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Author Topic: Brief Critique of Relationship Mechanics  (Read 14172 times)
Jeff Klein
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« Reply #15 on: September 03, 2003, 07:02:57 PM »

Two random things:

1. This seems awfully like the Champions conundrum of 'why do I have to pay points for a laser gun instead of just taking one from the bad guy and keeping it?'

2. http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=1414#13438">Dav Gets Immersive in a game with quite a relationship mechanic.
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John Kim
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« Reply #16 on: September 03, 2003, 09:19:38 PM »

Quote from: joshua neff
  I find consistent continuity to be...well, jarring. It seems unrealistic to me. Plus, I'm completely unconcerned with fiction being "realistic." Myth, legend, folk tale--these are rarely consistent in continuity. Greek myths contradict the hell out of each other. Try doing research into the history of Ireland & coming away with a consistent tale. So for me, consistent continuity seems a-mythic, & I rather like myth. Again, it's personal preference.  

Agreed.  I would lean the opposite way, for example -- towards continuity and realism -- but as you say they are just preferences.  Actually, I think that this split is behind a lot of disagreements here one the Forge.  This is parallel to the split in literature between novels (which traditionally are social realism) versus myth and romance.  It seems to me that the majority in the Forge are like you, i.e. they prefer mythicness.  

For example, I chose RuneQuest rather than Hero Wars for my current campaign.  That's because it was closer to what I was aiming at -- a fairly grounded saga in the style of the Icelandic family sagas, and definitely not like the eddas or romances.  

Quote from: joshua neff
  As for Strength being "quantifiable" but a relationship not--I'm tempted to say this is more a matter of RPG history than it is a given. For me, saying "I have a Strength of 18" means absolutely nothing, except in the context of the game. "A Strength of 18 means I can lift this much." Oh, okay, got it. So if Relationships are quantified by the same scale--as they are in HeroQuest--it makes as much sense to me.  

Well, I don't dispute your preference -- but my opinion has nothing to do with RPG history.  Physical force is an objectively measurable numeric quantity, such as pounds of bench press and dead lift.  Physics problems can be reasonably reduced to simple numbers in many cases, whereas it is much more difficult to do this with psychology and sociology.  While numerical methods are used by psychology, in practical usage it is difficult to reduce them to numerical ratings.  

For game purposes, it is certainly playable to set social ratings and use them the same way as Strength.  However, when you try to relate this back to a real-world conception, they are very different.
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John Kim
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« Reply #17 on: September 03, 2003, 09:34:07 PM »

Quote from: Jeff Klein
 1. This seems awfully like the Champions conundrum of 'why do I have to pay points for a laser gun instead of just taking one from the bad guy and keeping it?'  

Agreed, and it is a difficult conundrum.  The reason for the Champions rule is a particular genre convention.  You use the superheroic equipment rule if you want your game to be like mainstream superhero comics (or perhaps other episodic forms like TV series).  If you don't want this, then there is no good reason for the rule.  I have run Champions both ways.  I like both approaches but they have a different feel.  Without the rule, characters face a lot of questions about whether they are stealing, how they get their money, and so forth.  With the rule, these issues are put in the background and play focusses on other dilemmas instead.  

I'd be curious if anyone has similar reflections on play with and without relationship mechanics.
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- John
RaconteurX
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« Reply #18 on: September 03, 2003, 10:20:32 PM »

As relationships in HeroQuest can be used to gain augments directly, in the same way that Pendragon passions grant inspiration bonuses, or indirectly through Community Support, they are given numeric values. HeroQuest quantifies relationships for precisely the same reason as Pendragon quantifies personality traits and passions: if it can have a metagame (i.e., mechanics-oriented) impact on the game, it needs some value associated with it.

Speaking as a Hero Wars playtester, the design rationale grows out of Robin Laws' intent to model outcomes rather than processes. A contest in HeroQuest (as in Hero Wars) tells you the outcome, leaving the explanation of how that outcome occurred to the players and narrator to create together. It is this which is the source of HeroQuest's great mechanical versatility, allowing for equally dramatic combats, legal debates or efforts to bring in the harvest before winter arrives.

To use the example of Baor the Barkeep: the player may not know that, during a mid-game break, the narrator rolled the hero's Friend of Baor the Barkeep 17 versus a difficulty which represents Baor's reticence based on his knowledge of what happened to the last person who told an outsider where the thieves' guild holds its meetings (let's call it 10W... W here substituting for the Mastery rune). On a defeat or a tie, Baor would not tell his friend anything. On a marginal or minor victory, Baor would indicate that he did in fact know but feared what might happen to either himself, his family or the hero. On a major or complete victory, Baor would tell the hero exactly what he wanted to know, guild be damned!
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Valamir
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« Reply #19 on: September 04, 2003, 06:10:46 AM »

Quote from: Daredevil

Quote from: Valamir
In games of this type, there is almost never a time when you will be without the currency required. No properly run Hero Wars game should ever enter the situation where in character play indicates a potential relationship, the player wants to cement it and doesn't have any points. At the very least the GM extends the credit on it.

This explanation seems to rob the mechanics and related currency of much of their worth. Why is there a currency or a mechanic in the first place, if they're essentially powerless? In my view, the mechanic could be made more elegant before allowed into play.


Powerless?  Not at all.  The currency measures choice.  Which was more important, to spend the point to cement a relationship or improve your Intrigue skill?  To cement that sword as your new signature weapon or to increase your strength score?  Its not having or not having the currency that gives it value in this circumstance.  Its how you choose to spend what you have that provides the value.

In fact, take money as an analogy.  I can give a poor man $10,000 and watch how he spends it to judge what kind of person he is, what's important to him.  However, at that level, the money is likely to be largely spent on essentials and basics...the needs of survival.  If instead I give him $1,000,000 than survival is easily taken care of.  The man now has a large disposable amount of money above and beyond basic needs.  How he chooses to save, spend, or give this money away says alot.

Similarly currency in the game works like this.  If you rely on the scarcity of game currency to give it value than you're likely to see most of it just getting spent on basic "character advancement" needs.  If, on the other hand, you give out the currency generously, you can then observe the choices the players make as they decide what is or isn't important.


Quote from: RaconteurX
Speaking as a Hero Wars playtester, the design rationale grows out of Robin Laws' intent to model outcomes rather than processes.


In wargaming this is often called Design for Effect rather than Design for Cause.
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John Kim
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« Reply #20 on: September 04, 2003, 07:01:25 PM »

Quote from: Valamir
In games of this type, there is almost never a time when you will be without the currency required. No properly run Hero Wars game should ever enter the situation where in character play indicates a potential relationship, the player wants to cement it and doesn't have any points. At the very least the GM extends the credit on it.
...
Similarly currency in the game works like this.  If you rely on the scarcity of game currency to give it value than you're likely to see most of it just getting spent on basic "character advancement" needs.  If, on the other hand, you give out the currency generously, you can then observe the choices the players make as they decide what is or isn't important.

There may be some truth to this, but I would say that "needs" are a function of how the rest of the campaign is run.  In my experience, a 500 point Champions game with lots of XP is not necessarily any more character-focussed than a 50+50 point ordinary people game.  Either way, people spend on what is important to them.  

I think the problem for most people is in the nature of justifications.  i.e. If a player keeps not spending points on relationships which play suggests, then you need to keep coming up with excuses for why they don't.  Conversely, if the player does spend points on whatever is suggested by play, then he is losing points from spending on what he might otherwise want.  

Just to illustrate the latter point -- consider this.  I am playing a game without relationship mechanics, and I decide on a new house rule.  Whenever a PC forms a new permanent relationship, I penalize the player's XP.  She can avoid this only by driving away, alienating, or otherwise negating the potential relationship.  This seems to be functionally identical to the cementing rule.  

I certainly know from Champions that under the superheroic equipment rule, players were discouraged from picking up equipment they would otherwise take because it would cost them points.  Indeed, that is the purpose of the rule -- because in mainstream superhero comics that's how they behave.  So I understand this logic.  However, I'm still not entirely clear on the parallel logic of the cementing rule.
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- John
RaconteurX
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Posts: 262


« Reply #21 on: September 04, 2003, 07:26:41 PM »

Quote from: Valamir
In wargaming this is often called Design for Effect rather than Design for Cause.


Thank you, Ralph. I blanked on the terminology when I was writing my post, and decided it was not worth any further lost sleep. :)
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #22 on: September 04, 2003, 09:29:19 PM »

This post is mostly in response to John's latest, and again I don't think it's anything I haven't already said here, but . . . let me try one more angle on this:

Spending points on a relationship can only be in some way "like" losing XP if the nature of a realtionship and the other things you might spend points on are fundamentally different.  If the overall effectiveness of a character who spends points on relationships is essentially the same as that of a player who doesn't (and instead spends them elsewhere) - there's no "loss" here.  In one case, you have the advantage of the realtionship(s), and in the other, you have some other adavantage.  Good systems that include relationships in a particular mechanic/method (it seems to me) will maintain some form of congruence between the realtionship and other aspects of the system.

So again, I say the issue is really whether or not you are you are willing to treat a relationship as basically the same thing as, say, a sword skill, within the context of a particular rule system.  It can be done, but it might not be to some people's taste.  That doesn't make it equivalent to an XP penalty in any way I can see, though.

Gordon
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John Kim
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« Reply #23 on: September 04, 2003, 10:50:39 PM »

Quote from: Gordon C. Landis
  Spending points on a relationship can only be in some way "like" losing XP if the nature of a realtionship and the other things you might spend points on are fundamentally different.  If the overall effectiveness of a character who spends points on relationships is essentially the same as that of a player who doesn't (and instead spends them elsewhere) - there's no "loss" here.  

That depends on what you compare it to.  I was specifically comparing it to the case of a game where relationships do not cost any currency points.  In this case, there is a relative loss.  Yes, relationships can have value.  However, in the other system, that value was given as a consequence of in-character play -- i.e. as extras or "freebies".  To reproduce this effect in HeroQuest, the GM could always gave you a special Hero Point only usable to cement that relationship every time that you developed a relationship through in-character play.  

As far as I can tell, the parallel to Champions equipment is pretty direct.  Under the superheroic rule, you can say that there is no loss per se -- if you pay points for a gadget, then it has value.  However, in heroic games without that rule, you could get items without paying points.  As a consequence, heroic campaign PCs will tend to buy, borrow, and steal whatever they can get their hands on -- and be concerned about keeping it.  In contrast, superheroic campaign PCs will tend to ignore gadgets, since they don't get anything per se from taking them and aren't in danger of losing them.
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contracycle
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Posts: 2807


« Reply #24 on: September 05, 2003, 12:17:50 AM »

Quote from: John Kim

That depends on what you compare it to.  I was specifically comparing it to the case of a game where relationships do not cost any currency points.  In this case, there is a relative loss.  Yes, relationships can have value.  However, in the other system, that value was given as a consequence of in-character play -- i.e. as extras or "freebies".  To reproduce this effect in HeroQuest, the GM could always gave you a special Hero Point only usable to cement that relationship every time that you developed a relationship through in-character play.  


I can't buy this.  By implication, any mechanism which exists uniquely in a particular game is "unfair" because it requires spending that would not be required in other games.  Thats nonsensical - if there is a point cost economy in the game, then one can assume that the range of spending expected has been accomodated in the initial point provision by the designer.  That is what the the system was built to do.

Anyway, I suggest a rather more important role for personality/social mechanics - establishing the relationship in the game space.  Those "freebie" relationships are only "freebie" becuase there is no way to really use them.  The players own opinion of their relationship, and its degree of reciprocation, may not be recognised by the GM and this may lead to discord.  It may be considered unfair to use a relationship that is not mechanically represented, and does require spending, to obtain an in game benefit - this may be seen as exploitative beheviour.  Establishing a rtelationship in the mechanics makes it much less nebulous for the shared vision, thus much more useable/useful, thus more likely to be important to play IMO.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #25 on: September 05, 2003, 09:33:53 AM »

For a more Sim player like myself, if there's no Relationship listed on the character sheet, there's no relationship. No "freebies" exist, IMO, in Hero Quest.

Now, I can already hear the cries that a HQ character has too few relationships on their character sheet to be plausible. But I completely disagree. Each HQ character will automatically have a relationship with his entire tribe, clan, or whathave you. These represent a huge variety of relationships. The ones listed on the sheet are the ones that have particular value for the character above this level.

Everybody else in the world you have a score of 6 with. That's a rule. So nobody is being forgotten.

Now, is this a tad abstract? Yes, neccessarily so. The system handles everything with this level of abstraction. That said, it provides the most complete and plausible cataloguing of character abilities that I've yet seen. If it ain't on the sheet, the character ain't got it (DIP aside).

Now, I can create temporary relationships all I want in play. Just as I can create temporary equipment ala Champions. I can even assign it a score for the nonce. But in order to have it be permenant, I have to pay for it, Cement it with a HP. If I don't the same thing happens to that temporary equipment happens to the relationship. It dissolves.

This is not to enforce genre, neccessarily (though I'll get back to that in a second). It's very strictly for game balance. Let me say that again, these rules are metagame for balance. That is, if I were allowed to keep relationships and equipment or any other ability without paying, then my character becomes more powerful/interesting than other characters. HP are a resource that limits this. But where's the Congruence?

Well, John mentioned that it already makes sense for equipment. But, in fact, I can't think of anything more ephemeral in life than relationships. That guy you used to work with who you swore you'd keep in touch with? Why don't you talk to him now? Lot's of possible in-game reasons, but, mechanically, it's because you didn't pay the HP. And like equipment, you have to explain how you lose touch. In a more metaphysical way, all things are ephemeral if one doesn't take care with them. Think of Hero Points as Care Points. That the hero only keeps what he cares about.  That's so in-genre for long-term play, I can't even explain how ecstatic I am that the idea exists.

So, again, I really don't see the problem. If you can accept the metagame idea that you have to pay for equipment (and I can understand if that's your gripe right there), then I think you ought to be able to see how it applies overall. And I'd agree that seeing equipment or stats as different from relationships is mostly a result of tradition. Let's put strength aside as an example: can you say that Wisdom is something that makes more sense to rate by number than a relative rating of the strength of a relationship? Swordsmandship skill? Painting ability? Give me a system, and I'll come up with something in it that it rates that's as least as abstract as relationships. Heck, what is Cosmopolitan other than a manual for determining the statistical value of your relationship? Probably a guy thing to see it this way. ;-)

Mike
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John Kim
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« Reply #26 on: September 05, 2003, 09:52:23 AM »

Quote from: contracycle
 By implication, any mechanism which exists uniquely in a particular game is "unfair" because it requires spending that would not be required in other games.  Thats nonsensical - if there is a point cost economy in the game, then one can assume that the range of spending expected has been accomodated in the initial point provision by the designer.  That is what the the system was built to do.  

The logic doesn't hold for plenty of mechanisms.  First of all, many mechanisms don't require point-spending.  And even those which do require point-spending don't necessarily trade-off with other aspects of system.  For example, compare the Hero System and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Compared to Hero, Buffy adds in the Drama Point system.  You can buy drama points with XP, but Drama Points are never required for actions which would be free in the Hero System.  

Simply adding in more points doesn't contradict my point.  It is still true that by driving away potential friends instead of cementing them, the character increases in personal power.  A mechanic which doesn't do this might, for example, distribute relationship points which cannot be traded off with personal advancement points.  

Quote from: contracycle
Anyway, I suggest a rather more important role for personality/social mechanics - establishing the relationship in the game space.  Those "freebie" relationships are only "freebie" becuase there is no way to really use them.  The players own opinion of their relationship, and its degree of reciprocation, may not be recognised by the GM and this may lead to discord.  It may be considered unfair to use a relationship that is not mechanically represented, and does require spending, to obtain an in game benefit - this may be seen as exploitative beheviour.  Establishing a rtelationship in the mechanics makes it much less nebulous for the shared vision, thus much more useable/useful, thus more likely to be important to play IMO.

I would agree there is likely to be differences in play, but I'm not sure about your analysis of use.  

By parallel, this was certainly not true of equipment in my Champions games which didn't require character points for equipment.  The players never developed an attitude that it was exploitative to use equipment that they acquired.  They saw it as only practical.  Since I wasn't bound by rules, I could potentially have said that their equipment frequently broke or was unusable -- but this didn't happen in practice.  

Of course, the equipment did have mechanics -- i.e. guns and armor had combat stats, etc.  I would be interested in different ways of representing relationships.  I agree that a more concrete, less nebulous way of expressing relationships is good -- but I find that a single-number stat seems very nebulous to me, if it is trying to represent a real-seeming human relationship.
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Jason Lee
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« Reply #27 on: September 05, 2003, 10:11:33 AM »

One thing that doesn't sit well with me about relationships being all bound up in currency is that I don't think I like the idea of relationships being a measure of effectiveness.

See, for me, the change in relationships are a primary source of conflict.  The Duke hates you, Boar asks you for a favor, PC 1 hates PC 2.  It's not a measure of effectiveness like a sword skill is, it's what drives play as it changes.  One should be stable, the other mercurial.  Two completely different logics.  Affixing currency to relationships deprives them of some of their mutability, subtly and surprise; it implies stability.  A relationship with Boar of 17, is a good friend 17, not a 'good friend until he finds out you're the brother of the man who killed his wife who he'll now swear a blood oath to slay but be unable to follow through with because you once saved his life'.  I suppose you could say "Well sure it could be, that's just description of the trait", but in order to do this currency would have to be flying all over the place; mucking up (that's a technical term) the point of play.

That said, I've got no beef with relationship mechanics that are not tied to currency, then it's just a visual aid of sorts for the player - relationship notes.  We're actually using something like this: compatibility.  Just a rating you jot down measuring how much you like or dislike each other PC.  It effects the potency of kewl power super combos on the pro side and reflects a difficulty to oppose contributing to a kewl power super combo on the con side.  Adjust as you see fit, normally after each session.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #28 on: September 05, 2003, 10:16:07 AM »

In Hero Quest, it's legitimate for Abilities to shift fairly rapidly in various ways.

If that's not enough, however, in my Synthesis system changing your ratings is the whole point of the resolution system (no surprise as I just ported it over from Universalis, which in which Traits are similarly labile). So, yes, in every conflict the relationship trait will mechanically change to represent the in-game occurances.

John, in both Hero Quest and Synthesis (and I'm sure other systems), Relationships have exactly the same mechanical potence as other stats. So having Swordsman 17 is no different mechanically from having Bob 17. They both give you exactly the same amount of power to affect things in game. So nothing is inherently "worth" more than anything else. If you buy Swordsmanship, that means it's actually worth more to you as a player for your character to have that. If you buy Bob, that indicates that's more important.

Everything in the game is at the same level of abstraction, too, so that one stat has to do for combat as well. If you want it to be handled in little detail, you do a Simple Conflict. If you want to handle either a physical or a relationship fight in more detail, you do an extended Conflict. I can only report that this works extrmemely well. Assuming an ability to deal with FitM.

Mike
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contracycle
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« Reply #29 on: September 05, 2003, 11:26:18 AM »

I think we are flailing somewhat thruogh references to a specific system and simultaneously trying to discuss this in the broad. It is highly significant that HW/HQ is FiTM.

As Mike says, Bob 17 and Sword 17 are mechanically identical.  Now this does not mean thatthe relationship is fixed, to address Cruciels point.  Whatqwe know is that the mechanical impact of the relationship is 17, we do not know whattheactual relationships between Bob and the character is.  Nor do we need to *for resolution purposes* for the most part.

What we know is how impact-ful the relationship (or sword skill) is to the character or the world.  We can decide in any given case whether or not the relationship or skill has an impact here and now on the present situation.  Bob 17 can be used both as a tool (I can manipulate Bob because he likes me to the degree of 17 in 20) and as a problem (Bob can manipulate me becuase I like him to the degree of 17 in 20).

So the rating is measuring impact on play rather than being a normative description of anyones behaviour.  Failing to cement a relationship does not mean that you necessarily lose touch or the other character is driven away - they are just not going to feature in play.  They may have a wonderful relationship with the PC - it just happens off screen.  Failing to keep in touch is just a good and useful answer to the question at the END of FITM, which is, How?

To return to the keeping equipment example - I am one to whom keeping the gear would definately appear to be exploitative. I would mount arguments to th effect that this does not occur in superhero literature by default becuase doing so would anduermine any given characters schtick; that Spiderman could well do with taking home a bit of Doc Oc's tentacles or the Hobgoblins sled but this never happens (overthe long term).  I would interpreta violation of this genre convention as unconducive toa good game of that nature: in factthis verty problem plaguedthe few attempts I made at the genre.  To kill them and take their stuff is just to D&D with your pants on the outside.

The extension of this principle beyond the specific genre was IMO brilliant.  It allow the consistent mechanical application of a relationship to play without much concern with the content of the relationship.  The rating is a measure of play significance and that alone.  Under this specific game contract, NO spending points to cement is a signal that the characteror tool or what have you indicates it is deemed Unimportant by the player, regardless of the characters opinion.  Conversely, cementing something or someone is a signal by the player that that this item is Important to future play.
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