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Author Topic: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran  (Read 36431 times)
Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #15 on: September 05, 2006, 11:44:32 AM »

Jason and Tim:

I'm glad this discussion's happening! I'm not going to go blow by blow into last night's game, but I'll talk about specific things in it. I would say "slightly less rocking" is an understatement; I found it not so fun.

The biggest and hairiest problem, and one I want Tim's input on is this: how do you resolve two characters achieving their destinies (getting an influence to 100) and their destinies are in conflict with each other? In our example, Remi wanted his character to carry on the lineage of Uran, becoming the king and having a child. Jason wanted his character to convert the Uranian hordes. These two don't match up, although we made them do so. Jason achieved his destiny first, but only because I chose as GM to have a scene with him first. It could have been the other way just as easily.

Character conflict in general is a little crazy in this game, and I wonder if you did not intend for PCs to be in constant conflict with each other. I feel like the game would run smoother without that conflict, but that's my group, and so I don't know what to do.

The second problem does involve the whole gods and magic thing, and that has little to do with the game, and much more to do with our group. You have a good setting for the type of game Hero's Banner is supposed to do, and that setting got heavily drifted. I blame myself: as a milquetoast of a GM, I let the game fly off into mythic vistas.

As for the breakdowns: we may need to look at them differently, but they do happen all the time. If I'm doing the math right, you have a 1 out of 10 chance of a breakdown in every passion check. That's a 30% chance if you do three passion checks. (Is that right? I believe that's additive, but correct me if I'm wrong.)

We did extrapolate one rule that I'd like a ruling on: if you roll and succeed, can you re-roll to steal narration from the GM? That's how we played it, but I'm not sure if that's correct. It doesn't seem to be a big problem, except it gives me even less to do.

Tim, you have a game that is very hard to GM. It is a very good game, but the GM's role is tough and can be frustrating. The GM has unlimited power, except when the players say no, in which case he has no real power. There were lots of places where I wanted the story to go elsewhere and I wanted to apply pressure to change it, and I have no mechanical pressure. This puts the GM directly in the entertainer role instead of the engaged player role, and it's not a very empowered entertainer role, but more of a "dance, monkey" role.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #16 on: September 05, 2006, 11:53:11 AM »

As a quick, unrelated in some ways follow-up: I would suggest to others to use a 20-sided die in this game. It may seem like it doesn't make a difference, but the math is too disruptive to play and this would ease it. We aren't using these rules, but the rules would be:

* Your influences start at 7, 7, and 6.
* Your influences must always equal 20, and your highest and lowest much equal your passion, which starts at 1 and goes to 20.
* When you re-roll, add 1 passion for each 2 points, instead of one passion check for each 10 points that you up the influence temporarily by.
* You still roll a die for your passion checks, but you only roll it to find out if there's a breakdown. If you roll equal to or less than the passion you increased (so, normally, 1-3 on a d20), you breakdown.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #17 on: September 05, 2006, 12:05:16 PM »

That said, you can of course always control your charact's destiny, failure or not, after a passion check by manipulating influence ratings. This is really on purpose. While you may not always get to control the events around your character, you can always control the way those events affect your character in every way the matters to him.

OK, actual example.  I had some fairly minor conflict (which I failed) and was faced with the choice of a passion check, which didn't make much sense since I was teetering at the brink anyway.  My very next conflict was make-or-break important, but I hadn't made that check (which might have sent me out of the game) and couldn't change my passions around, and my character subsequently got clotheslined again.  I could have forced a success by insisting on narrating in his 98%, which seemed cheap and uninspired since Clinton and Remi had quite correctly been working hard to make the conflict about something else. 
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Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #18 on: September 05, 2006, 12:36:41 PM »

Clinton,

You've cited a few problems that definitely need addressing. I can see how they left you wanting; so let me address them one at a time.

First, the easy one. If a player initially rolls a success, then he is stuck with that result. He cannot invoke his passion. He cannot usurp narration rights from the GM. Only through failure can passion come into play. That's why I said that failure is necessary for the game to work. On the other hand, I've found that many players initially want to work the game the way you suggest: they want to be able to take a passion check whenever they feel like it, whether for narration rights or otherwise. But that's just not correct. The idea is to (1) afford the GM some power in situations that are otherwise very player-driven and (2) establish failure as a driving force in the game -- even if those failures are fleeting via the passion re-roll mechanics.

On the frequency of breakdowns, your numbers seem correct. That does seem like a lot I suppose, but keeping in mind what I've already said about narrating breakdowns, also remember that breakdowns are impossible on initial successes and that if you're making less than three passion checks towards the end of an episode, breakdowns are less likely. If you're looking for a mechanical fix, then I might suggest disallowing breakdowns on the first of a series of passion checks. For example, if you're rolling three passion checks, only allow a breakdown to occur on the second or third passion check. Treat the first as a normal roll.

On your high magic setting, I need more detail. What went so terribly wrong here? How did you handle magic and how did you handle it in relationship to the PCs' influences? It sounds like you all had some personal issues getting in the way, but I'm not sure.

On PC conflict, suffice it to say that in all of my groups inter-party conflict was less than common -- hence, the brief treatment in the rules. Still, I wonder what problems you encountered. The PC vs PC rules are really just an extention of the normal task resolution rules that seem to work quite well against NPCs. In my experience, I don't think I had nearly the problems you seem to hint at. I suspect it has something to do with narration rights, but I'll wait for your prompting.

Then we get to narration rights during the endgame. I may need to take another look at Remi's and Jason's characters, but from your description is doesn't seem as if those goals are really in conflict. Carrying on a lineage in the literal sense doesn't mean that the kingdom won't fall or that the Uranian hordes won't be converted. There's lots of room for play there. On the other hand, situations can certainly arise wherein two entirely contradictory goals are obtained. For example, if one goal was to prevent an Uranian lineage and the other was to continue it, only by fudging one of the players' goals in spirit could you make it all work out. Instead, I'd offer up two suggestions.

First, there is of course a reason I suggest making characters together. If two players set up goals that they know contradict each other's, then at least they'll carry with them an awareness of the consequences of their choice throughout the game. The two players will also know that in all likelihood one of those goals will absolutely fail, standard mechanics be damned.

Second, if it absolutely comes down to a contradiction, I'd probably give the power to the GM. Assuming one character achieves a 100 point passion score before the other, it becomes a matter of first come, first serve. The second character will then be forced, when his passion tops 100, to either choose another non-contradictory goal to achieve, or else to come up with a way to narrate around the contradiction should he choose that path. I realize this undercuts the standard mechanics of free choice given to the players, but then again it's passion and death that finally affects what choice a character makes regardless if that death is his own or another's.

In your final point, you touched on the role of the GM in any given Hero's Banner game. Again, I think the rules are very strict on when the GM has narration power and when the players do. These rules are unmodifiable.

Also, the GM has absolute power to frame scenes as he sees fit. The players may suggest scenes and influences to invoke, but only the GM has final authority as to scene-framing. Typically, I've found the scene-framing power to be the most influential. If I as a GM want to exert pressure, I usually do it through the scene-framing power because I know that it's a power that the players cannot take away from me.

The GM also has substantial power to define stakes in a conflict via the pre-roll discussion.

And finally, I think there's something that even I overlooked when I first started GMing Hero's Banner -- and that's the player connections. While the player creates a connection, and that connection cannot be done away with until the player basically says so, it's the GM who get to play these connections knowing that the player has already agreed to treat this connection as special. Combine player connections with behind-the-scenes political maneuvering amongst the NPCs, link it all together with aggressive scene-framing, and I really have to disagree with you about the GM being a mere entertainer.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #19 on: September 05, 2006, 12:44:02 PM »

Then we get to narration rights during the endgame. I may need to take another look at Remi's and Jason's characters, but from your description is doesn't seem as if those goals are really in conflict. Carrying on a lineage in the literal sense doesn't mean that the kingdom won't fall or that the Uranian hordes won't be converted. There's lots of room for play there. On the other hand, situations can certainly arise wherein two entirely contradictory goals are obtained. For example, if one goal was to prevent an Uranian lineage and the other was to continue it, only by fudging one of the players' goals in spirit could you make it all work out.

Tim,

I should address your whole post in detail, but here's the deal: I just looked at the characters again, and you're right. The goal achieved was only "have a son," basically. But there's more than that: what if the player isn't satisfied? What if they get to this point, and the statement is, deconstructed, "I need this thing to have fun." Since we're all there to have fun, and it's a logical extension of the stated goal, it'd be awfully uncool of me to say, "Nope. The rules say you're stuck with the fact you've impregnated someone, but your country falls to the Church." In fact, I suggested that in the game, and was contradicted by the idea that that's not really carrying on the line, if Uran falls.

So maybe it's not Hero's Banner: it could be that I'm a crap GM and can't deal with this situation.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #20 on: September 05, 2006, 12:50:33 PM »

OK, actual example.  I had some fairly minor conflict (which I failed) and was faced with the choice of a passion check, which didn't make much sense since I was teetering at the brink anyway.  My very next conflict was make-or-break important, but I hadn't made that check (which might have sent me out of the game) and couldn't change my passions around, and my character subsequently got clotheslined again.  I could have forced a success by insisting on narrating in his 98%, which seemed cheap and uninspired since Clinton and Remi had quite correctly been working hard to make the conflict about something else. 

If I understand your example correctly, then I'd have to say that despite the apparent cloths-lining, it was always you the player who could have stepped in and made a series of passion checks to get the 30-point bonus and the re-roll. That is of course the crux of the game: "What are your really willing to stick your neck out for?" There's no guarantee that you would have succeeded, but regardless, when it came time to narrate and manipulate influences, you would then have the power to at least make your character's influence ratings reflect his feelings about the situation. That last bit of power is the important one in my mind because that's really what your character's destiny is all about no matter what the dice say. If all you were after was a success in the short-term, however, then the only way to go about that with certainty is to request a scene involving your strongest influence.
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Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #21 on: September 05, 2006, 01:00:56 PM »

But there's more than that: what if the player isn't satisfied? What if they get to this point, and the statement is, deconstructed, "I need this thing to have fun." Since we're all there to have fun, and it's a logical extension of the stated goal, it'd be awfully uncool of me to say, "Nope. The rules say you're stuck with the fact you've impregnated someone, but your country falls to the Church." In fact, I suggested that in the game, and was contradicted by the idea that that's not really carrying on the line, if Uran falls.

So maybe it's not Hero's Banner: it could be that I'm a crap GM and can't deal with this situation.

Ok, you're not a crap GM. If your players are saying to you, "Make it so or this whole game won't be any fun," then you're up against a wall.

More on point, my initial reaction is to say that, "Yep, Hero's Banner is just that harsh. So sorry, but tough toenails for you." After all, these choices that the players are faced with have consequences. Success at achieving a goal does not guarantee that the goal will happen all roses and happy endings. They don't call it grim fantasy for nothing. I mean your character is going to die -- most often with substantial regrets. Those regrets have to be about something.

Now, I don't suggest, as I've said, totally undercutting the spirit of a player's goal. That indeed would be no fun. Ultimately, Hero's Banner is harsh, but also necessarily collaborative. If players take on goals that could in the end contradict one another, then I suppose they also take on the responsibility of working together to make sure it all works out to each others satisfaction -- or else just deal with the harsh results and chalk it up to a "Life is unforgiving even for heroes" type of experience.
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #22 on: September 05, 2006, 01:09:32 PM »

Thanks for your replies, Tim.  And no, Clinton, you are not a crap GM, I promise.  But hey - so I should have made a passion check on a minor conflict ("Do we properly set up an ambush?") which would have allowed me to juggle my influences, at the risk of topping out of the game one scene prior to the big showdown.  Had I been written out one scene early, that would not have been fun.  I chose the other option, at least participating in the climactic scene, even though my crushing failure was pre-ordained.  Neither option was really satisfying, and it felt very deterministic as the disparity between influences grew extreme.  Maybe I'm bellyaching about playing the game we agreed to play.  It'll be interesting to refresh and start again next week with a subtler conflict and maybe some explicit attempts to not immediately go for each other's throats. 
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Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #23 on: September 05, 2006, 01:14:13 PM »

As a quick, unrelated in some ways follow-up: I would suggest to others to use a 20-sided die in this game. It may seem like it doesn't make a difference, but the math is too disruptive to play and this would ease it. [snip...]

Yikes. I can't help but think this has something to do with your thing for d20s, Clinton. (Anyone read Donjon?)

Ok, kidding aside, I actually played around with using different dice and rating totals in the early stages of development. In the end, I liked the flexibility and elegance of a percentile system. In my mind, it just seems to mean more when you have a percentage system. Plus, you don't have to worry about weird ratios of increase and decrease, with the added benefit of a nice steady upwards progression of scores that seems to last for just the right amount of actual play time.

That said, I do appreciate your suggestion about making breakdowns dependent on a progressive scale of passion increase for the current series of checks.
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Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #24 on: September 05, 2006, 01:19:35 PM »

But hey - so I should have made a passion check on a minor conflict ("Do we properly set up an ambush?") which would have allowed me to juggle my influences, at the risk of topping out of the game one scene prior to the big showdown.  Had I been written out one scene early, that would not have been fun.

I don't want to belabor this any more, Jason, as I can see your frustration coming through and I certainly don't want to add to it. Quickly though, how close to 100 passion points were you? In other words, could you have taken a re-roll at only a plus 10 and only one passion check without going over? You may not have succeeded, but at least you would have received narration rights and the opportunity to change your influence ratings around. Just a thought. You don't have to reply if you don't want to. Cheers, Jason, and I hope all goes well in your next session.
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #25 on: September 05, 2006, 02:09:53 PM »

It's OK, Tim.  I'm interested in Remi's thoughts.  We're making it sound worse than it was.
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Remi Treuer
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« Reply #26 on: September 06, 2006, 11:42:35 PM »

Hey, apologies for the long wait on this response. I didn't really know what I could add, but after some of reflection I realized a couple things:
1. I got gun-shy about really trying to add to the story after the whole God Lives Underwater thing. I think we straightened this out after the game, and I'm much clearer on what the expectations for the game are now, and excited about the possibilities of where this can lead.
2. I really should have been willing to give some ground on my final influence choice. I used Jason's lady love, Elysandre, pretty shabbily throughout the entire evening, and it wouldn't have been a stretch to switch to my 'Go to Rhyveic and usurp the noble house' influence at the very end. Especially considering my last action was a lusty embrace with Elysandre. I had just dug in my heels and lost all flexibility on the point, which I think led to a rather limp ending for both our characters, as neither of us was really willing to negotiate.
3. It occurs to me that I need to loosen my grip on the narrative framing for my character, just to give Clinton more chances to let the story breath at a pace where he can bring the awesome. Clinton, you're a damn good GM, and I completely trust you to run an excellent game. I think Jason and I just have to accept that you and you alone have the ability to frame the scenes instead of jumping in with 'I WANT TO DO THIS NOW.' I have a tendency to force this sort of thing, it's not always a healthy behavior, especially in a game like this where the GM has no mechanical recourse, and I will try to be more conscious of this in the future.
4. Jason, I can't speak to your losing streak and its relation to you staying in the game. I think it had more to do with social dynamic frustration and bad dice rolls than any inherent flaw in the system. We'll keep it more low-key and emo this week and see how it goes, now that we know how the system works.
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #27 on: September 07, 2006, 03:44:55 AM »

Yeah, I really wanted a positive relationship with Elysande and you guys were relentless about ruining her!  Again, strictly awesome, but I wanted to get back at you and didn't see any good hooks with your guy to do so.  Failure of imagination, I imagine.  I'm really looking forward to more cooperative play, and I'll be glad to remand scene framing authority to Clinton. 
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #28 on: September 07, 2006, 04:59:37 AM »

Remi,

Thanks for your comments! They were informative, and I wanted to wait for them before continuing.

Clinton, you're a damn good GM, and I completely trust you to run an excellent game.

Oh, I know. I'm not super-prone to hubris, but I have a great track record here, on file in this very forum. I said "maybe I'm a crap GM" as a rhetorical device, an absurd thing to say, so that I might disarm Tim's defensiveness.

Tim, you have a great game, but you need to not defend it so fiercely. Constructive criticism is good, and you know I love the game - I have personally sold many, many copies. I have a pointed question: how many groups without you as GM was this play-tested with?

Here's why it is a difficult game to GM (and it is a difficult game to GM): narrative power is based on chance of success. The game is structured almost exactly like Trollbabe, except in this feature. I'm going to explain Trollbabe's narrative structure to compare: the player rolls dice for success. If she succeeds, the GM narrates; if she fails, the player narrates. The player can choose to re-roll using some resources. Again, the chance of success is the same, and the narrative power is the same.

In Hero's Banner, the player rolls for success. Whether or not she succeeds or fails, the GM narrates. However, they can increase their chance of success and re-roll, and then gain narrative power also regardless of success or failure. The lack of control over the narrative by the GM in this case is the problem, coupled to the idea that failure will be highly likely in the first roll, and success will be probably more than likely in the second, almost assuring that the GM rarely has narrative power. In Trollbabe, the scope of success is determined by the GM. In Hero's Banner, it is only rarely determined by the GM, resulting in a game that is, in many ways, a story told by the whims of the players.

The clarification about being able to re-roll to "steal narration" will help with this, but I'm not sure it will completely eliminate it. The text should speak to the "stealing narration" problem, though: the fact that it doesn't say you can do it is not excuse for not explicitly stopping it. If it's a common misreading, which it seems like it is, then there should be text that speaks to it.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #29 on: September 07, 2006, 12:48:50 PM »

Hey guys. Didn't mean to be so combative. It's just so easy to hit overdrive when it comes to talking about my own game. Especially because it's the first thing I've released commercially. To be sure, though, I'm taking everything you're saying as constructive criticism and I thank you for it all. Hero's Banner isn't perfect. It certainly has limitations worth exploring.

Clinton, to answer your question, I play-tested the game with, hmmm... something less than ten groups. But even then there was a lot of crossover between the players from one group to another. Also, so much of my play-testing concentrated on modifying or even removing rules that didn't even make it into the final draft, that I don't think I had enough testing with the rules as they stand now as a whole. I think my biggest regret when it came to play-testing, though, was that I had almost no feedback from groups where I wasn't the GM. That was a big mistake. So I'm not really surprised that you're running into some friction with the game in the places where perhaps our GM styles/preferences differ.

The narration power is a perfect example. I'm actually glad you brought it up. I'm the sort of GM that is happy to let the players narrate the outcome of a conflict because I know that as GM I'm going to take a huge chunk of narrative leeway when it comes to playing NPCs and setting up scenes. I don't think I really formalized or emphasized this enough in the text.

As far as the power split goes, you're right in citing Trollbabe. The game was a tremendous influence. And not too long ago, I actually favored a system of narrative division in Hero's Banner that gave the GM rights when the player failed and the player rights when he succeeded. What I didn't like about that system, though, was the very binary feel it had. I want both the GM and the player to have an opportunity to narrate both successes and failures. I don't want either to feel pigeonholed. Hence, the current division. I realize that this takes away opportunity from the GM, but I haven't thought of any alternative that accomplishes what I want.

Sidenote: I just finished listening to your podcast, and I think that Remi's comment (I think it was Remi) about Hero's Banner being designed for a more collaborative group of PCs is probably right on the money. I most often GM groups with PCs in opposite kingdoms, and then add in crosses and common NPCs. Still, the issue of incompatible goals amongst the PCs is bothering me. I'd love to come up with a more elegant solution for the situation.

Anyway, you guys rock and I'm just glad you're having some sort of fun with the game. It means a lot to me, your posts and discussions.
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