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Author Topic: rule or analysis? More/Less than Humans in MLwM  (Read 4177 times)
Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« on: September 05, 2002, 09:38:38 AM »

Hey,

Geez there's been some good discussion on these More/Less than Human threads. I'm hesitant to even respond to one of them for fear of stifling it. Mike, your examples of non-speech, non-movement Less thans are fantastic, and I need to include them in the game text somehow. Blake, your ideas about how More/Less thans deliver character significance are so synchronous with my own it's surreal.

But ultimately, I think I need to reveal where I'm headed with the More/Less thans, and get some input. Creating More/Less than Humans has been clearly very challenging and a lot of work and rework for players in each of three chargen sessions I've hosted. Still, because I think the game hung together too well when I ran it at GenCon to consider substantively reinventing core mechanics, I've been thinking the solution is to develop guidelines for players to use in writing their More/Less than Humans. The problem with this was that until last week Thursday, I didn't have a good idea what those guidelines might be.

But now I have an idea.

Thursday evening I sat down with printouts of the characters Scott, Tom, Danielle, and Matt had emailed me for our planned game with the creepy thespian Master they created, and started writing, brainstorming, trying to get stuff down on paper that I could use as prep for the game. And I had a realization. Look at these More than Humans:

"Gideon now writes masterful plays with unequaled dialogue and pacing, but only when he uses the blood of the cast to ink the original script."

"She can make anyone look like anyone else, but for only for a half-hour at a time."

"Appears to be a female except when walking."

Each of them establishes the character as being a key factor in the Master getting his Wants or Needs, almost by actually defining part of what it will take for those Wants and Needs to be met. In the case of the thespian Master, he Needs Townspeople with specific experiences that he can cannibalize, and he Wants the critical acclaim of the theatre-going elite for his performances. The More than Humans of these Minions elaborate and define the details of the process of meeting those Wants or Needs, and the essential roles the Minions will play.

Now look at these Less than Humans:

"Having been stabbed in the head during a production of Hamlet, Gideon cannot speak more than a few words at a time, except when quoting Shakespeare which he can mysteriously speak beautifully."

"Orpha is most comfortable in the company of the dead, who neither judge nor expect much of anyone. She is incapable of doing anything amidst a crowd, unless accompanied in some way by the dead."

"Cannot tell the truth except to members of the theatre troupe."

Each of them problematizes the Minion's ability to interact with normal human beings.

I think it's an important pattern, a More/Less than Human construction that fairly experienced Narrativist players used, almost across the board and without discussing it, presumably out of a belief that the construction will contribute to the player character achieving dramatic significance through play. They traded away the option of automatic successes at things like thievery, fighting, and stealth, things that might be considered "traditional" RPG tasks, in favor of basically Directorial input, establishing unique, nontraditional tasks as being significant to meeting the Master's needs, and for unique interpersonal challenges for their characters. It took a great deal of working and reworking for them to get More/Less than Humans they were satisfied with, but it seems to me now that their destination was so synchronous that I can leverage its characteristics into guidelines that enable other play groups to more readily produce the result that they were after.

I do still think there's room for more traditional task-specific More/Less thans like these:

"Incredibly strong, except when other people are around."

"Stealthy and undetectable, except when distracted by food."

"Has an uncontrollable limp, that severely impedes his movement, except among the ropes and rafters of the belfry."

I think the pattern of a More related to a Master's Needs/Wants, and an interpersonally limiting Less is not much of a concern for a game that's only intended to last one session. The way to prep later scenes in a multi-session scenario is to begin the destruction of Minions' Connections, have the Master order them to be murdered and such. But if you're doing a one session game, you should probably start at that point, and not worry too much about how task-specific the More/Less thans are.

The only More/Less thans I want to preclude are the ones that don't clearly establish when and how they might impact gameplay. An example is:

"Hideously ugly, except when seen in reflection."

It's a fantastic, genre-appropriate Less that Josh created for our playtest, but it's problematic because any activation of consequences stemming from it by the GM feels unfair (the same way that enforcement of Alignment constraints always feels unfair in D&D), and neglect of it by the GM is undermining of the character. I need to figure out how to write guidelines that aid play groups in avoiding these.

But I'm unresolved about how important it is for characters in multi-session scenarios to have More/Less thans that fit the pattern I discerned last week. The game doesn't have Kickers. I can't help but think that a multi-session game with some characters comprised of exclusively task-specific More/Less thans would require the GM to invent a series of conflict situations for those characters, essentially throwing adversity at them to see what sticks, with the real possibility that nothing will, or would see those characters struggle to emerge as dramatically significant.

What do you think? I'm pretty sure I want to put text about the pattern into the game, because I think it's significant. I'm unsure of the best way to do that. Should the pattern be a rule about how More/Less thans are constructed for multi-session scenarios, reserving the task-specific variety as an option for single-session scenarios? Should there be a compromise rule that at least one More/Less than follows the pattern? Or should the text just appear in some kind of GM section as gameplay analysis?

Paul
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Blake Hutchins
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Posts: 614


« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2002, 12:44:04 PM »

Great insights, Paul.  I very much like the idea of focusing the More/Less on the relationship and goals of Master.  My vote goes toward b and c in your last paragraph: some kind of compromise that allows a cool task-based selection to stand alongside a selection that's dramatically relevant to Master's goals, added to a discussion of the issue that includes an illustrative example of gameplay.  That works for me.  Lets the player have creative freedom, but provides some structure to help the player bind his/her minion more closely to Master.

Best,

Blake
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #2 on: September 10, 2002, 01:59:45 PM »

I posted some potentially pertinent comments here:

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=32238

Mike
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Blake Hutchins
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« Reply #3 on: September 10, 2002, 09:05:55 PM »

Of course, the More/Less traits aren't the only hooks, nor are they the sole means of establishing the relationship to Master.  However, as the "cool power" side of the characters, there's a potential for players to pick stuff that's incoherent, by which I mean stuff that actually gets in the way of dramatic development.  I'm not worried about squelching anyone's originality, though.  By asking players to tie one of their More/Less traits  to Master's goals doesn't inhibit player creativity.  Quite the contrary, it challenges it.  Such a requirement also goes a long way to explaining why Master wants to keep the particular minion around.

I really *like* the Mike's description of an Issue to clarify the nature of the Minion's emotional bond with Master, if not Minion's specific emotional needs.  Great idea.

Best,

Blake
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #4 on: September 11, 2002, 03:01:17 PM »

Hey Mike, Blake,

One of the things that has been suggested by a number of individuals is that coming up with More/Less than Humans is so difficult for players that I should consider ditching the requirement of a character having two Less thans. And I did ditch that requirement for my current multi-session playtest. Do you think it ought to be a permanent rule change? Or, in light of these discussions, do you think creating the extra Less than will go easier for future play groups, and that it adds potentially protagonizing narrative significance that it should be kept?

Paul
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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
Blake Hutchins
Member

Posts: 614


« Reply #5 on: September 11, 2002, 04:00:00 PM »

I have to admit I like having two, but that's because it leads to some interesting combinations and stresses the Less aspect, which I like.  However, I think this is something best clarified by playtest feedback.

Mike?

Best,

Blake
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #6 on: September 12, 2002, 08:21:42 AM »

I think that one is enough, personally. The second seemed stressful to create well. Like I was stretching. I am strongly in favor of just one. Anything else and the characters seem to start to stretch into parody instead of being more interesting.

BTW, another related topic that I've mentiojned but hasn't been discussed is relating the More than/Less than's together. This seems on the surface to be a good technique IMO, but may have drawbacks.

I'll give you a ferinstance.

More than Human: Eugene can speak in such beautiful prose so as to enchant people, except when children are about.

Less than Human: Eugene is terribly afraid of children excet when they are asleep.

You see, the one explains part of the other. Which lends a coherence to the character's design, IMO. One problem with how I did this one is that the one explains the other's exception. Which might somehow dilute that portion of the assignment. You might want to even make that illegal, perhaps; I'm not sure. OTOH, one could probably link these in such a way so as to have it not overlap each other. In which case is it a good thing or a bad thing?

Oh, and we still haven't gotten to th discussion of limiting scope. Can I take a More than like: Flamebreath capable of destroying skyscrapers? OK, you could count that as out of genre (though that also should be mentioned, somehow), but how about: Can summon vast armies of the dead, except during the day? Is that legal?

Mike
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Blake Hutchins
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« Reply #7 on: September 12, 2002, 11:24:59 AM »

I like the idea of symmetry between the two, but I'm not sure I'd make it a required element.  We've been trying to make it easier for players to grasp fun, dramatically-coherent traits, and forging a symmetrical relationship seems like it could be harder.

Actually, I like the idea of tying the symmetry to Master.  I also like the idea of having one relate to hampering action while the other hampers communication, but that's just because I like a certain skeletal structure to this kind of thing.

As far as scale, that depends on the individual game, doesn't it?  If Master = Doctor Doom or Magneto, and minions = mutants or robots, then... why not breathe fire to take down a skyscraper?   For that matter, what if Master = a Teratogeneticist and Minions = Godzilla-like monsters?  A stretch beyond the starting-point of Gothic genre, I'll admit, but why not?

Best,

Blake
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 10459


« Reply #8 on: September 12, 2002, 12:27:42 PM »

Good points, Blake. I retract my scale (I used the term scope incorrectly before; I'd like to reserve it for something lese) arguments. The only limit should be the genre appropriateness of the ability of disability.

The other metric would be scope, then, which you have addressed in terms of Physical and Communicative. But the queston still remains, how widely applicable should these things be? Right now the text simply says "crippling" which is a loaded term. For example, can't write due to finger injury except when pain medication is taken. That covers my physical limitation, but it's not very limiting. Once could call this "crippling", but I think it's not what the game has in mind.

OTOH, one could take Parapalegic: cannot move at all except for tongue. This is also physical, but so drastically limits the character as to make him problematic.

This also applies to the "narrow exceptions". How narrow is narrow? I've seen a lot of variability here in the things taken. For example, my character's daylight thing limited him less than half the time. He could hang around indoors, he could go anywhere at night. Whereas I've seen some exceptions that were just unlikely to occur in play meaning that the character was disadvantaged by it all the time.

Anyhow, almost all rolls in play are either physical or communicative, or could be determined to be so. Which means to me that if a character has one of each of these, that the GM could theoretically autofail in every case. OTOH, in play when one has such a constantly limiting disability I've noted how it just gets ignored for the most part. For example, I can't remember Paul autofailing Danielle's character even once on a communicative issue despite her "crippling" Less than being "no lower jaw".

My point is that there seems to be a point where the limitation will com into play frequently enough that the GM can use the mechanic and autofail a player, and often enough that the character's exception can come into play, but not so often that the GM would have to actually render the character ineffective in the majority of situations (thus giving him incentive to just consider it an affectation).

How to design these so as to reduce the GM subjectivity in OKing said ailities, and their application?

On the matter of the linking, I wasn't thinking of requiring it at all. In fact I proposed that perhaps it should be disallowed altogether. I just offered it as something that one could profer to the player as a source of inspiration. Just a "here, here's a way of makinng coherent traits if you're funbling about". While I think it could be a helpful technique, I think that it might also be a problem. But definitely optional if used at all.

What I'm getting at is that there should be a whole huge advice section on this stuff. In fact, there could be a series of questions meant to inspire in such a way as to make good Traits. For example, they would ask stuff like:

What would be genre appropriate?
What is likely to come into play quite a bit, but not constantly?
What exception could it have that would come into play around once in four occurences?
What can you take that links you to the Master?
What would be cool?

I don't know, just whatever might be provocative, and likely to get the appropriate sort of traits.

I still think it's easier to just mechanically limit these things which gives the player the idea in game terms. I suppose you could ask:

If there were a mechanic that only let you employ this trait once in a while (and it worked like [insert theoretical rules]), what would you take to represent that?

But that's a bit absurd. :-)

Mike
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