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[Mask of the Emperor] Setbacks and non-thematic content

Started by Abkajud, June 07, 2009, 12:49:45 AM

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We're closing in on the end of the campaign here, and I'm getting some thoughts together about how things have gone favorably and unfavorably.
I'm noticing that, because there's a lot of sneaking around, hiring criminals, and so on, the players never reveal their characters' identities, meaning that the Reputation rules don't get used hardly at all.
Complicating that, I keep having to tell one of my players "You can't add Infamy to your dice pool unless they know who you are!" I get the feeling that I really need to underscore "Declare who you are, then collect your Reputation dice!"
On top of that, my "Do something honorable to spend Honor; do something criminal to spend Infamy" rule isn't quite working out, either - given that there are almost no situations in which the PCs reveal their identities, it just doesn't jive with what I had going on.
I feel like I need to really beef up the benefits of being overt like this, to make the choice to stay "underground" more complicated. As my player, Victor, said, "If the game is about a couple of criminals who need to stay hidden, then this stuff won't come up. We're doing what the game doesn't really cover." It occurs to me that I've left things wayyy too open, as far as what kinds of characters the players can portray.
Eh, then again, this might just not be a great group to run this with - it seems like one player is really guiding the story, with his character's goal (to steal the infant Empress) pushing the plot along because the other player had no goals. If the other player had a defined "this is what I want to do", it might have been easier to keep her interested, and revert less often to "so, can I set up a criminal syndicate in this town?"
On the other hand, things did work really well for a while, until the characters had to go underground to avoid capture (for kidnapping Victor's slave-character). It kind of makes me want to put together two different power levels - one for mooks, and one for named characters. You can turtle as a mook for a while to keep off the radar, but if you want any kind of power available to you, you must declare who you are. Alternate identities, of course, could help you get around this, but someone who insists on consistently being a face in the crowd should pay for it.
I think this could work for the forbidden Sorcerers, as well - you must either isolate yourself or just choose carefully when and where to reveal your true name and clan (or what-have-you), lest those who'd want to kill you come right out and get you.

One other possibility: maybe turtling weakens you, over time - you could burn up Reputation points for extra dice, but maybe that limits how much power you'll have once you go public again? I dunno - the game is about honor, reputation, and "Don't you know who I am?" If your PC sidesteps all that, there should be consequences. At the same time, if you brazenly declare yourself and pursue vendettas and clan objectives all over the place, that should escalate things, big time, leading to huge confrontations - this isn't a bad thing though, as the first few sessions were all about some serious escalation, and it was awesome. Lying low wasn't fun - the players weren't hindered by it, which could have lured them back out of hiding again, or they might've drummed up support among the rabble, or something.

Any suggestions on making it painful to conceal who you are?
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress -

Callan S.

What leaps to mind is that their 'hidden' actions are as much a persona as their in public actions. I think cyberpunk suggested this once, one rep for public face, one rep for masked face.

They don't even have to really be a persona, so much as a sort of half felt, whispered force, the thing mothers scare thier children with. Remember all the names Gandalf was known by - he had more weight as the myth he'd become (well, more like he'd had attached to him). Now if you increase the hidden factor, so it's practically all myth and no concrete sightings, it works in a perverse way. Rather than make it painful to hide, let the war/conflict of honour and infamy be one that is amongst the shadows.

Philosopher Gamer

Eero Tuovinen

You could approach your issue from a different direction as well: what if, instead of asking for ways to make players reveal and revel in their characters's reputations, you made it so that the issues of honor and dishonor were inescapable? For example, you could have two parallel systems, internal and external honor - the idea would be that each important situation would activate one of those, but the player could choose which one. The internal system could deal with how the character himself feels about his deeds, akin to something like Pendragon, perhaps, while the external system would work more or less like the stuff you have now. The point here would be that you'd give the players interesting reasons for going either way: they could skulk around incognito and engage the internal system, whatever you create for that, or they could play their character highly public. Or they could mix and match; the important thing is to make the two systems engage a common reward cycle that makes the game into an integrated whole. I would find the choice more interesting if it were a choice between two powerful subsystems instead of a choice between engaging the mechanics or not engaging the mechanics like you have here.

For an example of this sort of approach, see Nine Worlds. It has an interesting pure-bred parallel system wherein all actions are judged in their relation to the will of the gods, with each choice activating a different subsystem. I find that sort of set-up interesting.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


It's dawned on me that the players and the GM are already the audience; thus, there are built-in spectators who can appreciate the moral meanderings of the PCs.
Which means I'm going to segue into something based more on that, and on tale-telling: adapting the system to be all about Glory, and severe consequences for opting to keep one's light under a bushel, so to speak. I think that holding up Virtues for personal morality (used as add-ons to dice pools, or standalone stats) and having them act as a source for Glory, which is akin to public "morality", i.e. reputation and renown. For that matter, Virtues would be measured in dice, while Glory only comes in points.

Taking things in a very Greek direction, I've been tinkering with the idea of Hubris for a while - reminiscent of Paradox from Mage, you can opt to take on Hubris points for a brief advantage, but you eventually have to work them off, i.e. suffer divine wrath. As often as possible, Hubris would manifest in ways that befall allies and resources first, and the character itself only as a last resort - make the PC suffer without killing him, eh? This, in turn, necessitates the creation of relationship webs of one sort or another; I need to read up on more of that.

I also really want to tinker with allowing one's adversaries to receive Hubris: get your ass kicked now, but know that something nasty is going to befall your opponent for his wicked ways (you have to do something fucked up or blasphemous to merit Hubris). Not quite sure how to limit this, at least in terms of avoiding Deus Ex Machina. Then again, to be lying on the ground bleeding and have your opponent struck down by his own overweening pride could be pretty sweet.
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress -


I don't know too much about the system, but assuming characters can advance, what if they MUST become public to gain experience and new powers? So, going underground becomes a bit like going into the dungeon in OD&D. Good for getting stuff done, but to advance, you need to come up for air and be yourself, so to speak.


Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress -


Brimshack...awesome idea.

Almost the polar opposite of what I need for my game, and that's what makes it inspiring.

Reversed, I get big flashy stuff in the public eye; but if you want to actually improve, you need a bit of introspection, contemplation and meditation...which fits my game well.


A.K.A. Michael Wenman
Vulpinoid Studios The Eighth Sea now available for as a pdf for $1.