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Author Topic: Using AH's Diplomacy as a meta-mechanic for a political RPG campaign  (Read 4746 times)
Hans
Member

Posts: 576


« on: December 05, 2006, 11:06:05 AM »

Hi:

Over at the Toronto area Indie-RPG meetup, we have been tossing back and forth the idea of a political intrigue type campaign (using Heroquest or Universalis, probably), and thinking over ideas on how to represent the "big picture" of the game, or if we even need to represent it at all.  Our group currently has a Burning Empires campaign underway, and while I personally have a lot of problems with that game (others in our group love it, so it is definitely aesthetic, not any inheirent problem), the infection mechanics in that game were an inspiration for our current thoughts.

Anyway, I suggested that perhaps one way to represent the meta-game was with an actual board/card game.  I went through a number of possible suggestions (such as Princes of Florence, Louis XIV, El Grande, San Marco), but all of them are very tied to one particular place and time.  Then Michael, one of our new members, dropped a bomb shell on my brain...

Diplomacy.

The minute he mentioned it, my mind went into overdrive.  For those who have never played Diplomacy and don't know what it is about, see:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/483

The basic mechanic in Diplomacy is very simple; if you have more units involved in trying to move into a region of the map (or stay in a region) then the anyway else, you move into it.  Units are not destroyed unless they have no place to move to.   All moves are plotted simultaneously, and then the mechanic resolves these orders in a consistent and unequivocal way to establish a new board position. 

So here is the idea for a Diplomacy-like meta-game for a political intrigue campaign.

1) As part of the set up of the campaign, you go through a "Power Map" creation phase.  Each player, in turn, can draw a circle on a piece of paper, or connect two circles with a line, or put a big dot in a circle.  No player can draw more than X (four?, Five?) dots during this phase.  Circles represent power centers in the government and society of the setting of the campaign (like the Senatorial Speakership, the Praetorian Guard, the Harem Concubines).  Links represent mutual influence between two centers of power (such as their might be a link between the Chief Eunuch and the Harem Concubines).  Dots represent centers of power that create their own influence or have other major resources available (the Central Treasury, the Emperor's Hand Maidens).  In Diplomacy terms, circles are the equivalent of regions, links are the equivalent of borders, and dots are resource centers.  There would need to be some mechanic to tell you when you were done drawing the map.

2) Now each player can select three of the five dots on the board that they made, and place an influence token of their colour on it.  No Center of Power can have more than one influence token.  In Diplomacy terms, the influence tokens are the equivalent of armies and navies.  That player is also considered to control that Center of Power at the beginning of the game. 

3) Now you can proceed to play a role-playing session of the game.  The current state of the Power Map should inform what happens in the fiction of the role-playing; if I have an influence token on a particular center of power, then this should come out in the fiction somehow; the Chief Eunuch is my cousin, I'm sleeping with the Master of the Emperor's Wardrobe, I've got blackmail goods on the head of the Imperial Guard, etc.  The role-playing sessions take the place of the diplomacy phase in a normal game of Diplomacy.  You play the role-playing part of the game however you would normally do so, with the caveat that there can be no player to player discussion of the strategy in the meta-game; if you want any other player to ally with you you must achieve this alliance, and get them to do what you want, through the role-playing of your characters. 

4) At the end of the role-playing session, each player secretly writes down their "moves" for that turn of the meta-game, for example:
* "Influence Palace Eunuchs from Harem Concubines"
* "Use Emperor's Hand Maidens to assist Harem Concubines influencing Palace Eunuchs"
* etc.
These are analogous to Diplomacy orders, and would need an unambiguous grammar for them.  Players can support each other using the 2nd type of order above; another player may have the influence token on the Hand Maidens, and be assisting your play.  However, there can be no conversation between the players at this time; it all must be written down secretly and silently, and if you didn't get somebody you want to do something during the role-playing (either because they were not convinced, or because they misunderstood what you were asking), tough luck.

5) Resolve all the orders into a new situation on the Power Map.  Influence tokens are moved from Center of Power to Center of Power using the first type of order above; the 2nd type does not move influence tokens.   You still control Centers that you have once had an Influence token on until someone else gets an influence token on them.

6) Once you start the next session, you should role-play two different things into the fiction; the movement of influence in the last turn on the Power Map, and the wheeling and dealing necessary to set up the next turn.  By roleplaying the movement of influence, what I mean is that if, in the first session I role-played putting the squeeze on the High Priest of Set, and had a deep conversation with another player's character regarding "how that Set High Priest just isn't living up to community standards", and then in the turn I moved my influence token into the Temple of Set from the Pharoah's Soothsayers, with assistance from another player on the Temple of Ra, then during the next role-playing session, I should role-play out my character's arranging for the High Priest assassination and replacement by my brother in law, with help from the High Priest of Ra.

7) Periodically (maybe every two turns), any Centers that have dots and do not currently have an influence token on them produce a new influence token for the appropriate player.

8) continue playing until someone acheives a prespecified victory, or you all get sick of it.

Obviously this is all truly a "first thought" at the moment, essentially a brain-storm.  One thing it might need is a mechanical connection between conflicts in the role-playing and moves in the meta-game, but I'm not convinced that is necessary.  One of the big questions is which level is the final arbiter of what happens.  An example would be the Temple of Set takeover, above.  If the meta-game says I take over the Temple of Set, does this mean it will happen regardless of any conflict resolution that occurs during the role-playing session?  What about the other way around; if I win a conflict against the High Priest of Set and terrify him with the threat of assassination, does this help ensure my move succeeds in the next turn?

Anyway, if anyone else finds this idea worth discussing...discuss!
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De Reel
Member

Posts: 22

They say I have got a communication problem.


« Reply #1 on: December 05, 2006, 12:25:46 PM »

Hello,
I am no familiar with game tinking, but the idea seems cool : Diplomacy is simple and leads to complex situations. I can add three things :
1) there is no need to let the role-played part interfere with the board game any other way that the first you write (the ultimate criteria of an effective negotiation is the result of the move written) ;
2) except for the "reward" phase, which could be used here 'also' for rewarding good drama.
3) I imagine there won't be too much influence of the names (Harem Goorooz, Freemen of the Dunes, etc.) apart from the negotiation "flavour" if it's gonna be partly a board game. I'd rather use a laptop to allow complex connections of areas according to what roles the players could play. But then, I think this may not allow the game to be well-balanced. But then again if it's about role-playing, this could still lead to good drama.
Thanks.
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Darcy Burgess
Member

Posts: 476


« Reply #2 on: December 05, 2006, 06:34:04 PM »

Hans --

I've got a number of questions about your idea, but I'll lead off with the one that I think is the most important.

In point (6), you refer to "...role-play[ing] two different things into the fiction...".  You then mention that one of these things is "...the wheeling and dealing necessary to set up the next turn."  This seems to be at odds with your original stated goal of letting the Diplomacy mechanics govern the "big picture".

What I'm getting at is this: are the player characters the movers and shakers -- do they govern these choices?  Or are they small players, struggling in an ever-changing power struggle?

Cheers
Darcy
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Hans
Member

Posts: 576


« Reply #3 on: December 06, 2006, 06:17:47 AM »

What I'm getting at is this: are the player characters the movers and shakers -- do they govern these choices?  Or are they small players, struggling in an ever-changing power struggle?

Good question, Darcy.  I didn't make the intent clear enough.

The goal of the entire system I described is to help in running a campaign in which the player characters are movers and shakers in some society, leaders of their own factions and with great power and influence (although this power and influence could come from almost any source and in any kind of form).  The moves on the meta-Diplomacy power map are meant to reflect the actions of the player characters in the game fiction, and are a mechanic to determine the big picture success or failure of those actions.

The whole thing is really a feedback loop, with each stage feeding into the next and then cycling back:

1) Influence tokens move around the power map, showing how power in the society has shifted between the factions let by the PC's, which provides a backdrop and fodder for...

2) the first part of the next role-playing session, in which the players narrate exactly how these shifts in power take place, and what their characters reactions are to them, which provides the basis for...

3) the second part of the next role-playing session, in which the players narrate how their characters work to cement previous gains, build new alliances, set up new power grabs, etc., which provides the information that the players use to...

4) write the orders for the next turn in the meta-Diplomacy game, which get resolved into...

1) Influence tokens moving around the power map...

etc.

Does that make sense?

I think the whole thing could perhaps be done without a GM, although the presence of a GM would let you have additional factions not under the control of the players and probably assist greatly in things like scene framing.  An important feature of the meta-diplomacy game is that while it is a true game (in that it could have a winner and losers), the rule that says that no players can ever talk to each other outside of the role-playing about strategy means that the only way to get things done in the meta-diplomacy game is by communicating your wishes THROUGH THE FICTION to the other players.  If you want Bob to support your moving influence from the Praetorian Guard to the Prefect of Aediles Office, you are going to have to figure out some way of narrating your character and Bob's character talking about the issue in the role-playing.
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Calithena
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 336

aka Sean


« Reply #4 on: December 06, 2006, 06:27:19 AM »

Hans,

I think this is a good idea, but I'd want a feedback loop. Something you do in the RP session gets you a resource for the Diplomacy (extra moves, extra tokens, whatever), and expanding your influence in the Diplomacy game gets you a resource for the RPG. Or, make it the same resource for both, something like 'Influence Points', which could be used for various hero point/artha type stuff in the RP session, or for extra moves or tokens in the diplomacy.
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Hans
Member

Posts: 576


« Reply #5 on: December 06, 2006, 06:28:02 AM »

1) there is no need to let the role-played part interfere with the board game any other way that the first you write (the ultimate criteria of an effective negotiation is the result of the move written) ;
I agree 100% with this, after thinking about it.  As long as you all strictly follow the rule that no out of character strategy discussion is allowed, there is no need for any other mechanical connection between the moves made on the meta-diplomacy level and the conflicts in the RPG level, except....

Quote
2) except for the "reward" phase, which could be used here 'also' for rewarding good drama.

The idea of rewards for things on the meta-diplomacy level interests me.  Perhaps the moves on the Power Map aren't directly tied to conflicts in the RPG, but there could be mechanical connections between the Power Map and the RPG.  In Heroquest terms, for example, you could assign abilities and values to each center of power, which are considered on your character sheet if your faction controls that center.  For "Praetorian Guard" it could be things like: "Close to the Emperor 17", "Riot Control 10W", "Intimidation 17" or similar.

Quote
3) I imagine there won't be too much influence of the names (Harem Goorooz, Freemen of the Dunes, etc.) apart from the negotiation "flavour" if it's gonna be partly a board game. I'd rather use a laptop to allow complex connections of areas according to what roles the players could play. But then, I think this may not allow the game to be well-balanced. But then again if it's about role-playing, this could still lead to good drama.

The names of the centers of power would relate directly to "real" institutions in the setting of the fiction.  So if there is a Harem Concubines center of power, then in the game fiction setting theres a harem someplace, full of concubines, who have considerable influence on the Emperor, especially at his most...*ahem*...vulnerable moments.  Is that what you were getting at?
Thanks.
Quote


Da Reel: AFter thinking about it a bit, I agree 100% with your first point.  As long as you all strictly follow the rule that no out of character strategy discussion is allowed, there is no need for any other mechanical connection between the moves made on the meta-diplomacy level and the conflicts in the RPG level.  But, I also agree with what I think you were saying in point 2 of your message.
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Countercheck
Guest
« Reply #6 on: December 06, 2006, 11:02:26 PM »

It's Mike here, the fellow who mentioned Dipsy in the first place.

The more I think of it, the less I think Dipsy is well suited to this sort of thing.  The main problem is it's all about shifting tokens around.  It's not about gaining and holding territory, but more about forcing other people back.  The thing is, with influence attacks, you should be able to strike anywhere.  You shouldn't need to subvert all the busboys before going for the chef... it should make it easier, but shouldn't be impossible.

So here's my idea.  You draw the map just like Hans says, but instead of shifting tokens around, you get a number of tokens each turn based on the number of circles of influence you have, and you invest them in your circles.  Say you have five circles, and each generates two influence tokens a turn.  That's ten tokens that you can allocate between butressing your defenses and attacking circles held by your enemies.  Turn it into a straight bidding game... whomever allocates the most influence tokens to a circle wins the circle.  Perhaps give bonuses for holding circles linked to the contested circle.  This gaining and spending of influence feels more like politics to me than the pushing of diplomacy, personally, especially since it's easy to see where you have influence.  You have five tokens in the stables?  The stable-boys love you!  You have two in the harem?  The harem girls are favorably inclined.  Potentially, you could spend influence tokens to bring new factions into play, and to forge links where there were none before.

I also think this kind of mechanic would be better used to show the influence of entire factions, rather than individual people, and I might have it running as the backdrop to the game, rather than having it as a strategic componant.  The PC group will be built as normal, generally supporting one faction or another, but in the strategic game, every player is assigned a different faction to play out.  They don't need to play in their characters' interest, in fact, it's more interesting if they don't.

Anyway, that's my incoharent 2AM rant for the day.
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David Artman
Member

Posts: 570

Designer & Producer


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« Reply #7 on: December 07, 2006, 07:12:39 AM »

If you're fixed on Diplomacy, then you might want to disregard the "refresh" stage of play and, rather, use the role playing stages to generate (or not) new tokens in unoccupied centers.

But I am more inclined to agree with Mike and say that it doesn't have the right feel for influence--Diplomacy is too fixed (no degrees of control, just yes or no) and it is too concerned with borders and connections (which, as Mike said, should be far more fluid, in influence peddling).

But another game springs instantly to my mind: Illuminati. That game is all and only about influence and amorphous relationships between power centers.

To engage the role playing aspect, recall that Illuminati requires "money" to actually win attacks or defenses, for control of a group. Thus, in the role playing stage of play, you need only have a reward mechanic which allocates tokens (money, in Ill) to those who win in conflicts. Further, the role playing could take the place of the "pool" of available groups that's normally in Ill. Rather than just put groups in the uncontrolled region, have the players, during scenes, instantiate new groups.

Thus, the role playing establishes the uncontrolled groups and earns the players tokens.
Meanwhile, the card game allows the players to extend their control into uncontrolled groups, attack opponent groups, or shuffle tokens around to bolster defenses (or all three).
Card game results are then narrated, to establish their meaning to the role playing.
Players then go about the normal business of role playing, as above: ferreting out new groups, accruing more influence tokens for the card game, or interfering with another player's attempts to gain token.

Whatcha think?
David
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Darcy Burgess
Member

Posts: 476


« Reply #8 on: December 09, 2006, 04:10:43 AM »

Hans,

Next questions: what does actual play look like in steps 2 and 3 (I'm referring to your reply to me, not your initial post).  By "look like" I mean what stuff do the players do?  Is it strictly free-form collaborative narration?  Are there "hard" mechanics in place?  If so, what do they get used for?

Cheers
Darcy
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De Reel
Member

Posts: 22

They say I have got a communication problem.


« Reply #9 on: December 10, 2006, 02:49:01 AM »

The idea of Countercheck is similar to the Shadowcorps system. Roleplaying should then come first. (It was used for a Masquerade in my city).
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John Adams
Member

Posts: 90


« Reply #10 on: December 15, 2006, 09:58:53 AM »

Hans, this is an absolutely awesome idea. Run with it. Use Diplomacy. I disagree that the binary nature detracts; I think it works in your favor. Sure there are many competing forces in play, but the influence token determines unequivocally "who is in charge" for a given turn even when at the role-playing level that might be unclear. This is your conflict resolution mechanic, in total. If you want the Praetorian Guard to act against the Emperor, then (a) you need your influence token on the Praetorian Guard and (b) you need to line up, via role-playing, enough support to get the job done. This doesn't smack of a game that needs any task resolution at all. If you won the conflict, you can narrate the results any way you want within the bounds of that conflict.

... but I'd want a feedback loop. Something you do in the RP session gets you a resource for the Diplomacy ...

It's been a while since I played Diplomacy, but the resource / feedback loop for good role-playing Calithena is talking about is already there: you actually need to convince people to help you. The resource/feedback comes when that other person writes orders which directly support your moves, and the payoff is a victorious strategy.
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David Artman
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Posts: 570

Designer & Producer


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« Reply #11 on: December 15, 2006, 10:59:10 AM »

The resource/feedback comes when that other person writes orders which directly support your moves, and the payoff is a victorious strategy.
How do you see this as different from just playing a game of Diplomacy using one of the several alternate maps and acting in character during Diplomacy Sessions (which we routinely do, anyway, when we've played it)?

How does Hans have anything other than a setting product, to offer, if Diplomacy's basic mechanics become the totality of the conflict resolution system for his "game"? (Game in quotes because his product, it seems to me, would lack any system and, thereby, be a setting/situation product and not a complete game as we mean it on The Forge.)

Finally, I don't know of a way to "destroy" a region, in Diplomacy... but I bet if I control the Emperor, I could destroy the Praetorian Guards as a viable entity for influence. Yet Illuminati has a mechanic for destroying factions; but because it's so genre-bound, Hans still has to develop a full product, if he uses its basic mechanics: rules for creating a faction, valuing it, bringing it into play, and engaging it in your power structure--all of which would be different than the basic Illuminati game and, thus, Hans would be providing a "complete" product.

Then again, maybe this doesn't matter at all, this concept of "game" or "product." Perhaps this is a thread about systematizing the creation of interesting, color-rich Diplomacy maps...?
David
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John Adams
Member

Posts: 90


« Reply #12 on: December 18, 2006, 09:03:49 AM »

Finally, I don't know of a way to "destroy" a region, in Diplomacy... but I bet if I control the Emperor, I could destroy the Praetorian Guards as a viable entity for influence.

Certainly an important aspect for this type of game. I suggest however, that by destroying the Praetorian Guards the Emperor necessarily creates a power vacuum. He might assume that power unto himself, but it still exists. In a similar vein, the relationships among various power structures change, which "normal" Diplomacy rules don't allow.

If you stick with Diplomacy as a base, you could allow a new kind of order which adds or removes one line of influence between 2 circles, dynamically changing the "borders" as the game progresses. You could also rename and redefine what a circle represents, destroying the Praetorian Guards and replacing them with some aspect of the Emperor's position which satisfies the same basic needs.
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