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[Dread/Jenga] Heartbeat, slow down (long)

Started by Frank Tarcikowski, July 16, 2007, 05:29:36 PM

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Frank Tarcikowski

Now I've read the game text of Dread and played it again, this time as a GM, one on one with my girlfriend. Here is my conclusion:

Dread is very similar to The Pool, in that it provides a billiantly simple, open resolution mechanic allowing and requiring players to give direction to the game. Unlike the 3-page-document by James West, the Dread book provides a lot of advice as to how, but I found most of that advice to be ill suited to my personal preferences.

Especially the "negation of progress" issue and IIEE waffling are obviously intended by the authors as a means for the GM to control the plot and deny the players a firm grasp on what they can achieve by pulling a block. I would play the game differently, designing scenarios in a way that allows for real player-driven progress (as opposed to the GM controlling the characters' progress). I would also be very clear about the consequences of success or failure of each action, or the effects of a sacrifice. All that however does not require any change to the resolution mechanic. It just requires using the mechanic in a way that works for me and my group.

As for player vs. player adversity, Steve, I think why it worked for you was because it was the dramatic final anyway, so tension was high and death was likely, and there was no additional adversity provided by the GM. Again it's a question of using the mechanic in a way that works for you. I think that adversity can either be player vs. player or GM vs. player, but if both conflict, it gets messy. The authors presume that players in a PvP situation should draw a block or two and after that one should back down. But why draw any blocks then in the first place?

Here's something to ponder: Early in the story, my character is sneaking up on yours, and none of us is willing to back down in the conflict. Both of us are adept Jenga players. We will take turns pulling, or do multiple pulls. Two things will happen: Firstly, no longer does every single pull signify some action in the SIS. They lose meaning. (Well, you could go to pains backing every pull up with some narration, but with 20-30 pulls, that gets pretty meaningless at some point, too.) Secondly, when we are finally done, the one to back down will have done so because the tower was tight. No lose blocks left. Therefore, most likely any action by a player character that follows must fail or someone must die, in order to restore the tower. That's not a feature. It's a bug.

So I guess anything but a fight to the death between player characters is best not resolved using the tower. If players are aware of that and act accordingly, everything will be fine. But "acting accordingly" is not always that easy, especially when your suspension of disbelief is challenged.

Here's another parallel between Dread and The Pool: They're not easy to play, but highly rewarding once you figured out how they work for you.
If you come across a post by a guest called Frank T, that was me. My former Forge account was destroyed in the Spam Wars. Collateral damage.


Could the conflict over stabbing the man in the wheelchair bound man have been described as:

"If Justin wins, he stabs the old man (presumably killing him)"
"If Andy wins, Justin is unable to stab the old man."

  It's not up to Andy to say whether or not Justin still wants to kill the old man.  The player of Justin can keep pushing for new ways to kill the old man (if he's tied to a wheelchair, there's a lot of that).  But if Andy wins, then the knife is dropped in the trash, or out the window, or is kicked under the heavy TV cabinet, or something else removing the knife as one of Justin's weapons.
  And yes, it would probably continue until one or the other players took it to the "either give up trying to kill him, or topple the tower" stage.

Callan S.

I don't think I agree with the mechanical assessment of the tower. No one really knows when the tower is tight. When someone backs down, it's because they estimate the tower was tight. There's no certainty here, it's still a gamble.

In addition, the tower getting closer to someone having to die to restore it makes any conflict its used in signficant (as significant as PC lives are in the particular game). You can't have throw away task/conflict resolution here, like you do in D&D where the GM gets you to make a skill roll but really it doesn't matter in the end. Any time you use the tower, its as significant as the lives that rest upon it. Rather than a bug, using it in a throw away manner is going to cause the fault. Realising that a character is going to die for no other reason than some throw away stuff happened might at first seem like a bug, but that's due to the initial missuse.
Philosopher Gamer

Frank Tarcikowski

Callan, I see your point. Still, you are looking at the other guy. Who is going to back down? One of you clearly should, for the sake of the group and the story and everything. But who is it going to be? Why does it have to be you? Who backs down is who loses the conflict. The system doesn't help you to decide that.

So, no vanities over what's bug or feature. The point is, PvP conflict in Dread must be solved without the tower. Right?
If you come across a post by a guest called Frank T, that was me. My former Forge account was destroyed in the Spam Wars. Collateral damage.

Callan S.

For the sake of wha??

Sorry, I've been looking at this in much the same mode as Capes system use, you use it try and have your way. In capes you don't win a conflict and then...give it up for the sake of story or the group. You winning a conflict and narration IS the story. If other people don't like that, they should have used the system better to stop you. This isn't being nasty to each other - good natured conflict between people is creatively beneficial, and everyone knows the conflict is just a temporary thing, like the conflict in a game of chess isn't being nasty to anyone. In context to this, you either back down because your afraid to go one more block and think you can get your way by some other method, or your character isn't morally invested enough to risk one more brick/risk his life that much. In a pure duel to the death, keep drawing blocks - your counting on the other player screwing up. That's how I understand it to work here, and achieve its goals I think it does.

However, from my own history of play and what I see in other peoples accounts many people, without a system to manage who wins...well, who backs down? Why does it have to be me? In many groups this does become a real social sore spot.

The thing with these groups, and again I'm thinking of my own history as well, is that faced with that social nastyness, people stop wanting to win. It's better to just supress the desire. In fact in forums here and there you often see it lauded as being a good gamer or GM to give up the desire to achieve something.

From observing accounts here and there, I hypothesize: After awhile of this, even if the group is exposed to a system where someone can dare to win and it seriously, honestly wouldn't result in social nastyness, they still wont dare to win.

When the system didn't decide who backs down, did you think it'd still result in social nastyness if you just decided to go for the win? Or would continuing on, taking that next block, be emperilling 'the group' as you put it? Emperilling the investment everyone had in 'the story'?

Tough questions. Don't worry, karma will get me back one day! :)
Philosopher Gamer

Frank Tarcikowski

Yeah well, Capes is designed for players to provide adversity to one another. Dread is designed for the players to ultimately stand together against the adversity provided by the GM. That's why only the players have to draw, and not the GM. That's how it works. The more blocks they draw, the more dangerous the situation gets as they move the plot forward. Progress is slow, each conflict meaning a block or two only. The story climaxes as the tower is on the verge of collapsing.

This wonderful dynamic is knocked off balance if two players step out of line and draw 20 blocks in a single PvP conflict early on. The game is a collaborative one, not a competitive one.

Social nastiness? Not entirely unlikely, depending on the group. If both players are invested in their characters, it can become a lose-lose situation. The one to back down may feel uncomfortable about it even if he backed down deliberately.

Here's a rules change I thought about. Instead of taking turns drawing, there is only a single draw. The single draw is made by the player whose character is acting. If both characters are acting at the same time, it is made by the player whose character is more likely to succeed in the conflict, based on the character concept as laid out in the questionnaire. If he makes the draw successfully, he wins. If he abandons, he loses. If the tower falls, he's out. That could work, but it could also provoke players to a "strike first" policy...

Others have suggested to just toss a coin.
If you come across a post by a guest called Frank T, that was me. My former Forge account was destroyed in the Spam Wars. Collateral damage.