adding in the spider monkey's gift of four more beads, Carlos now has seven beads. To beat the spider monkeys' gift, he'll need to offer five beads, which will only leave him with two if the spider monkeys accept. That will leave him dangerously vulnerable on his trip home, should anything happen. Carlos decides that a simple hunting trip doesn't warrant that kind of risk. He accepts the spider monkeys' gift, and reveals his coin. "I had already chosen 'trust' anyway, so even though I took the gift, it doesn't get you anything you didn't already have."

    Patrick raises his hand. The coin had landed on mistrust. "Ouch!" Patrick says. "You can hear them clattering in the canopy overhead, but they remain well-hidden. The spider monkeys never reveal themselves to you."

    As far as the prisoner's dilemma, go for it! I certainly can't claim it for my own--heck, I haven't even had the first idea to use it in a game. Try playing Incan Gold. I had a really fun time with it.
  • Okay, so we've got a bead loss/reward and a story loss/reward.

    In this case, the monkeys betrayed and he trusted, so he should go home having lost big. In this case, he went home empty-handed, which is definitely a loss, but I don't feel it's all that big a loss, especially since he ended up with more beads than he started with. A bigger loss would have been going home empty handed and having fewer beads.

    But how to do that? Here's one possibility:
    - revealing a trust coin can only call for resolution after giving beads
    - revealing betrayal can only call for resolution when receiving beads

    Another idea: allow the choice to betray or trust to be changed each turn. That increases the tension and allows the narrative to play a role in influencing the choice.
  • edited April 2008
    If you want to look further into Prisoner's Dilemma and it's relatives (it's only one of many similar dilemmas), I'd recommend looking at:
    • William Poundstone, Prisoner's Dilemma.
    • Robert Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation,
    I, at least, found them fascinating. The Poundstone book explains a lot about the general context and intellectual history of the portion of game theory that contains Prisoner's Dilemma, while the Axelrod book is more interested in the evolutionary biology of cooperation and how the Prisoner's Dilemma problem illustrates it.
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