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Quantification of Metagame Power

Started by Garbanzo, April 19, 2004, 05:17:34 PM

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The Forge Birthday forum was a great success for me - xiombarg, Mark Johnson, Shreyas and I ended up meeting in the back room of a seedy strip joint (ok, the food court of a mondo-mall) and talking about my game Ethos (neé Ashen).

Previous threads, for the curious, can be found here:
overview of the basic mechanics
premise/ race mechanics (shamelessly swiped from Cosmic Encounter)
begging for help with card mechanics (no replies, you bastards)

The question of the moment, though, is about the quantification of metagame power.
At character creation, you pick the specific trade-off you want between in-game efficacy and metagame power.

The current rules give numbers to your character's Unknown (the metagame power), but there's not a corresponding set of costs for the spending.  As for me, I'm fine with vague hand-waving.  My instinct in such cases is to make a quick decision and move on.  Jeph's great posts over here seem just right to me.

BUT, the opposing viewpoint is that, seeing as how it's in the rules, I ought to at least put in some rules about it.  A view that was heartily seconded by the assembled Forgistas.

Quote from: The Ethos rulesUnknown {which ranges from -30 to +40} has story effects, not game-world effects, so it's hard to quantify.  Having a weapon break means one thing when out hunting for dinner, another in the gladiatorial arena.  Someone with 5 Unknown might have a small setback or advantage per session.  A character with 10 Unknown could count on these happening fairly regularly, or may have one medium-sized effect (obviating or creating a scene-worth of complication).  By 20 Unknown, serious changes are occuring, either to the plot or to the character.  More than this and the plot (whether apparent or not) revolves around the character's destiny.


[*]This is just fine.  That's what GMs are for, anyway.
[*]Have players vote on how much Unknown will be spent/ gained, possibly creating a list of precedents.
[*]Get all exact with specific examples and their associated costs.
[*]Something else entirely: _______________[/list:u]
How does Buffy do it, anyway, with the White Hats?

Thanks, all.


Total non-sequitor and my apologies to all....

My dog GARBANZO loves to roam,
loves to wander far from home.

One day GARBANZO came wandering home...
Where in the heck has GARBANZO BEEN?  (pronounced with a long E)

You can replace the type of bean with any you choose:  navy, lima, green, etc.

I simply couldn't resist as my children have recently picked up this song from an old friend of mine and sing it rather obnoxiously daily.
"We know what we know because someone told us it was so."

Shreyas Sampat

Suppose that you're playing Ethos with a kind of no-Myth conceit.

I imagine that you could use Unknown as a way for players to call Pool-style MoVs and MoDs:

You can "absorb" a point of Unknown from someone who has more than you when you win a conflict (or a single round of a conflict, maaaybe) to invoke a MoV, which is dealt with exactly as in The Pool (that is, social contract leads you to know when to shut up.)

Similarly, you can "transfer" a point of Unknown to somebody with less than you when you lose against them in order to invoke a MoD. Obviously, MoDs have to be bad for you. (Alternatively, you could force a MoV onto the other person in this way.)

What this means is that, while characters with high Unknown will be failing often, when they succeed it will likely be in spectacular or interesting ways.

With this mechanic I imagine that you'd want to also include a way for Unknown to be refreshed, and some way that Unknown can be translated into trait modification, because otherwise, Unknown will eventually equalize and lose its interesting effects.

I suppose you could also relax the applicability restriction and allow anyone to call or force a Monologue with the appropriate Unknown transfer; this would probably slow the equilibrium effect but not halt it completely.


Hey, Shreyas.

It took me a few read-throughs to get hip to your jive, but I get it now.
So, when the underdog wins (who, by definition, has higher Unknown), he gets a MoV.  This is rare - seeing as how he's the underdog - but much sweeter than a regular old victory.

I like the idea alot.  I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it, but it's going into the stew-pot.  Suddenly, we have a bridge between in-game and metagame efficacy.  Hmm.

Maybe this is a factor of PvP contests?  Maybe this is a standard option?  Hmm.


And meanwhile, I'm hearing a ringing silence on clear rules and limitations on Director power (which is, whether clear or not, what I was intending by metagame power).

It would be easy to come up with a limiting set of costs like,
Stave off death - 4pts
Redo failed attempt - 3pts
Nice equipment - 2pts
Find a contact - 1pt
blah blah.

But (#1) I'm not at all excited about bean counting and (#2) I want less constraint.

The classic director-stance move is mentioning a hithero-unknown fact that, while small in itself, has strong implications for what's immediately playing out.  I love this stuff, and want to encourage it in Ethos.
Simultaneously, though, I want to restrict this in certain ways in order to give more leeway to some players.  

My epitome of weak character with high Unknown is the beginning of Akira, with #26 (Takashi).*  He's the freaky wrinkled kid in the middle of the road.  Clearly, he's a puny kid.  But the biker gang is stopped cold, the military shows up, all sorts of funky shit is going down, and he's the motive factor for all of this.
Kei and Kaneda are more competent and get smaller breaks.  Stumbling across laser-rifles, not getting killed, all that.  
Tetsuo is uber-powerful, and has to deal with crippling pain, addictions, whatever.

See also LotR.  Gandalf takes the big fall, while Sam and Frodo manage to survive well beyond what you would assume from their abilities.

Y'all see what I'm saying.
But how to model this?


*Yeah, you can argue that he's actually absurdly powerful, just not physically.  I don't want to hear it.

Shreyas Sampat

From what I can tell, you're thinking about using this mechanic to do a few different things:[list=1][*]Be an escape hatch from mechanics when they produce undesirable results: "No! I can't die now!"
[*]Allow the mechanics to be used in a sneaky Directorial manner - "I think Gandalf's been taking up too much screen time. If he loses this fight, he and the Balrog fall into the depths of Moria..."
[*]Insert items into the setting Directorially, hoping that people will find them interesting.[/list:o]1 is a case where I think you can be pretty comfortable setting constant costs per crazy thing you're doing:
    [*]Draw a card before you run out.
    [*]Double your Culture card-manipulation power...Iximli, for instance, could swap two cards instead of one.
    [*]Ignore the result of one round of a conflict.
    [*]And so on...[/list:u]2 is a little more borderline, and I'm not sure about how I would go about doing it.

    The power in 3 comes from apportioning importance to things, and nothing else. If you introduce Wacky Delly, a crazy restaurant where the food talks, and no one cares, you have wasted your Unknown. My suggestion for this is that you don't set any constant scale for this - instead, you could have such entities be "Unknown banks". You invest some amount of Unknown in an element as you introduce it; other characters are free to add investment whenever they interact with it, but they can also simply interact with it and take away some of the Unknown stored inside. So the more Unknown you put inside a thing, the more the other players will want to find reasons to interact with it and make it interesting because it is a resource for them.


    Shreyas, you're forcing me to think clearly about exactly what this big fuzzy blob of mine is meant to accomplish.

    I don't want mechanics-tinkering.  This should be the total flip-side of that. I'm not worried about screen time, per se.  I am worried about game balance between players, but I think that'll sort itself out by the time this gets straight.

    As far as introduction of new scenario elements, you bet.  Not just for color - that's all free of charge.  Instead, color that explicitly helps or hinders the character.

    This is what I'm hoping for:

      Our heroes are dashing madly through mediaeval streets, mere seconds ahead of the inquisitor's men.
      There is an ongoing conflict here, the chars want to get away, the bad guys want to catch up.

    [*]The average guy has no Unknown to draw on, and he's forced to use what's on his character sheet to attain his goal.  He's using his attributes and his traits to make things work.  

    [*]With positive Unknown: "But, rounding the next corner, half a step ahead, I pound on the door there - it's Landram's house, an old friend from ... my travels with the navy."  (This dude is not a pre-established context).
    Suddenly, there's a new solution available.  GM calls for a quick [Social, Flow] to see if they can get in in time.

    [*]With more positive Unknown: All that, but they're quickly swept in.  No risky roll required.

    [*]With tons of positive Unkown: Bells tolling and criers proclaming that the evil Torquemada is dead.  The current conflict is nullified, and the campaign world altered in a significant way.

    [*]Negative unknown: a dead end, forcing a scramble over the wall.  Some folks might get caught.

    [*]Worse yet: A second set of baddies coming in from the other side.[/list:u]

    With Unknown, we have the ability to introduce pieces not already accounted for on the character sheet.  
    It's looking at the current setup (whether currently in a conflict or not) and saying, "mu."  
    Something unlooked for changes the situation in some way.

    I want a player to know that he or she has a finite resource (we're not playing freeform) that can be used, and I want it to be clear to everybody what the bounds of their envelopes are.  And some people have more than others.  But, while this resource is marked off in units, it can be used for almost anything.

    Extent is regulated, effects are wide open.

    Ah, but how to do it in a clear manner, so that it works regardless of the GM.
    Is this an impossible task?  Is this going to have to come down to a strong social contract?


    Shreyas Sampat

    I'm sure that there's a way to accomplish what you're trying to do...I'm not doing well figuring out what it is, though.

    One thought I had was that there's absolutely nothing wrong with appealing to social contract in one way or another... but if you're going to do that, then I guess you would want to put in a list of example Unknown uses, with the note, "These are meant to be examples of things you can do, not precedents for Unknown effect costing." Sure, that'll end up depending on how the players and GM use it, but any mechanic is like that. If you are happy and comfortable with a less structured mechanic, then the best advice I can give you is to present it clearly and give lots and lots of examples of how you see it working.

    Mark Johnson


    Sorry that I am a bit late to the discussion here.  However, I have been looking up at your copy of Ethos that you printed for me in the meantime.  
    My feeling is that ultimately the entire key to this games success will be due to the way that you handle Unknown.  But I do have many questions about it.

    Is Unknown more of a stat or a currency or both?  In some descriptions, it resembles Amber's Good Stuff/Bad Stuff and in others it looks like plot or story points.  In other words, do you derive benefits from HAVING Unknown or SPENDING Unknown, or both?

    Is there anyway of gaining Unknown?  Can you gain Unknown in lieu of character points?  Could you purposely lose points from a stat to gain Unknown?  One possible way to make this work would be to make character points and Unknown the same thing.   But that could certainly introduce difficulties as well.