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Author Topic: Disabling Pawn Stance and Enforcing Character Beliefs on Action  (Read 15453 times)
GnomeWorks
Member

Posts: 15


« on: April 06, 2009, 03:42:44 AM »

Hi, new here; well, okay, I registered around a year ago and been lurking on and off, but this is my first post. Anyway, let's cut to the chase, ya?

I hate the crap out of pawn stance. Hate, hate, hate it. I hate the idea of a player using the character as nothing more than an avatar. It's so very MMO-like, and really, in my opinion, this is exactly the opposite of how things need to be done in an RPG.

I'm not a fan of author stance in general, though, either.

At the same time, though, completely dividing the player from the character can create too much of a disconnect. If the determinants of a character's actions are purely mechanical, then the player can - theoretically - simply make a bunch of rolls in said system and send it to the GM, and never even sit at the table. The character's actions play out regardless of the player's wishes, and so it becomes a lot less like an RPG and more like a movie.

The ideal, I think, would be a system that can enforce the character's beliefs on the player, but simultaneously allow the player to force the character to take an action even if it's against the character's ethos/beliefs/whatever.

I've had this discussion with some of my co-developers (yes, there is a system being built behind this question, so it's not just a pointless inquiry), and the consensus has been largely against any kind of rules support for a character's beliefs, for whatever reasons... I don't recall them, perfectly. Anyway, the system we concluded our discussion with looks like this...

Basic Idea
A character's beliefs are defined in pairs of opposing ideas. Think Pendragon, sort of, though I'll admit I had some issues wrapping my head around that system. So, for instance, responsibility and freedom are opposed "virtues." If that opposed pair doesn't quite make sense to you, don't worry, there are plenty of concerns of that nature to go around; right now we're working with a rather ill-defined virtue set, some of which don't make much sense.

If you've ever played the Magic CCG, this next part will sound familiar: virtues are divided into five groups, which - for right now - are based on colors. There are eight virtues in each color, four of which oppose a different color (so white, for example, has four virtues that oppose red, and four that oppose black). This is important because a character's beliefs are measured in two ways - once for a general feeling regarding an "ethos," which is the color as a whole, and again for each specific virtue. The sum of a character's strength of belief in a virtue is the ethos value + virtue value. It's possible for this result to be 0 (which is where the scale bottoms out), though I'm not yet sure what that means.

There are then three ways to determine how a character acts, when a virtue set comes into play (exactly what constitutes requiring determining what the character does is another area of contention - any advice there would be rather awesome). As it stands, all three of these methods are valid ways of doing things, and - for the moment - it is presumed that all three co-exist in the system.

(1) Each virtue has a static value assigned to it. Act according to the one that has a higher value.

(2) Each virtue also has some random number generators assigned to it. Roll them; whichever one ends up with a higher value wins. Virtue values can increase in this method (but not in method 1).

(3) Act in accordance to the virtue with a lower static value. That virtue's value goes up drastically more than in the case of rolling - we're trying to represent the character's beliefs changing drastically, here, because the player is simply choosing to act against the character's beliefs. It's like an anarchist suddenly waking up one day and wanting to be a cop, with no rhyme or reason.

The idea of ramifications of choice 3 has been thrown around, and I've met with great resistance on that topic, but making option 3 have negative ramifications elsewhere in the system seems the only way, to me, of at least hobbling the viability of author/pawn stance. The problem becomes that I have no idea how to implement such ramifications, nor what they would be; if it seems like that's the best course of action here, then I can go into more detail regarding the system as it stands, and hopefully a solution can be found.

The more this system pushes towards actor stance, the better, really. I don't know if this does that; I think it might be going towards it, but I'm not sure how much it encourages it.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Questions? I realize that I may need to provide more detail to allow for more reasonable discourse, so feel free to ask.
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Ayyavazi
Member

Posts: 127


« Reply #1 on: April 06, 2009, 06:29:31 AM »

Hey there,

The way I see it, those three ways of doing things are fairly valid. They encourage the player to play the character as they have made him, and then allow for growth in the right directions if the player changes their mind. I would suggest only that option one have a minimal gain to it. To me this is justified for the following reason:

If players never wanted to play differently than what they have created (which seems to be what you are going for) their virtues will never increase. Compared to the other options, that makes option 1 sub-par. Players are actually encouraged to choose the other two because no gains can be made from option 1. Now, one way to handle this is to decrease ignored virtues instead of increasing the used ones. So, if a player rolls to determine what they do, and it goes against their current virtues, then ignored virtues go down and used virtues go up. If they blatantly ignore a virtue, the change is similar, but more drastic. In this way, the only way to make an actual gain would be option 1, which is playing the character properly.

So I think your best bet is to make the value go up and down with options 2 and 3, and rise only with option 1. This increases player incentive to play the characters the way they design them, but still allows for the character to grow and change over time.

Hope that helps,
--Norm
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Luke
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« Reply #2 on: April 06, 2009, 07:07:49 AM »

Hey Gnome,

I understand that you don't like some terminological aspects of play, but what behavior do you want to encourage in the player? What do you want them doing at the table?

Right now, in this system, you are encouraging players to game a numbers system for maximum benefit. Nothing that you've presented encourages a player to take the reins and play out a character's belief.

-L
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GnomeWorks
Member

Posts: 15


« Reply #3 on: April 06, 2009, 07:15:34 AM »

I want to encourage the player to act as the character would, in whatever situations arise in-game.

However, at the same time, I recognize that there will be a lot of irritation if the system forces that kind of thing, so there also has to be the opportunity to not act according to character.

If I haven't managed to accomplish that, with what I've got here, then I suppose that means that there's something I'm not grokking. Is there a way to do it, reasonably?
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mjbauer
Member

Posts: 115


« Reply #4 on: April 06, 2009, 09:02:42 AM »

I hate the crap out of pawn stance. Hate, hate, hate it. I hate the idea of a player using the character as nothing more than an avatar. It's so very MMO-like, and really, in my opinion, this is exactly the opposite of how things need to be done in an RPG.

I had no idea that there was a name for this, is there an article where these different stances are explained?

I'm actually considering using the pawn stance for a game. The character would have Strength and Agility but no Intelligence.  In some ways it's simpler and makes more sense. There's no need to rationalize the disconnect between a character's and a player's intelligence. It's like acknowledging that the game is simulation of your player's reactions and decisions in the context of new setting. Any deeper analysis definitely starts to put holes in the concept, but it's interesting to think about, at least.
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Luke
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« Reply #5 on: April 06, 2009, 12:40:53 PM »

I want to encourage the player to act as the character would, in whatever situations arise in-game.

However, at the same time, I recognize that there will be a lot of irritation if the system forces that kind of thing, so there also has to be the opportunity to not act according to character.

If I haven't managed to accomplish that, with what I've got here, then I suppose that means that there's something I'm not grokking. Is there a way to do it, reasonably?

Oh my, you're questing for the immersionist Holy Grail.

Okay, work with me. Let's do a small RPG design exercise.

Imagine that there is no character, there's only the player and his behaviors and decisions. Now, given that, try to restate your goal.

-L
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GnomeWorks
Member

Posts: 15


« Reply #6 on: April 06, 2009, 02:33:17 PM »

Quote
Oh my, you're questing for the immersionist Holy Grail.

Okay, work with me. Let's do a small RPG design exercise.

Imagine that there is no character, there's only the player and his behaviors and decisions. Now, given that, try to restate your goal.

Ha! Figures. I'm not surprised that it's considered that.

I'm not sure if I get your example. The player is playing him/herself? In this instance, so long as the character has exactly the same life experiences as the player (nigh impossible, but not entirely so), this is totally acceptable.

If the player is acting as him/herself, then their actions need to line up with their past experiences - however, it is also possible for a person to suffer a sudden ephiphany regarding their beliefs, and as such they would also reasonably be able to change their beliefs on short notice.

Am I following you, or did I miss the point?
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Luke
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« Reply #7 on: April 06, 2009, 08:13:48 PM »

Sorry, I should have seen that one coming.

No. Check it out. You want to encourage the player to act as the character would. Okay, I grok that, but I think breaking it out is going to help you. So, the character never "would" do anything. The character doesn't act. The character doesn't exist outside of some notes on a piece of paper. It's nothing more than that sketch. There is no "situation in-game." There's only talking between the players. The player plays an RPG with that piece of paper in front of him, staring at those numbers and notes.

That's a very formalist view of a roleplaying game. I want to use that formalist structure to break your game down so you can tell me what players do at the table with your game. What's your game about? What keeps a player engaged? How does a player act on that engagement? It's not enough to say that you want the player to make difficult moral decisions. Technically, D&D has those mechanics built into alignment. But morality in D&D is a joke, right? Even if you see the in-game situation as your paladin would, it still doesn't ring true. You want something more. You want something that grabs the player's guts and squeezes. To get there, you need to look at your process of play and what types of behaviors it encourages. You've got to not only develop your fictional situations and your supporting mechanics, but you need to think very carefully how to get the player invested in these decisions.

It's freaking hard!

Hope that helps.
-L
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otspiii
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« Reply #8 on: April 06, 2009, 09:08:38 PM »

I think it depends a good deal on individual personality, but I think extensive morality rules can cause a moral disconnect between character and player.  When you build guidelines like you have and punish the player for not following them you're basically building a morality robot.  The more rules for morality you have the more a character's actions are dictated by those rules and the less they are by the player's image of the character.  Hopefully the two will be fairly close to each other, but they'll never quite be able to represent each other completely.  I think a morality rule-set should be pretty good for encouraging consistent character action, but I think it might actually work against immersion for the players themselves.

I do think that morality rules can help encourage character-player empathy, but I think they need to be mechanics-light.  Their job should be more to force the player to think about their character's beliefs than to mechanically force the player to act them out.  If the player has a good idea of what their character's beliefs are like they'll probably stay accurate to them, mechanics or not.  If they aren't the extra rules won't make them empathize more with the characters, they'll just forcefully dictate moral actions for the character with minimal player input.
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greyorm
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« Reply #9 on: April 07, 2009, 01:11:14 AM »

This reminds me in a way of something Ron stated some time back about Sorcerer, about the manner in which people would play the pre-gen characters for games at conventions, and how no two players of the same character would ever play the character the same way or make the same decisions.

When Ron would ask a player afterward why they had the character make a particular choice, the answer was always "because that's what the character would have done" and the player would explain exactly how the character's personality, desires, and background as listed on the sheet clearly led to their particular, unique decision for that character.

Your problem seems a lot like that, and your solution as though it is trying to describe how a character WOULD REALLY be played, so you can judge whether or not the character is being "appropriately" played...when the problem may well be that you're trying to find a solution to a problem that doesn't exist--that is: there is no "would really" deterministic model to judge from.

That is, in the above example--despite the unique decisions and methods of playing a specific character by different individuals--no one actually "did it wrong". So, it seems rather that you want people to role-play more, that is to get more into character and make character-centric decisions (and try to avoid OOC thinking). You want to encourage Actor stance.

But I'm not sure your proposed solution will achieve that.

I wonder if this might be more a social contract issue and less a mechanics issue--though I can't discount a using mechanical impetus towards use of Actor stance, either. I say that as, first, I'm not a fan of Actor stance so I've never tried to design such a thing, and second, I design and play games that encourage Pawn and Author stance so I would think it isn't entirely an issue of the behavior at the table (given it isn't in those cases).

Still, I think it is important to any eventual solution for you to separate out "would really" thinking (if indeed that is a part of the issue, as it seems to appear) from the goal of creating more in-depth role-playing/encouraging acting, because I think the one muddles the achievement of the other. Though as noted, I may be wrong about what you're expecting or perceiving, so feel free to ignore this if it isn't germane to working yourself towards a solution.
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GnomeWorks
Member

Posts: 15


« Reply #10 on: April 07, 2009, 02:09:48 AM »

So, the character never "would" do anything. The character doesn't act. The character doesn't exist outside of some notes on a piece of paper. It's nothing more than that sketch. There is no "situation in-game." There's only talking between the players. The player plays an RPG with that piece of paper in front of him, staring at those numbers and notes.

Sure, yep, this is the situation as it is. We want to go from here to some kind of immersion-thing.

Quote
What's your game about? What keeps a player engaged? How does a player act on that engagement?

The game as I envision it is not "about" anything. This is a phrase that seems to be used fairly often to describe RPGs, and it is not a concept that I grok. An RPG, in my mind, does not come with an "about," save that which the players and GM decide to give it.

Engaged? We play for the sake of playing, because it is an interesting thing to do. The idea that there needs to be more to it than that is somewhat baffling. Your third question here is something that I'm not even sure how to answer.

Quote
Technically, D&D has those mechanics built into alignment. But morality in D&D is a joke, right? Even if you see the in-game situation as your paladin would, it still doesn't ring true.

The alignment system in D&D is rather full of fail, yes.

Quote
It's not enough to say that you want the player to make difficult moral decisions. ... You want something more. You want something that grabs the player's guts and squeezes. To get there, you need to look at your process of play and what types of behaviors it encourages. You've got to not only develop your fictional situations and your supporting mechanics, but you need to think very carefully how to get the player invested in these decisions.

...what?

Somewhere along the line, I think you started attributing motives to what I'm trying to do, that aren't actually there.

"Difficult moral decisions" for the player? I don't care about the player's mindset; the player is irrelevant, save in the instances wherein player direction is required to determine the character's course of action. The mechanical construct that is the character requires a person behind it. At the same time, the player creates the mechanical construct that is the character and interacts with the world through it, with their choices hopefully being influenced by the personality and beliefs of the character. But the player empathizing with the character? Not a design goal here.

I have no interest in twisting the players. If something is a difficult decision for the character to make, insofar as that is a quantitatively-defined sort of difficulty, that is one thing. But the player's opinions or emotions regarding the matter border on the irrelevant.

Quote from: otspiii
Their job should be more to force the player to think about their character's beliefs than to mechanically force the player to act them out.  If the player has a good idea of what their character's beliefs are like they'll probably stay accurate to them, mechanics or not.

Or would they? I'm not so sure. I think there would still be players that would buck against what their character would do, no matter how well they understand their character's beliefs.

These are the sort of people that I've been keeping in mind when trying to puzzle through this. That, and potentially new players who have never dealt with a tabletop RPG before; they may not necessarily have the depth of experience to grok how to separate their characters from themselves. We've got to enable that kind of distinction and help make it clear.

Quote from: greyorm
Your problem seems a lot like that, and your solution as though it is trying to describe how a character WOULD REALLY be played, so you can judge whether or not the character is being "appropriately" played...when the problem may well be that you're trying to find a solution to a problem that doesn't exist--that is: there is no "would really" deterministic model to judge from.

Sufficient knowledge and analysis of an individual's personality and past life experience would most likely be able to produce a relatively accurate probabilistic spread of probable actions given certain types of stimuli.

Yes, reality is a lot more complicated than can be reasonably modeled. The system is a rough abstraction; we do not understand enough about ourselves, in the real world, to even begin accurately modeling how fictional persons in a fictional setting would react to fictional circumstances. But we have rough ideas, and that is what this is meant to be. It would be impossible to attempt to catalog every possible kind of situation and set of stimuli and cross-reference them to every kind of belief to produce a predetermined result; thus, the compromise is a vaguely-deterministic system that also allows for player overrides.
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Ayyavazi
Member

Posts: 127


« Reply #11 on: April 07, 2009, 04:37:14 AM »

Hey there Gnome,

Just wondering, but did anything in my post help you at all? It sort of got lost in your discussion about game motives and such. I'm just wondering if what I suggested sounds feasible or not to you, and whether you have any questions about my suggestion.

As for your player being irrelevant, I think thats not a problem at all. however, I think you are trying to aim your game at both simulationsists and at other types. As I understand, a Simulationist will have no problem getting in character and playing that character the way they think it should be played. Their decisions will rarely stray from their character's expected decision unless mechanically coaxed to. What I mean is this: a simulationist playing a paladin D&D has a strong mechanical urge to constantly look the other way while grave robbing and killing take place. If they didn't, their character would suffer and be almost un-playable. However, gamists and narrativists have no automatic loyalty to the way a character thinks, or at least, no to the degree a simulationist does. So, don't  worry about making your game for them. Make your game for simulationists, and state clearly what is expected of the player.

As for being worried about new players not grokking it, Thats where your mechanics should lightly coax them in the right direction, that is, acting as the character would, as they have made it. Again, I think my above suggestion for virtues changing up and down if ignored, and only going up for "accurate character portrayal" lends a stong enough push toward playing the character accurately from the sheet.

hope that helps,

--Norm
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Callan S.
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« Reply #12 on: April 07, 2009, 05:04:36 AM »

Hi GW,
I want to encourage the player to act as the character would, in whatever situations arise in-game.
Does the GM decide whether the character would do that/whether it's in character, or does the player?
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Luke
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« Reply #13 on: April 07, 2009, 05:27:09 AM »

Gnome, forgive me for chuckling as I read your response. You made me smile.

Apparently, I've gone too deep into design speak for you. I apologize. I'm going to push it a bit further, though.

Based on what I'm reading from your posts, you seem to be at odds with your own design.

You indicate your game isn't "about" anything but you laid out a system of contrapuntal virtues and ethos around which the design is centered. If the game isn't about anything, why not just play poker and talk in funny voices? At least there's strategy to engage me there. You even cite Pendragon and then go on to assert you don't understand how games are about anything at all. I disagree. I think you understand what Pendragon is about, otherwise you wouldn't have set it as your baseline. All games are about something, even yours.

Your game lays out virtues like responsibility vs freedom. By definition that's an ethical or moral choice. Yet, you assert that, and I'm paraphrasing here, you're not interested in moral choices.

And I'll say it again: Characters don't make decisions, players do. Characters don't play your game, players do. A character is a set of numbers scribbled on a piece of paper, nothing more.

And how exactly do you think people make decisions? We make them on an emotional level. You intuitively recognize this by using virtues and ethos, but you're also denying this in your statements to me.

If you want to achieve your design goal, "a system that can enforce the character's beliefs on the player, but simultaneously allow the player to force the character to take an action even if it's against the character's ethos/beliefs/whatever." the first step is to induce your player to care about the "beliefs about opposing ideas." I think if you marry your impulses, you'll have a stronger design. I think if you remain at odds with yourself here, your design will reflect it.

-Luke
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Sindyr
Member

Posts: 795


« Reply #14 on: April 07, 2009, 06:33:16 AM »

Gnome, I think I undersatdn what you are getting at - and I think you may possibly have a problem in pursuing that in this community, and someone should probably step up and raise that possibility.

It shouldn't have to be said, but I will say it:  Everything that follows is either my impressions, my opinion, or both.  The same is true for everything everyone else says.

Also, the following by its nature is a generalization.  Generalizations aren't bad, they just are summations of populations that do not focus on the outliers.

The Forge isn't just an indie game community.  It's an indie game community with a certain overlapping shared basis of thinking about and coming at game design - or at least the active posters are.  They tend to focus on games that "go after" the players emotionally - they tend to value mechanics that encourage/enforce the player being highly emotionally involved in the process.  This can more times than not lead to games where the (player's) agony of defeat or loss - or the threat of such agony - is one of the main focuses.

Everything else - characters, attributes, alignments, dice, tokens, etc are tools to accomplish the emotional involvement of the player - again usually in a way that is less about enticement and entreaty (the "carrot") and more about the spectre of defeat and loss, and "emotional hostage-taking" (the "stick")

So when you are being asked about your game, it can be said to boil down to this: How do you motivate your players to want to do what you want them to?  How do you manipulate or coerce them to care about the character in the way that you want them to?

This is a basic design question that seems relevant to many Forge-ish game and game discussions that I have expereinced, and is rampantly prevalent as a substrate in most of the kind of design and fundamental approach to gaming here.

Personally, for me the most major warning sign is when they closed down the Theory forum.  Never did hear a good justification for that - just a repudiation of theory for theory's sake - which to me is no different from saying that you are not allowed to vote on issue affecting children unless you have one.  Ridiculous.  But that's my axe to grind.

Just wanted to give you fair warning based on my own experiences. (Actual play, as it were.) In this self-selecting group, I do not know that anyone is left at the Forge that would see the warts, much less point them out, so I felt obligated.  This place can yet have something to offer, but you have to know what you are walking into, to have the most benefit.

Feel free to PM me - I love game design discussion (why I spent a lot of time on the Theory forum before they shut it down) having been a gamer, GMer, modder and designer myself for over 30 years.

Cheers and good luck.
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-Sindyr
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