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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: Daredevil on September 02, 2003, 07:35:25 AM



Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Daredevil on September 02, 2003, 07:35:25 AM
Hey'all.

There's one thing that causes me trouble when considering various relationship mechanics. Though I'm not 100% familiar with the game HeroQuest (or HeroWars) I'll bring it up as an example for the discussion. There certain key relationships of the character can be quantified in a trait that allows relationships to be used mechanistically.

What disturbs me is that to me this sets a precedent that all relationships should be dealt with in this manner. What is to distinguish my relation to the local high priest for whom I have a quantified trait from the relation I have cultivated during game, via RP, to the high priest from out of town? The first is not dealt with the "usual means" -- not through the same type of RP and the use of skills -- while the latter is.

This discrepancy just sticks out like a sore thumb to me.

The implication seems to me that all relationships should be -- or at least could be -- reduced to a similar role, all handled under a system of relationship mechanics. While I'm not saying this would abolish RP, it would utterly change it's manner. The actual playing out of various relationships would be very different and I can't feel but that it would detract from the experience, perhaps placing (and enriching at its expense) the area of interest in some other area of play.

I know many here consider these kinds of mechanics state of the art and that's why I'm bringing this up. I'm hoping you can introduce me to a new way of looking at things or to correct what may a mistaken view at the subject.

- Joachim Buchert -


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Valamir on September 02, 2003, 07:48:30 AM
I'm completely puzzled by your question.  What leads you to think that ones interaction with the local priest is handled purely through game mechanics simply because it has a quantified number while ones interaction with the other priest is handles purely through RP simply because there are no quantified numbers.  I think you're bringing an unwarranted assumption into the question.

Lets say your character in any RPG has, through his previous interaction with Father Johan has develeped an irrational fear of the man.  Now Johan is attempting to convice the town leadership to take a course of action that you think is a bad idea, and you want to convince the town otherwise.

The GM decides this will require an opposed roll between your persuasion and Father Johan's to see who convinces the town (or whatever other game mechanics the particular game uses).  At this point the GM would be completely within his reason to say "You know Joachim, you've been playing your character as if he's completely frightened of Johan, and now you're directly confronting him.  I think your fear of the Father translates into a -3 penalty (or whatever) to your persuasion attempt.


Hero Wars works EXACTLY the same way, only now there is a number attached to the relationship such as "Profound Fear of Father Johan: 17".  This simply serves to mechanically determine exactly how big a penelty is ascribed to such a situation.  In another situation it might provide a bonus.

Does that help clarify?


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Mike Holmes on September 02, 2003, 10:56:24 AM
Hi Joachim, good to hear from you again,

Keep in mind, to use Hero Quest as a continuing example, that all Abilities default to a 6. Therefore, you have a 6 relationship with everyone who's not on your sheet. So there is a uniformity in that way amongst how such things can be handled. (And before anyone protests, there would be an improvisational penalty applied to using it to get a Dragon to give you his gold or somesuch, which would make it a veru difficult roll; though it might be a lot easier still than trying to actually fight it).

But Ralph has a point in that somehow people assume that such mechanics obviate the need to role-play. What they may do is make it so that the player doesn't have to role-play particularly well. That is, if the character has an Ability of "Quick Witted", and the player doesn't deliver his argument in a quick-witted manner, then the player can still rely on the mechanics to save the character from the player's inadequacies, yes.

This goes back to a long standing debate about whether or not it's better to allow the character to be able to do things that the player cannot. To really extend the argument, one ought not be allowed to have one's character hit an opponent with his sword, unless the player can do so himself. That is, in boffer LARP, there are no skill levels with a sword, because it's player skill that counts (perhaps sugmented with some HP mechanics in some cases). In most RPGs, however, the character is allowed to have his skill with a sword substitute for player ability.

The point is that allowing mechanics to substitute for player skill is alllowable on some level. Now, in a Narrativist game, there really is no competition. It's not about the player winning or losing. And contrary to popular belief it doesn't have to do with playing the character well or anything like that (although that can contribute). So I could see, in fact, an entire game of Hero Quest being played entirely in the third person, "And then I convince the bartender to give me the location of the thieves' guild." I mean it's a bias to say that descriptive play is by default better in the first place. But let's assume it is for the remainder of the discussion.

Similarly I can see doing combat without description at all. But that's not encouraged. These games, in fact, do encourage the descriptive mode. So you do have to describe what you're saying in order to even get the roll. Or rather, and this is the interesting part, given that the game encourages FitM descriptions, in some cases, you ought to roll first, and then describe what happens in terms of the success or failure.

But, as with all resolution, the choice to use the system depends on whether or not the GM or players think a roll is needed. If the character is just asking for directions, then there's no conlfict, really, and the system doesn't need to be used. Well, this is very much true of most of these style of game, where the systems are defined as Conflict resolution. So, until there's some conflict, not just a task, but a Conflict, you don't use the resolution system, and have to "play out" what happens by standard forms of narration. So, in fact, you do end up playing out conversations and whatnot right up until the point at which a Conflict is identified.

Player : "So, Baor, where do the ne'erdowells in this town congregate after nightfall?"

GM as Baor the Barkeep: "How would I know?"

Player : "Come now, this is just the sort of establishment where such people come to drink. Surely you can tell me."

Barkeep: "I have no idea what you're talking about."

Player (now OOC): OK, I can see that he's not going to budge. I want to try to use my Relationship with him to get him to open up. I say, "C'mon, it's me, your old friend, you can trust me with the information."

GM looking at successful roll: "Alright, fine. They meet downstairs, actually, after dark. But you didn't hear it from me."

So, where in the example did the "role-playing" (by which we assume you mean first person representation of the character) get replaced by the mechanic? It's just not a problem in play. You can use these mechanics and not have to abandon any sort of description at all.

Mike


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Daredevil on September 02, 2003, 02:06:02 PM
Quote from: Valamir


What leads you to think that ones interaction with the local priest is handled purely through game mechanics simply because it has a quantified number while ones interaction with the other priest is handles purely through RP simply because there are no quantified numbers.  I think you're bringing an unwarranted assumption into the question.



If you look at my post again, you'll see that nowhere did I say the mechanics would replace role-playing. I understand my original message could be misinterpreted this way, though. But. Role-playing works around good mechanics, enveloping them, instead of being staked to the ground by them. However, it is inevitable that the mechanics bring a certain flavor to the whole affair.

All this said, your example was useful.

Quote from: Mike Holmes


Keep in mind, to use Hero Quest as a continuing example, that all Abilities default to a 6.



This is of interest. I wasn't aware of that. I should've probably thrown out another example.

Quote from: Mike Holmes


But Ralph has a point in that somehow people assume that such mechanics obviate the need to role-play. What they may do is make it so that the player doesn't have to role-play particularly well. That is, if the character has an Ability of "Quick Witted", and the player doesn't deliver his argument in a quick-witted manner, then the player can still rely on the mechanics to save the character from the player's inadequacies, yes.



While I realize the question of player-skill vs. character-skill is somewhat at stake here, it wasn't what I wanted to discuss. I feel that's another discussion, though a very interesting one. Personally, I run into the problems caused by this divide in the games I run, because of the variance in my playing group. Some folks are pretty damn good strategists (to avoid the term 'powergamer') while others are not. They know how to "play the game" better than others, even where the character statistics might imply differently. Paradoxically, it wouldn't be such a problem if the players were "bad players" in other ways, but they're outstanding model players in my view. Their natural traits just shine through. Anyway, I digress.

The crux of my post was more in the realm of why are certain relationships quantified in mechanics while others are not?

To be very generic, let's assume at the on-set of play I had one relationship that was defined as a trait. Later, during play through actions I acquire a relationship exactly similar to the one I had at the beginning. However, (depending on the system) usually without spending some type of currency, this relationship will not represented in the same way. Within the IC world, there is no difference. On my character sheet, there is a difference.

This kind of internal consistency just makes the game feel broken to me.

Sure, the GM could grant this relationship trait in this instance without any mechanical "costs" involved as a freebie ... but this kind of attitude seems to lead quickly towards System Does Not Matter for me. That's just not acceptable.

This is the discrepancy that I was referring to. Is this any clearer this time? Hopefuly so for the sake of the discussion.

Thanks for the comments so far!

- Joachim Buchert -


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Walt Freitag on September 02, 2003, 10:04:27 PM
Hi Joachim,

If the newly developed relationship is important to you, then you spend the currency on it.

That's what the relationship trait is for. It represents how important the relationship is to you; that is to say, how much you want it to influence play in the future. The currency you spend to create the trait is your assertion of its importance to you (perhaps to your character as well, but definitely to you).

This is no different from relationships the character starts out with. In most of the types of system in question here, you spend currency for those too. Currency is (by definition) limited because not everything can be important at the same time. ("Important" here doesn't mean merely not utterly trivial or forgettable; it means it's something you want to spend future play time focusing your own and others' attention on. Currency is limited, ultimately, because play time is limited.)

So, your objection appears to come down to wanting the relationship trait "for free" if the relationship it refers to comes about through play. But since spending the currency represents your assertion that it's important, not being willing to spend the currency implies that it's not important to you. And if it's not important to you, why do you care whether the trait or the relationship exists or not?

Spending the currency is exercising your right to choose what's important. How would you feel if a GM took your character concept in a direction you didn't intend or approve of, by saddling the character with "free" relationship traits to NPCs and causes that you're not interested in, just because they came about through play? Fortunately, a GM cannot do this, because you control the currency. Inside the game world, you can regard this as representing that whatever happens to your character, your character still has his own viewpoint, his own emotional filters for how he interprets the meaning of the evolving situation. In other words, the character may or may not care about any particular thing. The relationship trait doesn't just mean the relationship exists, it means that the character cares about it. On the metagame level, it means that you care about it. (That the character cares is not absolutely necessary; that you care is. That's why you're the one holding the purse strings.)

Do the relationship trait mechanics make any more sense to you in that light?

- Walt


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Daredevil on September 03, 2003, 03:48:47 AM
Quote from: Walt Freitag
Currency is (by definition) limited because not everything can be important at the same time. ("Important" here doesn't mean merely not utterly trivial or forgettable; it means it's something you want to spend future play time focusing your own and others' attention on. Currency is limited, ultimately, because play time is limited.)

If currency weren't limited, it would be very hard for anything to be more important than the next thing. Currency wouldn't have any real value. Indeed.

Now moving back onto track ..

Your reply presents a very good explanation and is very illuminating, but while it does broaden my understanding of relationship mechanics in usage it does not remove the aspect(s) of them which I do not like.

Quote from: Walt Freitag
On the metagame level, it means that you care about it. (That the character cares is not absolutely necessary; that you care is. That's why you're the one holding the purse strings.)

It seems the spending of currency is a matter of importance. Importance to whom, is my next and most important question?

Quote from: Walt Freitag
And if it's not important to you, why do you care whether the trait or the relationship exists or not?

This maybe my Turku School bent showing (hell, I'm only 200km from Turku!), but what I care is secondary to what the character cares (or to what the IC reality of the matter is). When I play, I sort of become subordinate to the character. This type of semi-irrational emphasis on the character seems a trait of the type of play I enjoy.

However, you didn't entirely exclude the character out of the equation. Below I quote you talking of the in-game reality:

Quote from: Walt Freitag
Inside the game world, you can regard this as representing that whatever happens to your character, your character still has his own viewpoint, his own emotional filters for how he interprets the meaning of the evolving situation. In other words, the character may or may not care about any particular thing. The relationship trait doesn't just mean the relationship exists, it means that the character cares about it.

For me, this results in the mechanics being imposing just a bit too far, being almost restrictive rather than empowering. They constrict my view of the character (or should I say, my channeling of the character). For example, if in my view a new relationship should be utterly important to the character, but at that moment I just happen to be out of currency (practically or theoretically), there is no way I can truly depict my character.

Quote from: Walt Freitag
Spending the currency is exercising your right to choose what's important. How would you feel if a GM took your character concept in a direction you didn't intend or approve of, by saddling the character with "free" relationship traits to NPCs and causes that you're not interested in, just because they came about through play?

Almost paradoxically, the equilevant is what seems to be happening in my example earlier.

Perhaps we're coming perilously close to the time to "agree to disagree" or to a shift of topic, but we'll see so keep it coming, guys.

- Joachim Buchert -


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Valamir on September 03, 2003, 06:09:33 AM
Quote
To be very generic, let's assume at the on-set of play I had one relationship that was defined as a trait. Later, during play through actions I acquire a relationship exactly similar to the one I had at the beginning. However, (depending on the system) usually without spending some type of currency, this relationship will not represented in the same way. Within the IC world, there is no difference. On my character sheet, there is a difference.


But that's another assumption.  Your assumption is that the two relationships in the IC world are the same because they were created the same way.  That is clearly not necessarily the case.  Literature and movies are full of discardable relationships.  TV, whose episodic nature often provides an even better parallel to RPGs is even more so.  Where is the "best bud" from episode 3, 10 episodes later?  How come the guy whose life was saved in episode 5 is never heard from again even though the episode ended with a "we'll have to get together soon".  Those relationships were meaningful and important ONLY in that specific situation at that specific time and place.  They were best friends that the hero was willing to risk his life and career over one minute...next minute gone never to be heard from again.  

This is CLEARLY different from the partner who the hero is willing to risk his life and career over and who is in every episode in a meaningful manner.  These types of mechanics emulate this perfectly.  In Hero Wars terms the partner relationship has been "cemented", the "best friend" wasn't.  Currency was spent on the partner, the partner stays around.  Currency was not spent on the "best friend"...best friend disappears.

In the movies, the Lethal Weapon series is probably the best example of this sort of thing.  Some newly introduced characters (like Joe Pesci) get cemented and return in the sequels.  Others...never seen again.

And its not just relationships that this applies to.  Signature weapons, vs guns that are simply thrown away when the ammo is gone.  Signature cars vs replaceable cars.  Many things can be seen as treatable this way.  It is not only NOT inconsistant, but rather one could easily argue it is a MORE accurate way to account for such things.

Quote
but what I care is secondary to what the character cares (or to what the IC reality of the matter is). When I play, I sort of become subordinate to the character. This type of semi-irrational emphasis on the character seems a trait of the type of play I enjoy.


Sorry.  Characters are pencil scribblings on a piece of paper.  No RPG character has ever cared about anything...ever.  They don't exist.  They are figments of the imagination and so can not, ever, exist independently of the person portraying them.  

"what the character cares about" is utter vapor as it is always you the player deciding what the imaginary character does or doesn't care about.  They don't care about anything except what you tell tem to.  The reality of the situation is that ALL character actions in a game ALWAYS come down to what you the PLAYER cares about.  You may dress it up and call it "channelling" or some such but ultimately its still you.

Your character will care about exactly who and what you tell it to care about.  Nothing more, nothing less, and it can't complain about it.  Therefor, if a relationship isn't worth it to the PLAYER to spend currency on cementing the relationship, than it by definition CAN'T be worth it to the character.  [/rant]

But this is in no way restricting.  Its simply a toggle.  In games of this type, there is almost never a time when you will be without the currency required.  No properly run Hero Wars game should ever enter the situation where in character play indicates a potential relationship, the player wants to cement it and doesn't have any points.  At the very least the GM extends the credit on it.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: joshua neff on September 03, 2003, 06:12:49 AM
Joachim--

Quote
The crux of my post was more in the realm of why are certain relationships quantified in mechanics while others are not?


What Walt said. The same reason some skills & abilities are quantified & others aren't (on the character sheet): because those are the crucial ones for the character in the game. Let's take two games with relationship mechanics I'm familiar with, the aforementioned HeroQuest & Trollbabe. Both allow you to purchase a relationship at any time in the game, in-game or out-of-game. So, at any time, the Player can decide, "That priest there, he's important to my character." In Trollbabe, there only has to be some kind of relationship established in play to put the relationship down on the sheet. But now, this is another trait the Player can use in the game for the character.

Quote
It seems the spending of currency is a matter of importance. Importance to whom, is my next and most important question?


Important to the Player of the character, & by extension the other players (including the GM).

Personally, I look at all character traits the same way, regardless of game. If a PC has, say, Chess as a quantified skill on her sheet, that's 1) the Player saying she wants chess to come into play at some point & for her character to be involved & 2) the Player establishing that her PC has some skill at chess. Let's say the Chess trait is bought after a few sessions of play. Does this mean the PC never knew how to play chess before & now does? Not necessarily to me. It could be that it's just never come up before. (I tend to think of it in terms of a TV series or comic series. "Wolverine, I didn't know you spoke Japanese." "You never asked.") I tend to look at any trait on a character sheet as #1 (what the Player wants) first & #2 (what the PC can do) second.

Quote
but what I care is secondary to what the character cares (or to what the IC reality of the matter is).


If that's the case...I don't know what to tell you. I find that kind of play...alien. (I'm not saying it's "bad," just not something I easily understand.)

EDIT: Ralph's "the character is scribblings on a piece of paper" sums up exactly how I feel about the whole, "I want to do what the character wants." Which is why I find the whole Turku thing a bit alien.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Mike Holmes on September 03, 2003, 07:45:44 AM
Quote
This maybe my Turku School bent showing (hell, I'm only 200km from Turku!), but what I care is secondary to what the character cares (or to what the IC reality of the matter is). When I play, I sort of become subordinate to the character. This type of semi-irrational emphasis on the character seems a trait of the type of play I enjoy.


Yes, what you're talking about here is your personal preference. Frankly, given that all mechanics exist primarily on the metagame level, I'm surprised that the Turku school uses them at all. Though, to the extent that they do, it's all based on the idea that the mechanics are a mechanical and arbitrary description of the universe.

In which case, to the extent that the metagame shows through in relationship mechanics it will be problematic.

I find myself in a fairly unique position in that I like to have strong metagame, and at the same time I like to have it have strong in-game representation. Walt's term congruence is important here. That is, if a mechanic is both metagamey, and yet still very believable as part of the in-game then it's Congruent.

Now, that all said, I think that people are missing the essential point. Because for all it's metagamey power, the relationship mechanics are, as I've pointed out, not too damaging to in-game suspension of disbelief for most Sim gamers. This high level of Congruence is very satisfying for a player like myself.

But I see a different problem. I thought that I'd remembered that you were from the Turku school of thought in the previous post, and that's the reason I addressed the things I did. That is, it's a first person issue for the Turku. A relationship mechanic tends to require some drop from first person to an extent to do things that in most Turku play don't require the drop.

Again, however, I find this a tad ironic as, for example, all combat requires a drop out of first person. That said, I understand that the divide tends to be between physical and social resolutions for practical reasons. That is, the Turku manifesto says, IIRC, that all should be in first person that can be in first person.

Ralph, and Josh, the fact that you can't understand the perspective doesn't make Joachim wrong. That is, to put it in terms that you might be better able to understand, putting your mind in a set where you feel that you are prioritizing the "feelings" of some fictional character, though not actually possible, does provide some players with a particular feeling that can't be obtained otherwise. I know because I've felt it as well. The feeling is often termed "Immersion", but that's problematic as the term has been co-opted by people who want to say that the feeling doesn't exist. But let me assure you that it does, whatever it's called.

Negatively defined, it' that feeling which is destroyed by the intrusion of metagame or out of character play. That is, someone with the feeling notes it evaporating when these conditions occur. So to deny that the feeling exists is either to say that we're deluded (in which case, I suggest that you either get us some medical attention, or leave us to our delusions in peace), or it's simply to say that you've never felt that feeling before yourself.

Which makes it all preference again.

(If we want to get into what the particular feeling is like we can probably take that to a new thread. But it's basically a real form of mysticism, IMO.)

So, we don't really disagree, Joachim, we just have different priorities. So you may find that you can't use Relationship mechanics to your satisfaction. That's too bad, really. Because it's my experience that all players can have enjoyment playing in any style of play. It only takes an open mind. That is, I'd suggest that you come to playing a game of Hero Quest with more of the idea that you're an author of sorts than a channeler of characters. It will be different, and maybe less enjoyable than your prefered style, but not unenjoyable.

And, similarly,  I'd suggest to the others here that you actually try the chanelling method some time.

And for both sides, I'd consider that there's every chance that you can use a game like Hero Quest to do both, if not simultaneously, in rapid rotation. Such that you get both sorts of kicks from one session of play. This is my personal goal when I play, and it seems to work for me.

Mike


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Valamir on September 03, 2003, 08:20:14 AM
Quote from: Mike Holmes

Ralph, and Josh, the fact that you can't understand the perspective doesn't make Joachim wrong.


Don't leap to conclusions.  I did not say I didn't understand the perspective.  I quite understand it.  Sure its a preference.  I happen to think that by and large its a pretty destructive preference.  But that would be a different thread entirely.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Gordon C. Landis on September 03, 2003, 01:42:44 PM
Quote from: Daredevil
For me, this results in the mechanics being imposing just a bit too far, being almost restrictive rather than empowering. They constrict my view of the character (or should I say, my channeling of the character). For example, if in my view a new relationship should be utterly important to the character, but at that moment I just happen to be out of currency (practically or theoretically), there is no way I can truly depict my character.


I think this is the core issue - you must be willing to let the system influence you here.  Now, that influence could (as someone mentioned in an earlier post) just be that you are going to "borrow" some Currency to create the realtionship.  Or that while the relationship IS utterly important to the character, there's some reason it can't be "used" right now: they don't love you back, or there's a third party that has a hold on your prospective relationship and prevents you from gaining the advantage, or whatever.  A relationship method like the one in HeroWars/Quest isn't modeling what's "true" about your characters' relationships, it's telling you what you can "use" - which (for me) leaves plenty of room for roleplaying to fill in the gaps.

But in some ways the whole point of such systems is that you do allow them to influence how you 'truly' depict your character.  You kinda have to find a reason that works for both the system and the character.  Yes, in some ways this is restrictive.  But it is also an inspiration - structured improvisation and all that.

But it is a departure from having the system reflect/model/simulate "reality" in the game world, and instead using it to control/influence/shape what the players can make happen in that imagined world.  At least, so it seems to me,

Gordon


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Daredevil on September 03, 2003, 02:39:19 PM
I think this turned out to be more interesting than I thought.

I'd like to point a few things out for clarity.

First, while I share certain traits with the Turku school, I'd hesitate to say that I am 'of the Turku school'. We're neighbours (physically as well philosophically), nothing more. It is entirely likely that it has something to do with the general Finnish mindset or approach towards affairs of the imagination. Indeed, to make it sound fancy, this may be a result of us being closer to our mythic origins and past, in some ways perhaps a form of modern shamanism. It has more to do with our "myths being alive" than playing a syndicated tv series.

Secondly, it is important to note that I'm not saying one thing is worse than the other on a universal scale. This might be obvious but bears writing out. I can understand and even value the "other way" of role-playing on this thread, I could even play in a game like that (and certainly our -- and your? -- style of play fluctutates between this and that), but given the choice it is not my preference.

Quote from: Valamir
Literature and movies are full of discardable relationships. TV, whose episodic nature often provides an even better parallel to RPGs is even more so. Where is the "best bud" from episode 3, 10 episodes later? How come the guy whose life was saved in episode 5 is never heard from again even though the episode ended with a "we'll have to get together soon". Those relationships were meaningful and important ONLY in that specific situation at that specific time and place.

True, but the fact that popular media is full of something does not make it inherently good or really even acceptable. Very often it is exactly these types of relationships which bring forth criticism with the audience, because they're hurting their suspension of disbelief and enjoyment since they're not handled "realistically" (or with a more readily acceptable form of consistency). However, usually the strengths of the drama elsewhere override these nuisances and the experience remains enjoyable (and I'm going so far to say that this probably works in role-playing as well).

Quote from: Valamir
Sorry. Characters are pencil scribblings on a piece of paper. No RPG character has ever cared about anything...ever. They don't exist. They are figments of the imagination and so can not, ever, exist independently of the person portraying them.

Maybe this requires a certain form of schitzophrenia to accept, but if so, I'm glad for it. First of all, you're absolutely right. I don't go around saying that the characters are real. However, you're wrong as well. Strictly for the purposes of the game, I choose to believe they're real. I make a leap of faith. The leap of faith that the entire gaming group makes as part of the social contract that enables play.

In this instance, there is no way you can tell me the character's don't exist. Or let me rephrase. No way you can make me believe they don't (within the context of the game). You'd get blank stares from my gaming group as well. In fact, as part of our regular talks of role-playing theory, when I first introduced to them the typical Forge mindset which claims that characters don't exist, that they're just writing on the paper, I was the one who received those those blank stares of disbelief.

Quote from: Valamir
In games of this type, there is almost never a time when you will be without the currency required. No properly run Hero Wars game should ever enter the situation where in character play indicates a potential relationship, the player wants to cement it and doesn't have any points. At the very least the GM extends the credit on it.

This explanation seems to rob the mechanics and related currency of much of their worth. Why is there a currency or a mechanic in the first place, if they're essentially powerless? In my view, the mechanic could be made more elegant before allowed into play.

Quote from: joshua neff
Personally, I look at all character traits the same way, regardless of game. If a PC has, say, Chess as a quantified skill on her sheet, that's 1) the Player saying she wants chess to come into play at some point & for her character to be involved & 2) the Player establishing that her PC has some skill at chess. Let's say the Chess trait is bought after a few sessions of play. Does this mean the PC never knew how to play chess before & now does? Not necessarily to me. It could be that it's just never come up before. (I tend to think of it in terms of a TV series or comic series. "Wolverine, I didn't know you spoke Japanese." "You never asked.") I tend to look at any trait on a character sheet as #1 (what the Player wants) first & #2 (what the PC can do) second.

This displays another trait of tv series which I am not fond of. Character traits appearing from nowhere, stretching the established truths and straining the acquired consistency of the world. If Wolverine speaks Japanese, why didn't he understand what the Ninja said in episode "Brawl at the Noodle Bar"? Sure, an explanation can be created as a crutch, but the damage is already done. My faith (in the world and the abilities of the shows writer's and producers) is teetering.

Quote from: Mike Holmes
But I see a different problem. I thought that I'd remembered that you were from the Turku school of thought in the previous post, and that's the reason I addressed the things I did. That is, it's a first person issue for the Turku. A relationship mechanic tends to require some drop from first person to an extent to do things that in most Turku play don't require the drop.

Again, as I'm not hard-core Turku school, I'm not as adamant on remaining first person. Yes, this aspect of play is important in a sense to establishing a strong base of observable in-character behaviour, but beyond that it is acceptable to tune out for a while.

Indeed, contrary to what may seem intuitive, I think some meta-game mechanics can even enhance this state of immersion. They damage it initially (it seems inherent to their nature), but the end result can be a positive gain. That's what a lot of the original El Dorado stuff was about. Those kinds of mechanics just seem rare. If I didn't believe in them, I'd just stay out of the Forge. :)

Quote from: Mike Holmes
That is, to put it in terms that you might be better able to understand, putting your mind in a set where you feel that you are prioritizing the "feelings" of some fictional character, though not actually possible, does provide some players with a particular feeling that can't be obtained otherwise. I know because I've felt it as well. The feeling is often termed "Immersion", but that's problematic as the term has been co-opted by people who want to say that the feeling doesn't exist. But let me assure you that it does, whatever it's called.

Exactly. Since the term "immersion" is troublesome and has multiple meanings, I propose "channeling" as a more fitting alternative.

Quote from: Mike Holmes
(If we want to get into what the particular feeling is like we can probably take that to a new thread. But it's basically a real form of mysticism, IMO.)

I would agree on this take and refer to what I wrote in the beginning of this message.

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Because it's my experience that all players can have enjoyment playing in any style of play. It only takes an open mind. That is, I'd suggest that you come to playing a game of Hero Quest with more of the idea that you're an author of sorts than a channeler of characters. It will be different, and maybe less enjoyable than your prefered style, but not unenjoyable.

Again, we return to the beginning. I am in full agreement. The fact that everybody can be correct doing the "right thing for themselves" doesn't make this discussion void however.

Anyway, I think we're at the heart of the matter here.

- Joachim Buchert -


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: John Kim on September 03, 2003, 04:16:55 PM
I am similar to Joachim in that I don't care for relationship mechanics.  I have now played Hero Quest and used the relationship mechanics in it, though I don't have extensive experience.  

Quote from: Mike Holmes
 Now, that all said, I think that people are missing the essential point. Because for all it's metagamey power, the relationship mechanics are, as I've pointed out, not too damaging to in-game suspension of disbelief for most Sim gamers. This high level of Congruence is very satisfying for a player like myself.  

As I view it, things like Strength or Speed or Weight seem reasonable to assign numbers to.  A relationship doesn't seem reasonable to do that with, for me at least.  That is, a strength number has a definite meaning for me that I can visualize.  A relationship number, though, tells me relatively little.  I suppose this puts me down as preferring strong in-game representation, as Mike Holmes put it.  

If handled liberally, the mechanics might not be too damaging to suspension of disbelief.  However, I don't see that they are likely to improve things over handling them.  

Quote from: Mike Holmes
But I see a different problem. I thought that I'd remembered that you were from the Turku school of thought in the previous post, and that's the reason I addressed the things I did. That is, it's a first person issue for the Turku. A relationship mechanic tends to require some drop from first person to an extent to do things that in most Turku play don't require the drop.  

Again, however, I find this a tad ironic as, for example, all combat requires a drop out of first person.  

You seem to view this as purely a matter of physical expression, but there is more to being "first-person" or channeling than that.  Even in combat, I can be "first-person" thinking in that I focus on what my character would try to do, and then announce that action.  However, meta-game mechanics require out-of-character thinking.  For example, it has been common in my experience that in the thick of an engaging combat, players will get into character and forget about their drama points or whimsy cards.  Because they are focussed on their character, they think about what

Take your example of talking to Baor the Barkeep.  Suppose I go in and talk to him, but I don't think to announce in an OOC voice that I am using my relationship mechanic.  Say I am concentrating on what my character is thinking and I don't remember to do that.  He brushes me off, and I walk away puzzled.  In-character, I think "Why did my old friend Baor brush me off, when we have been buddies for such a long time?"  

Now, of course, the GM could notice that I am forgetting to make the OOC announcement and insert it for me -- but what is the relationship mechanic really buying me, then?  I guess this might be a more general question:  what do you think changes and what is intended to change by adding a HQ-like relationship mechanic to a game?


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Gordon C. Landis on September 03, 2003, 06:02:42 PM
First of all -
Quote
. . . it is important to note that I'm not saying one thing is worse than the other on a universal scale. This might be obvious but bears writing out.
It also bears (I thought) repeating.  Thanks, Joachim.

What else?  Hmm  . . .  I have a lot of thoughts about the issues here, but I'm not sure if they all apply to what Joachim is asking.  Joachim, is your question semi-acurately phrased as "how can a number-driven method for managing a soft, abstract concept like relationships really serve our goals as roleplayers?  Particularly when the method is only used for SOME relationships?"

Assuming I'm on target with that - a couple additional questions:

1) What are these goals against which we're checking this method/mechanic?  This is the GNS question, and I can do no more at the moment than gesture vaguely over at that forum to indicate it's an important question.  But I think we can look at a few things without getting into the depths of GNS, for e.g.

2)  What is a method/mechanic in an RPG used for?  

Disagreements on either of these two questions might explain differences of opinion about relationship mechanics, but I'm not yet clear if there is a disagreement over 'em just yet.

For example, in John's post the example he uses with Baor is a bit of a mystery to me - if you're using a system that has a method involving a relationship number for Baor, you're not going to forget about it.  What you ("you" in this case being the group as a whole, with GM and whatever as appropriate) do when an interaction with Baor occurs in-game will (or it least should, IMO) provide plenty of opportunities to "invoke" the method.

So I think we could spend some time sorting through whether or not there is a basic disagreement over goals and/or what systems and methods are for, but I'm not sure that's really needed to answer Joachim's question.  If I could assume the answer to question 1 was something like "the shared creation of meaningful stories" and the answer to question 2 was "to facilitate delivering on the answer to question 1", then I could answer ""how can a number-driven method for managing and using an abstract concept like "relationships" really serve our goals as roleplayers?" by saying this: it provides concrete opportunities (and possibly also incentives, rewards, interesting situations, and etc.) during play for relationships and the associated issues to be seen and explored by the group.

And while only SOME relationships may be specifically represented by the system, we aren't trying to create an accurate model of all the character(s) and situation(s) here, we're just trying to create that story as described above.  If we decide it'd be good to have a number for an additional relationship(s), a good system will provide ways in which that can happen.

I'm not sure how much this adds over my last post, but - hope it clarifies something,

Gordon


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: joshua neff on September 03, 2003, 06:11:17 PM
Hey, I'm not trying to say the Turku school is bad or "wrong." Whatever people are happy doing, as long as it doesn't hurt others or infringe on my own enjoyment is cool with me. (That goes from the "neighbors to Turku" character immersion, too.) And I pretty much agree with everything you said, Mike--if immersion (or "channelling") is of primary importance to you & metagame mechanics (or to be more precise, mechanics that jar you out of immersion, since as you noted, Mike, many mechanics move you out of Actor stance), then yeah, relationship mechanics may ring false. I also agree that this could be missing out on a lot of fun, but hey, whatever.

As for the "continuity" aspect. Joachim, you may see these as undesireable aspects of TV culture. It's true that one reason why I'm not bothered by leaps & contradictions in continuity is that I grew up reading DC comics & watching Doctor Who, neither of which at the time were all that concerned with consistent continuity. I find consistent continuity to be...well, jarring. It seems unrealistic to me. Plus, I'm completely unconcerned with fiction being "realistic." Myth, legend, folk tale--these are rarely consistent in continuity. Greek myths contradict the hell out of each other. Try doing research into the history of Ireland & coming away with a consistent tale. So for me, consistent continuity seems a-mythic, & I rather like myth. Again, it's personal preference.

As for Strength being "quantifiable" but a relationship not--I'm tempted to say this is more a matter of RPG history than it is a given. For me, saying "I have a Strength of 18" means absolutely nothing, except in the context of the game. "A Strength of 18 means I can lift this much." Oh, okay, got it. So if Relationships are quantified by the same scale--as they are in HeroQuest--it makes as much sense to me. "I have Sword & Shield Fighting at 17--& I have Loves My Family at 17." In HQ, those mean the same thing--you have the same chance of succeeding or failing on either roll.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Jeff Klein on September 03, 2003, 07:02:57 PM
Two random things:

1. This seems awfully like the Champions conundrum of 'why do I have to pay points for a laser gun instead of just taking one from the bad guy and keeping it?'

2. Dav Gets Immersive in a game with quite a relationship mechanic.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: John Kim on September 03, 2003, 09:19:38 PM
Quote from: joshua neff
  I find consistent continuity to be...well, jarring. It seems unrealistic to me. Plus, I'm completely unconcerned with fiction being "realistic." Myth, legend, folk tale--these are rarely consistent in continuity. Greek myths contradict the hell out of each other. Try doing research into the history of Ireland & coming away with a consistent tale. So for me, consistent continuity seems a-mythic, & I rather like myth. Again, it's personal preference.  

Agreed.  I would lean the opposite way, for example -- towards continuity and realism -- but as you say they are just preferences.  Actually, I think that this split is behind a lot of disagreements here one the Forge.  This is parallel to the split in literature between novels (which traditionally are social realism) versus myth and romance.  It seems to me that the majority in the Forge are like you, i.e. they prefer mythicness.  

For example, I chose RuneQuest rather than Hero Wars for my current campaign.  That's because it was closer to what I was aiming at -- a fairly grounded saga in the style of the Icelandic family sagas, and definitely not like the eddas or romances.  

Quote from: joshua neff
  As for Strength being "quantifiable" but a relationship not--I'm tempted to say this is more a matter of RPG history than it is a given. For me, saying "I have a Strength of 18" means absolutely nothing, except in the context of the game. "A Strength of 18 means I can lift this much." Oh, okay, got it. So if Relationships are quantified by the same scale--as they are in HeroQuest--it makes as much sense to me.  

Well, I don't dispute your preference -- but my opinion has nothing to do with RPG history.  Physical force is an objectively measurable numeric quantity, such as pounds of bench press and dead lift.  Physics problems can be reasonably reduced to simple numbers in many cases, whereas it is much more difficult to do this with psychology and sociology.  While numerical methods are used by psychology, in practical usage it is difficult to reduce them to numerical ratings.  

For game purposes, it is certainly playable to set social ratings and use them the same way as Strength.  However, when you try to relate this back to a real-world conception, they are very different.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: John Kim on September 03, 2003, 09:34:07 PM
Quote from: Jeff Klein
 1. This seems awfully like the Champions conundrum of 'why do I have to pay points for a laser gun instead of just taking one from the bad guy and keeping it?'  

Agreed, and it is a difficult conundrum.  The reason for the Champions rule is a particular genre convention.  You use the superheroic equipment rule if you want your game to be like mainstream superhero comics (or perhaps other episodic forms like TV series).  If you don't want this, then there is no good reason for the rule.  I have run Champions both ways.  I like both approaches but they have a different feel.  Without the rule, characters face a lot of questions about whether they are stealing, how they get their money, and so forth.  With the rule, these issues are put in the background and play focusses on other dilemmas instead.  

I'd be curious if anyone has similar reflections on play with and without relationship mechanics.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: RaconteurX on September 03, 2003, 10:20:32 PM
As relationships in HeroQuest can be used to gain augments directly, in the same way that Pendragon passions grant inspiration bonuses, or indirectly through Community Support, they are given numeric values. HeroQuest quantifies relationships for precisely the same reason as Pendragon quantifies personality traits and passions: if it can have a metagame (i.e., mechanics-oriented) impact on the game, it needs some value associated with it.

Speaking as a Hero Wars playtester, the design rationale grows out of Robin Laws' intent to model outcomes rather than processes. A contest in HeroQuest (as in Hero Wars) tells you the outcome, leaving the explanation of how that outcome occurred to the players and narrator to create together. It is this which is the source of HeroQuest's great mechanical versatility, allowing for equally dramatic combats, legal debates or efforts to bring in the harvest before winter arrives.

To use the example of Baor the Barkeep: the player may not know that, during a mid-game break, the narrator rolled the hero's Friend of Baor the Barkeep 17 versus a difficulty which represents Baor's reticence based on his knowledge of what happened to the last person who told an outsider where the thieves' guild holds its meetings (let's call it 10W... W here substituting for the Mastery rune). On a defeat or a tie, Baor would not tell his friend anything. On a marginal or minor victory, Baor would indicate that he did in fact know but feared what might happen to either himself, his family or the hero. On a major or complete victory, Baor would tell the hero exactly what he wanted to know, guild be damned!


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Valamir on September 04, 2003, 06:10:46 AM
Quote from: Daredevil

Quote from: Valamir
In games of this type, there is almost never a time when you will be without the currency required. No properly run Hero Wars game should ever enter the situation where in character play indicates a potential relationship, the player wants to cement it and doesn't have any points. At the very least the GM extends the credit on it.

This explanation seems to rob the mechanics and related currency of much of their worth. Why is there a currency or a mechanic in the first place, if they're essentially powerless? In my view, the mechanic could be made more elegant before allowed into play.


Powerless?  Not at all.  The currency measures choice.  Which was more important, to spend the point to cement a relationship or improve your Intrigue skill?  To cement that sword as your new signature weapon or to increase your strength score?  Its not having or not having the currency that gives it value in this circumstance.  Its how you choose to spend what you have that provides the value.

In fact, take money as an analogy.  I can give a poor man $10,000 and watch how he spends it to judge what kind of person he is, what's important to him.  However, at that level, the money is likely to be largely spent on essentials and basics...the needs of survival.  If instead I give him $1,000,000 than survival is easily taken care of.  The man now has a large disposable amount of money above and beyond basic needs.  How he chooses to save, spend, or give this money away says alot.

Similarly currency in the game works like this.  If you rely on the scarcity of game currency to give it value than you're likely to see most of it just getting spent on basic "character advancement" needs.  If, on the other hand, you give out the currency generously, you can then observe the choices the players make as they decide what is or isn't important.


Quote from: RaconteurX
Speaking as a Hero Wars playtester, the design rationale grows out of Robin Laws' intent to model outcomes rather than processes.


In wargaming this is often called Design for Effect rather than Design for Cause.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: John Kim on September 04, 2003, 07:01:25 PM
Quote from: Valamir
In games of this type, there is almost never a time when you will be without the currency required. No properly run Hero Wars game should ever enter the situation where in character play indicates a potential relationship, the player wants to cement it and doesn't have any points. At the very least the GM extends the credit on it.
...
Similarly currency in the game works like this.  If you rely on the scarcity of game currency to give it value than you're likely to see most of it just getting spent on basic "character advancement" needs.  If, on the other hand, you give out the currency generously, you can then observe the choices the players make as they decide what is or isn't important.

There may be some truth to this, but I would say that "needs" are a function of how the rest of the campaign is run.  In my experience, a 500 point Champions game with lots of XP is not necessarily any more character-focussed than a 50+50 point ordinary people game.  Either way, people spend on what is important to them.  

I think the problem for most people is in the nature of justifications.  i.e. If a player keeps not spending points on relationships which play suggests, then you need to keep coming up with excuses for why they don't.  Conversely, if the player does spend points on whatever is suggested by play, then he is losing points from spending on what he might otherwise want.  

Just to illustrate the latter point -- consider this.  I am playing a game without relationship mechanics, and I decide on a new house rule.  Whenever a PC forms a new permanent relationship, I penalize the player's XP.  She can avoid this only by driving away, alienating, or otherwise negating the potential relationship.  This seems to be functionally identical to the cementing rule.  

I certainly know from Champions that under the superheroic equipment rule, players were discouraged from picking up equipment they would otherwise take because it would cost them points.  Indeed, that is the purpose of the rule -- because in mainstream superhero comics that's how they behave.  So I understand this logic.  However, I'm still not entirely clear on the parallel logic of the cementing rule.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: RaconteurX on September 04, 2003, 07:26:41 PM
Quote from: Valamir
In wargaming this is often called Design for Effect rather than Design for Cause.


Thank you, Ralph. I blanked on the terminology when I was writing my post, and decided it was not worth any further lost sleep. :)


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Gordon C. Landis on September 04, 2003, 09:29:19 PM
This post is mostly in response to John's latest, and again I don't think it's anything I haven't already said here, but . . . let me try one more angle on this:

Spending points on a relationship can only be in some way "like" losing XP if the nature of a realtionship and the other things you might spend points on are fundamentally different.  If the overall effectiveness of a character who spends points on relationships is essentially the same as that of a player who doesn't (and instead spends them elsewhere) - there's no "loss" here.  In one case, you have the advantage of the realtionship(s), and in the other, you have some other adavantage.  Good systems that include relationships in a particular mechanic/method (it seems to me) will maintain some form of congruence between the realtionship and other aspects of the system.

So again, I say the issue is really whether or not you are you are willing to treat a relationship as basically the same thing as, say, a sword skill, within the context of a particular rule system.  It can be done, but it might not be to some people's taste.  That doesn't make it equivalent to an XP penalty in any way I can see, though.

Gordon


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: John Kim on September 04, 2003, 10:50:39 PM
Quote from: Gordon C. Landis
  Spending points on a relationship can only be in some way "like" losing XP if the nature of a realtionship and the other things you might spend points on are fundamentally different.  If the overall effectiveness of a character who spends points on relationships is essentially the same as that of a player who doesn't (and instead spends them elsewhere) - there's no "loss" here.  

That depends on what you compare it to.  I was specifically comparing it to the case of a game where relationships do not cost any currency points.  In this case, there is a relative loss.  Yes, relationships can have value.  However, in the other system, that value was given as a consequence of in-character play -- i.e. as extras or "freebies".  To reproduce this effect in HeroQuest, the GM could always gave you a special Hero Point only usable to cement that relationship every time that you developed a relationship through in-character play.  

As far as I can tell, the parallel to Champions equipment is pretty direct.  Under the superheroic rule, you can say that there is no loss per se -- if you pay points for a gadget, then it has value.  However, in heroic games without that rule, you could get items without paying points.  As a consequence, heroic campaign PCs will tend to buy, borrow, and steal whatever they can get their hands on -- and be concerned about keeping it.  In contrast, superheroic campaign PCs will tend to ignore gadgets, since they don't get anything per se from taking them and aren't in danger of losing them.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: contracycle on September 05, 2003, 12:17:50 AM
Quote from: John Kim

That depends on what you compare it to.  I was specifically comparing it to the case of a game where relationships do not cost any currency points.  In this case, there is a relative loss.  Yes, relationships can have value.  However, in the other system, that value was given as a consequence of in-character play -- i.e. as extras or "freebies".  To reproduce this effect in HeroQuest, the GM could always gave you a special Hero Point only usable to cement that relationship every time that you developed a relationship through in-character play.  


I can't buy this.  By implication, any mechanism which exists uniquely in a particular game is "unfair" because it requires spending that would not be required in other games.  Thats nonsensical - if there is a point cost economy in the game, then one can assume that the range of spending expected has been accomodated in the initial point provision by the designer.  That is what the the system was built to do.

Anyway, I suggest a rather more important role for personality/social mechanics - establishing the relationship in the game space.  Those "freebie" relationships are only "freebie" becuase there is no way to really use them.  The players own opinion of their relationship, and its degree of reciprocation, may not be recognised by the GM and this may lead to discord.  It may be considered unfair to use a relationship that is not mechanically represented, and does require spending, to obtain an in game benefit - this may be seen as exploitative beheviour.  Establishing a rtelationship in the mechanics makes it much less nebulous for the shared vision, thus much more useable/useful, thus more likely to be important to play IMO.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Mike Holmes on September 05, 2003, 09:33:53 AM
For a more Sim player like myself, if there's no Relationship listed on the character sheet, there's no relationship. No "freebies" exist, IMO, in Hero Quest.

Now, I can already hear the cries that a HQ character has too few relationships on their character sheet to be plausible. But I completely disagree. Each HQ character will automatically have a relationship with his entire tribe, clan, or whathave you. These represent a huge variety of relationships. The ones listed on the sheet are the ones that have particular value for the character above this level.

Everybody else in the world you have a score of 6 with. That's a rule. So nobody is being forgotten.

Now, is this a tad abstract? Yes, neccessarily so. The system handles everything with this level of abstraction. That said, it provides the most complete and plausible cataloguing of character abilities that I've yet seen. If it ain't on the sheet, the character ain't got it (DIP aside).

Now, I can create temporary relationships all I want in play. Just as I can create temporary equipment ala Champions. I can even assign it a score for the nonce. But in order to have it be permenant, I have to pay for it, Cement it with a HP. If I don't the same thing happens to that temporary equipment happens to the relationship. It dissolves.

This is not to enforce genre, neccessarily (though I'll get back to that in a second). It's very strictly for game balance. Let me say that again, these rules are metagame for balance. That is, if I were allowed to keep relationships and equipment or any other ability without paying, then my character becomes more powerful/interesting than other characters. HP are a resource that limits this. But where's the Congruence?

Well, John mentioned that it already makes sense for equipment. But, in fact, I can't think of anything more ephemeral in life than relationships. That guy you used to work with who you swore you'd keep in touch with? Why don't you talk to him now? Lot's of possible in-game reasons, but, mechanically, it's because you didn't pay the HP. And like equipment, you have to explain how you lose touch. In a more metaphysical way, all things are ephemeral if one doesn't take care with them. Think of Hero Points as Care Points. That the hero only keeps what he cares about.  That's so in-genre for long-term play, I can't even explain how ecstatic I am that the idea exists.

So, again, I really don't see the problem. If you can accept the metagame idea that you have to pay for equipment (and I can understand if that's your gripe right there), then I think you ought to be able to see how it applies overall. And I'd agree that seeing equipment or stats as different from relationships is mostly a result of tradition. Let's put strength aside as an example: can you say that Wisdom is something that makes more sense to rate by number than a relative rating of the strength of a relationship? Swordsmandship skill? Painting ability? Give me a system, and I'll come up with something in it that it rates that's as least as abstract as relationships. Heck, what is Cosmopolitan other than a manual for determining the statistical value of your relationship? Probably a guy thing to see it this way. ;-)

Mike


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: John Kim on September 05, 2003, 09:52:23 AM
Quote from: contracycle
 By implication, any mechanism which exists uniquely in a particular game is "unfair" because it requires spending that would not be required in other games.  Thats nonsensical - if there is a point cost economy in the game, then one can assume that the range of spending expected has been accomodated in the initial point provision by the designer.  That is what the the system was built to do.  

The logic doesn't hold for plenty of mechanisms.  First of all, many mechanisms don't require point-spending.  And even those which do require point-spending don't necessarily trade-off with other aspects of system.  For example, compare the Hero System and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Compared to Hero, Buffy adds in the Drama Point system.  You can buy drama points with XP, but Drama Points are never required for actions which would be free in the Hero System.  

Simply adding in more points doesn't contradict my point.  It is still true that by driving away potential friends instead of cementing them, the character increases in personal power.  A mechanic which doesn't do this might, for example, distribute relationship points which cannot be traded off with personal advancement points.  

Quote from: contracycle
Anyway, I suggest a rather more important role for personality/social mechanics - establishing the relationship in the game space.  Those "freebie" relationships are only "freebie" becuase there is no way to really use them.  The players own opinion of their relationship, and its degree of reciprocation, may not be recognised by the GM and this may lead to discord.  It may be considered unfair to use a relationship that is not mechanically represented, and does require spending, to obtain an in game benefit - this may be seen as exploitative beheviour.  Establishing a rtelationship in the mechanics makes it much less nebulous for the shared vision, thus much more useable/useful, thus more likely to be important to play IMO.

I would agree there is likely to be differences in play, but I'm not sure about your analysis of use.  

By parallel, this was certainly not true of equipment in my Champions games which didn't require character points for equipment.  The players never developed an attitude that it was exploitative to use equipment that they acquired.  They saw it as only practical.  Since I wasn't bound by rules, I could potentially have said that their equipment frequently broke or was unusable -- but this didn't happen in practice.  

Of course, the equipment did have mechanics -- i.e. guns and armor had combat stats, etc.  I would be interested in different ways of representing relationships.  I agree that a more concrete, less nebulous way of expressing relationships is good -- but I find that a single-number stat seems very nebulous to me, if it is trying to represent a real-seeming human relationship.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Jason Lee on September 05, 2003, 10:11:33 AM
One thing that doesn't sit well with me about relationships being all bound up in currency is that I don't think I like the idea of relationships being a measure of effectiveness.

See, for me, the change in relationships are a primary source of conflict.  The Duke hates you, Boar asks you for a favor, PC 1 hates PC 2.  It's not a measure of effectiveness like a sword skill is, it's what drives play as it changes.  One should be stable, the other mercurial.  Two completely different logics.  Affixing currency to relationships deprives them of some of their mutability, subtly and surprise; it implies stability.  A relationship with Boar of 17, is a good friend 17, not a 'good friend until he finds out you're the brother of the man who killed his wife who he'll now swear a blood oath to slay but be unable to follow through with because you once saved his life'.  I suppose you could say "Well sure it could be, that's just description of the trait", but in order to do this currency would have to be flying all over the place; mucking up (that's a technical term) the point of play.

That said, I've got no beef with relationship mechanics that are not tied to currency, then it's just a visual aid of sorts for the player - relationship notes.  We're actually using something like this: compatibility.  Just a rating you jot down measuring how much you like or dislike each other PC.  It effects the potency of kewl power super combos on the pro side and reflects a difficulty to oppose contributing to a kewl power super combo on the con side.  Adjust as you see fit, normally after each session.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Mike Holmes on September 05, 2003, 10:16:07 AM
In Hero Quest, it's legitimate for Abilities to shift fairly rapidly in various ways.

If that's not enough, however, in my Synthesis system changing your ratings is the whole point of the resolution system (no surprise as I just ported it over from Universalis, which in which Traits are similarly labile). So, yes, in every conflict the relationship trait will mechanically change to represent the in-game occurances.

John, in both Hero Quest and Synthesis (and I'm sure other systems), Relationships have exactly the same mechanical potence as other stats. So having Swordsman 17 is no different mechanically from having Bob 17. They both give you exactly the same amount of power to affect things in game. So nothing is inherently "worth" more than anything else. If you buy Swordsmanship, that means it's actually worth more to you as a player for your character to have that. If you buy Bob, that indicates that's more important.

Everything in the game is at the same level of abstraction, too, so that one stat has to do for combat as well. If you want it to be handled in little detail, you do a Simple Conflict. If you want to handle either a physical or a relationship fight in more detail, you do an extended Conflict. I can only report that this works extrmemely well. Assuming an ability to deal with FitM.

Mike


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: contracycle on September 05, 2003, 11:26:18 AM
I think we are flailing somewhat thruogh references to a specific system and simultaneously trying to discuss this in the broad. It is highly significant that HW/HQ is FiTM.

As Mike says, Bob 17 and Sword 17 are mechanically identical.  Now this does not mean thatthe relationship is fixed, to address Cruciels point.  Whatqwe know is that the mechanical impact of the relationship is 17, we do not know whattheactual relationships between Bob and the character is.  Nor do we need to *for resolution purposes* for the most part.

What we know is how impact-ful the relationship (or sword skill) is to the character or the world.  We can decide in any given case whether or not the relationship or skill has an impact here and now on the present situation.  Bob 17 can be used both as a tool (I can manipulate Bob because he likes me to the degree of 17 in 20) and as a problem (Bob can manipulate me becuase I like him to the degree of 17 in 20).

So the rating is measuring impact on play rather than being a normative description of anyones behaviour.  Failing to cement a relationship does not mean that you necessarily lose touch or the other character is driven away - they are just not going to feature in play.  They may have a wonderful relationship with the PC - it just happens off screen.  Failing to keep in touch is just a good and useful answer to the question at the END of FITM, which is, How?

To return to the keeping equipment example - I am one to whom keeping the gear would definately appear to be exploitative. I would mount arguments to th effect that this does not occur in superhero literature by default becuase doing so would anduermine any given characters schtick; that Spiderman could well do with taking home a bit of Doc Oc's tentacles or the Hobgoblins sled but this never happens (overthe long term).  I would interpreta violation of this genre convention as unconducive toa good game of that nature: in factthis verty problem plaguedthe few attempts I made at the genre.  To kill them and take their stuff is just to D&D with your pants on the outside.

The extension of this principle beyond the specific genre was IMO brilliant.  It allow the consistent mechanical application of a relationship to play without much concern with the content of the relationship.  The rating is a measure of play significance and that alone.  Under this specific game contract, NO spending points to cement is a signal that the characteror tool or what have you indicates it is deemed Unimportant by the player, regardless of the characters opinion.  Conversely, cementing something or someone is a signal by the player that that this item is Important to future play.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Walt Freitag on September 05, 2003, 11:37:38 AM
Hi John,

Your analogy of paying to cement relationships being equivalent to the GM reducing the player's XP unless the player acts in-game to negate the potential relationship doesn't hold up. The type of relationship mechanism we're talking about never requires the player to alienate or drive away or otherswise negate the relationship. The player can cement the relationship or not. Not doing so does not require or dictate or imply any action on the player-character's part. It doesn't mean the relationship disappears, it means it remains under the GM's control. (Or under whatever other form of shared control the game normally uses, but let's assume it's the GM's control for the sake of argument.) The GM can allow the relationship to fade into the background, or alter its nature (e.g. by betrayal), or use it as fodder for deus ex machina plot twists, or have the subject(s) wiped out off-camera, or whatever. (The same is also, often, true of "freebie" relationships in systems where relationships are not backed up by currency mechanics, as Gareth [contracycle] pointed out.)

Describing the currency spent on a relationship as "penalizing" the player is also overstating. I could, for instance, say that the guy who sold me a new suit has "penalized" my bank account, but others might wonder why I've described my choice to buy the suit in such a peculiar way.

Look at the choice of paying XPs for the relationship this way:

GM: Your character has become involved in an interesting new relationship. Do you want to make that relationship an important part of who your character is, and something that you want to make sure continues as an important plot element of the evolving situation in the future?

PLAYER: Um, no.

GM: Okay, I'll give you some points that you can spend later on some other interesting new thing for your character instead.

- Walt


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Jason Lee on September 05, 2003, 12:45:38 PM
So, if relationships are adjustable on the fly, that says to me the currency isn't a limited resource.  Man, I'm repeating someone now, I'm sure of it.  

If the currency isn't a limited resource, then it doesn't serve game balance in the traditional sense. It could serve a game balance-esque purpose in providing a general measure of effectiveness of a character that you can use to compare to other characters (Bob is better than Sally because he has more points); just some way for the players to quantify who's better than who, so they have a scaling guideline.  Which I'm perfectly peachy with as a purpose for currency - it's how I use it.  But, that isn't typically how currency is viewed.

If the currency is a limited resource that circles back around to my original problem with it implying stability.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: John Kim on September 05, 2003, 01:09:19 PM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
  Now, is this a tad abstract? Yes, neccessarily so. The system handles everything with this level of abstraction. That said, it provides the most complete and plausible cataloguing of character abilities that I've yet seen. If it ain't on the sheet, the character ain't got it (DIP aside).  

Well, it is playable to handle relationships abstractly -- but it doesn't need to be abstract.  For example, my Vinland RuneQuest game is extremely relationship-heavy without assigning abstract numbers to relationships.  For this game, at least, I don't want to handle relationships at the same level of abstraction as everything else.  

In contrast, say, I have gone with abstracted Wealth rules in my RQ campaign.  I had a specific intention:  I wanted to convey to players how affluent each character was, but not get too caught up in the details of trading cows, land, and so forth.  

Quote from: Mike Holmes
  Well, John mentioned that it already makes sense for equipment. But, in fact, I can't think of anything more ephemeral in life than relationships. That guy you used to work with who you swore you'd keep in touch with? Why don't you talk to him now? Lot's of possible in-game reasons, but, mechanically, it's because you didn't pay the HP.  And like equipment, you have to explain how you lose touch.  
...
So, again, I really don't see the problem. If you can accept the metagame idea that you have to pay for equipment (and I can understand if that's your gripe right there), then I think you ought to be able to see how it applies overall.

Well, I said that the superheroic equipment rule is playable and works for some people.  However, I would say it does not make sense on some level.  It is intrinsically irrational, and exists to emulate a particular quality of comic books -- not because it makes sense.  

Quote from: Mike Holmes
  And I'd agree that seeing equipment or stats as different from relationships is mostly a result of tradition. Let's put strength aside as an example: can you say that Wisdom is something that makes more sense to rate by number than a relative rating of the strength of a relationship? Swordsmandship skill? Painting ability? Give me a system, and I'll come up with something in it that it rates that's as least as abstract as relationships.  

Sure, games are full of abstractions.  Different games will abstract different things.  But I would say that what elements a game chooses to make abstract makes a big difference in the game play.  I think everyone here agrees that it is valid and playable to abstractly rate relationships.  However, some people (like me) are saying that they don't prefer that approach.  I feel the same way about Wisdom, for what its worth.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Mike Holmes on September 05, 2003, 01:38:52 PM
Your assumption is that to abstract something in game terms is to neccessarily handle it in the abstract in-game. But the systems in question don't do that. They, in fact, require detailed descriptions of outcomes of Conflicts of the resolution systems. I've heard some of the most realistic and detailed descriptions of combat using the same abstractions. And the use in terms of relationships has only served to introduce them in more detail, not less.

In any case, to not have any system is to handle the relationship entirely in the abstract. That's how you're doing it in your game. You can't have it both ways. Or are you saying that by having system for your combat in RQ that you're abstracting it?

Mechanics, no mechanics, it's all just system, and a way to come up with what happens in-game (Lumpley Principle). How you do it is only a matter of preference.

And it's a valid preference. I've only argued that the other side is valid as well, which is the only point in contention here. So we're not really disagreeing apparently.

Mike


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: John Kim on September 05, 2003, 10:03:24 PM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
  In any case, to not have any system is to handle the relationship entirely in the abstract. That's how you're doing it in your game. You can't have it both ways. Or are you saying that by having system for your combat in RQ that you're abstracting it?  

You're making the fallacy of systemless play.  The difference here is simply that I do not have a mechanic which assigns a semi-permanent number to each relationship to be written down on the character sheet.  There is still method to what happens in relationships in Vinland.  Non-numeric play  is not necessarily abstract.  Consider combat in largely non-numeric systems, like Everway or Amber.  Combats can still be played out either abstractly (i.e. "After five minutes of fierce struggle, you win.") or in detail (i.e. "OK, you have knocked the fifth thug off his feet.  Now what do you do?").   Sometimes numerical mechanics are abstract.  For example, D&D combat is rather abstract.  On the other hand, Millenium's End combat is also numerical but it is highly detailed.  

By using the RQ system for combat, yes I am picking a particular level of abstraction for my resolution.  For example, there is no distinction between most maneuvers, i.e. all sword swings are a standard attack.  I chose this for a reason.  In the genre I am trying for, combat is not supposed to be cinematic or fanciful.  It is violent and gory and fateful.  When you go into combat you go to meet your fate.  A big part of it is finding out who gets what wounds, to match the family sagas I am basing the game on.  If I wanted more detail, say, for fancy combat maneuvers -- then I might use a different system or significantly change it.  

Similar would apply to relationships.  For example, as I consider it, I can definitely see myself using abstracted relationship mechanics for a political game where I wanted to encourage the PCs to attempt Machiavellian manipulations.  Like in the combat example, I see some logic behind that level of abstraction for what I want.  But for other games, I don't think I would want them or at least would want different ones.  

Quote from: Mike Holmes
  Mechanics, no mechanics, it's all just system, and a way to come up with what happens in-game (Lumpley Principle). How you do it is only a matter of preference.  

And it's a valid preference. I've only argued that the other side is valid as well, which is the only point in contention here. So we're not really disagreeing apparently.  

Well, yes, but saying that it is all System is a non-statement.  We're agreed that they are valid preferences, but the question is what is driving those preferences.  What differences do we see.  

Quote from: Mike Holmes
  Your assumption is that to abstract something in game terms is to neccessarily handle it in the abstract in-game. But the systems in question don't do that. They, in fact, require detailed descriptions of outcomes of Conflicts of the resolution systems. I've heard some of the most realistic and detailed descriptions of combat using the same abstractions. And the use in terms of relationships has only served to introduce them in more detail, not less.  

I didn't intend to express that.  I was expressing my preference for how things are handled in game terms.  Yes, you can describe in detail events which are just an abstract result in mechanics terms.  However, the mechanic itself still has an affect.   i.e. Take two combats.  One is just narrated based on a result of "Side B won" -- while the other is played out in detail.  Even if the details of the verbal description are identical, these two combats will feel quite different.  

I would be curious to hear more about your experience with the relationship mechanic.  It seems strange to me that adding a single number to rate a relationship would result in more detail for it.  I certainly didn't experience that in my admittedly brief HeroQuest play.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: RaconteurX on September 06, 2003, 02:20:46 AM
Quote from: John Kim
I do not have a mechanic which assigns a semi-permanent number to each relationship to be written down on the character sheet. There is still method to what happens in relationships in Vinland.


The method, however, can be said to be completely arbitrary. If you as narrator need a relationship to sour, there is very little the player can do to gainsay your decision. In HeroQuest, it is the player who decides, through investment of game currency, whether (and to what extent) a relationship is important to the hero. I find that this makes narrating far easier, as I can rely on my players to provide vital cues to the direction they would like to see the story take by examining their expenditure of Hero Points.

Quote from: John Kim
It seems strange to me that adding a single number to rate a relationship would result in more detail for it.


It does not result in more detail, but it does result in less ambiguity since relationships (indeed, any ability in HeroQuest) have tangible mechanical effects... much as passions do in Pendragon. It is most decidedly a design conceit which Greg Stafford considers important as it has appeared, in one form or another, in every prior attempt to render an epic Gloranthan roleplaying game to which I have been privy (and I have seen fragments of at least four completely different attempts). The intent is to provide a concrete distillation of factors into a single value which can be used to simplify a complex process... much as the various weapons skills in RuneQuest do, as a matter of fact.

Quote from: John Kim
I certainly didn't experience that in my admittedly brief HeroQuest play.


Your limited experience leads you to make poorly-informed assumptions about the game, I think. Whereas RuneQuest made us think about the importance of culture, HeroQuest goes one step further and asks us to consider the importance of community. The relationship mechanics derive from what I imagine we can all agree is the most central theme of Glorantha, drawn from the archetypal hero's journey of which Greg is so fond: individual as embodiment of his or her community. Surely you would not suggest that so vital a setting element be ignored in the rules?


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: John Kim on September 06, 2003, 09:37:14 AM
Quote from: RaconteurX
Quote from: John Kim
I do not have a mechanic which assigns a semi-permanent number to each relationship to be written down on the character sheet. There is still method to what happens in relationships in Vinland.

The method, however, can be said to be completely arbitrary. If you as narrator need a relationship to sour, there is very little the player can do to gainsay your decision. In HeroQuest, it is the player who decides, through investment of game currency, whether (and to what extent) a relationship is important to the hero. I find that this makes narrating far easier, as I can rely on my players to provide vital cues to the direction they would like to see the story take by examining their expenditure of Hero Points.

I guess this depends on how you handle things.  You seem to be arguing in favor of relationships being controlled strictly by Hero Points and player choice.  i.e. If the PC has a fight with someone he has a relationship with, the player still controls the relationship number.  You as GM have no say.  Relationship numbers are thus unlikely to change based on varying events.  Also, it is impossible for relationships to be feigned, except with the player's knowledge.  (i.e. You would have to tell the player that what appears in-game to be a follower doesn't really have a relationship number.)  

That approach does seem more empowering to the players.  However, personally I enjoy seeing the dynamic of relationships change as caused by in-game events.  For example, two sessions ago Melnir (an NPC) became estranged from Poul (a PC) after Poul went berserk.  Melnir is married to Silksif (another PC), and their discussion of what happened was an important point of the game for me.  

If you keep the mechanic but allow the GM to have some control -- for example, to say that killing your own follower causes another to run away -- then this ultimately comes down to GM judgement just like in my case.  The veneer of the number doesn't mean much since the GM is capable of changing the number.  

Quote from: RaconteurX
  Whereas RuneQuest made us think about the importance of culture, HeroQuest goes one step further and asks us to consider the importance of community. The relationship mechanics derive from what I imagine we can all agree is the most central theme of Glorantha, drawn from the archetypal hero's journey of which Greg is so fond: individual as embodiment of his or her community. Surely you would not suggest that so vital a setting element be ignored in the rules?  

Well, yes, I am saying that.  Having played both RQ and HQ, RQ is closer to what I want for my game (though I have made a lot of house rules).   I should note that my Vinland game is not set in Glorantha.  It is set in the Hudson river valley in 1392 of an alternate history where the Icelandic Vinland colony flourished rather than fading out.  Nevertheless, I am basing my game on the genre of the Icelandic family sagas, where community is extremely important.  Feuding and peace-making in particular are central themes.  

So community is extremely important.  Does this require numerical mechanics?  I don't think so.  As a counter-question: is theme and moral choice important to your games?  Surely, then, there should be a numerical stat for theme and the players should roll dice for their moral choice and thus the meaning of the story -- right?


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Jason Lee on September 06, 2003, 04:48:58 PM
Quote from: John Kim
If you keep the mechanic but allow the GM to have some control -- for example, to say that killing your own follower causes another to run away -- then this ultimately comes down to GM judgement just like in my case.  The veneer of the number doesn't mean much since the GM is capable of changing the number.


One very tiny quibble, which is oddly a very important distinction to me.  I'm personally less concerned with the GM having control than I am with the player that owns the character in question having control.  Yes, for NPCs, this means the GM is the player who owns the character.  Like I said, it's a quibble, but the difference in perspective has important ramifications when dealing with inter-PC relationships (are ratings allowed for PC's in HQ?), elements of mystery in a setting, betrayal, and some forms of player empowerment.

If the player owns both the target of the relationship and the rating, no problem.  If one player owns the value of the relationship and another player owns the target character (or organization, whatever) I see a strong limitation in power for both parties.

An interesting way to make this work might be having to use the target's relationship rating with you.  Of course, then the resolution would have to be obfuscated somehow.  Ok, I'm straying.

Oh, and just so I'm clear.  This isn't an arguement against you John, hopefully it's a clarification.  Hard to say if you feel the same way though.  Also, whether or not this is best for HeroQuest, I dunno...just talking pros and cons, not right and wrong.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: M. J. Young on September 06, 2003, 07:11:39 PM
Quote from: John Kim
You seem to be arguing in favor of relationships being controlled strictly by Hero Points and player choice.  i.e. If the PC has a fight with someone he has a relationship with, the player still controls the relationship number.  You as GM have no say.  Relationship numbers are thus unlikely to change based on varying events....

If you keep the mechanic but allow the GM to have some control -- for example, to say that killing your own follower causes another to run away -- then this ultimately comes down to GM judgement just like in my case.  The veneer of the number doesn't mean much since the GM is capable of changing the number.

I don't know enough about HeroQuest or RuneQuest to address that aspect of it, but it has jarred my memory that we do have a sort of relationship mechanic in Multiverser, specifically related to what we call associates, but which could be called followers or henchmen or a dozen other things.

The basic rule is that there is a check for the principle (who presumably is a player character) and one for the associate (who presumably is not). However, it is specifically stated that this isn't some sort of binding mechanic--it's an effort to mechanically determine the real relationship between them. The roll for the principle is a charisma check, to see whether his personality continues to cement the relationship; that for the associate is a will power check, to see if he determines to split off in his own direction. Yet what is most significant is that the rolls are specifically not made in most cases.

First, the rolls are never made if both characters are player characters; players presumably can decide whether that fight they had last week has driven a wedge between them or merely created some tension.

Second, the rolls are not made of both characters are non-player characters. Such relationships between non-player characters are plot devices controled by the referee, and what happens between them is entirely up to his discretion.

Third, the will power check is never made unless the charisma check was made. In turn, the charisma check is only made if there's some reason to doubt whether the relationship is still solid--and this is very much a subjective judgment. It almost never happens that a character's spouse would be checked for, because it is presumed that there is a solid relationship there unless there is clear evidence of mistreatment or deterioration in it. Associates who are well treated and have no reason to break the relationship never require charisma checks. The function of the charisma check is to determine whether the primary character was able by virtue of his generally likable nature to overcome any reason he may have given the associate to depart.

If the charisma check is failed, the will power check is still made to see whether the associate asserts his independence; if it is also failed, the relationship remains intact. If the charisma check is successful, the will power check is still made, because a superior success would dissolve the relationship.

The check is only made at the most critical moment: when the player character changes universes, to determine whether the associate goes with him.

So it is an objective character relationship mechanic, but it is only put in play when a subjective determination has been made by the referee that the player character has not maintained his end of the relationship. In a sense, it provides a way to settle the question of whether the player character has been "nice enough" to the NPC or not, without giving that decision entirely to either the player or the referee.

Does that meet your criteria?

--M. J. Young


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: John Kim on September 08, 2003, 09:37:54 AM
Quote from: M. J. Young
We do have a sort of relationship mechanic in Multiverser, specifically related to what we call associates, but which could be called followers or henchmen or a dozen other things.

The basic rule is that there is a check for the principle (who presumably is a player character) and one for the associate (who presumably is not).
...
So it is an objective character relationship mechanic, but it is only put in play when a subjective determination has been made by the referee that the player character has not maintained his end of the relationship. In a sense, it provides a way to settle the question of whether the player character has been "nice enough" to the NPC or not, without giving that decision entirely to either the player or the referee.  

Does that meet your criteria?  

Well, I don't see any logical problems with it -- but from the sound of it, I don't think I would use it.  You are keeping subjective GM judgement, but you are adding in a random roll.  So as I see it, the point of this is injecting randomness.  i.e. If relationships in my game were too predictable, then I might try this mechanic to add more variety/spontaneity.  However, I find that in general relationships are quite unpredictable and don't really feel the need to add more randomness.  

As a side note, I wonder if social status is part of the question here.  Your mechanic is focussed on the PCs having followers.  There was a similar focus in Hero Wars, although relationships are also used more broadly.  

In my Vinland game, social relations are in many different directions.  Some PCs are of greater social status, and some are of lesser social status.  Matunaaga (a PC) is the huscarl of Skallagrim, like an employee or henchman.  Vagnhild (a PC) is the step-daughter of Skallagrim (a PC).   On the other hand, Skallagrim started out as the huscarl of Arnkel (an NPC).  He later acquired his own land and a socially advantageous marriage.  Like most people, the PCs are somewhere in the middle of the social ladder.  The desire for relationships mechanics seems to be more for PCs towards their social inferiors, rather than for the superiors of PCs.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Aelios on September 08, 2003, 12:20:56 PM
Lots of opinions here, but I feel we are missing something important.

Given: Relationships are, by nature, unpredictable. A sword skill doesn't get worse if you don't buy it flowers. Even a love of ten years could, and has, forsaken people within a very short time. But this probadly isn't the result of random chance, but it may be uncontrollable (by the PC).
Presumption: Relationships can be bough with Hero Points, experience, or whatever else.
Point: What happens when that relationship dies? Do you "refund" the experience? Is it lost forever? Is that fair to the player?

I see nothing wrong with giving a relationship a numerical value, but if you are going to ask a player to pay for it with experience then they need some guarantee that the relationship is stable, which is not realistic (the guarantee). The only thing a PC can be sure of is how (s)he feels about the NPC. And even that can change quite often.

Perhaps what Daredevel needs is a seperate relationship pool or bank that can be used to allocate points to different relatioships, but that can have points put back into the bank if a relationship goes sour. Or is that just replacing the problem with a new one?


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Gordon C. Landis on September 08, 2003, 02:14:28 PM
OK, so we want relationships to be an important part of play.  We can accomplish that (I'll claim) in many ways.  Let's have some categories here:

1)  The relationships are given some numerical representation in one or more parts of the game system.  Hero Quest works this way.
2)  The relationships are represented in the system in some particular, methodical way, but are not literally quantified.  As far as I can tell, John's Vinland game works this way (the fact that his method is of his own devising and not explictly part of a published system is unimportant to this analysis).
3)  There is no specific method to deal with/manage/handle relationships.  This does not mean relationships are system-less, under the Lumpley Principle use of System, just that the actual "system" used is non-numeric and non-methodical.
4)  Relationships and/or the impact thereof do not occur in play.  This one is mostly theoretical - I think you could almost always find something that fits in #3 - but for completeness, here it is.

I think we can all accept as given that a particular play group can succede in realtionship-heavy play in any of the first three descriptions (and maybe have fun in #44, if that's what turns 'em on).  It seemed like Joachim was worried that #1 might in fact work AGAINST that, and sure, each description can have particular problems.  They share some issues -  like who has access to influencing the impact relationships have on play, and via what means?  But they can all be overcome.  The question, I guess, is HOW?

I and others have already covered why we think Joachim's concerns don't HAVE to be problematic under description #1.  Equally, John points out why his system works for him.  Neither approach invalidates the other, and at some level, it becomes a question of taste.  The best we can hope for (I guess) is to help those who want to find a way past the concerns they have with a particular method to do so.  Along which lines . . .

Aelios brings up a new concern - that (my paraphrase) if you allow the "effectiveness" granted by a numerically-quantified relationship to go away when the relationship does (as would happen in "reality"), what happens to the points that were "spent" on that relationship?  Regaining points lost in such a way sounds like a fine solution to me. Note, though, that the whole "number on the relationship must reflect the current reality of the relationship" assumption is NOT one that HQ (and others) necessarily subscribe to.  The relationship goes to hell - you could still USE that.  A 10 year love affair ends - there's still a LOT of emotional energy there, for a long time, which the player/GM/group can use to inform why the "Leila-12" ranking still applies to that character.

Again - the HQ (and other) relationship method does not neccessarily mirror the reality of what's happening - it need only tell you what "source" a player is able to draw on in fueling their effectiveness.  Why and how that fueling occurs can be entirely determined by the play group.

Gordon


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: John Kim on September 08, 2003, 04:17:55 PM
Quote from: Gordon C. Landis
OK, so we want relationships to be an important part of play.  
...
I think we can all accept as given that a particular play group can succeed in relationship-heavy play in any of the first three descriptions (and maybe have fun in #4, if that's what turns 'em on).  

What interests me more is the differences between the methods.  To take the Champions parallel again...  Both the superheroic equipment rule and the heroic equipment rule work, and both can be used in games which emphasize equipment.  But they work in different ways, and they are not seamless replacements for each other.  The rules do make a difference.  

I would think that the HQ relationship rules also make a difference.  So I could use them and still have a relationship-heavy game, but it would be different from my earlier games.  The approach in your post is that these are just different approaches towards the same goal.  I suspect, however, that the goal is subtlely different.  Relationships are important in HeroQuest, but I suspect they have a different focus and/or purpose than relationships in my Vinland game.  

I guess I should give some examples of what to me was important in Vinland relationships.  The most important relationship recently has been the one between Silksif (a PC) and her husband Melnir (an NPC).  Melnir had been a continuing character from early in the game, but it came as a complete surprise 6 or 7 sessions ago when he arrived in force at Tjaraholt and asked for the hand of Silksif in marriage.  She accepted mostly because of his generous offer of providing for her family.  Since then, she has been slowly figuring out his attraction to her and what he is about.  

I guess I see this in part as a mystery.  For a while, Silksif as well as Heather (the player) weren't sure about what Melnir's true feelings were.  If we were playing in a numerically-rated system, I think that I would have told Heather about the relationship rating.  She could then role-play Silksif as not knowing, of course, but it would be a significantly different play experience.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Aelios on September 08, 2003, 04:37:10 PM
John, what kind of system do you use for your relationships?
I think I can safely assume you don't assign numerical values for each PC/NPC relaitonship. Do you jot down notes like "Melnir is falling in love with Silksif" and just play it by ear or do you have a more concrete method?


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: John Kim on September 08, 2003, 05:35:18 PM
Quote from: Aelios
John, what kind of system do you use for your relationships?  I think I can safely assume you don't assign numerical values for each PC/NPC relaitonship. Do you jot down notes like "Melnir is falling in love with Silksif" and just play it by ear or do you have a more concrete method?

For something like this that is fairly major, I wouldn't say that I play it by ear, but it isn't objectively systematic.  I developed Melnir as a detailed character, of which his attraction to Silksif eventually became a part.  

In this case, system came into the question through Whimsy Cards.  Our rule is that the player of a given character has veto power over any card which controls their play, but should seriously consider it.  In one session, there was a feast at Brygjafael.  Katrina was trying to attract Melnir.  One player (Liz) played the "Romantic Interest" card to suggest he was interested.  However, Silksif later intruded on this, and another player (Laura) played the "Misguided Love" card and declared that actually Melnir only had eyes for Silksif and was only talking to Katrina to get her attention.  

That said, it could simply have remained casual flirting at a party according to the system.  However, as I thought about Melnir's character after that session, I decided that it was something much more serious.  I did certainly give weight that card play should have lasting importance, but more importantly it resonated with his character.  Melnir is a skeptic of things supernatural, while Silksif is a gydja (i.e. prophetess or shaman) of the Norse tradition.  Melnir is practical rather than prejudiced, though, so to him her status was exotic and intriguing.  

On the other hand, other relationships have happened without card play.  For example, Kjartan (a PC) is engaged to be married to Thjohild of Groenholt (an NPC).  Kjartan had been told by his grandmother what house he should marry into (Groenholt, the stead of Vigfus the Proud), but he could choose whom he wanted among the grand-daughters of Vigfus.  I had described all of the women of Groenholt (a paragraph each), and Liz the player debated which would make the best match for Kjartan.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Gordon C. Landis on September 09, 2003, 12:39:12 AM
Quote from: John Kim
I would think that the HQ relationship rules also make a difference.  So I could use them and still have a relationship-heavy game, but it would be different from my earlier games.  The approach in your post is that these are just different approaches towards the same goal.  I suspect, however, that the goal is subtlely different.  Relationships are important in HeroQuest, but I suspect they have a different focus and/or purpose than relationships in my Vinland game.

I'd put it this way - it's not that they are different approaches to the same goal, rather that they are different approaches that CAN be used towards the same goal.  They can also be used towards other goals, and there may be some interesting tendencies there (System Matters, and all that), but the real issues are probably more in my other questions - like who has access to the use of relationships in play, and in what manner.

So that the fact the creation of a relationship in your play can be "vetoed" by the player, and the fact that you as GM can (and sometimes do) choose to keep the details of motivation behind the future events in the relationship mysterious, tells us more interesting stuff than just knowing if the relationship has a numerical ranking or not.

Gordon


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: pete_darby on September 09, 2003, 02:31:55 AM
Quote from: Aelios
Given: Relationships are, by nature, unpredictable. A sword skill doesn't get worse if you don't buy it flowers. Even a love of ten years could, and has, forsaken people within a very short time. But this probadly isn't the result of random chance, but it may be uncontrollable (by the PC).
Presumption: Relationships can be bough with Hero Points, experience, or whatever else.
Point: What happens when that relationship dies? Do you "refund" the experience? Is it lost forever? Is that fair to the player?


Just to play devils advocate here, what if a character doesn't practice or use his sword skill? Would a GM be justified in lowering the sword skill?

The answer, as ever, is "depends on the game," but certainly in some games the answer is yes (RQIII springs to mind). I can see justifications from all 3 points of GNS for either lowering the rating or preserving it.

Does the player get their points back?

Not trying to knock down the argument, but the presumption that relationships are always fundamentally different from other attributes of a character triggered my "everything in moderation" response.

The general question of how, in a game that uses currency (in the games design meaning of the phrase) you manage story / sim based changes to attributes is an interesting one, and possibly worthy of another thread.

As a sideline, though, if a GM removed a paid for relationship at the drop of the hat because "these things happen," I'd have a problem with that GM.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: contracycle on September 09, 2003, 02:50:59 AM
I'd just like to mention that in HW/HQ there is not a one-to-one relationship between ratings and relationships.  That is, a relationship value might describe a relationship with a group rather than an individual; or that a character might have multiple conflicting relationships with one individual.  Or might have a relationship with a group and a separate relationship rating with an individual within that group.  A character could have "loyalty to the king" and "hate the king" simultaneously, and would negotiate that conflict in play.  And of course a given relationship does not have to be reciprocated.

This brings me to the issue join raised about relationships being with subordinates, in HW/HQ.  Yes I'd agree, there is a tacit expectation that such relationships will be used to structure command authority; but the caveat is that of course in the game world/historical context, personal and political authority are indistinguishable.

I think its fair to say that the HW/HQ relationship mechanism is not primarily intended to conduct or manage the particular role the John was exploring.  That said, in the Silksif/Melnir scenario, it would seem to me to have been totally appopriate to conduct that sequence, in a game using ratings, without revealing anythoing of Melnirs state of mind mechanically.  Because of course there is a huge difference in whether Melnir has "Love Silksif 17" and "Hate Silksif 17", either of which COULD be explanations for his behaviour (the latter being of course being conspiratorial and manipulative).  IOW, this is an aspect of Melnirs effectiveness that remains priviliged GM knowledge, or at least certainly can be so.  

The relationship RATING only measures the subjective feelings between two people if that is what the relationship is described as rating.  I raise this because  Gordons post about categorising relationsyhips representation becuase it presumes that we know what the relationship is, and the issue is only whether it is realised mechanistically.  But - as mentioned previously - we are using a specific system for reference and the peculiarities of that system need to be accounted for.  So in realising that HW/HQ has its totally freeform text-based character generation system, it should be seen that a relationship can be almost anything at all, with anything at all.  The result is that this game can do something almost no game can do: produce characters whose entire mechanical effectiveness is relationship based.

A character could be generated as clerk without a single representation of a physical ability, let alone a violent one.  This is your classic paper-pusher: but they can potentially be just as effective, and just as mechanically represented, as more orthodox characters.  It is merely that all their (discretionary) points will be located in various forms of relationships: healthy or unhealthy, equable or parasitic, manipulative or bureacratic or emotive.


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: Gordon C. Landis on September 09, 2003, 11:55:56 AM
For me, part of what makes the numerical rating of a relationship powerful in HQ (and similar) is just what contra said - the numerical part is only about the degree of effectiveness the player is able to bring to bear via the relationship, it does NOT describe any particular details about the relationship or characterize WHY they are able to use it for x amount of effectiveness.  Anything I wrote that leads folks to think otherwise . . . I must've miscommunicated.

In the hope that that's clear,

Gordon


Title: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics
Post by: RaconteurX on September 09, 2003, 07:51:23 PM
Quote from: John Kim
System came into the question through Whimsy Cards.


Ah, well Whimsy Cards change everything. They frequently turn all sorts of "proper" mechanics, relationship or otherwise, on their heads. I adore them, myself, as they rarely leave one with a dull story. In the past , I've often refunded game currency spent on something subsequently altered in a significant fashion by Whimsy play, or at least allowed said currency to be reallocated in an appropriate manner (changing the object of a Pendragon passion, for example).