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[Logos] When you look at enough character sheets, they become... words...

Started by Black Iris Dancer, August 01, 2005, 12:57:52 PM

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Black Iris Dancer

It's been a while since my last post here. Suffice to say, I have not failed to be working on game-related stuff in the interim.

My current project is Twilight, a game about myths, legends, surreality (in the original sense), and the distance between humanity and our dreams. It's very cool.

This post isn't about that game. It's about (most of) the system that underlies it.

Logos ("word," in the Greek) is a system devised to facilitate character-driven, narrative role playing (nice and specific, eh?) Alone, doesn't make any assertions about genre or tone, plot or setting—what it does is provide a framework for conflict resolution and narrative progression within whatever setting you care to throw at it. The cornerstone of Logos is confilct—specifically, conflicting goals. The goals defined by the players and Narrator drive the narration: to specify a goal is to say, "this is what we're interested in. This is what we want the story to be about."

At least, that's the hope. Here's the system.


Character creation comes in two parts: the sketch, and the prelude. Players sketch out a character in the first part, then get into their skin and flesh them out during and after the prelude. How much sketching and how much fleshing each player does is up to them.

Systemically, characters are a conglomeration of features: story-relevant truths about the character ("I am very smart," "She's a Reader", etc). Each feature has two associated values: its flexibility, and its significance. Flexibility ranges from one to three, depending on how "useful" the given feature is—in how many scenes is it likely to come up in your character's favor?  This is obviously somewhat subjective, but not terribly so—a feature with a flexibility of one is approximately equivalent to a skill specialization, a feature with a flexibility of three is about in line with an attribute. Some variation based on the game's genre is to be expected—"I'm a fighter" might only be flexibility 1 in a game where combat isn't deeply important. Also, a feature's flexibility can be attenuated by how well it might be used against your character—"I'm a killer," for example, might be said to have a flexibility of two as an indicator of being good in deadly fights, but can be reduced to one given that it can be used against you in a number of social situations where being known as a killer is not a good thing. Features significantly more likely to be used against you than in your favor ("I'm blind") have a flexibility of zero. No feature has a negative flexibility.

The significance of a feature ranges from zero to two: 0—it's an important truth, 1—it's exceptionally significant, 2—it's of superlative importance.

Features cost their flexibility times their significance in creation points. Players get 25 creation points to start.

Characters start life as a sketch; a poem, descriptive prose, a few features, whatever the player feels like writing. Players pluck features out of this prose, figuring out their flexibility and buying their significance with creation points. Equipment? Bought the same way; describe your character's spyglass, or gun, or rolling pin, note its features, and buy them with your CP. The only difference here is that stuff can have a significance of more than 2. Relationships? Ditto—just figure out the features of the relationship in question,
and write them down.

Any left-over creation points players have at this point are converted into Nakh ("thread," in Farsi) at a rate of five Nakh per CP. Nakh are extremely useful, on which more later.

At this point, the prelude happens, and we can pretty much guess how that goes. The relevant bit here is that during and after the prelude, players can tweak their characters' features to better fit how they actually feel in play. They can buy new features that they hadn't thought of by turning Nakh into character points at the same 5-1 rate of exchange. (Players can actually always do this, but it's normally indicative of character development; at this stage, everything about a character's history is mutable).

So what's play like? Glad you asked.


Play starts with someone at the table framing the scene. This is frequently, but not necessarily, the narrator. Players describe their characters in the scene, the Narrator fills in background and speaks for NPCs and extras, narration flows around the table, and it's all very nice and hippy-consentual-storytelling-like, with everything everyone says being Just Accepted. And then someone says something, and someone else disagrees, and suddenly, there's conflict.

Conflict resolution is pretty simple. The challenger(s) and challengee(s) agree on their characters' mutually conflicting goals. The challenger brings in up to two features—of her character or her opponent—which support her narration. Bringing in a feature means this: the character automatically gains one "logos" (success, coin, currency...) and rolls 3d10 per level of significance (including zero); the d10s are rolled against a target number of 5, 10's re-rolling. Every success is counted as a logos, and all logoi gained get dumped into the character's goal pool. Features from equipment are brought in the same way, but they aren't rolled—every level of significance gives you three logoi, flat-out. The challenger can push forward from one to three logoi to fuel her counter-narration. The challenged player goes through this exact process, using her logoi to counter the challenge, and advance a narration of her own. The one restriction on narration is this: you can't completely undo another player's narration, although your counter can interrupt it at any point. The politician's argument might not be convincing, but he gets to start making it; the charismatic gentleman's smile might not win you over and make you weak in the knees, but he gets to curl his lips a bit before you rip them off. Basically, the flow of time in-game has to be positive—never negative or zero.

This exchange continues until someone makes a bid that the other party can't match, and the conflict is thus resolved. Multiple players can be involved, too; actions aren't resolved until everyone at the table has had a chance to offer counter-narration.

A few words on damage: It's possible to make narration bids that are "all or nothing"—either you respond to all three logoi, or you fail. It's also possible, however, to make attacks with the intent of giving a character a specific negative feature. This applies to combat, but isn't limited to it—you can try to shred someone's reputation or self-worth exactly as you might try to shred their intestines. The advantage of doing this is obvious—if you succeed in giving someone a negative feature, you can bring that feature in against them immediately. The downside is that such attacks can be attenuated—the defender can choose to put forth as little as a single logos and suffer the mitigated effects of the negative feature, while still not conceding their goal. Negative features obtained in this way last until a character succeeds in the goal removing them. This might happen with help, time, concerted effort, or some combination of the above.

Sacrifice is an interesting mechanic worth mentioning: if your character gives up something important to her (sacrifices a feature), she gains six logoi for every level of significance it has. If she sacrifices her life, every level of every feature is brought in—so she probably wins, but then, y'know, dies.

Finally, Nakh can be spent as successes. They're also The Reward Currency Of Maximum Generality—for when your character does something cool and story-enhancing, when you make people laugh, when you add to the game, when a negative feature is brougth in to your detriment, when you buy everyone pizza...

So, that's the basic system. What do people think? There are a few points in particular I'm uncertain on:

  • Is flexibility necessary? Its purpose is to encourage features to be specific, interesting character traits, and to flatly disallow things like, "I'm just lucky." It seems a bit clunky to me, though, and I'm wondering if there's some way to reward specificity without it.

  • Are Nakh too flexible? My concern here is that if Nakh are useful for too many things, spending them becomes too much of a consideration, and slows down play. This hasn't been my experience in play tests, but we weren't as concerned with having Nakh around to buy features in those circumstances, and I'd be interested in others' views on the subject.

  • Is the dice mechanic too cumbersome? You have to figure out how many dice to roll, which is a bit of a pain. On the other hand, the answer is always: three, six, or nine, which helps quite a bit.

  • Are there any other glaring problems I've failed to notice?

  • Does anyone want to playtest this? We've been doing play tests ourselves, naturally, but our experience is naturally limited—I'd like to see how other people experience the system.

Black Iris Dancer

Any thoughts? Or is this too massive a text dump for people to easily grok?


Sounds like a fascinating system. I really like the simple mechanic of it. Although I know some groups who hate to pick up more than 3 dice at a time - they may not like having to pick up 9 d10s for the top level of significance. Not a big problem but it might put some people off.

I don't think the system is cumbersome but as with many generic systems, an example is really needed to bring the whole system together. I don't think Nakh are too flexible. I think they're a good addition - as long as they balance well with the dice. If Nakh overpower the dice, then the random nature of the game is lost and vice versa. Some hints in the rules on how many can be given out to the players each session would be a good idea.

What is your intention for the game, are you going to publish or are you doing it for the fun of it?

Clinton R. Nixon

To answer your specific questions first:
    * Is flexibility necessary?

    * Are Nakh too flexible?

    * Is the dice mechanic too cumbersome?

1. Flexibility is cool. It reminds me of the way you assign traits in Over the Edge. Question for you: who decides on a trait's flexibility? The answer is probably obvious to you, but it should be explicit in whatever form this ruleset finally takes.

2. Nakh - no more flexible than a lot of reward systems. Sounds good to me.

3. The dice mechanic is absolutely not too cumbersome.

Now, for my questions and comments otherwise:

  • What's up with the names? That's totally a matter of personal preference, and they have neat flavor, but, man, that's a lot of renaming of concepts. Nakh in particular - it's a beautiful word, but I find myself thinking "what's that again?"

  • Stupid math question: why is signficance 0 to 2 instead of 1 to 3?

  • And here's my Big Deal question: ok, so we know as soon as we've rolled the dice who's going to win a conflict. It doesn't matter if I push forward one or three dice - the other side has to match it, or I win, so they will match it if they have the dice. So, why have the back-and-forth bidding? Or am I missing something? Is it more like this?
    Player 1 has 5 logos. Player 2 has 4.

    Player 1: I swing a punch at you. 1 logos.
    Player 2: Nope, you swing and miss me as I duck low. 1 logos. I sweep out your feet with a kick, 1 logos.
    Player 1: No way! I jump up. 1 logos. I leap down and tackle you! 3 logos.
    Player 2: Ok, I take it. We tumble to the ground. Before you can do anything else, I reach up and kiss you, leaving you too confused to fight. 2 logos!
    Player 1: Hey, no fair! I've only got 1 logos left.
    Player 2: Dem's the breaks, kissy-boy.
Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games

Matt Wilson

Hey BID:

Okay, this system, as a thing by itself, sounds kind of neat. I like the idea of sacrifice. I have a similar idea in a game I'm working on.

But here's my big mean-sounding-but-not-trying-to-be-mean question: why use this system to play in the setting you've mentioned?

What's the connection between, for example, "said to have a flexibility of two as an indicator of being good in deadly fights" and "the distance between humanity and our dreams?" What happens with conflicts and dice rolls that tells me more as a player? How does game play reveal it? See, that bit you mentioned about the setting sounds way cool, and I want to know more. I looked around on the site, and I can't find anything else that you might have posted about it. You should. Please.

And if you don't mind me asking, how familiar are you with the games produced by some of the folks who frequent this site? Have you played Sorcerer, or Universalis, or Donjon, or Dogs in the Vineyard, or Dust Devils, or My Life With Master?

Josh Roby

Am I reading this correctly, that 0-significance features cost no character points, but gain you one logos plus the opportunity to roll three dice?  What's to stop a player from buying 100 0-significance features covering every possible contest imaginable?
On Sale: Full Light, Full Steam and Sons of Liberty | Developing: Agora | My Blog

Black Iris Dancer

Comments. Spiffy *^.^* I have to run soon, but I just thought I'd toss out a couple of responses before I do.

Quote from: brainwipe on August 10, 2005, 05:46:13 AMIf Nakh overpower the dice, then the random nature of the game is lost and vice versa. Some hints in the rules on how many can be given out to the players each session would be a good idea.

This is an area that needs more playtesting, for sure. It might also be worthwhile to impose some restrictions on how many Nakh can be spent per scene / goal. (I've been tossing around an escalation mechanic that controls this, to an extent.)

Clinton—Flexibility is negotiated between the Narrator and the players whenever it comes up (so, whenever a player wants to take a feature, basically). I don't imagine this should be too big a problem. The (weird) names are pretty much for the neat flavor. I figure, if people don't like them, they'll end up using the generic terms. (On the other hand, in the case of nakh, I'm not really sure what those would even be. Nakh map onto XP and drama points, hero points... no neat all-encompassing term comes to mind). (Also, in the context of Twilight, "nakh" is kindof a cute and terrible pun, which endears it to me somewhat...)

Re: Significance going from 0 to 2... short answer: I was braindead when I wrote that. Longer answer: I was thinking of how we've been writing the character sheets. The lowest level of significance is represented by just having a feature written down with nothing next to it (hence, "zero"). If it's exceptional, you put a star or something beside it. If it's superlative, you put two. For purposes of determining costs and such, though, significance goes from 1 to 3, which is what I should have written. (This is also in answer to Joshua's question—no, a player can't do that. ;-) )


Quote from: Clinton R. Nixon on August 10, 2005, 09:55:28 AM
And here's my Big Deal question: ok, so we know as soon as we've rolled the dice who's going to win a conflict. It doesn't matter if I push forward one or three dice - the other side has to match it, or I win, so they will match it if they have the dice. So, why have the back-and-forth bidding? Or am I missing something? Is it more like this? ...
Not exactly, but close. You can't ignore narration in the general case—you have to counter all logoi, or you lose (it might be nice if there were some way to have this not be the case, while still retaining the quality that spending logoi, um, does something; I'm thinking of doing something with failed dice, or somesuch). You can, however, ignore narration that is trying to "damage" you—you choose to accept the damage, knowing that it's going to be used against you.

Part of the point of doing this is to explore the issue at hand, developing it through narration. (Also, it lets both the eventual winners and losers narrate, which is kindof neat). The ulterior motive here is to spread out narration so that more features can be brought in. Ultimately, conflicts are a contest between all applicable features on either side. But who wants to sit there thinking, "um, is this going to apply?..." (Actually, I'm really, really opposed to anything that makes people stare at their character sheets for longer than a few seconds.) It's more interesting to let the narration unfold, with the players occasionally pausing to bring in features, as needed.

Matt, I should have been more specific. Calling Logos a complete system is a bit misleading, really. It's a nice basic framework for expressing facts about characters and dealing with conflicts between (and within) them in what I think to be an interesting way. To deal with more specific issues, or to affect a more particular tone, a more rigid framework is required (though this can be as simple as the Narrator asking everyone to include as a Feature at least one thing their characters absolutely will not do under any circumstances, for example). I think what you're asking is, "okay, but how does this deal with the specific issues you said you wanted it to?" To which my answer is: there's more to Twilight's system than this (and I intend to post on it soon!); Logos is just the foundation, as it were.

Quote from: brainwipe on August 10, 2005, 05:46:13 AMWhat is your intention for the game, are you going to publish or are you doing it for the fun of it?

We're aiming for publication. I definitely want to publish Twilight as a book; Logos will probably be published online.

Okay, must flee. Let's hope my typing's up to snuff...