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Author Topic: [Dust Devils] First session a riot! w/questions  (Read 5093 times)
Hans
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Posts: 576


« on: June 02, 2006, 12:05:24 PM »

Hello:

My first session as Dealer of Dust Devils was a riot, and apparently a hit with the players.  Thanks a LOT to Eero for the advice he posted to me before, and much other advice others have posted here.  Looking back through other people's descriptions of their first sessions, I think I benefited tremendously from other peoples experience.  I'm pretty sure I was able to avoid many of the pitfalls others have hit in the game through wise counsel. 

I do have several questions however.  Please forgive me if they have been asked before; I did go back through other threads to see if I could find answers.

* Multiple people in the same conflict: Almost from the very start there were several conflicts in which multiple people (both players and/or characters) were involved.  I am still not certain how these should be dealth with, but I will state here how I dealt with them and let others tell me what I did wrong:

- Each person involved in the conflict got a hand of cards, and stated their goals in the conflict. 
- Once the Call had occurred, I organized the hands, as best I could, into a hierarchy of opposition.  That is, I figured as best I could who was opposing whom in the conflict, and matched those hands up.  As an example; there is a conflict involving the Mayor, Mr. Compton the Schoolteacher, and Maddie the Soiled Dove.  As their goal in the conflict they have the following:  The Mayor wants Maddie to go back to the Parlour House and stop making such a big scene.  Maddie wants the Mayor to submit to her whims.  The Schoolteacher wants to make the Mayor look bad in the eyes of the other people in the restaurant.  After the hands are drawn, I interpret that both the goals of the Schoolteacher and Maddie aren't conflicting with each other; they can easily both get their way.  It is really a two on one situation, so both of their hands are matched up against the Mayor's, with the possiblity that one or both could win/lose apart from each other.  Note that the Mayor's goal doesn't DIRECTLY conflict with the Schoolteacher's, but I still ruled that they were in conflict because the Mayor wouldn't want the Schoolteacher to succeed.
- HOWEVER, only one person (the person with the highest card) will narrate the overall resolution of ALL the intertwined conflicts.
- Only people who are directly opposing each other can cause difficulty to each other.  So, the Schoolteach cannot cause difficulty to Maddie and vice versa, but both can cause difficulty to the Mayor, and the Mayor could cause difficulty to them.

I can see how, in the above example, I could have played it as two separate conflicts (Mayor vs. Schoolteacher, Mayor vs. Maddie), but that seemed to be an unecessary slow down to the game.  This is only one example...I would say the number of conflicts in the game that involved more than just two people was more than half. 

* I found that in many of the conflicts, people seemed to have a LOT of cards.  In a fight between two characters, near the end, each character would routinely have 8-10 cards, with knack draws of 3-4.  We hit at least two flushes during the night (WOW, what a deadly hand), and I hit, as the dealer, four Aces TWICE!  Is this normal in other player's experience?

Some other points:

One thing that seemed to work very well for us last night was that when a person had narration rights, that person would often still give other players a chance to contribute stuff, especially dialogue.  For example, Maddie's player has lost her conflict to kill Father Donny with her derringer, and I have narration rights.  I describe Maddie as whipping out the derringer, pointing it at Donny, and then say "And, just before she wildly opens fire, she says..." and point to Maddie's player to supply the dialogue.  In one other situation, somebody said during the course of dealing the cards something like "Wow, do I have an idea for how my character could lose this".  When the Call came, and that player's character did lose, but that player did not get narration rights, the person who did asked "You said you had an idea, tell me what it was..." and ended up going with it, because it was frankly brilliant.

I am still astonished at how we started essentially with no real obvious direction to go in the game, and yet, four hours later, we had achieved a marvellously tragic, violent end to three out of the four PC's.  It is fascinating how the story just builds up, not by design, like a house, but by accretion, like a coral reef.  I will say that one big difference though between this game and Capes or PTA is that the somewhat greater authority of the Dealer does help in this process of accretion, primarily by maintaining coherency in the narrative.  Much as I like "gmless" games, Dust Devils reminded me that there are advantages to having at least some concentration of authority. 

Adding to that, as the Dealer, I found the game a unique and very rewarding experience.  It was really quite different from other experiences I have had.  One thing was that I found it very freeing to be able to just ASK the players things; "Erik, Katrina's crying in the Kitchen, do you want the schoolteacher to hear her, or would you rather he didn't?"  However, I still have the capability to NOT ask as well, and bust out something surprising or really challenging if the spirit moves me.  Of course, it helps that the players seemed to really grasp the idea of the game very rapidly, and started driving towards resolution very early on.

Anyway...Matt, my hat is off to you.  A fine game you have here.  I'm already trying to schedule another session.

Hans
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #1 on: June 03, 2006, 03:50:59 AM »

* Multiple people in the same conflict: Almost from the very start there were several conflicts in which multiple people (both players and/or characters) were involved.  I am still not certain how these should be dealth with, but I will state here how I dealt with them and let others tell me what I did wrong:

Deciding who go into conflict together is a fine art! The basic rule is that almost everybody and their cat can be in the same conflict in Dust Devils - I myself spent last winter experimenting with Spione-like "flashpoint" technique, where no matter what, all players would always participate in every conflict. The other way to go is to be very realistic and matter-of-fact about it, only bringing people into the same conflict if they have opposed interests.

However, I think that DD sings the best when you keep a balance between these extremes, because the game has a very particular theme going with violence. Consider:
- Every conflict in DD is, by definition, violent in some manner. Therefore conflict will only occur when characters are ready and willing to act violently. This is purposeful, and very much the soul of the system, even more so than the popular Devil mechanics.
- The narration rules allow for the narrator to decide whether the "loser" of the conflict still succeeds in what he's trying to achieve.
What does this mean? It means that, in DD, you don't determine the need for conflict based on the facts of the case. Characters can end up in conflict even when they could both get what they want without violence. Conflict can be a mistake from the character viewpoint! This is a very bittersweet effect at the core of the system. And it's also the key to my recommendation on when and who should conflict: whenever a player is willing to get into a conflict, let him, regardless of whether he could maybe, potentially, get his way without.

Implementing this for multiplayer conflicts, I generally draw everybody who could conseivably interact with each other into the same conflict. Going around the table, I ask everybody who has characters in the scene if they have any goals they want to achieve, and most of the time they do, and get into the conflict. I'd say 85% of the conflicts in my table have multiple participants, often with several NPCs. The scope of "conflict" in my table is, thus, the whole scene.

If you want to get really radical, you could even have "conflicts" where the single draw determines results for several concurrent scenes; what this means is that the authority over a non-related scene goes to a player in one of the scenes, and the other scene is in his hands to narrate however he wants. This is either interesting or stupid, depending on your viewpoint, so I don't recommend the "flashpoint technique" to anybody and everybody.

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- Once the Call had occurred, I organized the hands, as best I could, into a hierarchy of opposition.  That is, I figured as best I could who was opposing whom in the conflict, and matched those hands up.  As an example; there is a conflict involving the Mayor, Mr. Compton the Schoolteacher, and Maddie the Soiled Dove.  As their goal in the conflict they have the following:  The Mayor wants Maddie to go back to the Parlour House and stop making such a big scene.  Maddie wants the Mayor to submit to her whims.  The Schoolteacher wants to make the Mayor look bad in the eyes of the other people in the restaurant.  After the hands are drawn, I interpret that both the goals of the Schoolteacher and Maddie aren't conflicting with each other; they can easily both get their way.  It is really a two on one situation, so both of their hands are matched up against the Mayor's, with the possiblity that one or both could win/lose apart from each other.  Note that the Mayor's goal doesn't DIRECTLY conflict with the Schoolteacher's, but I still ruled that they were in conflict because the Mayor wouldn't want the Schoolteacher to succeed.

I don't do this organization, at all. It's up to the narrator and narrator only to decide who damages whom (although nobody wants to damage character intent in practice, so they never narrate any stupid "you hurt your friend" scenes). I think this is an important balancing factor in the system on the black-belt level, because what it means is that the narrator has more power when there's more participants in the conflict; this is important, because frankly, winning the conflict is more important in a one-on-one conflict. Also, the probability of aces and especially the ace of spades being in the draw is greater in a multiple-player conflict, so the narrator is actually pretty deterministically chosen from the player viewpoint, when they see their hands.

The above systems among others are all dependant on the narrator having the power to narrate the success and failure of third parties in the conflict, as well as any damages. He decided who ultimately opposes whom in the heat of battle. In the case of your example, for instance, it's probable that whoever the narrator ended up being would make the decision you made, but he could decide otherwise; for example, if Maddie won and the mayor narrated, he could well decide to go through an extended dialogue with the teacher, resulting in the latter turning against Maddie after all. At the least, who gets to narrate would decide whether the mayor is hit by two hands, or only one.

Well, I don't think doing it your way hurts anything at this point, except that it gives the Dealer authority that does not properly belong to him. Dust Devils is a rare rpg in that it has a genuinely "powerless" GM, with little in the way of organizatory and interpretative authority. You overstep that philosophy by barging into the conflict and deciding who can damage whom on your own, but if that works for your group, then it's probably good.

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I can see how, in the above example, I could have played it as two separate conflicts (Mayor vs. Schoolteacher, Mayor vs. Maddie), but that seemed to be an unecessary slow down to the game.  This is only one example...I would say the number of conflicts in the game that involved more than just two people was more than half. 

That's as it should be. The more the merrier, the varying number of parties in conflicts is an important pacing mechanic: if there's, say, five parties in a conflict, that all but ensures that the narrator will have the means to shoot any particular enemies of his full of holes! I don't recommend splitting into smaller conflicts if conflicts are connected by both time and place; if it happens in the same room at the same time, then it's part of the same conflict, I say.

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* I found that in many of the conflicts, people seemed to have a LOT of cards.  In a fight between two characters, near the end, each character would routinely have 8-10 cards, with knack draws of 3-4.  We hit at least two flushes during the night (WOW, what a deadly hand), and I hit, as the dealer, four Aces TWICE!  Is this normal in other player's experience?

Quite normal, even near then end of a one-shot. Playing a longer game, though, means that the players will preserve their characters more carefully, resulting in smaller hand sizes overall at that point.

Flushes are a killer, allright. What I like to do with them is to threaten other players with my flush, and see them pay for the privilege of escaping. Especially fun if you don't actually have the flush.

Quote
One thing that seemed to work very well for us last night was that when a person had narration rights, that person would often still give other players a chance to contribute stuff, especially dialogue.  For example, Maddie's player has lost her conflict to kill Father Donny with her derringer, and I have narration rights.  I describe Maddie as whipping out the derringer, pointing it at Donny, and then say "And, just before she wildly opens fire, she says..." and point to Maddie's player to supply the dialogue.  In one other situation, somebody said during the course of dealing the cards something like "Wow, do I have an idea for how my character could lose this".  When the Call came, and that player's character did lose, but that player did not get narration rights, the person who did asked "You said you had an idea, tell me what it was..." and ended up going with it, because it was frankly brilliant.

Yes! That's how it should be done!
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Hans
Member

Posts: 576


« Reply #2 on: June 05, 2006, 05:38:32 AM »

- Every conflict in DD is, by definition, violent in some manner. Therefore conflict will only occur when characters are ready and willing to act violently. This is purposeful, and very much the soul of the system, even more so than the popular Devil mechanics.
This is a good thing to remember.  We got into a few conflicts that, frankly, we SHOULDN'T have.  They were simply not important enought to warrant the possible difficulty that would result from them.  I think this was based on my coming off of PTA, where a conflict finishes almost every scene, but of course, in PTA, nothing really bad happens if you FAIL in a conflict, unlike Dust Devils.

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Well, I don't think doing it your way hurts anything at this point, except that it gives the Dealer authority that does not properly belong to him. Dust Devils is a rare rpg in that it has a genuinely "powerless" GM, with little in the way of organizatory and interpretative authority. You overstep that philosophy by barging into the conflict and deciding who can damage whom on your own, but if that works for your group, then it's probably good.

I don't think any of us ever really thought about who determines difficulty...that's interesting.  What you are saying is that if I have narration rights, and there are multiple people in the conflict, I could conceivably have a winning hand deal difficulty to someone who was not directly opposed to the person with that hand?  In theory, I think this sounds interesting, but in practice I think I would want to have some guidelines to cover it.   In our game, I don't think it ever made much difference, as while we had sometimes had a lot of people in a conflict, it was usually pretty clear to everyone at the table who should feel the pain.  This issue of multiple person conflicts seems like territory ripe for some extra text in the 2nd edition of the rules.   However, I get what your saying, which is that regardless, it is the Narrator, not the dealer, who should resolve ALL issues associated with the outcome of the conflict.  The Narrator really is the "GM" for that moment.  Makes sense.

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The more the merrier, the varying number of parties in conflicts is an important pacing mechanic: if there's, say, five parties in a conflict, that all but ensures that the narrator will have the means to shoot any particular enemies of his full of holes! I don't recommend splitting into smaller conflicts if conflicts are connected by both time and place; if it happens in the same room at the same time, then it's part of the same conflict, I say.

It sounds like what your saying is that, if there are 5 people in a conflict (and thus 5 hands), four of those hands should definitely deal difficulty.  In fact, conceivably all five, according to the "narrator can have losing hands deal difficulty" bit in the rules.  Thats a lot of difficulty flying around. 

It brings up another question though...my assumption is that while the Narrator has the rights to resolve conflicts, it is the Dealer who has the authority to organize conflicts and determine their participants.  That is, if there are five people in the scene, it is the Dealer who decides whether there are going to be several separate conflicts (one on one, two on one, two on two, etc.) or one monster conflict that resolves everything.  Is this true?  Or am I giving the Dealer too much power?

I have pragmatic concerns with the idea of two or more hands dealing difficulty to one charcter in the same conflict, simply because it could mean a premature end to a character.  One conflict 10 minutes into the game session and you could have a character moments away from leaving the game.  While it might be dramatic, having your character out of the game 15 minutes into a 4 hour game session doesn't really classify as fun. 

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Flushes are a killer, allright. What I like to do with them is to threaten other players with my flush, and see them pay for the privilege of escaping. Especially fun if you don't actually have the flush.

I assume what you mean here is "table talk" and a really bad poker face on your part, as in things like "Are you sure you don't want to fold?  Really?  These five clubs I have in my hand here are telling you you ought to fold, I think."
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Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #3 on: June 05, 2006, 07:18:24 AM »

- Every conflict in DD is, by definition, violent in some manner. Therefore conflict will only occur when characters are ready and willing to act violently. This is purposeful, and very much the soul of the system, even more so than the popular Devil mechanics.
This is a good thing to remember.  We got into a few conflicts that, frankly, we SHOULDN'T have.  They were simply not important enought to warrant the possible difficulty that would result from them.  I think this was based on my coming off of PTA, where a conflict finishes almost every scene, but of course, in PTA, nothing really bad happens if you FAIL in a conflict, unlike Dust Devils.

You can consider this the other way around, too, as a player: if you take your character into a conflict about what to buy your mother for her birthday, then you're saying that your character is willing to hurt somebody to get his way on this. Note that this decision is up to the player and player only, not the dealer or a common group concensus. The player decides which things are important enough to warrant conflict for his character.

Consequently, you will sometimes have situations where players refuse to go into conflict. This is a good thing, because such a player has realized that the DD conflict is ultimately a losing proposition, and the only reason ever to go to conflict is because you don't want to accept the consequences of declining in the fiction. A character that is shot dead, say, outside conflict, is no more mechanically hampered than any other character! Likewise, a character that got a good talking-to from his mother, and consequently dropped to zero in one of his abilities, certainly is hampered. As you can see, conflict or no conflict has nothing to do with supposed in-game seriousness of the situation, and everything to do with player willingness to risk the character on the issue at hand.

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I don't think any of us ever really thought about who determines difficulty...that's interesting.  What you are saying is that if I have narration rights, and there are multiple people in the conflict, I could conceivably have a winning hand deal difficulty to someone who was not directly opposed to the person with that hand?  In theory, I think this sounds interesting, but in practice I think I would want to have some guidelines to cover it.   In our game, I don't think it ever made much difference, as while we had sometimes had a lot of people in a conflict, it was usually pretty clear to everyone at the table who should feel the pain.  This issue of multiple person conflicts seems like territory ripe for some extra text in the 2nd edition of the rules.   However, I get what your saying, which is that regardless, it is the Narrator, not the dealer, who should resolve ALL issues associated with the outcome of the conflict.  The Narrator really is the "GM" for that moment.  Makes sense.

The rules of damage in my games are as follows:
- The winning hand has to deal damage.
- Any other hand may deal damage if the narrator wishes.
- A hand may deal it's damage to multiple targets, but every target has to be a participant in the conflict. Whether the damage is split or multiplied among the targets depends on the narration.
- The narrator decides where the damage goes, but has to justify it with narration. He could even narrate a character hurting himself, although I don't think I've ever seen that happen.
In practice you never get damage where it "shouldn't" go (in an aesthetic sense) in this system. On the other hand, narrators routinely shield their own characters from damage, and that's as it should be; it's that much more of a statement when they do decide to take damage to their own character.

And of course it's clear to the players who should feel the pain. But is it clear how much pain is delivered? The difference between "it's just a scratch" and lying bleeding on the ground in DD is often only whether or not you got the narration rights. The same narration about a gang of desperadoes gunning your character down might be absolutely devastating or mechanically inconsequential, depending on how you decide to direct the damage. This is an excellent means of controlling the pace of the game.

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It sounds like what your saying is that, if there are 5 people in a conflict (and thus 5 hands), four of those hands should definitely deal difficulty.  In fact, conceivably all five, according to the "narrator can have losing hands deal difficulty" bit in the rules.  Thats a lot of difficulty flying around. 

Well, in practice it really is up to the narrator. If the narrator decides that only the winning hand deals damage, that's good. If he decides that not only everybody does damage, but it just so happens that none of it happens to his character, then that's good, too. In an average 5 party conflict (say, 3 players and two NPCs) I usually see 3-4 hands dealing damage and one not, usually because the narrator didn't happen to have an inspiration for effectual use of the said damage. I know it's difficult to believe, but players do really respect the fiction; damage is only ever dealt when it makes sense.

It's really rare to have a multi-party conflict wherein all damage is focused upon one character, though. I only ever see those when the fiction is so focused (like several gunmen attacking a lonely one); in all other situations the narrators split the damage around in all kinds of ways, giving everybody a little bit, respecting the intentions of the characters. This is not the least because in reality players have a great degree of empathy for the characters of other players; they will screw them if it benefits their own vision of the game, but otherwise they'll try to get by with minimal damage to everybody.

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It brings up another question though...my assumption is that while the Narrator has the rights to resolve conflicts, it is the Dealer who has the authority to organize conflicts and determine their participants.  That is, if there are five people in the scene, it is the Dealer who decides whether there are going to be several separate conflicts (one on one, two on one, two on two, etc.) or one monster conflict that resolves everything.  Is this true?  Or am I giving the Dealer too much power?

Yeah, the dealer formulates the conflict. I usually do it by going around the table asking "goal?" from every player. If somebody has a goal that doesn't fit into the same conflict in my opinion, I tell him that we'll split him into another one. Then at the end of the round (assuming no-one wants to revise) I have 1-2, sometimes more, conflicts, which can then be played. I usually deal the simultaneous conflicts simultaneously, too, to keep players busy.

As to how I choose who conflicts with whom: pure evaluation of the fiction. Especially I don't consider mechanics at that point in any manner, just character intent and ability to compete with the other characters in meaningful manner. So I never do stuff like protect weak players or something like that; they have all the means of protection they need from the escape mechanics and the ability to refuse the conflict in the first place.

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I have pragmatic concerns with the idea of two or more hands dealing difficulty to one charcter in the same conflict, simply because it could mean a premature end to a character.  One conflict 10 minutes into the game session and you could have a character moments away from leaving the game.  While it might be dramatic, having your character out of the game 15 minutes into a 4 hour game session doesn't really classify as fun. 

The topic of harm is the single most complex one in DD. Here's a short overview of the associated issues:

Premature character ending is a great worry for new DD dealers, but interestingly enough, I've never seen it happen. The reason is that DD has a very sophisticated character arc that surfaces as an emergent effect of the harm rules. Consider:
- Players have great leeway in distributing damage to their characters. Thus they hit zero when they want to, most of the time.
- Players can choose when their characters get into conflict.
- Players can choose how much to focus on healing. This is true both in the healing-conflict rules and my own system of spending chips to heal.
What this means in practice is that the "number of abilities at zero" is a powerful dramatic clock influenced by the player to a great extent. Here's how I tend to think of it:
One ability at zero: The player has the option of ending his character whenever he wants to. He's still good to go, however.
Two abilities at zero: The player should have an idea of what's really important to his character at this point, because he can't get into meaningless conflicts anymore.
Three abilities at zero: The next conflict will be his last, so choose it well.

(An issue related to the dramatic clock: when a character is zeroed in an ability in my game, the narrator gets an "extra fact", like in Sorcerer or TMW; he gets to narrate how, exactly, hitting zero permanently changed the suffering character. Perennial favourites are getting blinded (Eye), getting crippled (Hand) and getting religion (Eye or Heart)...)

I should discuss appointing damage a bit, because there's several variant readings of the rules on this point: the target of the damage chooses which abilities suffer the damage. Can you assign damage to an already zeroed ability? My judgement is that you can't, but you can put more damage to an ability than you have points. What this means in practice: players will try to avoid zeroing abilities, but when they have to, they put all the damage into the one ability. In other words, if you go to zero on one ability, you don't take any more damage from that particular hand. Thus you're very unlikely to zero in several abilities in one conflict! Zeroing is a peak effect that plateaus damage and allows players a finer control.

A couple of words on choosing your own conflicts: I can never stress this enough, but Dust Devils is a harsh, adult game in this regard: if you're so fucking stupid that you go into meaningless conflicts, if you're SO fucking stupid that you don't lay down a bad hand when you do go into conflict, then you deserve to get your character shot full of holes. That's what the deck thinks when you grab it to deal. I find that all players who complain about the lethality of the game are still living in some kind of herd mode fostered by overprotective GMing, expecting the GM to save them from their own mistakes. My advice? Never go into a conflict just because the player next to you did. Never go into conflict just because the GM asks you to. Always fold with a bad hand. Always fold if you suspect your opponent has a good hand. This is an enormously important issue concerning the claimed "lethality" of Dust Devils, because the system is in fact not lethal at all if you respect it; you can resolve every conflict without resorting to cards via negotiation or submission, you have no reason to risk your mechanical resources ever, unless you care about the stakes of the conflict enough to try even when desperate. That's the job of the dealer, by the way: narrate situations the player care enough about to go to conflict over.

A couple of words on healing: just like taking damage, healing damage is an important point when considering the lethality of Dust Devils. My take? The healing rules in the book are much too strong, it's much too easy to heal. So that's what I think of the purported lethality of the game, I nerf the healing rules so characters can't just jump right up from messing up a conflict. Still, healing is an important pacing element in the game, so here's how I do it: a player can always heal his character one point by paying one chip, but only by spending his "turn" (insofar as the dealer frames scenes in turn to everybody) in healing. Also, I don't allow healing zeroed abilities: the only way a zeroed ability heals up at my table is by surviving to the end of the session, at which point all abilities heal up to norm, except zeroed ones, which only heal by one point. So that's my healing rules.

In summation: the above methods of embracing the dramatic clock, of dumping damage into a zeroing stat, of being smart and serious in your choice of conflict, of healing your character when you can; they work together with the in-built tendency of players to be fair in splitting up harm, and result in the tense, hard-ball Dust Devils gaming I love, where players can really put their conviction onto line by risking it all in one hand of high-stakes poker. I've never had premature character death by this method: to the contrary, every death has always happened at exactly the right moment. Of course this is because the players understand and accept the rules, and thus can see the character's death a mile off. And because they always choose their conflicts, they're ultimately the judges of when it's time for the character to go. A player can cruise a full session with nill narration power by always accepting everything other characters decide to inflict; his character might fight in the narration, but the player just declines to get into conflict. A player in that mode is roughly the equivalent of a Moon player in Polaris, except this one has teeth; when the other players find his button, he opts for that one final conflict!

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Flushes are a killer, allright. What I like to do with them is to threaten other players with my flush, and see them pay for the privilege of escaping. Especially fun if you don't actually have the flush.

I assume what you mean here is "table talk" and a really bad poker face on your part, as in things like "Are you sure you don't want to fold?  Really?  These five clubs I have in my hand here are telling you you ought to fold, I think."

Yep. Unlike poker, in Dust Devils you have plenty of reason to try to get your opponent to outright fold in some situations. In others, you want him to buy in as much as he can, of course.
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Hans
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« Reply #4 on: June 05, 2006, 11:43:39 AM »

Even more good advice from the Guru of the North!  Thank you, Eero.  I'm going to process all this and take it to heart for the next session.

One thing that I will stress to the next group of players I do this with is this idea of damaging conflict when YOU want it.  It is very different from other games many people I play with have played, and is worth making explicit to them.  You don't get into conflict just because your character is doing something that would normally be damaging (a fistfight) and you don't get into conflict just because you and someone else disagree over what should happen next (I want the mayor to be embarrased, you don't).  You get into conflict when you disagree about the story AND you are either willing to hurt someone, or take the hurt, to make it so.

However, there is a bit of dichotomy on the board here regarding advice to new Dust Devil players.  One stream of advice seems to say push hard to have conflicts happening all the time, but another seems to embody the above advice.  I suspect it is one of those things that only SEEMS paradoxical, until you have actually gotten into the groove and felt the zen balance of the thing in practice.

Student: How often should I try to have conflicts as a Dealer in Dust Devils, Master?
Zen Dust Devils Master: Mu.
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Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #5 on: June 05, 2006, 05:37:40 PM »

Even more good advice from the Guru of the North!  Thank you, Eero.  I'm going to process all this and take it to heart for the next session.

I'm blushing. At this point in the game I can say with some degree of confidence that DD ranks as one of my favourite indie games of all, definitely in the top three. Explains why I need little provocation to write about it.

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However, there is a bit of dichotomy on the board here regarding advice to new Dust Devil players.  One stream of advice seems to say push hard to have conflicts happening all the time, but another seems to embody the above advice.  I suspect it is one of those things that only SEEMS paradoxical, until you have actually gotten into the groove and felt the zen balance of the thing in practice.

Indeed! That's a good point, and I agree about there being different types of advice. Let me characterize:

In early stakes-based conflict resolution games that Dust Devils embodies there's this simple "beat", like a rhythm, to the game. The beat consists of a setup -> conflict -> narration -> setup cycle. This is a common feature of such dissimilar games as Dust Devils, My Life with Master and InSpectres. (Later on we have two schools of games derived from these ideas: strongly formalistic narration games like Under the Bed, and looser frames like Fastlane or TSOY.) When you read material from three or four years ago you can see us (well, I didn't post at the Forge then) all struggling with it, especially the "new" guys discovering the formalistic-narrativistic type of gaming for the first time.

The above is significant, because the advice of "get to the conflict, frame direct to action, skip to the interesting stuff" is very much a pedagogical rule of thumb that helps the GM (and by extension, players) to find the beat. You're given advice to go for the jugular because historically, that's not what the GM does! So you're given advice that emphasizes the very skills that you lack; you don't get the beat, so you're adviced to use a metronome.

Now, that advice is common to all of these formalistic conflict resolution games, because that's what they traditionally do: you set up dynamic characters, drive them into untenable situation, and the conflict resolution system ensures that fun happens. All is well and good. This is general advice, and it works just as well for Sorcerer, Heroquest, Trollbabe, Orx, Fastlane, With Great Power, Capes, PTA, TSOY and any number of other games.

However, I advice care in Dust Devils conflict. Why? If you read my exhortion against going into conflict foolishly, you'll note that I'm talking to the player. Everything about driving the game towards conflict is true, and the dealer should do it. But that does not mean that the player should take up the conflict! Furthermore, the advice about driving towards conflict is just that, driving towards, not forcing it. The DD system is quite intentionally such as to make it a stark necessity to differentiate between a conflict situation and a mechanical conflict. It also, unlike many other games of it's ilk, explicitly leaves the choice of conflict for the player. That is intentional, and the game breaks down horribly if you force a player to conflict against his will. (Compare to, say, TSOY or PTA, which both leave the authority for calling conflict to the GM.) Indeed, nowadays I often say that there's actually two conflict mechanics in DD; the Deal and the Talk. The dealer drives the game towards conflict, perhaps tries to get the players to pick up the cards. But the choice is theirs, and if they manage to resolve the conflict without picking up the gun, more power to them!

Thus, my answer to the seeming paradox: "conflict" as used in that advice does not mean that you should have many Deals, it means you should have many situations that might turn into Deals. Whether or not they do, it's all good. Consequently, the dealer drives the players into difficult situations, and the players make serious, artistic commitments to Deals as they wish on the way. They pay a heavy price for the power they wield through the Deal!
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