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Author Topic: I hate compromises  (Read 8871 times)
Filip Luszczyk
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« on: March 03, 2010, 08:09:26 AM »

I hate compromises.

I immediately started to hate compromises the first and the last time I played Burning Empires. We've spent 40 minutes or so playing out DoW. Then, we consulted the manual for the outcome. And the manual said, basically: it's a compromise, you all have to agree on the outcome yourself. And it gave us some vague guidelines to do so. And we've spent another half an hour negotiating the compromise.

First, over half an hour of in-game, in-character debate. Next, over half an hour of out of game, out of character debate to decide the outcome of the former.

WTF? If we're supposed to just agree what happens between us like, you know, consenting adults*, then why do we reach for the dice in the first place?

I mean, sure, that DoW was sort of fun in a board-gamey way. The problem is, how long was the manual, 600 pages? It's all crunchy as hell, we spend 40 minutes on a heavily tactical mini-game, and how does it all affect the game at large? Disproportionately, at least. All we learn is that now we have to agree on the outcome ourselves.

What if we can only agree to disagree? After all, we resort to the rules specifically to resolve our conflict of interests. The rules, however, refer us back to our social agreement. Bullshit, I say.

Case two, Mouse Guard.

The difference between Burning Empires and Mouse Guard is that while the former offers very vague guidelines for compromises, the latter offers pretty concrete guidelines. Basically, depending on the degree of compromise, there are several options to choose: follow-ups, partial goals, twists or conditions of varying severity. Cool, I think, I can work with that.

The problem is, we still have to agree, as a group, on any given compromise. It's right there in the rules. Like it wasn't enough that we've all agreed to play by those rules in the first place. We have to reaffirm our agreement every single conflict. Incidentally, this is pretty much the only part of the game that requires such reaffirmations. Everything else is nicely board-gamey: options, options, options. At any other point it's generally clear who makes a choice and the rest of the group just deals with it. Incidentally, play proceeds smoothly that way.

Compromises? No. They barely ever go smoothly.

The typical scenario when I play as a player: the game gives me a compromise, so I scan the list of options for a given degree of compromise, I pick whichever I find good, and I propose it to the group - and the group sometimes buys it, but often counter-proposals follow, and often the GM is like uh, oh, maybe, but no. It goes like that for several minutes before we finally settle on the outcome.

Last weekend, I've run a game of Mouse Guard myself. So, the party kills the snake, but I get to choose a compromise. I scan my list of options, and the manual tells me I can Injure them. Great! You're Injured! One player, however, points out we all have to agree on the compromise as a group, and the group is like uh, oh, maybe, but no. Uh, you guys just fought a fucking dragon-thing, and barely won, leaving it for death, but you don't find injury an appropriate consequence? Oh, ok, another option, then...

So, a long-term twist it is, the snake, once it recovers, will swear revenge and follow the party. Cool, I'm satisfied with the outcome. What I'm not satisfied is the process of getting there.

If it was a single versus test insted of a full-blown tactical conflict, the manual would just give me the choice to apply condition or twist, and the group would have to deal with that. None uh, oh, maybe, but no.

Case three, IAWA.

Back when it was still Art, Grace & Guts, I've read the manual on the wiki and I was like, negotiation? No, that's plain dumb. It will never work. We're going to argue forever.

However, the (arguably) complete version of the manual came out, I played the game, it all worked fine. In IAWA, if we can't agree on the proposed outcome, somebody just defaults to damage. There's never uh, oh, maybe, but no. Damage it is, and we move on.

Slick.

I feel that compromises in Burning Something and Mouse Guard lack this crucial factor. There is no default outcome. There is no Stick. The system breaks when it's difficult for the players to reconcile their interests. Which is, like, every second conflict?

But other than that, I find Mouse Guard working very well.

I'm currently looking for a way to implement the Stick in Mouse Guard. It's tricky. Conditions seem like the most obvious way to go, but there are only five of those and they can't accumulate. Consequently, it could produce situations when defaulting to conditions would not be possible.

*) Actually, since when it's common for consenting adults to agree on anything just like that? The entire history of the world seems to deny the reliability of this notion, lol.
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #1 on: March 03, 2010, 08:36:38 AM »

Hi Filip,

Would you like to discuss the issue of having to agree on something versus having the rules say (who says) what happens? In that case, I could add my experience and opinion, which you may find quite controversial. Or would you rather stick with the question about Mouse Guard? I'm afraid I don't have anything to contribute to that.

- Frank
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Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #2 on: March 03, 2010, 09:09:11 AM »

I'm fine with both, as long as we avoid stepping into the trad wilderness.
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jburneko
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« Reply #3 on: March 03, 2010, 12:08:50 PM »

Filip,

I'm running BE right now.  Our DoW take about 20 minutes and our compromise process takes about 5.  When I run In A Wicked Age... negotiation takes about 2 minutes and almost no ever has to Exhaust or Injure.  I'm not entirely sure our group is magical.

Are you sticking solely to conflicts being between the fictional characters?  Or are you somehow trying to use this mechanics to reconcile player-to-player real world disagreements?  The details of our DoW usually make it really obvious what a fair compromise in the fiction looks like.

Like I remember having a Psychic Duel where I was trying to mind control one the PCs into allowing the character to join the ranks of the Inquisition.  I won but she scored a compromise and said, "Okay but he has to start at the bottom like any new novice would."  Done and Done.  Made total sense, no discussion.

Could you give an exact example of DoW that look a particularly long time?  In particular can you remember what each side was asking for specifically?  One or two details about what was said during the actually volleys would be helpful as well.

Jesse
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Luke
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« Reply #4 on: March 03, 2010, 01:43:47 PM »

I'd also like to point out that page 115 gives the GM power to enforce compromises on intransigent players.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #5 on: March 03, 2010, 03:07:58 PM »

Great post Filip, I agree and nice observation/identification of the default outcome procedure!!

Yeah, when the game handballs it to the group, yet it doesn't cover an outcome that can occur in that group, it's a pretty broken procedure. I was reading through escape from tentacle city and that had solid procedure, with only one spot where you decide if an items pimped bonus applies, as a group. I knew that was a break point but couldn't quite articulate why - you've described it today in terms of there being no default outcome!

And I don't mean to lay into escape from tentacle city - I'm using it because traditional games have hundreds of break points and you can't see the forest for the trees. EFTC has a solid frame with just one single break point where it throws it to the group with no default result, so it's easier to describe.

Quote
*) Actually, since when it's common for consenting adults to agree on anything just like that? The entire history of the world seems to deny the reliability of this notion, lol.
Perhaps it's another nerd phalacy, that we pretend that we all think the same way and never argue?


Also I think some people revel in the idea that they are forced to agree in some way, or the game stalls because there is no default. They see it as a feature. I don't know why.
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Philosopher Gamer
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Judd
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« Reply #6 on: March 03, 2010, 03:40:40 PM »

It is interesting because it is so counter to my own DoW experiences.

In my experience, each party states their intent and the compromise ends up being a delightful surprise, something more than we thought was going to happen when we first started the DoW.

What occurs when the group is disagreeing on the compromise?
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greyorm
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« Reply #7 on: March 03, 2010, 05:03:10 PM »

Quote
*) Actually, since when it's common for consenting adults to agree on anything just like that? The entire history of the world seems to deny the reliability of this notion, lol.
I suggest it depends on the group and the personalities involved. I could cite some studies about conflict resolution and personality types, esp. as they relate to history and government, but as I foresee a very good possibility of someone throwing a fit, I'll just say it may not work for your group because of the mix of people in your group.

Here's the thing: clearly it works and goes smoothly for other groups; I suggest the solution then is to figure out what WOULD work for your group rather than poo-pooing the notion itself as inherently broken. (I think such a dismissal, in fact, may be equivalent to arguing that "Gamism is broken and impossible" because your group is not Gamist oriented -- and therefore can't see how it would work because your starting play-procedure assumptions are erroneous -- or is suffering some sort of dysfunction that doesn't allow it to be functional.)

So I think we're looking at: why does it work in those other groups? Why doesn't that work in yours? What stop-gap measure is necessary for it to be functional in your group?
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #8 on: March 03, 2010, 05:30:09 PM »

Jesse,

Quote
When I run In A Wicked Age... negotiation takes about 2 minutes and almost no ever has to Exhaust or Injure.

Likewise. I rarely ever see anyone defaulting in IAWA. That's the beauty of the rule. And that's the point!

If one fails to come up with anything appealing enough, however, there's no buts.

Quote
Are you sticking solely to conflicts being between the fictional characters?  Or are you somehow trying to use this mechanics to reconcile player-to-player real world disagreements?

Yes? No? Both? Depends what sort of disagreements you mean, specifically?

Of course we were resolving conflicts between the fictional characters. However, what's "conflict between the fictional characters", actually? Fictional characters don't get into conflicts on their own, they can't even want anything on their own. Before the fictional character wants anything, real people need to establish that as a fictional fact, right?

Of course we were resolving real world disagreements. There were five real people playing a real game. Each of us had a real investment into the game, each of us had real strategic goals within the context of the game, each of us was establishing fictional stuff for real reasons. Sometimes immediate goals and reasons aligned, sometimes not. Either way, it's all necessarily between real players before we even start talking what the characters want. Players play the game, not the characters.

In that last Mouse Guard game I've run, for instance, was it between the mice and the snake? We, the real players, we were following the real manual to establish what happens. The mice had nothing to say regarding their injury, and likewise, the snake had nothing to say. Real players, motivated by their real interests, invoked a real rule to deny the real change of game variables that inform further processing of fictional content.

Now, in the context of those fictional events, was Injury appropriate? I guess so. Was that other compromise I came up with after the player's objection to Injury appropriate? Obviously. Fiction is not problematic in this case, the real world process is. It allows for some real strategic wriggling when I'm not very comfortable with it, i.e. after actual in-fiction actions have already taken place and have already been accounted for by the game mechanics. Oh, sure, the manual says the GM has the right to enforce his decision when no consensus can be reached, but in this gray area, who am I to say the player's objection was not valid? Perhaps as a player I'd object the same way myself, given some wriggle room in that particular situation, who knows? If so, I probably wouldn't be pleased to hear uh, oh, maybe, but no. After all, fiction is a flexible beast. Injury was not the only possible appropriate consequence in those circumstances, so why would I not want to wriggle for a compromise that would align with my interests better?

Nothing crucial to the overall point of the game is compromised with all that wriggling, and yet, something doesn't feel quite right about it.

Quote
Could you give an exact example of DoW that look a particularly long time?  In particular can you remember what each side was asking for specifically?  One or two details about what was said during the actually volleys would be helpful as well.

Unfortunately, no. In that particular conflict my character was only helping, I think? My memories are rather blurry. Pretty much everything relevant that I remember from that game is already in the first post.

That game took place over a year ago and I left it after that session, due to the general lack of setting buy-in and frustration with various mechanical issues. The group continued the campaign for the next six months or so, but I believe they houseruled that part later (setting several partial stakes for each side up front, or something like that). None of the players I've talked with afterwards had fully positive feelings about the system.

Note that our GM was quite experienced in running BE - he completed two or three campaigns before. Oddly, it seems his previous players were rather passive (emerging from a trad play culture characterized by the "GM as entertainer" and "GM as god" approaches), and largely went with the flow.

Also, note that it was the same GM who ran Mouse Guard for us, and there was another player from that BE campaign in the game. We went strictly by the book, or at least tried to. Re-reading the manual last week I noticed we missed some tangential rules the first time (nothing big or relevant to compromises, though). The campaign was the exact opposite of that BE game, i.e. fun as opposed to frustrating.

Before anyone asks, I also have a hard time recalling any specific instance of establishing compromises from that campaign clearly. Perhaps something will pop up soon? For now it all blurs, as none of those thirteen sessions was particularly distinctive. What I recall is that compromises were one of the few things that didn't go as smoothly as they should, and I recall some general uh, oh, maybe, but no. Keep in mind I don't want to say any single person was at fault - each of us contributed his share of buts.
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Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #9 on: March 03, 2010, 06:18:27 PM »

Uh, I had to deal with a little flood obstacle in the middle of answering to Jesse, and it's already getting late here, so I'll consider the remaining posts tomorrow. Perhaps the above post provides enough data to answer some of your questions, though?

I notice many of you comment on that final consensus disclaimer. To clarify: note that I'm not saying agreement is not possible, ever. What I want to say is that it's not necessarily a default state, dependend on various unpredictable and unstable conditions, shifting moment to moment. Not a very good factor to rely on. I specifically find handwaving the possiblity of disagreement fairly problematic when it comes to practical execution.

(Also, I sort of anticipated "consenting adults" arguments cropping up, as they tend to in discussions related to social level stuff. I find those instant discussion stoppers.)

It might also be worth noting that while there was about 50% overlap between BE and MG groups in question, none of those players participated in my current MG game (yet). Overall, I guess frustration with related break points and player behaviors plagues my gaming history since the very beginning, regardless of group.
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Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #10 on: March 05, 2010, 09:13:05 AM »

Callan,

The problem I see is that as a group seems to be a massive mental shortcut, generally. All the group this, group that talk builds an impression the group is some sort of hive mind. The group, however, is composed of individuals, obviously. In practice, there is no as a group, there's always some potentially complex process involved that goes on between those individuals. Procedures referring to the group as a hive mind often leave a necessary part of the process out, or at least aren't explicit about it, assuming the group will supplement that part with a compatible component. It's certainly easier than designing instructions that would guide the individuals involved through that gap. It's not reliable, however, no more than leaving wide gaps in the rules for the individual GM to bridge, trusting that given a range of possibilities that also include wrong choices, GMs will reliably choose the way the designer intended.

Judd,

Quote
In my experience, each party states their intent and the compromise ends up being a delightful surprise, something more than we thought was going to happen when we first started the DoW.

I don't get the surprise part. It seems like a disconnect to me. Between the intent and the compromise, there's this elaborate and crunchy process of resolution. Sometimes, it produces a hopefully unambiguous outcome (i.e. one of the parties gets the stated intent). Often, it results in a compromise, and here, you do something that creates a surprise. How does the surprise tie to the preceeding mini-game? It's probably informed by some narrative cues produced throughout that part, but it seems disconnected from the mini-game itself. It's like, you go through the elaborate mini-game to produce a few narrative cues, and then you apply an entirely separate, social-level process to transform those cues into some surprising outcome.

It doesn't seem to me the surprise emerges directly from the mini-game. It seems more like a quick Tarot draw could do equally well. It seems to undermine the point of the mini-game, however fun it might be in its own board-gamey right.

Quote
What occurs when the group is disagreeing on the compromise?

When we disagree on the outcome, there's some uh, oh, maybe, but no, and somebody proposes another outcome, until one is accepted (i.e. until no one objects anymore). However, there's this uncomfortable feeling that some of us get robbed from the outcome they earned through the mini-game.

Raven,

Quote
What stop-gap measure is necessary for it to be functional in your group?

I don't think it's a matter of it being functional, but rather of it being functionally fun. Hey, we will always reach some agreement eventually, only having to reach an agreement as a separate process is not fun. It feels out of the game.

So, Dogs. The resolution in Dogs is all about reaching an agreement. In theory, we could roll the dice and manipulate them to apply narrative pressure forever. In practice, at some point, the process makes you not want to object anymore. You look at current game variables, both mechanical and fictional, and that's it, you give. It's fun. It's all in the game.

Quote
So I think we're looking at: why does it work in those other groups? Why doesn't that work in yours?

Now, I can imagine groups where it would work. The problem is, I imagine a group composed of individuals that consistently proved problematic in my groups so far.

The people I'm thinking about, and I'm going to make quite a bit of generalizations here, tend to expose little investment in the game and consequently don't seem to have a particularly strong agenda. They are often in the game primarily for social reasons, or "just to have fun" (just as opposed to what, I cannot grasp). Sometimes they stress stuff like "Story", "atmosphere" or "acting", but in practice, they seem to feel better as passive spectators than active players. It's the type that avoids reading manuals, but seems to enjoy reading fluff. They tend to be trained in what a friend recently described very accurately as GM-telling.

They don't bring much to the game, other than their amenable participation. Often, they will let a more active player take control and effectively play instead of them, while they contribute a bit of humor here or some acting there. They never employ the variety of tactical options in D&D, and they never make a strong Raise in Dogs. Oh, and they never run games on their own.

So, yeah, I notice groups composed mostly of individuals that more or less fit that general profile tend to reach agreement on a purely social level more smoothly. They also frustrate me to no end, and I tend to avoid playing with them. Over an extended period, it never works.

I guess there might be groups where it would work that don't fit that profile. What are the factors that make that possible? And, more importantly, how come we're attracted to the same designs, then?

Either way, somehow, I'm not coming across such players. I'm starting to wonder if it might be some strictly cultural thing.
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #11 on: March 05, 2010, 10:52:06 AM »

url=http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=27574.0][Liquid] Well, I just rolled the dice for show, in which a very similar discussion came up between Callan and me.

Cheers, Frank
[Liquid] Well, I just rolled the dice for show[/url], in which a very similar discussion came up between Callan and me.

Cheers, Frank
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Judd
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« Reply #12 on: March 05, 2010, 11:04:15 AM »

Filip,

You talk about the ambiguous outcomes as if they are bad things and to me, they are what makes DoW fun.  That fun comes out of the context of the Duel itself and the fiction that drove the game to that point.

I am not sure how to respond to the idea that the surprise, generated from an ambiguous outcome, is disconnected from the DoW mini-game.  It is the mini-game's outcome that created the ambiguity with Beliefs driving the DoW, the compromise is linked to the character.  It is not a tarot draw anymore than an unconscious character whose hit points have been dropped to 0 is a tarot draw.

I'm not sure where the disconnect is here.

Judd
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Callan S.
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« Reply #13 on: March 05, 2010, 03:22:36 PM »

The problem I see is that as a group seems to be a massive mental shortcut, generally. All the group this, group that talk builds an impression the group is some sort of hive mind. The group, however, is composed of individuals, obviously. In practice, there is no as a group, there's always some potentially complex process involved that goes on between those individuals. Procedures referring to the group as a hive mind often leave a necessary part of the process out, or at least aren't explicit about it, assuming the group will supplement that part with a compatible component. It's certainly easier than designing instructions that would guide the individuals involved through that gap. It's not reliable, however, no more than leaving wide gaps in the rules for the individual GM to bridge, trusting that given a range of possibilities that also include wrong choices, GMs will reliably choose the way the designer intended.
I just totally agree - and that's because the physical evidence points exactly this way. There is no 'the group'.

But the thing is, as individuals, people can shut off their own sense of individual actions "Your all individuals!" *Crowd repeats "Were all individuals!"* and then one guy says "I'm not" which is just awesome individuality even if the guy denies it and that is piss funny!

So what do we do here when individual behaviour is to deny their individual positions, denying whatever physical evidence you can bring to bear, and their individual action is to say it's 'the group' that does things?


Frank,

You seem to read it as a binary - either there is 100% faithfulness to whatever fiction has been said and pretty much understood at the table, or everyones absolutely ignoring it and just pressing mechanical buttons?

When Ron throws bangs into his games, I'm pretty sure he's not being 100% faithful to how the fiction would have turned out. Indeed, that's what he's avoiding - just letting the fiction turn out as it will, as if his nar agenda will be supported without any human intervention. But he's not being 100% unfaithful and simply pressing a mechanical bang button, either.


Judd,

It's not ambiguous if you've been instructed to come to an unambiguous conclusion with your fellow players?
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Philosopher Gamer
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Judd
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« Reply #14 on: March 05, 2010, 03:24:35 PM »

Judd,

It's not ambiguous if you've been instructed to come to an unambiguous conclusion with your fellow players?

Ya lost me.

What?
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