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[IaWA] Breaking Bad Habits

Started by lumpley, April 17, 2008, 03:43:58 PM

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Mike Holmes

OK, I didn't really read through your example well. And I'm trying to fight through some confusion here. But in the example are you implying that if one player says "I want X to happen" and another player says, "I'm not letting it happen" that, in fact, either side can narrate whatever they want with regards to X? Or does the winner of the first round get to either take X, or prevent X from being taken?

My assumption has been - and this could well be wrong - that the system does resolve whether or not some particular element gets entered into the SIS. I mean that's what it sounds like, the other player's opportunity to say, "No, that doesn't happen." And then the system resolves whether or not it does.

But it seems like you're saying that all the system does is to give the player something to negotiate with mechanically if they win. But see... if the player can narrate anything they want, and the mechanics don't resolve which player gets his narration to be true, then how do we resolve any disputes between players?

Maybe I'm all brain damaged on this subject, but if I narrated X, then I want that narration. If you're opposing that narration, then you want something else. Doesn't the system exist to decide which narration occurs? If anyone can narrate anything about anything at any time, what power does the "stick" have in "negotiating with a stick?"

On the other hand, if you're suggesting that, in fact, the winner of the first round gets what they want, that works out fine mechanically, I guess. But why the first round? Or can it change round to round?

I guess what I'm saying is that, if I want the ring, and you want the ring (or even don't want me to have it), that's the "stakes." They're set up from the get go in terms of the narration that the players are going for. Negotiation, then, seems to me to be about negotiating further stakes, at the threat of the loser who doesn't agree getting injured or exhausted.

That works fine for me, if it's how it works. But it's very much not what you've said in other places.

I don't get it. In one place you say (paraphrasing), "if the other side doesn't allow it, then you don't get what you want, he just gets injured or exhausted." In this case it seems that you're saying something like, "You can resolve the issue at hand on the first round." What am I not getting?

As for "Turns" I think I was confusing the game with Blood Red Sands. But basically in the same way as player A says that he's going to get the ring, and gets it unless somebody opposes him, if you put another player on a desert isle in an attempt to "punish" them somehow, or prevent them from doing something else, he can counteract this simply by saying, "My character returns and attacks yours." The only prevention of which is another player opposing this action.

So it seems that no situational penalty you can ascribe to a character has any weight at all. Because there's no mechanical penalty associated with it. The player is prevented from doing precisely nothing by anything that they agree to in negotiation, other than, perhaps, having to direct their character out of the situation before doing anything else. Meaning that, at best, you can only keep the character on the desert isle by preventing him from leaving every time he says he's trying to get off.

Even worse, this seems to suffer from a problem of statement. That is, if I say, "My character is going to attack yours" without explaining how he got off the desert isle, do you have any recourse? If not, the problem is very bad, because a player can simply skip any actions he would have to have the character attempt to get to a place, and narrate doing what it was that the negotiated act was meant to prevent. Now if the player who put me on a desert isle can say, "Ah, but to get to me, that implies that you had to first leave the isle, and I oppose that" this is a terribly slippery slope. Basically any player can pre-empt any action by citing some presumable action that the other character would have had to take earlier to accomplish the task. Meaning that a player can't ever get to the contest they want, if another player doesn't want to let them.

For instance, in the case of the ring, if I say, "I'm getting the ring" you could say, "I'm going to ambush you on the road before you even get here." Of course that's non-problematic if, in fact, a player can always simply not let you get your goal by taking an injury or exhaustion...either way they can always prevent you from getting what you want. So taking away attempts isn't really any worse...

Alan... all I can say is that this is how the game left me feeling. Sure, your experience might differ. But we were playing by the same set of rules. It turns out we weren't playing wrong mechanically in any way that I can see. At worst it seems that we approached it in the wrong... spirit? The problem is that I don't think that I'll be able to change my approach to rules like these.

In fact, I'll be frank. When I see players failing to exploit "loopholes" I see a willingness to overlook flaws in a system, and make play work anyhow. And, no, that doesn't make me an asshole for feeling this way, either. To the extent that I feel that people aren't playing what the game promotes, I feel like they're very much saying that "system doesn't matter." And, well, for me, I'll just use a system that does do what I want instead of playing around the rules that promote something else.

Now your opinion may be that the rules promote something else, and that I'm wrong. But that doesn't change my perception, which is the only thing that matters. I'm willing to be convinced by an explanation of how I'm not seeing what the mechanics promote. But simply saying "it didn't for us" doesn't convince me of anything.

Let me put it this way. If I'm competing, I feel idiotic if I'm not taking full advantage of the system to compete as well as possible. The system, in such a case, has to serve to make play fun in that context.

Now, if we're not supposed to be competing in IAWA... well, again, the language and mechanics all scream competition to me. Yes, I can find other, creative, ways to have my character obtain his Best interest than neccessarily having him go straight for it, but why should I bother? It's much easier to simply say, "He goes and gets what he wants."

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Quote from: Mike Holmes on April 23, 2008, 02:45:44 PM
Let me put it this way. If I'm competing, I feel idiotic if I'm not taking full advantage of the system to compete as well as possible. The system, in such a case, has to serve to make play fun in that context.

Now, if we're not supposed to be competing in IAWA... well, again, the language and mechanics all scream competition to me. Yes, I can find other, creative, ways to have my character obtain his Best interest than neccessarily having him go straight for it, but why should I bother? It's much easier to simply say, "He goes and gets what he wants."

I've got a thought which might help here.

Sometime around Forge Midwest, IaWA clicked in my head. Silly me, it should have clicked earlier, but it didn't. Why "silly me"? Because, as best as I can figure it, IaWA uses the same approach to play as Legends of Alyria does.

It works like this. The group puts together a storymap/web of Best Interests, selecting the interesting characters as PCs, while the Narrator/GM takes the remaining ones. Then the players play out the storymap/pursue their Best Interests, while the Narrator/GM moderates the game, does scene framing, pushes with NPCs, and the like.. This is PvP play, which has a certain zest to it, but it is not Gamist play; the tools simply aren't there. Rather, the games make use of the PvP aspect of play to drive the story and ensure that each important character has a strong advocate at the table.

And maybe that's the best word for it. Your goal isn't to win; your goal is to be a strong advocate for your character within the fiction.

Think about it. A game like Blood Red Sands is supposed to be played to win. At the meta-level, the players' relationships are competitive ones. Anything within the rules is fair game, and the fiction exists to provide a context for the competition.

In a Wicked Age is different. At the meta-level, the players' relationships are collaborative ones. They are working together to tell a story; it's just that their cooperation contains vigorous elements of opposition. (Aside: I think that this is a distinctive of Forge-style roleplaying versus the Scandinavian freeform tradition.) The developing narrative within the fiction is the reason for the fiction.

Therefore, using the tactics that you describe would be okay in Blood Red Sands, if they were in keeping with the rules.The fiction is subordinate to the competition. (BTW, rules changes are underway to address these concerns.) Using these tactics in In a Wicked Age misses the point, because the competition is subordinate to the fiction.

Is this helpful, Mike?

Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown


Quote from: GreatWolf on April 23, 2008, 03:49:08 PM
And maybe that's the best word for it. Your goal isn't to win; your goal is to be a strong advocate for your character within the fiction.

This makes sense to me. Thanks a bunch!

Yours, Troels


Mike, you are missing something really important. I'm going to keep trying to explain it to you, but it's going to take some explaining. This post doesn't sum it up, it's just the beginning. So:

What's at stake, in every single conflict, is who gets the exhaust/injure stick at the end, and nothing else. Understand the initial action to be the first attack in a conflict over who gets the stick.

Here's a Dogs in the Vineyard trick. "What's at stake is, who kills whom. Let's play the conflict as a quick draw: all the raises and sees have to happen between when the clock rings 12 and when the first person draws and shoots. The winner of the quick draw wins the stakes and thus kills the other."

In the Wicked Age, leaving the initial action unresolved past round 1 is the same kind of a trick. The rules allow it, because sometimes it's exactly what you want to do. Normally, though, you'll treat the initial action as the first move in the conflict, resolve it in round 1, and there'll be a whole new second action to resolve in round 2 (and so on).

Accordingly, this:
Quote from: Mike Holmes on April 23, 2008, 02:45:44 PM
In one place you say (paraphrasing), "if the other side doesn't allow it, then you don't get what you want, he just gets injured or exhausted."

You asked me (paraphrasing): "if we didn't resolve the initial action in round 1, round 2, or round 3, and then we don't resolve it in final negotiation, does it stay unresolved?" My answer: yes, of course it does. If you didn't resolve it at any of your many opportunities, you didn't resolve it. If you want it resolved, resolve it sometime instead.

Hence, my advice to you is to play as though the rules require you to resolve the initial action in round 1. Sooner or later you'll come to an initial action you don't want to resolve in round 1, and THEN you can play by the full rules.

I want you to accept that the above is how it works. I'm pretty sure that you won't believe me, because of this "narration" thing you keep saying, but take it on faith. Then we can talk about who says what about what, and I hope that'll help. Okay?


Eero Tuovinen

I'm with Seth in this particular matter. There's a boatload of games that are predicated on players playing advocate for their characters while simultaneously upholding and respecting the shared imagined space, which among other things includes matters such as causality, believability and such. A player who's just insisting on "narrating" something disjointed while ignoring potential complications provided by the fictional situation will be as certain to ruin a game of IWaWA as they'd be in any other game - MLwM, Polaris, Alyria, Dogs, WGP, Dust Devils (goes double for Dust Devils, actually)... almost any narration-sharing narrativism-centered game I'd care to name depends on the players actually caring about the fiction and the cooperative creation of fiction as a whole, not just trying to blindly grab the ring. To make that kind of thing work you need an authoritative GM who simply filters all the stupidity and forces players to play along - but from the viewpoint of these games with weak GMs and strong narration techniques that's just stupid, as they kinda assume that the players are communicating and respecting each other's input, not just refusing to engage at all points.

In other words - this kind of game assumes that the players are cooperating while the characters are competing. Specifically, the players cooperate in upholding an aesthetically pleasing SIS while letting their characters go all out within the framework against or for each other. It's a pretty simple conceit, and really common for all manner of roleplaying games; there cannot be true roleplaying interaction without a solid basis of Exploration, as the theorist might say.

The reason why this might be important for the discussion seems to me to be that Mike has floated off into a generic critique of this kind of set-up, which has nearly nothing to do with In a Wicked Age. To tell the truth, his argument doesn't seem to be entirely in good faith, as I'm pretty certain that Mike himself has no trouble at all in actual play when it comes to respecting and caring for the shared imagined space even without somebody being there to tell him to not break the toys at the sandbox.
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Mike Holmes

Yeah, I know, I'm the guy who created the "advocacy" language. I get that one can play that way. I often do play that way. I'm not incapable of understanding it, nor am I incapable of playing that way. I even play that way when presented with an incoherent system like Hero Quest.

The argument, however, is based on good faith and, in fact, actual examples of play. I'm not making up some, "the game will fall apart if this happens" fiction to poke holes in Vincent's game. When we played at ForgeCon, more than one of us, myself included, felt that the game had this problem.

I'm willing to be shown why the impression we got was wrong. But I'm not going to accept that my points are invalid because they're not based on somthing concrete.

To reiterate, I enjoyed IAWA, and am looking for a solution to this problem. Be it in terms of being explained how there is no problem, or whatever else may happen (it's possible that I'm too brain damaged by other RPGs to understand this one). So that next time I play, it's more fun.

I was using the ring example, because, in fact, it was used by Vincent in the other thread. But let me use the actual play example that happened with us:

My character had as his best Interest that he was after a treasure (in olive oil, as it happens). Through a substantial amount of play it was determined that another player's character had the treasure stashed away somewhere (so much the better, now we have the conflict we're looking for). So I said that my character was going to find where the treasure was, and get it. The player who's character had it, predictably, stepped in the way, and told me no. My character came out on top, and so now I had a choice it seemed to me, negotiate for the treasure, or not get it, because the other player would simply take the injury or exhaustion, if I didn't offer something palatable.

So I negotiated. The other PC would show me where the treasure was, and I would promise to help her attain her goal. Being as that PC didn't have it as a Best Interest to keep the treasure, or to prevent me from getting it, the player aquiesced. But he was uncomfortable doing so, because we noted that I could have my character just not do what he'd promised to do.

Sans any sort of committment from my character, something that simply wasn't possible to make mechanically, the player had no way of being certain that my character would help his. His strong inclination was to take the injury. In the end he made the agreement when I argued that he wasn't losing anything by making it. And would, in fact, if he didn't (the stick). He was still uncomfortable, because he felt that it might actually be worth thwarting my character for that point, however.

Again, it was the pressure of not wanting to put himself in the position of putting myself into the position of having to do the same contest again, I think, that made him finally agree to let the game move on as a tie-breaker on his decision. Something that neither he, nor I, were happy with.

Now, the example given, and reading Vincent's latest post, here's where I think we went wrong. I think that somebody was supposed to, if they wanted to, get the narration of my character getting the treasure somewhere along the way.

A point of order in the discussion. When we say "round 1" there are two contexts. The first is in terms of the series of dice rolls that determines who gets injured/exhausted, which can go three rounds, but can also go only one in some cases. Then there's the "rounds" of reattempting the same action, and being repeatedly blocked by the same character. Does it matter which, for these purposes, we're talking about when you say we could determine whether or not my character could have found the treasure?

But that's what you're saying, I take it? That the only thing that a player saying that they're blocking an action resolves is who gets injured/exhausted in the attempt.

Do I have that right?

Well... then when does this narration occur? By whom? I could have said:

Mike: "OK, I lost the first roll against you, but my character, rolling around avoiding you, sees the treasure under the couch, and takes it."

Would that be kosher? I could go on, but having an answer to that would help. If it's wrong, how is it wrong?

Before I take anything on faith, I have to be sure that I'm understanding what it is that I'm taking on faith. There's an extent that what you're saying sounds to me like a contradiction. And, no, I can't take contradictions on faith. That's gotta get straightened out first.

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I'd like to take a stab at this.  Can we break your example down?  Let's talk about JUST round 1.  You say you wanted to find the treasure and another player wanted to stop you.  Okay, cool.  What action did your *character* take to start trying to find the treasure that the other *character* opposed?

How did round one go, action for action, exactly?



I was about to ask the exact same question. What action did you have your character take in order to find the treasure?



Quote from: lumpley on April 18, 2008, 04:53:07 PM
Mike: #2: You missed my point. My point is: resolve grabbing the ring in the first round. Don't leave the ring ungrabbed until final negotiation, don't even leave it ungrabbed until round 2. By the end of round 1, somebody's grabbed the ring, decisively. Go into round 2 with the ring no longer up for grabs.


If what was disputed was "I get the ring" and that is decisively settled in the first round, with the winner of initiative saying "I seize the ring" and coming out ahead with advantage, why then are there three rounds?  I assume "decisively" means "not still in dispute" as in Round 2 can't be "Challenge, I trip you before you get away with it" and Round 3 "I pry your fingers open and seize it".

I can see, in example of boat, that first action is settled but that it is not decisive as its significance, whether it's immediately countered etc. is still up for grabs, and the back and forth of rounds play that out.


Uh, nope. What's settled is whether I grabbed the ring - I did. Now that I have the ring, now what? "I trip you before you get away with it" and "I pry your fingers open and seize it" are perfectly good possible actions for rounds 2 and 3.



Thanks Vincent, I think I was misreading "decisive".  Your patience and willingness to discuss all this stuff that is probably "blindingly obvious to you" is great.

Am I correct seeing the ideas of best interests player realizes but not character, ones at odds with character's apparent goals etc. that the "best interest" is the "transcendent author/audience view of this character's best destiny/happy ever after"?  This may be the character's goal but doesn't have to be it.

So for the Conanesque character "my best interest is to endure hardships that teach me lessons of kingship" even if my goal is "wine, women and song, and taking guff from no one".

Are there examples in play to cite for how a player position the character (when GM asks, "so what were you doing while...") as doing something explicable by goal that also positions them vis a vis best interest at odds with goal?

The games I have been in have all had people using character best interests as driving goals, and have mostly seemed to work fine, but I definitely see the potential for great stories and characters in the conflict and I can recall at least one PC who might have "worked better" done that way.

Mike Holmes

Rob's right, thanks for the patience with this, Vincent.

To address a side point... are we saying that it's bad play to have a character goal that happens to be his best interest? Or just that the game might work better if you choose an interest that is like this?

On the main question, thanks to Rob for his question, and it clarifies things for me on what's meant by "round" in this context. Good example, Vincent.

I have to say that I don't recall precisely what I said my character was doing to get the treasure. I think it was something like, "I'm going to the tower to search it for the treasure." For purposes of this discussion, I think we can assume that it was this. John's response was probably something like, "Oh no, no way that ogre's coming into my tower and tearing it apart."

(By the way, my character was part of a culture of "ogres," people who eat other people to become monsterously strong. The twist I put in was that he was raiding to get the treasure so as to buy a "Cure" for his people.)

I don't recall the precise mechanical details, other than that I won eventually. I'm sure narration was stuff like, "I leap at her threateningly" (my character's violence was not as high as his Direct, and his Specific Strength was "Monsterously Intimidating.") And, on succeeding, "I pin her down." Negotiation was something like me offering, "I'll help her get what she wants later, if she shows him where the treasure is."

What's interesting is that in a statement like that, it's clear that the "I'll help her" is a promise, and unenforcable, while the "She shows me" is an automatic consequence that goes into narration (he gets his best interest) if John agrees. And he did, in this case. Again, reluctantly, if I'm recalling correctly. And I felt bad that I could not commit somehow.

What I'm understanding is that my narration could, instead, have been as a result of coming out ahead on the first round, "Before she can find me, I find the treasure in the basement" ?

Can I narrate that if I lose? Does winning give you narration rights?

In any case, let's say that I get to the end of the contest, and have won, and the last narration is that I have the thing I want, I've found the treasure. Let's say for argument's sake that it's the ring (the treasure in my case was non-portable by even an ogre - barrels of olive oil), and my character is in possession of it. And let's say that John says that he's going to take an injury or exhaustion instead of giving in to me.

Do I keep my treasure in that case? Or no? The other thread seems to say no. This thread seems to say yes.

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My pleasure. I like answering rules questions.

Side point: No, it's not bad play at all. If playing with your characters' best interests and immediate goals closely aligned were bad play, I'd disallow it.

Instead, I'm saying that if you only and always play with your characters' best interests and immediate goals closely aligned, you'll always get those same effects on how the game plays out. My recommendation is that you mess around with how closely your characters' best interests and immediate goals lign up, to see the range possible within the rules.

Main point: Before I go further, are you following this thread about blocking, dodging and taking the blow?


Mike Holmes

Hi Vincent,

Yes, I'm reading that other thread avidly, since it seems to be about pretty much the same thing, if from a different angle, perhaps.

What I get from that thread is this:
My only limit on what's narrated is that whatever is narrated, it cannot be considered to be the end of the contest. So in my example, if I narrated finding the treasure, that doesn't mean the conflict is over.

But it does mean that I found the treasure, right? We're not going to later have to explain how my character somehow forgets about the treasure? I assume I'm right because, again, no stakes. Meaning that it's OK for me to obtain what I'm after through narration.

Yes, of course, in following rounds more narration might reveal that, in the case of the grabbed ring, that I then lose that ring. But that's not the point of the conflict, it's only to determine who gets to negotiate with the stick, right?

But... OK... that's one way I could understand the system. But it seems to me that it's contradicting the threads in which you say that if a player does not give, that the other player doesn't get what they want. Now, certainly they don't get their proposed deal. But does the narration that's gone by already stick? Or do we have to counter it in order to make that something that's not gotten, too?


Round 1: I win, narrate my character getting the ring.
Round 2: You win, you narrate getting the ring back.
Round 3: I win the round and narrate getting the ring back again from your character, and win the overall contest.

Now we go to Negotiation, and there are two ways to play that I can see:

A: I now get to negotiate with a stick, but even if the player is determined to take the hit, and not accept my terms, I still get the ring, because we narrated me getting it during the contest.

B: I now get to negotiate with a stick, but if the player is determined to take the hit, we must narrate that I lose the ring, because that's what he was saying, "ONYDYA" about, and I can't get that if he takes the injury or exhaustion.

Again, in multiple examples it seems like you're saying both of these things. Here it seems like you're saying A is right. In the thread with the ring example, it seems like you're saying B. I'm not saying a dichotomy does exist, but that it seems to, from what I've read.

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A is how the game works. B is not. If I have the ring at the end of round 3, and I win round 3, I have the ring AND the stick.

You remember when I first answered about the ring? The question I answered was "if, through all three rounds, nobody grabs the ring, and we just leave it lying in the mud, and then I win the third round, and the loser insists I injure him instead of negotiating that I get the ring, do I get the ring anyway?" The answer is "no, it's lying in the mud where you left it, right? Go pick it up if you want it, you may have to fight him off again." That doesn't imply B or contradict A at all.

So, A. But we have to clear up narration. Like I say in the other thread, the answerer, not the winner, says what happens.

Your example as written is valid if all three rounds are upsets against the challenger:
Round 1: You challenge, I win, I narrate my character getting the ring.
Round 2: I challenge, you win, you narrate getting the ring back.
Round 3: You challenge, I win the round and narrate getting the ring back again from your character, and win the overall contest.

Supposing that in all three rounds the challenger wins, though, your example would look like this:
Round 1: I challenge, I win, you narrate my character getting the ring.
Round 2: You challenge, you win, I narrate your character getting the ring back.
Round 3: I challenge, I win the round, you narrate my character getting the ring back again from yours, and I win the overall contest.

This super matters. In the other thread, you know how I say that whether to take the blow, or block it, is the answerer's call? That's the difference between me having the ring and me not having the ring. In my second example round 3, you are under no mechanical obligation to narrate my character getting the ring back from yours. You MAY be under obligation to do so from the game's fiction's time-space-and-physics (and we can talk about that if you want, but after we get the procedures down).

So here's another possible example, also valid:

Round 1: I challenge, I win, you narrate my character getting the advantage, but -not quite- getting the ring.
Round 2: You challenge, you win, I narrate my character getting the ring, but -only just-, and now your character has the advantage.
Round 3: I challenge, I win the round and the overall contest, you narrate. You can't justify taking the ring away from me on a loss, so you propose a bargain, which I accept or reject and so it goes.

And here's another, also valid:

Round 1: I challenge, I win, you narrate my character grabbing the ring, but mine having yours off-balance and vulnerable.
Round 2: I challenge, I win, you narrate my character punching yours repeatedly (which was my character's action), but yours still holding onto the ring.
Round 3: I challenge, I win the round and the overall contest, you narrate. I'm stomping your character but he's curled up fetal around the ring.
In negotiation, I propose that you just give me the goddamn ring already, but you'd rather be exhausted or injured, so I injure you.

Fine, I say. I stomp you unconscious. No way! you say. I stop you! And off we go again. Notice that a) the situation and our investment in it has escalated, it's not a simple repeat, and b) pretty soon you'll fear for your character and negotiate with me, or die. (After all, I just won 3 straight rounds against you, and that was before I took some of your dice away.)

Take home point: how you get the ring is to seize it when you're the answerer, because that's when you have the narrative authority to do so, and hold onto it until the end.

The answerer is the one with the power to decide things. The winner is the one with the stick. When you answer and win, you're golden (but it's the least likely outcome). When you challenge and win, you try to use the stick to get what you want. When you answer and lose, you get hit with the stick or else give up what you want.