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Author Topic: your last chance for despair  (Read 9740 times)
Paul Czege
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« on: February 19, 2003, 09:50:09 AM »

This week I began writing My Life with Master up for publication. So I've been working my way through feedback from private messages and threads in this forum to make sure I've thought carefully about people's suggestions and incorporated needed clarifications into the game text.

And I'm confident about all the decisions I've made...except one. Many folks have reported frustration from playtesters at how quickly Self-Loathing spiralled out of control, and have requested a mechanic for its reduction. I'm mostly unmoved. I think players are adopting too much of a lone-wolf style of play, largely ignoring the mechanics for minions aiding each other, and then feeling frustrated. There is, for instance, no reason a minion couldn't ask another minion for aid in making an overture to a Connection. "Ludwig, will you play the violin for me while I sing to her from the yard?"

Still, I feel compelled to consider the workability of mechanics that provide for the reduction of Self-Loathing, since I do think a natural, genre-appropriate mechanic would be a good thing for the game, as long as its usage was pretty infrequent. I don't want to allow for retrograde of the game's escalation, just for an occasional stutter-step. And so last night I found myself trying to rework the "shirking" mechanics that http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=4121">we discussed previously. This is what I came up with:
    Despair

    When a minion loses a Connection (i.e. the character dies), all the Love attached to that Connection is lost and the minion enters a state of Despair. While in Despair a minion is vulnerable to another player character minion using physical and verbal abuse to force a command issued to himself off onto the Despairing character. This is resolved by the acting minion rolling his own Self-Loathing minus Reason against the Despairing minion rolling Love plus his own Weariness. If successful, the acting minion reduces his Self-Loathing by one, and the target minion is considered responsible for the Command in question. It's delusional, of course, but the acting minion has just shrugged off a little bit of feeling icky about himself by getting someone else to do something he didn't want to do. If the acting minion fails, a point of Weariness is taken. The conflict with the Despairing minion has left the acting minion wrung out psychologically, or a bit roughed up physically. A minion emerges from Despair when either a point of Love or a point of Self-Loathing is gained.[/list:u]Anyway, I liked it a lot when I first thought it up yesterday. But I'm not going to use it. It's basically the same as the shirking mechanics, except constrained to working only on other minions when they've just lost a Connection. I like the shirking mechanics a lot, but I've come to believe they'll cause character vs. character conflicts to eclipse the character vs. master conflict in significance. And the Despair mechanics are, upon consideration, even worse. Now, in order to lower my Self-Loathing, I have to kill your Connection first. My intent was to restrict the occurrence of shirking so there would be less escalation of character vs. character, and what I did was create a mechanic that will actually provoke a more vicious escalation.

    Convince me otherwise? Any other suggestions on mechanics for infrequent reduction of Self-Loathing?

    Paul
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    quozl
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    « Reply #1 on: February 19, 2003, 10:33:25 AM »

    I'm going to look at this from a gamist viewpoint.  MLWM has a definite endpoint and a way to win the game.  Since the only way to win the game is to resolve the conflict with the master, it cannot be eclipsed by any amount of character conflict.  However, character conflict would still be important as it makes sure that no other players can win before you do.

    Now, if you do not want MLWM to support such a gamist outlook, you might want to not use the proposed shirking and despair rules.
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    xiombarg
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    « Reply #2 on: February 19, 2003, 11:37:30 AM »

    Quote
    I think players are adopting too much of a lone-wolf style of play, largely ignoring the mechanics for minions aiding each other, and then feeling frustrated. There is, for instance, no reason a minion couldn't ask another minion for aid in making an overture to a Connection. "Ludwig, will you play the violin for me while I sing to her from the yard?"
    Then you should be sure to highlight this in the rule, perhaps even with the example you just gave, as it sure isn't obvious at all that the players are supposed to be helping each other. There is very little that obviously encourages the party to work together, especially as each has his own individual issues to deal with, and the only thing that binds them together, generally, is the Master, and that binding is, by nature, disfunctional.

    You may want to consider adding the Despair/shirking mechanic as an optional rule, while explaining why it isn't in the default game. It might be nice to have a more lone-wolf style of game on occasion.
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    Mike Holmes
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    « Reply #3 on: March 12, 2003, 02:06:04 PM »

    Damnit, the way the new message tags work, I sometimes miss this stuff. So here I am almost a month later replying.

    I'm still not seeing the idea at all. By telling you to do something bad, I feel better? I mean even if it's delusional, I still don't see the basis of the rationale. And, yes, this might foreground the character stuff too much. I'm agin it!

    What I think would work better is simply  finding a way to make Self-Loathing not spiral. I have an idea.

    Think of it this way, people talk about hitting bottom. There is a bedrock below which Self-Loathing cannot go it seems to me. IOW, instead of Self-Loathing making getting Self-Loathing more likely, make it less likely. This is cool because as one gains Self-Loathing it becomes a barrier to more. So from a player POV, you're being tempted to do things to gain more so that you're better in a fight. But at no point do you go so high that you are disempowered entirely to resist the Master. You're unlikely to ever be out of the running entirely for any endgame, either.

    This requires reworking, of the Getting the Love you want rule, of course:

    Current rule: The Minion rolls Reason minus Self-Loathing against the target of the Connection rolling Fear minus Reason. If the Minion fails the roll, in addition to the Love point, he also gets a point of Self-Loathing.

    New rule: The Minion rolls Self-Loathing minus Fear against the target of the Connection rolling Weariness minus reason. If the Minion fails the roll, in addition to the Love point, he also gets a point of Self-Loathing.

    Using this, as soon as Self-Loathing gets to a certain point it's unlikely to get higher unless his weariness gets higher. But that's unlikley as his Self-Loathing is already high. Still, there's always a chance, which is cool. Anyhow, this makes getting Love less painful in some ways, but then, in the original system what we're worried about is a similar phenomenon where the character just doesn't care anymore about Self-Loathing (and therefore has no impediment to going for Love in that case). Anyhow, when someone does sink to a new level of Self-Loathing it'll be all the more impressive.

    I think it works.

    Fear and Reason would both need to be lower, say about 1 or 2. But that's no biggie.

    So, what problems do people see?

    Mike
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    Bankuei
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    « Reply #4 on: March 12, 2003, 04:20:58 PM »

    Paul and I have been tossing some ideas back and forth via PM.  One idea I had come up with is that should anyone get Self Loathing up beyond a certain point, each additional point ups the Reason in the game.

    My logic behind this idea was two-fold:  One, it increases the consequences of the actions of the minions, the townsfolk are becoming intolerant and starting to take more active measures, etc...

    Second, it makes Getting Love easier, which then leads to a quicker endgame.  The basic idea is that as one guy starts acting out more, the current relationships tend to grow stronger and get strained more("But you're not like the bad ones...you're good, I know it!"), and of course, that the one guy who is going down the hole is pretty much at the "end" of their story path(that is, its unlikely for them to turn around at this point).

    Typically in any story like this, the one guy who chooses to jump into the abyss serves as a catalyst for the other minions to fall or come forth triumphant.  At the point that someone is pushing the point of no return, the other minions should also be getting close to endgame as well.

    Does this idea jive with anyone?

    Chris
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    Ron Edwards
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    « Reply #5 on: March 13, 2003, 06:48:55 AM »

    Spoink!

    What Chris said? Chalk me down as "me too." I am Chris' minion in this matter.

    Best,
    Ron
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    Paul Czege
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    « Reply #6 on: March 13, 2003, 07:04:20 AM »

    Okay, so all the options I'm considering for the issue of Self-Loathing gone amok are on the table...

    Pain

    If a minion's Self-loathing ever grows greater than Love plus Fear, the character is lost briefly from gameplay, having been stricken with excruciating pain or psychological distress. The GM will describe a scene depicting the character's suffering, subsequent to which the character is back again under the control of the player, with Weariness elevated to the level of Self-Loathing.

    Paul
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    Blake Hutchins
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    « Reply #7 on: March 13, 2003, 10:30:19 AM »

    Hello Paul,

    I like Chris's idea also, so chalk up my obsequious "Yesss" to Ron's.  I'm not so sure about the consequences of Pain, though.  Sounds a bit too grim, possibly deprotagonizing (though I'm not sure how much that's an issue with MLWM).  I do like the idea of a temporary removal and the suffering scene, but beyond that, Pain sounds like an instant ride to the bottom.

    Best,

    Blake
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    Bankuei
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    « Reply #8 on: March 13, 2003, 10:43:53 AM »

    Hi Paul,

    I'm not clear on what the idea of the Pain mechanic is for...I'm assuming the goal is to stop folks from jumping into the abyss without a second thought... but...

    Quote
    If a minion's Self-loathing ever grows greater than Love plus Fear, the character is lost briefly from gameplay, having been stricken with excruciating pain or psychological distress. The GM will describe a scene depicting the character's suffering, subsequent to which the character is back again under the control of the player, with Weariness elevated to the level of Self-Loathing.


    ....means more Weariness....

    Resisting Master:
    Quote
    The Minion resists by rolling dice equal to the total of all his Love points, across all his Connections, minus his Weariness.

    ...means less likely to resist Master...

    Acting out
    Quote
    Outsiders and Townspeople resist by rolling Reason plus the Minion's Weariness. A Minion resists by rolling his own Fear plus Self-Loathing. If the attacking Minion is successful, his Self-Loathing increases. If he fails, he takes a wound, which is represented by an increase in Weariness.

    ...means weariness and self-loathing kind of stay in an "arms race", granted, it removes alot of one's ability to properly use self loathing, but then again, what good is the character at this point?....

    Capture
    Quote
    If a conflict resolution ever results in a Minion's Weariness being greater than Reason, the Minion is captured by the Townspeople or Outsiders. This is a temporary situation, however, basically a lead into the next scene.


    ...means gaining too high of a Weariness doesn't have much more than "color" consequences....

    Endgame
    Quote
    Mechanically, as described above, the Master controls the Minions with Fear, by rolling Fear plus the Minion's Self-Loathing against the Minion rolling Love minus Weariness. Endgame is triggered by a Minion whose total Love is greater than Fear plus his own Weariness rolling a successful resistance to a Master's command.


    ...means its harder to resist Master still...

    The only thing I see at the end of the affair is a character who is deprotagonized in every sense of the word, ineffective at anything, and unable to even play the part of the villian.

    The other option is to make character death a choice for those whose self loathing goes too high.  My biggest issue is, what happens if NO ONE gets enough Love to resist Master(all connections killed)?  When does the game end?  It seems to make sense to "force" the climax by upping the chance of endgame as the game goes on.

    Please let us know what you want Pain to do, game-wise and narratively, maybe we can give you suggestions closer to what you're looking for.

    Chris
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    Ron Edwards
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    « Reply #9 on: March 13, 2003, 11:07:20 AM »

    Hi,

    Seems to me that Chris' idea about Reason makes Pain irrelevant. Why not just pop in the Reason rule, eliminate any and all other notions that have been brought up, and have done?

    Best,
    Ron
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    Paul Czege
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    « Reply #10 on: March 13, 2003, 12:16:51 PM »

    Hey everyone,

    Thanks for all your thought on this...

    Please let us know what you want Pain to do, game-wise and narratively, maybe we can give you suggestions closer to what you're looking for.

    What happens in play when a character's Self-Loathing hits the low to mid double-digits, and Weariness is low, is that violent actions become no contest for the character. This is the near cousin to the Chalk Outlines/OctaNe issue. The GM frames the scene, and the player describes the atrocity he commits, with the dice effectively a non-factor. This is the source of deprotagonization. A character disengaged from his human side, who commits atrocity after atrocity absent meaningful antagonism is boring to watch. Protagonism is about audience interest in a character.

    I like the Reason solution conceptually. But what it represents is the play group turning its back on this character. Increasing Reason by a point, in parallel to a Self-Loathing score likely already more than five or six dice higher, is not meaningful antagonism. The rest of the play group will complete the game more quickly, and the character with Self-Loathing gone amok will continue to be boring.

    The Pain mechanic equalizes Self-Loathing and Weariness,  which resets the potential for audience interest in the character by re-injecting uncertainty. It is again possible for the character to fail at a violent act, because Self-Loathing and Weariness effectively cancel each other out.

    What do you think of the idea of combining both mechanics:

    Pain and Outrage

    If a minion's Self-loathing ever grows greater than Love plus Fear, the character is lost briefly from gameplay, having been stricken with excruciating pain or psychological distress. The GM will describe a scene depicting the character's suffering, subsequent to which the character is back again under the control of the player, with Weariness elevated to the level of Self-Loathing, and Reason increased by one point, representing the increasing outrage of the townspeople.

    Paul
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    Mike Holmes
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    « Reply #11 on: March 13, 2003, 12:35:00 PM »

    My idea was that bad?

    Anyhow, I think we have a major disconect going here. Paul, the problem is not that high Self-Loathing makes the character succeed at violence more easily. It's that it makes violence about the only thing he can do successfully. See, at that point, he won't bother going for Love because what's the point? It'll only result in more Self-Loathing. And if you make Weariness catch up that just means that you've now also taken away the ability of that Love to enable the Minion to trigger endgame.

    And the Minion can't resist the master anyhow. With Self-Loathing that high, he's a pawn of the Master.

    That's a real deprotagonization problem right there.

    No, the problem isn't that violence becomes an easy option, it's that it becomes the only option. And the only way to stop that is too either never have Self-Loathing go that low, or for it to be reduceable in some way.

    Your Pain mechanic reminds me of the Time Out's that we give our two-year old. Except that when Time Out is over, Alex has something else to do, and can therefore do that instead of getting into trouble. In this game, as soon as you're done with you're Time Out, you're right back to where you were when you want into prison. See psychological papers on prisons and recidivism. This is no prevention at all.

    In fact with the increasing weariness option you're making the character less able to do anything. With all three, you cripple the character. Why play at all at that point.

    And why are we using punishment mechanics at all? Aren't we all in agreement that they are poor motivators? Wost of all, it's not like the player has a choice. You seem to assume that there is some behavior that the player has that leads to this problem that they can adjust in order to not spiral. But there isn't. The main way you get Self-Loathing is by attempting to get Love. Which is how you win. So, players are just going to fail occasionally and it's not their fault. The system is pushing them to get more Self-Loathing.

    And you want to punish them for it.

    Mike
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    Paul Czege
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    « Reply #12 on: March 13, 2003, 12:51:04 PM »

    Hey Mike,

    ...the problem is not that high Self-Loathing makes the character succeed at violence more easily. It's that it makes violence about the only thing he can do successfully. See, at that point, he won't bother going for Love because what's the point? It'll only result in more Self-Loathing. And if you make Weariness catch up that just means that you've now also taken away the ability of that Love to enable the Minion to trigger endgame.

    And the Minion can't resist the master anyhow. With Self-Loathing that high, he's a pawn of the Master.


    This isn't true. The game mechanic for minions aiding each other is available. Like Christian de Neuvillette, a minion can ask another for help getting Love. And he can get help resisting the Master too. A minion always has the option of aid when trying to accomplish something.

    The only deprotagonizing certainty of outcome I've seen in play is violent actions when Self-Loathing is gone amok.

    Paul
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    « Reply #13 on: March 13, 2003, 01:29:59 PM »

    Hi Paul,

    I think a key issue that we need to look at is this:

    Quote
    This is the source of deprotagonization. A character disengaged from his human side, who commits atrocity after atrocity absent meaningful antagonism is boring to watch. Protagonism is about audience interest in a character.


    Protagonism in roleplaying games is about the audience, but in this case, the audience is the players, and the players primary source of protagonism is their own character(the one which they see personally, as a protagonist, and identify with the most).

    The dice aren't the protagonizers/deprotagonizers, its the ability to make meaningful choice on the part of the players.  Using Sorcerer as an example, Humanity rolls come about through choices of the players, the dice are simply the gamble.  One could, theorhetically, play it safe the whole game and never make any Humanity rolls(which would be a boring game..but...) ultimately its the choices of the players which make that interesting or not.

    In the case of MLWM, the central theme is an inverse of Sorcerer:  you are the minions, being commanded by a crazed dysfunctional individual, and you are slaves.  These stories naturally follow the common examples of slavery:  Those who gladly pick up the role of overseer, those who rebel, those who get crushed in the struggle, and those who kill themselves to escape.  Depending on what the player desires, they might actively be pushing for any one of those endings.  I can certainly see some entertainment being had in pushing your character into oblivion.

    Being able to make that choice is protagonism.  Being unable to turn back, that's where it becomes deprotagonizing.  Through the mechanics, the player is no longer able to hope for redemption, so they can only spiral deeper into the hole.

    Bringing this all back to the subject at hand:

    Pain, basically increases Weariness, which makes it harder for a character to 1) commit violence, 2) Resist Master, and 3) Gain Love.  In a word, a character is no longer good at anything at all, including the option of violence for a player who wanted to take the plunge.  The player can no longer make that choice between damnation and redemption... seems deprotagonizing to me.

    It needs to either be easier to get Love, or harder to get Self-Loathing, which would make it harder to hit the point of no return, but still wouldn't stop players who actively want to play the villain.  You could also choose to simply cause a character to get removed from play upon hitting too high of Self Loathing, either through self destruction, the Master's doing, or the townspeople.  This would certainly limit how far players would want to go, although the unlucky schmuck might still just roll bad and get left out of play, waiting for someone to trigger endgame.

    The reason I suggested the Reason option is that a player is only going to hit that Self-Loathing mark under two conditions; either they simply rolled bad the whole game, or else they really do want to play the villian.  In the first case, the player wants the game to be over with, just like a sports game where its beyond the hope of a comeback.  In the second case, the player is looking to have the "bad end" and wants it to occur.  Meanwhile, the other players who are trying to redeem their characters, will have an easier time of getting Love(if they want it), or causing Endgame as they see fit.  

    Instead of simply being a race against Self Loathing, it becomes a race to get your character "aimed" for the ending you want as a player before someone decides to trigger Endgame.  It doesn't necessarily make it competition either.  My idea was that this way, you help enable the most players towards getting the ending they want, but never making it a "for sure" thing.  

    Perhaps I'm missing the mark on the premise of the game here:  You play minions, and you can tell stories of characters who redeem themselves and free themselves of the Master, go down tragically in the process, or become monsters as bad or worse than the Master...  To me, that seems to be the theme of those kinds of stories.

    Again, I recommend making it harder to hit the point of no return regarding redemption if you want to avoid the doom spiral.

    Chris
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    « Reply #14 on: March 14, 2003, 01:10:55 PM »

    I will be the first one to admit that a lot of this stuff is over my head, but how about...

    What about when Love is achieved successfully, then the player loses one point of self loathing.

    Or, if a minion successfully gets another minion to help then with a point of Love, (...play the violin while I serenade) self loathing is reduced by one.  With the bonus dice, it could be done.

    In both of these cases, something goes in right, and a person would feel better about themselves and it should show in some respect.  Since love is harder to get then self loathing, you wouldn't be causing too much damage to the s-l score but may be keeping from not getting too high and letting (getting) the players work together.

    -Danielle
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