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[IaWA] Negotiating consequences based on circumstances

Started by Paul T, October 31, 2008, 10:54:48 AM

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Paul T

This is a rule application question that arose for me during a game of IaWA.

My character had a Best Interest to convince an illegal surgeon to stop from carrying out his work. We got into a conflict, and I won. What we negotiated was: I cut off his fingers!

Now things got a little awkward. It was a futuristic/sci-fi sort of thing, and we agreed during negotiation that it would be possible for him to "reattach" his fingers and regain their use. We were both on board with that, so it was fine. However, there was a little bit of awkwardness afterwards, because neither of us was sure how *quickly* or feasibly those fingers might be reattached or healed.

When I read the rulebook, I was very happy to see the bit about "negotiating future actions". Not only is it good advice, but it's great to have that in the book, so we can point at it during the game, should someone forget, and forestall that kind of argument. So that's awesome.

However, I was reading through a thread where Vincent mentioned something like this as a possible outcome:

"I lock you in the basement. If you come out, you have to roll d4 d4 against me."

This makes sense to me. Putting arbitrary restrictions on future decisions made by players? That's crap. But putting restrictions on the characters' ability to carry out certain tasks, that seems like it could work.

So, my question is:

Is it a bad idea to negotiate about future limitations on characters?

For instance, let's say we're fighting in a cave, and my Challenge is that I bring the ceiling crashing down on you. Can we negotiate circumstances into the future, like this:

"You're trapped under so much dirt that it will take you at least an hour to dig yourself out."

Or does that lead into the same bad territory as "how about you help me against Bob, later?"

In our game, could we have negotiated:

"I chop off your fingers, which means you won't be able to use your hands for at least a day?"

Of course, I know we can negotiate whatever we want--my question is, rather, "does that kind of negotiated outcome lead to problematic play, like negotiation about future actions?"

(I can also see a distinction about circumstances defined by the preceding fiction and new negotiated facts. For instance, I believe Mike Holmes brought up the example of leaving someone stranded on a distant island. If we had already established that a boat visits the island every 10 days, both players know exactly "stranded on a distant island" means. Likewise if we had already established that in our setting fingers could be regrown, but it takes 24 hours. This seems non-problematic.)

Thanks! Looking forward to more IaWA.


My gut reaction is to always make negotiated outcomes something that has a tangible effect upon the play of the game rather than on the world of the game.

That is to say, "Okay, so you're trapped in the cave and can't get out until after I go and confront Anna, so you can't jump in on our first conflict" is probably better than "Okay, so you're trapped in the cave for an hour."

The first one means that you all know what the outcome is going to mean, you know if you agree to it you can't go and help Anna. The second one... well, who knows how long it'll take you to find Anna, and what if she narrates an answer so that more than an hour passes in the middle of the conflict, can you join in then? If the guy has a day to reattach his fingers, what is that going to mean in terms of what else is going on in the story? What if in the very next scene someone says, "So the next day I'm hunting down Dufus McRude...." and now your negotiation maybe means nothing?

The other thing I'd say, as a personal preference thing, is that I'd even be a little shy of too many "Okay, so you're trapped in the cave and can't get out until after I go and confront Anna, so you can't jump in on our first conflict" type negotiations, as they tend to be about excluding or limiting input by denying choice. That's why the "you have to roll a d4 d4" is more interesting -- because you can still chose to do something, but the likely hood of getting hammered is pretty high. (Hell, with d4 d4 you're not even very likely to make the We Owe List from it.)

The other thing is to watch for resolutions that are overly contingent on situation. Like, what if you negotiate that and then something happens and now you aren't going to confront Anna? If its going to be the very next scene and everyone knows it, then maybe. But if its something that just might happen, and with the way Wicked Age stories tend to be pretty dynamic in unfolding who knows what will happen for sure or not, then its kinda a weak sauce resolution.

So yea: my advice is focus on the effect on the characters in the game, rather than staging it in terms of the world (so d4 d4 rather than "a day"), and focus it more on reduction of effect rather than blocking of possible actions.
- Brand Robins

Paul T

Quote from: Brand_Robins on November 01, 2008, 02:05:24 PM
That is to say, "Okay, so you're trapped in the cave and can't get out until after I go and confront Anna, so you can't jump in on our first conflict" is probably better than "Okay, so you're trapped in the cave for an hour."

I hear what you're saying. My fear with something like the above is exactly what you said: what happens now if I don't get to confront Anna at all?

So, maybe the best way in this case would be to say, "if you try to interfere with my conflict with Anna, you have to roll d4 d4."

It's still kind of weak sauce, though. And it doesn't help us at all in the case of the surgeon's fingers.

Hmmmm. Not sure about this one. Anyone else care to weigh in?


In the specific case of the surgeon's fingers, I'd probably say, "Screw negotiation, I hold you down and cut your fucking fingers off. That's an injury. Suck your dice down, boyo."

Cause really, when you really want to injure someone, why not just injure them? Then if he wants to put his fingers back on, he probably has to do another conflict to do it, driving the story forward, and even then he's still down on dice and more likely to be stomped later on. (Or to make the we owe list, as you know a surgeon without fingers is someone about whom I'd like to know more.)
- Brand Robins

Paul T

In that particular situation, what I wanted was to stop him from carrying out his work.

The problem was: we weren't sure whether cutting off the fingers would stop him carrying out his work or not. It seemed to me like it would be a major impediment. It seemed to him (I believe), that it would just mean narrating him sewing his fingers back on in the next scene.

Given the set-up in the fiction--my character essentially negotiated cutting his fingers off in exchange for being captured by another important PC--there would not have been any sort of conflict to re-attach the fingers: it would just happen.

So, the point is that we were really unclear about the ramifications of these consequences. And that felt really awkward!



Huh, I see.

Okay, to me that ambiguity there is one of the things that IAWA does well, and there are ways in which I think it was a mistake to step away from a fairly straightforward injury scenario.

I say this for three reasons:

1) I don't like best interests that can be resolved directly by winning a conflict, even a negotiated one.

2) When you want to stop someone from doing something, you injure or exhaust them until they either stop or get taken out of the game.

3) Combining 1 with 2 drives story forward, rather than resolving it overly patly.

So if you've a best interest of "Stop him from operating" I don't want the outcome of a conflict to be "I stop you" -- and it seems like you didn't either, as you cut off his fingers instead of saying "I stop you." But because you didn't follow number 2 and use the rules for injury (which, man, cutting off fingers REALLY seems like injury to me) things got hazy. What does it mean to him? To you? To future scenes? Who knows. Where as if he'd been injured, lost the dice, then its part of the fiction.

If he wants to keep operating he can, but he has to explain how he does it, what it costs, and has to know that he's now down dice and you could come back to stomp him again. He can reattach his fingers, maybe, but he's still down those dice -- there are clear and forward moving consequences that everyone can understand and see. And at that point the question of fingers or not, continue to operate or not, becomes something that can be more directly addressed by future actions, rather than a seat of uncomfortable miscommunication.

I think this ties in with what V was talking about in the other thread -- the dice/injury mechanic in this case would clarify that moment of interpretation. You say "I chop your fingers off" and he hears "but I'll put them back on and be back to normal." You say "I injure you, I cut your fingers off" he hears "Oh fuck, he's gonna take out my dice, this is serious and lasting!"
- Brand Robins


Hey Paul, is there some reason you didn't want to call it "I injure you"?


Paul T

Thanks for the responses!

(I agree with you, by the way. Were I to play again, I would probably choose the injury.)

Here's how it went down:

1. I didn't want to negotiate for injury because I thought that I wouldn't get to name the terms in that case. The book doesn't say anything about the narration of injury and exhaustion, and we'd assumed that, if anyone, the loser would be the one to do it.

Also, the surgeon wasn't particularly my character's enemy. I would have been happy to be friends with him if he agreed to stop his work. My main beef was with another character.

So, it seemed that reducing his forms wouldn't do much for me, in terms of moving towards my Best Interests, whereas cutting of his fingers was not only very fitting in that action sequence (I was swinging around a super-sharp weapon, he was bringing up his hands to defend himself), but seemed like it would do more for my character's Interests than straight injury.

I can see how the suggestion Vincent has brought up elsewhere ("let the winner describe the terms of injury/exhaustion") would change this dramatically, however!

The problem was that we weren't clear on what the consequences of that would be. The world and the setting hadn't been developed sufficiently for us to know how easy it might be to reattach someone's fingers.

2. I know talking about hypotheticals can get annoying pretty fast, but I can envision many similar situations where injury or exhaustion are not clear answers. For instance, let's say someone is planning murder. I want to stop them, so I break into their house and try to steal their gun (or whatever). Let's say we roll and my roll is higher. I say, "OK, how about we stop rolling now, but my character runs away, with your gun?"

How do you guys deal with this sort of situation? Some kind of communication has to take place between the players to sort this out, or someone's going to feel cheated.

Or is beating people up or tiring them out so absolutely central to the game that this subverts it? So, you really MUST injure or exhaust people to get what you want. That answer would be kind of disappointing to me, in a way: I like the idea of the negotiation being a way to transform potential violence into other cool twists in the story.





I think exhausting/injuring someone (or shaming, if you're playing a game that uses those rules) is the only sure way to get what you want. Like, if I really, really, really want to murder some NPC and you really, really, really don't want me to... well, the only way to resolve it may be for one of us to get taken out.

I've played a game with the "take your gun" example (it was a sword, not a gun, but same diff, right?). Someone did more or less what you posited, and ran off with said sword -- which in this case happened to be a Particular Strength. At first the guy whose sword was stolen was just going to go kill the guy with a knife, despite not having the PS dice, and the only reason he didn't was because in the next scene something in the world changed and suddenly he had reason to not kill the guy. (Specifically, an enemy empire invaded, and suddenly the two enemies had to work together if they wanted to save their families.)

If, before the curve ball from left field, we'd really really wanted to stop the guy from killing the other guy, we couldn't force him to by anything in the rules. Folks always have agency over their characters, right? He always gets to decide what his character does, unless we take it away from him. However, that curve ball changed everything. Narration is powerful like that, and often the biggest and best ways to stop someone without injuring/exhausting them isn't to beat them in a conflict and negotiate it out, its to frame scenes and narrate story elements that change the relations between the characters.
- Brand Robins