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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 215 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
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Author Topic: [Misery Bubblegum] K. I. S. S.  (Read 2955 times)
TonyLB
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« on: October 03, 2006, 04:28:23 AM »

So, three weeks ago I had a game where you wrote down recurring conflicts on 3x5 cards, and hoped that they'd gel together, then you traded those 3x5 cards back and forth through conflicts.  You would occasionally grab some number of dice (nobody quite knew how many) and roll them, and the results would matter.  Those dice never went away, they just shuttled around.

We had fun with that.  We made a story.  We did it largely on our own, because the system was bewildering, and didn't guide us.

Two weeks ago I had a game where you picked general types of conflicts ("Why don't I stand up for myself?") and made them specific ("There's a bully, and I keep giving him my lunch money").  You traded those cards back and forth through conflicts.  You would occasionally grab a specific number of dice, as defined by the cards (largely unconnected to the story) and roll them, and the results would matter.  Those dice went away at intervals we didn't quite understand, and when they were gone the game was over.

We had more fun with that.  We played a game, from which a story emerged at sporadic intervals, but we often had to sit back and say "Oh man, how are the cards arranged now?  What does that mean?" and it could have been smoother.

One week ago I had a game where you picked general conflicts, made them specific, then owned them forever.  The main element of play was just telling the story, punctuated by moving dice onto a card.  Occasionally the dice on the card would be rolled, and this would be the natural summation of all of the story-telling that was involved on moving those dice into position.  The dice went away when they purchased something cool in the story, and it was perfectly clear what you wanted to buy and how much it was going to cost.

We had a frickin' ball with that.  We told a story, and most places we wanted the story to go the mechanics happily drove in that direction, but when the mechanics occasionally said "Nuh uh!  You gotta go this way, not that way," said mechanics were entirely right and we were entirely wrong, and the result was better than we would have done in freeform, though no clumsier to achieve.

So there's a lesson there:  Keep It Simple, Stupid.  The system I had three weeks ago could do more than the system I had a week ago.  Much more.  It was vastly more broad and capable, in theory.  But, in practice, its blue-sky, wide-open possibilities were, in fact, liabilities ... the infinite possibilities meant that we achieve much less in actuality.  Likewise, the system I had two weeks ago was much richer in representing the flow of influence ... enough so that we spent all our time trying to read the system, rather than just running quickly with our intuitive sense of where people stood.

The process of refining Misery Bubblegum has, for the past few weeks, been largely about figuring out how to have the mechanics themselves do less, and instead have them ever-so-subtly encourage the players to do more.  That's really cool.  I wish I were better at it.

So, how do people do that job in their own games?  When you have something vitally important that must happen in your game, how do you write rules that won't be about that thing, but rather about some easier-to-manage, peripheral things that will draw the players themselves to do the vitally important thing?
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andrew_kenrick
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« Reply #1 on: October 04, 2006, 02:14:18 PM »

So which change do you think had the most impact on the game Tony? The changing the nature of the conflicts of the cards, having the conflicts owned by the players or changing when and how the dice are rolled? I can definitely see how making the mechanics simpler makes the story more important and engaging, however.

How do I do that in my game? Man, I wish I knew! Let's think about it ... and I hope I've got your question the right way round!

In Dead of Night, what has to absolutely happen? Well, the characters (and the players) have to get scared and tense and play like they're stuck in a horror movie. Are these mechanical features? No. But the Survival Point/Tension Point mechanics do help drive the story in this direction, forcing the players to spend Survival Points more and more, and by doing so driving it towards the climax and upping the tension all the while. The very act of spending points and managing resources, whilst not directly linked to the amount of fear or tension felt by the players, creates a sense of tension as they begin to run out.

How about Six Bullets for Vengeance, what has to happen? This one is easier I think, as it's quite explicit. In each scene, the hero has to get his revenge on one of the villains, who has to die. Yet this isn't the focus of the scene, merely the end result. As the rules are written right now, yes, this is represented by a mechanic. I think my next revision to the playtest document is to remove this mechanic. After all, do you need rules to make something happen that everybody knows has to happen in the story anyhow? Is it somehow redundant to have such a mechanic, and does it force the players to focus on the mechanic and the end result, and therefore lose focus on what the scene is really about, which is how the hero gets there.

I'd love to hear more about the playtest though Tony - the evolution of this mechanic sounds fascinating.
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Andrew Kenrick
www.steampowerpublishing.com
Dead of Night - a pocket sized game of b-movie and slasher horror
TonyLB
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« Reply #2 on: October 05, 2006, 04:38:39 AM »

So which change do you think had the most impact on the game Tony? The changing the nature of the conflicts of the cards, having the conflicts owned by the players or changing when and how the dice are rolled? I can definitely see how making the mechanics simpler makes the story more important and engaging, however.

Of the three, I definitely think that not moving the cards around made the biggest difference.  All three of them reduce the challenge to the players ... I think of them (even the other two, which add rules) as making the process of playing the game simpler and easier.  There were just lots and lots of open-ended options before that weren't necessary, and now there are less.

But the arrangement of cards requires the most mental effort.  When you look at who has which cards you end up saying "Okay, these two things are what I need to drive the story toward.  Those other three things, that's what Eric will be driving the story toward, and since we need to mesh our issues I need to be conscious of that, but in a different way than I'm conscious of my own issues."  When you had to redo that thinking every time the dice hit the table it was brutally difficult to keep up.  Doing it once at the beginning of the game and then developing your plan as things go on is immensely easier.
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marknau
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« Reply #3 on: October 06, 2006, 08:09:41 AM »

My immediate reaction upon reading the three systems is that I expect the third system to be better for the following reasons:
1) The cards stay with the player. This means I "own" this card, and it is part of my definition of my character. As a player, I can intuitively understand what it means to build up that continuing theme for my player. It is a constant "frame" around my play.
2) There is a well-defined economy of dice. They go away in a predictable fashion, so a player has interesting decisions in choosing when to invest them.
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