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Author Topic: Emergent Characters  (Read 2787 times)
Shimera9
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Posts: 26


« on: March 28, 2010, 11:09:36 PM »

I've been floating some ideas around about emergent character and figures I'd see if the folks here have seen any games that do this.

The original idea was posted up on rpg.net (http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=489681) along with a longer example of play.  I've since started up a blog to sketch out these ideas (http://dancingchimera.wordpress.com/).  Here's a summary from the blog.  The original thread was longer but it covered several different ideas.  Let me know if anyone wants to see the longer gameplay example.

Quote
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Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2010, 03:21:03 AM »

Shimera,

I know there are games that do this, and that people have talked about using hacks to add a small degree of this to more traditional games, particularly involving equipment. I've even worked on a game idea where you could theoretically do anything, but you'd have to face difficulties based on how feasible it was... And if you succeeded, you had the option of taking a trait/skill for doing that thing.

Unfortunately, I can't think of any off the top of my head, but I think that others will be more helpful.

What's your intention with this thread? Are you looking for research material? Do you want to discuss the concept? Do you want to explore different methods for implementing this? If so, are you hacking an existing game, or are you designing a new one?
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~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls
Shimera9
Member

Posts: 26


« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2010, 06:39:51 AM »

Right now I'm looking at it from a more research oriented angle.  I'm thinking of making a new game that uses this, so I wanted to see what games have already used the concept.  It's more a feeling out of the design space.

If the matching games cover what I want to do closely enough, there's less need for a new system and I may just change to adapting any related material to the target system.

If some mechanics match but others don't quite fit, I'll have a good idea of what aspects to play up to make the new game more distinctive.  I'll also have a solid set of research material.

I had more details on what I'm planning in the "what games do this?" post on rpg.net but I didn't get any solid leads, so I figured I'd cut down the number of criteria to a single feature and ask around here.  If you'd like more info on the intended game I can post it up here.

Once I've got a good feel on the design space, I do intended to ask about the mechanics.  Right now I'm thinking of a simple "you have x edges, each of which can be used to buy a basic trait".  I'm also thinking of allowing for extra edges when players face new types of challenges.  I can put out more details on the mechanics if you like.  I just wanted to leave the original post more open and relatively short.
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Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #3 on: March 29, 2010, 07:37:54 AM »

Here's another question, then... Have you begun work on the game?

If so, why not post what you've got? I've found posting actual systems is more likely to provoke "this reminds me of..." comments than simply asking for systems that do a certain thing.

Also, if the snippet you posted is something from the system you're actually working on, then it seems interesting, and I wouldn't mind hearing more.
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~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls
contracycle
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Posts: 2807


« Reply #4 on: March 29, 2010, 07:42:40 AM »

This reminded me of something I had trouble putting my finger on.  But as I recall, the original Marvel SH game allowed you to permanently purchase a stunt once you had performed it.  This was quite significant in that the powers were fairly generic, and purchasing a stunt lowered its difficulty, meaning that as you did so your powers become more and more defined, and hence so did the characters particular modus operandi.
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epweissengruber
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« Reply #5 on: March 29, 2010, 11:23:38 AM »

I have tried running HQ1 and 2 in an emergent fashion.

The rules allow for on-the fly character generation.

Since HQ abilities are simply prose tags with a rating attached it is easy to generate them on the fly.

I have found that characters are able to fill up the finite (10, IIRC) number of slots very cleverly.  But they do so in response to a particular situation, or even a single missions, which makes the long-term "openness" of the character questionable.

If you could come up with a way to link the concretizing of a character emerging out of instances of play feed back into the setting or other Color, you would be breaking ground that HQ didn't break.
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Shimera9
Member

Posts: 26


« Reply #6 on: March 29, 2010, 12:46:14 PM »

Here's another question, then... Have you begun work on the game?

Yes, though it's still very much in a "jumble of notes" stage.  If I go ahead with this it will be my first attempt to get from notes to a publishable form, so proceeding has been a bit rocky.

If so, why not post what you've got? I've found posting actual systems is more likely to provoke "this reminds me of..." comments than simply asking for systems that do a certain thing.

I'm on lunch break, so I've got limited time right now.  Here are the remaining points from the original rpg.net post.

* Dynamic Player Control - If a player doesn't have an active character in the scene they can still help describe what in the scene, add threats and challenges, and take control of new characters when they appear.

* Challenges - Players are rewarded for overcoming challenges. Ideally, these awards should be a resource that can be spent to make later challenges more manageable. For example, points could be spent to find an unusual item early on. Then during the boss battle extra points could be spent to reveal that item has a special power against that opponent.

* Threats - Danger can be added to any challenge. Doing so raises the risk of the challenge but can also raise the rewards for succeeding in both the threat and the challenge. Alternately if the threat is beaten, but the challenge fails, beating the threat can mitigate the cost of failing the challenge.

I'll put the full play example in the next post.

This reminded me of something I had trouble putting my finger on.  But as I recall, the original Marvel SH game allowed you to permanently purchase a stunt once you had performed it.

Cool, I'll see if I can hunt down more info on that.  It might work nicely as part of an advancement mechanic.  Right now the thing I like about the edges approach is it forces the player to decide on what's important for this character.

If you could come up with a way to link the concretizing of a character emerging out of instances of play feed back into the setting or other Color, you would be breaking ground that HQ didn't break.

Hmm, I've heard about that tag system before.  I guess this gives me a good excuse to hunt down more info on it.  It certainly sounds like a good lead for designing traits as you need to be able to lay them down faster and loose to make this work well.
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Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #7 on: March 29, 2010, 01:45:26 PM »

Hey man,

My experience is that a system might be structured for players defining their characters through play, but what players actually do is envision the character they want from the outset and then use the "define through play" mechanics to create the envisioned character.

This becomes apparent when a GM goes into the game expecting the players to define their characters in response to the antagonism he has planned, only to find the players defining characters that don't develop thematically when subjected to the planned antagonism.

See my actual play of the "define through play" game EPICS.

(And if you're doing research, you should read EPICS. You won't be disappointed.)

Paul
« Last Edit: March 29, 2010, 01:48:48 PM by Paul Czege » Logged

My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
Shimera9
Member

Posts: 26


« Reply #8 on: March 29, 2010, 06:17:44 PM »

My experience is that a system might be structured for players defining their characters through play, but what players actually do is envision the character they want from the outset and then use the "define through play" mechanics to create the envisioned character.

I have no problem with that.  My interest in building character on the fly actually comes more from the player side.  Not having to detail every little skill before play starts seems pretty tempting.

What I may do with this game is use the quick creation this supports to make switching character or picking up any characters that interest the player relatively easy.  Granted, that opens up it's own complications, but it has some interesting possibilities.

See my actual play of the "define through play" game EPICS.

Thanks, I'll check out the example tonight.  You know, I think I actually have the game in my archives somewhere.  I'll have to dig that out.  I collect a lot more games than I ever get a chance to play.

Now as promised, here's the original full play example I was talking about:
Quote
J: "Alright, who wants to go first?"
C: "I'll go. I think I've got a good idea on how I want to start."
J: "Go ahead."
C: "Alright, it's in an old monastery. Stone halls, gargoyles on the roof and all that. Anyway, a couple of robed figures are walking down a hall. After they pass, another guy in robes slips out of a side passage to a nearby door. Bits of lightning dance from his fingers across the doors lock."
M: "So that's your guy?"
C: "Yep."
J: "Is opening the door supposed to be a challenge?"
C: "Yeah, it sounds like a good first test for the character and I'd like to start building up some points."
J: "Alright, it sounds like you're adding a unique ability by picking the lock with magic. Are you ready to spend one of your edges to back that up?"
C: "Yeah, it's a pretty cool ability and I like having him be a sneaky guy."
G: "Hold up. You've already said people go down this hall and what you're doing is pretty suspicious looking. I'm placing a threat on that challenge. If the threat goes off, you'll be spotted."
J: "Fair enough. C, are you going to split you attention to keep an eye on the threat?"
C: "Nah, I'll just focus on the lock and hope I can get in before it goes off."
J: "Alright, roll em."
*rolls*
C: "Yes! In on the first try!"
G: *shakes fist* "Next time gadget, next time!"
J: "Alright, you're in. What kind of room are we looking at?"
C: "Let's say it's the bedroom of one of the higher ups."
M: "So are you trying to catch the guy asleep?"
C: "No, I'm just looking for something."
J: "Did you want to cash in your success for that?"
C: "Not yet. Let's up the ante a bit. I want to search the room."
J: "Are you spending an edge on that?"
C: "Nah. I'll hold off for now. I can search without that edge right."
J: "Yep, you just don't get any modifiers."
C: "Alright, let's do this."
G: "If they hid something in the room, they might have laid traps too, I'm placing a threat on this. If it goes off, you sprung a trap."
C: "Heh, your throwing threats out left and right, aren't you. Alright, it'll make my reward that much better anyway."
*rolls*
C: "Excellent, looting time!"
G: "Not so fast, the trap went off, too."
C: "What kind of trap?"
M: "Ooh, I've got it. How about an animate statue, like one of those gargoyles?"
G: "That would work, but let's make it something smaller, like a little stone imp."
J: "Alright, so where does it come from?"
M: "Let's put it by the fireplace. It could be disguised as a poker holder."
J: "Sounds good. So just as Hoody McCloakington is poking around the fireplace, one of the poker holders starts moving. I assume it's going to swing its poker at him."
M: "Go for the knees!"
C: "I'm dodging that!"
J: "Go ahead. But you don't get any modifiers unless you spend an edge on that."
*rolls*
C: "Phew, just made it. I'm taking that thing down."
G: "How? It's made of stone and you don't have any weapons."
J: "You could spend an edge to pull one out of your robe."
C: "True, but I'm not sure I want to burn one just yet. The thing's small and this is a bedroom, right? With all the usual items."
J: "That sounds right."
C: "Alright, I'm going to grab the chamberpot and try to trap it under there."
J: "You can do that. The pot will be near the bed though, so the imp can act as you're moving over there."
G: "Like M said, go for the knees. Let's see if it can slow Hoody down."
C: "I already dodged away though, so I should be just out of range."
J: "Alright, let's make it a contest, speed vs speed. If the imp wins, it can spend its successes on an attack. If Hoody wins, he can spend his success on his chamberpot attack."
C: "One minute, I want to spend an edge on this."
J: "You already dodged without spending an edge, so you can't boost your dodging ability until the end of the adventure."
C: "But I should be able to boost how fast I can run, right? I'd like making him fast."
J: "Alright, go ahead and take the bonus then."
*rolls*
C: "Yes! That gives me points to spare. I'm trapping that thing."
G: "Rolling to dodge.."
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SAW
Member

Posts: 35


« Reply #9 on: March 29, 2010, 06:57:34 PM »

Two questions..

1) How do you plan to control power-creep? Like.. if C just keeps making himself faster and faster, then how do you keep him under control in a situation where G and M are also present? Anything fast enough to catch C is going to stomp all over G and M, and anything balanced for G and M is going to be walked all around by C.

2) What benefit do the other players get from screwing each other? Do you think that that'll be a problem once they're actually together in a scenario? Or are they never meant to be on the same team?
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Shimera9
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Posts: 26


« Reply #10 on: March 30, 2010, 05:26:44 AM »

1) I've actually be thinking about 2 mechanics that would help with that.  I'm not sure if I'll use both.

Paid Setbacks
I've been toying with granting character's resources for set backs (http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=504921).  I'm calling the resource Tension in that thread.  So anything C outclasses is easy to beat but doesn't reward C much.  In contrast, if G or M are themselves outclassed they'd build up a lot of Tension whether they win or loss.

The idea is that rather than setting up a "Challenge Rating" style that tries to predict difficulty you'd be paying for actual difficulty as encountered in play.

Note that by itself Tension's uses are limited largely to escaping or turning around a single conflict.  Winning challenges is need to convert Tension into more lasting awards.

Range Capping
I may set if so maximum ability in a trait can only get so far ahead of minimum ability.

To go beyond that point you might use a general competence trait which would be available to all characters.  An example of this would be saying "skills range from +0 to +5.  To make a check, roll level bonus + skill bonus".  If I go this route I'll probably set it so there's one of these super traits per type on challenge.

Another way to expand things is provide off shoot traits that reduce specific obstacles.  For example, rather than scale up damage to get around an expected increase in toughness you could make an "armor piercing" trait available.  In this approach the player grows stronger less by having higher number and more by knowing the counters to the oppositon's special abilities.

2) If I use the tension system, the player's aren't really screwing each other over much by making things harder.  After all, harder challenges generate more resources which can be used to move things along.

I am thinking of providing an expendable resource award to players for stepping in an playing the opposing side.  However, I do want to balance that out so there's still a motive to "lurk".  What I may do is grant an award per side, divided among participating players.  To get the award, they might have to step into an antagonist role and sacrifice some ability to determine details.  That way the player would be choosing whether they want to stay free to tweak things now or earn an expendable tweak for use later.

Players are meant to able to play on the same team.  However, I am thinking of making it so that players can switch sides by changing characters.  For example, I might set it so while your main characters are off stage you'd be tempted to throw something in that makes things harder so you can later make things easier when your character comes back on stage.
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SAW
Member

Posts: 35


« Reply #11 on: March 30, 2010, 07:37:39 AM »

How do you determine at which point something is outclassed for your Tension mechanic?

Like, if C is super fast, his speed may outclass that of a giant, but the giant is going to probably have C bested in other categories.

I think you'll need a hard and fast rule to go by, as deciding arbitrarily might produce some issues at the table.
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Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #12 on: March 30, 2010, 08:31:07 AM »

Shimera,

First up: I say screw it if other games do some of the same stuff. You've got something interesting here.

Second up: Can I get your name, or do you prefer Shimera?

A couple things I see as assumptions: The characters have *some* abilities defined before play, such as speed, et al. I think this is a good thing. The character shouldn't necessarily be a complete blank slate. Some basics that can be added to and augmented give you something to hang the evolving concept on.

SAW: Some excellent questions.

I'm cutting this short, because I just realized it's time to run. I will be coming back to this thread later on, though.
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~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls
Shimera9
Member

Posts: 26


« Reply #13 on: March 30, 2010, 09:38:09 PM »

How do you determine at which point something is outclassed for your Tension mechanic?

Well, when a character is overpowered you'd expect them to fail more often than not.  I was thinking of paying out a little tension on failed rolls.  I'd probably restrict it to rolls where there's a cost to failure, even it's just an opportunity cost..  The greater the chance of failure the more often they'll get the payout in tension.  An interesting quirk about this is it would also auto-adjust for runs of bad or good luck.

First up: I say screw it if other games do some of the same stuff. You've got something interesting here.

I'm certainly getting that feeling.  I'm not about to drop the idea because a single component is already done elsewhere.  Still, I did want to know if another system handled this combo already.  I figured that would help me decide whether it's better to adapt an existing system or start a new one.  It's probably my programming background showing with the whole "don't reinvent the wheel if you don't have to" mentality.  Right now it is looking like I've got a combo that stands out enough that I'm probably better off making it into it's own system.

On a related note, Epics does seem to cover the emergent character idea nicely, though I may be looking to play it even faster and looser than that.  Heck, I picked that up a while ago.  I might have even picked up the idea there and forgotten what the source was.  That's easy enough to do if you go collection crazy with gaming systems..

quote author=Lance D. Allen link=topic=29575.msg275219#msg275219 date=1269966667]
Second up: Can I get your name, or do you prefer Shimera?[/quote]

Sure, the name is David Cary.  I used to go by the name Shimeran on these boards, but I've been off the boards for a while.  Since then I've both forgotten the password and lost access to the original email address I used, so I had to make a new id.

quote author=Lance D. Allen link=topic=29575.msg275219#msg275219 date=1269966667]
A couple things I see as assumptions: The characters have *some* abilities defined before play, such as speed, et al. I think this is a good thing. The character shouldn't necessarily be a complete blank slate. Some basics that can be added to and augmented give you something to hang the evolving concept on.[/quote]

See I'm kind of coming at this from the other side.  I agree it's useful to have some things defined before play, but I'm not sure it's necessary.  For example, consider GMs who tend to improvisation over pre-planning.  The GM often has to make characters up an attach abilities to them on the fly.  With the right system support, shouldn't it be viable to do that with any character if desired?

I'm certainly not against laying out character details ahead of time.  In fact, I imagine players will come to play with a number of character ideas in various stages of development.  I'm simply aim to require as little as possible before starting play.

I'm also looking at breaking down some of the traditional PC and NPC divisions, though will still be ways to indicate special characters. As such being able to easily add characters that can potentially be used as either is a big plus.
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Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #14 on: March 31, 2010, 02:36:01 PM »

David,

Quote
See I'm kind of coming at this from the other side.  I agree it's useful to have some things defined before play, but I'm not sure it's necessary.  For example, consider GMs who tend to improvisation over pre-planning.  The GM often has to make characters up an attach abilities to them on the fly.  With the right system support, shouldn't it be viable to do that with any character if desired?

I'm certainly not against laying out character details ahead of time.  In fact, I imagine players will come to play with a number of character ideas in various stages of development.  I'm simply aim to require as little as possible before starting play.

This is an admirable goal, and I think you should definitely do it. As an example of how basics can be defined up front, but also on the fly, I recommend you look into Dogs in the Vineyards systems for creating NPCs. I don't necessarily think you should randomly roll anything (though it's certainly an option) but it shows how you can create a batch of numbers quickly, then when you need an NPC, grab one of the batches, and slap some traits onto the numbers. The primary difference in DitV between how NPCs and PCs are made is that the batch of numbers you get for PCs are drawn from one of four pre-determined groupings, and then traits are assigned before you begin play, and for NPCs you roll on a chart to determine numbers for nameless, faceless NPCs in groups of 6. Once play has begun and you find yourself in need of an NPC, you glance over your 6 NPCs, grab a likely looking batch of numbers, and slap a name and traits on it.

(for the above, when I say trait, I'm talking about the words that come before the colon, rather than the numerical value that comes after, like so... [Trait]: [Value] example: Strength: 5)

Quote
I'm also looking at breaking down some of the traditional PC and NPC divisions, though will still be ways to indicate special characters. As such being able to easily add characters that can potentially be used as either is a big plus.

Again, I applaud this. A streamlined system tends to be better utilized in play, in my experience. A game with too many different sub-systems invites problems.. So it's best to use a single general system, which variations or creative applications of the system for most things and using subsystems for only the most important things.

I don't have DitV handy, or I'd get a bit more specific. If you'd like, I'll dredge my memory and give you more details if this sounds like an idea you'd like to explore.
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~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls
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