*
*
Home
Help
Login
Register
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
September 17, 2019, 06:33:03 AM

Login with username, password and session length
Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.
Search:     Advanced search
275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 158 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
Pages: [1]
Print
Author Topic: lab: EPICS wrap-up  (Read 3030 times)
Paul Czege
Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 2341


WWW
« on: November 13, 2003, 12:48:09 PM »

So, with three sessions played, and for various reasons, I pulled the plug on the EPICS game:[list=1][*] My http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=8109">plan to begin the game with each player selecting one of a number of scenes that their character would be cast into was a failure in a big way. Oh, there was a great deal of excitement and interest throughout my presentation of the scenes and the selection process itself, but play going forward was remarkably problematic.

Perhaps most significantly, characters were miscast. Balthazar's player chose Scene #6, which I had privately entitled, "Bringing Back the Brain." The NPC who'd opened the scene by inquiring about the discovery of a "creature" was Bui the Hare, a morally bankrupt and opportunistic "hero." I cast Balthazar as Bui's partner. The scene proceeded with Bui purchasing the floating brain creature from the farmboy, and swindling the boy out of his dog Steelhead as well. Her unrevealed plan was to cart the creature back to King's Port and present it to the King as a "crawling brain" that "steals children through windows." She would ask for funding for an expedition to hunt and kill the creature's mate, and then she'd hire a seedy alchemist to vat-grow a second one from a piece of tentacle that she could pass off as evidence of the mission accomplished. I envisioned Bui, a hero gone bad, functioning as a nice antagonist to a PC. But it never got to that. Not much past the middle of the first session, Balthazar's player defined a facet for Balthazar that the character had long been in the practice of using his summoning power to make creatures and force thereby a demand for his heroing services. Crap! That left Balthazar thematically undifferentiated from Bui. Balthazar was in exactly the wrong storyline. I could have handled an anti-hero Balthazar better in one of the other storylines, but not in this one. More than any of the others, it required a good guy.

Thomas the Liar, in the "warrior" role, was also miscast. The player chose Scene #2. And as I'm sure the player predicted, I cast Thomas as the one-armed boy's father. Then I proceeded with abducting the boy. And the problem became obvious. The player had wanted a warrior character, and somehow had been cast into the position of someone who needed to rely on the institution of heroism. Again, all of the antagonism I'd envisioned for the storyline was a bad fit for the character.

So even though the characters were hardly defined at all, somehow half of them were seriously miscast. It seems to me now that my critical mistake was thinking "define through play" was synonymous with "define yourself in response to delivered antagonism." Despite the uber-sketchiness of starting characters, players still have preferences embedded in them that they're not going to compromise.

[*] Anyway, in prepping for the second session I recovered nicely relative to Balthazar. I realized what meaningful antagonism for the character would be, and reinvented Bui to that effect under the hood. I imagined it would take me further from my goal of http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=5096">setting-premise Narrativism, but I was thinking I may have misapplied EPICS to that goal. And I still wanted to put the system through its paces.

Well, Bui only got one scene before Balthazar left her for dead by the campfire, and my efforts to cope with the miscasting issue by reimagining antagonism for Balthazar pretty much lay there dead with her. And this I place at the feet of EPICS: preserving antagonists is godawful hard. It was, honestly, a pain in the ass across all the characters' storylines. If you give an NPC a high Influence, a PC pretty much can't do anything to them...can't hit them in combat, can't tell a lie to them and have it be believed, can't threaten and get them to back down, nothing. So I had NPCs with moderate Influence scores...and they could do nothing to the player characters. In combat, the PCs would whittle down an NPC's moderate bank of Survival Points over a series of fairly boring attacks, and that would be it. It reminded me a lot of AD&D hit points: nothing happens, nothing happens, nothing happens, dead. Except it was significantly more one-sided in favor of the PCs.

So I got to thinking. There's a rule in the game that players can voluntarily take wounds in order to earn Survival Points. And even though I couldn't find it in the text, I had the distinct recollection of a rule empowering the GM to force wounds onto player characters by paying them with Survival Points. An email to J. Scott Pittman confirmed it. (But does the NPC have to hit the PC first? I never clarified that.)

So, what's the solution? Maybe it's a combination of things. Matt Gwinn suggested NPCs could be preserved better by having more Survival Points than just (Influence x 2) + Power. But part of the key might be some game text encouraging the GM to consistently use forced wounds. Get hit by an NPC, take a wound. Regardless of whether the character has enough Survival Points to soak it, pay them to take the wound. It's a social contract issue. If forced wounds are an occasional thing, and the GM has an never-ending supply of Survival Points he can hand out whenever he wishes to deliver forced wounds, then a decent GM can't really ever use them (because any time he does, it feels unfair). Either the GM needs to force a wound every single time he has the opportunity, or the amount of Survival Points at his disposal for forcing wounds has to be limited somehow.

[*] And finally, but perhaps most significant to me deciding to end the game, we had an issue with character protagonism that after three sessions, seemed unresolveable. I like the "define through play" aspect of the game, but it produces such sketchy starting characters that they fail to capture the interest of the audience of other players. As a group, we've had a lot of success with the way group character creation and Kicker mechanics prime everyone to be interested in the stories of the various characters. EPICS, however, gave us starting characters that lacked a meaningful suggestion of theme-addressing protagonism. And further definition of them through play, over the course of three sessions, hardly made a dent in the yowling void of how boring the characters were.

When I discussed the issue with Ron, he suggested I might just throw a torrent of adversity at the characters...thereby forcing them to become interesting through the players' defining. And when I thought about the various examples of play in the game text, that made a great deal of sense. The examples are all like that.

Well...I didn't have much of a chance to roll out that planned torrent of adversity, due to the weak survivability and effectiveness of antagonists issue I described above. But as I think on it now, I'm not sure how effective it would have been. Self-definition as a reaction, or hell, even proactive self-definition, isn't nearly as powerfully interesting as determined pursuit of self-interest.

Or you think maybe it would have worked?[/list:o]Paul
Logged

My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
jscottpittman
Member

Posts: 5


WWW
« Reply #1 on: November 13, 2003, 10:15:42 PM »

Quote

So even though the characters were hardly defined at all, somehow half of them were seriously miscast. It seems to me now that my critical mistake was thinking "define through play" was synonymous with "define yourself in response to delivered antagonism." Despite the uber-sketchiness of starting characters, players still have preferences embedded in them that they're not going to compromise.


It almost sounds like you wern't using the Motivation of each character, or ignoring the rules during play. If the plot line requires a good guy, by all means have the character use The Good Fight or Eye for an Eye motivations (or any of the Motivations for Actor-played characters - they're all "good guy" motivations). Most AD&D adventures don't work well if you let the players roll up evil characters (or even neutral ones).

One thing I did notice was your very detailed plan of your adventure, and how your adventure did not go well at all if one detail went out of place. I doubt very seriously any game system could hold up under that type of test without the "game master" making changes in response to the players actions and choices. Role-play game's stories constantly change as they are played - otherwise you just have an outline of a story that cannot be altered by player decision.

First of all, what if Balthazar was doing the same thing as Bui? Suely that single action does not define the characters as the same any more than the three musketeers have to be the same exact character. If he had the Reluctant Hero motivation, he might see what he was doing as wrong and change his ways at the end of the story - the Motivation of the character should influence the types of stories you place the characters in and how they react to those stories. Actors who don't follow their Motivation should receive less, if any, Survival Points.

Second, if you thought that a Facet the Actor was trying to add to the character would seriously ruin a plot, just refuse to allow the Facet.

Quote

And this I place at the feet of EPICS: preserving antagonists is godawful hard. It was, honestly, a pain in the ass across all the characters' storylines. If you give an NPC a high Influence, a PC pretty much can't do anything to them...can't hit them in combat, can't tell a lie to them and have it be believed, can't threaten and get them to back down, nothing.


Easier ways to deal with this problem will be covered in the next EPICS book. However, I will say that using your antagonists with a little intelligence will often make them very much more challenging. Great examples of this are found in classic adventures of AD&D. Ravenloft (the original moudule) discusses this in detail when the PCs are forced to fight the vampiric villian of the story. A single villian would be easy to defeat - unless he did have a higher Influence than other characters, henchmen, or a planned escape.

As far as your non-combat situation are concerned (bluffing, lying, etc), these answers to problems have nothing to do with Influence. They are role-played out (with no rolls), and if the Director thinks the idea is clever and would work against the Antagonist, the idea works and the character would receive an Out of the Frying Pan Survival Point award. Page 11 of the EPICS book states that if the action taken cannot have the result of lost Survival Points (and talking can't), the Director simply decides what is best for the story.

Skill Checks (as mentioned under Actions) are no longer used, if you were using that refrence to detirmine that you needed to roll in such cases. This is clarified in detail in the next EPICS book. References to Skill Checks were left by mistake in some areas of the EPICS rule book and should be ignored.

Quote

So, what's the solution? Maybe it's a combination of things. Matt Gwinn suggested NPCs could be preserved better by having more Survival Points than just (Influence x 2) + Power.


Page 9 of the EPICS rule book states that the Director can give an SCC any amount of Survival Points he likes. It's a good idea, too, if he wants a villian to survive a fight against multiple heroes. Remember too that villians can escape as part of a story - not just heroes. The villian jumps off a nearby cliff, disappearing apparently to his or her death, and the Director calls for an end to combat. The fight is over and the SCC escapes. Note that if the Direcotor has placed a villian in a situation where there is no escape against many heroes (or one with equal or higher Influence), then he deserves to have the villian die if combat breaks out!

Quote

Regardless of whether the character has enough Survival Points to soak it, pay them to take the wound.


Losing Survival Points and taking Wounds are two different things. When an Actor takes a Wound, he gains Survival Points, and does not have to "soak" anything. He may decide to take a Wound in response to losing Survival Points (as this often makes sense), but can take a Wound even if he has lost zero Survival Points. He would actually have more SP than he had at the beginning of the battle - his rolls just become harder.

Quote

 I like the "define through play" aspect of the game, but it produces such sketchy starting characters that they fail to capture the interest of the audience of other players. As a group, we've had a lot of success with the way group character creation and Kicker mechanics prime everyone to be interested in the stories of the various characters. EPICS, however, gave us starting characters that lacked a meaningful suggestion of theme-addressing protagonism. And further definition of them through play, over the course of three sessions, hardly made a dent in the yowling void of how boring the characters were.


I find this to be a lack of role-playing over a favortisim of combat-playing most of the time. I ran EPICS in quite a few test runs before releasing it and found that characters were much more entertaining during play than in most RPG systems. Sure, most characters can be highly entertaining on paper, but I have seen the best detailed charcters fall flat during actual play.

In addition, I will ask the question - aren't most characters boring through most of the first few shows of any series? Star Trek: TNG was almost cancelled in it's first season and the characters were horribly boring and flat. I think we all will agree that it takes time to develop characters to interesting "people". Still, if more detiled beginning characters is what you prefer, new ideas on that subject are also covered in the new EPICS book to be released.

Quote

When I discussed the issue with Ron, he suggested I might just throw a torrent of adversity at the characters...


That would work, of course. But in-character conversation has no replacement, over looking for the next battle.

Wrapping up my comments, I would like to say that it seems that Motivations seem to need more focus, as well as role-playing over dice rolling. The Wound rules need to be looked at closer as well by the Director of these sessions. Many of the guidelines and clarifications in the new EPICS book seem to be what your sessions were lacking.

-Scott
Logged

J. Scott Pittman
EPICS game designer
www.dragonslayergames.com
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 10459


« Reply #2 on: November 14, 2003, 01:01:56 PM »

Scott, that was a well reasoned response, I'm glad you've posted it.

The post is also incredibly ironic for reasons of which I doubt that you're aware (unless you're some sort of evil genius). I can't wait for Paul's response. :-)

Mike
Logged

Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.
Paul Czege
Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 2341


WWW
« Reply #3 on: November 17, 2003, 12:20:06 PM »

Hey Scott,

Sure, most characters can be highly entertaining on paper, but I have seen the best detailed charcters fall flat during actual play.

Yes. My experiences with detailed characters are very much in accord with your own: a story oriented player writes up a detailed background for his character, rich with conflict, and then works during play to demonstrate the powerful vision they have for the character. And for various reasons, the character doesn't materialize in the game as envisioned. You couldn't possibly have designed EPICS if you hadn't had this same experience.

But let me ask you this...

Did you design EPICS because you believe detailed character backgrounds prevent characters from being entertaining in play? Did you get annoyed with the "my guy" thing, where a player justifies character behavior by pointing to their detailed background notes and character sheet and saying something like, "My guy is irritible, so he won't bend his knee to the duke"?

Or did you design EPICS because you saw how frustrated players were to have their characters not emerge in play as they'd envisioned them. Did you come to believe that defining a character through play would be more fun and more rewarding as a player?

Paul
Logged

My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
jscottpittman
Member

Posts: 5


WWW
« Reply #4 on: November 22, 2003, 10:06:54 PM »

Quote


Did you design EPICS because you believe detailed character backgrounds prevent characters from being entertaining in play? Did you get annoyed with the "my guy" thing, where a player justifies character behavior by pointing to their detailed background notes and character sheet and saying something like, "My guy is irritible, so he won't bend his knee to the duke"?

Or did you design EPICS because you saw how frustrated players were to have their characters not emerge in play as they'd envisioned them. Did you come to believe that defining a character through play would be more fun and more rewarding as a player?


I designed EPICS so that players could imagine a character and then bring them into play without having strict guidelines to limit their imagination - buit also to allow the Director to control their urge to give their character anything they like. I heard the phrase "gee, if I knew I needed the X skill to do that, this character would have had it" or "I wanted that skill at X level, because it really fits the character, but I didn't have enough points". Other things were also common, like backgrounds needing to be changed because they "just wern't right", disadvantages chosen just for the bonus points that were NEVER played out, and just plain boring role-playing; looking for the next monster to fight instead of thinking about how to grow the character. The EPICS system allows the Actor to bring the stuff he wants for his character to his character - skills, backgrounds, and equipment.
  To answer the question more directly - I beleive that characters with detailed backgrounds or not can be interesting if the Actor puts effort into it - the Mariner in Waterworld was a very interesting character with very little background - his personality and motivation (reluctant hero) did the job just fine. Still, some players prefer detailed backgrounds - the new EPICS book will cover making detailed backgrounds for characters at character creation and still getting points during the game.

On another point;
It was said earlier that character with less Influence could not affect characters with a higher Influence in EPICS. However, I designed the system to make it harder for them to do so - but nowhere near impossible.

In the following example, I give two characters to battle - one with less Influence than the other by two (Hero, 6 and Bad Guy, 8). Both have equal Survival point Scores (20). Both have Power scores of 7, and both are using guns with Might 10.

Round 1: Bad guy is successful. Hero loses 3 points. Hero fails roll.
Round Two: Bad Guy fails roll. Hero fails roll.
Round Three: Bad Guy fails roll. Hero fails roll.
Round Four: Bad guy is successful. Hero loses three points. Hero fails roll.
Round Five: Bad guy is successful. Hero loses three points. Hero successful. Bad guy loses three points.
Round Six: Bad guy successful. Hero loses three points (-9 total). Hero successful. Bad guy loses three points.
Round Seven: Bad Guy fails roll. Hero successful. Bad guy loses 3 point (-6 total).
Round Eight: Bad Guy fails roll. Hero successful. Bad guy loses three points (-9 total).
Round Nine: Bad Guy fails roll. Hero fails roll.
Round Ten: Bad guy fails roll. Hero fails roll.
Round Eleven: Bad guy fails roll. Hero successful, causing three points (-12 total).
Round Twelve: Bad Guy successful. Hero loses three points (-12 total).

So at the end of the 12th round, both the hero and the bad guy are equal in the battle, although there is a two point difference in their Influence. this was during the first time I tried the example rolling - not the best of multiple tries, thus showing that both characters have a chance for victory - although the odds would be with the character with the greater Influence.

I find it odd that it was argued that characters with greater Influence could not be affected, but at the same time it was also said that antagonists in the trial game were easily overpowered. This seems a paradox...

Again, the rools above were kind of flat, with no pushing Influence or with any other modifiers (see the Cool Factor in the upcoming EPICS book). Still, I think it shows that the system is very "in tune". Still, I would not suggest an Actor-played character with less than a 4 Influence, and not to create Antagonists for them to fight with more than 2 Influence above their own (any more than I would suggest pitting a Beholder against low-level characters in AD&D, for example).
Logged

J. Scott Pittman
EPICS game designer
www.dragonslayergames.com
Pages: [1]
Print
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.11 | SMF © 2006-2009, Simple Machines LLC
Oxygen design by Bloc
Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!