[Tears in Rain] A mechancial way of answering the 'Are you a Replicant?' question

edited June 2009 in Story Games
I have an idea for mechanically representing the mystery of whether a Balde Runner is a replicant or not in Per Fischer's Trollbabe hack Tears in Rain, and if anyone can point out improvements/cautions/advice I'd be grateful.

The idea is to add a new reroll option called Identity or something like that, perhaps replacing the 'Flashback' reroll in Tears in Rain. This reroll gets a number of boxes depending on the length of game you want to play - maybe 3 or even 1 for a one-off, 5 for a 2-3 session story, more for greater length, but always an odd number.

Unlike the other rerolls, this one doesn't need to refresh and can be used as many times as desired until the Identity of the Blade Runner is established. Every time a player chooses to use Identity for a reroll they assign either Human or Replicant to success or failure before rolling. The result fills in an Identity box with an H or a R for Human and Replicant respectively, depending on the assigned result of the reroll, and representing gathering evidence for one identity or the other. Once the clear majority of boxes are filled in with one result, a scene must follow shortly after where the character is revealed as either a human or replicant. Whether this is an end for the character as playable or not I guess depends on the game, but my feeling is this would signal the bowing out of that character since they no longer straddle the no-man's land of being definitively either human or replicant.

For example, Deckard has 5 boxes of Identity and 2 are already filled in 'R'. He gets in a fight with Pris and is losing, so decides to use Identity for a Combat reroll, assigning success to Replicant (He succeeds because his replicant body is tougher than a human's should be). He rolls, but fails again. He fills in his third box with a 'H' and the mystery of Deckard's identity continues - if he'd succeeded, with 3 out of 5 boxes filled with an R he'd need a scene shortly where he's revealed as a replicant. Perhaps something involving origami creatures from his dreams?

Workable? Good idea? Bad one?

The nice thing I think is that if a character wants to keep their character's true identity a mystery, then they stop using the reroll before hitting the point when this becomes certain. The player can also strongly influence the outcome by choosing tactically whether to assign success or failure to which identity - if you'd like a human end to the character's story for instance, regularly assign 'replicant' to the low chance of success side of the roll (Social for instance, where human empathy might plausibly represent success and a replicant's difficulty with this explaining the failure).

Comments

  • Conceptually interesting. But if you're giving the player that much control over the outcome...and really you are, especially for more extreme Numbers...essentially you're just letting them choose at the end, anyway...so why go through the motions of pretending you're not...?
  • I'm with Ralph. The H/R assignment should totally be the GM's call, based on the player's roleplay. It should still be assigned before dice are rolled, and if the player doesn't like the H/R Success/Failure linkup, they should get to back away from the reroll (so long as the dice haven't hit the table).

    Oh, and I want the whole goddamned track filled before anything definitive is done. Maybe some sort of die roll based on the proportion of H and R boxes. Dunno.

    D

  • Or don't tie it to the roll at all. Just say what you're doing and how your identity lets you reroll...just like you have to say how an ally lets you reroll...and then the GM just tells you whether you exhibited human or replicant characteristics depending on your description and what that looked like after the roll.
  • Yeah, this might need some fine-tuning, but I love the concept.
  • Thanks for the feedback guys. Ralph, you're right - when it comes right down to it, any player with a strong preference is essentially just choosing the outcome.

    I'm trying to cater for both the player who comes to the point where he or she knows during the game that their character is, absolutely, going to end up a replicant or a human and to a player seeking a more exploratory approach - personally, and especially at the early parts of a game, I like the idea of being (potentially) surprised by the outcomes, and the random element appeals.

    I think the simpler approach, deciding whether the reroll will clock up a replicant or a human box check regardless of the success of the roll, may be the way to go.

    However, I really dislike games where the GM interprets the consequences of character action when this infringes on the internal psyche of a character. I could never quite get comfortable with (for example) Humanity in either Sorcerer or WoD Vampire. I'd definitely go with Darcy's suggestion of the GM flagging the identity consequence before the decision to reroll is taken, and the player deciding accordingly.

    To keep the mysterious element, maybe each tick each way affects a final die roll? Eg. 5 boxes, each box is worth 2 points, so 3 human ticks and 2 replicant give a number of 6 or less for the character to be a human? All ticks of the same kind removes the random element altogether.

    Seems a bit unsatisfying, however, with everything loaded into a final die roll.

    OR, a lot more interestingly, each box ticked is a vote for the character being a replicant or a human. On top of that, each other player (including the GM) adds a secret vote based on their impressions of what would be cool as an outcome.

    OR each time a box is ticked every player secretly votes one way or the other and the votes are revealed when the final box is ticked - that would, however, give the player a lot less control over their character's fate but on the other hand puts the onus on them to frame the reroll in such a way that one or other conclusion is strongly implied.

    I do really like that last one, although there's some book-keeping involved.
  • I like the idea of one vote, when the last box is ticked, and thus the boxes are really just a record, a reminder to others. After all, I might think something you did for a reroll is so very Replicant-y that the other, minor (in my mind) rerolls don't sway my vote, regardless of the box totals. And yet, the box totals have a certain weight relative to the other players' votes: if there are more boxes than players, and they are all Replicant (or human) then our vote won't matter.

    I am less jazzed about the vote-every-reroll, because of the handling time and because of your expressed concern that it over-weights the players' votes.

    I don't like any GM fiat stuff, so "the GM decides" is crap, to me. Suppose we play GM-less--now we have to vote every time (or assign the decision arbitrarily, like "the player to the left" or "a random player not in the scene").

    ...

    Perhaps you could consider allowing a revealed Replicant to continue play, rather than just go off-screen or become an NPC? Is the "straddl[ing] no-man's land" the whole kernel of play, in your mind (seems you're open to at least SOME play where they persist as PCs)? If not, then allies and friends become hunters; there are desperate attempts to get away from the hunters; maybe even room a Duel-Of-Wits-type mechanic for getting folks to give you the time and space to flee; perhaps even an epilogue scene of one's last days of joy... or fear: that was the tear-jerking shit at the end (with Roy's final choice in life and if you come to the conclusion that Deckard was a Replicant).
  • I keep wanting to post to this thread, and being held back by the shameful fact I haven't played Tears in Rain yet. It's on my bucket list!

    But, as a big (Phillip K.) Dick-head, the whole question of man vs. machine, human vs. artifact, independent vs. controlled is a question that cuts through everything and doesn't get resolved till the end -- if then. So my gut instinct is that resolving the question in play would drain some of the resonance out of the game... what does it add to the game to find out Biggs isn't a Replicant, she's just a cold-blooded killer?
  • Crap - I just wrote a long answer then had the whole thing disappear...

    David, my thoughts are largely like yours at the moment. The way I think I'll go is:

    * An Identity track of (by default) 5 boxes

    * Each time Identity is used for a reroll, the player narrates suitable in game fiction and fills in a box with either an H or a R

    * When the track is full, add up the number of each R or H and each player adds a vote. The result determines whether the character is a replicant or not.

    * The GM (with player input) frames a revelation scene to take place pretty soon. After the fallout from this scene has been resolved, the player describes an epilogue and the character is retired from the game (possibly recurring as an NPC)

    The number of Identity boxes could be increased or decreased, but the weighting of votes might need tinkering with. I think an ideal ratio of track votes to player votes should be 5:3 or 5:4. For a 10 box game, player votes might be worth double, for a 3 box game, box votes could be worth double.

    Regarding whether the character can still be played after their identity question has been resolved, I think it should work a bit like Doom in Conspiracy of Shadows, and mean the end of the character's playability, for two reasons:

    1) In Trollbabe the protagonists exist in the space between trolls and humans, existing in neither camp but intrinsically linked to both. As written, Bladerunners in Tears in Rain don't really exist in this space, as, while the question is referred to in the text, the Bladerunners' tasks puts them firmly in the human camp, charged with exterminating the replicants. Bringing in a mechanical crutch for the Identity question puts that uncertainty further into the forefront of the game - it can be ignored, or never conclusively resolved (4 boxes ticked out of 5), but it's there as an open question throughout. Sort of like the 'Hatred of Home' flashback in 3:16. Once this question is resolved, the character cannot exist in the no-man's land, they are identified with one camp or the other.

    2) As Danny said, P K Dick's writing regularly revolves around questions of what it means to be human. In 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep'the question of whether Deckard is human or replicant is conclusively answered by the end of the book, despite some red herrings along the way. If the game is to echo the same themes I don't think a character has enough legs to continue for long after the question has been confronted and resolved.

    Danny, I'm not sure if you're arguing for retiring characters after the question's been resolved, in which case I agree, or arguing against a mechanic to address the question in the first place. If the latter, I'd argue that Dick's 'Do Androids Dream...' does resolve the question and Deckard is able to kill the final replicants precisely because he's human, something the inhuman replicants cannot account for: they think that if he sleeps with the body double of one of his targets, he won't be able to go through with retiring her. Deckard shows that being human sometimes means doing something that denies everything that particular human values. He's a killer, but he's certainly not cold-blooded about it.

    It's a different case in the movie. Deckard's identity is a sideshow to the main theme of what makes a human human, and while there are clues in there, it really doesn't matter if he's human or not. I'm aiming for something that can be used to echo 'Do Androids Dream...' or 'Bladerunner', or a mixture of the two - the question can be resolved, hinted at or ignored completely, depending on the preference of the individual player.
  • edited June 2009
    This is a wonderful thread, I just wish I knew how to contribute...

    As Adrian says, I hinted at the Blade Runners' flux between human and replicant in the text, and it was actually my (sorry) excuse for taking Trollbabe's premise to this setting. I never considered what Adrian is suggesting, but it's very intriguing indeed.

    It's been too long ago since I read the story, but the movie version seems to be at least hinting that to catch a replicant you have to be a replicant. But you cannot know that you are. And the question the movie also asks is: are you a replicant if you know/think that you are human? And that's quite different from Dick's version if Adrian is correct, which I assume he is.

    Damn, that's interesting.

    Per
  • Per, first off, thanks for Tears in Rain - it never would have occurred to me before, but Trollbabe's system seems a really good fit.

    It's been a while since I most recently read the book (about a year ago), so I fully expect others will disagree with me. I find it difficult to get to the heart of exactly what 'Do Androids Dream' is saying because it's got several possible interpretations - which is part of why it's remained so popular I think.

    To me, it's clear Deckard is a human, because of his eventual empathy with Mercer, but on reflection I know others think the issue is left open.

    The movie has a similar depth, although in different ways - the whole 'takes a replicant to catch a replicant' aspect never occurred to me.

    One thing I forgot to highlight is I think that the more boxes filled in as replicant or human, the more this should generate waves and story hooks in the game - with several boxes marked replicant, perhaps the replicants try to make contact with the Bladerunner sensing an ally, or other Bladerunners are asked to keep an eye on the one behaving suspiciously. The Identity track shouldn't only matter when it's all filled in, it should serve as a fluctuating gauge of how the world (and potentially the other player characters) is viewing the character.
  • Rather than place a choice of equal merit in the player's hands (making the identity distill to a player choice that might just as well be stated up front), maybe make the choice weighted. Consider, perhaps, that when all five identity boxes are filled, then the character must be a replicant. This way a character remains human by insisting on being mechanically weaker -- but maybe not by much. Each scene in which she fails is a scene in which she might turn out to be a replicant. Might have to be in order to succeed.

    Failure better be interesting though, so that it's a fun (though complicating) option for stalwart humans.
  • Posted By: Adrian P
    One thing I forgot to highlight is I think that the more boxes filled in as replicant or human, the more this should generate waves and story hooks in the game - with several boxes marked replicant, perhaps the replicants try to make contact with the Bladerunner sensing an ally, or other Bladerunners are asked to keep an eye on the one behaving suspiciously. The Identity track shouldn't only matter when it's all filled in, it should serve as a fluctuating gauge of how the world (and potentially the other player characters) is viewing the character.
    Yes! Each box replicanted should indicate more interest from replicants or more (negative) interest from blade runners. The track might even be marked with milestones, triggering a progressive scene or flashback.
  • Posted By: HalfjackRather than place a choice of equal merit in the player's hands (making the identity distill to a player choice that might just as well be stated up front), maybe make the choice weighted. Consider, perhaps, that when all five identity boxes are filled, then the character must be a replicant. This way a character remains human by insisting on being mechanically weaker -- but maybe not by much. Each scene in which she fails is a scene in which she might turn out to be a replicant. Might have to be in order to succeed.

    Failure better be interesting though, so that it's a fun (though complicating) option for stalwart humans.
    That's a cool idea... it puts quite a different spin on things too. On the plus side, there's the mechanical temptation to edge towards being a replicant to ensure the success of conflicts you care about, but on the (for me) slightly negative side, it removes the clear character arc for human characters - while they can always move toward certain replicant-hood, they can't ever establish their authentic humanity.

    However, that might not matter that much anyway - it could be a rule that the player of any character not having used all their 'replicant' boxes up could choose to die or retire as a human at the player's decision, should they wish to establish this as fact, or alternatively, that it's just a feature of the game that absolute proof of humanity cannot be established.

    One area this may fall down is the power of the reroll to tempt a player into crossing off a replicant box: since rerolls are available in other ways, there may not be an awfully strong temptation to resort to the replicant re-rolls.

    Hmm... I think I'm at the point where I'll have to try it in practice to see what works well or not. Thanks everyone for the feedback, I think I've plenty of mental fodder to chew on now!
  • This is neat.

    As mentioned, the question has a different meaning in Blade Runner than it does in DADOES. In the novel, they are, indeed, prone to a lack of empathy. They are less than human, and the question is if humans are less than human, too.

    In Blade Runner, the question is if the humans degrade themselves by treating replicants by other than the humans they obviously are. The only people who are guaranteed humanity at the beginning of the story are replicants. Tyrell claims his humanity in its less pleasant aspects, but the rest of the humans are without agency, doing what they can do to fulfill their orders. The replicants, on the other hand, are there to find out the meaning of their lives, to live as themselves for once, defined by their choices rather than their assignments.

    So, my cautious question is:

    Does it matter if a Blade Runner is a replicant or not? Does it change the nature of the question? Does it change what you do as a player, if you find out that your character is either a murderous bigot or a murderous traitor? Does it change what it is to be human in that context?

  • I don't think it's a good idea.

    What is human?

    I think it's better to leave that question in the fruitful void.
  • Posted By: Joshua A.C. NewmanDoes it matter if a Blade Runner is a replicant or not? Does it change the nature of the question? Does it change what you do as a player, if you find out that your character is either a murderous bigot or a murderous traitor? Does it change what it is to be human in that context?
    Yup, that a good question. Personally I'd prefer to keep that question unanswered as well, and let it resonate (as in the movie) with what happens to other characters, like Rachel for example, who goes through that transition.

    Joshua touches on another hugely important thing in the movie, that the replicants, despite being almost super-human, are the most human, empathic characters. They love, hate, feel remorse, cry, they ask existential questions. It's a world turned upside down. The 'real' people have become robots, and the replicants (created by man in the image of man) have become humane. The puppets are revolting against their masters.

    The Blade Runner, for whatever reason, is an outsider, he doesn't belong in either camp, but has got a foot in each. Like the classic noir detective, he's an onlooker, a watcher and commentator.

    That's me, being Sunday morning philosophical :)

    Per
  • Posted By: Joshua A.C. NewmanThis is neat.As mentioned, the question has a different meaning in Blade Runner than it does in DADOES. In the novel, they are, indeed, prone to a lack of empathy. Theyareless than human, and the question is if humans are less than human, too.In Blade Runner, the question is if the humans degrade themselves by treating replicants by other than the humans they obviously are. The only people who are guaranteed humanity at the beginning of the story are replicants. Tyrell claims his humanity in its less pleasant aspects, but the rest of the humans are without agency, doing what they can do to fulfill their orders. The replicants, on the other hand, are there to find out the meaning of their lives, to live as themselves for once, defined by their choices rather than their assignments.So, my cautious question is:Does it matter if a Blade Runner is a replicant or not? Does it change the nature of the question? Does it change what you do as a player, if you find out that your character is either a murderous bigot or a murderous traitor? Does it change what it is to be human in that context?
    Joshua, I think I'd throw that question back on the players at the game's end - did it matter that there character turned out a replicant, a human, or never conclusively one or the other? I think 'Do Androids Dream...' and Bladerunner can be viewed kind of like two different games of Tears in Rain:

    In the novel version, the theme that emerges is fed into by the fact that the replicants are less-than human without true empathy (for the most part anyway), but also that the humans have become less human due to technology (mood devices. etc.) - so it does very much matter that Deckard is a human, otherwise you just get a murderous android murdering other murderous androids.

    Bladerunner, on the other hand, establishes that the human/replicant division is no longer valid with the Nexus 6 models, and the Bladerunners are persecuting the replicants. Sympathy sits firmly with the replicants by the film's end.

    In both cases, if they were a game, these things shouldn't (IMO) have been evident at the game's outset, but develop into a full theme by the end of the game - perhaps in your game it turns out that to catch a replicant you need to be a replicant (e.g. Deckard's implied replicant status in the film), perhaps in another's the theme deals with how fundamentally replicants will never understand humans (e.g. Rachel sleeping with Deckard in 'Do Androids...' to try and use his human empathy against him. It doesn't work, and Rachel is confused by that), otherwise you're in danger of playing a game that just rehashes the conclusions of the film (or book).

    So all the Identity track is intended to do is to push that question of replicant vs. human mechanically into the game, and keep it at the forefront - whether the answers need be definitive, central to the game's theme or peripheral, or anything else, should only come out at the game's end, otherwise you're just replaying the book, or the movie.

    I really think it's something I'll have to try and see how it works out in play. Like others here, I have concerns that it could be too unsubtle a tool, but on the other hand it could be a really cool way of reinforcing the question in players' minds.
  • edited June 2009
    Edited: Removed my softer compromise. I'm sticking to my guns. ; )
  • Posted By: Adrian P
    That's a cool idea... it puts quite a different spin on things too. On the plus side, there's the mechanical temptation to edge towards being a replicant to ensure the success of conflicts you care about, but on the (for me) slightly negative side, it removes the clear character arc for human characters - while they can always move toward certain replicant-hood, they can't ever establish their authentic humanity.
    I admit that's what I like about it (and seems consistent at least with the movie): you can prove someone's a replicant but you can never prove someone's human. There is no human character arc in that sense, but rather replicants and maybe replicants. But I thrive on that kind of ambiguity. :D
  • Alright, for your consideration, here's my (probably) final option to put forward, which could be a little wussy, but might also better deal with leaving the ambiguity in the game.

    Each character has an Identity track, as above, which does two things:
    - gauges how the world reacts to the character, in that other Bladerunners might get suspicious, replicants view the character as a fellow synthetic, etc.
    - defines an arc for each character, rather like Conspiracy of Shadow's Doom. When (or if) the final box is filled out, the character's story is about to resolve in some final way, with a subsequent epilogue.

    The change is that when the final box is filled in, the player chooses whether or not to uncover the truth about their character:

    - if they choose not to, the character's identity is left ambiguous as they flee off into the sunset/lie in a pool of their own blood, dying/quit their job for good, etc., like Deckard's in the movie.

    - if they choose to reveal the truth, as many votes as there are Identity boxes are divided amonget the players: uneven splits favour the controlling player, then the other players, and finally the GM - e.g. 5 votes amongst 3 players: 2 for each player and 1 for the GM; 4 votes amongst 3 players, 2 for the controlling player, 1 each for the other player and GM.

    - The votes of players and those from the filled in boxes are tallied, with the controlling player casting the deciding vote in the case of a tie.

    - During the resolution scene and/or epilogue, the player must definitively reveal the true identity of their retiring character.
  • This seems like it might be OK for your spec, but I'm uncertain about giving the player final say over their own character in that regard. I'd be more comfortable with ties being Replicants. That means, as play progresses, you'll have to wonder just how many humans there are left, or if everyone's died or gone on to the Offworld Colonies.

    ... in fact, I really like that idea, that Mercerism has developed to the point of making actual people to keep people company — all of whom are, in fact, Replicants. No one is left. Everyone is left with a charade of fictional identities — which are their real identities. Of course, it depends on the way your particular game is going. I just think that would be a really cool story.

  • Posted By: Joshua A.C. NewmanThis seems like it might be OK for your spec, but I'm uncertain about giving the player final say over their own character in that regard. I'd be more comfortable with ties being Replicants. That means, as play progresses, you'll have to wonder just how many humans there are left, or if everyone's died or gone on to the Offworld Colonies.... in fact, I really like that idea, that Mercerism has developed to the point of making actual people to keep people company — all of whom are, in fact, Replicants. No one is left. Everyone is left with a charade of fictional identities — which are their real identities. Of course, it depends on the way your particular game is going. I just think that would be a really cool story.
    Ties = replicants is fine by me, and your 'everyone is a replicant' scenario would make a cool end.

    As an aside I've just started re-reading the book - it makes a nice counterpoint to the film, with the androids presented as fairly unlikeable. They seem like the really intelligent guy at a party who can't help but act like a bit of a dick to everyone else (or as P K Dick puts it, they seem somehow 'off').
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