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Author Topic: [LoA] I/C ties  (Read 19057 times)
Filip Luszczyk
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« on: May 31, 2009, 08:41:46 AM »

The original clarification comes from this thread.

Quote from: Filip Luszczyk
The situation: two player characters are in a conflict, both have no Inspiration and both have some Corruption. Both players want to spend Corruption for an automatic success.
Quote from: GreatWolf
Well, here's the thing.  Spending Inspiration (or Corruption) isn't an auto-win for the character.  Instead, it's a win for Good or Evil, in the cosmic sense.  So, if both players are wanting to spend Corruption, they both want Evil to win instead of either character winning.  So figure out what it means for Evil to win in this particular situation, with the Narrator having final say over what happens.

Now, I admit that "initiative" would be useful for this situation.  When we played, it was never a problem.  If I were to revise the game, I'd probably make this a blind bid:  Inspiration, Corruption, or none.  Then just go with the outcome.  Actually, if you wanted to test this rule, I'd be curious to see how it works.

We did test this rule in our last week's game. I think the general solution (i.e. a blind bid) is good. However, the exact execution didn't work well.

A few ties occurred in that game, and each time, we've spent quite a while sorting things out. It was never clear what "win for Good or Evil, in the cosmic sense" actually meant in the context of those particular conflicts, and we wound up negotiating the outcomes and basically deciding what happened by group consensus. However, as I see it, the very possibility of the resolution procedure generating such a result undermined the point of using the resolution procedure in the first place (i.e. we refer to the mechanics specifically to avoid deciding the outcomes by consensus or fiat). For me as the Narrator it didn't feel right to just dictate the outcome, as it would have effectively invalidated the players' explicitly stated goals, while there were no explicit goals for Good or Evil stated. Besides, at least once we had a I/C bidding tie in a conflict with an NPC, when Narrator's decision wouldn't be much different from the NPC automatically winning his goal, despite the tie.
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #1 on: June 04, 2009, 01:47:40 PM »

Besides, at least once we had a I/C bidding tie in a conflict with an NPC, when Narrator's decision wouldn't be much different from the NPC automatically winning his goal, despite the tie.
I am not certain how to address this.

First, I think that it is a basic referee skill to distinguish what I as referee want from what any of my non-player characters what.  After all, I have dozens of those, and they all want different things.  So my decision as referee and my decision as character player would be different.

Second, particularly with Legends of Alyria, I find it difficult to imagine a conflict in which it would not be possible to determine what "good" and "evil" would want to have happen.  It is painted as a very bleak world with a divinely good aspect.  The point of Inspiration/Corruption conflicts is precisely that it takes it entirely out of the realm of which character gets what he wants and makes it a conflict between the unicorns and the dragons, whether this goes in a way that benefits the good powers of the universe or the bad powers of the universe, and that outcome very likely will not mean that either "side" wins, but that something completely unanticipated happens--intervention by a third party, for example.

What surprises me most, though, is the idea that this was a conflict between a player character and a non-player character.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, non-player characters are not the instigators of conflicts; the conflicts are between the player characters.  That is, let us suppose that Devin is our villain and Angelica our hero.  They must both be player characters, because they are the primary movers in the game.  Now let us create a character named Brutus.  Brutus is just muscle, and a non-player character.  Angelica gets into a conflict with Brutus.  Why?  Ultimately the conflict must be because Angelica wants to do something that Devin does not want her to do.  Brutus is irrelevant to the conflict mechanically; he is only the agent by which Devin is opposing Angelica.  If Brutus is not Devin's agent, either directly or virtually, then the conflict should not exist.  Legends of Alyria is not designed to be a game in which player characters overcome obstacles set by the referee, but in which they create a story by their conflict with each other.  If Brutus has his own agenda, he should also be a player character listed on the story map and run by one of the players at the table, even if one of the players runs two characters (in which case, like the referee, the player must distinguish what each of his characters wants from the other and from himself).

Seth, have I misunderstood something about the game here?

--M. J. Young
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Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #2 on: June 06, 2009, 01:59:27 PM »

Quote
First, I think that it is a basic referee skill to distinguish what I as referee want from what any of my non-player characters what.  After all, I have dozens of those, and they all want different things.  So my decision as referee and my decision as character player would be different.

I don't think I understand your point well. Before any non-player character even begins to want anything, somebody has to establish that fact in the fiction. I'm not sure how this could happen if the person didn't want the character to want a given thing in the first place. It's a fundamental aspect of the creation of imagined spaces.

I guess one needs to be deeply engaged in (creative?) denial not to be aware of that.

Quote
Second, particularly with Legends of Alyria, I find it difficult to imagine a conflict in which it would not be possible to determine what "good" and "evil" would want to have happen.  It is painted as a very bleak world with a divinely good aspect.  The point of Inspiration/Corruption conflicts is precisely that it takes it entirely out of the realm of which character gets what he wants and makes it a conflict between the unicorns and the dragons, whether this goes in a way that benefits the good powers of the universe or the bad powers of the universe, and that outcome very likely will not mean that either "side" wins, but that something completely unanticipated happens--intervention by a third party, for example.

In the context of specific scenes the specific intent of "good or evil in the cosmic sense" was always ambiguous.

However, the main problem with I/C ties was that as opposed to one of the sides winning their pre-established goal, this result left us with a much broader space for interpretation. We wound up debating each such instance for a few minutes and in the end, we had to rely on consensus despite our initial effort to resolve the issue at hand through mechanics. So it was:

"What happens?" -> "We don't know exactly." -> "Let's use this rules to see which of those possible things happens." -> "We still don't know."

Note that we've been playing with the "winner narrates" option, which further complicated the matter, since there was simply no clear winner. It felt rather unfair for the Narrator to take over narration and resolve the conflict with no concrete lines, whereas otherwise the winner would be limited to the pre-established goal. More specifically, it felt pretty much like the GM stealing the player's right to narrate and deciding stuff by fiat, as opposed to freely narrating the outcome in games that make it a default (say, InSpectres).

The way I see it, the blind bidding clarification provided by Seth is like a half of a rule. It tells you how to manipulate the game pieces, but it doesn't really help when it comes to translating that into concrete fiction stuff.

Quote
What surprises me most, though, is the idea that this was a conflict between a player character and a non-player character.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, non-player characters are not the instigators of conflicts; the conflicts are between the player characters. (...) Legends of Alyria is not designed to be a game in which player characters overcome obstacles set by the referee, but in which they create a story by their conflict with each other.  If Brutus has his own agenda, he should also be a player character listed on the story map and run by one of the players at the table, even if one of the players runs two characters (in which case, like the referee, the player must distinguish what each of his characters wants from the other and from himself).

The prep procedure assigns all roles not taken by a player to the Narrator (page 109). All conflicts in question were between major roles. I don't think this is related to the problem at hand, however.
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #3 on: June 11, 2009, 04:17:10 PM »

Quote
First, I think that it is a basic referee skill to distinguish what I as referee want from what any of my non-player characters what.  After all, I have dozens of those, and they all want different things.  So my decision as referee and my decision as character player would be different.

I don't think I understand your point well. Before any non-player character even begins to want anything, somebody has to establish that fact in the fiction. I'm not sure how this could happen if the person didn't want the character to want a given thing in the first place. It's a fundamental aspect of the creation of imagined spaces.

I guess one needs to be deeply engaged in (creative?) denial not to be aware of that.

It is a bit of a joke among authors of fiction as to whether characters have personality independent of what the author intends.  Some authors say that they often run into the problem that their character refuses to do what the author wanted for the story, and others that their characters are their slaves and will do whatever they're told.  Most of us are in the middle somewhere--we create characters, and then control them, but there are some things we cannot reasonably get our characters to do because the characters we have created really would not do that.

That is to say, when you create a character, you are imagining a person and imbuing that person with personality, values, weaknesses, strengths, characteristics.  If you thought about it long enough, you could probably tell me how that character likes his eggs, whether he sleeps on his back, what sort of underwear he wears--because the character is becoming a person, very like someone you know.  In fact, one of the non-player character "tricks" I teach referees is to take someone they actually do know but their players don't, and insert that person into the game as that character.  When you do that, you don't really think, "What do I want this character to do in this situation?" but "What would my cousin Peter do in this situation?"  In much the same way, when you create non-player characters, you will gradually be able to say, "What would Tameka Solo do in this situation?" and find an answer somewhere in your understanding of who she is that has nothing to do with what you want and everything to do with what she wants.

Looked at a slightly different way, if in a more traditional game I as referee am running the big dangerous villain behind it all, I want him to lose because I want my players to succeed in winning--but I know that he wants to win, because that's part of him being the villain.  Thus the choices I make for him are based primarily on what I believe he, a fictional character I have created, would do to ensure his victory, and not on what I, the real person controlling him, want to have happen to him.  In the same way, every character I run I run from the perspective of what the character would do.

This incidentally is true of my player characters.  I never played in any role playing game where I was not running at least two characters as player characters, and in some they were at odds with each other.

See what you can find on "Stance" in the forum threads.  My own take on it is covered in Theory 101:  System and the Shared Imagined Space.  To overly simplify, in some games you're in pawn stance--the character does what the player wants without too much concern for who the character is.  He could be the Monopoly Top Hat for all it matters.  In others, it's all about who the character is, actor stance, expressing the personality of the person created.  Games like Legends of Alyria really require something more akin to author or director stance, in which the personality of the character and the desires of the player are blended to achieve the desired outcome.

More directly, when you are running multiple NPCs and they matter, know who they are and what they want, and build their choices from that.

Quote
In the context of specific scenes the specific intent of "good or evil in the cosmic sense" was always ambiguous.

However, the main problem with I/C ties was that as opposed to one of the sides winning their pre-established goal, this result left us with a much broader space for interpretation. We wound up debating each such instance for a few minutes and in the end, we had to rely on consensus despite our initial effort to resolve the issue at hand through mechanics.

I can see that.  Part of it, though, is that I/C is something of a metamechanic:  it is very specifically creating the opportunity for the players to write parts of the story that go beyond the concerns of their characters.  This is where the cavalry arrives and takes everyone into custody to appear before the court, or the object over which everyone is fighting suddenly is stolen.  The rules cannot at this point tell you what happens, because what happens by definition goes beyond anything the rules could predict or anticipate.

Let me make a suggestion we use in Multiverser.  We use it there specifically with botches, and so we call it "botch lists", but we can adapt it to your situation easily enough.  We'll suppose that someone has decided to spend a point of inspiration to resolve the current situation "for good".  Your concern is in part that "for good" can be a bit vague, but I think it's more that it seems to fall to one individual (and not at all clear which one) to decide what that is going to mean.  So take that out of the loop.  Pause the story to ask everyone, "Given that whatever happens is going to benefit ultimate good, what might do that?"  Then take all the suggestions, discussing how they would do that and how it would express itself in the current situation.  It might be that in having this discussion you all become enamored with the same answer, but if not, number your list (or clock-phase them if that's what's convenient) and roll a die.  Since you've got a list of possible ideas for what would be "good" that were contributed by everyone at the table, and you all understand how they would be "good", which one hits isn't going to be prejudicial, and who narrates it is not going to matter so much since the details are already agreed.

I hope this helps.

--M. J. Young
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Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #4 on: June 19, 2009, 03:18:25 PM »

First, I'll address the rules problem in question, then I'll tackle the whole referee skills mess.

I think I can see the root of the problem now.

Quote
Spending Inspiration (or Corruption) isn't an auto-win for the character.  Instead, it's a win for Good or Evil, in the cosmic sense.  So, if both players are wanting to spend Corruption, they both want Evil to win instead of either character winning.

With this rule "Good, in the cosmic sense" and "Evil, in the cosmic sense" effectively become characters with their own intents. However, they are not an explicit part of the Story Map. All over the Story Map there are concrete people (or sometimes organizations) with concrete relationships between them and concrete agendas. Those are aligned with either Good or Evil through Virtues, but their goals are individual, not cosmic. Even though there is a moral conflict present, it's all human, ambiguous and relative stuff. No overarching agenda for Good and Evil is explicitly established.

This was the source of the difficulty with identifying what Good or Evil wants in the context of a specific situation. We've been treating Good and Evil as abstract forces with abstract agendas, rather than as concrete characters with concrete agendas. The prep procedure focused our attention on the personal level, rather than on the big picture.

The solution you suggests is pretty much an additional stakes setting step to fill that void and a special resolution subsystem to deal with that. This is why, while it would probably work, I don't find it especially elegant - it effectively adds a second conflict resolution mechanic to a game that already deals with all conflicts the same way. Also, it doesn't seem especially time efficient - it requires the group to discuss the matter every time a tie occurs. One of the problems in our game was exactly that debating the outcomes took too much time to be worth it, relative to other instances of resolution.

I think explicitly writing "Cosmic Good" and "Cosmic Evil" into the Story Map should solve a part of the issue. However, when it comes to resolving ties, I guess it would still be much easier to simply ignore them, assuming that when both sides bid the same resource no I/C gets spent and the conflict is resolved as normal.

Quote
More directly, when you are running multiple NPCs and they matter, know who they are and what they want, and build their choices from that.

Well, I don't see that. I fail to see in what way "know who they are and what they want" is effectively different from "establish who they are and what they want". There is nothing in the fiction unless you put something there, it's all a blank page initially. You won't know anything about the elements of the fiction until you make that exist, and you plain cannot make that exists unless you want it.

This is independent of stance. No character in the fiction will want anything unless a real person at the table wants that character to want something. It doesn't matter whether you want the character to want what cousin Peter would want in that situation, what aunt Susan would want in that situation, or what's most beneficial to you as a player or whatever. You decide that it's cousin Peter or aunt Susan or your benefit in the first place, willfully.

Sure, the GM might want the NPC to want something that the GM himself doesn't like personally, but that only means the NPC will be despicable specifically because the GM wants him to be despicable. The NPC's agenda remains an extension of the GM's agenda.

Same with Good and Evil, whoever gets to establish their intent in a specific situation, however the person decides to establish that, the forces will still further the overall goals of that particular person sitting at the table.
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #5 on: June 25, 2009, 04:39:44 PM »

Quote
Sure, the GM might want the NPC to want something that the GM himself doesn't like personally, but that only means the NPC will be despicable specifically because the GM wants him to be despicable. The NPC's agenda remains an extension of the GM's agenda.
I don't think that people with whom I disagree are necessarily despicable.  There are a lot of people in the political world whose values and policies I oppose, but I think that they are good, honest, respectable people with whom I happen to disagree on what to me are fundamental questions.

I played a chaotic neutral attorney in a D&D variant game decades back.  The focus of his philosophy was this:  every individual ought to have the ability to choose his own beliefs and destiny.  Good and Evil are irrelevant, words tossed about by individuals to justify their preferences.  If you want to be a paladin, or an assassin, or whatever, that is your right, and Cam would defend that right in any court, mortal or divine.

That's not who I am.  I have very specific beliefs about societal values and "good" and "evil".  But I did not play Cam to create a despicable character.  I played him to explore the value of a belief system which was different from my own.  I played him so I could come to grips with the attitudes and beliefs of the ACLU, for example, and found merit in much that I still do not wholly embrace.

To me, a GM is a neutral arbiter of outcomes.  He has no agenda, but to ensure that everyone else has a good time.  In that sense, all characters are an extension of that agenda--but that is not an agenda related to what will happen in-game, but a purely social agenda, as to what will happen among the participants in the gaming group.  To that end, characters will be interesting and interactive, not efforts by the GM to steer the game in a particular direction, but efforts by the GM to open possibilities the players can use to make the game more alive.

I do see what you mean about my suggestion adding another layer of resolution mechanic; but then, I/C expenditures already are another layer of resolution mechanic, and the question really is how to function at that level.  Some groups would have no problem with the notion that the referee then determines what is the "good" or "evil" outcome and narrates it into play.  Yours apparently does not manage that well.  I offered an alternative that would take the decision away from the narrator (which is, I believe, where Seth's design places it) and gives it to the group.  The group being a committee, that means process and discussion.  I don't think you can avoid both having one person decide the outcome and having a discussion.  Pick your poison:  either the referee is trusted to make decisions concerning what promotes "cosmic" good and evil, or the group has to have a method for coming to agreement on such questions, or you have to eliminate the I/C expenditures resolution system entirely, because it is essentially a mechanic to force a metagame resolution.

At least, that's how I understand it.

--M. J. Young
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #6 on: June 25, 2009, 04:48:29 PM »

Quick footnote:
Quote
He has no agenda, but to ensure that everyone else has a good time.
I recall that Seth made this the first rule of the game, not only for the referee but for all the players:  everyone's job in this game is to work together to create a great story that will give everyone enjoyment.  It is a common agenda shared by all.  To some degree, the die rolls are not determining whether things go the way player Tom or player Jerry wants them, but whether they are favoring character Angel or character Damon in the current conflict.  It is entirely plausible that Jerry who plays Damon wants Angel to win, because that's the better story; he plays Damon as intelligently as he can, because to make Angel's win into a great story he must overcome truly formidable obstacles and adversaries.

Alyria approaches play from a very different mindset, in which every player is on the same side working together by running characters who are opposed to each other.  In its very essence, it requires that character agenda be distinct from player agenda, for everyone.  As with the D&D referee running the monsters in a dungeon crawl, I want my characters to lose, but I want them to lose in a way that challenges the other players and makes them feel as if they genuinely succeeded at something difficult.  Here, the players have a unified agenda of creating a great story; they achieve that by focusing their attentions individually on determining the character agenda and interactions in a cooperative approach to story conflict.

--M. J. Young
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #7 on: June 25, 2009, 05:46:27 PM »

Hey, guys. Sorry I haven't poked my head in earlier. I hadn't noticed that this thread had continued on since June 11, and I thought that M.J. was doing a fine job of stating my general philosophy on the game.

But here are my thoughts. First, I'll cop to the rules text not being the best. In many ways, that text was an attempt to capture something of our local play culture's approach to playing Legends of Alyria, while teaching other groups how to manipulate the rules to better match their own play culture. This was also written over the space of a number of years, based on ideas that I had 8-10 years ago. I didn't even have the words to describe some of these things. Like, you know, "play culture".

But I'll insist that the rules hold together, Filip, though perhaps not in a way that you care for.

You said:

Quote
However, the main problem with I/C ties was that as opposed to one of the sides winning their pre-established goal, this result left us with a much broader space for interpretation. We wound up debating each such instance for a few minutes and in the end, we had to rely on consensus despite our initial effort to resolve the issue at hand through mechanics. So it was:

"What happens?" -> "We don't know exactly." -> "Let's use this rules to see which of those possible things happens." -> "We still don't know."

Note that we've been playing with the "winner narrates" option, which further complicated the matter, since there was simply no clear winner. It felt rather unfair for the Narrator to take over narration and resolve the conflict with no concrete lines, whereas otherwise the winner would be limited to the pre-established goal. More specifically, it felt pretty much like the GM stealing the player's right to narrate and deciding stuff by fiat, as opposed to freely narrating the outcome in games that make it a default (say, InSpectres).

But the rules did say what happened. They said, "Resolve in favor of cosmic Evil". Now, what does that mean? Well, that's up to the judgment of whoever has narration rights. Now, this is where the rules text isn't clear, I admit. However, I'd treat whoever spent the point of Corruption as being the winner. Therefore, he gets to judge what "resolving in favor of cosmic Evil" means.

Alternately, you could give this authority to the Narrator. Regardless, the rules assign authority to narrate and then instruct on what you are to narrate. So deciding based on consensus is not actually within the rules. There is supposed to be a single, unifying vision behind a given instance of I/C being spent.

Is it vague? Yes, deliberately so. However, this was the point. I wanted the players to have to engage with actual, objective Good and Evil in the game.

I have to run, so I'll have to cut this short. Questions?
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #8 on: June 26, 2009, 10:02:55 AM »

Uh. No, no questions.

The thing is, I'm reading M.J., then I'm reading you, and I suddenly realize I understand, like, every third word of what you're trying to say? It doesn' even begin to match my experiences with playing or GM-ing games in general, never mind with this particular game.

(And that's after, like, five or six years of reading this and related sites, and playing the games that emerged from this environment?)

Quote
But here are my thoughts. First, I'll cop to the rules text not being the best. In many ways, that text was an attempt to capture something of our local play culture's approach to playing Legends of Alyria, while teaching other groups how to manipulate the rules to better match their own play culture. This was also written over the space of a number of years, based on ideas that I had 8-10 years ago. I didn't even have the words to describe some of these things. Like, you know, "play culture".

Ok, at the very least I think I get this part. I'm afraid it makes the game's text effectively useless to us for most practical purposes, however. We're talking, like, an Atlantic wide difference between "local play cultures" here. In this case the "deliberate vagueness" of the procedures makes them impossible to follow, it seems. Blue Screen of Death, that's what I see.

Well, I guess we can conclude the thread.
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