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Author Topic: Rewarding Color  (Read 9656 times)
Valamir
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« on: April 05, 2002, 07:21:50 AM »

One of my next projects which is gurgling around in the ooze and muck at the base of my skull is a western game.  I've decided that I don't really want a Narrativist Premise along the lines of Dust Devil's "Devil" (partially because he beat me to it), but rather I want it to be more of a game about exploring western imagery and drama associated with western cinema:  the sweeping landscapes, the creak of leather saddles, the jingle of spurs, the whisper of the wind through the bell tower, blowing dust, faded clapboard buildings...all of that sort of things.

Partially, this can be accomplished through art and the mood conveyed by art, and partially this can be covered through game mechanics.  I'm working on mechanics where things happen the way they happen in westerns (generally the more "realistic" gritty westerns then the more pulpy ones) and I plan to include alot of the trappings of western activity.

But in the end, the way color gets into an actual RPG session is through the portrayal of the imagery by the players (usually the GM).  I'm not talking just about spitting out loads of purple prose, but trying to capture the overall feel in the way things are framed and described.

Thats what I want the game to "be about" in the rewards sense.  I want players to be rewarded for setting up and describing the imagery and drama...the color...of a western movie.  This needs to go beyond simple die roll bonuses for "good role-playing", or "interesting descriptions", I want it to be a pretty central mechanic to the game (which will other wise attempt to have fairly sim mechanics).

I have a seed of an idea thats germanating right now (actually I think its pretty close to blooming)...I don't want to explain it just yet because I don't want it coloring the initial responses, but what I'm fishing for is some ideas that may help polish this off for me.

How to reward color, and what can this reward be used for?
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contracycle
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« Reply #1 on: April 05, 2002, 07:43:33 AM »

Thoughts:

Dying Earths line rewards

Mostly I think its better to make a behaviour you wish to reward USEFUL.
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J B Bell
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« Reply #2 on: April 05, 2002, 11:04:39 AM »

This seems like an area where Story Engine's descriptors have an edge (ha ha) over Hero Wars-style Action Points[*].  In SE, you bid descriptors to determine how many dice you get (over a PC-determined minimum) in resolving a scene.  Check out the free PDF "plug-in" Six Guns & Whiskey for numerous descriptors--they are color and effectiveness-counters in one go.

To tease out a more generic issue, I'd say a good way to cast the question you're trying to answer would be, "how to make Color part of the game's Currency?"

--JB

[*] Upon reflection, of course, HW has the whole augmentation-roll thing, which is arguably more flexible and does not run into the "descriptor starvation" problem that a reviewer or two have mentioned in SE.  It's pretty hard around these parts to get away from noticing that HW kicks abundant ass.
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jburneko
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« Reply #3 on: April 05, 2002, 11:44:44 AM »

Actually, JB brought up a really good point.  Story Engine's forte when pushed is to basically turn color into a concrete system mechanics because ANYTHING can have a descriptor.  Characters, of course, have descriptors but locations and objects ALSO can have descriptors.  Thus, basically you can put your description of an area or object on the table and then anyone who can use the descriptor in the course of their actions gets instantly rewarded with a bonus die to their roll.

Some people say Story Engine is very Narrativist because of its emphasis on Scene/Conflict Resolution and it's inclusion of Story Points.  But it doesn't really support any kind of explicit Premise.  The system is almost MORE suited to Simulationism with an emphsis on Color exploration.

Jesse
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Valamir
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« Reply #4 on: April 05, 2002, 12:31:33 PM »

Theres an idea.  Although its mutated greatly, Story Engine descriptors were a big influence on Universalis.  

I hadn't thought to plumb that for this game, because I was going for a more traditional type of game mechanic than the collaborative scene resolution of Story Engine, but there might be something there to use.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: April 05, 2002, 02:26:34 PM »

Hey,

See, this is the tricky thing about Color. When we try to get it more integrated with how the game works, it turns into System. That's a fine thing, but the Color as such is not the issue, rather, the issue becomes Does the System Work.

Some good "almosts" exist already, for which the Color remains Color, pretty much, and still plays into System. As I just said on a different thread, Everway's Color (the Vision cards and the images/layout of the Fortune Deck) factors into System very well.

There seem to me to be two extremes at work, as far as Color and System operate together.

At one end is something like Asylum, in which one generates a number by pulling marbles from a bag. Frankly, the marbles are JUST Color - the probabilities and standards of play are exactly what you might find in a dice system and the marbles are well, gimmicky - not only do they play no role already covered by other methods, they actually add handling time to the play experience.
At the other end is Everway, in which the Fortune Deck is not only a resolution method for the people who play the game, but it is also an existing in-game phenomenon, as the characters themselves know of the Fortune Deck and readings of in-game Fortune layouts may even play a major role in the events of play. Also, to go back to the people rather than the characters, the Deck's "meaning" as system is image-based rather than numbers-based; i.e. Color interpretation can play a big roll in a way that dice or other numerical outcomes can't do.

In between these are games like these ...

FVLMINATA, in which one is supposed to stick Roman talus-stickers onto dice and use them for play. Their probabilities are different from typical dice and the system employs that set of probabilities. (This is a numerical-cultural Color feature relating to setting)

Champions, in which quite a few d6's get rolled for damage or any other effect, and for which many people have cited their enjoyment of the "lots of dice hit the table" equating, viscerally, to "lots of raw power being thrown around in-game." (This is a sound-and-feel Color feature relating to motifs of play)

White Wolf game-specific dice, in which certain colors for otherwise-typical d10's are associated with specific games, such that you have your green ones for Vampire, your purple ones for Mage, and so on. (This is a subcultural consumer-loyalty Color feature relating to one's relationship to the publisher)

Lots more to talk about regarding Color, but that would be my first question regarding Ralph's proposed western game notions ... where would the relevant Color features fall in this spectrum, and what would they be about: setting, system, etc.

Best,
Ron
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Valamir
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« Reply #6 on: April 05, 2002, 03:19:06 PM »

Well, I think what I'm most interested in might be more precisely termed, atmosphere.  Westerns have a very distinctive atmosphere that I want to capture in the game, but I don't want to leave it entirely in the hands of the GM to present it.

So I guess to try and make the question more specific, I'm looking for ideas on how to use system (through the currency of rewards) to rope players into participating in the creation and maintainance of that atmosphere.

I can put all the flavor text into the book about deserted dusty streets, faded signs creaking in the wind, the oppressive heat from the mid day sun, the hard eyed stranger covered in trail dust, etc  that I want;  BUT what I REALLY want is for that to translate over into actual play, and what I'm attempting to develop is mechanics that promote that.
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #7 on: April 05, 2002, 03:28:35 PM »

I realize it's faux pas to dice up someone else's words, but here I'm using them more as introductions to ideas I want to express, as opposed to 'answering them.'

Quote from: Ron Edwards
See, this is the tricky thing about Color. When we try to get it more integrated with how the game works, it turns into System. That's a fine thing, but the Color as such is not the issue, rather, the issue becomes Does the System Work.

I had similar thoughts as we began pulling Scattershot into a cohesive unit.  One of the goals was that each presentation of Scattershot would have the elements Ron usually calls Setting, Situation (in its abstract - how it relates to the others - fashion), and Color and that these should overshadow System.  The interplay between these was something we couldn't denegrate by treating them separately.  Thus the idea of Genre Expectations.  (I know Ron dislikes the use of genre to describe things in a game, but when not talking about the identification of specific genres, I think it works just fine.)

Settings are greatly colored by Genre Expectations, you'd hardly place any 'western' in modern Isreal.  So Genre Expectations limit setting choice; the same is true for Situation and Color.  Any number of Situations can be posited that don't 'fit' the 'western' Genre Expectation.  Color even more so.  The narrow corridors of Whitechapel, the prostitution, the queen mother, and the Ripper, hardly fit the Color of the 'old western' do they?  And yet they happened at about the same point in history.

In Scattershot (as I might suggest you try here), we'll be going into fair detail with the finer points of each Genre Expectation, making them explicit as well as talking about how to determine what a participant might want for such in each game.  The reasons are multifold; playing outside of the Genre Expectations tends to derail a good game and sometimes playing 'into them' makes for the best games (especially with an over-the-top genre) and so on.

I recall one game I ran where a miscommunication of the Genre Expectations destroyed one player's evening's fun.  (The Setting was street-level cyberpunk, the Situation was the meeting of a number of 'misfits,' the Color was the pallet of Japanese animation; he took the interaction of these to mean a good old 'dark and gritty' cyber romp and was dismayed when it turned into good-natured Anime Mayhem.  Had I been able to articulate the tenor of the Genre Expectation as a sum total, he would not have interpreted the individual signs so differently.)

I guess what I am ultimately getting at, theoretically at least, is how often have you conceived of Situation (the choices available for such) or Setting without the influence of Color.  I have a hard time imagining 'Colorless' Settings or 'Colorless' choices for Situation, so I came up with the idea of making all 'three' a single receptacle from which any can be drawn, but all 'connect' to each other via it.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
There seem to me to be two extremes at work, as far as Color and System operate together.

(Not the extremes:) One of the strongest ways we've found for these to work hand in hand is having the metagame reward amplified by player invocation of color.  (Likewise, discouraging otherwise by withholding rewards for avoiding or negating the Genre Expectations.)

Right now, I am inspired to present a game in Scattershot that relies incredibly heavily on Genre Expectation, so much so that all rewards derive from supporting it, increasing it, enforcing it, or exemplifying it.  Anything which does not embody the Genre Expectation in action is a failure and receives no reward; and it's a Gamist romp! (if I'm not mistaken).  I should have it up in a week or so, if I get time to work on it.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Lots more to talk about regarding Color, but that would be my first question regarding Ralph's proposed western game notions ... where would the relevant Color features fall in this spectrum, and what would they be about: setting, system, etc.

I'd like to know how he imagines play proceeding (inserting BLAH, BLAH, BLAH for mechanical references) and what archetypes of reward systems he was considering.  I mean, he initially leaves us with "How to reward color, and what can this reward be used for?"  The short answer would be "things that can be used to generate color."  What do you mean by "color?"  How do players create or support it?  What criteria does a gamemaster use to rate this action?  Shouldn't the reward feed back into that cycle?  Place "color" as the highest goal then think of how you "color" and what you use; that is the currency of reward in a "coloring" game.  (Pass the Crayolas, I got an idea....)

Fang Langford
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contracycle
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« Reply #8 on: April 05, 2002, 11:00:40 PM »

I don't think colour should be a goal, which is or is not rewarded.  If we want players to author colour, which is what I think is intended, then that authorships must have its own goal - defeat the villan, whatever.  So colour must be systematically implemented as a process or tool which can be proactively used.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: April 06, 2002, 08:37:57 AM »

Hey,

Fang, that's an interesting post and set of ideas. For the record, I agree with you about "genre" - it's a useful term if everyone using the specific genre-name is communicating and agreeing about the essential stuff (like Setting, etc).

Gareth, I'm inclined to agree with you in principle, but then I was considering your previous example of the improvement-system in The Dying Earth, which is essentially a player reward for pure Color - the tagline is not meaningful in any resolution sense. And I like that aspect of the game a lot, so now I have confused myself ...

Best,
Ron
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contracycle
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« Reply #10 on: April 06, 2002, 09:18:49 AM »

Hmm, true.

Hey, a tool for applying colour is a paintbrush, right? :)

OTOH, is the tagline a tool for seizing the spotlight?  You have to have the spotlight to deliver the line.  I'ver not played itm, but I could imagine one player might ask another to back out of the spotlight for a momenty because the situation was appropriate to the delivery of a tagline - anyone seen such an explicit break into the metagame to request the spotlight?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: April 06, 2002, 12:50:23 PM »

Hi Gareth,

No, the taglines in The Dying Earth aren't even spotlights (as the Confessionals in InSpectres would be). They're plain, simple Color that anyone can interject during a scene ... or to be clearer, as The Dying Earth takes a fairly traditional view of player/character, they may be inserted into a character's dialogue by the character's player, in the course of the character's interactions. That is, the character is already in a scene, a situation is happening with or without dice rolls, before or after the dice rolls if they are happening, and the tagline simply enters the dialogue when and if the player sees fit. No system involvement, and not even a break or shift in the system's application.

Best,
Ron
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Valamir
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« Reply #12 on: April 07, 2002, 03:44:43 PM »

Quote from: contracycle
I don't think colour should be a goal, which is or is not rewarded.  If we want players to author colour, which is what I think is intended, then that authorships must have its own goal - defeat the villan, whatever.  So colour must be systematically implemented as a process or tool which can be proactively used.


Quite so.  My game design goal is to create a game where players author alot of color.  In game they will, of course, have their own actual character goals.  I want to motivate them to employ western color during the pursuit of those goals.


Here is the first beginnings of what I am working on in this regard.

This is intended to be a fairly rules medium traditional sim type game so there will be the usual traditional stats and skills to design characters from.   The resolution mechanic (which I have largely complete) will yield a range of successes (5 levels from minimal success to total success).  The success level will translate directly to damage without needing an additional damage roll.

Additionally characters will have a Signature Skill or Trait.  A character billed as the fastest draw in the west, should have no chance to whiff on an important fast draw.  Similiarly Kevin Costner in Silverado would likely have Trick Riding as his Signature Skill.  When Audie Murphy played the detective infiltrating a gang (in a movie whose name I can't remember) his Signature Skill would be "ladies man" or something of the sort.

Basically, for these skills the player may spend one <meta game resource point> for automatic maximum success in that roll (I'm considering calling these points "silver bullets" but haven't decided if thats clever or corny yet).

The means of earning these points is a little rough at the moment, but I want it to involve being a reward from the GM for narrating appropriate color.

One possible variation I'm considering is instead of awarding 1 point for a really powerful narration, to award 1-6 points based on the scope and quality of the narration, and then have the points spent to buy whatever success level is desired (with maximum success costing 5 points).  But thats just details.
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #13 on: April 07, 2002, 04:36:39 PM »

Hey Ralph,

I want it to involve being a reward from the GM for narrating appropriate color.

One possible variation I'm considering is instead of awarding 1 point for a really powerful narration, to award 1-6 points based on the scope and quality of the narration, and then have the points spent to buy whatever success level is desired (with maximum success costing 5 points). But thats just details.


http://www.target-audience.org/unheilig/primeval/primeval.html">Primeval, which I saw Wick and Scott Knipe playing last year at GenCon, treads some of the same territory. They could probably explain the mechanics better than I, but essentially there were four things a player was supposed to have in his narration (one of them was recognition of the heroism of the other players), and the GM rated the player's narration on how well they incorporated the four things. From an observer standpoint, it seemed that the game pretty much revolved around rewarding color.

What you've written about your mechanic is a little confusing to me. I have the notion that there'd be an awkward disjunction between the narrations and the amount of points spent on success. If I came in strong, planning for a 5 point success, and narrated a bunch of very colorful stuff, would it be self-fulfilling that I'd get the points I need? If it's not, then the game could feel strange, with very colorful narrations being attached to minor successes. The reverse is less likely I guess, because a matter-of-fact narration rewarded with a greater number of points would maybe result in the player banking the extra.

How about this alternative? A player writes down what level of success he's targeting with his narration before he begins. When the GM evaluates the narration, according to whatever criteria you come up with, and determines the reward, it is compared to what the player wrote down. A deficit is made up by GM introduced complications. A surplus is automatically banked.

Paul
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