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Title: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: Paul Czege on December 04, 2006, 12:24:45 PM
Hi all,

Realizing that Frank Tarcikowski's 1st Transatlantic Setting Design Challenge was formulated as just the right kind of stretch exercise for me--intimidating, because setting creation is by far the weakest of my game design skills, but worthwhile for the same reason--I spent some time looking over available open systems on which I might build a setting.

And I just wasn't finding one that gave my creativity what it wanted for setting creation. I was looking for mechanics that hooked out into the player characters from the setting, and with a gameplay that was about the setting.

So I decided to design the system I'd love to have found for this endeavor and follow Clinton's lead by releasing it under a Creative Commons license. Below is my draft. I'm looking for any comments you care to make, but specifically:

    As a designer, does the setting format (text from which the gamemaster will abstract The Circumstances, plus suggested Conclusions) engage your creativity?

    As a gamemaster, does the activity of subsetting the setting and then playing with mechanics that attach the player characters as moral agents to that situation seem like fun, meaningful, uncommon, collaborative roleplaying?

    Do the mechanics seem well conceived for delivering a drama of niche specialization, flawed heroism, difficult decisions, and moral agency?

    Where is it unclear? Where is it flawed?

Thanks,

Paul

~~~~~~~~~~

The Niche Engine (v. 0.1)
by Paul Czege

Preparing for Chargen

    The Circumstances

    As these mechanics are a drama of characters with purposes of moral agency, the requisite setting is one with prominent vacancies of moral authority and disturbing malfeasance. Prior to chargen the gamemaster needs to dig into the larger setting material and focus his interest for the game onto specific circumstances of dramatic social trespass. And then he needs to abstract that situation up for the players as a few thousand words that lay out the whole snarl of stakeholders and social instability. This abstract is called The Circumstances.

    The Conclusion

    Then, the gamemaster needs to write two or three tight sentences about the disturbing events that transpire when The Circumstances run their natural course. Write them in the present tense, as if they're the headlines on a newspaper published next day. These two or three sentences are The Conclusion. Some settings will provide suggested Conclusions. The gamemaster will track a single numeric value for The Conclusion, its Inevitibility, which starts at 0.


Character Creation

    The Niche

    Begin by writing two or three sentences that establish your character's unique position within The Circumstances. These two or three sentences are your character's Niche. A restriction is that you may not write a Niche that co-opts a character mentioned in The Circumstances as your own.

    Players should discuss the Niches they've created. No other player can feel that your Niche overlaps theirs or you need to negotiate.

    The Annotations

    The next step is to underline significant words or phrases from The Conclusion, and to annotate them with a sentence or two each that relates your character to the underlined word or phrase, for a total of five sentences, including what you wrote for your Niche.

    The World, the Flesh, and the Devil

    The final step is to divide seven points across the three forces that frame our endeavors: The World, The Flesh, and The Devil. The values you assign are your character's Expression of each of the forces. Allocate more points where you want more effectiveness for your character:

    The World is the environment; it's circumstance, causality, and the power of objects.

    The Flesh is strength, brainpower, sensuality, and health. It's energy and love, the complexity and scale of human emotion, the power of the human body, and the pain of stress and injury and acid-reflux.

    The Devil is alienation, materialism, objectification, denial, and fear.

The Imperative

The gamemaster will track a single numeric value for the collective of player characters, their Imperative, which starts at 0.[/list]


Conflict Resolution

    When a player has stated an intent for his character to do something where the outcome is in question, the GM decides which of The World, The Flesh, or The Devil defines the conflict. And to represent the force opposing the character's action he throws a d6. The player throws 2d6, subtracts the low one from the high one, and to the result adds his character's Expression of the force governing the conflict. Except if the gamemaster deems that the character has an Annotation that contributes to his effectiveness in the conflict situation, the player instead throws 3d6, subtracts the low one from the high one, and to the result adds his character's Expression of the force governing the conflict.

    If the player's result exceeds the value of the opposition thrown by the gamemaster, the player's character succeeds at his goal. And the result is roleplayed.

    If the player's result is less than or equal to the value of the opposition, the character fails at his goal. The result is roleplayed. And the gamemaster increases the Imperative by one point.

    However, prior to the GM throwing his d6 for the opposition, the player has the option of obviating the resolution system by taking an Assured Success.

    The Assured Success

    If the gamemaster deems that the character's Niche contributes to his effectiveness in a conflict situation, the player can elect to obviate the resolution system and take an Assured Success by simply reducing his character's Expression value for The World, The Flesh, or The Devil by one point.

    If the gamemaster deems that the character's Niche does contribute to the conflict, the player can still take an Assured Success, but rather than reducing an Expression value to do so must instead increase the Inevitibility of The Conclusion by one point.

    Providing Aid

    A player's character can provide aid to another player character's conflict by assuming the cost of Assured Success.


Reaching A Different Conclusion

    Players can make a grand total of three attempts to subvert The Conclusion.

    Once a player has bottomed out his Expression value for The World, The Flesh, or The Devil, he can choose to attempt a recasting of The Conclusion. He describes an action taken by his character and how it might alter The Conclusion. (Players are advised that the gamemaster can disallow an attempted recasting if a character's attempt would be governed by a force in which he has bottomed out.) And then he throws 2d6 (3d6 if an Annotation applies), subtracts the low die from the high die, and adds to it the value of the Imperative. The gamemaster throws a d6 and adds to it the value of The Conclusion's Inevitibility. If the player's result is greater than the gamemaster's, the recasting is successful. If not, the failure is roleplayed. And in either case, subsequent attempted recastings of The Conclusion require a character bottoming out in a force other than the ones that made this or prior recasting attempts possible; which is why players get only three attempts to subvert The Conclusion.

    The First Successful Recasting

    The player who rolls the first successful recasting of the game modifies The Conclusion by adding a small happiness to the otherwise disturbing events.

    The Second Successful Recasting

    The player who rolls the second successful recasting of the game reworks The Conclusion to describe events playing out to a dramatically less disturbing result, but one which still includes some small trauma or evil.

    The Third Successful Recasting

    The player who rolls the third successful recasting of the game reworks The Conclusion to an unarguably happy ending.

Epilogues

Notices
    The Niche Engine is 2006 by Paul Czege. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License. To view a copy of this license, visit
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.5/ (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.5/).[/list]


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: Simon C on December 04, 2006, 07:11:09 PM
Am I being an asshole if I point out that all the players and the GM in your draft are assumed to be male? It's not a huge deal, and I imagine you'd fix this for a "final" version, but I think that using non-sexist language is a pretty basic thing for any public writing.  Using exclusively "he" and "his" is no longer acceptable, in my opinion.

Sorry to nitpick when you obviously want a more substantive response, but this sort of thing is important to me, as I imagine it is for many gamers.


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on December 05, 2006, 01:03:49 AM
Paul, could we get a fictional example of play here? As usual, I'm not grogging the nuances of your design just from the rules. Specifically, an example of a setting and character would be appreciated, I'm not sure I understand how Annotations and Niche are defined. Niche seems like a skill-set, while Annotations seem like passions or relationships, but I might be wrong.

Actually, let me write an example, you point out where I go wrong:

The typical Gloranthan Orlanthi game against the Lunars

The Abbreviated Circumstances: The Lunar Empire has conquered a large area of the country by force, according to their missionary religion's precepts. The natives worship a completely different pantheon of gods, which is being mystically ousted from the land for the benefit of the new conqueror gods. The conquering Lunar Empire represents a generally higher-level civilization with greater population density and more differentiated social and professional system, while the native barbarians are a pretty tribal bunch. A significant portion of the barbarian population has been willing to convert to the Lunar way of life, at least after a couple of savage uprisings and even more savage put-downs by the Lunar legions. Prophecies of rebellion abound still, though, and the natives possess powerful magics. [Add particular personages and situations as per usual for this kind of campaign.]

The Conclusion: The Orlanthi nation, culture and way of life are extinguished. Many die in the rebellions and the social injustice of the transitional process.

Example character, Thurma the Rebel

The Niche: Thurma is a respected military leader of the rebellion, which basically means that he's away from his clan full-time, organizing raiding parties and logistics deep in the wilderness beyond the grasp of the Lunar invaders. His followers are mostly young men with great hatred for the Lunar invaders.

The Annotations: Thurma used to be an adventurer, and he has developed a great love for his native way of life while living among foreigners. He is ready to die to preserve the thula of his ancestors.

World: 4 (an influential leader of men)
Flesh: 2 (an accomplished adventurer)
Devil: 1 (does not recognize the larger forces of the Hero Wars)

Actual play: So, if I've understood this right, Thurma will basicly go into the situation described in the circumstances, get introduced into it by the GM and start meddling. Various conflicts will come up, some will be won, some will be lost. When the player deems a conflict particularly important, he will call for an automatic success; in Thurma's case, conflicts that concern his role as a rebel leader can be won via a sacrifice of stats to gain the opportunity to Recast the Conclusion. So one could say that the player's goal is to define the developing dramatic situation in terms of his character's Niche, so as to allow him to try for a Recast. Meanwhile the player has to also lose a number of conflicts to raise Imperative a couple of points, otherwise he has little chance to succeed in Recasting.

Recasting example: Thurma's player Recasts successfully once, and adds to the Conclusion: the Lightbringer Myth is preserved in the highlands, despite the missionary efforts of the Lunar church. The second time he adds: the rebellion succeeds in awakening a dragon, which makes short work of the Lunar occupancy in a glorious outburst of violence. The third and final addition: after prolonged negotiation with the newly crowned High King, the Lunars agree to retreat from the Orlanthi lands without further violence.

Something like that? As far as I can see, the system should work more or less as intented. Considering the dicing system, the GM's benefit in a given conflict is 2-3 points, so a stat over that or Imperative reaching several points over Inevitability will be enough for the players most of the time. What this means is that as long as players do not increase Inevitability (which seems to happen only when the player really cares about a conflict outcome), they only need to lose two, three, at most four times during the game before reaching pretty good chances of succeeding in a Recast. This stuff can be fine-tuned by changing the die-size, I guess.

Is it a problem that conflicts only tie into the dramatic arc mechanically when players opt for the Automatic success? Does this lessen interest in a normal conflict? If I read the rules correctly, players can roll their own dice before deciding on an Automatic success. That seems like a saving grace in this regard, as any conflict can turn into an Automatic one at the last moment.

Question: if the GM might disallow a Recast with a stat at 0, does that mean that a given player can only try a third Recast with GM permission? Or should the GM allow the third try always, being that the player is pretty much sacrificing his character by zeroing his last attribute?

Anyway, that's all I've got for now. The system overall seems promising, but as I have great difficulty "reading" your kind of game for how it will look in play, I really can't go and answer the questions about it's success without playtesting. Perhaps I'll have an opportunity for a playtest soon, I have this lousy Finnish rpg with an elaborate setting that I should play at some point; might as well try it with this system as well while I'm at it.


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: Graham W on December 05, 2006, 05:13:08 AM
Paul,

To answer your specific questions:

Quote
As a designer, does the setting format (text from which the gamemaster will abstract The Circumstances, plus suggested Conclusions) engage your creativity?

Yes.

Quote
As a gamemaster, does the activity of subsetting the setting and then playing with mechanics that attach the player characters as moral agents to that situation seem like fun, meaningful, uncommon, collaborative roleplaying?

It seems fun and unusual. I'm not quite sure how collaborative it is - that is, I'm not sure what, in the rules, makes it collaborative - and I'm not seeing the "characters as moral agents" thing. It's possible I'm missing something, of course.

Quote
Do the mechanics seem well conceived for delivering a drama of niche specialization, flawed heroism, difficult decisions, and moral agency?

Flawed heroism, yes, because you have to sacrifice your effectiveness to recast the ending. I'm not seeing the difficult decisions and moral agency, at the moment. There's clearly something in the rules which you're intending to create a game about moral agency, but I can't quite see it.

The definitions of World, Flesh and Devil seem rooted in the modern day, which worries me in a game about setting. In a Victorian English setting, for example, I'd get the urge to make Flesh less about sensuality and more about physical health; and for the Devil to take on the sensual aspects. Would it be possible to define World, Flesh and Devil collectively, according to the setting?

I think I can see a clearly effective strategy, which worries me: to bottom out one of the Expressions, while keeping the others high, to retain effectiveness. What worries me about that strategy is that it's not very interesting. Would it be possible, for example, for the highest Expression to be subtracted from the player's roll during recasting? Or perhaps for the difference between the remaining two Expressions to be added? Something, anyway, to make it worth the player's while to reduce more than one of his Expressions.

Do you have a typo in the Assured Success section? Should one of the paragraphs have a "not" in it? Something like: "If the gamemaster deems that the character's Niche does not contribute to the conflict".

Thanks, Paul, interesting stuff.

Graham


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: Troy_Costisick on December 05, 2006, 05:17:55 AM
Heya,

Quote
The Niche

Begin by writing two or three sentences that establish your character's unique position within The Circumstances. These two or three sentences are your character's Niche. A restriction is that you may not write a Niche that co-opts a character mentioned in The Circumstances as your own.

Players should discuss the Niches they've created. No other player can feel that your Niche overlaps theirs or you need to negotiate.

The Annotations

The next step is to underline significant words or phrases from The Conclusion, and to annotate them with a sentence or two each that relates your character to the underlined word or phrase, for a total of five sentences, including what you wrote for your Niche.

-I have a quick question or three about this.  It seems very open-ended, almost Pool inspired.  Are there constraints on the players as to what kinds of characters they can describe?  Could he, for instance, state that his character is a ghost? or a tiger? or a farie?  I notice that players can object if they feel someone else's character overlaps theirs.  That's good.  What about if a player feels another's character is out of "flavor" for the game?  Can the GM object?

Peace,

-Troy


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: Robert Ahrens on December 06, 2006, 11:15:29 AM
Paul, this looks really cool.  I'm excited to write up a Setting and take it for a spin sometime soon.

Only two things to clarify:

The first one's super-pedantic:

Quote
If the gamemaster deems that the character's Niche does contribute to the conflict, the player can still take an Assured Success, but rather than reducing an Expression value to do so must instead increase the Inevitibility of The Conclusion by one point.

... probably needs a big fat "NOT" in it between "does" and "contribute".

Second one's actually substantive:  I think that the Imperative/Inevatibility mechanics are a litte wonky.

As I understand it:

  • Players may bump Inevitability to auto-succeed on contests where their Niche(s) don't apply.
  • The GM may must bump the Imperative every time a player loses a contest.

Without any Actual Play behind me it's hard to say, but my guess is that the Imperative will rapidly outpace Inevitability and therefore it will become trivial for players to bring about alterations in the conclusion.

My reasons for thinking this are:

  • Players who understand the mechanics will be naturally leary of raising the Inevitability.
  • It's easy for Players to avoid raising the Inevitability -- they can play mainly to their Niches, hang out in packs where *someone* always has a Niche that's useful, or just suck it up and accept a roll.
  • Actually rolling for any contest is always in the Player's favour:  Either they win and get what they want right now, or else they lose and bump the Imperative.
  • It seems like it would be easy for players to generate conflicts.  The text doesn't specify who gets to call conflicts (player or GM) but even if it's GM-only the players can just keep pushing for mid-level, non-life-threatening conflicts so they can bump the Imperative.

I'm not saying that all players are going to try and "break" the game in this way, just that I see it as having a bit of a glass jaw in this regard.

Just brainstorming, some ways of ameliorating this trend might include:

  • Only bump the Imperative on failed contests where one of the PC's Annotations applies.
  • Allow players to buy auto-successes after a failed roll -- kind of like taking Fate in Agon.
  • Track Imperative separately for each player so it doesn't accumulate so fast.

Anyway, those are just some initial thoughts.

Cheers,

Robert.


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: Robert Ahrens on December 06, 2006, 11:32:48 AM
Additionally, when I hit a game with a strong mechanical pacing element (I'm talking about this one, or Inspectres, Lacuna, etc) I always want to know:

How many sessions is this game intended to run?
What is the expected "grain size" (and therefore frequency) of die rolls?

Obviously, there is an interrelationship between these variables.  I think there's an obvious "sweet spot" for the game in which changing the Conclusion remains possible but uncertain.  To be specific,

Imperative < Inevitability -3   :  CONCLUSION ALTERATIONS AUTOMATICALLY FAIL
(Inevitabiity -3) <= Imperative <= (Inevitability +5)  :  THE "SWEET SPOT"
Imperative > Inevitability + 5  :  CONCLUSION ALTERATIONS AUTOMATICALLY SUCCEED

Some food for thought:  With a bit of engineering, this game could "automagically" remain in that zone.  On the other hand, you might want it to be able to stray outside that zone with the intention that the players (including the GM) would be able to push it back towards the centre if it strays too far in either direction.

(Of course, mechanically, this could be dangerous.  I can imagine a world where it suddenly becomes guaranteed that attempts to alter the Conclusion will succeed and the players dogpile and write a happy ending before the GM can bring things back to the "sweet spot".  If this is mechanically replicable time and again -- say by a simple procedure of

i) run one Stat down to 1
ii) lose a few contests and wait till Imperative is really high
iii) everyone go for an altered ending right now

-- then I think you end up with rather non-challenging and therefore non-fun gameplay. 

Probably the other extreme -- where changing the ending becomes impossible -- is less dangerous in that the GM can't outright "win" and therefore the players have time to push things back into the sweet spot.  This would only really be broken by a GM who took things to the impossible side and then framed up lots of life-threatening contests that the players couldn't afford to lose until everyone was out of points, and that seems like it would take more willful GM malice than I believe to be common.)

Just some grist for your mill, sir.


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: David Artman on December 06, 2006, 12:35:52 PM
A few suggestions, in the order in which they occur to me:

Change The Devil to something else--"devil" suggests a particular moral code and tradition, which is what you *don't* want for a generic system.
You've got World and Flesh and you need something for "alienation, materialism, objectification, denial, and fear"... how about The Ego or The Burn?

Related to that section, you might want a collective term for those three "forces." Maybe Forces is fine, but at least capitalize it to make sure it's recognized as a collective term and to help you remember to use it consistently.

Quote
divide seven points across the three forces that frame our endeavors: The World, The Flesh, and The Devil.
Must there be at least 1 point in each? If so, say so; if not, clarify that it's OK to have 0 in one or more Forces.

Quote
...the GM decides which of The World, The Flesh, or The Devil defines the conflict.
Why not let a player vote handle this decision? It will be obvious, most of the time, given the clear delineations of your three Forces. If there is a "tie" (difficult to decide which Force reigns) then just average the values of all seemingly applicable Forces (2 of them or all 3), rounding as normal.

Quote
subtracts the low one from the high one
This gives a range of 0 to 5, no matter how many dice a player rolls. Just confirming that you're OK with that scale, vis a vis the GM's 1 to 6 opposition result range and the Forces range of 1 to 7 (or 5, if one must have at least 1 in every Force).

For instance, if someone could have 0 in a Force, then it will be possible for an individual to have a 7... which means nothing the GM rolls can ever beat that individual in that Force. Or he only has a 1 in 6 chance to beat, if the Force maxes out at 5 because all must have at least 1. That makes for some weird gameplay, perhaps--ever heard the expression "when all you've got it a hammer, all problems look like nails...?"

Maybe you need to add an element for the GM that parallels the Annotations that players get. You could even allow for "GM Niche" elements, to give a form of trump to the GM as well.

And what about player v. player? A roll-off using 2/3d6?

Quote
A player's character can provide aid to another player character's conflict by assuming the cost of Assured Success.
Fair enough, but I would be surprised to see this in play often. It feels very "all or nothing"--only of use in desperation--whereas actual cooperative work in the real world usually provides a clear, incremental benefit (i.e. more hands make lighter work) while also occasionally opening the door for errors of coordination (i.e. snafu) or even worse failures (e.g. failing to properly Aid someone who is drowning can result in two drownings).

Perhaps you could allow more than one character in a given scene to Aid by also rolling 2/3d6 and having the chance to win (or lose, and lose Expression)? And add the sub-rule that, if BOTH participants fail, one of them loses an additional Expression. (?)

Or could you include a botch mechanic, to increase the risk from coordination/Aid? Like, if both botch, then one loses an additional Expression, as above, and the other must lose an Annotation. (?!) Ought to make for interesting argumen--err, role playing.

Quote
Once a player has bottomed out his Expression value for The World, The Flesh, or The Devil...
Is "bottomed out" down to 1 or 0?

Also regarding end game and (lack of) rewards: Would the system benefit from a way to add a point to the Expression of a Force? This would, in effect, draw out the number of scenes; and it might also help to keep the Inevitability and Imperative values in Robert's "sweet spot."

And you say "Players can make a grand total of three attempts to subvert The Conclusion." Does that mean that EACH player can try thrice, or that only three attempts may be made by any and all players?

Finally, I think the system document would benefit from an example of the flow of play: turn orders, scene framing, Fortune at the Start (FATS), scene resolution narration, and--generally--"how to narrate" at each stage. Basically, it seems that this system calls for little in the way of acting in character, because there are relatively few total stages to a whole arc of play (it seems) and because there isn't a clear example of techniques for narration in a given stage. I guess I am mainly sticking on how to understand what triggers a conflict and how granular each will be within the totality of events of game play.

Niche seems like a skill-set, while Annotations seem like passions or relationships, but I might be wrong.
I think a Niche is like a Schtick--something at which the character is SO good that he is rarely challenged. Using Amber Diceless as a parallel, think of it like Amber-level attributes (Niche) versus Chaos or mundane stats (Forces). Annotations, then, are more akin to conventional skills--a static bonus in particular situations.

The definitions of World, Flesh and Devil seem rooted in the modern day, which worries me in a game about setting. In a Victorian English setting, for example, I'd get the urge to make Flesh less about sensuality and more about physical health; and for the Devil to take on the sensual aspects. Would it be possible to define World, Flesh and Devil collectively, according to the setting?
Hear, hear! Let each player vote as to which general aspects of the setting fall into each Force. You could, however, provide a list of aspects and their "default" sorting into Forces, as example and as a quick start for groups which do not have a particular preference.

Cool start, though! I feels very close to a workable conflict resolution system for any genre, if the players can mechanically determine the Forces aspects and applicability themselves.

Hope this helps;
David


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: Calithena on December 06, 2006, 02:32:33 PM
Following David and Carl Jung, I might go for World, Persona, and Shadow. On this reading it might be nice to have a fancy term for the social self to replace World.


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: Jared A. Sorensen on December 07, 2006, 07:41:48 AM
Additionally, when I hit a game with a strong mechanical pacing element (I'm talking about this one, or Inspectres, Lacuna, etc) I always want to know:

How many sessions is this game intended to run?
What is the expected "grain size" (and therefore frequency) of die rolls?

Obviously, there is an interrelationship between these variables. I think there's an obvious "sweet spot" for the game in which changing the Conclusion remains possible but uncertain.


I think it would be a mistake to pin the success of a game session on the pacing mechanic. Both my games you mentioned have a kind of pacing mechanic, but they're not what the game's "about." So the game still works regardless of the how the die mechanics dictate the length of the game.


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: pells on December 07, 2006, 10:56:44 AM
Very, very interesting stuff, Paul !! Quite glad to see those kind of things here !!! And I'd like to say, you're not only talking about setting, but also plots.

This reminds me, somehow, of The lord of the ring, the boardgame (http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/lotr.html). The main idea of the game, is that all players play together against the board : they all lose or win. Each player got his own ressources, but when he plays, most of the time, he affects the group, not only itself. I strongly recommand it and based on what I've seen there, I'll comment on your project.
Also, your work reminds me a lot about my own project. And so I think your project can be more general than what you propose.

A couple of questions :
- You seem to take for granted two things : the conclusion is dangerous (ie the end of the world, for example) and that the players will play heroes (opposing the dark forces). But in fact, I believe your conclusion could be "heroes save the day" and have players play "bad characters" who oppose the heroes and still succeed in preventing the conclusion. The key here, for me, is that you can manage, keep track, of the impact of the players on the predefined conclusion. Be it good or bad.
- There is one thing that annoy me : why do players get the chance to change the conclusion once they have bottomed up ? For me, those are more like ressources. How about, players can change it when they do reach a certain level of imperatives ? I do think this would make this very cooperative. Also, I find it strange that it encourages players to bottom down a pool to try to change the conclusion. Maybe some players can have a big impact on the plot (ie high level of imperative), without having to spend any points from their pool. I don't know. I find it strange.

A couple of suggestions
- Have you thought that in fact you can use this for more than one session ? It could use minor and major conclusions. Or, the use of subplots, if you want. First, players fight over some minor conclusion (or intermediate, if you prefer), then a new circumstance arise, with a new conclusion. The last conclusion is the main (or major) one. This would be like the different boards in the game mentionned above.
- Given that, how about, one "chapter" (a circumstance/conclusion pairing) ends either when the players succeeded in the third success of recasting or when the Inevitibility reaches a certain level. If the player win, they would gain a certain amount of refresh of their pools for the next chapter. Or if the DM wins, the PCs suffer something. Don't know what exactly.
- Have you thought that you can separate your systems from what you're building ? For instance, when there is a conflict, the group uses its system, resolves it. As for players' niche, isn't it something they are good at or interested in ? So, stats or players' choices. It is already there, somehow. But still, you've got a tool to structure a storyline and evaluate the players' influence.

Link with my project
- For one thing, I don't do mechanics, but otherwise, your Circumstances is the essence (and stories), your Conclusion, the breaking/rupture points, you present a plot as it occured before the actions of the players. If you want to take a look at my theory (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=17553.0).
- Your are one step away from doing multi plots : just put many conclusions !!! And let the players decide which story they want to take part in, thus which conclusion they want to affect.

And franckly, I'm quite glad to see some plot/setting design !!!


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: Paul Czege on December 14, 2006, 06:51:01 PM
First, thank you all for the feedback. I apologize for the life demands that have delayed my responses. But I'm very appreciative of the feedback, and I absolutely will respond soon.

For now, I give you my first draft of an example Circumstances and Conclusion:

The Circumstances

Halymn

In western Cathavaia, thrust up from a boreal wilderness of icy streams, shattered hills, and trees of unguessable age is the fortress of Halymn, atop a solitary plateau. Here, in these fortifications, for four hundred years, the Ordo Parvulus has protected the eggs of Etiwr.

The Eggs of Etiwr

There is no agreement in the writings of the ancients as to what manner of creatures lay unborn within the two eggs. But as to the powers of the eggs there is no dispute. The Chased Egg can heal sickness, and fresh injury, and raise the recent dead if due to injury or sickness. And the Lesser Egg can heal old injury, fresh injury, and repair poorly healed injuries. And both eggs halt aging.

The Ordo Parvulus

It is known that the eggs project their healing outward without prejudice, but that each event of healing places a stress on the egg that progresses it further toward hatching. So, four centuries ago the Ordo was formed for the purpose of protecting the Chased and Lesser eggs after the hatching of the Least egg reduced all three kingdoms in the valley of Nabd to dust and ash, with not a single survivor.

And so the Ordo is comprised of six hundred children, male and female, each looking to be about nine or ten years old, but in fact none of them younger than seventy and some born more than two centuries ago. They are healthy, and were healthy when they entered the Ordo, such that they place very little stress on the eggs. Adults simply have too much ongoing cell necrosis and diminished capacity for moral absolutism to be suitable guardians for the threat represented by the eggs.

Men, in their dealings with the Ordo, almost universally find the children disturbing. They think and speak like adults. And they compensate for their disparity of physical power with men by arming themselves with horrific poisons that they deliver with blowguns, and in many other secret ways.

And they train at quickly poisoning themselves to death if they take an injury near the eggs. The eggs cannot heal poison.

Cathavaia

The Cathavaians are a slave race that escaped from the Kingdom of Salarrd several centuries ago. They are a people of great friendships, appreciation for the wilderness, and moral decency. Their ruler, King Visther, and Princess Geighttia, the only daughter of his deceased wife, are much loved.

The Gulo

The conditions of their servitude in Salarrd were so physically devastating that the Cathavaians would surely have never escaped from under them without assistance. But they were aided, by the gulo, a mammal species you or I might mistake for slightly large wolverines, and they repay that aid to this day still with a fierce and enduring friendship. The gulo are smart, and powerfully ferocious for their size. They communicate in a sign language of several thousand words, and they have a keen understanding of men that makes them unerring judges of human honesty and trustworthiness. The gulo call this ability their "nose".

    Brother, lend me your nose
    for I am beset by lies.
    Brother, lend me your claws
    for there are snakes in my nest.
      (a traditional oath of friendship)

Some Cathavaians and gulo bond themselves to each other formally in a close relationship of trust and friendship known as muskkinship. Typically, a Cathavaian who's interested in muskkinship will ask a gulo he knows to arrange the bonding rite with a similarly interested gulo. The rite itself is a run-down and kill of a deer (or similar prey) in which both make an equal contribution to the take-down and kill, and in which the human uses no weapons or tools. If the rite fails the gulo participant will likely never try at muskkinship again, and so the gulo asked to arrange the rite may decline if he lacks necessary confidence in the Cathavaian's physical ability. For this reason many muskkinships are with rather well-conditioned Cathavaian soldier types. King Visther's own muskkin is a gulo named Ash.

The Gulo have never directly explained what prompted them to risk aiding the enslaved Cathavaians, but a credible theory is that they'd come to perceive a kinship with the suffering people from the affliction of low birth rate they both share.

The Siege

King Visther's young daughter and heir, Princess Geighttia, whom the king loves dearly, is afflicted with a sickness that makes it hard for her to talk, and gives her palsy and increasingly violent seizures. This past summer, when the physicians decided she would certainly die soon, the king went to the leadership council of the Ordo Parvulus and asked that they accept the princess into the Ordo. He would lose her as his heir, but she would live. The council declined. Healing the princess would put stress on the eggs.

The king, and indeed all Cathavaians were outraged at the unsympathetic ruling. Surely an exception could be made, just this once. And so now, on the very threshold of winter, a Cathavaian army sits arrayed in siege at the base of Halymn, pounding, pounding, pounding the impossible fortifications with nine great engines of war. The Cathavaians mean only to breach and enter the fortress and use the eggs to heal the princess. It is said the Ordo Parvulus has enough stored food to last a year. The Salarrd have condemned the siege, but seem otherwise unlikely to take sides.

Creit

The leadership council of Parvulus is fractured and uncertain about a course of action. Several have taken it upon themselves to write a joint request for advice to a former Parvulus of the leadership council who has been thirty years now living, and aging, in the kingdoms of man. His name is Creit.

The Conclusion

Princess Geighttia is slain in her bedchambers with a disturbingly powerful poison that liquefies most of her flesh. The murder is committed by three knights of the Ordo Parvulus on a suicide mission intended to end Cathavaia's siege of Halymn.


Good names for Cathavaians: Purghinn, Pasph, Strietan, Suiqtia, Shypercha, Mosinadan, Essadight

Good names for Parvulus: Sav, Pers, Emy, Wir, Iasu, Ofyn

And I have to say, it could maybe use a little tightening, but I'm overall quite quite pleased with it. I'm rather consistently good with NPCs but pretty much suck ass at whole-cloth setting creation. So right now I'm thinking some serious confidence about my goal for The Niche Engine being a framework optimized for setting creation. The trick might end up being in the explanation of how to do it.

Whaddya think?

Paul


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: Paul T on December 14, 2006, 08:04:46 PM
Paul,

This definitely sounds interesting! I wonder how much trouble it will be to get the balance right
between easy success and predictable failure. Either could doom the game.

Question: you mention that this is about setting creation. I see rules and guidelines for setting development but nothing to actually help someone create setting (Circumstances). Am I missing something, or is this how you intended it?

Best,


Paul


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: Paul Czege on December 15, 2006, 06:58:49 AM
Hey Simon,

Sorry for the delayed response. No worries, I'll have a full range of pronouns in the final text.

Can I ask if you had any thoughts on it as a game, once you got beyond the pronouns test?

Thanks,

Paul


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: Paul Czege on December 15, 2006, 10:00:58 AM
Hey Eero,

Yeah, you get my gold feedbacker award. It was your example setting and character that drove me to find time this past week for creating my own example Circumstances. I just couldn't find the language to explain how your example might be changed to better fit my notions for the game.

What do you think, can you see how my example is less...high up? I want to say, "Write it to expose the personality of the conflict, like the best narration you hear on The History Channel. Not like an encyclopedia entry." But I'm not sure that'll be a broadly effective explanation. How would you explain it?

You also didn't connect Thurma's Annotations to The Conclusion as the text suggests, and that has me thinking about reworking that attachment requirement. My intent is for the character's Niche to represent effectiveness and agency relative to The Conclusion, such that the lowering of World, Flesh, and Devil scores for Niche effectiveness is a process of reducing human complexity and becoming more iconic. It's the transition from Robin of Loxley to Robin Hood, from human to an iconic entity uniquely empowered to change the course of societal events. Except the World, Flesh, and Devil scores are just numbers. For Thurma you gave them descriptors, because I think you intuited their association with a character's human complexity, but that's not in the rules. What's in the rules for human complexity is the Annotations. Except now I'm starting to think the attachment between the Niche and The Circumstances and the Annotations and The Conclusion is garbled. Your Thurma and my own example Conclusion have me doubting whether there's enough in a Conclusion for Annotations that support a diverse cast of characters and give complexity to an individual character. Could you write Annotations for a diverse cast of uniquely interesting Cathavaian and Parvulus characters from my example Conclusion? Perhaps both the Niche and the Annotations should be based on The Circumstances?

And two quick clarifications:

1. Obviate basically means "preclude". The player has to decide whether he wants an Assured success before rolling the dice.
2. And yes, if I've bottomed out in Devil and World, I can't try to change the future with either of them. And if I'm bottomed out in Flesh as well, I can't try to change the future at all. The mechanic implies that fully changing the future will require the efforts of more than one individual.

Thanks,

Paul


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: Robert Ahrens on December 15, 2006, 10:10:00 AM
I think it would be a mistake to pin the success of a game session on the pacing mechanic. Both my games you mentioned have a kind of pacing mechanic, but they're not what the game's "about." So the game still works regardless of the how the die mechanics dictate the length of the game.

Well, I have two responses to that:

1) The game Paul's talking about above is "about" the changing of the Conclusion.  That's pretty directly what it's about, by my reading of the above.  So I think that it's worth thinking this through.  Certainly, the situation where the players are "behind" and have to face a certain number of losses before they can hope to have an impact isn't so bad.  But if I were a player and the situation were such that any stated attempt to alter the Conclusion was assured of success then, for me, that would rob the game of much of its impact.  If the game tells me (as I think it does) that the purpose of play is a struggle to alter the destiny of the Setting and then I do poorly in the struggle and the game "rewards" me by saying that I now have carte blanche to achieve that alteration in destiny, then I would feel that to be a legitimate hole in the mechanics.

2) With regard to your games, Jared, I have mixed feelings.  Based on a few instances of running it myself, and one time of playing it at SGB, the play structure of Inspectres seems to be:

"Wacky hijinks ensue"
Repeat as necessary
Last huzzah

where each humorous event riffs off the last until someone notices that we're out of tokens and it's time for a final blaze of silliness.  This works well with the light tone of the game and the freewheeling narrative sharing.  It also works fine across multiple sessions because the "counter" resets every session, so once you know how to gauge things for a single session there's no real further issue or creep over time.

As far as Lacuna goes, however, I do have a problem with the lack of guidance on roll granularity and pacing.  (I only have the First Attempt and my one experience of play (with you in the GM's chair) to gauge by, so I may be missing something.)  It seems to me that the dice in Lacuna merely dictate how much of a finite resource of still-in-it-ness I have to expend in order to achieve success in the current task.  That means my tradeoffs are almost all success now vs success later, or even success now vs getting to play later.  But (for me) this makes the structure of play too linear and the choices aren't very interested.  And, because you've rooted those choices in *every* conflict roll in a much deeper way than they are rooted in Inspectres it makes Lacuna not very attractive for me to play, alas.

Yes, this is my personal aesthetic baggage, but I hope it's not too esoteric as to be useful feedback for Paul.  Apologies if any of this constitutes topic drift.  I wont' raise this stuff any more in this discussion.


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: Paul Czege on December 15, 2006, 11:14:24 AM
Hey Graham,

Check out my response to Eero, is the moral agency of the characters clear now? They can choose to trade human complexity for the power to possibly avert a lurid and disturbing future event.

I think I'm going to stick with World, Flesh, Devil, and my definitions of them. My first notes for the game used Body, Mind, Spirit, but I set those aside in favor of these because they suit my personal inner cosmology better, and because a simple upside of the Creative Commons license is that folks who want different aesthetics for conflict subdivisions can do ShareAlike adaptations of the game without even asking permission.

It's interesting that you think a player only bottoming out one Expression is uninteresting. To me what's interesting is seeing a player choose between iconic agency and human complexity. And that latter choice is what you're describing as uninteresting. My thinking is that as gamemaster I'll be looking for early play to telegraph which way a player is leaning, and then I'll hit him with scenes and conflicts that push him the other way. If he's Niche-ifying, and leaning toward agency, I'll hit him with non-Niche situations of personal relevance. And if I see him choosing to increase the Inevitability of The Conclusion, then I'll hit him with stuff that's in his Niche. Do you think it won't work?

And yes, that second sentence in the Assured Success section should read "Niche does not contribute."

Thanks,

Paul


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: Paul Czege on December 15, 2006, 11:35:57 AM
Hey Troy,

Yeah, thinking about my example Circumstances and Conclusion, faeries and tigers would be right out. I think I need a rule that requires the characters be faithful to the setting. And as you suggest, maybe it's as simple as giving the GM the power to force a negotiation. But I wouldn't mind something a bit more concrete if it's possible, along the lines of "underline a word in the Circumstances". But I can't see how that particular requirement would solve the problem. So the player underlines Cathavaia and writes a Niche that they're a thousand year old Klingon warrior living in Cathavaia.

Any thoughts?

Thanks,

Paul


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on December 15, 2006, 12:18:46 PM
What do you think, can you see how my example is less...high up? I want to say, "Write it to expose the personality of the conflict, like the best narration you hear on The History Channel. Not like an encyclopedia entry." But I'm not sure that'll be a broadly effective explanation. How would you explain it?

I see it, I think. What you have in your example is Situation, fully fleshed and ready for the characters. I limited myself to just general paraphrasing and focusing of the Setting in my example. Would you say that this is correct? Furthermore, when you write in the rules that ""Prior to chargen the gamemaster needs to dig into the larger setting material and focus his interest for the game onto specific circumstances of dramatic social trespass.", can it be equally well written in jargon as "The GM molds an interesting preliminary Situation based on the Setting"?

Specifically, in your example, the following paragraphs are Setting:
Halymn
The Eggs of Etiwr
The Ordo Parvulus
Cathavaia
The Gulo
while The Siege and Creit are Situation initiated by the princess getting ill. What I'd like to make really clear is that your intent really is that the GM creates the Situation in this manner.

Makes sense to me. What you're saying here, if I understand right, is that the GM first creates a Situation, and characters are then created in relation to it. Compare with DiV, for instance, where the GM likewise creates a Situation framework in Town Creation, but the characters are created independently of it. In that game both the Town and the characters are created in relation to the Setting as presented in the book, and their interconnecting is achieved through that Setting-based connection. Here you're saying that the Situation is created and presented publicly first, and characters are then created to fit it. I've played many games in this manner succesfully, so why not.

(For the theory-heads: yes, I know that Situation = Character + Setting, but you'll note that Paul already has NPCs in action in his write-up. That allows it to be a pre-created Situation, in fact.)

Quote
You also didn't connect Thurma's Annotations to The Conclusion as the text suggests, and that has me thinking about reworking that attachment requirement.

Well, I kinda intended to connect: Thurma has a way of life and is ready to die, both of which words are present in the Conclusion. Perhaps you intented for the connection to be firmer, not just spun off single words?

Quote
My intent is for the character's Niche to represent effectiveness and agency relative to The Conclusion, such that the lowering of World, Flesh, and Devil scores for Niche effectiveness is a process of reducing human complexity and becoming more iconic. It's the transition from Robin of Loxley to Robin Hood, from human to an iconic entity uniquely empowered to change the course of societal events.

This is important, and I totally missed it previously. That's what I mean by not getting the nuances.

Considering the above, should you have some manner of getting more Annotations? I know they're not very powerful, but psychologically I could see a benefit in the character getting new Annotations out of how the story progresses - the player could just write stuff down on the way as a kind of short-hand of how the character entangles in the Situation. This would be a (ultimately false) kind of a reward system for a character that is refusing the iconic direction. It would also increase the "human complexity" in a very organic manner, as the player chooses what is worth writing down.

Quote
Except the World, Flesh, and Devil scores are just numbers. For Thurma you gave them descriptors, because I think you intuited their association with a character's human complexity, but that's not in the rules. What's in the rules for human complexity is the Annotations. Except now I'm starting to think the attachment between the Niche and The Circumstances and the Annotations and The Conclusion is garbled. Your Thurma and my own example Conclusion have me doubting whether there's enough in a Conclusion for Annotations that support a diverse cast of characters and give complexity to an individual character. Could you write Annotations for a diverse cast of uniquely interesting Cathavaian and Parvulus characters from my example Conclusion? Perhaps both the Niche and the Annotations should be based on The Circumstances?

Interestingly enough, coming on the thread after a week, I remembered the rules as having the Annotations based on Circumstances. I had to check the see what you're writing about.

Well, I'll sketch some characters for your example, just what comes easily:
Purghinn, the brother of princess Geghttia. Familial relationship is an obvious Annotation.
Pasph, a masterful doctor and a secret master poisoner. The Annotation here is his skill in perhaps helping the princess or providing the poison for the deed to come.
Sav, an Ordo Parvulus knight. The Annotation is easy to connect, as he might be one of those ultimately sent to do the deed.
Strietan, the general leading the siege. The Annotation is his connection to the military situation.

Hmm... that's all I got. I could try some kind of Ordo Parvulus agitation officer in charge of indoctrinating people to try suicide missions, but as Ordo is so inhuman and fanatical it seems to me that they have little need for it. If I had to make a fifth character, I'd have to think or stretch a bit, in other words.

My basic question concerning the above is really whether a simple "connection" is enough. Are all of the above good characters simply by the virtue of having some connection with the Conclusion? Perhaps, I don't know.

On the other hand, it kind of seems to me that you might have the relationship turned around from what comes naturally: shouldn't the Niche of the character be connected to the "adventure" at hand (Conclusion), to ensure that his is a relevant archetype to the story? And likewise, isn't the "human complexity" residing in the general setting (Circumstances), not the brief Conclusion? One reason for why I wrote the Niche long and Annotations short with my example was that there's plenty of material in the Circumstances of Dragon Pass, but only a little in the focal statement of the Conclusion.

Otherwise I agree that there might be some murk in the relationship Circumstances, Annotations and Conclusion have. Best found out in playtest, I expect.

Quote
2. And yes, if I've bottomed out in Devil and World, I can't try to change the future with either of them. And if I'm bottomed out in Flesh as well, I can't try to change the future at all. The mechanic implies that fully changing the future will require the efforts of more than one individual.

That part is cool, but it also means that there actually is no reason to drop yourself to zero in the third endeavor, apart from wanting to succeed in some important conflicts that come after you've fired off your two shots at changing the Conclusion. This becomes a bit of a break-point resource-wise, because it's to the character's benefit to maximize one endeavor and use the other two for zeroing (assuming a purely Conclusion-centered agenda on the player). I don't really know if that's a serious problem, just sayin'.

Quote
It's interesting that you think a player only bottoming out one Expression is uninteresting. To me what's interesting is seeing a player choose between iconic agency and human complexity. And that latter choice is what you're describing as uninteresting. My thinking is that as gamemaster I'll be looking for early play to telegraph which way a player is leaning, and then I'll hit him with scenes and conflicts that push him the other way. If he's Niche-ifying, and leaning toward agency, I'll hit him with non-Niche situations of personal relevance. And if I see him choosing to increase the Inevitability of The Conclusion, then I'll hit him with stuff that's in his Niche. Do you think it won't work?

Ah, this is key for trying to GM this thing. I'm most likely going to try to run The Niche Engine next Tuesday with some teens and the Finnish rpg Heimot. Any other advice?

***
A stray thought: if I understand correctly the Conclusion assumes that the GM will be taking sides, and hard, on the central issue of play. The job of the GM basicly seems to be to sell the idea that the Conclusion as written is "bad", so as to engage the players in the mechanics. I guess he could flip-flop after getting the players convinced to make Inevitability rise a bit, too. But at the beginning, what he presents as the Conclusion should rather objectively be bad, otherwise there's a bit of a question as to what the characters are even doing in the story. In your example, for instance: it'd be pretty difficult to relate to that if it proves right from the start that the princess is an ugly bitch who deserves to die.


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: Paul Czege on December 15, 2006, 12:30:36 PM
Hey Robert,

Thanks for working the Imperative/Inevitability mechanics. You've got me thinking the game might be missing a rule: after a recasting attempt, whether it's successful or not, Imperative is reset to 0.

Paul


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: Paul Czege on December 15, 2006, 01:05:09 PM
And...I think I need a higher starting value for the Inevitability. Otherwise players start characters with a World, Flesh, or Devil Expressions of 1, bottom it out in their first Niche scene, and then call for a recasting. A concerted effort on the part of the players could end the whole thing in seven or eight scenes. What do you think makes sense as a starting value for the Inevitability? Some calculation...or perhaps setting it equal to the highest World, Flesh, or Devil Expression across the cast of characters?

Paul


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on December 15, 2006, 03:31:12 PM
And...I think I need a higher starting value for the Inevitability. Otherwise players start characters with a World, Flesh, or Devil Expressions of 1, bottom it out in their first Niche scene, and then call for a recasting. A concerted effort on the part of the players could end the whole thing in seven or eight scenes. What do you think makes sense as a starting value for the Inevitability? Some calculation...or perhaps setting it equal to the highest World, Flesh, or Devil Expression across the cast of characters?

I'm going to blabber about this with a bit of math and bad modelling. Skip to the end for the short answer.

Assuming one conflict per scene, one scene per character per "round" of play, each player will get one opportunity to either raise Imperative (losing the conflict) or lower an attribute (auto-win by Niche) or raise Inevitability (auto-win outside Niche) each round. Assuming the players are optimizing for resolution, what they will do is lose a lot and lower their attributes. Let's do some thinking on it:

Optimizing players will always go for the Niche auto-resolution if they can, at least if it's with an attribute they want to lower (which is all of them, as the optimizing player only cares about the Conclusion, not the cost of getting there). If they can't, they'll want to lose (to raise Imperative), meaning that they'll use a low attribute. I'd say this means the optimal attribute spread is 1/1/5, as it means that two thirds of the time you're using an attribute that's easy to zero and easy to lose with. Assuming you have choice in using the attributes with clever application, you'll be using one of your weak attributes practically all the time.

What the above means is that each turn the players are either going to zero or getting Imperative. Let's arbitrarily say that 50% of the first round conflicts will involve the character's Niche and allow a lowering. So with N players Imperative will be at roughly N/3 (as some of those rolls will actually give the player the win, despite low attributes) after everybody gets one scene, and half of the players will have zeroed one attribute, ready to Recast. Let's just say that the players will continue taking auto-successes even after zeroing in one attribute for simplicity's sake, and also assume that the Niches will keep on appearing 50% of the time. So each round Imperative will increase by N/3 and 2N/3 attributes will go down.

Because the expected value for a player dice roll is somewhere around 1.5+Attribute while GM die roll will be 3.5(+Inevitability), in a Recast situation the players will want to have at least 2 points advantage, preferably 3. Getting more isn't necessary (although nice if they can get it), as the players don't care if one of them fails, others can still try. This allows us the calculate how long the game goes on before the first Recast attempt, if Inevitability starts at 0:
N=2 -> 3 rounds (as they gather 2 points of Imperative)
N=3 -> 2 rounds (ditto)
N=4 -> 1-2 round (depending on the exact ratio of Niche-situations and rolling)
N=5 -> 1 round (a bit over 1, but close)
N=6 -> 1 round
...

As we can see, it is indeed very quick to start Recasting. What's worse, with more players it's even quicker. How does increasing Inevitability affect this? Simply: each point of Inevitability requires the players to raise Imperative by one point, so it requires one extra failure. So if we want to give N players one more round of play, we'll want N/3 points extra Inevitability. Of course after the first couple of rounds the players will have more than enough attributes at 0, at which point they'll only go for the failures. So let's say after three rounds each player has 1-2 attributes at zero, and they'll just stop auto-succeeding and rather try to lose at dice. At that point they'll start racking 2N/3 or so Imperative per round.

Now, how long do we want the game to take? From playing similar one session nar carpet bomb stuff (including a really nice zombie game I concocted last week) I'd say that you'll need around three rounds of scenes to establish protagonism and roles in the story at a minimum. Of course, if the game is supposed to have less intensive scenes, less player skill involved and no hard scene framing, then it's considerably more. But let's say 3 rounds. So our target is that the players will play four rounds before the first recast, so they'll have to spend three rounds to get Imperative up and one round to see who's actually going to do the Recast. Or something like that. Let's correlate the number of players with beginning Inevitability (X) to get some numbers. I'll round down this time.

X:N=2N=3N=4N=5N=6
032111
153322
254332
364433
465443
575544

So according to this it would seem that if we wanted the game to last about 4 rounds before the first Recast, we'd want Inevitability to start at 1 for two players, 2 for three players, 3 for four players, four for five players and five for six players. (The table seems very symmetric about it, but don't be suckered, it's an illusion of rounding down. Some of those numbers are definitely to the small side.) For our purposes this is very good, because we have a very simple formula: starting Inevitability should be equal to (number of players)-1 (not counting GM). Simple, and ensures that the game takes roughly the same number of rounds for any number of players, which is good, because then all players are getting an appropriate amount of turns.

Of course, here we have the problem of extreme assumptions: the above assumptions have the players going for Recast singlemindedly and in total cooperation (so far so that they'll all opt for 1/1/5 attribute spread), which is not very realistic. What we have here is only the practical minimum of how many rounds the players will take with each value of X to get enough Imperative to Recast. Assuming the players have less optimal attributes and play with more concern for the fiction, it's easy to lower that starting value even lower.

Then again, you (Paul) might think that four rounds between Recasts is too short or long, so the numbers can be fiddled to get whatever is appropriate. Perhaps Inevitability = number of players (not counting GM) is a good formula for playtest purposes, at least. Combined with the idea that Imperative drops to zero for all Recast attempts it means that there will be perhaps 5 rounds of play (as the players won't be so single-minded) between Recasts, for a total of around fifteen rounds for the whole game. Sounds good to me.

***
The problem set is considerably simpler, by the way, if you want the total amount of scenes to be roughly similar between different numbers of players. So the game would last a given amount of hours each time, for instance, instead of giving each player the same amount of playtime. To achieve that you'll want to have the amount of scenes the same each time, regardless of N. It might not be obvious that in this case X, the starting value of Inevitability, is almost equal to a constant; as each player increases the value of Imperative by roughly the same amount on his turn, the number of turns before reaching a given value stays the same regardless of the number of players. For example, with X = 0 the game will last for roughly six scenes between Recast attempts as the players push Imperative up a couple of points. If all Recasts succeed, the game will last around 20 scenes.

***
Looking at Paul's suggested solution of having X = highest attribute is interesting, as it forces the min-maxer to consider turns wasted in that manner. Assuming that the players have to take one turn to drop an attribute or one turn to get Imperative (to counteract the high beginning Inevitability, if they opt for a 1/1/5 spread), the optimal spread of attributes will be far from obvious. Clearly all players should go for the same set of attributes, but whether it's more efficient to start with disbalanced attributes and work Imperative up or balanced attributes (best you can do is 2/2/3, which still gives you starting Inevitability of 3) and work the attributes down, is a nasty question depending on how often Niche really comes up, as well as the number of players. Very nice.

However, the game will be quite long with Inevitability between 3 and 5 (which is what this amounts to), especially as in a practical group somebody will take that 1/1/5 spread anyway. As can be seen from the above table, the length of the game in rounds will be pretty variable, and with few players perhaps too long. I don't know. It's easy to calculate that with Inevitability 5 there'll be around 15 scenes between each Recast attempt at minimum.

Paul's solution does have the benefit of removing the uncertainty caused by point spreads, though, so it's preferable in that manner. It's too complex, but you could combine the best of both worlds by using the formula of X = (number of players)+(highest attribute)-5. That would give us Starting Inevitability between 0 (two players, both 2/2/3) and 5 (five players, at least one 1/1/5). I'm pretty confident that you'd get nice numbers with that, especially as you can finetune the -5 term to suit preferences.

The promised short answer:

If you want each player to have roughly the same amount of play time regardless of number of players (five scenes or so between each Recast attempt, say), the simple formula of Starting Inevitability = Number of players does the job. If you want each game to last roughly the same amount of time regardless of number of players, the even simpler formula Starting Inevitability = X does it. If you don't mind a complex formula, Starting Inevitability = (number of players)+(highest attribute)-5 gives a very fine control over how long the game takes in terms of mechanics, and the choices made by players at chargen do not enter it.


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on December 16, 2006, 06:41:13 AM
Looking at Paul's suggested solution of having X = highest attribute is interesting, as it forces the min-maxer to consider turns wasted in that manner. Assuming that the players have to take one turn to drop an attribute or one turn to get Imperative (to counteract the high beginning Inevitability, if they opt for a 1/1/5 spread), the optimal spread of attributes will be far from obvious. Clearly all players should go for the same set of attributes, but whether it's more efficient to start with disbalanced attributes and work Imperative up or balanced attributes (best you can do is 2/2/3, which still gives you starting Inevitability of 3) and work the attributes down, is a nasty question depending on how often Niche really comes up, as well as the number of players. Very nice.

I realized last night that strictly speaking the above isn't quite right due to a breakpoint in the works. Let's look at the possible attribute spreads:
1/1/5 - what the minmaxer would use
1/2/4 - note that the maximal attribute is one point lower, but there's one less attribute at one; so far, so good
1/3/3 - again, maximal attribute has come down two points, while the minimal is still at 1; not so good
2/2/3 - the balanced option; note that the maximal is the same as above, resulting in a breakpoint

Considering the factual choices the players have in distributing attributes, it seems clear that there will be several attributes at 1 in all groups; three of four possible attribute spreads have a 1. In that sense it actually seems that the highest attribute among the group actually has very little to do with the amount of low attributes, they'll be there anyway. From that viewpoint a more relevant formula would be the amount of 1s in the group, perhaps: Starting Inevitability = (number of attributes at 1). This is very clean, scales with the number of players as well as amount of minmaxing,  and on average gives similar results as the (number of players) formula I suggested earlier; as two possible attribute spreads have only one 1, one has two and one has none, the expected average Starting Inevitability stays cleanly at number of players (assuming the different spreads are equally popular, of course). Even if it doesn't, it's not a problem, as the minmaxers draw Inevitability up by choosing 1/1/5 while the possible conformists pick 2/2/3, taking Inevitability down. In other words, both extremes result in a roughly similar length for the game.

Yeah, pretty nice. But that's enough about Starting Inevitability, a pretty secondary concern anyway.


Title: Re: The Niche Engine (v. 0.1), for roleplaying that's about the setting
Post by: Paul Czege on December 19, 2006, 04:54:11 PM
As an aside from mechanical concerns, I'm curious what people think of the example Circumstances and Conclusion (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=22419.msg226836#msg226836); I know the relationships between the Conclusion, Niche, Circumstances, and Annotations need to be rethought, so no mechanics, just tell me what kind of character you'd create if you were going to play in the setting...

Thanks,

Paul