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[Lacuna] Learning to re-love Task Res

Started by Darcy Burgess, October 30, 2007, 04:59:07 PM

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Darcy Burgess

Two saturdays ago, I got to play my first game of Lacuna at HoundCon, a birthday party for a long-time friend.

I'll lead by saying that the setup was not (in my mind) ideal; I believe that by the time all the players trickled in, there were at least six (may seven?) mystery agents, plus Control.  That's a lot of traffic at the table.

The game was fun, tense, and thoroughly trippy.  There were (of course) numerous interruptions (new players arriving and rolling up agents, getting the low-down on the setting and the mission, making dinner, etc), so the in-game fiction was jumpy.  Interestingly enough, that isn't necessarily a bad thing for Lacuna -- the disjointed narrative didn't feel off; in fact, it felt just fine.

But here's where I really want to get to: I was the only dyed-in-the-wool indie gamer at the table.  Control is a voracious consumer of RPGs; however, I think that Lacuna was his first foray into the actual play of some of the weird and whacky stuff that's out there.  There were no discussions about "conflict resolution" or "stakes" or any of the rest of the stuff that we tend to bandy about in the Forge diaspora.  We simply jumped in, Control told us the rules, and we rolled dice when needed.

In fact, I'll go so far as to say that we were playing under the guise of Task resolution -- there was no conscious or unconscious acknowledgement of goals or desires.  We were strictly doing stuff like "find a gun" "unlock the door" "shoot the spidermen".

and it rocked my socks off

I've been thinking a lot about why, and I think that I've distilled it down to two reasons:

  • Control was playing fair.  There were no "oh no, the papers aren't in the safe" moments.
  • Heart Rate is a perfect solution to the whole "ok, I pick the lock again" phenom.  In fact, your right to pick the lock again is enshrined in the rules.

Having never read the actual game text, I am curious whether or not it apportions narrative authority after the dice are rolled.  In our case, Control was narrating everything, with input from the mystery agents.  It worked well (and kept the game moving and focused -- which is necessary in such a large cadre of players), but there were times when I wanted to spread my creative wings a little more.

Oh!  One last tidbit: the game also wondrously supports (arguably) spurious die rolling.  In one scene, I heaped on the dice for a call to Control (for the express purpose of requesting a clean shirt).  Within the narrative, this served no purpose other than to showcase how far over the edge my agent had slipped (it was also a nice bit of comic relief).  However, outside of the fiction, I was attempting to mine commendation points at the expense of my Heart rate.  It totally backfired on me, which was awesome too.

Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.

M Jason Parent

It wasn't entirely task resolution. The system uses it for combat-styled conflict because it has a defined conflict mechanic (you succeed or you take damage, and if you succeed something bad happens to the target), but we had situations where players stated what they were looking for and we got it - whether or not I planned for it to be there.

I noticed one thing I did right after the game though - when players made navigation rolls I shouldn't have said "the river is to the South", but instead said "ok, you know where the river is" and then explain that the player would then have the task of explaining where it is.

If someone had looked for papers in the safe, they would have been there if the player had made the difficulty 11 roll. But it depends on the players as to what they will ask for and how they request to make rolls.

That said, I was pretty obtuse with one player who was constantly trying to do stuff that didn't advance the game at all. I sidelined him completely and actually said "no" to some of his requests. With a smaller group of agents at the table, I could have allowed him to make rolls instead and turned the results into part of the plot. But we were already nearing the completion of the mission when he started wandering off into bars and trying to pick up chicks instead of helping to resolve the plot. I also avoided giving the mission static for his departure which I would have done in a more organized game.

Seven mystery agents at final count.

And your's flipped out something awesome.

Control Out.
M Jason Parent
(not really an Indie publisher, but I like to pretend)

Junk Dreams Design Journal (an archive of old Junk Dreams posts)

M Jason Parent

PS: I laughed out loud at "voracious consumer of RPGs". Control feels that intelligence is important. To collect maximal intelligence on RPGs, Control has accumulated a library of roughly 200 other RPGs.
M Jason Parent
(not really an Indie publisher, but I like to pretend)

Junk Dreams Design Journal (an archive of old Junk Dreams posts)


Jason, how did you prep for the session?  I've read about different methods, and I'm struck by how different your perception of the game is from what Darcy describes -- his post suggests that you had an old-school list of what went where (and thus what was in the safe), while you didn't have any such thing by your own account. 
I believe in peace and science.

M Jason Parent

It was a party game so I didn't prep it heavily. I read a couple of other game reports, stole a bunch of material from one of them, made up a quick list of static causes and effects, asked for a dream sequence from each player, and built a game around the original concepts I stole from the game reports (target, setup, two locations, one character) and what I got from the players on the spot (2 locations, one event, one character).

I spent about 25 minutes prepping to play honestly.

With the way a team of 7 agents collects Static, the game went off the rails from step one. We hit 10 static before the team had gotten to the first point of investigation, and I just started throwing stuff at them - Spidermen, repeating characters, explosions, etc.

The only things "set" at the beginning were:

The reason why the team is going in.
The name and job of the target in the city.
The NPC who would be useful and would die if static got too high.
Where the previous team encountered the target and what had happened to them (and half of that was determined in the 2 minutes before game play started based on input from the players' dream sequences).

I was making up most of the material as I went along. Based on what the Agents rolled and asked for when they were rolling and asking for stuff, and making up the rest myself when they weren't.

I expect future games will become more agent-driven, as the players learn how to manipulate Blue City better as PLAYERS. Of the people at the table, most had only played with me in D&D games, or my long-running CyberPunk campaigns.
M Jason Parent
(not really an Indie publisher, but I like to pretend)

Junk Dreams Design Journal (an archive of old Junk Dreams posts)

Darcy Burgess

I've been reconsidering my position on the whole Task/Conflict divide regarding Lacuna.

The clever thing about the design is that on one level, it's always Conflict.  What's at stake is always "how much do you raise your heart rate to get what you want".  The corollary to that is "Is this worth raising your heart rate?"

This effect is running in the background at all times.  And it's not subtle -- it's at the forefront of play once you grasp the mechanic.  However, by the very nature of the mechanics, it insinuates itself into every resolution.

Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.