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Author Topic: [New 'Noir' Game] Wondering about a core conflict-resolution system  (Read 2626 times)
baron samedi

Posts: 137

« on: August 21, 2007, 06:06:28 AM »

Hi everybody,

I'm in the creative process of trying to develop a one-shot RPG/campaign (somewhat like The Mountain Witch or Puppetland) in a  "Noir/Police Investigation" genre with a theme about people in key roles confronting their inner demons as a slasher runs loose in a nameless, stylized city. This is what this game is about: "What's your character in the dark".

I would like the game experience to reflect inner anguish, psychosis, hate as seen in movies such as Sin City, 23 and Seven. Where I'm at loss to start is with the basic mechanics. The angle I'd like to take is something very simple, like Polaris, Extreme Vengeance or My Life With Master, but I'm facing writer's block on the actual systme design.

He's what I thought so far:

- No names, just descriptors:  "The Policeman, the Victim, the City, the Killer".
- 3 attributes only (Psychosis, Anguish, and Hate) that are "conflicted", both positive and negative, and their rise "unlocks" various plot hooks and events during gameplay.
- No skills, equipment or things that don't have personal meaning: very simplified mechanics.
- A conflict resolution mechanic to which risk taking or refusal to take risk is central, and the outcome of which affects a characters'"values" or "beliefs".
- A basic plotline starting with a dramatic event, and aggravating hooks all along that build into a spiral of Psychosis/Hate/Anguish.
- Conclusions and strategic decisions that are intimately personal, because what the characters feel and choose is paramount to the game system.

I've no ideas beyond that so far. I've done my homework before asking: I'm reasonably familiar with GNS theory and I own quite a few indie RPGs which I've examined for tips, but I'm still at loss.

Anybody has suggestions on basic ideas, to start my drawing board? Thanks!!!

Adam Riemenschneider

Posts: 81

I also go by Capulet on other Forums.

« Reply #1 on: August 22, 2007, 09:47:20 AM »

I have a thought on your Attributes, which will sound contrary at first, so hear me out: Instead of having Psychosis, Anguish, and Hate, and having + and - aspects of each, I've got an idea. But first, I want to make sure I understand fully what you mean by a positive aspect of, say, Psychosis. Would a positive aspect of Psychosis be something that Psychosis gives the character that they can use (sometimes being crazy can be helpful?), or would it be the *opposite* of Psychosis?

If you were thinking of opposites...

Instead of having Psychosis, Anguish, and Hate, call the attributes by their positive opposites; say, Stability, Happiness, and Peace? Do so with the understanding that a low score in Stability means the character has a high score in Psychosis, but you just don't point this out directly (think about the Fruitful Void, eh?)

So, an idea for basic mechanics. When I think of Noir, I think cards, so how about representing the Attributes as card pools? For the following thoughts, just assume cards are ace through ten.

Let's say my Detective has Stability of 8, Happiness of 3, and Peace of 4. This means he has an unspoken score of Psychosis 2, Anguish 7, and Hate 6. The opposites add up to 10. I want to take my Detective on a car chase (or whatever) and it's determined that this is a Stability test. I've got a pool of 8. This means I've got 8 cards, face down, in front of my Stability spot.

Now, reflecting your taking risks/not taking risks thought, I get to decide how many Stability cards I get to draw... essentially, how hard I want to try to accomplish the task. I get to draw 1 card for free, but I have declare how many cards I'm going to draw before I begin. The task is so-so important to me, so I declare 2 cards.

I draw 3 and 7. Pretty good. I get to keep the highest card drawn, so 7 it is. Opposite my Stability pool is the GM's pile, representing my Detective's Psychosis, which is 2. So, the GM can opt to declare my difficulty as 1 or 2, and he'll draw that many cards and compare his highest score against my 7.

That's what I've got for your basic mechanic. As for how your Attributes raise/lower, and how this affects the game's narrative, I'm not sure what to do. You could do a thing where winning a test means absorbing cards from the opposite pool in some way, and losing means losing cards to the opposite pool. But how many cards? How much movement do you want in this area (and how fast do you want the game to go)?

You could come up with narrative cards, I suppose, that reflect things related to the Attributes. You could draw these cards in relation to how much a character's Attributes have moved (say I won that driving test with my Stability, and I won another card for my Stability, bringing my Stability to 9. 1 card gained means the GM draws 1 card from the Stability narrative cards, which gives the GM direction to my next scene).

Not sure if this is the kind of direction you're looking to go?

baron samedi

Posts: 137

« Reply #2 on: August 22, 2007, 12:27:51 PM »

Well, you've got it right more or less... I thought deeper what I meand and for each scene, I'd like the players to vote on what levels of each gauge they'd attribute to the other players (by allocating, say 10 points among the others). These would allow the player to "activate" abilities or scenes, such as Traits or cards or whatever, to make the story go somewhere.

The actual ability would be negative from the CHARACTER'S point of view, but positive from the PLAYER'S point of view since the 1st player to face his character's angst would win. So you want your character to suffer in order to win .Say, like the "Gloom card game", for example.

This is a general idea, I'm not too sure where to go with that...
Mike Sugarbaker

Posts: 108


« Reply #3 on: August 22, 2007, 02:09:19 PM »

I am not sure about using Stability, Happiness and Peace as attribute names when the game is basically supposed to be about people who are psychotic, anguished and hateful... just to varying degrees. Your stat names are some of the first handles that players will latch onto to get a sense of how play is supposed to feel; you want to make sure either that you're giving them accurate ones, or if you're gonna whipsaw them, that you're doing it for a reason.

Your citing Sin City, plus the idea that characters won't get proper names (at least not when created), says to me that you're going for a kind of detached, stylized take on things, which sounds creepy and awesome in equal measure (like Sin City, go figure). But I'm also intrigued by "What's your character in the dark?" and I hope you don't lose sight of that.

Hmm... "sight"... "dark"... hey, instead of making stats for the things that the game experience is always going to reflect, what if you went for stuff that reflects that question, "What's your character in the dark?" This just popped into my head, so take it with many pounds of salt, but: a Sight stat, with different values for "day" and "night"? To be interpreted metaphorically, of course. Or not, I dunno. Or, another possibility: different numbers for sight into yourself, versus into others? Heh, I can totally see those black and white Frank Miller panels now.

Lots of room for interesting stuff to get done in this genre. (Although you should certainly have a look at Dirty Secrets if you haven't.)

Publisher/Co-Editor, OgreCave
Caretaker, Planet Story Games
Content Admin, Story Games Codex
Anders Larsen

Posts: 270

« Reply #4 on: August 22, 2007, 04:21:13 PM »

Here is a bit of steam of conciseness: 

Well, before you go to the resolution system, you first need a set-up. This is the set-up you give: "a  "Noir/Police Investigation" genre with a theme about people in key roles confronting their inner demons as a slasher runs loose in a nameless, stylized city." I would guess that the slasher is "just" a McGuffin, the real story of the game is about confronting the inner demon.

I think that you should start with the inner demon. Each of the the players have to come up with some dark secret from their character's past which will come back and hunt them.

The slasher is important in that way that what he do will trigger the confrontation with the inner demons. Also, of cause, he is there to create fear, to make the game more interesting.

A inner demon could be: "Killed a child during an arrest. It was an accident, but it could easily have been prevented if I had not been affected by drugs." The player should probably also write down images that will bring the character back to this moment ("the bloody face of the child", "The mothers scream" etc). The slasher (GM) will then do stuff which relates to these images, which will then bring the the character face to face with his demon. The slasher can then seem to have this uncanny insight into the darkness of the characters' minds.

Well, on to the attributes. I normally find that it is a good idea to find the concepts behind such attributes. Here is how I see them:

Psychosis: is about how the character beats himself up over the terrible things he has done.

Hate: is how he lashes out to hurt other people when his inner pain gets too much.

Anguish: Could be the pain that slowly builds up.

I think that it is very important that the "risk taken" part of the mechanic is reflected strongly in the fiction. This could be done very directly by having the player say what he will put on stakes in the game. He may say "I will put the life of the new, young policeman on stake." This will then give him some bonuses in the conflict, but if things goes wrong, then the young policeman will die. And of course, if you put the character's family on the line here, you will get even more bonuses.

But how to tie the attributes into this? Hate could maybe be rolled for outgoing aggressive stuff, and Psychosis could be used for solving mysteries. (I can not think of Anguish as other than some kind of special attribute, which is only used to deal directly with the inner demon). My thought is that when you use the attribute you risk increasing them. This can of course be an advantage, but the downside is that the higher Hate and Psychosis is the more you are in the risk of snapping. If you snap with Hate, you turn your aggressions on people (or a person) who do not deserve it, and if you snap with Psychosis you are going to hurt yourself. After you have snapped the attribute should probably decrease in some way - and maybe this will increase Anguish.

An idea for Anguish could be that if you go to far with this attribute, you will go back and play scenes of what happened back when the inner demon was created.

Well, before I go too far, I would like hear if this is something you can use.

 - Anders

Justin Nichol - BFG

Posts: 95

« Reply #5 on: August 22, 2007, 05:02:24 PM »

I don't know, maybe I'm totally off, but it seems if you want conflict resolution based on taking risk and you don't want stats, seems like the number of dice or cards or leverage points or whatever a character has should be somehow based on how much they're willing to risk on a given action. Seems like your descriptors should somehow allow resolutionless gameplay. A cop can wrestle a guy to the ground, a criminal is streetwise, etc. And that for actual important stuff that requires resolution, that risk instead of being bodily harm should reflect how much more psychotic, hateful or angry the character becomes. Force the characters to risk more of their sanity in order to achieve the final goal of finding the slasher. I'm not sure how to do it, but it seems you need some way to push the characters inexorably towards madness while still allowing them to try to struggle to remain sane, maybe tying that into their inner demon. It seems tricky but interesting. This all doesn't sound much like Sin City to me though, it does sound like a lot of good psychological thrillers, but although the characters in Sin City are mostly fucking nuts, they're all unabashedly lacking in regret and don't have the same sorts of downward spirals or crises of conscience that I'm picking up from your OP. Characters in Sin City don't tip into the abyss from staring into it so long, they're already falling, laughing maniacally and licking shots at the people still at the rim. I think something like Taxi Driver is actually more like what this might be like only of course with the characters taking part in trying to stop a slasher.

It also seems like you need a pacing mechanic. Something that pushes the characters inexorably towards a confrontation with the slasher. If it's a one shot, each scene should move closer to the end one after the other in a way that allows the tension to build and the game to end before it becomes stale. I've noticed in some really strong games, a storyteller will keep adding more scenes because everythings going so well, but eventually it just fizzles and loses what it had.
baron samedi

Posts: 137

« Reply #6 on: August 27, 2007, 03:48:37 PM »

Wow! Thanks everybody for the amazing input! Anders especially, you've provided me with amazing ground to get where I wanted to. I strongly appreciate your help, everyone!

Actually, part of the idea was that it was likely that one of the players realized in the end that his character WAS the Slasher in the first place, as one of the possible endings, but the players or the GM wouldn't know ahead. (Hence the "what are you in the dark"; a killer, a hero, etc.) I probably have it wrong with the Sin City analogy, at least the comics, but I'm glad I got my point accross. Something like "Clue" but much darker in tone, of course!
My basic idea was inspired  by "Coutoo", a comic novel by French/German artist Andreas, which you probably never heard of.

Ideally, I wouldn't have any GM at all and would try to work this out in a card game, with dark pasts as drawn cards that are perhaps revealed by the player through play. As for the stats themselves, I was thinking of them as Resources, but having them as conflicted numbers AND as strategic rare resources to pool from is a neat concept too!!!

Now my task will be thinking what kind of dark pasts could build up characters to make in such a context (the Inspector, the Witness, the Usual Suspect, the Mob Enforcer...) Any tips that'd fit with the suggetions you've given me would help clarify my lantern!!! Cheesy
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