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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: zaal on December 23, 2002, 06:49:16 PM



Title: Item Collecting
Post by: zaal on December 23, 2002, 06:49:16 PM
Hi all,

A thread (http://trio.rpg.net/rf08/read.php?f=1081&i=1&t=1) in a Mutants & Masterminds review on RPG.net got me to thinking.  Essentially, the thread talks about forcing players to "pay" for items/weapons/powers that their characters acquired during play.

Item collecting (that is, what's done when searching dead orcs for gold, picking up a fallen enemy's gun and using it, etc.) has a long history in gaming.  I think it's common in Simulationist mode gaming that strives to be "realistic," because the assumption is that if you somehow manage to gain possession of an antagonists stuff, you should be able to use it.  (Note - I'm trying to get a handle on GNS in an effort to communicate more effectively here, so hopefully I'm using terms correctly!)  

However, there are certain styles of play - games based on super hero comic books, certain action movies, etc. - where this behavior is not suited to the "genre," for lack of a better word. (I'm not sure which GNS term to use)  For example, Captain America has incapacitated the gun wielding lackey of his archnemesis, the Red Skull.  However, Cap doesn't pick up and use the lackey's gun on the Skull, even though to the reader it seems that would be sensible thing to do.

Of course, Cap is a principled person and that might explain why he doesn't want to kill people (with a gun or otherwise).  However, it somehow seems like the very physics of cinematic reality prevent Cap from using anything but his tactical mind, his well above normal attributes, and his trusty shield.  It seems like Cap doesn't use a gun because he can't - or, at least, only when it's at an important plot point.  I'm not saying Cap can't use a gun because he doesn't know how (his background clearly establishes that he does); rather, it goes against his very nature.  It's like telling water to stop being wet - it just won't happen.

In superhero comics or action movies, it's like a character's items are more an extension of himself as opposed to being merely items he has picked up.  However, the gamers I am familiar with don't seem to "get" this idea.  Importantly, I'm not saying these gamers are in the wrong.  Rather, they seem firmly set in a way of thinking which is more "logical" in the real world, I guess.  I find this frustrating when trying to emulate the source material for what I want to play or GM.

A number of games address or try to address this issue.  Most of them suggest (or mandate) that players must pay for powers or items acquired in play, while others note the "problem," say it's out of genre, and then move on without further advice.  Examples, of the former include GURPS Supers and Hero, and an example of the latter is Feng Shui, which says it's "crass" to loot the bodies of fallen foes yet doesn't really do anything about it.

I guess, ultimately, communication among the players is key (it always is  :)  ).  Every player must know the set of "rules" by which their characters will act by, and if the players don't like it, they can leave.  But I would be interested in hearing other thoughts on the matter, and how various systems address this "problem."

Jon


Title: Item Collecting
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 23, 2002, 08:40:36 PM
Hi Jon,

Welcome to the Forge, and thanks especially for opening this great line of inquiry. I think it's an important topic.

A term that I anticipate being tossed around is "niche protection," but I tend to think of that as a description or label, rather than an explanation.

What is the phenomenon that Jon has described? I suggest that it's non-controversial that it exists; what matter is what it is. And for once, the plain old GNS categories do a good job of summarizing the issue, without having to delve into the diversity within each one.

Gamism - the player has committed to accomplishing win/loss conditions ("performing") using a specified range of options. Character creation is all about establishing the parameters of the options for a given character, regardless of how they are generated (randomly, point-allocation, etc).

Simulationism - the player has committed to a given set of plausible relationships among the modelled variables within the imagined game-world, expressed as "this character can do this much, this well," as a function of the character's previous history. I think of character creation in this mode of play as actually playing before the group begins, which is not the case in the other two modes, because the points/rolls/etc of Simulationist character creation are considered to be the game world in action.

Narrativism - the player has committed to expressing a specific set of passions regarding a specific set of issues (note: this can develop through play and to a certain extent almost always does, rather than being set in stone from the outset), entirely at the metagame/social level of play. The character, his or her abilities, his or her behaviors, anything about the character, express the range of the issue; that's what the character is for.

[Note that in Narrativist play, describing a character as "wrathful" is only saying that his or her decisions must cope with wrath, whereas in Simulationist play, such a statement on the sheet represents a social contract to play the character wrathfully. This is a big distinction. If one were to play Captain America in a Simulationist game, his unwillingness to kill (presumably, in non-wartime) is fixed. If one were to do so in a Narrativist game, his ongoing failure to kill represents an ongoing set of in-character decisions, and an ongoing thematic statement by the player.]

And finally, in all cases of any role-playing, I think it's important to recognize that stuff about the character (a fictional entity) exists as an expression of the social role of the player/person in that particular group. Most of what I have to say about that was presented in the The class issue (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2802).

So what does all this have to do with collecting the flotsam and jetsam of dropped or available items during play? Quite a bit. Insofar as the behavior is consistent with "what a character's for" according to the mode of play, then it's fine. If it's not, it's not.

A strongly Simulationist approach usually favors item-collecting, given that doing so is physically possible in the game-world and items can be handy. A strongly Gamist approach also does so, with the emphasis on the "handy" part. Limiting these activities in some way is also common: in Simulationist play, usually with weight allowances or attention to just how many little bags and satchels one can hang off one's belt before getting stuck in doorways; in Gamist play, usually with fixed limits imposed as a metagame consideration.

[Attempts to limit Gamist play using the Simulationist method (e.g. AD&D2) tend to fall short, as the Sim rules simply get ignored by players who don't care about them.]

The Narrativist approach is a tad trickier; I suggest that the "items" issue varies depending on secondary factors like the degree of plausibility relative to the developing story, as well as the limitations (from narrow to wide) upon character concepts, remembering that character concepts in this mode of play are by definition thematic time-bombs.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: Item Collecting
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on December 23, 2002, 11:32:14 PM
Quote from: zaal
For example, Captain America has incapacitated the gun wielding lackey of his archnemesis, the Red Skull.  However, Cap doesn't pick up and use the lackey's gun on the Skull, even though to the reader it seems that would be sensible thing to do.

Of course, Cap is a principled person and that might explain why he doesn't want to kill people (with a gun or otherwise).  However, it somehow seems like the very physics of cinematic reality prevent Cap from using anything but his tactical mind, his well above normal attributes, and his trusty shield.  It seems like Cap doesn't use a gun because he can't - or, at least, only when it's at an important plot point.  I'm not saying Cap can't use a gun because he doesn't know how (his background clearly establishes that he does); rather, it goes against his very nature.  It's like telling water to stop being wet - it just won't happen.

OK, I'm going to tread some thin ice and focus on this example here.

The thing one needs to understand about comic book super heroes is that they are very gimmic-focused. That's why they wear those silly outfits and put prefixes on their hokey devices (as in bat- like bat-arang, bat-mobile, bat-martial aide, etc.) Using his shield in a fight is Captain America's gimmic. It is oddly like a video game. Mario can only jump and stuff. That's the only button on the control. Comic book super heros are...iconic. Spider man has his nifty red & blue suit and his set of powers at his disposal, and that's pretty much it. Part of the fun of these sorts of limitations is watching them use or work within or succeed because of, or in spite of these limitations.

This makes that one line you wrote:
Quote
It seems like Cap doesn't use a gun because he can't - or, at least, only when it's at an important plot point.

oddly important. I am reminded of something in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Remember the scene where Roger was handcuff to Eddie and Eddie was about to use the hacksaw to cut them out of their cuffs. Eddie told Roger to hold the crate steady. Roger slipped out of the cuffs and held the crate "You mean like this?" Eddie gets irritated and says "You mean you could've slipped out of those cuffs at any time?" Roger replies "No. Not unless it was funny." This is a lot like that.

Characters can only follow their idiom, to use the line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Cap can't use a gun unless he's going to lose and violate his idiom. Cap can only lose in a manner befitting his idiom.

Does this make sense?


Title: Re: Item Collecting
Post by: Andrew Martin on December 24, 2002, 12:31:49 AM
Quote from: zaal
A number of games address or try to address this issue.  Most of them suggest (or mandate) that players must pay for powers or items acquired in play, while others note the "problem," say it's out of genre, and then move on without further advice.  Examples, of the former include GURPS Supers and Hero, and an example of the latter is Feng Shui, which says it's "crass" to loot the bodies of fallen foes yet doesn't really do anything about it.

I guess, ultimately, communication among the players is key (it always is  :)  ).  Every player must know the set of "rules" by which their characters will act by, and if the players don't like it, they can leave.  But I would be interested in hearing other thoughts on the matter, and how various systems address this "problem."


I think the easiest way around this problem is to simply fix the game rules so that the superhero's weapons, shield, gimmicks and so on are clearly superior to a henchman's gun, armour or other equipment. This way, the munchkins will behave in the desired way automatically, just like a roleplayer would. Therefore, there's no need to force the munchkins to leave, after all, they were merely following the rules of the game.

In conjunction with the above, it's also a really great idea to make sure that characters are really highly skilled (when appropriate) and to use FitM to avoid loss of protagonism -- where the character (and player) look foolish and stupid.


Title: Re: Item Collecting
Post by: zaal on December 24, 2002, 10:28:43 AM
Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
Characters can only follow their idiom, to use the line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Cap can't use a gun unless he's going to lose and violate his idiom. Cap can only lose in a manner befitting his idiom.

Does this make sense?

Yup.  I like your extension of the idea, as well - a character must do those things which prevent the loss of his "idiom."  Now I just need to figure out how to do that in a game.  :)

Jon


Title: Item Collecting
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 24, 2002, 11:51:45 AM
Hi Jon,

Are you familiar with the game Hero Wars? It's a superior role-playing game (in my opinion) because it operates precisely toward the "idiom-preservation" that you're describing.

A character is described only as a list of abilities. Anything described in other games as skills, attributes, relatioships, personality features, powers, or any-bloody-thing-at-all is an "ability" in Hero Wars, rated on the same numerical scale, utilized by the system in exactly the same ways. Even better, any ability may enhance the value of ("augment") any other ability during play.

What this means is that Cap's shield or whatnot is an ability, as are his principles. Using them in tandem produces mighty-mighty effects. These vectors or usable-relationships among his abilities "are" Captain America, in game terms. Therefore the system acts as integral (not added-on) positive reinforcement to preserve that identity, or, if you will, to preserve and express the character as a thematic statement.

Negative reinforcement to prevent actions that are not in line with that thematic statement are less pronounced in Hero Wars. The precise elements of the principles, for instance, wouldn't be as effective in tandem with a gun (unless he were shooting out a button to disarm a bomb, for instance, as opposed to drilling the Red Skull between the eyes). Still, from the standpoint of that game design, which happens to be extremely Narrativist, it's more important that Cap decide not to do such a thing, rather than to "prevent" him through punishment mechanics.

Best,
Ron


Title: Item Collecting
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on December 24, 2002, 04:49:22 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
Still, from the standpoint of that game design, which happens to be extremely Narrativist, it's more important that Cap decide not to do such a thing, rather than to "prevent" him through punishment mechanics.


Just highlighting an imporant point that I found worth repeating. Emphasis mine.


Title: Item Collecting
Post by: bluegargantua on December 24, 2002, 10:54:11 PM
A few quick comments:

I'm going to stick to the superhero examples because that's what's been presented most often so far and it's a genre that really highlights this issue.

1.)  Super Heroes vs. Mooks/Henchmen/Lackeys -- in this instance, the Super Hero vastly outclasses the foe(s).  Whatever weapons or eqiupment are possessed by the opponents should generally be less useful than whatever the super hero has on hand.  The only exception might be evidence, clues or access keys.  Let's face it, if the henchman's gun was really worth looting, the hencheman would've shot the super hero dead.  Since the Hero survived an attack by a gun-wielding opponent, the main Villain probably will too.

2.)  Super Heros vs. Major Opponents -- in this instance, the Super Hero is severely challenged by the foe.  The weapons and equipment possessed by the opponent may be very, very useful, but it should also be very difficult for the Super Hero to take advantage of beyond a one-time use (i.e. I overload your Destructo-Raygun to blow up the Mega-Missile you were about to launch).  Superhero universes are full of weird gadgets and magical doo-dads which are completely unique and only seem to work for one person.  Iron Man, for example, has lots of really useful cybernetic equipment and he could probably revolutionize prosthetics, but it never happens.  Partially because he's afraid of what will happen if his technology gets loose (see below) but also because the technology is too expensive, too experimental, too something for mass production.  And so it is with Villains and their stuff.

There's also the possibility that Villains might sabotage their equipment so that other people who try to use it will suffer.  So perhaps if you take Galacticus's gun and try to shoot him, it will recognize the invalid taget and disintegrate the wielder.  And, of course, some Villains would be completely immune to their own gadgets.  Mr. Freeze isn't going to care if you hit him with a shot from his Cold Gun.

Then too, these special gadgets are often the obsessive life focus of their creators.  Taking them or copying them may trigger a massive retaliation (especially from Villains who have no scruples).  There was a rather popular run of Iron Man issues where Iron Man discovers that his technology has been stolen and is being used by various super criminals and a few (bush league) super heroes.  So he goes off on a tear to hunt them all down and put them out of business.  Just a thought for when your players think it'd be great to build their own DoomBots.

Finally, while there isn't a specific game mechanic to enforce the kind of behavior you mention, there's a bit of "premise pressue".  The premise of this kind of game is that the heroes will always try and do right and not kill people and they don't use the tools of the enemy unless there's absolutely no choice and they help little old ladies and so on.  If your players don't want to conform to that premise, then perhaps the game can change focus.  If they start looting bodies and shooting bad guys, they're going to get a rep, and it won't be a good one.  They'll get kicked out of the League of Heroes, people won't trust them or look up to them.  Things will get grim and gritty and more like Punisher or other vigillante series.  The premise will change.  This could be good or bad or both, but if players have explicitly been told what the premise of the game is and they decide to ignore the premise and do something else, then the game either has to change or it has to fold.

later
Tom


Title: Item Collecting
Post by: erithromycin on December 25, 2002, 11:34:06 AM
I think the assertion that superheroes are, in effect, collections of powers in a thematic bundle is one that's not only a product of the majority of the games that feature them, but, as has been said, a product of the way in which they are treated within the parental genre, comic books.

The 'paying for new powers' model that you see in Champions et al bears a close resemblance to the evolution of characters within the comics. Your 'high-level' [and I use the term only for comparison] heroes will go years between acquiring new powers. Batman's trophies, for example, fill the Batcave, but do nothing. It takes the hmmph-mumble years [or branching into a new character sheet, to extend a clumsy thing] between continuity and 'The Dark Knight Returns' before he adds a gun to his arsenal, and even then it isn't used to kill.

These new powers could be argued to represent the vast quantities of XP that most systems require to move chunky characters forward. Assuming, of course, that one was using a system that did that. They could also be argued as gradual, narrative evolutionary products. An older Batman, to return to a previous example, will become more dependent on gadgetry, and then to a greater degree of gadgetry - I'd argue that, certainly with relevance to his moral code, a gun would be more expensive than a Batarang.

Your 'lower-level' heroes, of course, grow and develop and change as time passes. One might argue that the collection of powers from ones foes represents a mechanism for the justification of the XP system. Or not.

Though there's another thing - even if they did pick up the gun, and use it, would they keep it? There seems little merit in fussing about things that are collected only to be discarded. In fact, if memory serves, Champions only makes you pay for the things you keep. The gun on the floor is a one-use thing, and the tactical advantage/moral compromise/seamlessness [1] that picking it up represents is only critical at that moment. Unless, of course, you think differently.

Now, what does one do when things that are on the character sheet and that have to be 'paid for' can be picked up and kept? Should one make the player pay for them with XP? Try to zero sum them, with disadvantages or complications? Let it happen?

The initial condition seems to fall easily into the GNS model, but how would the chance to keep them fit?

edit:

[1] By which I mean a state where the rules mean that there's not a point where Captain America's player goes "I pick up the gun" and the GM says "You can't do that". Is there a term for that? I was refering to the 'model' of the universe that a simulationist game seems to occupy - the cracks show up in the rules.


Title: Item Collecting
Post by: zaal on December 25, 2002, 02:40:45 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
Are you familiar with the game Hero Wars? It's a superior role-playing game (in my opinion) because it operates precisely toward the "idiom-preservation" that you're describing.

I've heard it's name bandied about here on the Forge and elsewhere, usually in conjunction with Exalted.  From how you describe the system, sounds pretty exciting.  I believe the basic rules are online, so I'll check them out.

Quote
Negative reinforcement to prevent actions that are not in line with that thematic statement are less pronounced in Hero Wars. The precise elements of the principles, for instance, wouldn't be as effective in tandem with a gun (unless he were shooting out a button to disarm a bomb, for instance, as opposed to drilling the Red Skull between the eyes). Still, from the standpoint of that game design, which happens to be extremely Narrativist, it's more important that Cap decide not to do such a thing, rather than to "prevent" him through punishment mechanics.

I hate negative reinforcement mechanics in general - if I'm going to "force" players to do things a certain way, I much prefer to do it through positive reinforcement.  That's why I generally dislike outright forbidding a character to collect items.  One of my goals with this thread is to find ways to provide some incentive for a character staying true to his concept.

Can a game use reward mechanics instead of punishment mechanics and be "extremely" Narrativist?  Both involve guiding the reactions of players, after all.

Jon


Title: Item Collecting
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on December 25, 2002, 06:46:27 PM
Quote from: zaal
Can a game use reward mechanics instead of punishment mechanics and be "extremely" Narrativist?  Both involve guiding the reactions of players, after all.

What strikes me as the obvious way to do this, is to give high bonuses for staying in idiom. I have played games where extra XP was awarded for "staying in character," but I think a more immediate bonus, like +'s to the dice roll or whatever is more appropriate. This way, it is a stategic advantage to the player to remain in character *during play* instead of a bonus to XP afterwards. XP bonuses are a porr incentive for the most part IME.


Title: Item Collecting
Post by: Andrew Martin on December 25, 2002, 07:46:08 PM
Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
Quote from: zaal
Can a game use reward mechanics instead of punishment mechanics and be "extremely" Narrativist?  Both involve guiding the reactions of players, after all.

What strikes me as the obvious way to do this, is to give high bonuses for staying in idiom. I have played games where extra XP was awarded for "staying in character," but I think a more immediate bonus, like +'s to the dice roll or whatever is more appropriate. This way, it is a stategic advantage to the player to remain in character *during play* instead of a bonus to XP afterwards. XP bonuses are a porr incentive for the most part IME.


WW's Exalted emphasizes giving players 1 - 3 extra dice in their pool for describing the  stunts of their characters. For rewards mentioned by Zaal, my Token system gives players rewards (tokens) for putting their characters in "interesting" situations -- it's derived from TV drama shows. Fang's Scattershot (see his forum for more) has a more comprehensive reward scheme, IIRC, "gimmies" which are more dice rolls.


Title: Item Collecting
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 26, 2002, 07:08:18 AM
Hi there,

There are a few scattered points here and there through this thread that I'll address piecemeal.

1) Reward systems - let's not confuse "advancement" or (better) character improvement with reward systems; improving a character is only one kind of reward system. In fact, it might be useful to break down the thread topic into parts.

a) Methods of being effective (having high effective values, in quantitative terms, getting more screen time, etc)

b) Reward mechanics - which apply to the player, not necessarily the character

c) A character becoming more effective, which is one version of (c).

d) Associating "items" with a character through play (getting stuff)

e) Playing one's character according to Premise. Note the vast GNS differences and options, as I described them earlier - in Simulationist play, playing a character "off" type is a breach of contract; in Narrativist play, it's an expansion (positive or negative) of the "question" that character represents.

Diffferent game systems link or relate these things to one another in different ways.

2) Narrativism - a couple of comments have demonstrated some fuzzy understanding. For instance, Jon, you refer to Narrativist play involving "guiding the reactions of players," which strikes me as exceptionally off-base. In Narrativist play, the reactions of players (which includes the GM) are sacrosanct and completely the responsibility of each person, without interference.

3) In Hero Wars, a character may acquire anything via play, but if the player wants the character to keep it, it must be "cemented" into the character sheet by the expenditure of a Hero Point (the "x.p." of that game). Otherwise, it essentially disappears from play, or at least from that character's play.

4) Exalted and Hero Wars aren't associated in any way. I think one point of confusion is that both games use the term "Lunar" to refer to organizations or categories in their settings.

5) Very minor point: the first game that I'm aware of to provide pre-roll dice bonuses based on "cool" description was Sorcerer. (Contrary to popular belief, Feng Shui does not feature this mechanic.)

6) Drew, I think that all protagonists of film, literature, comics of any sort, and stories of all kinds fit your description of "collections of powers in a thematic bundle." Superheroes happen to be a glitzy version, but not otherwise special, in my view.

If anyone has any questions about these points, I'd be happy to discuss them. Also, Jon, let us know something - is this thread turning out to be useful? If we've gone off on some funny track that isn't helping, make sure we get back toward the point.

Best,
Ron


Title: Item Collecting
Post by: zaal on December 26, 2002, 06:40:24 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
Hi there,
2) Narrativism - a couple of comments have demonstrated some fuzzy understanding. For instance, Jon, you refer to Narrativist play involving "guiding the reactions of players," which strikes me as exceptionally off-base...

Actually, that wasn't the thrust of my question.  You indicated that punishment mechanics and Narrativism couldn't really coexist.  I was uncertain if reward mechanics and Narrativism could coexist, because reward mechanics to me seem to be another, perhaps "gentler," way to guide the reactions of players.

So I was just trying to clarify a GNS point - I apologize for not being clear.  I'm guessing the answer to my original question is no, however  :)  .

Incidentally, I'm really interested in trying a more Narrativist game out.  I feel I "understand" the other modes, but Narrativism (or rather, how to play it) seems more elusive to me.

Quote
3) In Hero Wars, a character may acquire anything via play, but if the player wants the character to keep it, it must be "cemented" into the character sheet by the expenditure of a Hero Point (the "x.p." of that game). Otherwise, it essentially disappears from play, or at least from that character's play.

Personally, I like the "paying for what you find in play," in both Hero Wars and Champions.  While I don't know Hero Wars that well, in Champions I think that rule makes sense given the source material the game tries to emulate.

Also, I don't have any particular problem with a character picking up some item and using it once (or even a couple of times) - unless, of course, it's like Captain America murdering anybody in cold blood.

Quote
4) Exalted and Hero Wars aren't associated in any way. I think one point of confusion is that both games use the term "Lunar" to refer to organizations or categories in their settings.

Yeah - there was a thread on RPG.net about that a little while ago  :)  .  I get the impression that the setting of Hero Wars is epic, grand, and exotic, and that the characters are real movers and shakers, which is similar to Exalted (or any over the top game, I guess).

Quote
6) Drew, I think that all protagonists of film, literature, comics of any sort, and stories of all kinds fit your description of "collections of powers in a thematic bundle." Superheroes happen to be a glitzy version, but not otherwise special, in my view.

Indeed.  In particular, I would like to play or run a sword and sorcery game that plays up to this way of viewing characters.  I'm going to take another look at Risus, a free game written by S. John Ross, because it seems to address this pretty much head on.

Quote
If anyone has any questions about these points, I'd be happy to discuss them. Also, Jon, let us know something - is this thread turning out to be useful? If we've gone off on some funny track that isn't helping, make sure we get back toward the point.

I'm very satisfied with the dialogue in this thread and where the dialogue seems to be going.  The primary issue I had (item collection) is directly related to "idiom preservation" or "thematic collections of powers," and, had I known those terms before writing my message, I would have explicitly articulated it as such.  I'm also interested in reward mechanisms, both for staying true to a character idiom and encouraging player creativity.

I'm looking for ways to contribute more meaningfully to the thread, but for now I'm just seeing what people bring up  :)  .

Jon


Title: Item Collecting
Post by: zaal on December 26, 2002, 06:46:14 PM
Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
Quote from: zaal
Can a game use reward mechanics instead of punishment mechanics and be "extremely" Narrativist?  Both involve guiding the reactions of players, after all.

What strikes me as the obvious way to do this, is to give high bonuses for staying in idiom. I have played games where extra XP was awarded for "staying in character," but I think a more immediate bonus, like +'s to the dice roll or whatever is more appropriate. This way, it is a stategic advantage to the player to remain in character *during play* instead of a bonus to XP afterwards. XP bonuses are a porr incentive for the most part IME.

I find this quite a remarkable statement, actually.  I think immediate rewards for "staying in character" is an excellent idea.  I feel like I must have had this thought floating somewhere in my head, but now it has been brought to the fore.  I'll keep my mind on it when I GM from now on.

Jon


Title: Item Collecting
Post by: Michael S. Miller on December 27, 2002, 07:27:39 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards

5) Very minor point: the first game that I'm aware of to provide pre-roll dice bonuses based on "cool" description was Sorcerer. (Contrary to popular belief, Feng Shui does not feature this mechanic.)


Very minor quibble (mainly 'cause I'm shaky on the chronology of Sorcerer): Wasn't Extreme Vengeance around first?

I think this game in particular shed light on the thread topic as it is a great example of character effectiveness being linked neither to game-world item collection nor to character-creation ideas of what the character is like (I mean, just about everybody ends up with most of the game's Repertoires), but to at-the-moment player creativity. Jon, I think you should really take a look at Extreme Vengeance if you can find a copy (try eBay).


Title: Item Collecting
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 27, 2002, 07:30:31 AM
Hi Michael,

Good call on Extreme Vengeance - I agree with you about its importance.

The chronology is iffy, based on when the games began to be played - Sorcerer had a long con history before its internet publication in 1996 - but if we're talking about books, then yes, Extreme Vengeance came first.

Best,
Ron


Title: Item Collecting
Post by: erithromycin on December 27, 2002, 07:55:52 AM
Just to clarify the 'thematic bundles of powers' thing, I concur that one could describe the protagonists of a variety of media as such, but I do think that comic books are an exception, though perhaps only with relation to an older style of game design. Superheroes, to me, at least, seem more defined by their abilities than any other kind of protagonist [1]. Perhaps I'm reading too much into the way that games like Champions approached the way that they modeled their characters, but I think [again, opinion] that it's easier to describe a superhero as a bundle of powers with a thematic link than any other kind of character.

I do think that there's something there more than 'glitz', though it may, in effect, be nothing more than a stylistic quirk, though one that springs from the medium that gave rise to the game. Think of it as a convention, perhaps.

I was focusing on character advancement because that's what sprang to mind first. That said, to go back to the Captain America example, you raised an interesting idea - what incentive is there for Cap not to pick up the gun?

We must assume that Cap is capable of using a gun, he was, after all, a GI, so he's unlikely to be less effective with it than his shield, say. It's not 'in character' or 'in premise', so he may not get benefits their - it's a distinctly 'unCap' thing to do. He's unlikely to want the gun, unless it's to be a souvenir, because, well, he's Captain America. If he wants a gun the QM will doubtless give it to him. The one thing I did note though, was screentime - If Cap picks up a gun and drills someone, that's a panel "BLAM!". If he runs across the room using his shield to deflect the bullets [BRAK! SPANG!], and subdues the bad guy with a punch [POW!], that's three, and within the idiom too. No?

To return to Zaal's post though:

Paying for what you find in play is an interesting topic. I must confess that, as a player, I resented having to pay XP for the loot I scavenged in Champions, and as an ST I'm perplexed as to how to cope with the 'social things' [2] that my players gain in Downtime. Now, I'm all for taking things from my fallen foes, largely because I like treasure, but also because, unlike Captain America or Batman, the souvenirs are petty personal things. Mementos, if you will. The Downtime issue comes down to time. With only a fortnight in each installment, influencing things or making money is time that can't be spend in other places.

I think what I'm trying to say is that paying for things that you acquire needn't be a case of cementing them with XP. There could be 'physical constraints', like time, or even what you can carry, but what seems to be a 'more narrative' [3] are 'moral constraints'. Captain America keeping the gun seems, at first glance, like an admission of weakness. Imagine how the morale of Cap's comrades would be affected by his preference for Nazi weaponry?

Zaal, your eagerness to play S&S with characters who are thematic bundles would probably work, but I'm finding my own Sorcerer ideas are becoming more and more divorced from what demons can do. Though that's a long overdue post over in Adept Press for another day.

drew

[1] That, in and of itself, may be a product of the ossification of their development as an entity, but that's another discussion for another place.
[2] Influence over groups, boons, money - things that cost at creation.
[3] I cringe too, but it's what I mean, I think.


Title: Item Collecting
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 27, 2002, 08:33:34 AM
Hi there,

Drew, those are interesting points all 'round. I think we agree about the superheroes, in the main: (a) the concept of a protagonist as a thematic bundle and (b) that superheroes are a focused or readily-understandable case. Damn good point about screen time, too. The only, rare exception is that certain, specific off-character behavior is sometimes extreme enough to merit its own hefty screen-time (e.g. the whole cover dedicated to Daredevil using a pistol during the original Miller run).

Also, have you considered the idea that the points in games like Hero Wars exist only at the metagame level? They don't represent "pieces of the universe" the way they do in GURPS or DC Heroes. Therefore spending a Hero Point in Hero Wars is more like a Universalis Coin - a bit of "right" among the real people - then like a GURPS character point - which is like a bit of "reality" in the game-world.

Now for the tricky stuff, Jon.

Questions about X can't be answered with Y, if Y isn't clearer than X to start with. Therefore I don't want to get too deep into the Narrativism issue. But ... for future reference, I'll say here that reward systems in Narrativist play are not unique in any special way. As with any mode of play, if they operate to reinforce the goals, then they "work."

Most people at the Forge agree that positive-reinforcement is a desirable element of a game system of any type, which goes for Narrativist play as well as any other. Beyond that, we'd have to specify a given Narrativist play-style and corresponding game design, and then talk about the role of its reward system. Orkworld, Paladin, Zero, and Sorcerer would all be good candidates. They're pretty different, but they are all based on very direct mechanical links among what the character did, how the character's numbers relate to one another, and how that changes.

In fact, the definition of Narrativism leads me to say that bringing moral conflicts to the character (the "thematic bundle") is the point of play. Therefore the reward system is best designed to reflect those moments, as opposed to doing stuff which doesn't "mean" anything.

As for the positive vs. negative element, yes, sometimes those effects are negative, i.e., a bit of punishment is involved. Narrativist game designs have a way of taking sides when it comes to moral questions. Both Sorcerer and The Riddle of Steel are pretty ruthless in this regard.

Best,
Ron


Title: Item Collecting
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on December 27, 2002, 05:27:42 PM
Quote from: erithromycin
Now, I'm all for taking things from my fallen foes, largely because I like treasure, but also because, unlike Captain America or Batman, the souvenirs are petty personal things. Mementos, if you will.

This goes off-topic a bit but have you seen all of the crazy crap in the Batcave in the comic? Momentos, my lad. Batman is not unsentimental after all.
Quote
I think what I'm trying to say is that paying for things that you acquire needn't be a case of cementing them with XP.

You need to think of it a little differently. It's more like adding it to the character's "thematic package" or "idiom." Nothing keeps, say, Spider-Man from pysically picking up a gun and using it in a pinch. But to keep it, to make it a part of his costume, it needs to be justified somehow. XP/Hero Point expendature works. Not Web-head is also bullet-slinger.


Title: Are We Getting Off Track?
Post by: Le Joueur on December 27, 2002, 11:29:21 PM
I think Jack Spencer Jr. touched on it first, but I'd like to clarify a few things before we get too caught up in the whole 'superhero thing.'  The first and foremost thing that springs to my mind is the different drives gaming and comics serve.

Comic books are about making money (at least the icons we're talking about here are).  This creates a few interesting idiosyncrasies that seem to be slipping under the radar here.  First is that superheroes are product.  That's why they so scrupulously stick to 'their idiom.'  It isn't honor, it isn't pathos, it isn't habit; these are non-existent beings.  Look at Spider-man; how many times have they tried to 'refashion' his image?  Remember the 'all black' costume he brought back from the Secret Wars™?  Public response had them vilify it.  How about the 'hooded sweatshirt' version from the 'clone saga?'  Another lead balloon.  I believe one of the reasons Hollywood stuck with the traditional 'red and blues' (rather than giving it 'the Batman treatment') was because the image is product; look at the sales.

Gaming is a whole different animal.  Gaming is about self-expression, gaming is about 'what I'd do,' gaming is about 'seeing what works,' and so on.  Nothing even remotely connected to 'identifiability' or 'branding' there.  If anything, 'sticking to your idiom' is a holdover that I don't see going into practice 'on the street' level.  I can see why some games make an explicit effort to capture some of this (in attempting to emulate the source material), but I don't think they've considered why.

Worse, these constant citings of the source material are reaching out to an undefined quantity.  Many of the more recent comic books have gone the way of 'hero picks up a gun' (and I'm not talking about things like the 'Daredevil treatment' of the issue).  There isn't really a central concept we can reach out to and say 'this is comic book superheroes;' we each have our own perceptions about what that is and I think this conversation is just barely beginning to show signs of those turning out significantly different.  If we continue to off-handedly explore how "Item Collecting" is represented in comic books and mirrored in gaming, I'm pretty sure these 'personal definitions¹' are going to come into conflict and detract from the 'meat' of the discussion (which I'm really following closely).

Even farther murkier still is something Ron touched on yesterday.  That is 'how the whole relates to rewards systems.'  Y'see that's what "Item Collection" is isn't it?  In the game you do 'stuff' and you get 'stuff.'  Depending on your approach to gaming, you're looking for different kinds of 'stuff' (or more accurately 'stuff' that does different things).  If 'beating the odds' is your bag, 'better stuff' is your goal.  If 'telling a story' is your idea of fun, more 'interesting stuff' is a payoff.  And so on.

Worse, it fits on at least two levels with blurred combinations all over the place.  One is the meta-game level, 'stuff' affects your character's impact on the game (for whatever the reason); like some have mentioned this figures into 'spotlight time.'  On another level, it's pure reward for the character; like payment for a job well done.  (Other levels include sentimental value and et cetera.)  This is terribly indirect and blurry as all get out, but it does all come back to the 'reward' idea.  I don't know if we're ever going to come to any useful conclusions in the abstract about specific mechanisms of "Item Collection" and I suggest that specific goals require specific threads (outside of this one).  We can, however, discuss the relationship between "Item Collection" and rewards systems with how that factors into our goals (but, as diverse as those are, I'm not sure how productive that might be short of the informative 'here is what I do').

I mean, I'm a big fan of 'pay for it if you keep it' Mechanix, but since I'm trying to create a game system that will tailor itself to widely different approaches, I have to make this 'cost' tailor itself as well (which is why this topic is so intriguing).  Issues of spotlight time, efficacy, and 'I can pick it up, can't I?' all factor in, but rarely simultaneously.  That's where I see this discussion starting to break down.  Talk of the superhero 'thematic bundles' score to emulating a genre driven by branding and product-identity, yet Champions handles it primarily from an efficacy direction; talk about blurry.  Hero Wars sounds like it skews towards self-identification and 'staying true' to that, but that only results in 'paralleling' comic books.

Jon's original topic of "item collection...directly related to 'idiom preservation' or 'thematic collections of powers,'" might or might not be driven by emulating a certain restricted vision of genre, that will necessarily be a factor in choosing design goals.  Whether it is a matter of restricting or directing this process can only fall to the support of the 'background material presence' on the goals of the design and 'how the game is supposed to be played.'  (I see this latter as example why the GNS seems to make a ghostly cameo on the discussion.)  Define those first, and then we can really talk about the purpose and application of "Item Collection" mechanics in a game.

I'm all ears.

Fang Langford

¹ Personally, I believe that archetypical comic books (beyond the 'branding effect') are an exploration of the internal struggle between urges to 'be good' and otherwise, within the human psyche.  Laying it out Freudian, the superhero represents the superego in his unassailable virtue.  The supervillain represents the id, often taking the form of using the same powers for 'dark purposes' (and the privacy of one's supervillains practically screams 'these are my own problems' in the presentation).  Thus the 'civilian identity' represents the ego, the outward face of this struggle and how we hide all of it from those around us, even though it threatens every part of our lives.  All this is wrapped up in excesses (like superpowers) and iconography and presented in one of the most 'icon driven' media available, the comic book.


Title: Re: Are We Getting Off Track?
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on December 28, 2002, 09:31:46 AM
Quote from: Le Joueur
Gaming is a whole different animal.  Gaming is about self-expression, gaming is about 'what I'd do,' gaming is about 'seeing what works,' and so on.  

I think it's worth adding to the list that is said out loud here: gaming is about 'what I would like to see.'
Quote
If anything, 'sticking to your idiom' is a holdover that I don't see going into practice 'on the street' level.

I don't think I can argee with you there, Fang. Maybe I am misunderstanding you. Do you mean you don't see it going into practice in the theoretical sense or in the this is not what happens sense?

I either case, I can see it going into practice on street level. First because it's part of the goal to see what you want to see. If you want an RPG about comic book heroes, to keep this example even though it is probably best abbondoned, you want the character to be like characters that appear in comic books. Most players don't really care about why super heroes stick to their idiom or any of the freudian nightmare behind them and all that stuff. They want guys in silly outfits hitting each other, just like in the comics. It may require the product idiomizing and feudian nightmare to get what they want, but that's the game designer's problem, not the players'. :)

I think that idiom is a valid way to define a character (my dictionary defines idiom as
4. The style of expression characteristic of an individual; as, the idiom of Carlyle.
5. a characteristic style, as in art or music)
This is about expectations and defining just who, exactly is this character and what does he do or what is he like. I do think, personally, that adherence to idiom as if it is set in stone is a bad way to go, but this may be getting off topic.
Quote
Worse, these constant citings of the source material are reaching out to an undefined quantity.  Many of the more recent comic books have gone the way of 'hero picks up a gun' (and I'm not talking about things like the 'Daredevil treatment' of the issue).  There isn't really a central concept we can reach out to and say 'this is comic book superheroes;'

I think it's like Sword and Sorcerer and Ron's definition of Herioc Fantasy and what is or isn't Heroic Fantasy and stuff very much like that. I mean, it's like we're talking about stuff like the original Conan stories here, without explicitly saying that's what we're talking about, and now someone has come along and mentioned the Diskworld series and said that by citing source material is reaching to an undefined quantity because there really isn't a central concept we can reach out to and say "this is fantasy." I'm not putting you down, Fang, just pointing out what the whole line of conversation was doing, if I made any sense here, and to be fair, we didn't say we were talking about a specific form of comic book heroes here. This is, of course, the problem with genre because there are lots of sub-genres and other crap that saying "comic book heroes" or "fantasy" really tells you nothing but the barest minimum of what to expect or we are talking about.
Quote
We can, however, discuss the relationship between "Item Collection" and rewards systems with how that factors into our goals (but, as diverse as those are, I'm not sure how productive that might be short of the informative 'here is what I do').

Here is what I do, or what my thoughts on the matter are, anyway.

First off, the whole idea of item collecting come from D&D body looting. Something that makes sense in that and similar games, but not so much in other games.

Some anecdotal stuff.

In a V&V campaign, we had an NPC in the group called Pollyanna, because her name was Anna and she became four people, get it. That's her power, and it really didn't help much in a fight, so we took her to a sporting goods store and bought her some baseball bats for the accuracy and damage bonuses. The GM went along with this, but later took the bats away "because that's not what heroes do." At the time, I was rather upset about this because being heroic meant putting her at a definate strategic disadvantage because she really had no other powers.

In a recent fantasy campaign, we fought some goblins and took their stuff. They were funded by a local wizard so aside from a good washing, most of their stuff was primo: fine qualty bed rolls, armour, equipment, and so on, and a figgen river boat. The goblins had a river boat and we took it. In fantasy games, the group tends to turn into a wandering flea market like this. (my group has a picture in the GNS dictionary next to incoherent)

Where I am with item collection is a divided issue. On ethe one hand, the gamist-like hand, I see character creation sort of like building a battle bot, and while finding some items to help the character is a good idea, other are kind of like admitting your design was crappy anyway, or something to that effect. On the narrativist end, I don't think it's about getting interesting stuff so much as getting stuff in an interesting or entertaining manner. Remember in the movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? (super heros again) Casey Jones was fighting that guy and he saw the golf clubs and beat him and then added the clubs to his aresenal. This is pretty close to what we're talking about here (although I don't think Casey even appeared in subsequent movies, much less used the clubs) He picked up an item and added it to his possessions, his collection of tools. He did so in an interesting manner "I'll never call golf a dull game again" and it just happened to fit into his idiom of a vigilante who used sports equipment as weapons.

I don't know about stuff like character rewards. They aren't real people. They don't care if they get paid or not. It is ultimately a player reward, I suppose, but that's a whole other ball of wax.

I'm running out of gas here, so I'll stop and see what others think.


Title: Exactly What I was Trying to Say
Post by: Le Joueur on December 28, 2002, 06:44:00 PM
Hey Jack,

Thanks for responding; I thought your points were important.

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
Quote from: Le Joueur
Gaming is a whole different animal.  Gaming is about self-expression, gaming is about 'what I'd do,' gaming is about 'seeing what works,' and so on.  

I think it's worth adding to the list that is said out loud here: gaming is about 'what I would like to see.'

Good point.

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
Quote from: Le Joueur
If anything, 'sticking to your idiom' is a holdover that I don't see going into practice 'on the street' level.

I don't think I can argee with you there, Fang. Maybe I am misunderstanding you. Do you mean you don't see it going into practice in the theoretical sense or in the this is not what happens sense?

Hey, I'm not everywhere, but I see this idea of 'needing to pay for what you pick up' a result of trying to limit or restrict players to 'sticking to their idioms' as an example of people not 'sticking to their idioms' "'on the street' level."  If it weren't a problem, would we be having this discussion?  I don't know.

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
I think that idiom is a valid way to define a character (my dictionary defines idiom as
    4. The style of expression characteristic of an individual; as, the idiom of Carlyle.
    5. a characteristic style, as in art or music)[/list:u]This is about expectations and defining just who, exactly is this character and what does he do or what is he like. I do think, personally, that adherence to idiom as if it is set in stone is a bad way to go, but this may be getting off topic.

That's exactly what I've been working towards with Scattershot's Sine Qua Non Persona Development Technique (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2009).  But this doesn't talk much about the very different reasons different games have for encouraging 'sticking to your idiom.'  That's the problem I've been trying to highlight; different games have different reasons.  Various design approaches result in different rationale; some do it for no reason, while others should but don't.  We've been talking to broadly about "Item Collection" as if it could be all handled in the same specific fashion.  I don't think that's true.

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
Quote from: Le Joueur
Worse, these constant citings of the source material are reaching out to an undefined quantity.  Many of the more recent comic books have gone the way of 'hero picks up a gun' (and I'm not talking about things like the 'Daredevil treatment' of the issue).  There isn't really a central concept we can reach out to and say 'this is comic book superheroes;'

I think it's like Sword and Sorcerer and Ron's definition of Herioc Fantasy and what is or isn't Heroic Fantasy and stuff very much like that. I mean, it's like we're talking about stuff like the original Conan stories here, without explicitly saying that's what we're talking about, and now someone has come along and mentioned the Diskworld series and said that by citing source material is reaching to an undefined quantity because there really isn't a central concept we can reach out to and say "this is fantasy." I'm not putting you down, Fang, just pointing out what the whole line of conversation was doing, if I made any sense here, and to be fair, we didn't say we were talking about a specific form of comic book heroes here. This is, of course, the problem with genre because there are lots of sub-genres and other crap that saying "comic book heroes" or "fantasy" really tells you nothing but the barest minimum of what to expect or we are talking about.

That's a better way of making the point I was trying to.  I thought we were speaking a little too "barest minimum;" perhaps the posts simply expected one to know what specifics they spoke of, but didn't come out and say it.  That's all I was trying to say here.

Fang Langford


Title: Item Collecting
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on December 28, 2002, 08:41:58 PM
Quote from: Le Joueur
Thanks for responding; I thought your points were important.

Thanks. I tried to speak intelligently (I must be sick)
Quote
But this doesn't talk much about the very different reasons different games have for encouraging 'sticking to your idiom.'  That's the problem I've been trying to highlight; different games have different reasons.  Various design approaches result in different rationale; some do it for no reason, while others should but don't.  We've been talking to broadly about "Item Collection" as if it could be all handled in the same specific fashion.  I don't think that's true.

I think I get what you're saying here. Some games can just have characters pick up an item without any problem. Other have that idiom, Sine qua non thing, and should have a cost involved or some such. The game should do what is shoulod, and nothing that it shouldn't. We can all agree with that. I think we got stuck on comics because the thread originated with a question about Mutants & Masterminds. So that's what happened.


Title: Item Collecting
Post by: erithromycin on December 29, 2002, 08:05:48 AM
I hate it when everyone agrees. It makes me feel like the internet's broken.

Anyway, the point that I was trying to make about keeping stuff was that sometimes it's something you're going to use, and sometime's it's a souveneir. It'd be unlikely that Batman would wander around with that giant penny in case he needed it, but a street punk might well keep a stray Batarang as a prestige thing.

I think there's one basic question:

What does collecting and using the item mean to the character?

The answer to that informs everything else, no matter the genre. [1]

To use the Captain America example, the gun itself is meaningless, but using it on the Red Skull isn't. The instances of moral compromise implicit in such actions ring a great big narrative bell.

The loot o' the goblins is a bit more difficult - gaining it is difficult, I assume, and using it might also be difficult. Even if it were freshly laundered, it'd still belong to stinking filthy goblins. Using the riverboat might provide complications. This seems simulationist, in that one can grab the stuff, but it's very origin having consequences seems cool in all three arenas.

Once you've answered the question [though that 'does' may become a 'should'] you can start finding mechanics [or something] to suit.

- drew

[1] Though this is cheating a little, as it'll mean different things in different genres. Still, I like to make bold sweeping statements.


Title: Item Collecting
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 29, 2002, 08:23:06 AM
Hello,

Agreement! Yay! Or, in Drew's case, ah, shit!

This was a great and fascinating thread, folks. Anyone else want to contribute or comment? Jon, are you happy with it?

Best,
Ron


Title: Item Collecting
Post by: zaal on December 31, 2002, 08:36:28 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
This was a great and fascinating thread, folks. Anyone else want to contribute or comment? Jon, are you happy with it?

It sounds like you want it to end, Ron  ;)  .

I'm happy with the thread.  Drew brought up the Big Question (what does item collecting mean to the character?), which actually does a pretty good job of putting me on solid ground.  

I'm sorry there was a bit of confusion about what exactly we were talking about.  I think Jack explained things quite well, however.  I just used the example of Captain America (and superheroes) because I felt that was the most blatant case of "forgetting" the character concept, whatever that means.  I've had players play supposedly principled characters before, but often times they resort to the expedient solution as opposed to the principled solution.  This was some time ago, so I can't really remember if it was failed communication on my part (I'm pretty sure I told them what I was trying to get from the game, but I'm not sure) or if they weren't being very cooperative.

In any event, I feel better suited to meeting the challenge should it arise again.  If I do have any questions I'll be sure to raise them.

Jon


Title: Item Collecting
Post by: Mike Holmes on December 31, 2002, 12:16:41 PM
Here's a thread that I started a while back that pertains, I think.

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2610

Mike