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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 175 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [Fifth World] Gift economy using Debt  (Read 1856 times)
jefgodesky
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« on: August 25, 2009, 07:34:24 PM »

Hello! I've playtested a couple versions of this game, threw them out, redesigned them, playtested again, and threw them out a few times now.

Most recently, Bill White pointed me again towards the idea of a gift economy as the game economy. I'd tried some things like this before, tied to characters defined by relationships, but all those relationships ended up meaning a whole lot of book-keeping. As I revisit it now, I realize, gift economies work precisely by not keeping such close records, by not relying on quid pro quo exchanges. You just have your Debt, to the world in general.

This ties in very nicely with some important thematic things for the game, and I like mechanics that force you to strike a balance between two extremes. Too much debt, and someone may come to collect, and they may demand a price more than you can bear. But Debt ties us to the rest of the world (see Mauss), so without it, you lose your agency.

Only problem: I have no idea what you might actually use Debt for. I guess I really need a resolution mechanic to go along with this.

I've avoided randomizers from the beginning, because the people in this game don't see the world as random. They see it as a chaotic mess of competing persons and their agendas. I've come around more recently that I have no problem with resolution mechanics that rely on incomplete knowledge. In fact, I think I really like them in general. Pulling colored beads from a bag, for instance. Anything that gives you the basic situation of Schroedinger's Cat works fine. You don't know what value you have until you pull it out; that fits in perfectly. But I wouldn't want to flip a coin or roll a die. I suppose cards could work, if it didn't seem so disconnected from the post-apocalyptic, ecotopian future.

I feel very stuck here. Any help very much appreciated. Thanks!
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Simon C
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Posts: 495


« Reply #1 on: August 25, 2009, 09:46:32 PM »

"Debt" is an interesting concept around which to build your mechanics.

Here's a (probably terrible) idea for how this could work, just as a kind of starting point.  It's what I thought of when I read your post.

To do things in the world, you need to borrow.  The simplest things, you can borrow from yourself.  You tax yourself running, but you give back to yourself with food and rest.  You tax yourself to stay awake all night practicing, but you give back to yourself with the song you make.  Borrow too much from yourself, and you will pay a price you might not like.

Sometimes, you have to borrow from others.  You can borrow the mana of your people, or of your land, to win an argument with outsiders, but you must pay them back somehow.  If you borrow too much, they will ask a great price from you.

Is this the sort of thing you're talking about?
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #2 on: August 26, 2009, 04:15:15 AM »

Have you played El Grande?  In El Grande, throughout the game, all the players are dropping little dudes into the Castillo, where they cannot be seen.  At the end of the game, you reveal all the dudes in the Castillo, and the guy with the most dudes gets a giant serving of victory points.  It's theoretically possible to count dudes, but in practice it isn't an option.  You do get a general feeling about who is where, though.

So maybe debt is the same way.  It gets added to a community pool that is opaque.  Maybe you draw from this pool at times, and the big debtors are most likely to be drawn. 

Maybe the pool is individual, and you are adding bad debt tokens to a pristine pool of not debt tokens, with mechanical benefits or perils based on the draw.  This works best if "good" tokens are removed from the pool as they are drawn, until only debt remains, I think.
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jefgodesky
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« Reply #3 on: August 26, 2009, 04:52:56 AM »

Simon - Yes, very much like that. So, maybe to do something, you just take on the debt to do it? Then you've got to balance your actions that incur debt against those actions that reduce it. That ... might just work, actually.

Jason - No, never played El Grande, but that sounds interesting. I don't know quite what to do with that idea yet, but I'll have to keep that in mind.
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Bill_White
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« Reply #4 on: August 26, 2009, 06:34:01 AM »

Jason!

I think the place to start isn't with the characters, but with the world.

Take a bag and put 10 tokens each of four different types into it. I'm going to call them White, Black, Red, and Yellow, but they could pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. This is the World.

Take a piece of paper (or, alternately, a map of the area in which you want the adventure to be set). Draw a circle representing a single place or location that is significant or important to the people. Give it a name and a brief  description.

Go around the table, with each player drawing out a token on his or her turn. Put the token on a location.

White (Wind) North. Animals. Add a feature to this location related to what the people know about this place or something in it.
Black (Earth) West. Terrain, Substance. Create a new location anywhere on the map.
Red (Water) South. Plants. Add a feature to this location related to how the people feel about this place or something in it.
Yellow (Sun) East. Energy, Movement. Draw a path between this location and another location, if one exists.

Keep going; stop before you've drawn about half the tokens in the bag.

Now, go around the table again. Each player may draw any number of tokens up to the token limit at any one time to help define his or her character, from those that remain in the bag. After everyone has drawn from the bag, another round of drawing is permitted.

2 players: no more than 10 rounds (20 tokens drawn) 20/2 = 10 token limit per player.
3 players: no more than 6 rounds (18 tokens drawn) 22/3 = 7 token limit per player.
4 players: no more than 5 rounds (20 tokens drawn) 20/4 = 5 token limit per player.
5 players: no more than 4 rounds (20 tokens drawn) 20/5 = 4 token limit per player.
6 players: no more than 3 rounds (18 tokens drawn) 22/6 = 3 token limit per player.

White. Mental Attributes. Knowledge. Identify something the character knows.
Black. Physical Attributes. Ability. Identify something the character can do.
Red. Emotional Attributes. Feelings. Identify something the character wants or needs.
Yellow. Spiritual Attributes. Illumination. Identify something to which the character aspires; a principle or belief.

Record the number of tokens of each type the player draws as the character's Mental, Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual "strength," respectively.

Now: taking action. When a character does stuff, he or she can either put tokens back in the bag, or take them out. You want to put them there so that your character and the world are "in balance"; you take them out to deal with issue or complications. If the bag is empty, a crisis happens.

So: I'm in a location where there are excess white tokens (animals). I describe my character hunting, and I take an excess white token. Now the location is in balance, but I'm out of balance. Luckily, another PC is with me and has a deficiency of white tokens. I give the white token to her, describing either a gift of flesh and hide or perhaps a "mental" gift: I amuse her with a puzzle or riddle.

At the end of a turn, being out of balance is bad. Maybe you draw from the bag until it's empty. The goal of the game is to keep things in balance.




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jefgodesky
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« Reply #5 on: August 26, 2009, 11:29:09 AM »

Yes. I like it. And it ties back to the system I'd started working on earlier, which leads me to believe I really do need to stop with the over-analysis and just get to work. So I will do that presently. Thank you!
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Simon C
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« Reply #6 on: August 26, 2009, 03:57:54 PM »

The really cool thing about this (in my mind) is when the player characters borrow from each other.  I think that's what's really cool.

I guess the next question is what constitutes a "thing" you can borrow from?  In my example, I talked about borrowing from "yourself", but you could split this up if you wanted to.  This could be a cool way of exhibiting the culture of the game setting.  If you can borrow from your "Mind" or your "Body", that gives a very different feeling to if you can borrow from your Phlegm, Blood, or Humours, or if you can borrow from your "Spirit" or your "Flesh".  How these people concieve of themselves being constituted could be really elegantly displayed that way.  Also you can exhibit the culture further by how these various aspects of self are refreshed.  Perhaps food and rest can restore flesh, but only song and laughter can restore spirit. 

Perhaps everyone has a property of "Heat" that allows energetic motion, strong emotions, argument and passion.  Perhaps "Heat" can only be restored by eating meat.  There are lots of exciting options!

How mystic/supernatural do you want to get? Is "borrowing" a metaphor for action in the physical world, or is it explicitly supernatural? Let's say I'm sneaking up on someone, using the shadow of a rock.  Who do I borrow from? The rock? The shadow? How do I pay them back?  These aren't problems, they're exciting opportunities.
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JoyWriter
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Posts: 469

also known as Josh W


« Reply #7 on: August 28, 2009, 05:42:34 PM »

Bill that is seriously devoted work! Your level of engagement with Jason's ideas is inspiring.

I was pondering the idea of using the bag for more during creation of the mythology and of all things my thoughts went to the new wfrp dice system and feely bags! Suppose when coming to the session players bring dry clean objects in the four colours, each smaller than the palm of your hand, which are then placed in the bag. Then when people pull them out they say something about the origins of their world guided by the colour of the object. In other words you use the resonances of our world in found objects to power the mythology of theirs! This allows people to "open source" the thematics of the game, by keeping more of the significance of the "game materials" they bring.

I just read your blog post Jason, about drawing on debt and the thought that came to my mind was Jenga!

"How much will we be allowed to take?" is a question that is full of fear and uncertainty. I presume you might be interesting in removing that fear in the course of play? Well how about using little cups for the locations to conceal unknown quantities of chips? If we take before we have uncovered the pattern of relationships, we may find we overstep our place in the world, because the bag or box is empty. Perhaps rather than drawing from a single bag we draw from more than one, each with an unknown quantity in it, and our choice is tempered by what we see other people do, and forms character differentiation, with the final answer of what we as a group will be like is answered by what we find under the cups.

Now chips hidden under cups don't actually give a pattern of relationships in any way I can make up, but they follow the idea of "looking at the whole to get an insight into the specific", which might be quite helpful. Not sure how to actually do that randomising of amounts though, especially in a way that is compatible with starting world creation.

Perhaps that relates to the general problem of creating a starting situation that is player authored but has quirks that the players have not yet considered. Sounds like chaotic processes are in order, or those that rely on the unknowns between the players.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #8 on: August 30, 2009, 01:46:42 PM »

Quote
But Debt ties us to the rest of the world (see Mauss), so without it, you lose your agency
That seems a dreadful way to be tied to the rest of the world? This is the only way you can have such a tie? If not, why gravitate toward this one? And without it you lose agency? It sounds like holding onto debt like someone might deliberately fail for the attention/'agency' it garners them. I think the game aught to examine and self reflect on that idea of debt, ties and agency, rather than just take them as a given and move on from there.
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Philosopher Gamer
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jefgodesky
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« Reply #9 on: August 30, 2009, 06:09:02 PM »

How mystic/supernatural do you want to get?

A traditional bow and arrow doesn't have nearly the range of a rifle. So to kill an animal, you need to get very close to it. Wild animals have excellent senses, and can move at speeds generally far beyond anything a human can match. So things like mimicking animal calls plays a big part in successfully hunting down your dinner that way. Which explains why traditional hunters have a hard time referring to animals as anything other than persons. They say something, and the hunter understands. The hunter can respond in that same language, and the animal responds. It seems just like human speech. So, they talk to animals. Does talking to animals count as supernatural?

For some games, a supernatural dial works well. I think this game needs a set supernatural level--or at least, as set as you can make such a thing. Magic didn't suddenly erupt like Shadowrun here; you can take the emic view that things have always worked this way, and civilized folk just didn't notice it, or you can take the etic view that things work the way we expect them to work, and feral humans have simply picked up some adaptive practices (and superstitions). Though, the superstitions keep seeming to work out. Just like talking to animals. It leaves room for either perspective.

I just read your blog post Jason, about drawing on debt and the thought that came to my mind was Jenga!

On the one hand, I fear coming off as a Dread clone. But on the other hand, I kind of love that idea.

That seems a dreadful way to be tied to the rest of the world?

Oh, I very much disagree--I consider it an incredibly beautiful and moving thing that ties you to the rest of the world. I think the game does reflect on them, very much. If you interact with the world through your debt, then losing all your debt means you separate yourself from the world fundamentally. I would think that would prompt you to think about the ways in which the gifts we exchange create our relationships, how that debt forces you to accept life as a gift, gratefully, and how without those gifts or those relationships, you wouldn't have an impact on the world at all. No, it shouldn't take those things for granted at all; if you could still impact the world, even without owing anyone anything, as if you could somehow supply your own life to yourself without any relationships with anything else, utterly self-contained and not needing anyone or anything else at all, I think that might take those ideas for granted.
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