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Author Topic: [Madcap Tea] First Playtest  (Read 5274 times)
Anna B
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Posts: 32


« on: January 28, 2006, 10:20:00 AM »

The general design topic is here

So the playtest didn't go quite as well as hoped though everyone had fun. However I'm not sure where the people problems end and the design problems began.

The group: This a group that gets together everyother week to work on games we are designing. This only the second meeting we've had. However we've all been in games with eachother. We are all new to setting stakes rather than tasks and this did cause a few problems. Also people were very reluctant to leave actor stance.

Before playing Madcap Tea we worked on a D&D fantasy tattics/war game. Then we took a break, and then we played the Tea. It turned out that three people had brought sweets, so we had lots of tea goodies.

We started out tossing idea's around. Everything was going OK, but then I had to run out and do something. When I got back everyone sitting around gloomily and not talking. I didn't have too much of problem getting things going and we quickly got back to tossing idea's around, though one player, C, kept blocking, and another player Is. watched for while before joining in, which was a bit frustrating. We decided to play characters from planed but not yet played PTA game having their daily tea. The setting is basically Regency+ Magic and Elves, and the characters are traveling players.

Then we stared on socail rules. I think I need to write better guildlines for these. Here's what we came up with.
If you pour tea for your yourself you must first offer tea to everyone else
No one talks about the show
Don't talk about Dr. Beuragard (late owner of the troupe)
No tickling people
Everything must be passed to the left

The forbidden subjects worked well, and and the passing and pouring rules added flavor but not tension.

Then we created characters

L played Madam Chernoble a Mischievous Illusionist who wanted to Embarrass Snowdrop, Get a raise and Convice other's that Mr. C is crazy

I played a Miss Benson a Wellbred Costum Lady who wanted to get Snowdrop too admit he's a bastard, Chear up Theodora, and get Mr C's squirrels out of the costum room

El played Snowdrop and Arrogant Sidhe Lord who wanted to figure out how the glamor on Theodora works, Get Miss Benson to leave the table in anger and Encourage Mr. C to feed the squirrels.

Is. played Theodora Beuragard a stressed director who wanted to give away no money, get animals out of her office and have no shouting or violence at tea.

C played Mr C and Eccentric Animal Tamer, who wanted to buy a Craig-lizard, get Theodora to feed a squirrel at the table, and court Madam Chernoble.

You will all be disappointed to learn that although I baked cookies we didn't used them as tokens. We used icehouse pieces and an because no one wanted a long game we used only three in each pool.

We then sat around and had tea. (with cookies, lemon bars and cake) We quickly conviced Mr. C on the need to remove the squirrels but not before Snowdrop feed them a few cookies. Then Snowdrop tried to show up Madam Chernoble, but failed as she showed him up.  L then declared conflict with the stated goal that she make everyone believe in the illusionary squirrels she produced, however she then quickly dispelled them to show Snowdrop up, I was peeved that she didn't state her end goal as stake and said so, a bit harshly I'm afraid.  Back in the SIS Snowdrop requested at lessons from Madame Chernoble and El won his bid. However he did not win the lessons in encanting clothing which he really wanted, due to Is biding against him. Mr. C was then able to bring up his lizards, and C bid his whole goal pool to get them.Theodora was thus forced to relent. We played for a bit more but after spilling the tea twice decide it was time to stop and roleplayed our characters leveling the scence. Is being left alone looked up at the ceiling saying "Dad what would you do?"

So there was definite some trouble with narration and stakes. I think I want to play some more polished games that use these ideas with this group before playtesting Mapcap Tea with them again.

I also think I may need to clarify what makes good social rule and what makes a good goal. I'd also like more of reward system, but I'm not sure what I want to reward people for. Pursuing their goals but not resolving them I guess.
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Graham W
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« Reply #1 on: January 29, 2006, 01:52:59 AM »

Anna,

In your original rules post, one of the rules was "If someone breaks a social rule they win the conflict". Did that come into play at all?

Reading through the actual play, it sounds as though there was sort of a rhythm, along the lines of:

1. One player launches a conflict to achieve a goal
2. They bid against someone
3. Based on the result of that conflict, they either achieve the goal or don't.
4. Return to 1, with another player and another goal

Is that fair? And was it how you expected play to work?

By the way, I'm very interested to hear your thoughts on what makes a good goal. The goals you describe sounded quite fun: all the goals are achievable and different players' goals conflict with each other.

Graham
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Anna B
Member

Posts: 32


« Reply #2 on: January 29, 2006, 06:05:29 PM »

This a bit embarrassing; the one time someone broke a social rule they broke one that had been talked about but then discarded. Snowdrop mentioned the tensons between elves and humans to get his lessions. It wasn't as dramatic as I wanted it to be. Well, that goes for the whole game. However I don't think any of the other players wanted dramatic.

The rhythm you describe sounds about right.  I was expecting there to be more conflicts that helped goals along rather than having only one chance at them.

Some of the goals people had written down didn't come up in play. (get a raise, convice others that Mr. C is crazy, have no shouting or violence at tea, court Madam Chernoble) I'm not sure why, but I'd like to have every goal come up in future games. 

The goals that I didn't like so much were, Cheer up Theodora because the one time it came up there was no conflict Is was perfectly willing to have Theodora be cheered up. Also no shouting or violence was too vague and depended too much on other people's actions too much. But other than that I though people had good goals.
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Bill Masek
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« Reply #3 on: January 30, 2006, 07:58:26 AM »

Anna,

Its good to hear that your playtest was enjoyed by your group.

It sounds like you had the following problems:
   -Goals were resolved to quickly (no support conflicts)
   -Some goals did not create conflict
   -No one broke any social rules

Consider this solution for the first two problems:  The payoff for the completion of a goal is based on the conflicts required to resolve it.  So a goal that has no conflicts would have a minor payoff.  A goal with only one conflict minor conflict would result in small payoffs.  I believe that the player should get the payoff when the conflict is resolved, wheather or not they actually succeeded.

Mechanically speaking, perhaps when ever a player declares a conflict they may state what goal they are trying to pursue.  When that conflict is resolved they note the amount bid against them and add it to the total amount bet against them for this conflict.  When this conflict is resolved, they gain currency equal to the total amount of currency bet against them in conflicts where this goal was pursued.

I admit that I am a bit supprised by the last.  Social rule breaking seems like a very effective tactic for this game.  I bet that further playtesting (or perhaps playtesting with different people) will not see this problem.

This game looks like a lot of fun.  Keep up the good work!

Best,
        Bill
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Try Sin, its more fun then a barrel of gremlins!
Or A Dragon's Tail a novel of wizards demons and a baby dragon.
Anna B
Member

Posts: 32


« Reply #4 on: January 30, 2006, 07:58:31 PM »

Rewarding people for entering conflict about there goals seems like great idea. That is what I want people to do after all. Winning or losing just isn't the point.

I'm also thinking about rewarding good conflict narration with cookies, but that seems a bit silly.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #5 on: January 31, 2006, 10:24:07 AM »

First, Anna: Cool! I've been following your threads and though I haven't had anything really useful to say until now, I've found your idea an elegantly simple approach to something (social maneuvering) that lots of roleplayers enjoy but few RPGs handle well, if at all. Of course playtest is going to show up a bunch of problems -- that's what it's for! -- but it looks like the basics worked.

Now a suggestion:

Rewarding people for entering conflict about there goals seems like great idea. That is what I want people to do after all. Winning or losing just isn't the point. I'm also thinking about rewarding good conflict narration with cookies, but that seems a bit silly.

As Bill said, there're lots of neat mechanical ways to reward conflict and doing other cool stuff. (Universalis, Capes, Prime Time Adventures, Dogs in the Vineyard all do this in different and interesting ways). The trick is to think of the game as a mini-economy or a little ecosystem with particular incentives encouraging particular behaviors.

To win a conflict, we both bid; whoever bid more wins, whoever bids less loses -- simple, right? Okay, but what happens to the tokens we bid?

1. Winner's tokens are discarded; loser's tokens are also discarded. This makes conflict expensive, and it drains resources out of the game, so people will start pretty cautious about conflict and then get even more cautious as the game goes on and they run low on tokens. Of course, if you don't want the game to go on forever, having resources drain down is a lovely built-in pacing mechanism.

2. Winner's tokens are discarded; loser gets their tokens back. This also drains resources out of the game, but more slowly. More interestingly, it creates a balancing effect (or "negative feedback loop"): The more you win, the more tokens you spend, while your defeated opponent still has all their tokens, so it gets harder for you to keep winning. This system makes people think twice before picking a fight, but encourages them to stay in a conflict even if there's a good chance they might lose it, since they don't lose any resources for losing the conflict.

3. Loser gets their tokens back, and the loser also gets the winner's tokens. This creates a double negative feedback loop: The more I win, the fewer tokens I have, so the harder it is to keep winning; and the more you lose, the more tokens you get, so the easier it is to start winning. This system encourages people to pick little fights left and right and then lose them, so they can accumulate tokens to spend on something they really, really care about (e.g. their Goals). Since no tokens are discarded, the game becomes a perpetual motion machine that never has to stop -- which can be good or bad.

4. Loser's tokens are discarded, but the loser gets the winner's tokens. A milder version of (3): The reward for losing isn't so great, but it's still tactically useful to pick a fight, lose it, and keep the resources for something you really care about. The difference is that when you "play to lose," you want to bid as few tokens as possible (since you don't get them back) while encouraging your opponent to bid as high as possible (since you get those tokens), so there can be a lot of double-bluff and psyching-out involved. Also, since some tokens are discarded, the game does gradually run down.

5. Winner keeps their tokens, and the winner keeps the loser's tokens too. This is the opposite of (3), a double-strength positive feedback loop: The more I win, the more tokens I have, so the easier it is to win next time; the more you lose, the fewer tokens you have, so the harder it is to stop losing. This system makes people think really, really hard about getting into a conflict -- but once they're in it, it encourages them to keep escalating and escalating, because losing hurts so badly and winning is so great, and every time your opponent piles on more tokens, that's more tokens for you to take if you can only win this thing. So instead of lots of little fights, you get a few big blow-outs that end with the loser basically out of the game and the winner way ahead of everyone else (unless they've won a fight or two themselves). Since no tokens are discarded, this is in theory a perpetual-motion machine, but in practice one person's going to end up with all the tokens.

6. Winner's tokens are discarded, but the winner gets to keep the loser's tokens. The milder version of (5), and the opposite of (4): The positive feedback loop is less strong, but it's still there: As in (4), you want to bid as few tokens as possible (since you don't keep your own bid) while encouraging the other guy to bid as high as possible (since you keep those) -- except in this version, you want them to bid as high as possible without beating you, a balancing act you don't have to worry about in (4). And, of course, since some tokens are discarded, the game does wind down by itself.

That's six options off the top of my head based on how you deal with the bids alone, each of which would produce a significantly different experience in actual play. If you get fancy, of course, there's no end to the permutations. Capes, the most sophisticated take on this I've seen (but I'm biased; I know the designer) has three different kinds of resources (Story Tokens, Inspirations, Debt) that each help you win in a different way and then are used up or converted into other resources (winner's Debt becomes loser's Story Tokens, loser's Debt is doubled, both sides get Inspirations, spent Story Tokens and Inspirations are discarded). And Dogs in the Vineyard has "Fallout," which basically means that along the way to winning or losing a conflict, you may end up causing your character to change for good or ill, which may give you more resources or fewer for later conflicts.

As for rewarding cool narration, well, Prime Time Adventures has the most elegant mechanic for this, called "Fan Mail": Every time the GM spends tokens, they go into a pool, and each player gets to take one token per "scene" from the pool and give it to one other player (you can't keep it for yourself) for doing something cool; when you use fan mail and lose, it's discarded, and when you use it and win, it goes back to the GM to use against you. It's a very powerful system, but it relies on the players cooperating with each other (albeit against the GM): If everyone's competing, as in your game, it's hard to bring yourself to honestly give resources to the person who just did something cool when that person might use them against you next turn.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #6 on: January 31, 2006, 11:18:47 AM »

(Anna, I'm starting to write a book here; I hope it's helpful to you -- it's certainly helping me think about my own designs.)

There's a whole other issue I forgot: Is it possible to put new tokens into the system? If so, how?

If everyone starts with X number of tokens, then any of the "discard" options above (1, 2, 3, 5) will cause the game to wind down over time as people spend them and don't get them back. But if it's possible for someone to get new tokens somehow, then you almost have to have a "discard" system because otherwise there's runaway inflation: People keep on getting more and more tokens, but tokens never go away, so every little conflict eventually involves a huge pile of tokens.

There're two basic ways to put new tokens into the "economy:

1) Everybody gets one new token every turn (or X number of tokens at some regular interval; whatever). Nobody's ever out of the game for good, because you can always wait for your next infusion of tokens. There's also some incentive to wait, do nothing, and just build up tokens, although if you reward getting into conflicts (as in any of options 2-6 above), that probably won't be a problem.

2) Players only get a new token for doing some specific thing. The trick is making this specific thing something you, as the designer, want to encourage: Capes is a superhero game, for example, so you get a new Debt token automatically every time your character uses a superpower. You can make whether or not somebody earns a token a subjective decision -- have a single GM, or all the players together, decide whether what Player X did was cool enough or not -- but, especially in a competitive game, that can get really ugly really fast: I'd recommend instead making it automatic and not subject to debate, e.g. "I just revealed my Secret, see, I'm turning over the card and showing you all, so now I get five new tokens."



Another fun wrinkle is having tokens that are bid go to someone besides the winner or the loser: maybe spend tokens go to a pool anyone can draw one token per turn out of, or they go to the player to your left, or whatever.


One final thing (and I'll stop, really, I promise): We've been assuming that all tokens are equal in value. But in a lot of games, the tokens are dice or cards, which raises the interesting possibility of Player A bidding more tokens but Player B winning because A's tokens all rolled lousy, or didn't form a playable hand, or whatever. And then the interesting question is, do you roll the dice (or show the card) one by one as you bid them, or do you roll them all at once (or show all the cards) at the end of the conflict when both sides have bid all they're willing to bid? The second way creates a lot more uncertainty.
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Anna B
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Posts: 32


« Reply #7 on: January 31, 2006, 03:41:46 PM »

Sydney, thanks for you long posts they are helping me. However I think I want to system to reward everyone in the conflict, but only if they are persuing their goals. The tokens they earned would then go into the goal pool of the goal they were persuing. I also like the idea  of exchanging the tokens bid. Then the loser would get a bigger reward. If I used this there would be slow drain of tokens from the game, because non-goal related tokens would leave the game.

The adjective and occupation tokens should become virtual, that is they still count as one token in biding but they don't add to peoples pool after conflict.

Breaking social rules is then the only way for more tokens to enter the game. I may have to change the scale of the social rule penalty to mach the scale of the bids, but at the moment I'm not what the final scale will be like.

I do want tokens to remain of equal value, fortune is lots of fun, but it creates more math as just isn't what I want for this game. Still thinking about different ways to do everything is very helpful.

Another thing I'm thinking about: During the play test when a player wanted to start biding the called out "conflict! I want such and such" The "I want such and such is good" I think, but I'm not sure about crying "conflict" all the time. If nothing else I want a better word.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #8 on: January 31, 2006, 07:17:00 PM »

Breaking social rules is then the only way for more tokens to enter the game.

And that is freakin' cool. That, in itself, is the place where your cool imaginary stuff and the game mechanics come together with this totally satisfying click -- in a way that neither a pure boardgame/cardgame/wargame nor a pure fictional story/play/film can do, but which is the trademark of a really good roleplaying game.

[quote author=Anna B link=topic=18539.msg195657#msg195657 date=1138750906During the play test when a player wanted to start biding the called out "conflict! I want such and such" The "I want such and such is good" I think, but I'm not sure about crying "conflict" all the time...
Quote

Suggestion: Maybe the player signals the intent to start a conflict not by saying something, but by physically pushing his/her tokens out into the center of the table in some ceremonious way?

Meguey Baker wrote some neat posts on ritual in gaming that come to mind here -- the words players say and the gestures they make are important, and the wrong ones can be disruptive, so you're onto something important here.

I want to system to reward everyone in the conflict, but only if they are persuing their goals.

Aha. Here's the tricky bit, though: who judges that a given player is pursuing his/her goals? The player him/herself? Some GM figure? All the other players by consensus? By a vote? Unless it's automatic and/or there are really clear rules, play can get bogged down in long, tedious debates.

Glad I've been of some help; as I said, thinking about your game is definitely helping me with mine.
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Anna B
Member

Posts: 32


« Reply #9 on: February 01, 2006, 07:56:33 PM »

"conflict" is just not a tea party thing to say. Gestures could defiantly work, but the center of the table was full of cookies and tea, so it's a bit hard to see. I ended up wishing for bowl for the tokens because they got lost among the goodies.

If you spend goal tokens you pursued a goal. We weren't having trouble with this, people say "this relates to goal X" and everyone would nod and agree.  The game wouldn't work well for people who felt a need to compete. When we played the character where somewhat at odds with eachother, but the players were coperating.

(I really hope I can get another playtest together soon; we have so many games we want to try and not much time.)
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #10 on: February 02, 2006, 09:33:49 AM »

Sounds like your "goal" system worked just fine, then. For the benefit of groups that don't have you, Anna, around to coach them, you might want to write something very clearly into the rules that says, oh, "If a player says a given Conflict is relevant to one of his or her goals, s/he gets to use Goal Tokens. The other players can ask for an explanation of how the Goal is relevant if they don't understand; but the other players don't get to quibble or debate about whether the Goal really is relevant or not." Which is basically the way Dogs in the Vineyard handles this kind of thing: If you the player say your trait/relationship/whatever is relevant, then it's relevant, and the only limit is that you don't want the other players to think you're lame.

Which works fine in cooperative games -- and, surprisingly in competitive games as well: My Capes group is pretty darn competitive, but if someone tells me, "Sydney, what you just said is lame/boring/confusing/too creepy," I take it back fast and try something else: That's because a big part of the competition is about who can add the coolest new ideas to the story, and I want the other guys to say "wow! cool!" and not "huh?" or "yawn." So don't worry too much about competition among players breaking the game: Competition can be a great engine for creative fun. (Or a "turbocharger," as Ron Edwards says in this thread: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=18177.msg192280#msg192280). I think a dash of competitiveness among the players might really spice up your game: The whole "tea party intrigue" thing, after all, is about people competing viciously but within a very strict set of social rules.
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