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Author Topic: [Troll Slayer] Player and GM power divide  (Read 7235 times)
ffilz
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« on: February 16, 2006, 12:23:55 PM »

First a confession inspired by the brain damage thread - when I GM games like D&D and Cold Iron, I almost always include an NPC in the party that is effectively my PC. I see two fundamental reasons I do this:

1. It's fun to advance characters, D&D style games rarely give the GM the opportunity to grow their own characters (sometimes they might award a monster XP for defeating the PCs or some such - but it isn't a significant part of the game play).

2. The darker side is that I'm making up for not being able to find games I want to play in.

So I see three basic solutions (that need not be exclusive):

1. Find good games to play in.

2. Make the GM role sufficiently fun, find a way to allow the GM to advance NPCs (that aren't trying to be part of the PC party)

3. Share the GM role.

I'm most interested in 3. Now obviously one way to do this would be to put the players in opposition to each other, so they create opposition for each other. But one of the biggest attractors for me to RPGs in the first place was the "we're all on the same team" aspect.

It seems for this idea to work, the players need to be rewarded for proposing cool encounters. And for playing hard when running opposition. One of my thoughts is to create a bidding system, where a player has some currency with which they can bid a particular encounter (I bid 2 to propose an encounter with 3 swamp trolls). Players could then respond to this bid (either by buying in because they think it's cool, by reserving judgement that the encounter is too easy, or reserving judgement that the encounter is too hard). When the encounter is over, the encounter would be examined. If it was too easy or too hard, anyone who was correct in their reserved judgement would be awarded. If the encounter went well and was fun, the proposer would be rewarded.

One little concern I have is how to handle players who are less interested in proposing encounters. Should the system demand equal contribution? Or should the system allow a player to go along for the ride? Ideally all players will be excited about contributing, and ideally the system will enable them to make good contributions.

Am I totally off my rocker here? If not, any thoughts on ways to achieve this?

Frank
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Frank Filz
Clyde L. Rhoer
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« Reply #1 on: February 16, 2006, 12:30:10 PM »

Well since it's brainstorming...

What about two types of rewards. One type gives more cool things for the character and the other type gives more control over the setting. I have no idea how that would work, but maybe you can reward both types of players. A more simulation oriented person can focus on responding to the dream, and more narrative focused players can be rewarded with more control over the story. Then pull out the requirement for a GM.
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ffilz
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« Reply #2 on: February 16, 2006, 12:55:19 PM »

I think I do see two reward mechanics, however, they need to be tied together into a single reward cycle.

One thing I should do is reference my Power 19 response in these posts:

Answering Troy Costisick's Power 19 for Troll Slayer.

You mention players satisfying different creative agendas, which is not something I expect to do or to work. I expect Troll Slayer to primarily be a gamist game, though one might be able to use it for simulationist gaming. So the reward cycle will focus on challenge, both creating challenge (encounters), and responding to it (by fighting the encounters using the PCs).

Frank
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Frank Filz
joepub
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Joe Thomas McDonald


« Reply #3 on: February 16, 2006, 01:32:45 PM »

Quote
find a way to allow the GM to advance NPCs (that aren't trying to be part of the PC party)

I`ve got an idea, just want to throw it out there...
This is more for if the GM is developing encounters, not players proposing them.

I`m assuming that 9 times out of 10 (or maybe only 7 or 8 times, whatever), the thing you are facing dies at the end of the fight. Therefore, it`s impossible to really advance that NPC/Monster, because it is dead.

However, if you encounter a group of gnolls and defeat them, maybe the remainder of the gnoll colony has learned a lesson about you, and thus has gained experience with fighting you.


You could offer a bunch of strategic maneuvers, like the shield bash, push, etc suggested.
And the more times you fight an "enemy faction", the more experience that "faction" gains... meaning the more strategic maneuvers it has at its disposal, etc.

That means that the more you push forward into the Northlands, the more knowledgeable the barbarians will be to you, and the more prepared they are to deal with you.




just a thought.
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Joe J Prince
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« Reply #4 on: February 16, 2006, 02:06:38 PM »


2. Make the GM role sufficiently fun, find a way to allow the GM to advance NPCs (that aren't trying to be part of the PC party)

Hmm there's some interesting potential here - what if each PC had a dark rival who advanced in parallel to them and with whom they would clash twice before a climactic encounter during which one of them will die or they will become friends. Or something.
 
3. Share the GM role.

It seems for this idea to work, the players need to be rewarded for proposing cool encounters. And for playing hard when running opposition.

You should check out Rune by Robin D Laws - the whole game is structured around this idea. I think you could be onto something with a bidding mechanic.
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ffilz
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« Reply #5 on: February 17, 2006, 01:15:59 AM »

I'll definitely have to look for a copy of Rune.

A problem I see with the dark rival idea is keeping the rival alive without illusionism.

Faction XP might be a way to give a GM something to advance, though that might feel different since the advancement isn't necessarily tied to the faction doing well.

I think what happens for me is that even though I have created the challenge the PCs face, I still gain some personal sense of accomplishment from the PCs beating the challenge, so advancing a GMPC is at least at some level feeding into a reward cycle for me. But it also does ring a bit hollow. And while I am now quite sensitive to overshadowing the PCs, there is always some risk (if the PCs roll badly, and I roll good for the GMPC, the GMPC can wind up fighting on while multiple PCs are out of action).

Actually, another thing that bothers me about tactical combats is the player whose PC is out of action. How do I keep the game interesting for them? That was certainly one of the factors that led me to disliking play, and similarly, disliking many multi-player strategy games (non-RPG) if you can be eliminated before the end of the game, at least with a 2 player game, when you are out, the game is over. Another thing I hated in strategy games, which is occaisionally a problem in RPGs is when it takes forever to lose - in other words, you know you're losing, but you can't end it yet (either because there is some small chance, or the opposing player won't let you concede, or it's a multi-player game that doesn't allow a player to drop out). These are inherent risks in this kind of game, and may not be possible to eliminate.

Frank
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Frank Filz
joepub
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Joe Thomas McDonald


« Reply #6 on: February 17, 2006, 02:36:39 AM »

Quote
Actually, another thing that bothers me about tactical combats is the player whose PC is out of action. How do I keep the game interesting for them? That was certainly one of the factors that led me to disliking play, and similarly, disliking many multi-player strategy games (non-RPG) if you can be eliminated before the end of the game, at least with a 2 player game, when you are out, the game is over.

I already said my bit about players controlling multiple characters (1-4), and someone else talked about players running each other's "sidekicks" or allies.

Those are both very viable options for this type of game. (Yes, I know that you aren't really too hot on the idea, I just wanted to point to it one last time.)

Quote
Faction XP might be a way to give a GM something to advance, though that might feel different since the advancement isn't necessarily tied to the faction doing well.

You could always make it tied.
Winning a combat gains the faction 3x experience,
Escaping/surviving with a considerable amount gains the faction 2x experience,
and losing/retreating gains teh faction x experience.

And then those experience can be sunk into learning maneuvers (like the cleave, etc, etc.), skills, or whatever else would make sense.
Because cannon fodder (AKA, the bad guys) come and go, maybe the XP would be spent on giving this bonus to a class, or race, or squad....


I'm just throwing this out for you to think on.
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ffilz
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« Reply #7 on: February 17, 2006, 08:31:24 AM »

Joe - yea, the sidekick idea, or a 2nd character at least, does sound worthwhile. That will address the issue of needing 6-8 characters for the tactics to work well. I can make the single character mode still work well for those who don't want the bother of a 2nd character, the single character would be a bit better and have more options, and more risk of being sidelined. What I didn't want was potentially 4 characters per player at which point, a decent sized group could have 12-20 characters which is a lot to manage.

Of course if the game is GMless, then there's always bad guys to play, so that will give the sidelined player something to play. Then he just needs to still be incented to play them hard (perhaps he doesn't lose as much for his downed PC if he plays the opposition hard).

I've got some more ideas for the scene bidding that I want to let stew a little bit more before I post, look for them later today.

Frank
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Frank Filz
Troy_Costisick
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« Reply #8 on: February 17, 2006, 09:28:39 AM »

Heya,

Quote
Joe - yea, the sidekick idea, or a 2nd character at least, does sound worthwhile. That will address the issue of needing 6-8 characters for the tactics to work well. I can make the single character mode still work well for those who don't want the bother of a 2nd character

-This is great, Frank.  I whole heartedly support this idea.  Can't wait to see how you work it out mechanically.

Peace,

-Troy
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ffilz
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« Reply #9 on: February 17, 2006, 01:47:01 PM »

I had some more thoughts about the distributed GM duties and bidding:

If you thought the encounter would be too hard and it turns out right, your character gets more XP. But what sort of penalty if you're wrong? How do we reverse this if you think the encounter is too easy? The player needs to have incentive to call the encounter to the best of his ability. One thought on this idea is that if different PCs have different XP, then this enables a lower XP character to earn more. Thinking on these lines also strongly suggests if a player is not present, his PC isn't either. How do treasure rewards fit in? It generally seems reasonable to divide treasure equally, but if this mechanic helps people who missed sessions catch up, then they would need to be able to catch up in treasure also (or maybe not, we never worried too much about everyone having equal treasure back in college - except to the extent that the players decided to pay for magic item use before dividing treasure because of unbalanced use).

Some other thoughts on how players could use the bidding currency (that allow players who perhaps are not as good at proposing scenes to spend their currency):

You can buy NPCs for a session (this would help the "what do I do when my PC is down - oh, I can run the NPC guide").

The person who proposes an encounter will draw or chose a map (note: having a resource of encounter hex maps will be valuable for this game - well, it's valuable even with my GMcentric Cold Iron game). But other players could use currency to add things ("I want a tree that my PC can climb"). This could even be tied back to abilities. Perhaps the thief can pay for a treasure chest with extra treasure (but only in certain encounter settings), the scout could pay for a lair that the beast can be tracked back to, which has additional treasure (or any treasure at all). Cleric's domains could play into this also. There should be some standard components (here's what a climbable tree looks like).

Back to the treasure chest or lair: Can the chest be trapped? Does the scout need to make a tracking roll? Part of me wants to make these things to roll for. Part of me thinks there shouldn't be a roll. In either case, there is a question of risk/reward (especially if there is no risk since there isn't a roll).

In thinking about all of this, I think Donjon may be another game I want to have a looksee at (that's the game where players can specify things like secret doors right?).

I had a thought that an encounter's actual difficulty is easy to score. Total up the damage the PCs take (possibly magnifying the damage PCs who were knocked out took), total up the mana used to cast spells, total up the treasure spent (charged items and potions). This produces a pretty objective score of the encounter difficulty, which can be keyed back into the payoff for bidding the proposed encounter, and the payoff in XP. Note: what about PCs who burn treasure to increase the score? Probably the best bet is to just take that into account in the payoff ratio rather than trying to subjectively guage the value of the expenditure. Make it painful to overspend. Hmm, one thought, some card games with bidding don't let you add more to your score than your bid, so you need to bid accurately. Not sure how that might fit in.

All of that is pretty rambly. I think I've got a kernel of an idea, but I'm not sure of the way to proceed to turn the idea into a reality.

Frank
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Frank Filz
TonyLB
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« Reply #10 on: February 17, 2006, 02:26:32 PM »

Are NPCs the only thing that the GM can be called upon to advance, to tend and to nurture?  I'd think that the Situation would be the natural target for such nurturing impulses.

Like, when your players have their hero confront the Elven King, demanding troops for the Great War, either they convince him or they don't.  If they do, that advances your Situation in a particular direction (say more drama, closer to the finale, etc.).  If they don't, that advances your Situation in another direction (more tension, more hopelessness, greater dependency on the heroes).  Those values (drama, tension, whatever) would feed back into future resolution, so it's like one big character that the GM is playing.  The GM wants to optimize this situation so that it's a good tool for him to challenge the players with.

So, maybe, he throws his weight (such as it is) behind the Elven King refusing the heroes the first time they arrive, because he wants more tension before he edges toward the finale.  Or maybe they've had such a desperate flight through the Underdark, hounded by the Flame-Spirits of Baron Grimm, that the GM decides to throw his weight behind the Elven King supporting them.  And maybe he throws his weight somewhere, and the players overrule him, and he has to accept that the story's going somewhere he didn't expect.

Anyway, some rambling thoughts.  Take them or leave them.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #11 on: February 21, 2006, 12:15:32 AM »

If a PC reaches zero HP, they don't die, they just continue fighting. But that player gets no XP for the fight and misses out on other rewards like gold, etc (I dunno, figure out some game world justification if you want, but that's the rule).

This encourages the players to try and pick the most nasty mo fo's out there, yet still within their ability to defeat (Otherwise it'll be a waste of time).

"But I love the thrill of facing death (or being knocked out of the fight)!"

Fine. The player can opt to turn off the zero HP invulnerability for any fight, before he begins (for some sort of minor bonus - don't bother rewarding it, IMO). There, if he pouts when he has to sit out a battle, it was his own choice.
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Philosopher Gamer
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ffilz
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« Reply #12 on: February 21, 2006, 09:44:35 AM »

Callan,

I've entertained such an idea before. The question I have is how does that affect the tactical game? It means that PCs can't be disabled. Which definitely means there have to be tactical options which allow moving PCs, otherwise, the PCs could take on really nasty foes in a narrow corridor, sacrificing the XP for the front line since they get to keep fighting after running out of HP. I guess another solution is you only gain XP for foes you kill while > 0 hp. Overall, I guess the concern I have with this idea is how much it changes the tactical situation that I enjoy. Are there any examples of this kind of idea out there? I am aware of a few board games that allow player resets, but they would be more the equivalent of the player being able to bring in a brand new PC, right in the middle of a fight or something (the games I'm thinking of on this line are Barbarian, Kingdom, and Empire and Riddle of the Ring - both games I really enjoyed because of this player reset idea - so perhaps finding a way to implement that in a tactical combat RPG would be valuable).

The sidekick idea overall seems the best way to keep players engaged, though it's still possible for the sidekick to go down also. Though even then, it's possible to allow the player who has lost both his PC and his sidekick to take over someone else's sidekick. Basically, just by having somewhat more characters than players, a player who has lost his primary PC still has a way to engage (in fact, I wonder if the extra characters being group resources is better than being individual resources, then all players share an interest in them, and will be more willing to take up the flag when their own PC is down).

Tony,

I've been thinking about your idea. Looking back over my play history, I think I have never really got into this scale of situation. I really operate more at an episodic level. I'm not sure if part of it is a strong aversion to having too much of a story of my own. Interestingly, I can see that in the context of a game like Dogs in the Vinyard, I can see where the GM has opportunity to continue to build on previous play (though I'm also not yet sure I would enjoy GMing Dogs because of this different play mode). I need to think more about this (I had a thought train, but got interrupted).

Frank

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Frank Filz
ffilz
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« Reply #13 on: February 21, 2006, 01:17:59 PM »

There has been some interesting discussion over on Story Games about gamism, traditional games, and GMs that has got me thinking...

First, I thought I'd clarify what I typically do as GM:

  • social coordinate (recruit players, host the game, guide the decision of when to play)
  • provide the setting (with input from the initial seed players)
  • provide scenarios
  • run the opposition
  • arbitrate the rules
  • run one or more NPCs to bring the PC party up to size, and to have my hand in the PC advancement cookie jar

The last item is problematical. My games seem to be functional, but I know in the past I have been abusive in my play of NPCs (sometimes without really realizing it until after the fact). Overall, players seem to be ok with my running NPCs (that help the PCs and even advance alongside the PCs), so what I want to explore in Troll Slayer is making that more functional. What do I need to do in the game design to make that work. One thought was to distribute the GM power, and I've come up with some interesting ideas, but they don't seem to be right for Troll Slayer.

I have some thoughts:

One thought goes along with the "sidekick" idea above, especially the thought of shared secondary characters, is that there is only one character who is the GM's character. All other NPCs that are friendly to the PCs are available for shared running (I actually tend to run this way anyway).

Another thought is that any time there is a combat situation involving only the GM's character, the combat is not played out. The GM will just assign a probability of success. Or better, bring the other characters into the conflict. This rule should even kick in if the GM's character is the last one standing (though perhaps the combat is allowed to run for 1 or 2 rounds). The GM's character would also not get other solo scenes played out (if the GM's character is sent into town to get information, no playing it out, the character just returns with the information, with a single roll if necessary).

Another thought would be that if XP is at all subjective, the other players assign the GM's character XP (secondary characters probably should just gain objective XP). Better would be to eliminate subjective XP. Another thought would be to put XP up to the group as a whole ("That was a tough fight, anyone have a suggestion on what XP to award? ... So what do people think about Bob's suggestion?"). Treasure is pretty objective (when I write up encounters, I specify the treasure they're carrying), and I still want to work on the idea of "extra" treasure being something that the scout or thief can just "discover."

But is that really enough? Are there other ways to empower the players to balance the additional power the GM has?

Frank

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Frank Filz
Callan S.
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« Reply #14 on: February 21, 2006, 08:12:18 PM »

Callan,

I've entertained such an idea before. The question I have is how does that affect the tactical game? It means that PCs can't be disabled. Which definitely means there have to be tactical options which allow moving PCs, otherwise, the PCs could take on really nasty foes in a narrow corridor, sacrificing the XP for the front line since they get to keep fighting after running out of HP.
Whoa? Which gamist is sacrificing his bread and butter for the good of the party? He's a very generous chap! But I think he's in such a perilous position doing that, trust wise, that it'll make for interesting game play.

Also, monster could have grapple and throw attacks, which are particularly effective on 0 HP characters.

Quote
Overall, I guess the concern I have with this idea is how much it changes the tactical situation that I enjoy.
I'll say something about me, even though it may not apply to you. I've worried about getting the game world just right. Getting the tactical situation just right.

I've come to painfully realise that recreating just the tactical situation I like, will be more of an act of recreation, than tactical enterprise. The other players will spoil just the tactical situation I want (even if I get it to come about) with their own tactics.

On the GM PC, you could just have him be a non combatant. Instead he's a buffer/healer. He decides who to heal, who to cast strength spells on, which bad guys to cast strength drains on, etc. In other words, he contributes stuff, but he never actually resolves anything/kills anything.
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Philosopher Gamer
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