Author Topic: [Haunted] Emotional Burn Out  (Read 1454 times)

Jesse Burneko

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[Haunted] Emotional Burn Out
« on: May 04, 2015, 07:20:33 PM »
I had a chance to run another play test of Haunted.  This time I had much stronger players.  One thing I did differently is I created little handouts for the three types of players, Murderer, Ghost, Supporting Character.  These handouts had both rule summaries as well as "focus" questions to help drive play.  Ron's been talking about who should play the Lesser Villain in Doctor Xaos.  I came to a similar conclusion in that the most experienced player should NOT play the ghost or the murderer.  You need someone who understands that if the supporting characters don't put situational pressure on the murderer nothing happens.  In this game I deliberately refused to play either the murderer or the ghost so that if the other supporting characters weren't heating things up enough situationally I could grab a character and start swinging.

Something very interesting happened in this game.  It kind-of happened in the previous playtest too but not to this extent.  The murderer player very rapidly hit emotional burn out.  They felt so under the thumb of the ghost and the situation they basically turned to me and I said, "I really don't see this guy doing anything other than committing suicide."  There was a clear need to stop and decompress before any further discussion could take place.

On the one hand everyone enjoyed the game.  On the other hand the situation burned down really fast.  If this consistently happens there are some longer term mechanical effects that will never happen.  In other words the emotions of play seem to be outpacing the mechanics.

One issue is that the ghost player is unrelenting and seems to frequently have no regard for the people they should have cared about in life.  I thought the way I setup the ghost handout would address this.  It didn't.  I'm not sure how to address this, or even IF it needs to be address.  A player will either do it or not.  I can't make them.

However, I do have a mechanical idea:  I'm thinking about giving the a direct murderer-ghost conflict more fictional consequences.  If the murderer beats the ghost then the ghost must effectively go away for a number of scenes equal to the margin of victory on the roll.  During these scene the ghost player functions as a supporting character.

Similarly, if the murderer fails, the murderer may not try a direct confrontation again for scenes equal to the ghost's margin of victory.  T

hat's all very meta but it might help the situation.  It also allows me to (potentially) remove a lot of the exceptions in the ghost-murderer conflict resolution designed to stop the murderer from just attacking the ghost over and over, scene-to-scene.

So the murderer-ghost confrontation now has an explicit purpose: Silencing the Ghost.

Jesse

Jesse Burneko

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Re: [Haunted] Emotional Burn Out
« Reply #1 on: May 04, 2015, 07:37:03 PM »
Oops.  Accidentally posted this in "Ron's Stuff".  I'm assuming Ron can move it.

Jesse

Jesse Burneko

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Re: [Haunted] Emotional Burn Out
« Reply #2 on: May 05, 2015, 03:38:19 PM »
More thoughts on this:

In Haunted, the key mechanic is called Influence.  It's the base number of d6s you roll in a conflict.  The ghosts starts out with high Influence and murderer starts our with low Influence.

There's also a value called Reserves.  And the total resolution system works like Sorcerer meets The Pool.  You can gamble extra dice from your Reserve for a short term boost at success.   The murderer starts with some Reserves and up until now the ghost never has Reserves at all.

Right now there's a struggle mechanic where the Murderer can "take on" the ghost head-to-head.  Success means a point of Influence transfers from Ghost to Murderer.  But I think this makes the game too "fighty" between Ghost and Murderer.  I think I had Sorcerer's Banish mechanic too entrenched in my head when I thought this up.

I think the waning of the Ghost's Influence and the waxing of the Murderer's Influence need to be tied to how the Murderer addresses the situation in the living world.  Honestly, the game needs a version of Sorcerer's Humanity mechanic to prevent it from plummeting into darkness every-time.

What I'm thinking is adding the following:

1) The Ghost does get Reserves but only gets points when the Murderer does something they ask.  This is independent of whether a conflict arises from that action or not.

This allows for softer Ghost actions like, "Can you at least call my son and see if he's okay?"

2) The murderer can shut the ghost up for a short period of time.  I'm thinking of making it so that when the murderer DOES confront the ghost and succeed.  The ghost player stops playing the ghost and participates as one of the supporting cast players for a few scenes as determined by some outcome variable of this roll.

3) This one is the biggie: I'm thinking that Influence changes hands from Ghost to Murderer when the Murderer achieves some kind of "soft" resolution with one of the NPCs.  I'm thinking of calling it Making Peace.

The problem is I'm not sure who judges this moment.  Is it the Ghost?  Is it the supporting players collectively?  When there's no GM who makes the call?

It needs to be bigger than just a kind gesture.  The issues surrounding the NPC really and truly have to be resolved or at least substantially transformed.  It's a kind of closure that exists between just progress and the total final climax of the story.

For this to work someone at the table needs to be empowered to make that call.

glandis

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Re: [Haunted] Emotional Burn Out
« Reply #3 on: May 12, 2015, 01:14:12 PM »
Jesse,

Let's see - this thought is driven by your thread title ("Emotional Burn Out"), the statement that supporting characters need to put pressure on the murderer, and the "I guess he'd just kill himself" reaction of your murderer player. I'll assume you're interested in tragedy as one possible - maybe even likely - outcome of the game, but not the only one. That is, I'm assuming that this isn't a game plainly and only about flavors of tragedy. I mean, if it is, that's still PLENTY of creative room, but I think the constraints on that would be a bit different, and what I'm about to say may not apply.

So with that out of the way ... while it is entirely sensible that the supporting characters need to put pressure on the murderer, the murderer also needs SOMEONE to reach out to for solace and support - with some chance to authentically get it (did I just say a murderer needs solace and support? Good Ghu, I think I did). Given the situation, "authentically" is going to be hard to come by, but it shouldn't be impossible (again, unless pure tragedy). While that solace and support MIGHT (in some sense, in some rare circumstances) eventually come from the ghost, I imagine it'd take a lot of fiction and fictional events before that could happen. If the supporting characters are also entirely, um, aggression-oriented from the get-go, the murderer as a fictional character ends up with no where to turn, and the murderer-player might easily give up on their ability to do anything interesting with the situation.

It's actually neat that the game manages to drive the murderer-player into that state, but what I'm sensing in this post is that the murderer (and the murderer-player) ended up being TOO isolated. I'm not sure if the design needs something mechanical to help avoid that (incentivize supporting-player(s) to move ghost-circle characters into shared-zone?), if something in the language could clear it up (make players label a/some supporting characters* "friend of [name_of_murderer]"?), or if it's entirely an unavoidable possible outcome (maybe enhanced in a three-person game where the supporting-player really applies the pressure?)

But that's where I see to look - hope it's helpful.

*I note that the current draft includes no examples, and the language on creating the social circles says NOTHING about categories or types of people/relationships to consider including, beyond "involvement in crisis/murder".
-Gordon

Jesse Burneko

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Re: [Haunted] Emotional Burn Out
« Reply #4 on: May 12, 2015, 03:05:09 PM »
Gordon,

That's actually super helpful.  The current doc is really bare bones.  It needs a lot of work and one of the things I'm planning on adding is some optional tools to help the setup phase of the game.  Some people have had no problem instantly knowing who they want on the sheet but others get struck with blank page syndrome.  So I'm planning on including things like lists of relationship ideas and probably a few "quick start" setups.

One thing I'm doing right now is giving each "type" of player: Murderer, Ghost, Supporting Character; a sheet with some focus points on it.  One thing I might add to the Supporting Character sheet are focus questions about empathy?  Why do you care about the murderer?  What could this person do to help?

Jesse

glandis

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Re: [Haunted] Emotional Burn Out
« Reply #5 on: May 12, 2015, 05:12:54 PM »
Jesse,

I'd imagine you want to find a balance between getting Supporting players to consider having a character empathize and leading them by the nose into doing so - but it sounds to me like you're on the right track! I personally would stick more with "why do you care" over "how could you help", but if anyone rigorously understands how this balancing works, that "anyone" is not me ...
-Gordon

Jesse Burneko

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Re: [Haunted] Emotional Burn Out
« Reply #6 on: May 12, 2015, 07:26:15 PM »
That balancing act is exactly the problem with the game.  It's most obvious with the ghost player.  The whole reason the Ghost has a circle is because the ghost is supposed to want closure with the people in that circle but only has the murderer as a tool to do it.  But every time the ghost player has instantly gone into vicious vengeance mode.  And that includes the time *I* was the ghost.

So yeah there's this weird balancing act that EVERYONE has to do.

Jesse

glandis

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Re: [Haunted] Emotional Burn Out
« Reply #7 on: May 13, 2015, 01:44:54 PM »
Jesse -

I assume you know a bit about Vincent's "Murderous Ghosts"? I'm not sure I entirely buy into (philosophically, and to a lesser extent procedurally) the way he uses "win conditions", but there is definitely some sophisticated stuff around the balance going on there. (What a [totally NOT] surprise from Vincent, huh?) I mean, I'm pretty sure that his exact technique would not work for your desired range of play, but - maybe still worth (re?)familiarizing yourself with that game.
-Gordon

Jesse Burneko

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Re: [Haunted] Emotional Burn Out
« Reply #8 on: May 13, 2015, 02:16:43 PM »
Vincent's thoughts on win/loss conditions and Murderous Ghosts is a huge influence on how I've set up those sheets I mentioned.  I feel like there's a thing Vincent is chasing with his win/loss condition thing but I think he's taken it a field too far.  Win/Loss conditions suggest that the measure of "how well" you played depends solely on where you end up.  The problem is that eliminates design scopes where a person is expected to strive toward something that either is never ending or which is technically achievable.

The Final Girl has a passage in it about playing in the "spirit of winning", which is to say that players should empathize with their characters and try to keep the alive.  However, to say that you "lose" if your character dies is non-nonsensical.  The point of the rule is that if the players aren't genuinely playing their characters then who emerges as the final survivor is meaningless.  People have to be playing authentically.  They have to be trying.  If they do that then they are playing well.  If they don't then they are playing poorly.  Whether their character ACTUALLY survives is not the measure of that.

Many of my designs fall into that category.  Those tasks or jobs which players have no hope of actually achieving but must strive for none the less are really hard to describe.

Jesse

Ron Edwards

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Re: [Haunted] Emotional Burn Out
« Reply #9 on: May 13, 2015, 04:10:27 PM »
Jesse, I'm sorry not to be giving this the time it deserves. I want to get to it and will when I can.

glandis

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Re: [Haunted] Emotional Burn Out
« Reply #10 on: May 14, 2015, 01:24:23 PM »
Jesse,

It sounds to me like - as long as you keep focus on "what works for THIS game" - you're struggling with just the right stuff. I don't think I can add much, I'd just say let some playtest/design cycles do their thing. I look forward to hearing more, and what Ron/others have to add.

Gordon
-Gordon

Callan S.

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Re: [Haunted] Emotional Burn Out
« Reply #11 on: May 16, 2015, 07:16:03 AM »
Does it seem like the murderer suiciding would consistantly happen and you don't want a consistant ending?

The character suiciding, while a sad thing, seems a valid ending to me. Why decompress?

Jesse Burneko

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Re: [Haunted] Emotional Burn Out
« Reply #12 on: May 18, 2015, 02:16:50 PM »
Callan,

What's consistently happening is that the murderer player is consistently feeling backed into a corner with no way out.  I'm talking about the actual player the character.  The murderer committing suicide in my last playtest was the player literally quitting the game.  We talked afterwords.  He was cool.  He was actually kind of surprised and a little excited.  He said, "I've never had to tap out of a game before."

The playtest before that the murderer player also felt so overwhelemed that I stopped the game.

The time before that I the murderer was played by a friend of mine who eats that kind of pressure in games for breakfast so I didn't notice it was happening.  But even then it ended in a desperate act that ended up getting the murderer killed.

That's for 3 for 3.  Sure, narratively these games were (mostly) fine.  It's a legit ending.  However, I want the game to have RANGE.  I want this to be only one kind of way the game can play.  Without the option for players to apply hand breaks I don't think that will happen.

Jesse

Callan S.

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Re: [Haunted] Emotional Burn Out
« Reply #13 on: May 20, 2015, 08:15:03 PM »
What sort of spectrum of possible endings are you envisioning, Jesse?

Jesse Burneko

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Re: [Haunted] Emotional Burn Out
« Reply #14 on: May 20, 2015, 08:42:34 PM »
Callan,

There's two key variables.

1) How does the situation overall resolve for the murderer?  Favorably or Poorly?  The murderer is embroiled in a situation bigger than just the murder.  I want it to be possible that the murderer playing all his cards right can at least resolve the situation potentially in his favor.

2) Is the murderer still haunted?  Mechanically it's possible for the murderer to banish the ghost out of existence.  But it's a very, very slow burn mechanic that requires situational sacrifices and mechanical gambles.  If the game doesn't last long enough this will never be on the table.  I don't banishing the ghost is possible outside of multi-session play and right now the  game is barely lasting a few hours.

So I want everything from pure righteousness, "Fuck you, you bastard.  You deserved to die and I'm going to get out from under this shit." to melancholy peace, "Well, everything turned out okay but I'm going to be carrying you around with me forever." to the fiasco level disaster fests the last three games have been.

Jesse