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Author Topic: [Misery Bubblegum] Stakes, but FAST  (Read 7408 times)
TonyLB
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« on: March 03, 2006, 08:01:15 AM »

I established this Stakes-resolution system for Misery Bubblegum.  Then I Playtested it and found that the other bits of the system (which work in smaller, more manageable increments that build up their effect over time) was much more fun.

So now I want to turn the Stakes-setting system into something fast and light, like that, which builds up meaning in smaller, more manageable increments.  I want a single increment of Stakes-resolution to take no more than thirty seconds to resolve from start to finish ... and to lead naturally into the next one (if another one is called for).

Here's an example from actual playtest:  Eric (playing Ben) was negotiating with the Stag King in the Faerie court.  Ben said he wanted the kids that had been lured into the faerie forest and been captured (including Leila, a prominent and innocent NPC, but not including Reggie, an antagonist who had cut a deal with the Faerie Queen, and who was generally a prick).  The King said he wanted Ben to serve him, with his knowledge and his soul (making him no better than Reggie).  So we had a single choice (put to Eric) that had on one side Ben's Soul, Ben's Knowledge, Ben's superiority over Reggie and on the other side The children, Leila's innocence and Ben's Nice-Guy quality.  He could either take the deal (losing control of his soul, his knowledge, and his standing vis-a-vis Reggie, but saving the kids, Leila and his virtue) or walk away (losing the kids, Leila and his nice-guyness but saving his soul, his knowledge and his superiority to Reggie).

So, yes, that's a cool choice.  But it took us too long to get there, and in too unformed a fashion.  All of those things (and, in fact, several more elements that I didn't mention) were on the table the whole time.

I suspect that the right way to deal with this is to say that, rather than letting people add a card, then remove it, then add it back, then remove it, and so forth that there should be just one roll that says "Is this card on that side, or is it not?"

So instead of lots of manipulation of the whole Soul+Knowledge+Superiority+Innocent+Nice+Kids tangle as a whole, you get individual set-tos like:

  • "Okay ... can I get the Faerie King to make a deal for the kids?  You roll dice, I roll dice.  YES!  They're on the table."
  • "Now ... the Faerie King wants to make the other side about your soul.  You roll dice, I roll dice.  YES!  It's on the table."
  • "Ack!  Okay.  But if I give up my soul then I'm superior to Reggie, because I did it for a good reason.  You roll dice, I roll dice.  NO!  I don't get it."
  • "Well, since you bring it up ... I say that you are only superior to Reggie if you don't take the deal ... otherwise you're just the same as him, no matter your motivations.  You roll dice, I roll dice.  YES!  Your superiority and your soul, versus the safety of the children."

... and so forth.  I think that would be a more engaged and engaging mechanic (and would also probably mean that there was more fiction being narrated during the stakes-resolution).  But there are some serious questions:

  • How do you handle turn order?  If Eric gets to add stakes, add stakes, add stakes does that give him an advantage?  Or ... all sides only have a certain number of dice available to them before they run out of ability to do stuff.  Does that resource mechanic mean that people can add things in whatever order they feel like?
  • Will a mechanic as simple as "Eric, you're the GM right now ... you roll as many GM dice as you want, I roll as many player dice as I want, and whoever gets the highest total wins" work for this?  I think it would (with the addition of the "Player dice held by the GM are a minimum requirement for his rolls" and "GM dice held by a player are a minimum for his rolls" ) but I could be mistaken.  Does that give enough scope for people to express the difference between stakes they care about a little and stakes they care about a lot?
  • The previous system had a lovely negative feedback cycle:  When you won something, you took the opposite side's dice.  But, of course, that means that the GM is acquiring player dice (which penalize him) and the players are acquiring GM dice (which penalize them).  How do I maintain that in this new set-to system?
  • If someone adds stakes that make the decision (for the GM) a foregone conclusion, it seems to me that everything after that might get a bit boring, or even abusive.  Like, if Eric is totally unwilling to sacrifice Ben's soul, and people know that, and so just keep piling up things on the opposing side:  "Oh, you want to keep your soul?  Well what if it means Leila dies?  And Reggie becomes king of the world?  And all the kidnapped children are damned forever?"  Is this a bug or a feature?
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #1 on: March 03, 2006, 08:25:14 AM »

Hey, Tony.

It *sound* like what you're doing is Falling Leaves, with more dice.  Have you read Falling Leaves?

(also, you know, Polaris)

I can tell you that it works really, really well.  The trick to stopping the "hit the same thing over and over" abuse that you talk about near the end is to either limit it to a certain number of consequences (Falling Leaves) or to let one player "call" the escalation and move on (Polaris.)

yrs--
--Ben
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TonyLB
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« Reply #2 on: March 03, 2006, 08:33:51 AM »

It *sound* like what you're doing is Falling Leaves, with more dice.  Have you read Falling Leaves?

Nope.  Where?

I can tell you that it works really, really well.  The trick to stopping the "hit the same thing over and over" abuse that you talk about near the end is to either limit it to a certain number of consequences (Falling Leaves) or to let one player "call" the escalation and move on (Polaris.)

Wellll ... I'm not entirely sure that the "hit the same thing over and over" is abuse.  I'm seriously asking:  is it a bug or a feature?

Because, bear in mind, if you put Riches, and Power and Glory and Love on one side because you figure he'll never choose to trade his Soul, even for all that ... well, you may be in for a sudden and game-changing surprise.

I remember in my youth, the very common way of ensuring fair cake-cutting:  "Tony, you cut two pieces of cake, Cori you pick which one you want."  I think there's some of the same thing operating here.
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #3 on: March 03, 2006, 08:52:49 AM »

Falling Leaves

There are also some AP reports in that forum.

The system is exactly the cake-cutting method that you describe.

The thing about hitting the same thing over and over is that it is a bug if it makes your stakes setting take too long.  Otherwise: I don't think it's a bug.  It certainly didn't break my game.

yrs--
--Ben
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TonyLB
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« Reply #4 on: March 03, 2006, 09:00:31 AM »

Cool!  So this is tested ground.  Excellent.  So much nicer than what-if speculation.  One question down, three to go!
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Eric Sedlacek
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« Reply #5 on: March 03, 2006, 09:07:48 AM »

Because, bear in mind, if you put Riches, and Power and Glory and Love on one side because you figure he'll never choose to trade his Soul, even for all that ... well, you may be in for a sudden and game-changing surprise.

This also brings up an interesting distinction.  In Capes, you benefit by making your desires clear.  If people know what you want, they can give it to you for tasty rewards.  If you are inscrutable, you are the one who loses out.  

Here, the reverse is true.  If you are an open book, it just makes it easier for people to mess with you.  (I can hear Sydney saying "Doh!")  If you are unpredictable, that gives you power.

I remember in my youth, the very common way of ensuring fair cake-cutting:  "Tony, you cut two pieces of cake, Cori you pick which one you want."  I think there's some of the same thing operating here.

The cake-cutting scheme has one flaw that this game mechanic doesn't, and that is that the onus is really entirely on the cake cutter.  He can only screw himself.  This is more like dividing a bag of Halloween candy with diverse elements of varying appeal.  "Sure, I want the Snickers bar, but there is all this licorice on that side too..."  In other words, which piece of cake is superior is dependant almost soley on its size, while the value of a pile of candy is more subjective.

Ultimately, I think it would be good for the non-GMs to have more power in determining the stakes configuration.  (The all-verses-one dynamic may ultimately be all you need to achieve this.)  The GM's power (and pain) lies in the choice.

I wish I had better suggestions for the main points, Tony.  I will mull.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #6 on: March 03, 2006, 09:31:49 AM »

Here, the reverse is true.  If you are an open book, it just makes it easier for people to mess with you.  (I can hear Sydney saying "Doh!")  If you are unpredictable, that gives you power.

Yep.  I think it motivates you to use your Author stance to figure out ways that it makes sense for your character to make choices that they'll really, really regret (because they run counter to everything the character wants in the long term).  It is a high school game, after all.

This is more like dividing a bag of Halloween candy with diverse elements of varying appeal.  "Sure, I want the Snickers bar, but there is all this licorice on that side too..."  In other words, which piece of cake is superior is dependant almost soley on its size, while the value of a pile of candy is more subjective.

Let me point out that I'm also thinking about adding some "poison-pill" mechanics, where (for instance) if you accept someone else's "Opinion:  Ben is a loser" card then it becomes (or comes a step closer to becoming) "Ben is, in fact, a loser."

I say this because there's something really horrible about the prospect of dividing up your halloween candy if you must eat it all.  "Oh, you like that pile of Snickers, huh?  How about when I put this pack of jawbreakers in it?"  "Urgh!  I hate jaw-breakers!"  "Yeah, I know."
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #7 on: March 03, 2006, 09:54:15 AM »

Turn Order -- limited resources sound like a good way to constrain this.  It will keep people from piling on tons and tons of stakes -- right up until it's really damn important that they pile on tons and tons of stakes.

Dice -- Is it always one PC versus one GM?  Where do the other players fit into this?  Can they lend dice to either side?

Negative Feedback -- can you set it up so that these once-only rolls have the loser handing over his dice?  That looked like a good, simple system.  And would also constrain how much got thrown into a given conflict, since you'd be risking your dice every time you chose to roll some of them.

Overloaded Stakes -- if Eric is unwiling to sacrifice Ben's soul, why is it on the table in the first place?  Is there any mechanic to remove things from play or marginalize them if they're not popping?  More importantly, is there a mechanic that benefits people for creating engaging stakes?
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Eric Sedlacek
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TheCzech


« Reply #8 on: March 03, 2006, 09:58:15 AM »

Here, the reverse is true.  If you are an open book, it just makes it easier for people to mess with you.  (I can hear Sydney saying "Doh!")  If you are unpredictable, that gives you power.

Yep.  I think it motivates you to use your Author stance to figure out ways that it makes sense for your character to make choices that they'll really, really regret (because they run counter to everything the character wants in the long term).  It is a high school game, after all.

It also motives you to do what we were talking about at the end of the session, working to achieve something...for potentially a long time...and then deciding to throw it under the bus.  Then the trick for the other players is to figure out when and for what you will do so.

Ultimately, what will happen if you try to always play it safe on your core issues is that everybody else will be able to relentlessly manipulate you on just about everything else.  Again, just like high school.  Now, in real life, saying "I have my core values and I'm not going to sacrifice them for success in the social arena" is a mature way to live and kudos to any high school student who managed to stick to that...even though it would take a very rare individual indeed.  In a game that spells unrelenting boredom.
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Eric Sedlacek
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TheCzech


« Reply #9 on: March 03, 2006, 10:04:03 AM »

Overloaded Stakes -- if Eric is unwiling to sacrifice Ben's soul, why is it on the table in the first place?  Is there any mechanic to remove things from play or marginalize them if they're not popping?  More importantly, is there a mechanic that benefits people for creating engaging stakes?

It is on the table because you never know for certain that someone will never sacrifice something until you give them the opportunity to sacrifice it.

I do think the larger point is valid.  We were talking about ways to change your character's traits, but that was generally going to be after battling over it.  If there is no battle because no one cares, it should also be replaced somehow.

In our playtest, Ben's "True Believer" trait was never touched.  Now maybe it would have garnered interest over time, but maybe not.  In the latter case, it would need to be replaced by something people found more interesting.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #10 on: March 03, 2006, 10:35:55 AM »

Dice -- Is it always one PC versus one GM?  Where do the other players fit into this?  Can they lend dice to either side?

This is one place where I need some serious help.  The thinking is easier one-on-one, but the game is far more effective if everyone's engaged.

So, here's some thought-provoking back.  What if each individual exchange ("Is Ben's Soul on the table, let's roll!") is one-on-one, but many people can each throw in their own stakes?

But ... urgh.  There's another question which comes up.

Currently the things that the GM doesn't choose just go back into an uncontrolled pile that anyone can (later) try to take over when they're the GM.  So if Ben sacrifices his soul, it's not sacrificing his soul to the Faerie King.  It's putting his soul at risk in a follow-up conflict that the Faerie king is making the choice about.  Which, frankly, sucks.  I'd much rather that when the Faerie King is the one to put Ben's Soul into the bidding that it's the Faerie King who ends up controlling it (or coming a step closer to controlling it).

But then the question of "Who gets to go up against Eric to see whether Ben's Soul is on the table" becomes a great big deal.  It becomes "Who gets to try to tempt Ben to give up his Soul?"  People are going to want to compete over that as well as compete over whether or not it's on the table at all.

Oh!  Oh!  Is that what you're asking?

Hypothetical:  Ben's Soul is (maybe) being added to the Stakes.  Eric rolls three GM dice, totalling 11.  Sydney (by way of creepy-goth-girl Rachel) rolls four player dice totalling 13.  Tony (by way of the Faerie King) rolls four player dice totalling 12.  Sydney wins!  Ben's Soul is on the table, and if Eric chooses to let it go then it goes to Sydney.

Hey.  That could be cool.  Thanks for asking that!

Negative Feedback -- can you set it up so that these once-only rolls have the loser handing over his dice?  That looked like a good, simple system.  And would also constrain how much got thrown into a given conflict, since you'd be risking your dice every time you chose to roll some of them.

Well, if you're one player against a GM, and you lose then handing over your dice is a problem for you (because you have less dice) but also a problem for the GM (because now he has more player dice, which raises the difficulty of all subsequent rolls).  So it really runs down everybody.  I like that.

Plus, if two players go up against the GM (as above) and the GM wins then he gets really hammered ... which seems appropriate when he overrides something with that much player interest.  It should be possible, but costly.

Now ... do the dice of the winner go to the loser?  Or do they go back to the bowls (which means they're out of play until the stake-setting is resolved and people get back to the "Do something, and the GM rewards you with dice from the bowl, or not, based on fiat" phase of thing).  I think the latter works better.  It means that each stakes-setting makes it more difficult to do another stakes-setting (even if the GM bowl shifts hands) because the economy as a whole is run back toward the dice-bowls and needs to be reset through some fun, quick, incremental actions.

Overloaded Stakes -- if Eric is unwiling to sacrifice Ben's soul, why is it on the table in the first place?  Is there any mechanic to remove things from play or marginalize them if they're not popping?  More importantly, is there a mechanic that benefits people for creating engaging stakes?

I'm working on the reward mechanic for creating engaging stakes.  Basically, it's cool when you are not the GM, and you take something in your hand and add it to the stakes that the GM has to decide about.  That's what turns "Do I get a bad reputation at school in order to defeat my rival?" into "Do I get a bad reputation in school and offend my love interest, in order to defeat my rival?  Or do I let my rival win, and thereby earn the affection of my love interest (albeit for being a loser)?"

Right now there's no mechanical benefit for doing that.  There clearly needs to be.  Don't know quite what it is yet, though.

What has been proposed (and I'm pondering it) is that the trait should get advancement points toward it every time someone puts it out on stakes and then gets it right back.

So, for instance, "Akane's heart" comes one point closer to a new development when she offers her heart to Ranma and he scorns her (i.e. she puts it out on a choice of his, and he does something else, sending it back to her hand).  Likewise, if Ranma accepts her heart then Akane's heart comes one point closer to a new development each time he chooses to stand by her.

I think that this encourages people to put their traits out both when they expect to get them back (i.e. put Ben's Soul on the table and let people shaft you by putting things you don't want to lose on the other side) and when they expect to lose it (i.e. put Ben's Soul out on the table and see what people will give you for it, then have them advance it toward a new development).
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Eric Sedlacek
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TheCzech


« Reply #11 on: March 03, 2006, 11:15:27 AM »

Hypothetical:  Ben's Soul is (maybe) being added to the Stakes.  Eric rolls three GM dice, totalling 11.  Sydney (by way of creepy-goth-girl Rachel) rolls four player dice totalling 13.  Tony (by way of the Faerie King) rolls four player dice totalling 12.  Sydney wins!  Ben's Soul is on the table, and if Eric chooses to let it go then it goes to Sydney.

This looks like some fairly hefty dice churn over a single small step.

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TonyLB
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« Reply #12 on: March 03, 2006, 11:21:05 AM »

Yeah, it's way more than I'd expect, but it's just an example, right?

Although ...

If the winner takes all the loser's dice then Sydney would end up with more GM dice (from Eric) but no less player dice than he started.  He'd lose the four that he rolled, and gain the four that Tony rolled. 

I know that dynamic.  That's the dollar auction dynamic (or close enough).  And that, I think, could encourage some rapid bidding wars between players over things they wanted to contest.  After all, if Tony's bid four dice and you've only bid three, bidding two more isn't costing you two it's assuring (probably) that you only lose one, rather than three.  What a bargain!

Now if I wanted to do it really fast, I wouldn't let people bid up progressively.  I'd just say "Okay, how many dice are you rolling?  How many are you rolling?  Roll them.  Done!"  But that gives a serious tactical advantage to the person who declares how many dice they roll last.  They know what everyone else is spending.  Is there a way to make that serve the goals of the design?
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #13 on: March 03, 2006, 11:24:03 AM »

Hypothetical:  Ben's Soul is (maybe) being added to the Stakes.  Eric rolls three GM dice, totalling 11.  Sydney (by way of creepy-goth-girl Rachel) rolls four player dice totalling 13.  Tony (by way of the Faerie King) rolls four player dice totalling 12.  Sydney wins!  Ben's Soul is on the table, and if Eric chooses to let it go then it goes to Sydney.

What if Sydney's goth girl and your Faerie King are in league?  Can they pool dice?

Also, go for the dollar auction.  Escalating and escalating until you've invested way more than is probably reasonable on something that maybe isn't that important, after all?  That's the definition of high school drama.
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Eric Sedlacek
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TheCzech


« Reply #14 on: March 03, 2006, 12:00:50 PM »

Now if I wanted to do it really fast, I wouldn't let people bid up progressively.  I'd just say "Okay, how many dice are you rolling?  How many are you rolling?  Roll them.  Done!"  But that gives a serious tactical advantage to the person who declares how many dice they roll last.  They know what everyone else is spending.  Is there a way to make that serve the goals of the design?

Then you don't have a dollar auction anymore no matter how you slice it.

So lets just say for the sake of argument that you are open to a different dynamic.  Here is one possibility.  Everyone in order declares the number of dice to put in.  Then you have a "fold" phase where you go in the same turn order from before.   On your turn in this phase, you can bail from the conflict entirely and take your dice back.  The kicker is that if the last person is left in the conflict alone, he can't bail and has to spend the dice and win.  Here are some examples:

BID PHASE
Eric: I want to keep control of Ben's Soul.  I put in 3 dice.
Shawn: I'm out.
Tony: I want a shot too.  3 dice.
Sydney: I really want that.  4 dice.

FOLD PHASE
Eric: I don't like my odds.  I fold.
Shawn: I'm already out.
Tony.  I fold too.
Sydney: I'm the only one left.  I have to spend my 4 dice while everyone else spends nothing, but I win.

Or...

BID PHASE
Shawn: I want to keep control of Lucian's secret.  3 dice.
Tony: There's no way I'm letting you keep that for free.  3 dice.
Sydney: It's worth a long shot.  2 dice.
Eric: Hmmm.  I put in 3 dice.

FOLD PHASE
Shawn: I'm in.
Tony.  I'm in.
Sydney: Too much competition for my piddly 2 dice.  I'm out.
Eric: I don't have to stay in, but I don't really want it that bad.  I'm out.
Shawn: Alright, Tony.  Roll 'em.

Or...

BID PHASE
Tony: I want Rachel's cuteness.  3 dice.
Sydney: You know what, you can have it.
Eric: I'm out.
Shawn: Me too.

FOLD PHASE
Tony.  I'm the only one in.  I win at the cost of 3 dice.

I don't know if this system will produce something good, but it does avoid a long cycle of bids....which I am not totally sure would happen anyway.  What I like about this is it allows someone to express an interest and then not follow through.  That seems very high school to me.
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