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Title: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Filip Luszczyk on April 13, 2006, 07:42:27 AM
A thought occurred to me a few days ago, when I've been working out some new rules for my project. Basically, in my game GM has the following functions:

-He controls everything that the players don't (he plays the world).
-He possesses a little bit more narrative veto power than the other players (there's not much GM's fiat).
-During the conflicts he constructs challenges for players (using special pool of points), and plays the challenge against them. If he wins a conflict, his available resource pool decreases (there is some minimum) and if he loses he gets more points for the following conflicts.

I've discovered a little problem connected with the last point. I'm putting GM in a direct adversarial role against the players. I'd been expecting GM to compete with the players during conflicts, but then I realised that he lacks any incentive to try his best. Actually, if he loses, his resource pool increases (which would be irrelevant if he doesn't want to win conflicts anyway).

Now I realised, that during every playtest of the game I've been automatically assuming it is GM's responsibility to provide tough challenge in conflicts, and so it's normal for him to do his best to win with the players. Moreover, I've been somehow assuming that GM abandons this adversarial stance when out of conflicts, not trying actively to crush the PC's completely (conflicts are the core of the game and they consume most of the sessions time, but there is usually some space between them in which GM and players work out context for the next challenge).

The thing is, I want the GM to compete with the players during conflicts, and to cooperate with them other times. I don't want him to pull his punches during conflicts, as well as I don't want him to aggressively try to defeat the players. I want him to provide a fair and engaging opposition, and - what's important - to have the same kind of tactical fun as the other players have.

It occurred to me that there might be some possible problems with GM:

-Aggressive GM's who try to crush the players, stretching their adversarial role out of conflicts, are probably going to run the game dysfunctionally.
-Passive GM's, who don't try to compete with players during conflicts won't provide a fair challenge.
-GM's for whom success in competition is not a reward in itself will probably need some additional incentive.

Should I just state, that the game works under some specific assumptions, and leave it be? Or should I provide some incentive for GM? If so, what could be such an incentive? A reward system of some sorts?

Having that said, I have a strange feeling that my confusion arises from some basic misconception I'm not aware of.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: timfire on April 13, 2006, 08:22:19 AM
Hi Filip,

I think for real competition you need 2 thing: First, you need to limit the GM's power. The reason that a GM in a traditional game needs to hold themselves back is because, technically(*), they can just say anything they want, including such outrages statements as, "a boulder falls on you, you're dead." But if you were to limit the GM's power mechanically, so that they are on an equal footing with the players, they can go as hard as they want and still keep things fair. You can look at Prime Time Adventures as a game that struggled with this. In that game, the GM has a fixed number of dice for the entire session, based on the PC's power (it's more complicated than that, but that's the basics).

Second, you should make it so that losing a conflict won't knock the players out of the game. If you look at DnD, the reason the GM can't go all out is because the only penalty for conflicts is damage (the only mechanically significant form of conflict in DnD is combat), and if you take too much of that, the player is knocked out of the game. I think Dogs in the Vineyard has a good example of a tacticly interesting conflict system where there are consequences for your decisions, but losing a conflict doesn't change your future effectiveness. That sort of thing may not totally be what you want, but it's worth looking at.

I think you should drop reward for losing conflicts for the GM. Or another possibility, you might enact different rewards for both winning and losing. If you provide more specifics about your game, we might be able to suggest some more mechanical solutions.
_________________________
(*) I say technically because in the real world the GM is constrained by social pressures.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: MatrixGamer on April 13, 2006, 09:28:05 AM
Asking GMs to mentally shift geers is interesting. I think you are going to have to be very explicit about this in your rules and educate people about how to do this.

It reminds me about Solo Wargaming articles I read years ago. The Lone Warrior (the journal of the Solo Wargamers Association) describes lots of ways to run games. Since these were wargames the single player naturally had to play both sides. This involved a mental shift each turn. Unfortunately players often pick favorits which throw the game.

I combated this tendance in my own games by making the best Engle Matrix Game argument I could for that side on that turn. I then let the dice gods settle the matter. I detached from the process and viewed it as an interesting exercise in dice rolling and thinking on my feet, since each successful argument changed the picture of the world. I generally ruled all arguments as average (which mean they happen of a 50/50 roll) unless it was very obvious that the tide had turned against them.

When you ask the GM to be competitive - the combat system (or conflict resolution system) limits what they can do. When you ask them to step back they need a new goal to work towards. Maybe it is enjoying watching things unfold as I did in my solo games. Maybe it is making certain that the players win in the end. Maybe is it playing the good host and finding out what the players want to do next. Maybe it is making something up that flows from the last conflict that propells the players into the next conflict. Etc.

You can tell the player/GM what you want them to do. They can of course decide to ignore it but you've done your duty as a designer presenting them with a tool that works for the task you set out.

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games

Hum... Enjoying watching events unfold as the dice gods dictate. Sure looks simulationist to me - it is just enjoying the world and its happenings.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Filip Luszczyk on April 13, 2006, 09:50:35 AM
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I think for real competition you need 2 thing: First, you need to limit the GM's power.(...)

Already done. In AlternatiV every player has some amount of narrative control, thanks to the veto rules. GM has only a bit more of that power. When anyone wants to veto something, there is a vote - in a case when GM is involved, any player that abstains from voting is automatically "yes" for GM (and I've been considering dropping that rule entirely and putting GM and players on the same level - its not yet decided).

Anyway, I want conflicts to be the only real field of competition. And it is impossible for GM to "cheat" in a conflict, he is bounded by the mechanics just as other players are.

BTW, I'm not familiar with PTA, but probably my game is somewhat similar - but it's focusing mainly on tactical, competitive gameplay.

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Second, you should make it so that losing a conflict won't knock the players out of the game.

That's right - it is impossible unless the player actually decides he wants to be knocked out of the game. It is also impossible to do anything serious with the elements of the story which players consider important (purchased as Threads, something similar to Relationships, but more broad and abstract).

I have no problems with those things - what I'm aiming at is actually something like much more tactical DitV. The problem that occurred to me is rather that there is actually no apparent reason for the GM to want to win conflicts. Players are awarded for trying their best to win, but right now GM is simply expected to try his best for the sake of providing demanding opposition.

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I think you should drop reward for losing conflicts for the GM. Or another possibility, you might enact different rewards for both winning and losing.

The "reward for losing" is actually there for the sake of removing GM's fiat in choosing challenges. The mechanics automatically balance the difficulty of conflicts according to how well players perform. If they constantly win, things get tougher and tougher, if they start to lose, the difficulty levels itself down.

I could consider making the GM's resource pool for conflicts not variable, and simply base it on the mechanical potential of characters and the number of players. Still, I'm not sure if I want it that way - constantly facing just as difficult challenges would probably become somewhat stale.

Or, I could simply increase the pool after every conflict. But that would become an incentive for the GM to finish conflicts as soon as possible, and amass greater number of points. And after too many conflicts during one session it could be possible that the players wouldn't have chance in the final showdown. Or they would start constantly losing after some time.

In one of the old versions of the system before event conflict players awarded GM resources for creating the challenge - and then, they were rewarded as many xp if they managed to win. But I dropped the idea of xp entirely, basing player awards on something else. Anyway, it was in turn an incentive for the players to make important conflicts as easy as they could, in order to achieve story goals more easily, and to try to earn a lot of xp on conflicts less important to the story.

As for different rewards for winning and losing for the GM, I simply have no idea how could they look. GM is really constrained only during conflicts, and every conflict is mechanically entirely separate event.

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If you provide more specifics about your game, we might be able to suggest some more mechanical solutions.

Here the Power 19 of my game:

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=19179.0

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When you ask the GM to be competitive - the combat system (or conflict resolution system) limits what they can do. When you ask them to step back they need a new goal to work towards. Maybe it is enjoying watching things unfold as I did in my solo games. Maybe it is making certain that the players win in the end. Maybe is it playing the good host and finding out what the players want to do next. Maybe it is making something up that flows from the last conflict that propells the players into the next conflict. Etc.

Maybe this is the thing I lack - conflicts are the core of the game, and there's not much to do outside conflicts besides creating some story context for the next conflict. It's the same for the players - their main job outside conflicts is to look for an opportunity for the next one. Anyway, what I want is probably something similar to fluff scenes from Final Stand, where between combats there was a mandatory segment of role-playing and moving the story forward.

Still, there are practically no mechanics outside conflicts (besides opportunities for regaining the resources spent by players through role-playing, which technically could be achieved during conflicts as well).

Actually, there are two levels of play in AlternatiV - competitive conflicts form one level, and out of conflict cooperation is another one. The second level is there to provide context for conflicts that are more engaging (I think I'm aiming at something similar to jrpg's structure - lot of tactical fights, between which there is some story development). I have a feeling, that something doesn't fit there - maybe it's connected with that "shifting of geers" thing.

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Hum... Enjoying watching events unfold as the dice gods dictate. Sure looks simulationist to me - it is just enjoying the world and its happenings.

Hmm... recently I discovered, that when I GM traditional mainstream games I have a strong tendency for simulationism - while normally I'm more of a gamist.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Callan S. on April 13, 2006, 01:29:12 PM
Hi Philip, welcome to the forge!

Hope this post is useful - it's a short and direct one rather than long, since it may not be applicable to your game.
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Now I realised, that during every playtest of the game I've been automatically assuming it is GM's responsibility to provide tough challenge in conflicts
Who decides whether the challenge is tough or not? The players would. So the GM is tasked with something he has no descision power about, as he can not decide what 'tough' is. Only the players can. It's like he's been tasked with providing a player their favorite colour, without having been told by the player what their favorite colour is.

Any situation which involves person A deciding what person B will enjoy (when really only person B knows what they like), will be fraught with issues.

One option is to rearrange who gets to decides (what tough is).


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Filip Luszczyk on April 13, 2006, 02:15:30 PM
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Who decides whether the challenge is tough or not? The players would.

Well, not exactly in this system. Difficulty of conflicts is always mathematically measurable, since there is only one way to win a conflict, and it is impossible to achieve outside the boundaries of the abstract rules. One thing that comprises difficulty and can't be measured objectively is GM's will to win. If GM doesn't try his best, conflict is automatically less difficult for the players to win. That's the reason I'm wandering whether I should provide some strong incentive for GM (and what kind of incentive for that matter) - it's just not everyone would automatically take the same assumption as I've taken in playtests. And right now without GM taking this assumption the game doesn't function as it was intended to.

BTW, for the sake of clarity - you might have understood my use of the word 'challenge' incorrectly. I didn't precisely mean 'challenge' in GNS sense in this context. In AlternatiV 'a challenge' is simply the opposition in the conflict, mechanically constructed and played by GM. Maybe I should have used different term, still I didn't translated the rules yet and consequently I didn't defined every term from my game in English.

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Any situation which involves person A deciding what person B will enjoy (when really only person B knows what they like), will be fraught with issues.

In this case game aims to produce certain kind of enjoyment - fun is expected to arise mainly from tactical thinking during conflicts. One doesn't have too many ways of enjoying chess - it's either playing to win, or playing for the sake of tactical thinking (which requires the player to aim for winning anyway). Chess is a game designed with certain assumptions about the players. So if someone would prefer enjoying chess by, lets say, creating elaborate stories about the figures life, it is probably not the game he seeks. Sure, one can play chess that way, but that's a drift more 'playing with chess' than 'playing chess'.

So, this statement of yours sounded a bit strange to me - why should person B reach for a game that isn't suited for their taste?


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Thunder_God on April 13, 2006, 04:04:58 PM
Refresh the GM's pool after every Conflict, if he loses give him X dice, say 1. If he wins give him 5X dice, or something to that effect.

Give the GM a pool, but give him a variable limit.
If starting pool=20, initial conflict max is 5, he can bid up to 5 dice. If the characters win a conflict his limit goes up by 1, they lose it goes down by 1, to a minimum of 1.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Filip Luszczyk on April 13, 2006, 05:17:35 PM
Right now GM's pool refreshes after every conflict (just as most of the player's resource pools). Its starting value depends on the number of the players (10 + 5 per player). After every conflict he gets 1 point per player on the winning side (without upper limit), or loses 1 point per player on the defeated side (with a lowest limit of 5 per player). Besides of that the only two ways of increasing the pool was purchasing new Threads by the players (which adds a number of points, depending on the number of starting level Threads the player has at the moment) and bidding Threads in conflicts by them (which adds 5 points per Thread, but only for the duration of that conflict, and gives players chance to increase the level of the Thread or to resolve it - which in turn is the only way of increasing traits and gaining new abilities). I've been playing with the exact numbers, but I was rather sure about the formulas.

I don't want the points from the GM's pool to be bid on conflicts - they represent total mechanical power of the opposition at a given time. If GM spends these points, it is possible he will run out of them, and then a significant number of conflicts would become devoid of any difficulty. And I'm not for random increases of the resources available.

Anyway, there is something in this variable limit idea, maybe I'll use it somehow. Maybe I'll put some restrictions on allocating the points depending on players performance, and increase the pool size after every conflict by some small amount, and a little more if GM wins. Still, I need to think of some way for the players to actually decrease the size of the pool. OK, you've put my mind on the track again it seems ;)


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: MatrixGamer on April 14, 2006, 10:34:08 AM
After a private message I see that you want to use conflict resolution but add more options into the system than is now used in other games.

My understanding of conflict resolution now is that the players or GM set up a situation in which a conflict will happen. They set what is at stake. It could be something like this. "Bob is going to go up and talk to the supermodel. The stakes are how far he gets with her. Will he get a date or have his face crushed into the sidewalk?" Players role play the situation to gain advantage to "win" the conflict. A single die roll is made (or a bunch of dice are rolled at the same time) and they win or lose. Either way the outcome is narrated and play moves on from the consequences of what happened.

There are four steps in the process. 1. The scene is set up and stakes are determined. 2. The players role play to jocky for position. 3. The player rolls. 4. Someone narrates the outcome.

There are no mechanical tactics in this mechanism. The GM could set up a scene of their own design but the player can balk from it if they don't like it so in effect the players set up scenes. Players jocking for position are just trying to impress the GM (or other players). There are different ways to do this but that is really about social skills rather than part of the written rules of play. The single die roll is a one time event - no room at all for tactics. The real action is what get's narrated after the roll. The options people are using there are what set up the next scene. At which point in the process are you looking to add in choice?

I'm interested to see how this basic mechanism can be changed. It is a very simple tool right now - a rock, instead of a screw driver.

I use secondary choices in Engle Matrix Games. The players make arguments about what happens next and the referee/GM decides how likely they are to happen. If they happen though, the referee has a variety of tools to use to increase or decrease tension in the game.

They can speed up play by asking all the players to argue about one topic - a big dice rolling contest ensues and one argument wins. Play can move through major points quickly. It is a good tool for wraping up the game.

They can slow play down by allowing the other players to make counter-arguments to the argument just put forward. This is resolved in a dice rolling contest just like above. Play can also be slowed by calling for a second round of arguments. The referee can view an argument as starting a conflict. A second argument determins the outcome (similar to conflict resolution described above). Arguments can also slap negative statuses on characters. The referee can give them a second argument to deal with the trouble before it really hurts them.

These tools are like a throddle on a train engine. They can add intensity of drain it off. What they don't do though is put the referee in competition with the other players. The referee never controls what happens in arguments, they only decide if arguments should have a chance in hell of happening.

Are these kinds of tools like what you're thinking of? If not (and I suspect they arn't) can you telll us more about what options you want to add in?

The risk I see is that options could water down conflict resolution and turn it back into task resolution. The EMG tools don't do that since they really stand outside of the events of the arguments and instead affect the players real time playing rather than anything happening in the game.

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Filip Luszczyk on April 14, 2006, 01:00:08 PM
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There are no mechanical tactics in this mechanism.(...)

The way I'm looking at DitV conflict resolution (which is probably the most mechanically complex conflict resolution I'm familiar with):

There is a number of options available in DitV - you can either block/dodge, counter, take the blow (or simply surrender), you can support other players, you can roll your traits to increase available dice resources, or keep them unrolled till the last moment, as a "wild card" and so on. And there is a bit of resource management. There's nor much of it, and the openness of rolling the dice and leaving them at the table can easily change it to more of a counting contest, but there certainly are some 'tactical' choices. It always occurred to me that DitV is a system with some gamist potential.

I'm probably aiming at something similar, but I specifically focus on actually making the conflicts full of options and decisions, carefull choosing from which could give you an advantage against the opposition. Of course, my game works on different priorities than DitV - things that are most important there are completely secondary in AlternatiV. First of all, it aims to engage the players in intense thinking.

I should probably add, that the game mechanics went through more than 10 versions throughout the last year, starting from task resolution. The general structure of current version is quite satisfactory for me, though I still work out a number of details.

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Are these kinds of tools like what you're thinking of? If not (and I suspect they aren't) can you tell us more about what options you want to add in?

What you write about looks interesting, but I don't think that's the thing I'm thinking of. I'm afraid, that what I propose isn't as original and something similar must have been done in some game out there ;)

My game has some CCG gameplay qualities. It uses cards to provide choices for the players, and dice to resolve abstract units of the conflict. There is a number of basic abstract actions and reactions available, but they are more similar to DitV's raises and sees than to a traditional task resolution. For example if your opposition in the conflict (what I've been referring to as a challenge) is an NPC you fight with, you probably use "attack" action to physically attack him, and if your opposition is e.g. harsh natural environment you need to endure in order to attain your goal (mechanically treated the same way any other opposition would be treated), your "attacks" will be connected with a descriptions of how you try to build a fire, hunt for animal to get its fur, seek for berries and so on. On the other hand, when engaged in a fight you could just as well "attack" by trying to calm the enemy with your words, or anything that would further your goal.

The structure looks like this:

1.Players and GM decide on the stakes (and there are some additional options for players here, e.g. connected with bidding the levels of their Threads in order to increase them).

2.GM uses his pool of points to build 'a challenge' - he allocates it between an abstract kind of "hit points", "energy", and hand size. Players face 'a challenge' that is played by a GM as one character, no matter what kind of opposition it is, and no matter if there are more than one NPC's involved. (As for "hit points", in previous versions I tried variations on Fallout, but finally I decided to keep a mechanical equivalent of hp - these values are totally abstract anyway, and measure a character's will to struggle with opposition rather than health; there is option of surrendering before you run out of "hp", or you can remain in the conflict as long as you wish, but that requires a mechanical sacrifice).

3.Everyone is dealt a hand of cards, and they play chosen cards face down as "action cards". After everyone played his action cards, they are revealed, and conflict proceeds from the best card to the worse. Every card represents a moment when cameras are focused on the character, or on the opposition - one can make some concrete step towards winning the conflict and attaining stakes, by taking an abstract "action" (an rough equivalent of a raise in DitV). There is a number of basic actions, allowing for dealing "damage" to the opposition, discarding its cards, recovering from "damage" and the like. Color and value of an "action card" matter. "Actions" are resolved by rolling a small pool of dice, which in turn can be modified, rerolled and so forth by different effects available for players and GM. (Still, since they represent abstract "steps" towards the goal of the conflict, just as DitV raises, I consider it to be conflict resolution rather than task resolution)

4.The cards that remain on hand after playing "action cards" can be used for defence (again, color and value matter), and they can be played for "special effects" that modify actions and reactions or allow for things like e.g changing the stakes in the middle of a turn. Every card is connected with at least one special effect - cards from 2 to 10 can only be added to the roll, while other cards can be used for things like "stealing the dice" from the opponent and so on. There are Edges that allow for using special effects of cards without discarding them, but using them costs resources (working name for the resource is Potential, but that can be changed depending on the genre and setting, e.g. you can just as easily have Mana or Chi or Battery Level or anything).

5.When everyone on the opposing side has surrendered (possibly because of running out of "hit points" and not deciding to sacrifice more of himself), the remaining side wins the conflict and their stakes are applied.

Basically, conflicts are played in a bit similar fashion to traditional combat from a traditional game - still, every situation that someone finds interesting and important enough to spend 15 minutes to resolve in detail can be dealt with using the same abstract conflict mechanics. There are stakes and specific "actions" are totally abstract, narratively interpreted in whatever way the players like. Still, it takes more than a single roll to resolve a conflict, and the very act of resolving them is a focus of the game.

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The risk I see is that options could water down conflict resolution and turn it back into task resolution. The EMG tools don't do that since they really stand outside of the events of the arguments and instead affect the players real time playing rather than anything happening in the game.

Actually, I tried this game with players that were accustomed to task resolution, unable to accept and enjoy typical conflict resolution mechanics - and most of them had easily grasped the concept and enjoyed the gameplay.

I understand your argument of 'watering' conflict resolution - but I wouldn't call it a task resolution. At least, it is highly nontraditional because of the stakes and general abstraction of things. Anyway, as long as the game works fine and is enjoyable to play, I doesn't really matter for me whether it's exactly a task or conflict resolution. Whatever it turns out to be, I think it furthers my design goals.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Thunder_God on April 14, 2006, 01:08:06 PM
Look at This system tidbit (http://www.story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=547&page=1#Item_11) from DevP on Story-Games, it may suit what you want.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Filip Luszczyk on April 14, 2006, 01:39:34 PM
Oh, that's interesting. It's funny that I've been playing with similar idea lately in connection with adding dice mechanics to Amber DRPG, though mine didn't work the way I wanted and I left the idea for a time. Anyway, that's not exactly what I need in this particular project.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Callan S. on April 14, 2006, 04:01:59 PM
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BTW, for the sake of clarity - you might have understood my use of the word 'challenge' incorrectly. I didn't precisely mean 'challenge' in GNS sense in this context. In AlternatiV 'a challenge' is simply the opposition in the conflict, mechanically constructed and played by GM. Maybe I should have used different term, still I didn't translated the rules yet and consequently I didn't defined every term from my game in English.
As I said, my post might not apply to your game.

Are you sure you mean the GM is an adversary and should try his best? Could you mean something like that he should simply be unsympathetic?

Imagine a forrest fire. It could set ablaze a whole town, yet miraculously leave a small hut outside of town untouched (going all around it). Was the fire an aversary and trying it's best? No, it just acted as a fire always does.

Now imagine a GM playing a forrest fire and he decides whether that town burns down (which destroys the players plans). Are you sure you want competative, where most likely the GM declares the fires burn the town down so he wins? Or do you want unsympathetic, where the GM declares the fire burns down the town, simply because that's what the fire would do, with a complete disinterest in what the players goals were? So when he leaves their little hut on the hill, it wasn't GM mercy/sympathy, it was just how fires work.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Filip Luszczyk on April 14, 2006, 05:56:01 PM
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Are you sure you mean the GM is an adversary and should try his best? Could you mean something like that he should simply be unsympathetic?

No, I definitely want it the other way. "Unsympathetic" is the last thing I want the GM to be in this game. Competitive it may be, I want it to be fun competition, not totally aggressive struggle for crushing the other side at every possible field. GM's job is to provide opposition during conflicts - and too cooperate with the players out of conflicts. Out of conflicts they basically work together in order to establish context for the next conflict that would be interesting for everyone involved. Then, they negotiate the stakes, and the group as a whole must be comfortable with them (it is possible to veto any given choice for a stake, so the players could easily vote the GM out if he proposed something totally unacceptable). Then they play out the conflict and this is the moment when GM assumes adversarial role. The main reason for the complexity of conflict mechanics is that they are to provide fun with tactical competition. It is a game within a game. During conflict it is everyones job, players as well as GM's, to try their best in order to win. Then, the winners stakes happen (and there are additional mechanical benefits or hindraces for winning/losing conflict - mainly you can increase the level of any Threads you bid during the stakes stage, and thus bring yourself closer to improving your Traits or purchasing new Edges).

BTW, I considered what you've written in your first post again - and I think that something similar to what you had in mind is present in AlternatiV. I recall reading some topic here at the Forge about player's choosing what is a challenge for them in gamist play - it was yours, wasn't it? I actually find it very insightfull. In AlternatiV players actually can chose in what matter they want to be challenged - that's the whole purpose of this "setting the context for the next conflict" stuff. Also, it is the player who decides to bid his Threads in conflicts - unless someone else finds it implausible at the moment and vetoes, player has the narrative power to decide when and how the things he before pointed out as important for him (the Threads) are being involved in the story and depending on the result of the conflict resolved or not.

It's just this is something that works around the conflicts, not during them. During the conflict it's only win or lose. Conflict is a part of the game in which players actually address the challenge they've chosen for themselves before.

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Imagine a forrest fire. It could set ablaze a whole town, yet miraculously leave a small hut outside of town untouched (going all around it). Was the fire an adversary and trying it's best? No, it just acted as a fire always does.

Now imagine a GM playing a forrest fire and he decides whether that town burns down (which destroys the players plans). Are you sure you want competitive, where most likely the GM declares the fires burn the town down so he wins? Or do you want unsympathetic, where the GM declares the fire burns down the town, simply because that's what the fire would do, with a complete disinterest in what the players goals were? So when he leaves their little hut on the hill, it wasn't GM mercy/sympathy, it was just how fires work.

Right, but that's what is going to be decided during the stage of setting the stakes. E.g. stakes could be set in a following way:

GM: If I win, the forrest fire is going to burn the town to the ground, but you will somehow survive. [he doesn't have to state how they will survive; this can be left to decide after the conflict, depending on haw was it narrated, if only the sole fact of surviving matters - the town is going to burn anyway]
Players: If we win, our characters are going to stop the forrest fire, without any real damage to the town.

The other way would be:

GM: If I win, the fire is going to burn the town so that nothing remains.
Players: If we win, our characters are going to stop the forrest fire, without any real damage to the town. [or they could even decide that they actually want it to burn only some specific locations - e.g. the church dedicated to their rival faith]

In either case it is impossible for the fire to burn the characters with the time - the game specifically disallows death stakes for players and important NPC, unless the controlling player consents to such a stake. What's more, if one of the players had a Thread like "I was brought up in a small hut on the hill in town X" (in which case he is interested in developing a story somehow connected with the hut), then without that players consent it wouldn't be possible for the fire to burn the hut. What's more, players could simply veto the whole "burns the town" thing, because they can. So:

GM: If I win, the fire is going to burn the town so that nothing, including your characters, remains.
Players: Veto! We won't consent for the possibility of our characters dying here and now!
GM: Okay, so if I win you survive, but the whole town completely burns to the ground.
Player 1: Veto! I've purchased a Thread connected with a hut in this town. It must survive.
GM: Okay, so if I win you and the hut survive, but the rest of the town goes with fire.
Player 2: Veto! I'm interesting in facing the priests from that rival church later. It simply can't burn right now!
GM: Do you want to purchase it as a Thread?
Player 2: No, but we can vote it out [lets say other players support him] 3 to 1, so we veto the burning of the church.
GM: Okay, so if I win you survive, and the church and the hut also survive. The fire will burn everything else in the town to the ground. And you know what? It will also spread to the forest, endangering that elven settlement you know about. Are you content with such a possibility of the story development?
Players: Yes, we are. And if we win, our characters are going to stop the fire before any real damage is done.

And then they play the conflict out, and the story takes one of the possible directions with which everyone is comfortable. So not only I don't want the GM to be "unsympathetic" - it's simply impossible in the system.

One more thing I realised is that I stated something wrong in my previous post:

Quote
Every card represents a moment when cameras are focused on the character, or on the opposition - one can make some concrete step towards winning the conflict and attaining stakes, by taking an abstract "action" (an rough equivalent of a raise in DitV).

It's not exactly that the cameras must be specifically focused on characters. They are focused on something happening, and the player decides what exactly it is. Most often, it will be something that character does. But it can be something totally out of characters control. It even doesn't necessarily have to influence the conflict in a way beneficial for the character. The mechanics, not the description decide on the result of a conflict (though interesting and adequate narration can give small mechanicall bonus to the player). So it is possible for a player to describe that his character trips during a fight and still he can use an "attack" action and "damage" his opposition. His description could be vetoed by other players or by GM if the majority of the group finds it implausible - but in this case mechanical decision can't be vetoed and the player can simply adjust his narration so that it pleases everyone else.

What's more, in the example with the fire it would be perfectly legal for the players to chose a stake like:

Players: If we win, our characters will get trapped by the flames, but then an intense rain is going to fall and the whole town will be saved without any significant damage.

And then they could focus the narration of their attacks on the darkening of the sky, gathering of the clouds, animals running from the fire, and doesn't mention anything about the character's actions. They are involved in the case, and that's sufficient. Of course, in a given group such an approach could be vetoed if large enough part of the group finds it implausible.

Oh my. Didn't I just describe Universalis? :)

Anyway, I've found this thread very helpfull - it already helped me to improve some of my assumptions and to clarify some things that were constantly going around in my head but didn't surface ;)


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Paul Strack on April 14, 2006, 07:25:06 PM
I am tackling very similar issues in a game I am working on.

As for different rewards for winning and losing for the GM, I simply have no idea how could they look. GM is really constrained only during conflicts, and every conflict is mechanically entirely separate event.

This is how I addressed the problem in my game. Each conflict is part of something larger (which I call a plotline). Winning an individual conflict gives the winner Victory Points towards completing the plotline, plus narrative rights on the resolution of the conflict. Losing a conflict gives the gives the defeated party Story Points which give bonuses in future conflicts. This is a self-balancing mechanism that keeps the progress of both sides roughly equal. A plotline ends after one side accumulates enough Victory Point, giving the winner narrative rights over a major event in the story.

Since I don't know the details of your game, I don't know how applicable this idea is to what you are trying to accomplish, but adding some mechanical factor that spans multiple conflicts could help resolve your dilemma.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Callan S. on April 14, 2006, 07:57:19 PM
BTW, I considered what you've written in your first post again - and I think that something similar to what you had in mind is present in AlternatiV. I recall reading some topic here at the Forge about player's choosing what is a challenge for them in gamist play - it was yours, wasn't it? I actually find it very insightfull. In AlternatiV players actually can chose in what matter they want to be challenged - that's the whole purpose of this "setting the context for the next conflict" stuff. Also, it is the player who decides to bid his Threads in conflicts - unless someone else finds it implausible at the moment and vetoes, player has the narrative power to decide when and how the things he before pointed out as important for him (the Threads) are being involved in the story and depending on the result of the conflict resolved or not.
If your concern is overly aggresive GM's or overly passive GM's, why not make one of the conditions the player can choose the aggresiveness of the GM? I mean, your trying to get the GM to do his best and yet at the same time not crush outright. Instead of you trying to code that into the rules, why not let the player just decide exactly what level of opposition he's facing? Perhaps the player feels they can only handle a fairly passive GM? Perhaps the player wants a GM to try and crush him outright? Either is fine and up to the players choice.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Filip Luszczyk on April 15, 2006, 05:16:45 AM
Paul:

Threads are apparently something similar to plotlines in your game, but only players posses them. Completing Threads is possible only through winning a number of conflicts connected with a given story element. In current versions players are not directly awarded anything for losing conflicts (though it is possible for them to get a specific roleplaying award regardless of how they do). Up until now if they lost, GM's pool decreased, so it automatically became easier for them to win following conflicts - but now I'm not so sure about this rule. On the other hand, I'm not sure if I want to reward players directly for losing in a conflict. I don't want to give them incentive to actually try to lose in order to gain that award.

But for GM there is no such mechanics as Threads. Actually, I've just realised that there is some inequality. Players can advance their characters through Threads and watch them grow, so there is some sense of continuity for them. GM "plays the world" and every conflict is totally separate event for him - at most, the size of his pool for next conflicts is going to change. Outside of conflicts GM doesn't have any goal other than cooperating with the players to establish context for the next conflict.

There will be GM's sheet in AlternatiV, I think. It should be handy in tracking GM's pool and allocating points between various statistics of a challenge when conflict starts. I'm also thinking about adding another stat for GM, that would limit a number of points he can allocate to some mechanical aspects of "a challenge".

So, I could possibly give GM some Threads concerning The World. He could track an advancement of some important approaching events and the like. I could also define win conditions for the session clearly (e.g. whoever gains the most Thread levels wins a session). Maybe that's a solution. On the other hand, players try to move their Threads forward because completing them is a main way of advancing their characters (and high level Threads provide some secondary mechanical benefits). I'm not sure if there would be any reason for the GM to try to complete his Threads - I can't think of any long term award he could get. His only award would be to introduce some events into the story of the world, but that's totally different agenda to that of the players.

What's more, I'm afraid that giving GM some win objectives outside of conflicts (which have their own separate win conditions right now) would be an incentive for the GM to try to thwart the players outside of conflicts, instead of cooperating with them. I don't think I want such a fierce competition on the scale of a whole session.

Callan:

Quote
If your concern is overly aggressive GM's or overly passive GM's, why not make one of the conditions the player can choose the aggressiveness of the GM? I mean, your trying to get the GM to do his best and yet at the same time not crush outright. Instead of you trying to code that into the rules, why not let the player just decide exactly what level of opposition he's facing? Perhaps the player feels they can only handle a fairly passive GM? Perhaps the player wants a GM to try and crush him outright? Either is fine and up to the players choice.

As for the "crushing outright" thing - competition between GM and players starts just after the stakes are set, and finishes after one side surrenders. During that period, there are no safety guards - everyone is expected to try their best to win. Actually, during that time it is perfectly acceptable for the GM to be aggressive towards the players, just as well it is fine for the players to be aggressive towards the GM. Since the system makes it impossible to get knocked out of game or lose something very important without one's consent, there will be no casualties unless someone decides that a given case is really worth sacrifice on their part.

I just don't want it to spread outside of separate conflicts. Outside of conflicts I want cooperation in establishing context and moving background story forward.

Problem with overly aggressive GM's is that they could actually want the competition to spread out too far. That would be playing the game in a way it simply wasn't intended to, and I'm actually not as concerned about it. Unless I provide some incentive for GM to do it that way, it would be GM's fault, not a fault of the system. I'm just carefull not to provoke that aggressiveness outside of conflicts by some rule.

As for passive GM's, that's more of a problem. Like someone mentioned earlier in the Thread (timfire probably?), in traditional RPG GM is somehow forced to pull his punches, because he simply could destroy the PC's if he wanted to. E.g I think in most RPG's it is completely normal for a GM to don't give a damn for the result of the combat, because he has got no interests in total party kill - and many GM's would often restrain themselves from killing PC's (by "cheating" on the dice, or switching to Drama and so forth), for the sake of the plot. Such a manner of GM'ing certainly can work, but not in a gamist game I think. E.g. if I compare some D&D sessions which I played, it simply wasn't fun for me when GM didn't try his best for the monsters to win a fight. It always became obvious when GM was pulling his punches, and after that there was no need to think tactically any more, because the match had been already sold. I think DitV addresses similar matter in some way, giving GM advice to play the NPC's honestly and do his best (through of course it's not because of gamist concerns there).

In AlternatiV there is no need to pull punches for either side. And it would be destructive to the fun if one side pulled their punches. The aim of playing AlternatiV is mainly to have fun from intense 'tactical' thinking during the conflicts, and making mechanical choices that matter. But if one side doesn't care about winning the conflict, there is nothing that would provoke intense 'tactical' thinking. Like, there is no fun to play chess or go against someone who is totally indifferent towards winning and simply moves his pieces randomly around the board.

So, I'm mainly concerned about GM's who would try to bring their approach from traditional RPG's to the table. I think I need some mechanic that would make them care about winning the conflict.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Thunder_God on April 15, 2006, 05:25:14 AM
The GM doesn't work from the same agenda as the players, he plays a different role.

Give him those Threads, let him introduce new events by them. Let him advance existing storylines by them.
I'm not a believer of the "If the PCs don't experience it it doesn't happen" methodology. Use the GM Threads to embody things that happen in the background until they're uncovered.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Filip Luszczyk on April 15, 2006, 06:15:15 AM
Actually the more I think about it, the idea of GM's Threads appeals to me more and more. I think I've found a place for them - they will just indicate things that GM is interested about in the story, just as players use their Threads to indicate what they find important. There was a rule that important NPC has the same kind of protection from death stakes and such as PC's - so with GM's Threads the distinction between important and unimportant NPC's, places and other background elements will become formal and clear.

The thing is, I don't want GM to track things that other players wouldn't know about. Since it's a mostly gamist system, I'd prefer if everything that happens at the table was open, so that everyone could be sure that everything goes fair. And I peronally (but that's just my personal preference) don't see any value in events and facts about which player's are not aware. Even if their characters don't know about something, it should be stated clearly for everyone at the table - otherwise it's as if nothing happen at all.

It's not a game about uncovering things anyway - it's about playing competitive conflicts, with some story in the background. So no place for secrecy in this particular project.

Quote
The GM doesn't work from the same agenda as the players, he plays a different role.

And the problem is, that I want them to work from roughly the same agenda. GM is in fact practically a player, only he 'plays the world' instead of an individual protagonist, and for some part of the game he is the opponent of the rest of the group. Up to this point, GM didn't get his equal share in the game - I've been reducing his role to that of the opposition only.

I think that the only thing I'm missing right now is a reason for the GM to care about increasing and resolving Threads, that would be somehow corresponding to the reasons that the players have (i.e. mainly character growth). If I find it I'll examine what I have and I'll see if there are actually any incentives for taking the adversarial role out of conflicts.

So, what I need is some effect of increasing and resolving Threads that wouldn't provoke competition outside of conflicts, but would be tempting anyway. Or better something that would encourage out of conflict cooperation.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Paul Strack on April 15, 2006, 06:50:20 AM
The thing is, I don't want GM to track things that other players wouldn't know about. Since it's a mostly gamist system, I'd prefer if everything that happens at the table was open, so that everyone could be sure that everything goes fair. And I peronally (but that's just my personal preference) don't see any value in events and facts about which player's are not aware. Even if their characters don't know about something, it should be stated clearly for everyone at the table - otherwise it's as if nothing happen at all.

Well, supposedly, the GM would only be able to advance his threads by bringing them into conflict with the PCs. So he would have to bring them out into the open. Also, if the "progress" of all the threads was public knowledge, then everyone would know how far the GM was towards reaching his "goals", even if he didn't reveal what the goal actually is.

If you do introduce GM threads, I am fairly certain the players are going to want the option of thwarting those threads. Is there a mechanism whereby another player or GM can contest the progress of someone else's thread? Note that I don't think this needs to be balanced, here. The PCs can thwart the GM plots, but the GM need not be able to thwart player-controlled threads. However, I think the players would need to give something up (e.g. advancement on their own threads).


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Filip Luszczyk on April 15, 2006, 07:48:43 AM
No, right now it is impossible to force anyone to bid their Threads during conflicts. Whatever was purchased as a thread is simply untouchable as long as every player who bought that Thread doesn't consent. So if a player had a Thread "Someday I'll kill the Villain X", it would be impossible for Villain X to die until the Thread is completed by the player, unless he allows that (in such a case he can reallocate levels from that Thread between other Threads, or simply change it to something like "I want to destroy the remnants of an organisation of Villain X" or something).

To purchase new 0 level Thread player has to increase GM's resource pool by some amount. Then he can bid levels of that Thread in conflicts. When he bids a Thread, it gives GM some additional points to use in that conflict only, and if the player wins he gains a level or two of the Thread. If he loses, he decreases the level of Thread by one or two, up to a minimum o 0. When Thread level reaches 5, the player can try to resolve it in a conflict connected with it. If he wins that conflict, he loses the Thread but gains an advancement. If he loses, he has the option - either he loses 2 levels of the Thread, or GM decides how is the Thread resolved and how the advance is to be used.

After every session highest level Thread or Threads are lowered by one level, and 0 level Threads can be removed if player is no longer interested in them.

If GM's Threads work the same way, players won't be able to affect them significantly unless GM decides to bid them in conflict. But it will be impossible for him to increase the level of Thread without actually putting the thing at stakes.

It pays to have some unresolved high level Threads anyway, because they allow recovery of resources during conflicts. Hence the automatic level loss at the end of the session - so that it wouldn't be possible to hoard Threads for infinity.

I thing it's more important that I find some strong reason for the GM to resolve Threads, because with what I have now it only pays to hoard them. There's rather no way for him to advance as players do - and I don't want to give him similar form of advancement, because it could lead to long-term imbalances in the relative potential between the sides.

I could actually give players option for making the GM's bid his Threads in conflicts, e.g. by awarding him more resources for such a conflict. Surely, there is a way.

I'm somewhat afraid that allowing the players to thwart GM's Threads without his consent would encourage competitiveness on the level where I want them cooperate. GM would start to get defensive, and from that, he could start getting aggressive outside of conflicts, which I don't want. I'm inclined to make GM's Threads untouchable in the same way that player character's and their threads are protected.

Unless the GM has some strong reason to build up Thread levels up to 5 and resolve them, there is no reason why he should oppose thwarting his Threads by the players anyway.

My assumption is that it's going to work like this:

Players want their characters to get into conflicts connected with their Threads, because they can bid their Threads and advance, and they are able to gain some mechanical benefits from adequate uncompleted Threads. GM wants the players to get into conflicts connected with his Threads, because he can bid and increase them, and gain some benefit for resolving (which I yet need to find). He can gain more resources during that kind of conflicts, by using the Threads, so conflicts of that kind are less favourable for players, and they are going to avoid them. So, GM will mainly take Threads that are somehow connected with players Threads and matter for them, so that he could get a chance to bid and use them. So, they must actually cooperate and it hopefully creates that context for conflicts I want.

I wander how would giving players option to actually thwart GM's Threads figure into this.

I'm more and more inclined to put some definite win conditions for the session, like for every Thread level gained player or GM gets 1 point, and for every level lost he loses 1 point. For every Thread resolved player or GM gains 3 or maybe 5 points. Whoever gets the most points by the end of the session is the winner of the day. And no award besides that winner status 1st place - maybe the other players should feel responsible to buy the guy a beer or something ;) Or maybe the winner should be able to narrate some important event at the end of the session, or he set the story context for the next session? I don't want the award to be too tempting, because I simply don't want very intense competition on the story level - only on the conflict level.

Eh, thinking hurts ;) I must go on a walk.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Thunder_God on April 15, 2006, 07:55:47 AM
Thread being won gives the winner narration rights over its outcome.

The GM then will want to have Threads going on and being resolved so he'll have more control over the developing story.

As for mechanical side, give the GM an advance to his pool. When a GM resolves and wins his Thread his resource pool advances by X(5, 1 for each Thread level, which also allows him to "Resolve" it before it reaches 5?), that way to keep pushing the players in the future he has to use and advance Threads, which in turn push the players now.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Paul Strack on April 15, 2006, 08:03:10 AM
I thing it's more important that I find some strong reason for the GM to resolve Threads, because with what I have now it only pays to hoard them. There's rather no way for him to advance as players do - and I don't want to give him similar form of advancement, because it could lead to long-term imbalances in the relative potential between the sides.

Here's an idea: allow the GM to "advance" by inflicting flaws on the PCs. For example, if the GM completes a thread, he can inflict an enemy, curse or a lingering wound on a PC. The GM can draw on this flaw in future conflicts, in the same way that PCs can draw on their abilities. That way the GM gets a permanent mechanical advantage by completing a thread, but the game is still focused on the protagonists.

If you like the idea, I think you would need some meta-rules about the kinds of flaws the GM could inflict. The GM would not be able to inflict a flaw that altered a protagonists personality without the player's permission. However, a player could suggest that he take personality flaw instead of whatever flaw the GM suggested. Or something like that.

Of course, if you make flaws the benefit for completing GM threads, the players are definitely going to want to block them. Maybe you could set up a rule where if a thread was reduced to some negative value, it would have to be permanently removed, or something.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Filip Luszczyk on April 15, 2006, 11:40:57 AM
Guy:

Quote
Thread being won gives the winner narration rights over its outcome.

The GM then will want to have Threads going on and being resolved so he'll have more control over the developing story.

That's right. And it would be sufficient in a typical narrativist game - but my game is mostly gamist, and the story development part is not the main focus. So I'm not sure if that's enough here, though maybe it is ;)

Paul:

Generally I don't like that specific approach to flaws and in AlternatiV they already have their place. A Thread might symbolize a flaw with which the character struggles. But you reminded me about one concept which I've been playing with in previous versions. There was a sigh of the Thread - each Thread could be negative or positive. Positive Threads were mechanically beneficial, and they represented things that move the character forward. Negative Threads represented story elements that were destructive to the character, and using them was connected with a hook. I think I'll return to that concept, and I'll give something similar to GM's Threads. It probably will be possible to change the sign of other player's Thread in a conflict.

I also decided to include an additional resource (Drama) used for triggering mechanical benefits of the Threads and some other things. Negative Threads will be one of the sources of Drama for the opposing side.

As for the reward for resolving a Thread for GM, I think he will be allowed to allocate some number of levels among the Threads of the players, even creating new ones, and change the sign of every Thread affected. That way, he will want to resolve Threads because that way he gets an additional source of Drama and encourages players to try to follow and complete Threads selected by him.

Ok, I'll get to work. You were all very helpfull, thanks for all the advice.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Thunder_God on April 15, 2006, 11:54:31 AM
You may want to look at Cranium Rats, my recent post about Slime Octopi and Coral(is it still an RPG?) and this LiveJournal entry (http://tundra-no-caps.livejournal.com/30566.html). I had the same problems with my idea where I am mostly into Gamism.
I decided to call them CSI Games, Competitive(or Cooperative) Story Interaction Games. The name is important.

If all we care about is the mechanics, then we can just sit down and play it as a board/card game, on a purely mathematical level. The fact that we still call this an RPG, the fact that we still generate story is vital in its definition.

Thus, it is not a "Typical Narrativist Game", it's a "Typical" or rather, a "Fitting Narrativist Element", one that keeps the story aspect going on.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Callan S. on April 16, 2006, 01:50:42 PM
Damn, black card for me - I read it as a problem with aggressive GM's inside of conflicts (I saw the aggressive GM and passive GM problem and thought they were both within conflicts)

For passive GM's, perhaps the players can given a certain number of 'Man, that was tough' points. These do nothing, mechanically, the GM simply collects them and adds each sessions total to his overall score. But socially they are an evaluatory tool - a GM who comes out with a handful of them is lookin' good. One who comes out with none - well, it makes you wonder what he was thinking?

Outside of conflicts, when your framing them: Well, if it's tightly defined when a conflict ends and begins, then you can also have a rule where players can take away up to X amount per session of  'Man, that was tough' points if the GM gets aggresive at these times.

Quick thoughts. Sorry for adding my confused posts to your thread! :(


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Filip Luszczyk on April 17, 2006, 03:49:33 AM
First of all, I'm dropping the working title and I officially title my game as 'Threads'. Because the working title was lame anyway ;)

Quote
I decided to call them CSI Games, Competitive(or Cooperative) Story Interaction Games. The name is important.

And I think I'll adopt this CSI label for Threads. Since it's RPG/CCG blend anyway, it fits nicely.

Quote
For passive GM's, perhaps the players can given a certain number of 'Man, that was tough' points. These do nothing, mechanically, the GM simply collects them and adds each sessions total to his overall score. But socially they are an evaluatory tool - a GM who comes out with a handful of them is lookin' good. One who comes out with none - well, it makes you wonder what he was thinking?

I already decided to define victory conditions for every session. There will be Score for each of the players (including GM). Whoever has the highest Score at the given moment is entitled to frame scenes. Whoever has the highest Score at the end of the session, has the right to narrate final events of the story. After each session, Score resets to 0.

But since it's possible for anyone to veto framing players narration, points are mostly evaluatory.

I got rid of formal GM by the way - instead I divided players between Protagonist Controllers (PCs) and Background Animator (BA), who 'plays the world'. There was not much authority for GM anyway, so now everyone is just a player.

Quote
Outside of conflicts, when your framing them: Well, if it's tightly defined when a conflict ends and begins, then you can also have a rule where players can take away up to X amount per session of  'Man, that was tough' points if the GM gets aggressive at these times.

Score will be awarded for conflicts won, gained Thread levels, and Thread levels lost by the opposition during the conflicts.

BTW, as for your statement about 'choosing how aggressive or passive GM should be' - although I wasn't sure what you meant and I couldn't think of any mechanical application for such a thing, now I discovered that it's already there. The veto rules do that. It is always possible for PCs to veto the BA, and even if he demands that the group vote, PCs usually have advantage in numbers. So, even if he was overaggressive in setting the stakes or something, he could be easily voted out. Of course, it's a matter of how players want to play the game - in the text I strongly adviced not to use veto rules to thwart every move of BA unless that's just the way you want the game to proceed or you are pretty sure you want a boring game.

Quote
Quick thoughts. Sorry for adding my confused posts to your thread! :(

That's all right, they got me thinking anyway ;)


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Thunder_God on April 17, 2006, 04:27:51 AM
They don't veto narration rights away from the BA, merely the narration instance, keeping Score a function.

What happens when there's a tie in Score?

How many Scenes do you think to have in an average(3-4 hours?) session? When one player leads, he may get to keep Narration for the whole session.

The BA has a better chance of gaining higher Score, if the PCs are seperated he has a Conflict per PC(group), where they only have Conflicts they're in.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Filip Luszczyk on April 17, 2006, 05:24:57 AM
Quote
They don't veto narration rights away from the BA, merely the narration instance, keeping Score a function.

To an extent. Still, if they really want they can decide what will happen by deciding what can't.

Quote
What happens when there's a tie in Score?

Ah, I've been thinking about that. Probably the player who didn't frame a scene yet will have a chance. Or there is a vote. Anyway, in such a case the right should be passed from someone, who had his chance to frame scenes previously.

Quote
How many Scenes do you think to have in an average(3-4 hours?) session? When one player leads, he may get to keep Narration for the whole session.

I'm not sure. I'm aiming at conflicts taking no longer than 20-25 minutes on average, including the mechanical setup. Lets say there will be about 10-15 minutes between conflicts. If there will be 1-2 conflicts per scene, that's somewhere around 1-2 scenes per hour, so around 5 per scene on the average, I presume. More, if there will be no conflicts during some scenes. The game isn't suited well for more than 5 players total, so everyone should have his chance to frame one scene if they perform comparatively.

Probably it will be possible for one person to have the right to frame scenes for the whole session, but it's not as much of an authority I think. Regardless of who frames the scenes, he only decides on the initial setup, and everyone has his chance to introduce their chosen story elements. And it is BA who controls most story elements anyway, since he plays the world.

Having the right to frame the scene has practically only one advantage - you can decide on the initial situation in the scene, thus including every element you are interested in (possibly creating opportunities to increase Threads).

Also, I didn't decided how scenes will end yet. Probably I'll allow for anyone to propose ending the scene, and it will be voted if others don't like his idea.

Quote
The BA has a better chance of gaining higher Score, if the PCs are separated he has a Conflict per PC(group), where they only have Conflicts they're in.

I'll allow for anyone to include his character in any scene. Since stakes that kill or otherwise remove your character from the game are impossible without your consent, there should be no problem with that.

Even if BA tries to divide the group through conflicts, they can veto him.

Anyway, BA is only one - and there will usually be 2-4 PCs. As long as every PC cares, BA can be easily vetoed.

Generally I don't like when players are divided - those, who are not in the scene always loose their chance to act, loose the screen time, and can only comment. Boring ;)


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Thunder_God on April 17, 2006, 07:19:25 AM
Many a time PCs split of their own volition.

Also, this will cause an adversarial GM, one that will develop grudges, if he's constantly vetoed? Where is his input, his control over the story?


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Filip Luszczyk on April 17, 2006, 07:53:20 AM
Quote
Many a time PCs split of their own volition.

Then, it's their own decision. If they don't want to risk being driven into conflict without others support, they should stick together in the same scenes. I'm rather comfortable with this - as I've said, I prefer when screen time is not divided, unless there is some really good reason to do it.

There's one more thing. BA gets points for every Thread level he gains during a conflict, but also for every level lost by opposing players. So it pays to have more PCs in the conflict - the more Threads they bid, the more points he can get.

Oh, and one more thing. For now I've been talking mainly about BA vs PCs situation, but there is no rule against BA allying with some PCs against the rest of the group, or pure PvP conflicts. Sometimes it may come out naturally because of the direction the story develops.

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Also, this will cause an adversarial GM, one that will develop grudges, if he's constantly vetoed?

I'm also somewhat worried about the possibility of constant vetoing. But the veto rules are there as an emergency valve against introducing thing with which others are not comfortable. Players are supposed to use the veto rules with responsibility.

Multiplayer FTP games come to my mind (especially CounterStrike). In many of those games, there is at least one highly powerful weapon, usually the sniper rifle. It's easy to sit on some roof with the sniper rifle and put down everyone in range with few head-shots. Many times I've seen unspoken rules against using such a wimpy tactics.

And in Threads I'll clearly state that veto rules ought to be used only as an emergency valve.

Generally, I think it simply pays to cooperate outside of conflicts and not to do things that would provoke a veto.

Of course, I need to see how it comes out in Actual Play. It's possible that it simply won't work - I'll have to do something with it then.

Quote
Where is his input, his control over the story?

As I've said, there is no longer formal GM. Backround Animator simply controls the world, and apart of that he doesn't have more input than other players. Maybe I'll quote a part of the text:

Quote
PCs vs BA

Protagonist Controllers (PCs) do the following:

*They are in control over their characters (and anything purchased as an Edge that isn't an inherent part of the character).
*They can frame scenes and introduce new elements to the story, such as NPC's, locations, events and the like, but they have no direct control over them.
*Outside of conflicts their job is to work with the rest of the group (BA included) on establishing interesting and engaging context for the next conflict. Well, and to seek opportunities for conflicts.
*During conflicts their job is to do their best to win, and thus to provide difficult opposition for BA, to provoke intense tactical thinking on his side.
*They strive to increase mechanical potential of their characters and watch their growth.
*Most of all, they try to do what gives them fun (and since they are playing this particular game, it is supposed that they consider the mentioned things to be fun).

Background Animator (BA) does the following:

*He is in control over every element of the story that the PCs are not. He 'plays the world'.
*He can frame scenes and introduce new elements to the story. Contrary to the PCs, he can control those elements, as well as everything introduced by PCs.
*Outside of conflicts his job is to work with the rest of the group on establishing interesting and engaging context for the next conflict. And to provide PCs opportunities for interesting conflicts. And to add some dramatic twists to the story.
*During conflicts his job is to do his best to win, and thus to provide difficult opposition for PCs, to provoke intense tactical thinking on their side.
*Although he does not advance mechanically, he can shape the world and NPCs in his chosen way and has quite strong influence on the story development, through background events.
*Most of all, he tries to do what gives him fun (and since he is playing this particular game, and assumes BA's function, it is supposed that he considers the mentioned things to be fun).

'The players', 'the group', 'everyone' and the like always refers both to PCs and BA. Otherwise it will be stated clearly if something refers only to PCs or only to BA.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Thunder_God on April 17, 2006, 08:01:24 AM
I'm worried he'll have less control.

The PCs are always protagonists, always there, and with Vetoing his meager story control can be removed.

I want to see some AP of your game, I'm interested. It may also answer some design questions I have.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Filip Luszczyk on April 17, 2006, 08:44:52 AM
Soon there will be playtest version available, I hope. And I'll try to playtest current version later this week.

As for my playtests, we've focused on conflict resolution up to this time. Outside of conflicts it went in a way similar to most of our other sessions, though I think players were generally a little bit more active in introducing their own elements to the story than when we play mainstream games. I don't remember veto rules to be used at all. But then, there was still a GM and players were accustomed to more standard narrative control division. Since finally I changed some assumptions and formally removed the GM, previous AP doesn't really apply.

So I also wait for AP actually. And I'd really like to see AP from some outside playtest - our sessions are bound to be somewhat influenced by the way we play, so many problems may not come out at all.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Kat Miller on April 18, 2006, 05:31:42 AM
I couldn’t help noticing parallels between AlternateV and my husband Michael S. Miller's game With Great Power…  (http://incarnadine.indie-rpgs.com/wgp.html) 

You noted some concern about putting the GM in an adversarial position.  You’ve mentions the use of playing cards.  With Great Power… also uses playing cards, and during conflict the GM is an adversarial role, as he is in control of the villains, but the GM is also one of the co-writers of the fictional comic book that the group is creating during the game, which allows the GM to also be supportive with ideas for the rest of the players.

The key to creating an adversarial role for the GM in With Great Power... is in clearly defining that role.  From the Beginning the GM is aware that he is BOTH in charge of the Villainous master plan AND Co-collaborator in this fun and dramatic story that all the players are building. 

The players pitch scene ideas for their characters, and set stakes for the scene they have pitched, the GM is free to make suggestions to aid the players, but it’s the player who determines the actual scene.  The GM can only set Scenes for his Villains, not for the Heroes.  Each player takes turns setting scenes that focus on their own characters,  and during this part of play the GM is collaborator.  Once the player determines what the stakes are in the Scene, the GM is in an adversarial rule by setting alternate stakes also geared in a personal matter focusing on the heroes weakness.  Cards are played, the scene is played and then the GM is a collaborator again.

So you really can have it both ways.

-Kat Miller


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Michael S. Miller on April 18, 2006, 06:27:31 AM
Hi, Filip. Last year I wrote With Great Power..., a game with an adversarial and cooperative GM role, that my wife referenced above. Having looked over your questions and responses in your thread, it seems that your main trouble is that you want the GM to play hard during conflict and literally pull every dirty trick that he, as a living, breathing, game-playing human being can think of. But you also feel that he needs to cooperate and be the kindly storyguide during the between-conflict scenes of setup. On the one hand, you can give the GM an adversarial role in both conflict and setup scenes, like I did in WGP.

On the other hand, I'd suggest that you take setup scenes out of the GM's hands. This removes the temptation to "play too hard." Maybe the players set them up. Maybe responsibility for setup passes to the left. Maybe the winning side of a conflict advances mechanically (gains levels or whatever) but the losing side does the setup for the next conflict.

Since you've made clear that the setup scenes are not the main focus of game play, then minimize them as much as possible.

Further, I'd suggest 2 things:

1) If you can get a copy of the out-of-print RPG RUNE, by Robin D. Laws, do so. It's all about spending resource points to create challenging conflicts.

2) Drop the idea of the "GM playing the world." Just put the GM in charge of the opposition. Give him a budget and let him and his creativity loose. Let "the world" take care of itself.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Filip Luszczyk on April 18, 2006, 05:10:21 PM
So, I have finally finished the first English draft. You can find it here:

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=19549.0

The discussion in this topic influenced most of the current out of conflict structure, as well as my return to the Negative/Positive Threads. I've also came upon the idea of Bonds after it. The Trait awards mechanics have been somewhat adjusted after my reading of some other topic here on The Forge.

Thanks for help!


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Saxon Douglass on April 19, 2006, 02:42:21 AM
I havn't read the whole thread, but I was wondering if when the GM wins they might earn Fiat Points (we'll call them that just for arguments sake). They basically count as extra "people" voting for the GM's side when a veto happens. You mention it is a saftey-valve, but it could become something more I feel.

It'd be narration rights almost. By winning conflicts the players or GM gain more "narration rights", and since the system is self-balancing they should stay reasnobly equal. But it still gives and incentive to both sides. Everyone wants the ability to say what happens, and tying that to winning conflicts means they'll both go there hardest. But out of conflict they gain no such power, and so have no reason to not be co-operative. Infact they'll want to co-operate so as to spare Fiat points for when they're really needed.

Maybe when the GM wins a conflict give them an amount equal to the number of players, and when the players win they get 1 each. Every point brought into play during a veto counts as another vote the same as the person's who brought it in. It means if the players stick as a whole they have equal veto power from a conflict as the GM does.

Just a thought.


Title: Re: Adversarial GM - incentives to win?
Post by: Filip Luszczyk on April 19, 2006, 04:57:58 AM
Quote
I havn't read the whole thread, but I was wondering if when the GM wins they might earn Fiat Points (we'll call them that just for arguments sake). They basically count as extra "people" voting for the GM's side when a veto happens. You mention it is a saftey-valve, but it could become something more I feel.

The thing is, I specifically want the veto rules to function only as an emergency valve. The game supports gamist agenda in the first place, and I want the competition to run mainly on the level of conflicts, not on the level of struggling for narration rights. There is already a great number of games that are driven by the struggle for narrative power, and Threads is not intended to be one of them. I also striven to remove as much of the GM's fiat as possible - so there are no additional mechanisms regulating the votes like in, say, Universalis (and I'm not inclined to add such a mechanic, unless Actual Play proves that veto rules invariably break the game). In current version the GM (Backround Animator) is a player, and a player is a player. I think he has some important mechanical advantages during conflicts, that make up for him usually being outnumbered by the other players. His mechanical decisions during conflicts practically can't be vetoed, and even if they are, players can only force him to change what happens on the story level, not on the mechanical level. And that should suffice, since the game is driven mainly by mechanics, like a CCG.

Veto rules can come out during setting the stakes, and it is possible for the players to force BA into setting stakes that don't pain them at all. But somehow now I see it rather as a method of adjusting the difficulty of the game, than imposing narrative power typical to many purely narrativist designs. It's just like in a computer game. If they want to play Nightmare, they can veto stakes that are too soft. If they want Standard, they won't veto anything. If they want Easy, they will veto stakes until they are fully acceptable for them. And if by any chance they prefer to play in God Mode, they certainly can.