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Started by Morte, February 19, 2008, 03:21:57 PM

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Hi, I've been reading through Shock 1.1 getting ready to play my first game on Sunday. There are a few things I'd like to clarify.

1.   Can more than one player address the same issue? It doesn't say they can't but there is only one space on the grid.

2.   Fallout for Failure on p37 says "if your protagonist is the character who just lost, give hir a new feature etc etc". What does "lost" mean? Is it that they failed to achieve their intent, or that they failed and the antagonist succeeded, or something else?

3.   p38 "This Result Sucks" says "Start a new conflict with the same Intent as the Conflict you just lost, but without rerolling the audience's remaining dice". What's the meaning of "remaining"? What are they "remaining" from? Are you talking about the same audience involvement as on p35, where whichever audience rolled highest could modify one *tagonist's success with minutiae? If so does "without rerolling" imply that whoever won last time can also modify this time, and you don't reroll to choose a different audience member? Or do the audience just not get involved at all when links are at stake?

4.   When/how do you "regain lost links"? P39 says "Later, if circumstances change immediately, you can regain a lost link"; would you do that by e.g. making it your intent in a conflict? E.g. you lose the "God is my strength link", put "god owes me an explanation" in its place, then what? How do you "regain" after that?

Any help much appreciated.

Joshua A.C. Newman

Hi, Morte,

OK, one at a time:

1: Yes, more than one Protag can address and Issue. Just write the other player's name in the same box.
2: That means that they lost their own Intent. If the Antagonist won, that's not the same thing.
3: Let's say there are four of us playing: you, me, Emily, and Eppy. I'm playing your Antagonist. We roll and Emily uses her Minutia die to make you lose. You risk a Feature to get to reroll and we do. Eppy can now use his Minutia die to affect the outcome, but Emily can't because she already used hers up.
4: Naw, it's much simpler than that. You always have two Links. When you risk one and lose it, it comes back as something new. Most of the time, it's an evolution of the previous one. "My children" becomes "my estranged children" for instance.

the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.


1/2/4 are cool, thanks. As for 3, it means I've completely misunderstood the whole audience minutiae thing. Going back to try and make sense of it...

Joshua A.C. Newman

OK. Lemme know if you need further clarification.
the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.


Now for the "playing the audience" thing... The rules are split, there are some on p35 under "If your *tagonist is not involved in this conflict" and a different set on p64 under "Playing the Audience". They aren't mutually exclusive, so I figure the union set of the two applies.

Let me work through this through with an example. Stop me when I go wrong.

Say the issues are "the rich have more options" and "fear of death", and the shock is some new application of stem cells that could reverse ageing and many diseases. Minutiae have established that it's illegal, half the country wants it and the other half think it's the herald of the apocalypse, and the government who banned it are working on it in secret. The protagonist player has the story goal "overcome my fear of imminent death", and the protagonist's features include (a) being pretty broke and (b) an accelerated ageing disease that will shortly cripple and kill him. He has a link to a respectable campaign group who want to legalise the stem cell research.

Now he tries to break into a lab and steal some macguffin juice, there's a conflict, and his intent is "I steal a vial of the cell rejuvenation serum and treat myself with it". Rolls are made, his best d10 succeeds on praxis, and the antagonist's highest d4 isn't quite enough to stop that. So far, he's sitting pretty.

Now p35/65 say the audience (Groucho, Chico, and Harpo) all roll d4s, let's say they get 3/2/1. Groucho's 3 is enough to make the protagonist fail if (and only if) it's used as well as the antagonist's highest d4. Groucho doesn't have to get involved, but he wants to bring "the rich have more options" into this. So he shifts the protagonist's d10 to the failing side of the fulcrum and creates some minutiae: "the serum must be injected directly into certain brain centres, after drilling holes in the skull, a process requiring delicate and expensive brain surgery".

Now back on p35 it says this result will stand if either (a) nobody has any strong objections or (b) at least one person really likes it. Is that "one person" any one person at the table, or any person apart from the Groucho (who presumably likes it since he proposed it), or any other audience member, or something else?

Anyhow, assume it got past the boo/cheer test and Groucho made the protagonist fail.

The protagonist player really wanted to win that one, so he decides to go again risking a link. His new intent is "I steal a vial of the cell rejuvenation serum, and some research files I will sell to pay for the treatment. If the money-grabbing theft is discovered it will get me kicked out of the campaign group, because stealing for money will harm their image." He rolls again, and again he beats the antagonist.

The audience d4s are still on the table. Groucho has used his, so it's Chico's turn with a 2. It happens his 2 is enough to make the protagonist fail again on this new set of praxis rolls. So he could do it again if the table allows, and maybe the protagonist would risk his other link, and then maybe Harpo would be interfering with the third set of Praxis rolls if a 1 were enough. But actually Chico's happy to let the protagonist player get what he wants, so he changes nothing.

Is any of this right?

Joshua A.C. Newman

This is right in spirit, but there are some pitfalls:

1: Intents should never really say "and". That gets very confusing. "I inject myself with the serum" is your Intent. All the breaking in stuff we can find out about as we play stuff out, either before or after.

2: The Antagonist *must* use hir biggest d4. It's not an option. I'm not sure if you're sayng it is, but it's not.

3: Groucho is acting correctly. The boo/cheer test is the right way to think about it. The rules assume that you like what you said yourself. The rule is for getting others to buy in or at least trust that you can make the idea enjoyable.

4: When you risk a Link, the Intent is the same, but the relationship to that Link is also implicitly risked. You are correct that Groucho has already used his dice and Chico and Harpo's 1 and 2. Chico's decision is correct and legal.

the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.


Quote from: Joshua A.C. Newman on February 20, 2008, 01:45:26 PM
1: Intents should never really say "and". That gets very confusing. "I inject myself with the serum" is your Intent. All the breaking in stuff we can find out about as we play stuff out, either before or after.

So let's say the antagonist is "the government's desire to keep the research program secret". Our protagonist found out about the lab in a previous scene. The protagonist player describes sneaking up to the wire and cutting it, the antagonist talks about dogs, the protagonists throws poison meat, they spin a story (without mechanics intervening) for a while. Eventually the antagonist player decides that he's not just letting the protagonist player narrate his way to success, it's time to throw down. And at this point the protagonist player formally states his intent as "to inject the serum", which is the crucial thing he wants, and the antagonist states some intent too. That gets mechanically resolved with praxis and whatnot, and they can create whatever narrative they like that's consistent with the dice results and the stated intents. [And maybe the audience chip in with their d4(s).]

Is this how it all works?

Quote2: The Antagonist *must* use hir biggest d4. It's not an option. I'm not sure if you're sayng it is, but it's not.

Yep, got that.

Quote3: Groucho is acting correctly. The boo/cheer test is the right way to think about it. The rules assume that you like what you said yourself. The rule is for getting others to buy in or at least trust that you can make the idea enjoyable.

So if anybody else at the table strongly agrees with what the participating audience member used their dice to do, it stands? And that includes the *tagonist players (one of whom may benefit/suffer), it's not just a poll of the other audience members?

Quote4: When you risk a Link, the Intent is the same, but the relationship to that Link is also implicitly risked.

So the protagonist player would leave the "which will" clause out of their stated intent. If it happens that they fail on the second attempt, they need change their link. So they might change it to "publicly disowned the campaign group" and narrate the business about stealing for money being bad PR.


Getting there. :)

Joshua A.C. Newman

QuoteSo let's say the antagonist is "the government's desire to keep the research program secret".

Nope, the Antagonist is the Government. What the Antag player wants is to actively prevent the Protagonist from meeting hir Story Goal — apparently to out the research program.

Antagonists are people and institutions of people.

Now, to your actual question 1: it sounds like once you've gotten to the point of cutting the wire, it's clear what your Intent is. Everything else can follow from what the dice say you have to do. So, uh, basically, yeah. Just, as soon as you're doing something that the Antagonist doesn't want, say what you want, and the Antag player will say what zie wants.

3: Correct.

4: Correct.

It sounds like you understand it, to me!
the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.


I think I'm about there.

I wrote myself a rules summary / quick reference to use at the game. It might be useful to other people.


We played yesterday. This was our very first bash at one of these newfangled "story games", after a couple of years of "PCs make skill checks to tackle adventure run by GM" style play in Traveller, Conspiracy X, 2300AD, Star Wars, There Is No Spoon, CoC and whatnot. And on the whole a good time was had, with some caveats. Everybody seems eager to work the kinks out and go again.

Although Shock isn't GMd as such, I was the one who pitched it to the group and undertook to master the rules and bring some sample shocks/issues/etc. I gave everybody my quick reference rules before the game, when we got there I think two of the four players had some grasp of the system and I explained it for everybody else.

We started out to choose issues then shocks as per the book. An issue that sparked some real disagreement between players was "Freedom of Information", and it seemed like a good idea to use something that would get people going. I'd brought "the use of foreign mercenaries", e.g. the French Foreign Legion or British Brigade of Ghurkas. That morphed into "use of expendables", which reminded somebody of penal units, which turned into a proto-shock "mind wiped penal units", which got generalised to "conditioning to servitude". The idea being that there is some sort of brainwashing which makes people obey orders, with anticipated minutiae that it gets used to turn convicts into soldiers.

So we had the issues "freedom of information" (because players were fired up about it) and "use of expendables" because it seemed interesting and relevant to the shock "conditioning to servitude". We needed one more issue to obey the "everybody owns one shock or issue" rule, and eventually plucked "the needs of the many versus the needs of the few" off the candidates. That one got pretty much ignored in the game, even though two players were nominally addressing it. Looking back, I think we could have made more effort to get shocks and issues that could interact in interesting ways (e.g. my earlier stem cell example was calculated to function like that). And we shouldn't have worried about the number, especially since the ownership thing was a bit of a bust in practice (more later).

Then we got into who owned/addressed which issues. I think most of us got the wrong idea, and plumped for owning the issue we really cared about when we should have been playing a protagonist who addressed it. [There was advice about that in the book, but I either forgot to repeat it or got trampled in the rush.] Certainly, a few hours later when it was all over, we all thought we should have done it differently.

Next, starting minutiae:
-   It's Britain in 2015 or so.
-   The Labour Party is the only legal party. All army officers and police are party members.
-   Gordon Brown has assumed the position of Lord Protector, with a theocratic flavour.
-   Some senior officials have been secretly conditioned.
-   Europe is split over how to react to the totalitarian direction Britain is taking. The controversy will probably increase with Tony Blair's inauguration as president of Europe.
-   Penal legions are an important part of warfare.
-   Sedition is a crime punishable by conditioning.
-   Members of Parliament and their associates have conditioned servants, this is not public knowledge.
-   More and more crimes are being reclassified as punishable by conditioning, to meet increasing demand for conditionees.
-   The government illegally interferes with reporting of the conditioning issue.
-   The conditioning program is run by the Department of Justice. That's Department, not Ministry – there is only one ministry and that is the ministry of God.
-   The conditioning process is reversible, but this information is suppressed and the reversal process is the state's most closely guarded secret.
-   Conditioning is painful/traumatic, but the world is told that it's "nice and fluffy".
-   About 0.1% of conditionings fail, without the conditioner knowing.

Looking back, there's a heck of a lot of minutiae about the government there. It caught the other players' imagination (I don't follow British politics) and exploded. It almost amounts to a second shock "one party state led by a Presbyterian socialist", that kind of sneaked in without going on the grid. It got about as much talk time as the nominal shock while we were playing. I'm not sure whether this was a good or bad thing.

So now we had a setting we chose a protagonist each and picked features and links. We got a traditionalist army officer unhappy about commanding conditioned troops, a BBC reporter who wanted to reveal that conditioned troops are abused as cannon fodder, the head of security for the conditioning programme, and the Lord Protector Gordon Brown.

So, then we went for Praxis scales. Nobody had much idea about this, we pretty much picked a couple that sounded cool from my examples. We went for "Confrontation/Deception" and "Fight/Flight". [I'd actually dreamed up these two as a pair, the scales I'd use to play Bladerunner.] The first seemed to work well, it was broadly applicable. The other didn't seem relevant all that often for the *tagonists in this game. And ISTM they were both narrowed versions of "tough" vs "not tough"; in particular "fight" was redundant with "confrontation". Next time we should go for scales that have less to do with each other.

We picked and fleshed out antagonists. That gave us:

Richard (addressing Needs of Many vs Few) playing 1st Lt Thomas Beckett, an army officer who is against conditioning but commands a company of the First West London Volunteers comprised mostly of conditioned penal troops. His story goal is "to die getting the truth out". His links are "the army" and the respect of his father (a retired major). He's opposed by his commanding officer, a hardliner who thinks the conditioned are expendable criminal scum, played by...

Marc (addressing Use of Expendables) playing Tim Drake, a BBC TV reporter embedded with the First West London Volunteers in Ulster. His story goal is "to get a true story about the penal legion out". His links are his BBC editor Eddy, and a lover who works for CNN called Lisa. His antagonist is the censor at the BBC, played by...

Joel (addressing Freedom of Information) playing Gavin Curren who is the security chief of the conditioning programme. Joel's story goal for his protagonist is "to join the other side". Links are "the respect of his son who lectures in media studies" and "his support for the one party". His antagonist is the Free Information Society, a network/media hacking coalition of free information activists played by...

Greg (addressing Needs of Many vs Few) playing – wait for it – Gordon Brown who is head of the one party government. His story goal is "to build a great Britain again". Links are "religious morals" and "the backing of his party". His antagonist is the United Liberty Party, a  non-violent group based in Ireland who work mostly by putting funds into the right hands, played by Richard (at the top).

I'm not sure whether Greg chose Gordon Brown before or after we got all that minutiae.

Looking at this with my regular GM/player hat on, it screams "power imbalance". As Richard put it, we were "level 3, level 3, level 10, and level 20". But I figured that shouldn't matter much in a game like Shock where everybody gets the same number of features/dice and the same amount of screen time whatever their power in the setting. And so it turned out, pretty much. Perhaps my backroom boy felt a bit insignificant sat between the Prime Minister and the journalist who was getting stuff splashed all over the BBC and CNN. But it was no biggie; it worked about a thousand times better than it would have in any other game system I've used. And we can always make an effort to create equally dramatic (not powerful, dramatic) characters in future.

I think we mostly got the wrong idea about antagonists. We took the one-liner description from the protagonist player and then went into RPG-as-wargame "build and play the deadliest opponent I can manage" mode. Looking back, what was needed was "build the most useful tool for making the protagonist address the issue and story goal their player is interested in". But Marc did very well running Richard's antagonist, he simultaneously tortured him to make the game fun from minute to minute and brought his concerns front and centre to support the story side.

By the way, if the antagonist player is meant to try and bring the protagonist's links into the story it would help to put a space for them on the antagonist sheet, so the antagonist player will actually know what they are.

Also, the antagonist is meant to have 13 credits but I can only find 12 tick boxes on the sheet. Am I missing something there?

Oh, and in the example on p5 in the margin it says Joshua spends three credits to roll 2d10+3d4 i.e. five dice, but on p34 it says the antagonist should check off 3 to 6 credits and roll that many dice. Something is wrong there.

Anyhow, that was game set up. Tomorrow I'll try to post something about the game that ensued.


We played, and generally got around the table and had a game and it was fun. At the end of the game all four protagonists had successfully resolved their story goals, but three died to get it done, and the non-violent protest movement based in Ireland had somehow made a nuclear missile strike on Edinburgh (despite not owning any nukes). But there were some major mechanical issues, and I've a strong suspicion that we were doing a couple of things completely wrong. So, I some questions I'd appreciate guidance on:

Is Antagonism (Always) Opposition?

We played on the understanding that the antagonist player's job is to somehow provide opposition for the protagonist. I am beginning to suspect that this was a basic misconception, mostly because in story/roleplay terms the antagonist often had no practical means to oppose the protagonist. But we stretched definitions and credulity to find one.

We had a lot of trouble over the meaning of "not mutually exclusive" when it came to framing intents – does it mean that they must be possible in the same universe without violating the laws of physics, or does it also mean that a success for the antagonist doesn't make a success for the protagonist irrelevant? We tended to use a very narrow rules-lawyerish definition of "mutually exclusive", and frame antagonist's intents which left the protagonist's intent literally possible but meaningless. Looking back, it amounted to a way to use d10s to do the job of d4s. Richard noted towards the end of the game that hardly any d4s were getting used. Here are a couple of examples which may or may not have happened in the game (my memories are confused)...

A BBC journalist has as antagonist the BBC censor. The journo films a battle with conditioned troops being used as disposable cannon fodder. The public don't know this happens, and he wants to let them. But he knows the censor won't pass it. So he tries to sneak it under the radar – without saying the words "disposable cannon fodder", he edits the pictures to give the lie to the report and let anybody who's thinking about the report know. His intent is "to get the pictures out".

Now the antagonist is bound by a couple of rules about framing his intent. Firstly it can't be "I stop the protagonist" (that's what the d4s are for). Secondly, the intents must not be mutually exclusive.

So the antagonist player could say something like "I go see the BBC Director General and get the protagonist fired for submitting this report". That's compatible in both senses I mentioned above: both results can literally happen, and the antagonist succeeding would not make it irrelevant that the protagonist succeeded. The antagonist player rolls d4s to stop the report going out and d10s to get the protagonist fired.

But what if the antagonist were to say "I alert the dirty tricks team and we run a quick smear campaign on the journalist", then state the intent "to have the public discount the report". This is not stopping the protagonist's stated action, and it's not mutually exclusive in a literal sense – it's quite possible for the report to go out and then be ignored. But it's an intent which stops the protagonist getting what they wanted from their actions, by using d10s instead of d4s. Although we did this sort of thing in the game yesterday, looking back I don't think we should have.

After some more thought it seems we should be saying that the antagonist's intent should not neutralise the protagonist's, even if it is literally possible for them both to happen. If the antagonist player wants to stop the protagonist, they do it with d4s. The antagonist intent is there to stir things up, make things interesting, bring issues and links into play, and perhaps to set something up for the start of the next scene. It's tangential to the protagonist's intent, not opposed to it.

So say Gordon Brown stated some intent involving fortifying his heartland in Edinburgh and preparing for civil war. His antagonist (the peaceful opposition group) had no way to get involved in a concrete military action like that, they had no troops. So if the antagonist player wanted to stop Gordon Brown doing that, he should have rolled lots of d4s.  He shouldn't have declared "we get our friends in the missile subs to nuke Edinburgh", and then rolled d10s to make the action moot. [This was after two escalations, he started smaller than nukes. I'll get to escalations later...]

So, to sum up:
a)   Did I take the wrong understanding to the game yesterday, and is my hindsight view more appropriate?
b)   How broad is "not mutually exclusive" when it comes to intents?


The Mexican Standoff and the Reel Around The Fountain

The antagonist player declares an intent, going first as they occasionally do. The protagonist player then declares an intent. "Hold on", says somebody, "those two are mutually exclusive. One of you needs to change." The two players stare at each other like Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef, both happy with their intents and neither in a hurry to change. Who will back down?

Protagonist declares, antagonist declares, protagonist hears and changes, antagonist hears and changes, protagonist hears and changes, antagonist hears and changes... When will it ever stop?

There don't seem to be any useful rules about this stuff in the book. Hopefully the players can work it out reasonably, but what happens when they can't (in this game with no GM)?

I think I'm going to propose a couple of house rules to the group, unless anybody has something better:

1.   The protagonist player chooses who declares first (default themselves). Whoever declares second is responsible for finding an intent that is not mutually exclusive.
2.   You can discuss your intent with other players before formally declaring it ("My intent is...."). The first player can change their formal intent after hearing the second's, but the second may then change formal intent in response if they wish. Your second formal declaration is final.

And since we're talking about breakdowns in consensual shared authority: When players are unable to agree whether some mechanical act is allowed, a randomly selected third party will become GM for a few seconds and rule on it.


Escalation Woes

First up, I made a mistake by letting the audience dice throw a conflict into escalation – rereading the book, it should only be if a *tagonists' initial d10/d4 pair hits the fulcrum. So we turned what should be roughly 20% escalation into more like 40%. And with a group of people who are prone to getting over the top in the first place (I will never forget Richard saying "I throw the moon at her" playing There Is No Spoon), this could got pretty wild. And when things got wild people tended to forget all the shock/issue stuff, so I feel it was counterproductive. One conflict got escalated three times, and on the third time the *tagonist players looked at each other and agreed to quietly ignore it and toll again.

Apart from correcting my mistake I'm wondering about suggesting to the group that a given conflict can only be escalated once. If you hit the praxis again, reroll the dice involved. But maybe we should try it the way the rules say first.


On Ownership

The two times we had a clash of concepts between *tagonist players over how something works, in a context where it would affect resolution of a scene, one of the players involved was the owner. And so the owner ruled, and by definition it went the way they saw it. Everybody found this unsatisfying. In one case the benefactor said "what this game needs is a GM".

However, this does seem like a consequence of our earlier mistake when everybody chose to own an issue they cared about, instead of playing a protagonist addressing that issue. If we'd gone the other way, the protagonists would usually have been tackling issues their players didn't own. I think we should make an effort to assign ownership of elements so that we're relatively unlikely to play/oppose a protagonist addressing them. Nonetheless, it's tempting to move rulings out to a neutral third party if the owner has a vested interest in a ruling going one way.


Tactical Minutiae Madness

You are a long time challenge gamer, a player of D&D and Traveller and Aberrant, a veteran survivor of player vs GM, and a handy min/maxer. When you play Paranoia, the universe covers its eyes in horror. Somebody presents you with a game called "Shock: Social Science Fiction" where you have to roll dice vs an equally wily opponent to narrate changes to the world. Or you can scribble a piece of "minutiae" describing the world on an index card any time you like, and it becomes truth. You want the journalist who's on the run to get caught. Do you (a) state an intent "the meddlesome journalist is captured" and take your chances with the dice, or (b) write "the meddlesome journalist has been captured" on an index card and throw it on the pile? At times, I had the feeling that somebody was trying to get as close as they could to option (b), usually by establishing facts that would head off inconvenient other-tagonist intents before they could be stated.

What can we do about this? First, we can ask each other not to do it. That won't always work. When it doesn't we need rules about minutiae, or a GM-like authority.

And what is the scope of minutiae anyhow? Are they static ("Northern Ireland is under martial law")? If so, must they have been true before the game started or can they be "this news just in" during the game? Can they also be dynamic events, e.g. "a power failure took down the surveillance system at the crucial moment"?

So, when I read the book and took my understanding of it to the game, did I miss/misunderstand any rules about minutiae?

P21: This is talking about preparation, before the first scene. "At any time, when someone has an idea about how the world works, they can write down a Minutia on a card and put it in the center of the table for everyone to use. As long as one person is excited about it or no one objects, it's true."
This indicates...
(a)   You can't just write anything; at least one person has to strongly like it or nobody object. I assume that's one OTHER person, enthusiasm for your own minutia doesn't make it true.
(b)   Is says minutiae are setting, but since we haven't got to the first scene yet it doesn't really preclude them being events.

P36 on audience d4 minutiae: "Those dice change the final result of one side of the Conflict by narrating circumstance using or creating Minutiae to describe what's happening to change the situation." And on *tagonists who jumped the fulcrum because of an audience d4: "that Audience member says how circumstance intervened to prevent the *Tagonist from getting hir desired result." Well "what's happening to change" suggests that minutiae can be events in the setting.

P55 margin: Ben in the audience says "this 4 says a piece of ragged metal drifts by". That's an event in the setting, not setting description. Hah, at last I'm sure. So minutiae can be events then.

Well, I think that can be made to work. Between...
(a) asking players to do their conflict resolution with intents and dice instead of minutiae
(b) the need for the creator of minutiae to get at least one other player on board when there are objections
....I think we can get the tactical minutiae genie back in its box.