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General Forge Forums => First Thoughts => Topic started by: Callan S. on March 03, 2009, 07:35:01 PM

Title: A human feeling - small potato issues
Post by: Callan S. on March 03, 2009, 07:35:01 PM
This is more of a side thing I want to establish in game and it's basically a human feeling.

Basically at the start and at certain fairly regular intervals (perhaps once an hour or so of real time) players are asked some questions about their character off a list of questions.

Stuff like "How well did you sleep last night", "How was your last meal", "Are your boots wearing on you feet", "Are you sick of the flies that keep buzzing at you", "Do you fancy the chick at the bar?", "Is someone bugging you with an annoying habit" and more - mostly in the theme of post apocalyptic play (a rifts derivative in this case, but this is something I'll use in previously mentioned projects).

Basically for saying anything at all, they'll get something like 3 XP and once you get ten XP (can be accumulated over multiple Q&A's), you get an aim point as well, which give you +2 to hit in combat (not a bad bonus). The reason for the XP stretch is that this really is a side thing and aim points are a primary currency that the gamist parts of play will trade in - side things don't get to overly influence primary currencies.

The GM also judges you, not on what you say, but how much detail. If he judges you gave some detail (ie, more than a monosybillic responce) you get another 2 XP on top.

I'm writing this because I've never actually concentrated on these elements in game. But it strikes me how these things fade away in gameplay. It reminds me of the Donny Darko commentary where the director says he wanted a scene where characters (the parents) just talk about the weird shit thats happened, like people just would (I would) but to no real plot development. And I think that sometimes, how characters in movies often seem like plot beasts - they never fart, they never run out of toilet paper on the bog - it's always plot, plot, plot! And I think they lose a bit of humanity that way. Anyway, the director had to cut it for time - and I think atleast in my roleplay its often cut slowly away for various reasons.

Also I find it hard to make a gamist design just flat out, but I find it alot easier to think of when I think this will be part of the procedings and knitted into the currency of the game.

Second guessing, I bet some would say "But that's just what you do, naturally!". But you don't - like the scene that got cut in Donnie Darko, unless you make time for it, it just fades away. So this mechanic makes time for it and makes it relevant to the here and now (which is combat, in this case).

Title: Re: A human feeling - small potato issues
Post by: Luke on March 03, 2009, 09:37:31 PM
This is similar to BE's color scenes.

Some players will know what to do with these, some will be clueless. I recommend having guidelines on content of responses and, best case, have the content of responses have a mechanical effect.


Title: Re: A human feeling - small potato issues
Post by: Vulpinoid on March 03, 2009, 11:15:06 PM
I actually think your right on the money with this one, Callan.

Especially in some of the games where "weird shit" happens, but no one seems to care about it.

A game like RIFTS tries to hint at these types of concepts with it's "Horror Factor" covering things that really shock the character, but it could have some great potential to look at the minutiae of the human condition in very exotic circumstances. Other races could also be really well developed by a player through the simple responses provided to questions like these.

You could also apply the response bonuses to skills that might be underused.

In RIFTS, if a character keeps referring to people using their smells, then maybe a skill where olfactory awareness plays an important role like "cooking" might a one off +5% bonus.

Another character who says they haven't been sleeping well might get subtle nightmare or partial psychotic breaks from reality that further the storyline.

More often than not, these bonuses won't happen, but they could be used in a carrot and stick approach to lure new information out about the character and to really get the players thinking about the conditions they are in.

I think this idea definitely has merit.


Title: Re: A human feeling - small potato issues
Post by: Daniel B on March 04, 2009, 05:54:52 PM
Trying to build color into the mechanics like this worries me though, because it strikes me that you'll actually defeat the purpose of putting it in there in the first place.

For the gamists in the crowd, I believe the characters don't really exist, they're pawns and so these extra mechanics will either be an irritant or just another way they can grab XP. If their playing along to get XP satisfies your desire for extra colour, even though those gamists don't really 'feel it', so be it. However, the people for whom this extra colour matters and is really interesting would find drawing it into the domain of the machine kills the spontaneity and makes it into .. well .. another mechanic. It would become a chore required by the machine, rather than something fun within the machine.

You can lead horses to water, but you can't make them drink it.


Title: Re: A human feeling - small potato issues
Post by: Callan S. on March 05, 2009, 03:24:48 PM
Well, it's not supposed to really matter or be hugely interesting. If someones coming to it thinking it matters and is the most interesting thing, they are out of sync with this design. There are quite a few other indie games which will accomidate that much better.

In other words, it's okay if they don't drink. I'm just making it a fairly useful thing to do in terms of mechanics, rather than a must have.

Title: Re: A human feeling - small potato issues
Post by: Marshall Burns on March 05, 2009, 03:52:03 PM

Have you ever played the videogame Earthbound? (Mother 2 in Japan, I think)

It's one of those videogames that are called RPGs. It's about a small boy with psionic powers who goes on a quest to save the world, and gains friends and faces challenges along the way.

In order to save the game, you have to find a telephone, call your dad, and tell him how your day's been going.

If you played for long enough at a time, your mother would call you on a portable receiver and ask you if you're getting tired, and shouldn't you be taking a break by now? No? Well, don't overdo it, okay?

In between this stuff, you're fighting all kinds of crazy things from giant moles to exploding trees to massive piles of vomit, by using not only psionic powers but also baseball bats, pop-guns, yo-yos, and frying pans. You're clearing zombies out of a town. You're infiltrating a cult. You're seeking out the resonant and magical places of the country in order to gain their power so that you can save the world. And then, you're on the phone with your dad, telling him how your day's been going.

I loved that about that game. Your idea reminds me a lot of this.
I'm not sure what my point is.


Title: Re: A human feeling - small potato issues
Post by: Callan S. on March 06, 2009, 05:42:11 PM
Yes, it's that sort of touching base with down to earth stuff. The blending of the mundane with the fantastic is also fertile imaginative ground, because it neither gives into the entropy of day to day life, nor does it give into fantasy so much it becomes an acid trip.

Title: Human feelings, Creative Agenda, and Story Now
Post by: Abkajud on March 06, 2009, 06:00:34 PM
Reading this thread makes me feel a bit funny about getting irritated by my players role-playing "for its own sake". Now that I'm finally playing a Narrativist game, in which the mechanical Points of Contact make sure that Premise and story really are important and central, it feels weird and Sim and, forgive me, masturbatory to just chit-chat in character.
Maybe I need to mellow out.
I suppose if I found the chatter more entertaining or interesting, that'd do a lot to make this feel like less of a "problem".
On the other hand, I feel like I'm shell-shocked from too much "listless, aimless, dull play with no sustained conflict and no meaning", (Vincent Baker, "Doing Away with the GM", (, accessed 06 Mar 2009); the quote relates to Vincent's GM-less effort, Before the Flood, but badly-run Sim can feel like that for me too, GM or no.
When my players use game-time to chew the scenery in-character, I cringe. If it doesn't really relate to the plot (something the players are making, mind you - this isn't about them "not following MY story"), and it doesn't develop the character, it feels like a waste of time.
On the other hand, I'm also neurotically afraid of dead-time, of letting scenes drag on and on.
This isn't to say that there's no room for the Human Touch ^_^ and I've had a couple of instances in which it certainly touches on the mechanics.

From a recent session: a dwarf pickpocket at a human lord's fortress wants to be taken more seriously by her host. She asks for better clothing than the rags she came in with, and the tailor promptly sews her something out of the old castoffs of the lord's young son. The dwarf is not at all happy to be in boy-clothes when she doesn't have to be, and insists that the tailor sew her some more.
We roll, and the tailor won't budge.
So, the dwarf tries to convince a chambermaid to steal(!) some clothes out of the chambers of the lord's little daughter, which would probably fit. We (the player and the GM) roll, and the maid is so worried about being caught and punished that her mind cannot be changed on the subject. The dwarf relents and decides to make do with what she's already been given, thanks the tailor profusely, and apologizes to the maid for putting her on the spot like that.

The above vignette was actually pretty enjoyable for me, and I think I know why: there was conflict, there was GM-involvement (playing the NPCs, using mechanics), and it clearly mattered to the player. As it turned out, a dress would probably have made the lord (who's kind of a dick) still treat her like a non-person, so it's not that things have to keep bringing in the game mechanics to make a difference. But my player decided to use the mechanical part of the system to push the dress; it's what she wanted.

What do you think, Callan?

Title: Re: A human feeling - small potato issues
Post by: Mikael on March 07, 2009, 01:25:50 PM
Thanks, Callan, for speaking up for the small details among the larger conflicts (mechanical or not).

I think I am going to have a list of prompts handy when we play the next time. Something like:
  • Feeling
  • Sound
  • Detail of a thing
  • Thoughts
  • Pose
  • Smell
  • Need
  • Irritating thing
  • Texture
  • Something in line of sight
  • Relations
  • Taste
  • Detail of a place

If I rotate through the list and the players, and use the combination of the two and the situation at hand to formulate the actual question, I think the players might not even notice there's a list.

Title: Re: A human feeling - small potato issues
Post by: Callan S. on March 08, 2009, 10:50:12 AM
Hi Zac/Abkajud,

Well for myself, I think I've focused on deeds, not words. And I can relate to cringing at the idea of just chit chatting as if that's actually playing a game.

So I think I've avoided this, when really I need it, if only a little bit of it. It's like suger I guess - a little bit of it is what I would suit my needs, but clearly I cringe and reach for my insulin at the idea that some people pour a whole bag of suger on. Cringing so much I had not thought to add mechanics that give this, and thus make it part of the procedure of play itself. Indeed I think ironically if you looking for grim and gritty, a small taste of 'suger' helps the 'sour' taste come out all the more strongly (sweet and sour :) ).

Currently as proposed, the mechanic doesn't have a time limit for this activity, but I had thought 'minor reward would indicate minor time dedicated' would come naturally. I think to actually control it rather than let it go the way it'd naturally go (as I imagine it would have), I'd put a five minutes or less time limit on it. Perhaps even a bonus XP for getting it under a shorter time.

But I think your AP example is of system use, not of a reward mechanism. Being able to use the system to potentially affect the SIS isn't a reward, it's just how it should be normally.

Hi Mikael,

I think you need a firework to go off/a mechanical reward granted by answering the questions - otherwise it's dissassociative, isn't it? The question arises "What does answering this question actually have to do with the game" and beyond some sort of vague suggestion the GM might tie it in at some point, that question isn't really answered at all. Atleast when a mechanical reward consistantly goes off, it's clear that it affects that. I find with the SIS, many ideas often end up discarded rather than every single thing that is said somehow coming to fruition. And answering the question can seem fairly pointless, when it's high odds it'll do nothing in the end.

Title: Re: A human feeling - small potato issues
Post by: Mikael on March 08, 2009, 01:07:20 PM
Interesting, Callan. At least with our group, I see no need for mechanical reinforcement. If I, as the GM, pose a pointed question about a detail related to a specific character, rather randomly but at most twice per character during a 3-hour session or so, I am quite sure that they will be intrigued and go hmm, and try to answer with an honest effort. And I think they will appreciate the additional life-like feel these answers provide.

Also, as this is a pointed question to a single character, I expect no "extra chit-chat" beyond perhaps some collaborative and rewarding bouncing of ideas.

We are playing tomorrow. I will let you know how it went.

Title: Re: A human feeling - small potato issues
Post by: Daniel B on March 08, 2009, 01:32:14 PM
I got to thinking about this topic during a gaming session I was in last night. We've all been friends for a while and so are comfortable with each other, and it occurred to me that we the players chit-chat regularly. Our GM has in fact given up trying to control it because this chit-chat does finish up soon enough when one of us gets eager to move on, and our chats are near impossible to cut short early (..we have bad habits). 90% of what we talk about is in-game stuff anyway. Our GM regularly asks "Are you saying this to each other in character?" and we'll often agree. One buddy of mine was quite proud of his character's family history, and showed me the list of his parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, sons & daughters. This could easily have been done in-character but we traded notes outside the GM's purview, as players.

This is all implicit. If you could figure out how to make this sort of casual chatting explicit and in-character, I believe you would indeed achieve the effect you're going for. It might not even need a mechanical tie-in, and give the game some depth without requiring a new paragraph of rules. I don't know, maybe we're just a quirky group.


Title: Re: A human feeling - small potato issues
Post by: Vulpinoid on March 08, 2009, 04:33:42 PM
I don't know, maybe we're just a quirky group.

I don't think this experience is all that quirky at all. I've been a part of at least three distinctly different roleplaying groups and over the course of time this is exactly the type of thing that has crept into all of them.

Perhaps there was no firmly established "social contract" ground rules for the act of playing.

I don't know if a strong set of verbalised rules regarding play would have been to the benefit of the situation generally, or if it would have hindered things. Only once or twice have I seen GMs lay down the law by saying "When the game is played, we focus on the game...NO EXTERNAL DISCUSSION", sometimes to good effect because everyone had come to play, other times to negative effect because people had gathered to socialise and the play was simply a method to achieve that socialisation. A ruling like this was a new wildcard for the mix...On the whole though it all seemed to even out.

Personally, I think that it can only be a good thing to have something subtle within the rules that reinforces thinking about what the character is experiencing. Isn't this a part of he essence of roleplaying? The act of giving the character a bit of reward for thinking about their situation and sensing it in context grounds the mechanism into the existing rules.

Sure it's probably not for everyone, but I'm going to start using it in a couple of games to see how it affects things.