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Author Topic: [Frostfolk, ] Carrying on  (Read 11797 times)
Levi Kornelsen
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Posts: 210


« on: September 21, 2006, 12:31:17 PM »

Note: This is a continuation of a conversation between Ron and myself.  If you'd like to look up the specific characters and situations, I'll be searching up a link and posting it in my next post in this thread.

----Creative Agenda

So, in our first discussion, we went over the play that my group has, and talked about Agenda.  During this conversation, Ron got to spend a lot of time telling me "It doesn't mean what you think it means", which was true.  Let me try and sum up my current opinion:

A group possesses an Agenda when it can be said that they are playing together for a common cause, to the extent that it is natural for certain positive parts of play to be somewhat reorganized.  When you can look at the game, and realize that many things that might be the *goal* in another game has become a *tool* for achieving the group play goals in this one, and that those play goals are actually shared by the group, you've got an Agenda.

That's kind of a clumsy summary of my thinking, but there it is.  It's about looking at the always-present parts of your game, game elements, theme, emulation, and so on, and being able to sort them into tools and goals - and knowing that your whole group sorts them about the same way, despite the basic fact that no group *need* sort them in that way.

Now, I still find the terms for specific Agendas a bit bothersome (I could happily make cases for Emulation and Immersion, among others, as group Agendas, but they might not be *Creative* Agendas as defined), but in our discussion, it became increasingly obvious that our group had, as our goals, an exploration of our characters and their internal issues - their personal "stuff", with the intent to resolve it - a process that naturally leads to story-creation.  This goal, combined with a fair lot of methodology, falls well within the bounds of Narrativism as defined.

So, Ron, that's how I see it.  If you'd like me to unpack that idea, or clarify some part of it, let me know.

-------And System

Our group made use of The Exchange as the heart of our system of play.  You can look it over, if you'd like, over here:

http://members.shaw.ca/LeviK/Exchange2.pdf

Now, we were just about to get into discussion on this system, and system in general, when GenCon and my current project intervened; that being the case, I'll turn this over to Ron here; I know he's got some stuff he'd like to use to pick this back up.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: September 21, 2006, 04:20:09 PM »

Hi Levi,

I'm liking the Exchange a lot! I've been wondering for some time whether thematic-RPG design could be expressed in generalist form and still be interesting. I can see kinships to Trollbabe, Sorcerer, Hero Wars, and Legends of Alyria. Now, whether you want to keep it generalist for purposes of further development, I don't know. It depends on your publishing plans.

Here are my goals for this exchange of posts. Starting with your understanding of Creative Agenda from the previous thread, and Narrativism in particular as what you and the gang were and probably are doing, I'd like to talk about the procedures of play. This is the "system does matter" part of my notions. The reason I'd like to continue is that CA is more than a motive or an attitude. It would be both easy and false to say, "Well, I want to play Narrativist [or whatever]," but make no reference to actually how this is carried out.

The first thread: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation, which is no longer aggravation, I hope. Your summary in your first post here looks fine to me.

What follows includes a lot of questions about resolution, but these are only for understanding on my part, mainly because I'd like to use the system for an upcoming game of my own. For purposes of the main discussion, though, I want to focus on the reward mechanics, including how they affect resolution (another reason to understand it), as the main topic.

One thing served as a bit of a blocker, in your response to my questions about Andjagger and the reward mechanics as applied so far. I'm going to ask you to try not to anticipate conclusions at this point in the discussion. I'm going to say stuff about reward systems that might be as off-the-screen as CA was earlier, and that becomes exponentially harder if I have to drag you back from "answer A + anticipated rebuttal to inferred point" to "answer A by itself" over and over.

Basic mechanics

I'm understanding resolution pretty well, I think. To paraphrase and check myself, the limit on trait use is the group's potential response of "weak," plus a kind of pyramid effect in that you can't use a higher-ranked trait earlier than a lower-ranked one (is that right?). I'm not seeing any limit based on using up traits, from conflict to conflict, and I assume that 's a feature, unless maybe it's built in in some way I'm not seeing.

Also, and again for purposes of paraphrasing-to-learn, there's no "give" option, right? One can't back out of a conflict in the middle, avoiding damage or whatever; once you're in, you're in.

Character development: with every goal or intuitive transition-point for a character, the player gets to apply any and all of the bulleted options, although each option may only be utilized once (at this point). A couple of pages later, you use the term "advance" which I think refers to a single option.

Am I doing OK on these?

Quick conceptual point: reward and resolution

In most games before the mid-1990s, character improvement was the main perceived reward. It occurred in units of one or more sessions (often more), and only between rather than during sessions. A number of house-rules, starting 'way back when, used the points of character-improvement as dice-modifiers, usually re-rolls or take-backs, although this didn't show up in game texts for a long time.

In other words, a reward mechanic limited to character improvement and only taking place between sessions (sometimes many sessions) wasn't enough to satisfy the needs of a reward system, in a lot of cases. People sometimes wanted a reward mechanic that affected how play itself was conducted. Later, interestingly, character improvement became an important part of play as well (I don't know what game was first; one mid-190s example is Morpheus, and a later one is Obsidian). At this late date, it seems to me that mechanics like Luck/Unluck in Champions or Good Stuff/Bad Stuff in Amber were kind of transitional between a D&D model and a (for example) Shadow of Yesterday one.

To put all this into a nutshell, one trend about reward mechanics is that they moved from fixed-effect, between-play, relatively rare events into constant, during-play, manipulable-effect events, and as such, highly integrated with specific moments of resolution. I'm not saying this trend started with bad and ended up with good. I'm saying that now, the whole spectrum is available to be tailored for a particular game.

The reason I'm going on and on about this is to break down any possible separation you might have in your mind about reward mechanics and resolution mechanics being separated. Sometimes I'm talking about this and someone says, "But that's not reward! It's resolution!" in a totally dichotomous way, and I have to point out that in this case, unlike most of the games the person is used to, the overall/larger concept of reward encompasses options in resolution for this particular game.

Does this seem like a good foundation for our discussion, to you?

Back to the game itself

What happened in that final session, or sessions if it took more than one?

I'm also interested to know whether the group continued to play more Frostfolk stories, after the whole cauldron/tribe-totem issue was concluded.

Considering the game-mechanics for each character is only about a paragraph long, I'm hoping you can list all four of them, two versions each - at the start of play, and at the end of the final session.

Your comments on Andjagger in the previous thread were a little vague for me to grasp. I think you said you focused heavily on improving the values of certain traits ... which were they? What I'd really like to know is how those improved traits were then actually utilized in later play ... you can see I'm aiming at the reward cycle, in which X means you can improve something, and Y is the new use of the improved thing that demonstrates the meaning of that choice.

And finally, how public or group-oriented was the character improvement process? Did the other players know about how you applied your advances, beforehand? Or did they note a difference in performance during play and comment on it, or did you comment on it to them at that time? And finally, as the more extreme alternative, did no one really notice or care about the changes in Andjagger? How about the other characters?

I'll hold off on my list of questions about the system for a bit, just to avoid barraging you. But I got'em!

Best, Ron
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Levi Kornelsen
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Posts: 210


« Reply #2 on: September 22, 2006, 09:37:21 AM »

I'm liking the Exchange a lot! I've been wondering for some time whether thematic-RPG design could be expressed in generalist form and still be interesting. I can see kinships to Trollbabe, Sorcerer, Hero Wars, and Legends of Alyria. Now, whether you want to keep it generalist for purposes of further development, I don't know. It depends on your publishing plans.

I'm not sure what I'll be doing with it as it is.  One variant of it, using cards instead of dice, will be the core of the next project on my shelf (The Pulse, which I wrote a playtest demo for here.).

Here are my goals for this exchange of posts. Starting with your understanding of Creative Agenda from the previous thread, and Narrativism in particular as what you and the gang were and probably are doing, I'd like to talk about the procedures of play. This is the "system does matter" part of my notions. The reason I'd like to continue is that CA is more than a motive or an attitude. It would be both easy and false to say, "Well, I want to play Narrativist [or whatever]," but make no reference to actually how this is carried out.

Sounds good, as does the stuff snipped.

Basic mechanics

So far as I can see, you've got it.

Quick conceptual point: reward and resolution

*Snip*

The reason I'm going on and on about this is to break down any possible separation you might have in your mind about reward mechanics and resolution mechanics being separated. Sometimes I'm talking about this and someone says, "But that's not reward! It's resolution!" in a totally dichotomous way, and I have to point out that in this case, unlike most of the games the person is used to, the overall/larger concept of reward encompasses options in resolution for this particular game.

Does this seem like a good foundation for our discussion, to you?

I can see some of the places you might be going with this, and I like 'em all.  So, yeah.

Back to the game itself

What happened in that final session, or sessions if it took more than one?

In the end, we discovered that our real enemies had arrived at the gates of Death, and were attempting to corrupt and break open the seals to the gates.  We tracked them there, to discover that our final enemy was a powerful spirit of Spring, which had been altered out of true by being bound to the previous shaman of the tribe; the spirit was attempting to bring life back to the dead en masse, as a perversion of it's original purpose.

Andjagger and the Crone, in the end, sacrificed Andjagger on one of the seals in the middle of a desperate fight, while Son and Tavelhanda kept the spirit pinned down (they were originally attempting to trap it, but this didn't work out at all).  This "supercharged" the seals and drove the spirit away from the area permanently.

There was a whole host of interpersonal back-and-forth for the characters in that last game as well - Son came out as more clearly the tribal leader, even though he was a little unsteady in the role.  The Crone and Andjagger sorted things out well enough that sacrificing him seemed natural and conclusive.  Tavelhanda came into her own more as a kind of inherently magical crafter (like the Govaan Saor of Celtic myth, which I'm certain I've mangled the spelling of horribly).

At the end of the game, it was clear that Andjagger's story was done.  Son and Tavelhanda still had a lot more they could do - there's plenty of stuff there for them, in the sense of rebuilding the tribal community; their feeling was in many ways that their story had only just firmly started.

The Crone's player, Kim, didn't really come to any resolution for her character and didn't want to, in the context we'd set up.  She felt as if she had been playing a side character - the mentor, the wise old one; she felt like she had been backup for the other characters, rather than in a story specifically about her.  Now, she was pleased by that, since it was something she'd never done before without feeling left out, and she got some very good play out of it, but did state that she'd like to play the character again in a different setup - to see what the character would be like in a scenario that addressed her character as she saw it more clearly.

I'm also interested to know whether the group continued to play more Frostfolk stories, after the whole cauldron/tribe-totem issue was concluded.

We're planning to, but at the moment, I've grabbed that time slot for playtest of another game I'm working on with a team (The Cog Wars), trying to find and iron out any last bugs before release.  So, not yet.

Considering the game-mechanics for each character is only about a paragraph long, I'm hoping you can list all four of them, two versions each - at the start of play, and at the end of the final session.

Your comments on Andjagger in the previous thread were a little vague for me to grasp. I think you said you focused heavily on improving the values of certain traits ... which were they? What I'd really like to know is how those improved traits were then actually utilized in later play ... you can see I'm aiming at the reward cycle, in which X means you can improve something, and Y is the new use of the improved thing that demonstrates the meaning of that choice.

I'll ask Laura (who ran the game) for the sheets - she has them all right now.

For Andjagger, I spent most of my 'advances' building up an assistant with the help of the other characters - Tavelhanda carved me a sword from ice, and Spokelse (the Crone) bound several of the tormented spirits of the undead we'd fought into it.  As a group, it struck us as kind of a neatly appropriate for Andjagger to have an icy, vampiric blade to go with his heroic aspirations (and it fit into his later transformations pretty well, too).

I also used a couple of advances to pick up some low-end ritual traits, so that I could give an actual benefit to the other characters when they were performing magical workings - we ended up with our little group having a much richer "ritual life" than I would have thought at first, so this was more a case of fitting the characters into 'the way things always were'.

Now, as is likely pretty clear, the gaining and use of these changes was all pretty clear to the other players, and was something that they were all involved in to some extent.  In the end, the big changes served to strengthen Andjaggers role in the group as "the fighter", while the other minor additions were present to fit him into the group culture as a whole.

Certainly, all the other players noted, were involved in, or commented on at least one of these changes.  The same is more or less true of all the other characters and the ways in which they changed. Son's changed were the most "overt" to the group, while Tavelhanda's were the least overt - this was clearly because of player dynamics; everyone at least *seemed* satisfied with the amount of attention their development was getting, and I certainly was for myself.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: September 23, 2006, 07:52:14 AM »

Hi Levi!
So, the characters discovered the true enemy - a corrupted spirit, which is to say, another victim with historical roots. What is that history? a previous tribal authority. This totally works with the Premise we discussed in the previous thread. The player-characters were all problematic individuals relative to tribe authority. Of course the historical mis-use of such authority generated the whole problem they had to face.

I understand what you're saying regarding characters' stories either being done or not done, by a given "story unit." Premise can be addressed, and theme created, but that may or may not leave people (audience, writer, both, whoever) with a desire to see "what happens next." It's important to see, I think, that the desire to do so and the desire not to do so are both excellent things - but given a successful climax/resolution, the desire typically is one or the other, not both/either, for a given character.

To summarize: Andjagger's story is done, Son's and Tavelhanda's are ready to get ramped up in terms of an immediate problem, and the Crone's looms large as potential. (Great historical reading: the Strike Force supplement for Champions, published in the late 1980s. I've never seen a better description of the concept of "story arc," which is to say, the resolving of a fundamental issue posed by the creation and development of a character, including his or her mechanical structure. It also provides good examples of when this resolution does or does not mean that playing the character is done.)

It's too bad for present purposes about not playing more ... we'll have to see how (and whether) the larger reward cycle kicks in. I was pretty surprised by how strong this was in our Hero Wars game, whereas in playing Champions for seven years solid, it did occur but only with massive structural effort, and only with carefully honing the point-buying EP system.

Quote
In the end, the big changes served to strengthen Andjaggers role in the group as "the fighter", while the other minor additions were present to fit him into the group culture as a whole.

Oh, that is so soft-peddling what I'm seeing. This is like reading, "The big changes served to make my bike's chains so much smoother and to produce a far more pleasing sound," without any reference to "The big changes made the bike go faster."

The bike went faster and eventually reached its (or "a") destination. Regarding Andjagger, here's what you just said: sacrificing him seemed natural and conclusive.

Full stop. The guy who started mainly as "the dumb one," the spear-carrier. Who then became the character full of heroic aspirations. The character whose whole arc was all about becoming "the group fighter." And he's the one who gets sacrificed? Cool!

I am seeing all kinds of important stuff in there, especially in contrast to other sorts of sacrificial character death that I have observed many times in role-playing. As opposed, for instance, to:

- Dickweed death - the character who betrayed and bugged and annoyed the other characters the whole time, then leaps into the chasm/furnace/whatever during the big fight at the end, and dies, saving them all. (This is a teen suicide statement - "and now they're sorry!" strong on its own, but usually playing it through once is enough.)

- Fuck-you death - the player simply hasn't enjoyed himself and manages to exit his character from the events; the expert version is to do so without being noticed as such. (This is at least a potential indicator of no-fun play goin' on.)

Quote
For Andjagger, I spent most of my 'advances' building up an assistant with the help of the other characters - Tavelhanda carved me a sword from ice, and Spokelse (the Crone) bound several of the tormented spirits of the undead we'd fought into it.  As a group, it struck us as kind of a neatly appropriate for Andjagger to have an icy, vampiric blade to go with his heroic aspirations (and it fit into his later transformations pretty well, too).

Here are the points I'd like to abstract out from this and the other details you provided about it.

1. Other characters are involved in providing Andjagger with material - stuff, tightening of relationships. This is key because it means the other characters are buying into responsibility for what Andjagger might do with such things.

2. And linked to that, I'll merely repeat your point that all the players were involved with all the characters' advances, even though characters' awareness per-character varied. You say this so casually, with a little "Certainly!" tossed in ... as if it's a given thing. It's not a given thing. This is a key technique-issue at the heart of how a particular reward system functions. There are other, functional reward systems in which that very feature would be absolutely undesirable. And conversely, as I'm sure you know, when a person in the group wants that kind of group buy-in to the way a character improves, and yet the rest of the group doesn't do it for whatever reason, there's a lot of room for no-fun to take hold in that group.

3. That very same stuff ties directly to Andjagger's heroic aspirations. Two subpoints about that. One is what you said in the previous thread, that it doesn't feel like "straight advancement," which I interpret as simply getting more dice or more armor or more spells. That's right! That's because a lot of character-change in this context is about Positioning, which I'll mention again in a minute. The other subpoint is that, in this group's case, "advancement" or rather development is a Sword of Damocles as well as an anticipated reward. Contrast to "death or level!" in solid modern D&D.

4. "Fitting the characters into the "way things always were" is an extremely powerful and important way to utilize character improvement that's often overlooked in game texts. I brought a 3rd-edition Champs character from 250 to 400 points, nearly all of which was rounding out and clarifying the basic concept - even the "more dice" ones. (Wow, I didn't know you were that strong! Sinisterly: No one did.)

5. But it's the ritual stuff that matters to me - reciprocity first and foremost, but also should be recognized as the players' general contribution to the SIS ... the setting, yes, but also situation. This is not about killing zombies. This is about what rituals define us as a people. Not only "rescue our Totem," but rather, "who and what is our Totem?" What I'm pointing out is that you, and I betcha-bottom-dollar the other players, used your advances to carry your weight in making all this central to the experience of play.

So, where am I going with this? I'm pointing (a) to the system itself ("how we played"), (b) to its beating heart (the reward side of things) rather than its arms or legs, and (c) getting specific about that regarding the reward mechanics.

I've read over the "advances" section of The Exchange very carefully, and of course you know them. But others reading this thread are probably slacking and therefore will have no idea what I'm talking about. So! Slackers, here they are:

Quote
Play using this system will generally break into sections, each of them a ‘story’ or a ‘goal’. At the end of each of these sections, each player may choose to make as many of the following changes to their character as they like – but they may only make each change from this list once (emphasis mine -RE), and must follow the rules given for each:

• Increase the rating on any trait by one: You may raise the rating of any one trait - but there’s a catch. You must always have less traits at any given rating than you have at the rating one lower than that; so, you must have more traits rated with a one than you have rated with a two, more traits rated with a two than with a three, and so on.

• Add a single, new trait, with a rating of one: This trait is described using normal rules for traits, and is a permanent addition. The catch here is that you can never have more than twenty total traits. The nature of the setting may change that number; more gritty settings may put the ‘cap’ at fifteen, and more power-building settings might put it at thirty, but otherwise, the limit is twenty.

• Alter the name of a trait: If your character has changed the focus of one of their traits (the way it’s used) you can change the name of that trait slightly to reflect that. This isn’t a rule to allow drastic change; if your swordsman becomes a monk, you’ll want to lower and raise traits to reflect that, but if your infantryman becomes a sergeant, that’s a good time to change the trait name.

• Reduce any trait by one: The special rules here are the same as for raising traits; otherwise, you can always reduce the rating of a trait if it makes sense. This doesn’t, of course, apply to injury traits.

• Remove any trait: The special rules here are the same as for raising traits; otherwise, you can always remove a trait if it makes sense. Again, this doesn’t apply to injuries.

Here are a couple of details to notice: (1) character "improvement" does not follow any principle of parity among different characters at all; (b) changes in characters are almost all about refining the character's identity and relationships to others, than to ramping up effectiveness, although the latter is certainly present as an option within the former.

My point is that none of these rules are a surprise in relation to my points #1-5 above. They "merely" dovetail perfectly with what you described in the previous thread as

Quote
it's plain that the group is creating emergent story. I say "emergent" because there's no guarantee that any specific piece of story will conclude in any specific way. Moreover, it's presently unclear which of those possibilities will be resolved at all.

Now, that doesn't invalidate a damn thing - it's just that this is there, as a natural thing within the group. Almost all games follow the basic storyline structure (they have a beginning, rising action, and denoument), but we've loaded the action with potential themes, and in play, things which serve or tie to a potential theme are often those that we, as players, use.

Why do I say it's not surprising? Because the causality actually goes in reverse order from how we've discussed it - the reward system in action, which is to say functioning, is the CA in its most visible form.

Whoa. That's kind of all I wanted to say about that. It's really the core of "system does matter." It's also why I like The Exchange.

So what does that give you for our discussion, for your next post? Not much specific, but it's important for me to know whether any of this is working, making sense, et cetera. Even if your answer is yes, obviously!, that's cool too. (Especially since what I've written in this post is not obvious and in fact is highly unreliable across the hobby.)

And, depending on where we go from here, it may form the basis for some recommendations about the text, if you're interested. Plus I've still got all those how-to-play questions I mentioned.

Best, Ron
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Levi Kornelsen
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Posts: 210


« Reply #4 on: September 23, 2006, 03:11:18 PM »

As to your summary, statements about 'done and not done', yup.  Dead on.

"The big changes made the bike go faster."

Well, yeah.  I'm pretty sure that we were deep enough in the groove of that game that any choices that I would have thought of would also have 'made it go faster' - if not for me, then for someone...  Note that I say "would have", not "could have" - I could have chosen advances that would have derailed us, but we were in a good enough headspace, had enough sympatico, whatever anyone wants to call it, that I would not have done so.

(And that "in the groove" feeling is the thing that most caught me about this game - we get it, more or less, in other games, but it was never so very obvious and in-our-faces before.)

As to dickweed and fuck-you death, uh, yuck.

Other characters are involved in providing Andjagger with material - stuff, tightening of relationships. This is key because it means the other characters are buying into responsibility for what Andjagger might do with such things.

Hm.  I'm not 100% clear on that one, so I'll unpack it a bit more, as I saw it...

The players were buying in completely, and putting their characters into it.  The players did, though, make the general sound that they might very well have their characters turn on Andjagger if he went too far with it - that if I wanted to play this as the first step in "the fall of Andjagger", then they'd almost certainly take their characters in the direction of "having made a horrible mistake that they must now clear up." - a little preemptive maintenance on their part, so I wouldn't feel cheated if they ended up killing me in the middle of a glorious fall to evil.

Fit what you're thinking?

2. And linked to that, I'll merely repeat your point that all the players were involved with all the characters' advances, even though characters' awareness per-character varied. You say this so casually, with a little "Certainly!" tossed in ... as if it's a given thing. It's not a given thing. This is a key technique-issue at the heart of how a particular reward system functions. There are other, functional reward systems in which that very feature would be absolutely undesirable. And conversely, as I'm sure you know, when a person in the group wants that kind of group buy-in to the way a character improves, and yet the rest of the group doesn't do it for whatever reason, there's a lot of room for no-fun to take hold in that group.

In many games, no, it wouldn't be desirable.  But I say "certainly" in that way because it is, in most ways, a given thing in the Exchange.  The whole group created the word list for traits; the whole group *had* to discuss the uses of each new combination of words-to-make-traits.  We needed consensus on what would be cool and what would be lame.  Yes, there were adjustments to characters that didn't need this kind of going-over, but enough of them did that the habit was natural.

So, it's "a given" to me only because that's the example at hand that I'm speaking from.

#3, #4, #5: Absolutely.

So what does that give you for our discussion, for your next post? Not much specific, but it's important for me to know whether any of this is working, making sense, et cetera. Even if your answer is yes, obviously!, that's cool too. (Especially since what I've written in this post is not obvious and in fact is highly unreliable across the hobby.)

In general, you're making plenty of sense.  Mostly, I'm just footnoting here with details of my own.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2006, 11:58:23 AM »

Hi Levi,

One quick clarifier, before making a generalized point about the reward system, and then moving on.

PART ONE: THE QUICK CLARIFIER

I wrote,

Quote
1. Other characters are involved in providing Andjagger with material - stuff, tightening of relationships. This is key because it means the other characters are buying into responsibility for what Andjagger might do with such things.

2. And linked to that, I'll merely repeat your point that all the players were involved with all the characters' advances, even though characters' awareness per-character varied. You say this so casually, with a little "Certainly!" tossed in ... as if it's a given thing. It's not a given thing. This is a key technique-issue at the heart of how a particular reward system functions. There are other, functional reward systems in which that very feature would be absolutely undesirable. And conversely, as I'm sure you know, when a person in the group wants that kind of group buy-in to the way a character improves, and yet the rest of the group doesn't do it for whatever reason, there's a lot of room for no-fun to take hold in that group.

You wrote,

Quote
The players were buying in completely, and putting their characters into it.  The players did, though, make the general sound that they might very well have their characters turn on Andjagger if he went too far with it - that if I wanted to play this as the first step in "the fall of Andjagger", then they'd almost certainly take their characters in the direction of "having made a horrible mistake that they must now clear up." - a little preemptive maintenance on their part, so I wouldn't feel cheated if they ended up killing me in the middle of a glorious fall to evil.

Fit what you're thinking?

Not quite. I'm aiming more at that emphasized phrasing in my point #1. If another player helps you with building a particular feature for your character (i.e. utilizing the reward system for this game), and does so in the context of what his or her character is doing in the imagined/fictional events, then that other player is involved in a particular way I'm trying to describe.

That involvement is, as I say, a form of taking on responsibility. "I'm going to have my character help Andjagger put together this hard-core spirit sword thing. It makes him a bad-ass. It also provides a ton of rope to hang himself, and given our situation, for bad things maybe to happen to my character too, and to add to the chances that our characters' apparent shared goal of saving the tribe will fail. But that's cool. I don't know where this story is going; we have lots of decisions to make along the way. I want to give us all enough rope to hang ourselves, so if we triumph instead, or one of us does, then it means more."

So in other words, if Levi decides to make Andjagger into an antagonistic character via the sinister sword, he can. And we (the other players) are going to help him (John) be in the situation of making that choice. Because we want that choice to be real. Does that sound familiar, or at least interesting?

In that context, their assurance to you that their characters will turn on Andjagger if he goes this way reads to me as having a little bit more to it. It's "maintenance," yes, in the sense of making sure that you are not only forewarned, but may even be turned on by that possibility. The more choice Andjagger has, the better, and everyone now knows it.

This is total armchair talk. I have no real idea; I can only go on what I've observed or participated in with lots of role-playing along these lines. Let me know what you think.

PART TWO: CLOSING THE REWARD SYSTEM DISCUSSION

My final point about the reward system is this: that it is system. It has options, steps, interactions, and in general "follows rules" in the social (and in this case textual) sense. In the previous thread, we took so long to hash out the right scale/perspective from which to identify Creative Agenda, that the importance of how we play in the sense of rules, procedures, steps, and so on got a little bit lost. When you called attention to that, I said, "that's what I really want to discuss!" and in fact it's the reason I asked that we continue the discussion.

So all this stuff I've posted in this thread so far is about system mattering to CA.

PART THREE: QUESTIONS ABOUT THE EXCHANGE

This section summarizes my notes and questions about the rules, including recommendations. I'd like your take on all of them mainly for purposes of my playing the game. If any of the advice seems off-base to you, or founded on my misunderstanding, please ignore it.

1. For non-character opposition, the dice/points table is confusing as hell. Once I doped it out, it turns out to be unnecessary. All you're saying is "treat it like a character and give it traits," and that's that. Matching up to those adjectives doesn't help ... it's like trying to figure out the difference between "slightly above average" to "moderately above average" on a badly-designed survey form.

2. The freedom to set injury levels seems quite extreme. I must not be understanding it correctly. Is there some reason why I wouldn't set every successful injury inflicted on an opponent at level 10? Given your description of John as a player, it seems he would have pushed this angle of the system rather hard. Did he? Or was there some other system in place?

3. Now, I wanna check something else about injury. Say my character has suffered injury level 3 or above (I understand this can mean all kinds of ways, but "level" meaning any combo that gets you there). Must he fight the injury, in a conflict, at the same time as an opponent is using that same injury as a trait of its own, in the conflict with the opponent? Seems like double-dipping.

4. Make Me a Believer might function best by merely assigning a trait you can use if you follow the conditioning, but which the opponent can use if you're trying not to ... effectively, it's an injury in that case.

5. Election Trail puzzles me a bit. Are you saying there are several pre-set contests with specific identities? I'm not seeing how that would work better than the other two types of conflict described in that section, both of which function on a total number of successes to get.

6. Your complex example isn't very complex at all. What I need to play, more than anything else, is a way to organize IIEE for multi-adversary, simultaneous orthogonal conflict.

Njar the Axe-man has had enough and seeks to cleave Gunn's lying head from her shoulders.
Gunn pronounces a death-curse on Hrunggir.
Skallagrim knocks over the lantern, seeking to plunge the room into darkness.
Hrunggir stabs Skallagrim, because he thinks he killed his brother.

As you can see, who's on whose side is actually all muddled up due to limits of character knowledge, and I'm saying the players are all enjoying exactly these actions. They would not pick different actions, given the opportunity, and they are fully aware of one another's announcements.

What really matters is (a) who's successful and (b) in what order. Certain successful actions will affect subsequent ones (striking Gunn in the dark is harder than in the light), and others will actually cancel certain actions if they get there first (killing Hrungnir early in the process removes the danger to Skallagrim).

That's what's up. We're playing The Exchange, as written. How do we do it?

7. I suppose it's unfair of me to criticize the definition of "when to advance" as vague, because Kicker resolution in Sorcerer is necessarily left to group interpretation as well. However, it seems to me as if conflicts in playing The Exchange are setting-driven, or rather, situations arise out of fundamental instabilities in the setting. In such cases, I submit that character modification needs framing in those terms. For examples, see Stakes in Trollbabe (which has nothing to do with the debased term "stakes" as used more widely), and the storymap technique in Legends of Alyria.

8. In helping, the tied highest values within a "rank" are apparently lost entirely. In the example, Kim's 6 is lost, and so is John's 5.  This doesn't seem right to me. As it stands, everyone on side A rolls 6 high, and then a bunch of 3-and-lower crap, and side B (one guy, say) rolls 6 and 5 high, then side B wins. Seems to me that a side full of helpers who rolls a bunch of 6's ought to benefit from them.

9. I don't know if this is a concern of yours at present, but I'll repeat my earlier point about organization. This document should begin with the Campaign Summaries chapter (after p. 1). Then, within the Character Creation chapter, the Characters by Campaign section should go first. Indulge me ... set it up this way, print it out, and check it out.

Best, Ron
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Levi Kornelsen
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« Reply #6 on: September 25, 2006, 11:09:38 AM »

So in other words, if Levi decides to make Andjagger into an antagonistic character via the sinister sword, he can. And we (the other players) are going to help him (John) be in the situation of making that choice. Because we want that choice to be real. Does that sound familiar, or at least interesting?

In that context, their assurance to you that their characters will turn on Andjagger if he goes this way reads to me as having a little bit more to it. It's "maintenance," yes, in the sense of making sure that you are not only forewarned, but may even be turned on by that possibility. The more choice Andjagger has, the better, and everyone now knows it.

Ah, okay.

Yes, that's entirely familiar.  In that context, this specific instance of play (the bit with the sword) isn't the best example of it in gameplay - the other players, I think, weren't sure they could figure how to accomodate that specific choice and make good play out of it, and wanted me to know that.

However, there were plenty of points in play that did fit what you're describing very well indeed.  So, gotcha.

My final point about the reward system is this: that it is system. It has options, steps, interactions, and in general "follows rules" in the social (and in this case textual) sense. *SNIP* So all this stuff I've posted in this thread so far is about system mattering to CA.

All righty.

PART THREE: QUESTIONS ABOUT THE EXCHANGE

1. Good point.  That space might be better used to simply give examples of traits for things that aren't single characters, to get the idea across.

2. The freedom to set injuries is an interesting one.  First, remember that injury traits are traits.  You wouldn't set them all at ten because then you could only 'call' one of them (you can only call one trait at any given rating; though setting them at 10, 11, 12, and so on would be fine).  Higher numbers don't make the trait more effective in terms of dice (you still only get one), or harder to get rid of, they just make it more universally available - if I set your "crippled" injury at twenty, anyone can call it in.  If I set it at five, then it matters to me with my four dice, but it's not a material issue to the master swordman with six dice.  In addition, when I clobber you, you will never be taken out of play by injury until I build a series from one through four (Hurt 1, Hurt 2, Hurt 3, Hurt 4) - so I need to decide whether I'm building extra dice or trying to take you out.

Now, to make it more intuitive, I've considered changing it so that when injuries try to take you out, they can only roll numbers in series, rather than being able to call in "any higher-numbered trait). 

3. See above, to some degree.  If I give you injuries at 1, 2, 3, 4, then I probably can't get bonus dice from all of them.  I think what you've missed, or I failed to make clear, is that injuries hit a character when they're 1, 2, 3, 4 (and maybe others) in series.

4. Hm.  That's an interesting idea.  I'll need to think on it, but there's likely some way of doing that which'll work.  I'm just leery of subtle variants on 'friends conditioning each other to be friendly'.

5. The idea for election trail (which is not only unclear, but actually absent, my mistake) was that in a series of Exchanges that build total successes, it's eminently possible to frame each one completely seperately - the debate in Austin, followed by the public appearances in Dallas, and so on.

6. The system as written can't sort that one out itself, simple as that; it relies on the group to do it.  If I was playing in the game, my personal suggestion would be to make up an on-the-spot initiative roll for that scene; everyone calls speed related traits, and we each frame one Exchange, going from best to worst rolls.  I'm somewhat hesitant to build hard-and-fast rules for that, because for fear of rules bloat.

7. I'll check out your example, and think on that.

8. Yes and no.  After playing with the helping rules a fair bit, we came to a slightly different conclusion.  What we ended up thinking was that the rules as written as good for a bunch of people trying to help one person do a job where they might get in each other's way - if Joe is trying to crack the safe in time, maybe your good advice and talk about keeping calm and 'you can do it' will help, but a lot of it is likely to be lost in the general shuffle. But for jobs that really are multiple-person, they're lacking.  So, yes and no.  But again, the same hesitation with regard to bloating.

9. Hm.  I've reprinted with that shuffle, and a little rewriting is needed, but I can see how it might stand up better.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: September 28, 2006, 08:00:53 PM »

Hi Levi,

Stupid file hassles delayed my reply ... anyway, this is to follow up on the basic resolution questions and then we can move on to the issue of complex conflict.

INJURY RULES - GETTING MY HEAD 'ROUND IT

Injuries. Pretty cool. I’m going to need some examples. Let's take a character ... ummm, here goes, a Frostfolk guy.

Skallagrim

Friendly bard 1, Alert thinker, Staunch sword-wielder 1, Scurrilous wit 1
Confident lover 2, Surprisingly agile 2, Ale-swilling carouser 2
Awesome singer 3, Dirty fighter 3
Damned lucky 4

Example 1: he's been assigned an injury Trait of 2 ... perhaps it's a dagger-wound. Oww!

So if I'm reading this correctly, an opponent now has a Trait to use against Skallagrim, which he can bring into play either during "pass" 1 (when they announce their first Traits in action) or "pass" 2. But say he doesn't do that, using other Traits instead, and when we get to "pass" 3, he's out of luck, the dagger-wound just happens not to be relevant to this conflict even if it could have been.

I get it! One thing I'd forgotten is that a given Trait only adds one die to the growing pool of dice as we move along. I'd mistakenly thought it added dice equal to its rating, but I get it now. Yes, freedom to set the injuries is important.

POSSIBLE DOUBLE-DIP INJURIES

We should probably discuss the double-dipping some more. I may have misunderstood the rules, or you may have missed my point, I'm not sure which. I'm specifically talking about Calling Your Injuries (and the opponent's subsequent use of them) and Fighting Your Injuries, in the same situation.

I bet an example will help. Poor Skallagrim is going to get hurt again.

You are playing a 10' tall ogrish giant-guy who bashed him with a club! Skallagrim is sporting an injury, defined as "agonizing smash to upper arm," rated at 3.

All right, this is our next pass of committing dice, and let's say for simplicity that we each have two dice out there, and we're looking at our Traits rated 3 and higher. I say Skallagrim's calling in his Dirty Fighter Trait. You may now use the injury as a Trait against Skallagrim, to add a die to your growing pool. Let's say that was good for you as the giant happened not to have a useful Trait at 3 of his own for present purposes. I get that part, no problem.

But by the rules, Skallagrim must now also fight the Trait as a new opponent.

Do you see what I mean about double-dipping? The injury-Trait is not only helping the giant directly in that growing pair of opposed dice pools, but it is also acting as a new opponent, so that Skallagrim is facing two separate pools. Is that intended? If so, then boy, injuries of 3 or higher (whether one or more injuries total) are a real son-of-a-bitch to deal with.

(I am a little unclear on whether Skallagrim can use the same Traits against the injury as he did against the giant, if they apply. Or does the commitment to them against the giant, past or present, take them out of the running against the injury?)

Quote
  I'm just leery of subtle variants on 'friends conditioning each other to be friendly'.

Well, as a game designer, you have a clear choice: either characters can influence one another through the resolution system, or they can’t. A lot of games provide interaction-conflict mechanics of some kind, then waffle about whether or how PCs can be affected by them, or introduce tack-on stuff like “NPCs can’t influence PCs” or whatever. I think you’ll agree that both waffling and tack-ons are ass. (I fully recognize that elegance is a prime consideration for your development of The Exchange.)

With my suggestion to make such actions just like wounds (i.e. adding "injury" Traits like "That guy speaks truth about Gunn's lies"), such influence is the stuff of fun & wonderful conflict, and not an insta-friend lockdown. I mean, you can give my character a trait of “he's my pal” at 3, but all that means is that you’ll pull it in against me – not that I have to obey it and make my character decide things accordingly. It’ll nag at my character and sometimes get in the way of other stuff I want, the same way a wound does … which is what influence should be, after all. I can even try to “clear my head” about it (actually, heal it in rules terms), and there’s a cool scene or conflict right there.

HELPING

The more I think about it, and although I think my objection does stand (and that your players stated the distinction about different sorts of helping accurately) ... it seems to me that if someone can help, and that they are not getting in the way, then they might as well just start their own sequence of Traits and build up a dice pool along with the primary person.

So yeah, the existing helping rules are cool. But I think you should also provide an example of two characters separately seeking the same goal (not in opposition to one another), making the opponent fight on two fronts. Because in the characters' fictional context, that's "helping" too. So players need to understand which mechanic they mean when they say "I help!"

Thoughts, notions, clarifications?

Best, Ron
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Levi Kornelsen
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« Reply #8 on: September 29, 2006, 10:47:09 PM »

INJURY RULES - GETTING MY HEAD 'ROUND IT

You've got it.

POSSIBLE DOUBLE-DIP INJURIES

*Snip*

But by the rules, Skallagrim must now also fight the Trait as a new opponent.

Not quite just yet, he doesn't.  When he has, say:

Cut and slashed 1
Beaten and bruised 2
Agonized wound to upper arm 3
Beaten down 4

Then he needs to start fighting the injuries as a seperate opponent, and we start seeing double-dipping.  The injuries don't start "attacking" Skallagrim here until they make a creditable series from at least one to four.

A fast, easy conflict with no reversals can easily run:

(first roll) Winner builds up some bonuses
(second roll) Winner inflicts part of the 'series'.
(third roll) Winner finishes the series; loser must also fight injuries, might be taken out by them.
(Fourth roll) Winner continues to expand on the series in ways that also grant him bonus dice; loser fights injuries again...

If there are no reversals, it's very close to being a death spiral.  If there are reversals, it's not.  If the type and framing of the conflict, and thus the valid injuries you can call, changes (which is a stake that's nice to aim for if you're in up to your eyeballs), it's not. 

See it?

I am a little unclear on whether Skallagrim can use the same Traits against the injury as he did against the giant, if they apply.

As the rules are written, he absolutely can.  There's no limits on that.  I've toyed with the idea of making some, but we haven't tried any in play.

I think you’ll agree that both waffling and tack-ons are ass.

Absolutely.

With my suggestion to make such actions just like wounds (i.e. adding "injury" Traits like "That guy speaks truth about Gunn's lies"), such influence is the stuff of fun & wonderful conflict, and not an insta-friend lockdown. I mean, you can give my character a trait of “he's my pal” at 3, but all that means is that you’ll pull it in against me – not that I have to obey it and make my character decide things accordingly. It’ll nag at my character and sometimes get in the way of other stuff I want, the same way a wound does … which is what influence should be, after all. I can even try to “clear my head” about it (actually, heal it in rules terms), and there’s a cool scene or conflict right there.

Yes.  It's the idea of being able to call in one of my own injuries to help me that bugs me.  As an example of the problem I'd like to avoid, say that you're playing the big tough guy in the group.  And I give you the injury "defender of Levi's character" at some nice high number.  Now, yes, I can get to use it to influence you, which is the good and fun bit.

If you can also call on that trait for a bonus die every time that you're defending you, then it's our mutual interests to load one another up with traits that can be used in that way towards each other, to gain ridiculous pools of dice.

That's the bit I'd prefer to avoid.

Now, it might be possible to put traits like that in some kind of a "third category" - calling them relationship traits, or what have you, and rule that each character can have one and only one relationship trait regarding each other named character, or something of the kind...   

Maybe.  It adds rules, but to a purpose.

HELPING

Yeah, a lot of the examples and bits that you've pointed out (especially the "lots of simultaneous action" example) have made me think that I need to take a good, hard look at different ways to overhaul the whole helping mechanic.  The more I consider it, the more I think that there are a lot of potentially very great conflicts that the mechanic has led us away from instead of showing us a way to resolve them.

I just got hold of some of the character sheets and notes tonight.  I'll type them in sometime this weekend.  Feel free to respond either before or after that's done, as you like.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: September 30, 2006, 06:19:43 AM »

DAMAGE

I get it!! Well enough to try it in a game and see what bootlace or organ I manage to step on.

RELATIONSHIPS

I think I have a solution to the relationship-trait issue that doesn't require more rules.

Quote
It's the idea of being able to call in one of my own injuries to help me that bugs me. As an example of the problem I'd like to avoid, say that you're playing the big tough guy in the group. And I give you the injury "defender of Levi's character" at some nice high number. Now, yes, I can get to use it to influence you, which is the good and fun bit.

If you can also call on that trait for a bonus die every time that you're defending you, then it's our mutual interests to load one another up with traits that can be used in that way towards each other, to gain ridiculous pools of dice.

Here's how I see it ... that second bit above is not an issue. "Every time that you're defending you," is not valid for any Trait in this game; you make that really clear in the rules. If I call in a Trait during a conflict, then it better not be weak-ass lame. If I call in that Trait to use it myself, then I better be defending Levi's character ... at the expense of something else. That's what such a Trait means - it'll take priority when other options are available.

So the Trait is usable for you (or some other opponent, conceivably) to call against me in a conflict; it's also usable by me if (in my stated goal for the conflict) I'm giving up on some other tangible thing I could be going for or protecting.

Again, this seems to operate very much like an injury to me without any head-twisting. My ability to call it in must actually illustrate your character's influence over mine, and hence still expresses the injury. So let's say you set it at 5, and thus I can call it in for most conflicts, if I keep giving up on other options, every time. Do I really want to play my character as your little bitch, all the time?

Also, as an injury, it's subject to healing. In a case like this, forcible healing: "Get a clue, you fool! He doesn't care about you! You're just his little bitch!" Seems kind of fun to me ... at least worth a playtest or two.

COMPLEX CONFLICT

Now for the good stuff.

I totally agree with you that a secondary initiative system is No Good! That is rules-bloat. But you and I are clever and skilled at this. I think we can find a solution without adding one smidgeon of tacked-on rules or initiative as a new variable. My solution is to look at the already-existing mechanics to see what might already be sitting there as an automatic ordering technique.

Quote
Njar the Axe-man has had enough and seeks to cleave Gunn's lying head from her shoulders.
Gunn pronounces a death-curse on Hrunggir.
Skallagrim knocks over the lantern, seeking to plunge the room into darkness.
Hrunggir stabs Skallagrim, because he thinks he killed his brother.

For simplicity's sake, let's take Gunn as the NPC and everyone else as player-characters. Njar is played by Neal, Skallagrim is played by Scooter, and Hrunggir is played by Harry.

Exceeded posting length ... OK, next post.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: September 30, 2006, 06:21:14 AM »

Four models seem relevant to me.

1. The Pool method - everyone's success or failure is scored independently. Note that only players roll. Details of what happened are established by a designated narrator, per roll. The order of doing so is unconstructed.

Neal, Scooter, and Harry all roll dice. Let's say Njar succeeds and Neal takes the opportunity to declare a Monologue of Victory. Skallagrim succeeds as well and chooses instead to take a die, leaving the narration to the GM. Hrunggir fails and loses the Pool dice he gambled into his roll.

There are now two narrators: the GM, responsible for Gunn's, Hrunggir's, and Skallagrim's actions; and Neal, responsible for Njar's actions. They are constrained by the established facts that Gunn is decapitated, the lantern was knocked over, and Skallagrim was not stabbed. Using this system, the two narrators hash out what happened (with or without input from the others, it depends on the moment).

Note that part of the issue is that Gunn, as an NPC, has no roll of her own. This is not a problem if the group understands it ... Gunn has no intrinsic failure mechanic, and the other characters do.

As you can see, a lot of negotiation may be left to Social Contract ... which is not a problem if you understand one key point: what was and what was not subject to dice-resolution. The open questions are whether Hrunggir is death-cursed, because killing Gunn was not stated expressly to be in opposition to this action. As I see it, and if I were playing The Pool with this group, I would have made sure we all knew, going into the roll, that Gunn's curse would work unless someone opposed it directly. Apparently no one did, so Hrunggir is cursed. If Neal had said "kill her before she gets a word out," that would be different.

The key here is clarity prior to the roll regarding what is or is not subject to question/answer via the dice. Such clarity makes The Pool and associated systems sing like angels; without it, they are messy noise.

2. The Dust Devils and Nine Worlds method - everyone's success or failure is scored relative to one another. Direct oppositions within that set are noted. Narration (and secondary mechanics) are then delivered by designated people. (a) in DD, it's a single narrator with the highest card, regardless of win/lose status; (b) in NW, it's by the victors of each conflict (winning over opposition, or succeeding unopposed), in order of strongest hands.

This method is directly derived from #1 and relies on the same key point. Unless you know who's really opposing whom, the system doesn't work. However, they are much stronger than The Pool in this regard, because such statements are part of the pre-draw system. Also, the card mechanics in both games provide many nuances for what happens (or what the narrator can work with) within each conflict. Dust Devils is a little special and more Pool-like in that the narrator may choose, freely, which nuances of lower-scoring hands are brought into the SIS, including ignoring them.

These games share the feature of The Pool that if the action is not opposed by an announced/attempted action, it will succeed unless it fails to meet a fairly easy minimal requirement. Unlike The Pool, all characters (NPC/PC) have the intrinsic (small) chance to fail.

3. The Mountain Witch method - first, reduce the current actions to as few basic conflicts as possible, lining up on sides and distinguishing carefully between who is fighting alongside and who is helping (these are different). The GM plays an important roll in the sense that he will only roll one die per side ... so if he rolls more dice, that means that completely different conflicts must be occurring in parallel. The key for The Mountain Witch is not how good a single opposing force is, but how many of them must be faced, and hence which may have to be "let through." This works in tandem with the Trust mechanic, which often shifts based on who chose to do what over a series of difficult-to-choose conflict situations.

There is no intrinsic failure method at all, for anyone - the only way not to get what you want is to get beaten by a directly-opposing roll. Ordering is more like The Pool - people who win their rolls simply coordinate their narrations to make sense together.

4. The Sorcerer and Burning Wheel method - although their specific "go first" elements differ slightly, these games are more similar than they first appear. Actions are brought into dynamic confrontation in an ordered sequence that is not clear until a "reveal" phase (exposure of the scripts in BW; rolling of the dice in Sorc). The net effect is to discover who went first as a feature of resolution.

The key feature is the cancel-action option embedded in the later (execution) sequence of resolution, permitting changing one's mind and shifting to a limited alternative. What's easy for people to miss, if they haven't played these games, is that the prime element of this feature is not the alternative you shift to, but the fact that you did not carry out the originally-stated action. It creates an in-the-moment environment of decision-making which Paul Czege has described as "grabbing a live wire."

Another aspect to these, which they share with Hero Wars, is that every action is faced by a unique, independent defensive roll. I'm pretty sure that's not suited for The Exchange, and although saying this means certain nuances of outcomes are not possible, that's OK.

As a minor point, Sorcerer narration doesn't have any constructed features; it's a given that whoever's narration, for whichever character, makes most sense or is most fun is what's adopted.

5. Hero Wars (extended conflict) and Trollbabe method - in these games, increased commitment through a step-by-step process brings increased risk. In HW, it also brings the chance for increased degrees of success, whereas in TB, staying in as things "get worse" is only a matter of sticking with your stated goal. Ordering is clear in both games based on quantitative factors, although differently; HW goes by points bid, TB by a rolled-element similar to Sorcerer.

Narration is handled differently between the two as well; in HW, the buck always stops with the GM ("Narrator") and in Trollbabe the rules are rather tightly-constructed according to success or failure for internal reasons.

The Exchange is very similar to these games in terms of stepwise increase in commitment, although the dice-reading is almost identical to Sorcerer's. At first glance, I was inclined to adopt the principles of this method to The Exchange for this reason, but ended up going a different way, as you will see.

Take-home point: we must know who exactly is opposing whom with what (and by extension, which actions have a "clear path" by comparison).

This is an interesting situation because at first glance, none of the actions are being directly opposed in the sense of being parried or blocked. What really matters is pre-emption as a feature of basic success, and thus ordering is the key point. So the next issue becomes, "ordering of what." A decapitation, a lantern-knocking-over, a curse, and a stabbing. Those are the tasks. What about the conflicts?

Take-home point: we must know which rolls are merely supportive rather than being full conflicts of their own.

There may be less conflict in my example than initially appears. Skallagrim's act is effectively Gunn's defense roll. We have two orthogonal actions (decapitation and cursing), both of which might succeed, but one of which might be pre-emptive of the other. We have a defense against decapitation. We also have an attack which functions, potentially to pre-empt the defense against the decapitation. In combination with the above point, and to summarize:

Gunn's curse: not opposed directly by anyone, but may be pre-empted if she gets decapitated.
Njar's attack: opposed by Skallagrim (using darkness); Skallagrim isn't doing anything else
Hrunggir's attack: may or may not hurt Skallagrim; may or may not pre-empt the defense against Gunn

If you drew a little diagram, it might have an arrow (1) pointing from Njar to Gunn, an arrow (2) pointing from Gunn to Hrunggir, an arrow pointing from Skallagrim to the #1 arrow (i.e. possibly stopping it), and an arrow pointing from Hrunggir to Skallagrim, with the collateral effect of possibly stopping the #2 arrow. I suggest actually drawing this for purposes of the discussion.

This highlights which actions really are directly opposed after all, as well as makes absolutely explicit the need for an ordering mechanism (now that we know what's being ordered). I think everyone realizes that traditional linear ordering in the wargame sense (take turns in pre-established, one by one, wait for your turn, do whatever you want on your turn, resolve it as a task) is not going to work well here.


Take-home point: we must know whether actions are necessarily opposed.

To do this in The Exchange, we'd have to add a step, and I think that's to be avoided. So let's say "no" and move on.

Take-home point: we must know whether actions without direct opponents have an intrinsic chance of failure.

As far as I can tell, all rolls in The Exchange face opposition in some way, or at least that's the intention. It seems wrong for this system to say "well, if Njar's attack doesn't land, then Gunn's curse just plain hits Hrunggir." Hrunggir does indeed have a dice-pool of his own, and the more I look at it, the more it seems to me that it can do double-duty - (a) accomplish its goal against Skallagrim and (b) serve as collateral defense against Gunn.

This answer has actually started to answer the next question too.


Take-home point: we must know the order in which "blows land."

Finally we get to the meat of it. As I say, I think that elements of The Mountain Witch and Nine Worlds models probably provide the best solution. Once the conflict has been "shrunk" down into as few fundamental actions as possible (in this case, the axe-blow and the curse, i.e. the main arrows), then all actions are rolled. Winning/best actions get to cancel out anything they point to, in order from best to worst. If something beats the value of something that points to it (i.e. Njar beats Skallagrim), then that action didn't stop the main action (he struck before the lights went out).

Note as well that by definition, using this system, Njar can both strike off Gunn's head and stop the curse before it's uttered, if his roll beats hers. This method is not quite as nuanced as the Sorcerer method, but it works very well in Nine Worlds and The Mountain Witch, and I think it'll work here. (To be clear, if her roll beats his, she is not decapitated, but her roll must beat Hrunggir's as well for the curse to take effect.)

Take-home point: we must know whether any canceling-options exist in light of what has happened so far in the sequence.

Now that I've settled on a NW model, no such option fits or works. If you get a better result than anyone, then you beat them, go before them, or both.

Thoughts, Levi? As I see it, I have just derived a functional, painless, and above all useful and illuminating aspect of The Exchange that was simply sitting there, waiting to be discovered. Now, orthogonal and oppositional conflict are fully explicit and the ordering of their outcomes is quite easy.

It's not the only way to do this. I think you could find ways to apply different elements of the above models if you wanted to, especially from Hero Wars. Based on that method, I'd suggest privileging higher-ranked Traits for ordering prior to the rolls, then using high die value to break ties in that order following the roll.

I'm going to make a roll for my example now! This is a real roll, I didn't make the numbers up.

(Just to make it easy, I'm going to assume that all characters ended up with four dice. I could treat a couple of the rolls as helping, especially Skallagrim's, but I won't. The idea is that Njar simply has to beat both Gunn and Skallagrim to get his strike in on her. Very Nine Worlds, not like Sorcerer at all.)

Gunn: 4, 4, 2, 1
Njar: 5, 4, 3, 2
Skallagrim: 4, 3, 1, 1
Hrunggir: 6, 4, 2, 1

Wow. All right, Hrunggir's stab hits Skallagrim and suitable injuries are inflicted as Harry narrates. In our construction, that still means Skallagrim might have knocked the lantern over (that action wasn't against Hrunggir). Let's see in a minute. Note as well that Hrunggir is not going to get cursed by Gunn. Why or how depends on stuff to be determined.

Nope, Njar beat Skallagrim, so the axe fell before the lantern went over, and now, it's up to Neal (Njar's player) whether the lantern gets knocked over or not, when he narrates. I assume not, just to keep things simple.

And finally, it seems that Njar has indeed struck Gunn's lying head from her shoulders, or at least to the tune of as much damage as he can muster toward that end. It's now up to Neal to narrate whether she gets the curse out or not, which he needs to coordinate with whatever Harry wants to say about Hrunggir not being cursed.

There are two narrators, Harry and Neal; the GM and Scooter may suggest stuff but have no rubber-stamp power. The two come up with something like,

Hrunggir whips out his sax and intercepts Skallagrim on his way to the lantern, and the two fall to the floor. Gunn rises, her finger pointing to Hrunggir and her face twisting horribly, but then Njar's axe shuts her right up. Hrunggir rises from the floor, his blade dripping blood. (How much damage was done to Skallagrim and Gunn would also come into this, but I'll leave that off for now.)

That was fun so I'll do it again.

Gunn: 6, 6, 1, 1
Njar: 4, 4, 1, 1
Skallagrim: 4, 3, 2, 2
Hrunggir: 3, 2, 2, 1

I swear I didn't make that up. What now? OK, Gunn's the big winner in this case - she curses the bejeezus out of Hrunggir and doesn't get axed by Njar. The GM gets to narrate how, but has to wait a bit to see how other stuff fell out. Njar did beat Skallagrim so Harry gets to say how the lantern didn't get knocked over in time; Skallagrim did beat Hrunggir so Scooter can tell us how Skallagrim is (a) not stabbed and (b) did knock over the lantern, but obviously not in time to stop Njar. The three narrators come up with something like,

Gunn raps out the horrible syllables of her curse, and Hrunggir drops in his tracks. Skallagrim leaps for the lantern to knock it over, but Njar is faster and his axe descends toward Gunn ... only she has stepped aside, her eyes still fixed on her victim, and the axe cleaves nothing but air. (Again, the actual damage to Hrunggir is narrated by the GM in this case and I'll leave it off for now.)

I can keep this up over and over, and every time, I know I'll end up with something dramatic, coherent, and decisive. We'll always know who gets to talk, what authority they have within the larger set, and how they must work with everyone else. One interesting result is if Njar beats Gunn, but Gunn beats Hrunggir, in which case she does get axed but he does get cursed. The possibility that neither would occur doesn't exist using this system, which is a feature of the Nine Worlds method in direct contrast to the Sorcerer one.

Damn! still exceeded. Next post.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: September 30, 2006, 06:21:29 AM »

AND WHY I'M TAKING ALL THE TIME TO DO THIS

Now … why am I concerned with these, beyond simple matters of learning how to play?

Because let’s take a look at the types of situations which The Exchange is finely-honed to present and resolve through play. I'll sum them up with the term conflicts of interests, and I'll break that down a little bit.

- Dealing with broken assumptions - "evil is external," oh wait, "shit, the evil comes from our own tribe!"
- Disagreements about dealing with an overall situation, not just a single action
- Disagreements about loyalty and obligations - this is what you guys hinted at in your game as Andjagger became more sinister and powerful

For example, in the fight scene you described in the other thread, it was definitely not about killing a squad of zombies. Nor was it even about their hooded, horned, sinister, deep-voiced leader (I'm making those details up; I assume you get my point that trappings are not themselves "conflict"). It was about dealing with the tribal totem - the thing the characters thought they were rescuing turns out to be a source of power for the other side, and not only that, when they talk to it, it acts funny and talks about killing them (or so they might perceive at the time).

By "disagreement," I have to emphasize, I am not talking about the players. These are not tactical disagreements like "should we charge or ambush," nor social-contract disagreements like "hey! you back-stabbed me, you bastard!" "Ha, I take the gold from your backpack!" Nor are they posturing pseudo-disagreements about my Brujah dissing your Gangrel.

I am talking about playing one's character in a highly committed sense of making judgmental choices and seeing how they turn out. Just the same thing we hashed out as the shared priority in the group: Narrativist play.

Now, the key thing about such conflicts are that they may align among the characters, or they may cross-cut in some way (as in my quick orthogonal-conflict example). Play is not just about all eventually lining up on one side and saying “big fight!” There are times when we all agree. There are times when we don't. There are times when stuff is happening thick and fast, and individuals might change their minds in the middle of it. Everyone gets full authority over those choices for their characters (that's what Paul calls protagonism).

I also need to emphasize the orthogonal conflicts, not the oppositional ones. I'm not talking about player-characters necessarily lining up against one another, but for many possible priorities to be brought into the situation and to "hang fire" pending the dice outcomes.

My suggestion is that with better orthogonal-conflict play, you and the gang would have had more room for more rope of exactly the kind I was talking about earlier. Am I saying that Andjagger would have become a sinister antagonist? No. Am I saying that inter-character conflict is better? No. What I'm saying is that the situation and system would have provided a wider range of options and a stronger basis for knowing that whatever you chose, the resolution system could handle it. And a wider range of mechanically-reliable options = more drama in the most meaty, thematic sense of the term.

Without that, the most complex possible scenario is always based on “figure out who the bad guy is,” barred by disinformation and by sequential obstacles. And that shit is always the same shit, despite evocative color or amusing presentation.

WHY THAT MATTERS

I will attempt to say what the exising reward mechanics do in service of the game's best-supported Creative Agenda, Narrativism. The Exchange is blatantly, even fanatically devoted to seeing how conflicts become consequences. It reminds me a lot of a change Mike Holmes and I would have liked to see in Hero Wars, using the points bid in an Extended Contests to construct new abilities (this HW/HQ term means the same as Traits in The Exchange) on a 1:1 basis.

In fact, here's what I see as the functional, driving heart of The Exchange as an elegant system: character changes from dice-outcomes of conflict, such as injury and other high-impact effects, are no different from the“advancement” system!! Consequences are everything to this resolution system – what adversity does my character face now? In what internal and external context must his next decisions be made? What are his new strengths, arising from his past (both immediate and long-gone)? What opposes him now, no matter what he happens to face?

Which means that “Agonizing thigh wound” = “Captain of Skyriders” = “Believes Jhy is his pal” = “Awesome axe-thrower.” Some of these I got from resolutions during in-story conflicts, some of them I got from applying the between-story rewards.

What I mean by “equals” is that each and every one of those things is (a) a rated entity meaning X dice at Y time in a conflict (doesn’t matter which side for the present point), and also that each and every one of those is both problem and opportunity for me as a player. The resolution system, which is to say how a Trait relates to a dice pool during conflicts, is now a full and consistent subroutine of the reward system, which is to say how a Trait comes to be included or altered on my character sheet.

So my final point: given that as the raison d'etre of the game design, along with its core elements of elegance, clarity, and strong social contract, it seems to me that more room for more rope is highly desirable. Especially in the resolution system as a sub-set of the reward system. Since the system is robust enough to include such room, without tack-on rules of any kind, I can only recommend to you most strongly that you consider it.

Best, Ron
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Alan
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« Reply #12 on: October 03, 2006, 09:49:35 AM »

Hi Levi,

I've followed this exchange with interest, as I like what I see when I read the Exchange. And Ron's contriubtions have been great.

It's not clear to me, though, why a roll would ever be anything but 4 dice verses 4 dice. I understand that higher ranked dice have to be justified by their role in the SIS, but even so, doesn't this happen often? How has it played out in your playtests. How often is there a large discrepency between dice rolled by opposing sides?
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- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: October 03, 2006, 04:09:38 PM »

Hiya,

Actually, if anyone wants to hop in with questions or whatever, please feel free. The "five and five only" idea worked really well last time, so let's try it again.

Alan, I'm going to respond to your question to Levi out of sheer enthusiasm, and Levi, if I'm wrong, please correct it.

The idea is that The Exchange relies on a group-level commitment to police Trait use. My character has a very limited number of Traits at the ranks of 3 and higher. It seems to me fairly easy for a GM to hit players with conflicts that may bypass those higher-ranked Traits at least some of the time, and the whole-group policing factor (basically shouting "weak!") is expected to moderate (a) when indeed they do, and (b) when a Trait unexpectedly applies after all.

Based on my experiences with Hero Wars, in which augmenting one ability with another was very common, I'm pretty sure this moderating factor can be relied upon if everyone understands it and wants to do it.

That said, I'm definitely interested in the playtesting-based answer to Alan's question.

Best, Ron
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Levi Kornelsen
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« Reply #14 on: October 03, 2006, 08:12:07 PM »

Ron; that last 3-post post of yours was impressive, to say the least.  I've been sitting around playing with dice and 'shifting' trait concepts, and the like, ever since.

You're pretty much dead on.

I'm currently sitting around with a copy of The Exchange that's basically covered in scratch notes, both on possible changes, and simply on "explaining things better".  Basically, I'm restructuring along much the lines you're mentioned, aiming to clear up and refine the basic ideas of consequences for action and dynamic characters.  There's a lot of internal babble involved; trying to find a way to clear up the way I'm grouping traits, so that I can get both fully-dynamic characters, but also ones where changing part of the core identity of a character feels like it matters systematically...   

...So, while I haven't got much left to say on the topic right now, it's because I need to do and test more first.

It's not clear to me, though, why a roll would ever be anything but 4 dice verses 4 dice. I understand that higher ranked dice have to be justified by their role in the SIS, but even so, doesn't this happen often? How has it played out in your playtests. How often is there a large discrepency between dice rolled by opposing sides?

In our game, the last two calls (third and fourth dice) were the ones that most often got called as 'lame', or got prompted for added explanation.

As for "how often?", I'd say that in our first game, we'd shoot for four dice about two-thirds of the time, and get them about half the time (lots of lame calls, as we established just how flexible we were going to be).  As play went on, we talked about it a little here and there, the number of times people stretched it dropped, the calls of 'lame' dropped, and "getting four dice" more or less stabilised at a point somewhere between half and two-thirds of the time.

But that was us.  In a group more relaxed about defining their traits, that would go up.  In a group playing for really strict definitions, that would go down.  In a group that couldn't agree, of course, it'd be a bloody mess.
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