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Author Topic: Plot Flow and Metagame Resources  (Read 4491 times)
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« on: September 27, 2001, 10:49:00 AM »

I mentioned to Ron that I agree with many that The Pool is an important design due to the fact that it lays bare the relationship between Metagame Resources and game flow. This is why I have been playing around with it so much, is because I'm interrested in seeing just how certain modifications affect play. Specfically the flow of the plot.

Certain questions arise. Why do we limit and reduce the metagame resource (the pool itself in this case) at all? If a character has an 89% chance to succeed using the full pool, why does that number need to change at some point? If it is good to begin with, why isn't it good later? I realize that the gambling is fun by itself, but how does it affect play? It seems to me that the reason must be the effect on pacing and progress that this has. A player with less resources may be forced or simply decide to play his character differently. Or is it simply a method to meter player participation?

So the queston becomes how does play change, if at all? What is the specific effect of less resources? Do players actually have the characters behave differently? How does the greater rate of failure that must occur affect the tone of the story? Similarly, how do rates and methods of replacement affect play?

I wish that I could say that I've played The Pool, but I can't. Still we have many here who have, and others with a lot of experience with such mechanics in other games. What can we say about how supply of metagame resources affects play?

Also, what sort of flow is optimal? Is this different for different settings or styles? How so, and how does it relate to the metagame mechanic?

Mike
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hardcoremoose
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« Reply #1 on: September 27, 2001, 10:01:00 PM »

Well...

Having played The Pool, I'm not sure that my style of play changed much at all when I was thrashing, as opposed to when I wasn't.  Then again, there was only point in the game when I wasn't thrashing - that point that preceded my very first die roll - so I guess I'm not qualified to answer this question.

In theory, though, I think the obvious change you see while thrashing is that players (at least those interested in managing their effectiveness most, errr, effectively) will focus more on their traits, particularly those traits with the higher ratings.  Higher ratings in Traits means more dice, more dice means greater chance of success, and greater chance of success means earning that extra die into your pool for later gambles (a recent suggestion e-mailed to James would enhance this strategy even further).

So what does that mean to the story?  It means that while down-and-out, the player will turn to the things he prized most highly in character creation.  The meat of the character will be exposed at these times, and even though the player won't have much narrative control (due to his inability to seize a MoV), the story will still focus and revolve around things he considers important (important enough to rate highly in chargen).

And because this is The Pool, even Traits with high ratings will fail frequently, creating a great deal of pathos for the character.  An example:

Grazel (my character in Paul's game) is a meat-and-potatoes type warrior.  He's decent with an axe (rated at 1), but his highest rated Trait is with the little girl (a rating of 2!) that he saved from the now infamous Aminar Korg.  His other redeeming features are Reliable, Resourceful, and Half-Remembered Dreams (each rated at 1).  Ambushed in a cave by a band of undead Kriedetempek warriors (that's a triple redundancy BTW), Grazel and his fellows did the only thing they could do: Fight.  Of course I had bottomed out my pool a whole session earlier, so I was stuck rolling my 1 die in axe, along with whatever dice Paul decided to give me.  My first two rolls were utter failures, but Paul went easy on me - cutting off an ear and disarming Grazel of his precious axe.

About to be beheaded with his own weapon, I had to try to bring one of Grazel's Traits into play.  The girl was elsewhere, so I wasn't going to get the use of my best Trait.  I guess I could have used Resourceful, but instead I begged Paul for a Reliable roll, justifying it by saying that I am trusted because of my reliability and well-liked by my comrades and that one of them should come to my rescue, just as I had been trying to do for them.  Paul agreed, and amazingly I rolled a success.  Vulf Power, fourteen years old and every bit a warrior equal to the others, knocked the Kried to the ground, speared him through the head, and returned my much needed weapon to me (all of this narrated by Paul - I wasn't even eligible for a MoV).  A few moments later I failed yet another roll against the undead assailants, and the price I paid was watching helplessly as Vulf was disemboweled by a pair of zombie-things.  So much for good ole' reliable Grazel.

The point being is that desperately thrashing at the bottom of the pool forced me to look for inventive ways* to use the Traits I had.  I was, at that point, utilizing my best gamist strategies, looking for good ways to use what little I had available to me.  But because of the nature of the game and how Traits are defined, even my attempt at tactical superiority yielded interesting plot devlopments.

And while I was far from successful in the long run, the story benefited in expected ways.  I really felt the loss of Vulf; due to the previous interaction with him, I felt as though I had partially authored him.  He belonged to me.  It hurt to see him go like that, and it hurt to be unable to do anything about it.  But it hurt in that good way that comes when you know you're telling a decent story.  

So it is my contention that thrashing may very well reveal more about the character and provide more interesting plot developments than when swimming in dice.  It's just a theory though...I've never been anywhere but the shallow end (God, how much more can I milk this "pool" metaphor?)

* On several occasions in this rather long, rambly dissertation, I have made statements like "inventive use of Traits" or some such similar blather.  This may seem trivial to the pure gamist out there - why worry about whether you're rolling Reliable or Resourceful or even Axe when all three are rated at '1'?  This is because, when thrashing, your greatest resource is not your own Traits, but rather those dice the GM is giving you (unless you somehow have a Trait of greater than 3, which I highly doubt).  Therefore, getting the most out of the GM is key, and if your GM is Paul, you are best served by being clever and inspired.  Not that Paul wasn't generous - he was doing his best to help alleviate our lack of die pools - but he also pointed out on at least one occasion that I was pushing my luck by using the same Trait in similar ways on repeated die rolls.  The dice the GM provides are not just there for the taking - you have to impress him with your intended action.  Earning a measly one die from the GM is like being told "I'm not that interested in seeing that succeed", where three dice is like "Hell yeah, please roll a '1', please, please..."  :smile:

Take care,
Moose      
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #2 on: September 28, 2001, 12:36:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-09-28 02:01, hardcoremoose wrote:
Having played The Pool, I'm not sure that my style of play changed much at all when I was thrashing, as opposed to when I wasn't.  Then again, there was only point in the game when I wasn't thrashing - that point that preceded my very first die roll - so I guess I'm not qualified to answer this question.

Donberidicuous. I'd say that as a designer of such mechanics that you are as good as anybody to comment.

Quote

In theory, though, I think the obvious change you see while thrashing is that players (at least those interested in managing their effectiveness most, errr, effectively) will focus more on their traits, particularly those traits with the higher ratings...

So what does that mean to the story?  It means that while down-and-out, the player will turn to the things he prized most highly in character creation.  The meat of the character will be exposed at these times, and even though the player won't have much narrative control (due to his inability to seize a MoV), the story will still focus and revolve around things he considers important (important enough to rate highly in chargen).

Hmmm. Isn't it always most advantageous to use your biggest stats? Or is it that players risking lots of dice need to worry less about the base dice?

Quote

And because this is The Pool, even Traits with high ratings will fail frequently, creating a great deal of pathos for the character.  An example:

)Snip tragic example( Sniff...

The point being is that desperately thrashing at the bottom of the pool forced me to look for inventive ways* to use the Traits I had.  I was, at that point, utilizing my best gamist strategies, looking for good ways to use what little I had available to me.  But because of the nature of the game and how Traits are defined, even my attempt at tactical superiority yielded interesting plot devlopments.

And while I was far from successful in the long run, the story benefited in expected ways.  I really felt the loss of Vulf; due to the previous interaction with him, I felt as though I had partially authored him.  He belonged to me.  It hurt to see him go like that, and it hurt to be unable to do anything about it.  But it hurt in that good way that comes when you know you're telling a decent story.  

So it is my contention that thrashing may very well reveal more about the character and provide more interesting plot developments than when swimming in dice.  It's just a theory though...I've never been anywhere but the shallow end (God, how much more can I milk this "pool" metaphor?)

I'd think that this is very true. A character in dire straights will probably be more intimately revealed than the high-flying protagonist. Did you enjoy thrashing connstantly, though, or did you wish for your power back at some point? It sounded from the GMs POV that he would've prefered a bit more sharing. That seems to make sense intuitively. Do you see your remaining so long at the bottom of the pool as something caused by the mechanic and it's itersection with the story (just couldn't fing a chance to drop a few MoVs to get the dice) or was it just your choice? If so why did you choose to remain at the bottom?

Quote

* On several occasions in this rather long, rambly dissertation, I have made statements like "inventive use of Traits" or some such similar blather.  This may seem trivial to the pure gamist out there - why worry about whether you're rolling Reliable or Resourceful or even Axe when all three are rated at '1'?  This is because, when thrashing, your greatest resource is not your own Traits, but rather those dice the GM is giving you (unless you somehow have a Trait of greater than 3, which I highly doubt).  

We should of course consider this into the mix as well. Essentially when thrashing, the Pool is a lot like Sorcerer in this way, in that you're always trying to play things up to get that extra metagame resource.

Mike
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James V. West
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« Reply #3 on: September 28, 2001, 01:55:00 PM »

Moose sayeth:
"Of course I had bottomed out my pool a whole session earlier"

And you should have got some more dice at the start of this session. The rule is to roll 1d6 and add that to your previous pool. I now believe (as I've said) that it ought to be 2d6, but I'm under the impression that you didn't roll either. Ouch.

Moose Sayeth:
"And while I was far from successful in the long run, the story benefited in expected ways. I really felt the loss of Vulf; due to the previous interaction with him, I felt as though I had partially authored him. He belonged to me. It hurt to see him go like that, and it hurt to be unable to do anything about it. But it hurt in that good way that comes when you know you're telling a decent story"

One of the most important things about this game, and any roleplaying experience, imho.

What I witness when people are actually thinking about their metagame resources is that they calculate their moves. Instead of acting on passion or fun, they fall into a tactical approach. This is inevitable, and in fact a part of many people's gaming style. No problem. I wanted my game to allow people to cut loose more, which is really one of the motivations for having a pool of effectiveness that can be used for anything.

This is part of the reason I'm striving to balance the flow of dice in The Pool. So that players won't feel forced to constantly calculate their rolls.

At the same time, such calculations can have positive effects on the story. If I have a gut feeling that my character is going to encounter his bitter enemy very soon, and I have reason to beleive that the encounter will not be in my favor, then I may conserve my resources for that situation. When it comes, the tension may be higher, more anticipated.

That's not to say that the same situation wouldn't be even more tense if I had blown my metagame resources on some cheap prostitute and now I'm at the tip of this prick's dagger. I love it.

In traditional gaming, the idea is to keep your character alive and garner as much power as possible. But isn't it even cooler when your character fails miserably and is forced to deal with bitter consequences?

Yes it is. But not all the time. There is a fine and delicate line between empowerment and deflowerment. I wanted The Pool to empower as much as possible, but still maintain a distinct and dangerous edge of risk. And I believe it does.

Mike Sayeth:
"Certain questions arise. Why do we limit and reduce the metagame resource (the pool itself in this case) at all? If a character has an 89% chance to succeed using the full pool, why does that number need to change at some point? If it is good to begin with, why isn't it good later? I realize that the gambling is fun by itself, but how does it affect play? It seems to me that the reason must be the effect on pacing and progress that this has. A player with less resources may be forced or simply decide to play his character differently. Or is it simply a method to meter player participation?"

If my chance of succes was static, or it went up regularly as in most games, then why have a pool at all? Just list traits and give them ratings and let that be the end of it. The reason the metagame resource changes so drastically (in The Pool) is because it increases drama. If I feel like I'm risking something, I get excited about it. Its more than just gambling fun, it makes the experience more visceral, I believe. If I risk 9 dice and I know that if I fail I wont lose them, there's no risk.

Me out folks.

James V. West

P.S. damn I love this stuff.  


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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #4 on: October 03, 2001, 08:25:00 AM »

Quote

On 2001-09-28 17:55, James V. West wrote:
If my chance of succes was static, or it went up regularly as in most games, then why have a pool at all? Just list traits and give them ratings and let that be the end of it. The reason the metagame resource changes so drastically (in The Pool) is because it increases drama. If I feel like I'm risking something, I get excited about it. Its more than just gambling fun, it makes the experience more visceral, I believe. If I risk 9 dice and I know that if I fail I wont lose them, there's no risk.

Well, just for the sake of argument (and I'll write that a second time, lest somebody think that I'm suggesting that people play this way without it being tested) just for the sake of argument, you could just make tokens out of the pool, and when you risk one, you get to make an MoV if the roll is a success. That is one of the biggest parts of the risk taken is not so much power to succeed, but power to take MoVs.

Another thing that you could do, theoretically, is disassociate the pool from helping with success, but still keep it as dice. Instead of adding these to your die pool for determining success, you would roll the risked dice on a success to determine whether or not you recieved an MoV (on any roll of one). Or, alternately and interestingly, you could just dissociate the rolls entirely such that if the second roll was successful that you'd get an MoV in case of a successful first roll, or a Monologue of Defeat if you failed the first roll.

Anyhow, the drama would still increase with larger gambles, the chance of success would just not change. In a way, less of a gamble, but that would be relative in play.

Mike
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