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Author Topic: [Web of Shadows] Rotating GMishness and Judging Address  (Read 6188 times)
Josh Roby
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« on: February 22, 2006, 02:31:04 PM »

Okay, so in my current side-project that won't leave me alone, I've run up against an interesting choice.

In Web of Shadows, players take turns framing scenes.  The framing player assigns some character roles to the other players and designates one or more of the players as audience members.  The players with roles all write down a specific thing they want to accomplish in regards to the situation -- they want to reveal information about an established character, form a relationship between two characters, introduce a new location, and the like.  When the scene is over, the audience selects which of the other players' intentions actually come to pass and which do not.  In other words, the audience judges the address of the other players -- did you do lasting harm to Edward's reputation or will that scene just be remembered as the "little spat" that nobody cared about?  That sort of thing.

In the scene, conflicts are adjudicated by all players -- both those with roles and those in the audience -- spending tokens to "activate" established details in a little bidding war.  So you were narrating how you scaled the wall, and I spend a token to point out that the wall is already described as Slippery, and you spend a token to point out that your current character has the trait Agile Climber and I spend a token to point out that there are High Winds here, and so on.  Oneupsmanship, spending tokens and referencing already-established details.  The kicker is that those tokens get "spent" into a common pool that sits in the center of the table.  When the audience members choose which player intentions come to pass, they get to take two tokens for every intention that they ratify.

So the audience always has an incentive to try and start conflicts in the scenes, because the more conflicts happen, the more tokens they can harvest out of the scene.

The question of the day is this: should the audience members know what the player intentions are before the scene begins or should they only find out those intentions after the scene is over?

If the audience members know what the intentions are from the outset, they will be well-informed as to what conflicts they can start up that will get a response from the players.  If Jimmy wants to reveal that the safe is empty, the audience will start a conflict on whether he can open the safe.  However, the audience's other roles here are to "play audience" and to judge the success of the players' addresses.  Knowing what they are trying to accomplish before they take steps to do so may spoil that element -- there will be no surprise, no turnabout, and the audience will not be very audience-like.  Additionally, this may have a slight poison-the-well effect where, knowing what the players' intentions are, they may use their tokens to establish conflicts to highlight or subdue intentions that they're not interested in.  In other words, the audience might start weilding some GM Force.  Lastly, I'm still not certain if the audience should know which intention belongs to who -- but maybe I'm just overzealous about eliminating favortism.

(For the record, I very much want the intentions to be unknown to the other players in the scene -- this game is all about cross purposes and conspiracies, so finding out what the other guys were up to should be something of a surprise, especially when it turns out they were backstabbing you.)

I have two options, neither of which seem terrible to me:
  • One, an informed audience that can push more engaging conflicts but may weild GM Force
  • Two, an uninformed audience that can delight in the development of the scene and judge the addresses in a more objective light

There are benefits and drawbacks to both.  Anybody wanna chime in on which is more grabby, which they think will create a better game, or any conflicts that I've failed to see?
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Stefan / 1of3
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« Reply #1 on: February 23, 2006, 01:08:04 PM »

I think I would prefer no or incomplete information for the audience. If there is more than one player in the audience, you could also distribute the machination cards between them. Or you could add rules that allow the audience to look at the cards one at a time during the scene.

If the audience gets to read the cards, it should be quite clear, which cards belongs to whom, if the audience know the handwriting of their fellow players. (Which is probably the case.)
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TonyLB
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« Reply #2 on: February 23, 2006, 01:14:49 PM »

Well, let's think about the reward mechanisms in place.  If the audience knows the player agendas, and they get rewarded for making more of those come to pass, then they're going to work (and hard!) to hit every single agenda.  They'll keep creating conflicts (and expanding the pool) until every active player has achieved their agenda.  Why wouldn't they?  Why would they leave tokens that they could be earning unearned?

Now that can work real well.  For instance, scenes in PTA work pretty much that way:  people declare an agenda, and then they play until that agenda has been completed, and that's how they know that it's time for a new scene.

Is that what you want for this game?  Is there some reason why the audience would want a player agenda not to come to pass?  And if so, what reward do they get for deciding that?
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #3 on: February 23, 2006, 02:21:18 PM »

Stefan --
My initial impulse was no prior information for the audience, too.  I'm just not sure if that leads to the most engaging play.  Whether there is one or multiple audience members is up to the scene-framer, and there is some strategy to that; only one audience member needs to ratify a machination card for it to count, so you might assign two audience members to take one guy out of the scene and get the other sympathetic guy to ratify your card.

If the machinations were known quantities, they would certainly be identified as to who is going for which.  I don't see any benefit in hiding that, and it would be difficult to impossible to obscure it.

Tony --
Everyone, audience included, has a stake in the manipulation of the situation, and most of those stakes are at cross-purposes.  In other words, maybe I don't want you to link up my minion with the vampire hunter, because that puts me in an awkward place.  I don't expect the audience to exercise their power unselfishly or objectively.  The 'reward' for not ratifying a particular agendum is simple -- you block the agendum from happening (yes yes, if there's an agendum out there that you really like, you get to ratify that one, too).  I have reinforcement in place to goad them to ratify more than the bare minimum of one.

In that the audience might try to push conflicts until they can gain tokens for every agendum out there -- eh, maybe.  If there are six players and two of them are audience members for this scene, they could push conflicts until there are sixteen tokens out there, so both audience members reap eight tokens (and the other players spent about four each).  Given that you can never have more than ten tokens, though, and probably enter each scene with less than the maximum, I don't see the other players rising to the bait so regularly.  Spending the bulk of your resources in the hopes of getting what you want without any assurances of getting it, and knowing that those resources will be going to the audience either way -- there's a lot of speculation on the players' side on whether or not it's worth it to keep spending.

Additionally, the agenda are far more central to controlling the game, and far more potentially devastating to the audience members, than the tokens are worth.  The two tokens you get from ratifying an agendum may not be worth the disadvantage it would put you in.  One agendum might be "the Chosen One discovers your captive dreamslaves that you've been feeding on" and, assuming Backlash is nigh, that could quickly make you the odd monster out.  (But you can, say, push conflicts to prevent the Chosen One from finding the slaves, and then approve some other agendum to get the tokens that you tempted the other player into investing.)
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TonyLB
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« Reply #4 on: February 23, 2006, 02:54:33 PM »

In other words, maybe I don't want you to link up my minion with the vampire hunter, because that puts me in an awkward place.
Okay.  But me, personally, I'll go to an awkward place for two tokens.  I'm very, very confident in my ability to wriggle out of awkward places later.

Does granting an agenda create any actual mechanical consequences that I (as an audience member) should be worried about?
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #5 on: February 23, 2006, 03:36:51 PM »

The agenda have a direct effect on a web of index cards and connecting strings representing the situation.  So my agenda may be "create a connection between Jim and Jody" and another agenda may be "define one of Jim's traits as 'coward'".  Or cutting connections between cards, or changing a card's trait to something else.  (In other words, every scene addresses situation in one or more ways.)

Over the course of the game, Backlashes occur in which the Chosen One (the card at the center of the web) expands its understanding of the situation.  More and more cards become understood, and that understanding flows through the connections between cards.  So the first Backlash, all the cards connected to the Chosen One are understood; on the second Backlash, all the cards connected to those cards are understood, and so on.  If you've left evidence that comes under this growing investigation/understanding/discovery, you get outted, and your shadowy conspirator has some of its characteristics revealed -- by the other players defining them.

So -- you're an audience member for this scene here, but you've got your own conspirator that you're trying to keep safe in the shadows.  You'd rather the other conspirators get revealed, because in the end, somebody's going to get outted, drug through the streets, and slaughtered like the eldritch force of evil that they are.  So you don't want, for instance, the Chosen One (or the Chosen One's best friend, say) to get linked to your hidden den of dreamslaves, because that makes it all the more likely that the next Backlash will result in your dirty little secret being discovered, and getting you revealed.

Note, also, that anybody in a scene can Feed to gain tokens, as well -- this just increases the chance of Backlash.  So ratifying addresses are not the only way to gain tokens.

Now, I'm sure some players such as yourself will be entertained by taking those chances -- that's a good portion of the game's gamble-factor, in fact -- but some of those gambles are pretty safe (Backlash can't be expected to happen for a few scenes, so I can disconnect the Chosen One's best friend from my slaves by then) and some are very very risky (Backlash could happen at any moment, so I won't have many opportunities to undo that).
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TonyLB
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« Reply #6 on: February 23, 2006, 03:44:11 PM »

Cooool ... I particularly like the notion of it being insanely dangerous to link to the Chosen One's best friend ... let's just call him Xander.

Side-question:  Are the progressive pulses of Backlash measured by saying (each time) "Start at the Chosen one and count X+1 steps outward"?  Or is it "Backlash happens from every card that was revealed in the last Backlash?

It leads to different strategies.  If my dream-slaves are connected to Xander, a mere step away from the Chosen One, and he was revealed last Backlash (she knows him, as a person, now ... how sweet) ... what happens if I cut the link between Buffy and Xander, rather than the link between my dreamslaves and Xander?  In one setup, I get backlashed, in the other I don't.
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #7 on: February 23, 2006, 03:58:59 PM »

I haven't decided on that count yet, Tony.  I may go for a somewhat-hybrid, where Xander can get cut off from that direct connection to Buffy and swing out to the edge of the Web, but if the wavefront of the discovery finds him again (either where he is or another player links him back in again), he starts expanding discovery again as normal (and doesn't need to be rediscovered).  There is a certain simplicity, though, for "mark what's discovered, in a backlash mark whatever's connected to something already marked."

I expect this is more of a playtest issue, which is unfortunate since I wasn't really planning on going full-bore dev with this game. =P
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CommonDialog
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« Reply #8 on: February 23, 2006, 10:27:43 PM »

Would it make sense that once the Backlash has occured, the connection cannot get cut?  That would make sense (would the Chosen One undiscover someone in the conspiracy.)

Also, can you tell me, why would my motive ever be to change Joshua's trait to cowardly?  Does that help me in the next scene to get him revealed or not?
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #9 on: February 24, 2006, 09:00:20 AM »

I suppose that connections between cards can become "locked" once both sides are discovered.  That's an interesting suggestion.  Not sure, though, that I like it -- all of the changes to the Web are mirrored by in-fiction events, and I dunno if, once the Chosen One knows about Jimmy through his employment at the bar, that he can't get fired afterwards (talk about job security).

As to your second question -- are you talking about any particular card that happens to be named Joshua, or are you talking about defining one of my traits, assuming I'm an opposing player?  The only cards that are owned by players are the supernatural conspirator that tries to stay out of the Web and the three facades (minions, disguises, alternate identities, that sort of thing) that players substitute for their conspirator.  You might want to define any card as a coward if you think that that's (a) interesting or (b) going to be to your advantage in a later scene.  The conflict rules allow anyone to activate any trait -- not just the traits of the character they're playing at the moment.  So if one card has already got characteristics like "loyal servant of Tony's conspirator" it might be to your advantage to make them a coward -- when the loyal servant gets activated against you, you can activate the coward in response.  Same goes for facades -- you might try to compromise another player's facade to make it less effective.  Lastly, defining the traits on other players' conspirator cards is the goal of the game; once all three of their traits have been revealed, they are exposed and the endgame is triggered.  Did I answer your question somewhere in there?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #10 on: February 24, 2006, 09:44:42 PM »

In the scene, conflicts are adjudicated by all players -- both those with roles and those in the audience -- spending tokens to "activate" established details in a little bidding war.  So you were narrating how you scaled the wall, and I spend a token to point out that the wall is already described as Slippery, and you spend a token to point out that your current character has the trait Agile Climber and I spend a token to point out that there are High Winds here, and so on.  Oneupsmanship, spending tokens and referencing already-established details.  The kicker is that those tokens get "spent" into a common pool that sits in the center of the table.  When the audience members choose which player intentions come to pass, they get to take two tokens for every intention that they ratify.
I think you'll have 'how much is a fact worth' issues, where the players aren't really in a bidding war. Because their both being very careful to remain within reasonable guidelines in creating facts and how much each can contain. And because you since you can't one up someone without being unreasonable to a degree, the person who wins will be determined by social fiat (who looks really excited, or who's got the most social influence, etc).

One interesting thing to do may be to determine that the PC of the player in question, has already won. The other player is not adding slippery walls so as to thwart him, but to discover more about him. I may have skimmed, but that fits into the game, right? Along with having a villanous PC.

It's terribly hard to imagine the clawed villain going and getting a crummy old ladder to climb the slimy wall. Instead, he'll reveal his claws by climbing it with them. The thing that drives the player to do this, is that the player wants a cool villain and will not want to walk away with everyone thinking "So, your villain was joe boring, right?". This process allows other players to probe for information by adding events that will prompt powers to be shown out in the open.
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