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Author Topic: the Gamble and the Stake  (Read 2549 times)
Dav
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« on: July 18, 2001, 07:57:00 AM »

I wanted to bring this theory up to the collective to see what happens with it.  

on and I were talking briefly about the stakes in games.  My position is that I feel less enthusiastic toward a game if the stakes aren't there for me.  What I mean by this is that I want to know that when I go for the long shots, there is something clamping down over me saying "if you fuck this up..."

Now, in most games, this threat is death.  A very effective and traditional stake.  I have nothing wrong with this.  I like it.

However, last night we played the Pool (which is a blast).  In the Pool, there is no threat of death, per se.  Instead, should you fail, you are losing your dice pool (assuming you gambled any) in addition to failure.  I love it.  I like the tangible loss, as well as the loss for future ability, in addition to screwing up whatever you were trying to do at the time.

My point, winding as it is, is that there are a number of games that replace the threat of death with something else.  Some work, some do not.  Toon, for example, strikes me as one that does not hold enough threat over the players.  Being knocked down has no real threat (kind of like being yelled at by your parents... who cares, it happens then it is over).  

7th Sea, I am told, has a lesser death threat than most games.  You die when the GM says you are dead if you screw up.  Most of the time, you are hurt, skewered, brought to death's door and left on the stoop.  I argue that a little more is needed.  Just a slight "umph" to make players think twice about gambling it all on the heroic actions.  After all, it isn't heroic if there is no threat behind it.

The Pool has a dandy system for this, with the loss of your pool, which reduces your effectiveness.  I would institute a rule that states that loss of your entire pool means disastrous failure, but that may just be me.  What other mechanics exist, other than just slaughtering the character, to force a player to really weigh those situations heavily before committing?  

(Ahh, I get to the damn question!)

Dav
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: July 18, 2001, 09:05:00 AM »

Before the author of the Pool catches us out on this, I want to state that the rules DO permit killing the player-character on a failed roll, if the situation would indicate as much. It so happens that I ran the game more along the lines of Prince Valiant, Castle Falkenstein, and 7th Sea ... failure tended to hose the character badly, and put him down for the count in a combat situation, but not to kill him outright.

Best,
Ron

P.S. My complete comments on the Pool are coming up in the next round of reviews (four of them!).

[ This Message was edited by: Ron Edwards on 2001-07-18 13:05 ]
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John Wick
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« Reply #2 on: July 19, 2001, 12:55:00 PM »

Quote

What other mechanics exist, other than just slaughtering the character, to force a player to really weigh those situations heavily before committing?  


I haven't seen 2nd Ed. L5R, so I don't know how they work anymore, but the Raising system in L5R (and 7th Sea) was based on the idea of gambling (so Zinser would be keen to it). :wink:

The idea works like this. You roll a number of d10s equal to your Trait + Skill vs. Target Numbers (usually 15). The whole system is based on 5's, so the TNs are 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, etc.

When the GM tells you your TN, you can voluntarily increase your own TN in incriments of 5. Each "raise" gives you one more d10 of "effect."

Thus, my samurai wants to hit another samurai with his katana. The GM tells me the TN is 15. I look at my dice and realize I can do a whole lot better than that, so I increase the TN from 15 to 25. That's an increase of 10, or "2 Raises" (two 5's in a 10). If I succeed, I roll 2 extra dice for damage.

If I miss... well, that's my own fault for overextending myself, now isn't it?
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Carpe Deum,
John
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: July 19, 2001, 01:19:00 PM »

Hey,

I've been thinking over the various "gamble" mechanics across RPGs old and new. These aren't all of them, but consider the following:

Raises in L5R: one may increase one's target value (making it harder to hit) in order to enhance one's effect, if successful.

Combat trade-off in Fading Suns: one may reduce one's chance to hit in Fading Suns in order to enhance one's damage, if successful. This is similar to L5R, except that it's limited to combat and the L5R mechanic is applicable to nearly anything.

Bidding Action Points in Hero Wars: this mechanic does NOT affect any resolving factors, but it does permit the player to determine the degree of consequence of victory OR failure to a large extent.

Gambling Pool dice in The Pool: this mechanic DOES affect the resolution (more gamble = higher chance of success), but its consequences only affect future chances to gamble.

Bidding Tokens in Pantheon: one bids variously-colored tokens in order to over-ride, support, or otherwise affect "what happens" in a scene, when two players disagree.

Bidding Tokens in Soap: as in Pantheon, this is strictly a matter of matching bids against another player, so reflects literally nothing about the character; interestingly, it's WINNING that loses your Tokens.

All of these are part of the resolution systems, NOT metagame. All of them replace or reduce the need for metagame mechanics, which in other games are the only way to get any Authorial power.

And in my opinion, they also create an "intensity" effect, perhaps analogous to the pitch and volume of the fight music in a movie or TV show. (The Hero Wars rules state as much, in fact.) The risk factor, whether towards this one action or towards the bank's contents, is the source of this tension.

Yet none of them reflects any actual in-game quality, and losing them doesn't automatically mean the character is wounded or anything like that (Hero Wars lets such effects be determined later). They are all pretty abstract.

Some (L5R, Fading Suns) are confined to a single instance and do not affect any "bank" of points for similar uses in the future; the others do concern such a bank.

They range across a wide variety of consequences. Winning the gamble in The Pool makes your bank go up; winning the bid in Soap makes your bank go down. Some are about task resolution, and others are about scene resolution. Some involve competition among players, and some do not. Some are absolutely, overtly Gamist (Pantheon); some are more Simulationist (Fading Suns); and some are extremely Narrativist (Hero Wars).

I like it. This is a branch of game design that could use a lot more development and integration into different modes of play.

Best,
Ron
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Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #4 on: July 19, 2001, 02:10:00 PM »

D&D3e does this with the Power Attack feat -- you decrease your attack rating in order to boost damage.
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jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com
hardcoremoose
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« Reply #5 on: July 20, 2001, 03:44:00 AM »

I'm not sure how much I can add to this conversation, but what the heck...

I've been working on a game that makes heavy use of a "gambling" mechanic.  At its core it's basically a karma system - characters have abilities with a numerical rating.  This rating is compared to the target number of whatever task they hope to accomplish, and if it at least equals the TN, the attempt is successful.

However, if the ability score does not at least equal the TN, something extra must be done.  The player is allowed to roll some dice - as many as he thinks he may need to succeed at the task.  Any type of die may be used; half of the numbers (I use the even numbers) are considered Successes, while the other half (odd numbers) are Mishaps.  The player rolls the dice, and any Successes he rolls get added to his ability rating (or subtracted from the TN, if you prefer).  Any Mishaps that come up on the dice go into a pool that the GM keeps; he may spend these dice at any time to make things a little more difficult for the PC.

The mechanic owes a bit WYRD, as well as to the idea of Trouble as presented in Orkworld.  I've been struggling with it, worried that it was a little too gimmicky, but it seems there at least a few of you out there who are interested in this sort of thing, eh?
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James V. West
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« Reply #6 on: July 20, 2001, 05:37:00 AM »

Hey folks!

I'm sorry I haven't been more active over here yet. I only recently discovered online rpg design discussions in the first place, and most of my posting has been over at rpgnet.

Someone actually played The Pool??? Wow. Thanks. What a compliment.

Now,about the Stakes...

I agree 100% that if there are no stakes, there is no sense of achievement. I recall endless games of ADnD in which we had amassed so many hit points that any encounter with a creature less than a white dragon was just some more xp and treasure to stuff in.

Part of that is just poor role-playing, I know. Believe me, I know.

But I like game systems that have built-in risks. And not just risk of death, as has been mentioned. Risk of losing the power to affect the game. That's what was behind the idea for The Pool.

I have another game up called Sigil. In Sigil, that risk of losing bank is there as well, but slightly different. You add symbols to your personal dice. The goal is to add more positive symbols (hits) than negative ones (misses).

I admit to being incredibly rpg illiterate. I've been isolated from the craft for a long time and I have a lot of games to catch up on. Especially all the great indie games that are available on the web as well as in print.

Thanks for giving my game a shot. It makes me feel very good that someone thought it was fun.

James V. West
http://www.geocities.com/randomordercreations/index.html
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James V. West
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« Reply #7 on: July 20, 2001, 05:40:00 AM »

Me again.

I forgot to ask: since you played The Pool, do you have any suggestions for changes?

I'm going to re-write it and clean it up a bit. Some of the stuff (like starting dice) was totally arbitrary so I don't know if its too much, not enough, whatever.

Any suggestions?

James V. West

P.S. Ron, a review of the game would very kind of you. Thanks.
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #8 on: July 20, 2001, 05:44:00 AM »

May I?
Quote
Ron Edwards wrote:
I've been thinking over the various "gamble" mechanics across RPGs old and new. These aren't all of them, but consider the following:
Let me shorten this.
Quote
The risk factor, whether towards this one action or towards the bank's contents, is the source of this tension.
Quote
Losing them doesn't automatically mean the character is wounded or anything like that (Hero Wars lets such effects be determined later). They are all pretty abstract.
Quote
Some are about task resolution, and others are about scene resolution. Some involve competition among players, and some do not. Some are absolutely, overtly Gamist (Pantheon); some are more Simulationist (Fading Suns); and some are extremely Narrativist (Hero Wars).Quote
I like it. This is a branch of game design that could use a lot more development and integration into different modes of play.that can even take the place of damage
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: July 20, 2001, 06:09:00 AM »

James V (I'll have to call you that to distinguish between you and the OTHER James West),

A review of The Pool will be made available first to you and then to the Forge. I expect it will prompt a lot of discussion.

Fang,

As always, great insights. I agree that hit-location falls into the same category as the somewhat more abstract method in L5R and Fading Suns. However, I do think that the "bank" methods are an important subcategory - especially since the "bank points" do not represent anything specific at all - and it's those methods which Dav and I are intrigued by the most. They positively reek of Authorial power.

Best,
Ron
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Dav
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« Reply #10 on: July 23, 2001, 05:33:00 AM »

Regarding the "gamble" and Authorial power.  

One of the reasons this is so fascinating to me is due to the fact that many games with an Authorial stance either have a) no limitations, or b) too many limitations.  

One of the great impacts of the Pool (for me), was the ability to choose either a monologue of victory (allowing you, the player, to control just how you accomplished your task) or add a die to your pool.  That was great.  The limitations were vague, I understand, but the "common sense" factor, along with the GM's ability to cut the monologue short made this a wonderful addition to the game.  I enjoy a system and a game trait that allows for these "new-fangled" ideas in stnace and player control, but without the catch-all phrase "the GM has final say" and without the flop-it-on-the-table bit of "go nuts, do what you want".  I think the Pool, to my mind, stands-up as one of the few games that promotes a strong sense of balance in terms of GM-control and Player-control.  Now, if we could find a way to mix in Character-control as a third facet, we would have one hell of a mix...

I enjoy the Raise ability from L5R.  One of the tweaks I am working on with the new Obsidian system will be a number of Action points for each character.  Instead of a number of actions, a person gets a standard one action, and can use Action points either to increase the effectiveness of the action, add a new action (up to 3), or other minor tweaks to the action.  I think the L5R system is a direct predecessor to what I am thinking, which I will have to note in the text.

As for Pool, James, as I said before, I really had a lot of fun with it.  I think a brief mention of gambling certain amounts and failing should have a greater negative impact, but that is just an opinion.  All-in-all, we had a great time with your game.  Also, having a benefit for +0 Skills should be present, though it isn't necessary to my mind.  

Dav
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James V. West
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« Reply #11 on: July 23, 2001, 05:39:00 PM »

I made some changes/clarifications on The Pool. Check it out:

http://www.geocities.com/randomordercreations/thepoolrpg.html

Thanks for the feeback and suggestions!

I'll have to look at it again and consider the options. One thing I try to do in any game design is make sure every mechanic involved promotes the drama of the game. That's really all I'm concerned with, ultimately. That's why I love gamble-mechanics.

james v west
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