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Author Topic: A game which at the moment should remain Nameless.  (Read 4881 times)
Epidiah
Member

Posts: 10


« on: October 16, 2002, 12:35:06 PM »

I hope I'm not stepping on any toes. I'm rather new here and I'm not exactly sure how all of this is done, but here is a game that I developed with a few friends a little over 4 years ago. We have playtested it quite a bit, and ran it at several conventions over the past couple years, but most of the serious discussion about the game has only happened within this circle of friends. I'm hoping to get some outside input.

This game shares a name with another game that apparently has already been discussed on this board, so I will just call it Nameless for now to avoid confusion. Hopefully that name isn't taken. Nameless is a horror role-playing game without a particular setting. It was designed to elevate the combined senses of dread and anticipation that are often felt when reading, listening to, or viewing a tale of terror. The focus of the game is the imminent mortality of the characters, so the central mechanic focuses mainly on that point.

In a nutshell, the characters are created through personalized questionnaires and the resolution system pits each player’s desire to see his or her character succeed against the player’s unwillingness to see his or her character die or otherwise removed from the game.

Creating a Character
To create a character the player should let the game master know what sort of character he or she intends to play. Then the game master should present the player with a list of questions to answer about the character. These questions should accomplish several goals that include but are not limited to the following:

Defining the character’s capabilities and limitations;
Explaining the character’s motivations;
Unearthing the character’s secrets and fears;
Describing the character’s appearance and demeanor;
Fleshing out the character’s history and social entanglements;
And limiting what resources the character can call upon.

The questions need not be exhaustive, but they should reveal concrete and telling details. For instance, what disease you fear most? A character that fears Alzheimer's would have a greater fear of threats to his mind and sanity than a character that fears herpes. Conversely, a fear of herpes could indicate a character that is rather promiscuous and more susceptible to seduction attempts.

During the course of the game, the answers to these questions will help determine what is achievable by the character. So the more suggestive and detailed the answers, the smoother the game.

Game masters who have a specific scenario in mind may want to create specific questions ahead of time. These questions both address issues the game master anticipate happening in the adventure, and can lead the players toward the type of character the game master feels is necessary. For example, instead of asking what the character does for a living, ask “What do you do to stay awake during the long hours you work at the hospital?” This would force the player to make a hospital employee, but allows enough latitude in the actual choice of profession, which could be anything from security guard to surgeon.

Alternately, the game master may just want to have a list of questions that the players can choose from. Most characters can be fleshed out in a little over a dozen good questions. Be sure to mix it up and never use a question that has already been answered.

Resolving Actions, Tasks, and Conflicts
The majority of what a character does requires little involvement from the game rules. If it seems like something someone would normally be able to do under the given circumstances, and the character is not specifically unable to do it, then by all means let it happen. The only time the rules need to be used is if the character is attempting something beyond their abilities or under circumstances that may hinder their actions. In such cases the player whose character is attempting the action needs to pull from the tower.

The tower is a stack of wooden blocks—three to a level, eighteen levels high—that can be bought at almost any toy or game store under the name of Jenga®. When a player wants his or her character to perform an action that the game master feels is too risky or difficult to let the character succeed out right, the game master will instruct the player to pull a block from the tower and place it on top. If the player chooses to attempt this, then the normal rules for Jenga apply. If all goes well, whatever was attempt succeeds.

If the player decides that it is not worth it to pull the block, then his character fails to accomplish whatever was being attempted. This failure may result in some sort of set back, including injuries, minor psychoses, loss of allies, being captured, loss of dignity, and so forth; but may so severe as to remove the character from the game. For instance, a player who refuses to pull while his character jumps from a burning building could result in broken legs, temporary unconsciousness, and an irrational fear of heights or fire, but not in death, full-body paralysis, comatose, or any other sort of injury that would otherwise incapacitate the character for the remainder of the adventure.

However, if for any reason, at anytime in the game, a player causes the tower to fall, whether they were trying to pull a block from it, or cleaning up a beverage they spilled next to it, that player’s character is lost. This may be justified in any number of ways that fit the logic of the story. The obvious answer during combat may be death, but other possibilities include permanent insanity, imprisonment, an overwhelming fear that sends the character screaming to the safety of his home, the sudden news that a loved one is deathly ill and requires his immediate attention, or succumbing to the mental control of whatever mad villain they happen to be pursuing. The list goes on and on. Each scenario is unique and offers its own exits for the characters. The key is that whatever happens, it is absolute. The character can not be saved.

There is a blaze of glory exception. As it stands, if a character is attempting something and his player knocks the tower over, the character is not only removed, but he also fails in whatever he was trying to do. If, however, the player decides to deliberately knock the tower over, his character is still lost, but succeeds spectacularly. This does not necessarily mean that the success solves all of the characters’ troubles, but it does mean that the sacrificial success should be dramatic.

Some actions are more difficult or complex. Game masters are encouraged to split these actions up into their component parts, which both increases the number of pulls and allows the player to pick which parts of the action will be successful. For instance, if a character is attempting to pick the lock on a door while being shot at, the game master could ask the player to pull a block to unlock the door and another one to avoid being shot. After examining the precarious tower, the player may decide to pull to unlock the door, but take his or her chances with a wounded character. Perhaps this particular character has a history of picking locks. In that case, the game master could rule that the player only has to pull for avoiding the gunshot wound, the lock picking would be automatic. If there was poisonous gas seeping into the room, the game master may even have the player pull a third block in order to open the door in time.

The key to assigning pulls is to balance them against the unsavory results of ignoring them. If you have a skilled sword fighter, he is not likely to miss someone who isn’t skilled. In such cases, the game master may say that the swordsman can either hit the untrained combatant or dodge his attack without pulling, but the player will have to pull once to ensure they both happen. Or, he or she can decline pulling altogether, and exchange blows. This forces the player to decide if it is worth risking a pull just to avoid injury and end the fight.

Players are also encouraged to offer to pull in order to increase their characters’ chances of succeeding. If a character is searching a room, the game master can’t very well tell the player to pull in order to find a clue, revealing that there was in fact a clue to be found. Instead, it is up to the player to volunteer a pull on the chance that there is a clue his or her character would otherwise miss. This is useful in avoiding the surprise around the next corner as well.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: October 16, 2002, 01:04:36 PM »

Hello Epidiah,

And welcome to the Forge! Take a peek around various forums to see how things work, and stop by the guidelines posted at the top of the Site Discussion forum. So far, though, so good - you're brave, to post a game here ... the hyenas mean well, but their jaws can crunch right through a thighbone ...

One interesting concept that we kick around sometimes is "conflict resolution vs. task resolution." Task resolution is what most role-playing games do; you're X good to pick locks, here's a lock, use your X to do so. Conflict resolution means that game-mechanics resolve problems, so that one's roll reflects whether the problem is resolved, not just whether the task "worked" or not. For example, in a conflict-resolution game like Hero Wars, one rolls to jump a ditch during a chase scene - but failure doesn't mean that you fall into the ditch, rather, it means that the guy chasing you is able to catch up because the ditch slowed you down. In a task-resolution game, "jump the ditch" means specifically and only that, and failing the roll literally means failing to clear the ditch.

Anyway, all that is a long preamble to saying that you've clearly designated your game as a conflict-resolution design rather than a task-resolution one.

Jenga's been proposed on the Forge as a game mechanic - check out this thread to see what people thought. How does your design differ from the one proposed there? I'm also interested in hearing more about how actual play goes.

Best,
Ron
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Epidiah
Member

Posts: 10


« Reply #2 on: October 16, 2002, 01:29:08 PM »

I do believe the game that Unodiablo mentions in that thread is in fact this particular game. The group I built it with lived in the same town and played on Wednesday nights. Small world.
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Epidiah
Member

Posts: 10


« Reply #3 on: October 16, 2002, 01:46:19 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Jenga's been proposed on the Forge as a game mechanic - check out this thread to see what people thought. How does your design differ from the one proposed there? I'm also interested in hearing more about how actual play goes.

One difference I see right of the bat is that some of the mechanics proposed in that thread suggested a different set of blocks for each player. However, in Nameless, everyone uses the same set of blocks, and so one character’s success makes the game more treacherous for the other characters. I was worried that this might pit player against player, but I haven’t actually seen that happen yet. We did see the opposite occur once when a player at a convention refused to pull anything until the very end of the game. He received plenty of good-natured ribbing from the other players, but nothing actually hostile.
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Walt Freitag
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Posts: 1039


« Reply #4 on: October 16, 2002, 02:12:41 PM »

Hi Epidah, and welcome!

This sounds like a very cool and appropriate mechanism to me. The Jenga thread that Ron linked to was just a bit before my time, so it's an idea I'd never thought about before. Thanks for posting it.

Also, thanks for not using the name that duplicates the name of another game discussed here, because that can be confusing. Very considerate of you. If I want to refer to it in future conversation, should I just call it "Nameless" or do you want to fill in another name later?

Why would I want to refer to it in future conversation? I think it's a good example for exploring an issue that's arisen in some recent threads like this one, concerning forms of Simulationist play in which the game mechanics don't resemble standard Simulationist rules (that is, rules based on representing in-game-world causality) but intstead represent some of the more abstract qualities of story outcomes appropriate to the setting or genre. In this case, of course, suspense. (Ron's GNS essay, while a difficult read, will explain to you, if you're curious, what we mean by such concepts as Simulationism, and why we care about them.)

One of the drawbacks of systems with similar qualities that we've been discussing is the amount of responsibility they usually load on the GM. In Nameless, for instance, it appears the GM might have to invent a lot of obstacles and episodes for the players on the fly, especially since the player-characters usually succeed in most tasks when they most wish to. How much of the story does the GM have in mind (or on paper) in advance? How does the GM make sure the tower doesn't end up falling for a dramatically unimportant event (or doesn't anyone care whether this happens)? What if players are foolish and pull a lot of blocks for less important matters early on? Going in as the GM, it would seem likely that you'd already have a pretty good idea of the expected survival rate, and a lot of power to make it happen the way you anticipate. Is that true, and if so is that a good or a bad thing?

I agree with Ron; I'd love to hear about some examples of play. That would also help address some of these other GM-ing technique issues.

Am I correct in assuming that this is the "systemless" play style that you were talking about in another recent Ygg thread? If so, then we can discuss: is this systemless? It seems like a system to me. Sure, it relies on the law of gravity instead of the laws of probability, but I think it's still a system. What do others think?

- Walt
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Epidiah
Member

Posts: 10


« Reply #5 on: October 16, 2002, 02:57:41 PM »

Quote from: wfreitag
Also, thanks for not using the name that duplicates the name of another game discussed here, because that can be confusing. Very considerate of you. If I want to refer to it in future conversation, should I just call it "Nameless" or do you want to fill in another name later?

Nameless works fine for now. It adds an air of mystery to it.
Quote

Why would I want to refer to it in future conversation? I think it's a good example for exploring an issue that's arisen in some recent threads like this one, concerning forms of Simulationist play in which the game mechanics don't resemble standard Simulationist rules (that is, rules based on representing in-game-world causality) but intstead represent some of the more abstract qualities of story outcomes appropriate to the setting or genre. In this case, of course, suspense. (Ron's GNS essay, while a difficult read, will explain to you, if you're curious, what we mean by such concepts as Simulationism, and why we care about them.)

I have in fact read a bit of the GNS essay and this particular issue came to mind while reading it, specifically because of my involvement in this game. But I will reserve my comments on the issue until I have a better grasp of the lingo of the board.
Quote
How much of the story does the GM have in mind (or on paper) in advance?

This one is a difficult one to answer. I find that I actually need less, but I was the primary playtesting GM for Nameless during its initial development, and it could very well be tailored to my tastes. It is definitely a matter of more in mind than on paper. Though I did run a dungeon crawl using D&D statistics for everything but the characters. That basically amounted to the same thing as a straightforward D&D game as far as GM prep is concern.
Quote
How does the GM make sure the tower doesn't end up falling for a dramatically unimportant event (or doesn't anyone care whether this happens)? What if players are foolish and pull a lot of blocks for less important matters early on? Going in as the GM, it would seem likely that you'd already have a pretty good idea of the expected survival rate, and a lot of power to make it happen the way you anticipate. Is that true, and if so is that a good or a bad thing?

Getting the players to pull blocks for less important matters is a key component to running a Nameless game. A few trial runs showed that a tower would have about 45 safe pulls in it before things got really bad. It takes some time to pull a block. Especially further along in the adventure when the whole game stops and everyone holds their breath. (Incidentally, we initially thought this would slow the feel of the game way down. Oddly enough, it has the opposite effect.) So you need to get a lot of pulls out of the way early on. Now this isn't necessarily bad. They should be safe to begin with. We also impose a pre-pulling rule: for every player you have less than five, you should pre-pull 6 blocks. But this rule is mainly there to keep the characters from feeling safe immediately after the tower tumbles.
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I agree with Ron; I'd love to hear about some examples of play. That would also help address some of these other GM-ing technique issues.

I'll try to get some of those up here in the next day or so.
Quote

Am I correct in assuming that this is the "systemless" play style that you were talking about in another recent Ygg thread? If so, then we can discuss: is this systemless? It seems like a system to me. Sure, it relies on the law of gravity instead of the laws of probability, but I think it's still a system. What do others think?

Yes and that is where a bit of my confusion came in. I'm not sure what it means to be systemless. As far as I can tell, Nameless is essentially numberless (though not exactly true) and almost without hierarchy, which may equate to systemless.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: October 16, 2002, 08:08:18 PM »

Hi there,

[suppressing purist "hmph" noise]

I maintain that "system" is best used as a very, very general term - and as such, the Nameless indeed uses a system. Is there an agreed-upon method to help us decide (as a group, socially) how something-or-another happens in the imaginary game-situation? That's system.

And yes, that would imply that no functional role-playing game is system-less, ever.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #7 on: October 17, 2002, 12:36:58 PM »

My fault for the confusion. I've been advocating a change in the meaning of system lately. For purposes of this thread, however, we should go with Ron's definition.

Either way, however, this game has a system. It just does not involve standard character enumeration methods and whatnot. But definitely a system by any definition.

Mike
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Kuma
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Posts: 25


« Reply #8 on: October 17, 2002, 05:07:12 PM »

Just adding 2¢:

"Nameless" invokes the same reaction in me as "Faceless" as in 'that faceless, nameless horror'.  It would actually make a good name for a horror game.
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