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Is it Force if you get consent?

Started by Abkajud, June 08, 2009, 09:56:34 AM

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I've been thinking about the concept of "forced" control of characters, of a sort, akin to the effects of Diplomacy skill or what-not, but used on PCs instead of NPCs. Generally, it's either seen as "sacred ground" or as non-sensical to use mechanics to dictate what a PC's emotional or mental state is; this is generally regarded as deprotagonization, big time.

But what if your Social Contract explicitly states "sometimes the outcome of the Fortune mechanics gives prompts or guides for a PC's behavior"? Before I continue, let me say that if any threads or games that come to mind, I would be more than happy to check them out, possibly sparing a repeat of this topic.

That being said, I've been wondering about the notion of guiding attitudes, not behavior - since Force, strictly speaking, is an act that limits a player's ability to make meaningful choices, I suppose that skills or magic or what-not that change a character's feelings, but not actions, might not be the same thing.

Consider: a usurper to the throne has been cornered by the PCs, who work on behalf of the king. They've been ordered to kill the usurper, but before they close in, he rolls his Oratory vs. their Wisdom to convince them that, with his men dead or fled, and his fortress destroyed, he's no longer a threat, and should be left alive. He succeeds, and now they don't want to kill him; it does seem like a bad idea, come to think of it! Notice: he can't do a damned thing to stop them from trying, but he can stop them from wanting to.

I'm working on a re-tooling of Mask of the Emperor that has a few skills like this, things that try to convince people, rationally or emotionally, to think or feel other than they do: Boasting, Augury, Oratory, Telling Lies, the Lyre, Craftsmanship, and Ritual. I think Telling Lies is probably the most interesting of the lot - it asks the players to pretend that they are unaware of information, and to act as though it is true, until their characters find out otherwise. The Lyre is probably the most akin to what I've described above: it changes how your audience feels about you. Craftsmanship is probably the most subtle: when your goal is to impress someone, not to create something of objective utility (not that choosing one priority compromises the other), the Craftsmanship roll vs. either Temperance (emo. self-control) or Wisdom determines if the character takes a desirable attitude towards the item.

I'm not ever going to tell a player what to do, but I could see myself saying, *roll, roll, roll* "You think he has a point. Work with that." Is this icky and Forceful?
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress -


Quote from: Abkajud on June 08, 2009, 09:56:34 AM
...Force, strictly speaking, is an act that limits a player's ability to make meaningful choices, I suppose that skills or magic or what-not that change a character's feelings, but not actions, might not be the same thing...


I'd have thought that a carefully developed character concept would narrow a players choices for their character. A thousand possible choices would be limited to a hundred, because the character would simply eliminate many of the options available (either considering these options as against their morals, too much risk given their abilities or against the common interests of the group).

I'd have thought that a well developed system for mental domination or social coercion wouldn't limit these hundred options to ten...instead it would open up a new hundred options. Certain acts that would have been thought immoral before would now be considered suitable, actions once thought too risky would now be considered valid options.

...and I think that's where I'd focus such a system, especially when dealing with emotional manipulation of people. This isn't a fine tuned "You will do this", instead it's a "you're more inclined to do this". For every choice that a character is disinclined to follow, they will be more inclined to follow another; and when dealing with really powerful social manipulators (or effects like Jedi mind tricks)...for every choice eliminated, another choice should be opened.

If you're using some kind of internal willpower mechanism for the game, then you can really make the choice more interesting for the players.

Allow a player the full range of choices, but skew their rewards for following different tasks. The player needs to spend a point to follow the original course of action, or they can claim a point if they follow the directions of their manipulator. This reduces the sense of deprotagonization because the players still have a full sense of choice.

I actually looked at something similar in my first game mechanism of the week. It wouldn't be hard to re-engineer the concept of the conscience bag, into a method for pursuing one's own choices versus the choices of the people exerting an external influence.

Just ideas...

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

Ron Edwards


I think I see two questions. The first is whether ceding authority over a character's feelings, desires, and even dialogue and action is being forced. We've discussed this extensively in the past and I think those threads reached some powerful conclusions. I even arrived at a pretty tight definition of something I called "Force" in order to discuss it. Let me know if you want some links to those threads.

Anyway, I think the answer to the first question is no ... if what we are talking about is literally ceding that authority. In fact, at the most basic level, I think people do this all the time in a painless, functional way, often without realizing it. I took a while to step back mentally and observe how many times people offered dialogue for my character, and how often, when I felt it was offered out of enthusiasm and not manipulation, I simply accepted it and perhaps even repeated it as if I had made it up.

What I called Force, though, was when the ability to "reach into" and "grab" others' characters was an accepted default aspect of play, usually centered on one person, and not subject to debate or negotiation. Good examples from my GMing past might be when a player said, "I just hit him," and I said, "Wait, before you do, that's when Princess Whatshername shows up and says ..." Or I said, "Before you do, you notice he's turned his force field on," or whatever. These are subtle examples because it looks like I'm merely describing the external features of the world and what other characters do, but on examination, you'll see that I'm really freezing the player's character in place and totally negating his in-fiction authority over his character's actions. *

Less subtle examples include simply telling other people what their characters feel, or overriding a resolution attempt by narrating the outcome instead of letting the player roll. Many games include skills like Diplomacy or Persuade without being very clear about exactly what that me, a GM, do with my NPC regarding directing other people's characters' actions. The rules are not overtly Force-ful, but they open a door to its use. We can call it "Lord Frazafrax uses Diplomacy to make your character Barbeer the Barbarian shake hands with his jerk son" all we want, but it's really me telling you what to do with your character.

Force doesn't have to be dysfunctional either. If we all say, "Bob the GM tells great stories, and we're along for the ride," then we all basically go into play knowing that the most consequential decisions and outcomes will be Bob's, however much acting-out our characters we may do along the way. If Bob is skilled, he can make us feel good about 'our' characters as he does it.

(It so happens that in my game Sorcerer, no such element exists. For instance, influencing others cannot dictate their actions. A successful roll to do so will at most inflict penalties if they do something else. That's an option if you really don't want Force of any kind in your game, which I totally didn't.)

One might well ask how game mechanics factor into this. I think the history of Persuade or Diplomacy or other similar skills has been a poor one. Various permutations of Sanity and Humanity, when they are supposed to serve as guides to how characters act, are only marginally more functional. On the other hand, a number of useful techniques cropped up with games like My Life with Master, in which emotions are definitely quantified, and The Mountain Witch in which relationships like Trust are quantified ... and again, they work well because they do not actually tell players what the characters absolutely must do, but only provide resources for certain avenues. Interestingly, Trust in TMW is useful both for alliance and for betrayal, so that is one of the best examples.

What you're describing sounds like it might do well with that principle in mind.

However, I do suggest that Telling Lies is a problem. A lie is a lie because what's said doesn't match with something else, and in fiction, that something else is an action or event, either past or present. So one lies with any influential or information-delivering skill; what makes it a lie isn't the telling but how the telling relates to something else. It seems to me that by having Telling Lies as a separate thing, you're introducing some redundancy.

Let me know if what I'm saying is helpful for you. It's hard to tell as I type.

Best, Ron

* When Force is exerted in a subtle fashion, particularly to keep events of play on a track that I as GM want them to, the technique is called Illusionism.


One thing I try to bear in mind with things like this is that people don't have perfect control over there own actions in real life. I may want to get up early tomorrow morning, but when the alarm rings I will encounter a coefficient of resistance in my own body and mind. Hopefully, I will have the will-power to manage, but there is a real possibility that if I am tired enough I may just fail.

I assume I don't need to go into too much detail on the effects of sexual attraction on human behavior. When it's over, or when she/he is no longer present, many an individual has found themselves wondering why in the hell they did this or  that.

In-Game, I am reminded of the time 5 characters piled into a 10x10 room in a dungeon and stayed there to heal up for 3 days. Now of course these were sweaty, grimy, covered-in-blood D&D characters staying in a poorly ventilated room. Were the I GM I'd have been imposing will checks and possibly creating morale-related penalties to behavior. But cabin fever would have been a real problem there. You can say I'm going to  stay put in this uncomfortable spot for 3 days, but actually doing so will require some genuine force of will. ...and you may fail.

So, I guess the question to me is whether or not you can reasonably construe forcing a character in terms of something a character might not have full control over themselves, and (more interestingly, I think) can you construe the possibility of acting in a certain way as a game challenge in itself.


Wow, lots to respond to, guys! :)

V, this is where I saw that we're on the same page:
Quote...and I think that's where I'd focus such a system, especially when dealing with emotional manipulation of people. This isn't a fine tuned "You will do this", instead it's a "you're more inclined to do this". For every choice that a character is disinclined to follow, they will be more inclined to follow another; and when dealing with really powerful social manipulators (or effects like Jedi mind tricks)...for every choice eliminated, another choice should be opened.

Exactly - this is saying, "Hey, how about..." rather than, "Do this. I'm the GM." I realize that this kind of thing has tremendous capacity for Force, or even mere Illusionism, but I've been working on a metagame mechanic that can bail a character out of any situation: the Oath. Essentially, by taking on a binding contract with a god, you can go from losing to just barely winning a challenge, but then you have to pay off your debt to the god or get smitten. Smoted. Whatever.
The skills I listed in the original post are all resisted using either Wisdom or Temperance (the latter being emotional fortitude, the former being mental on-the-ball-ness). If someone wants to charm you by pulling out the ol' Lyre, it's not up to the GM to say "You think it's amazing!" You have to roll. I'd like to think that this is actually proof against using Force for emotional responses - if the GM starts to indulge in some Force about your character's emotional or mental state, you can say, "Ahem. Roll for it!" That, combined with Oaths and the "Let it Ride" attitude from Burning Wheel (a really excellent device, by the way), should do a good bit to prevent this kind of Illusionism.
I'm actually really excited about Oaths, although I imagine they have tremendous capacity for abuse if the Hubris rules (the form that debt takes) are unclear or not used properly.

Ron, if the players have a clear way out, every time, I think that's
Quotenot actually tell[ing] players what the characters absolutely must do, but only provid[ing] resources for certain avenues.
I'd like to think of it as escalation, although I could see how it's actually unfair, instead - if there are potentially negative consequences for "opting out" of the situation, then it's arguably a form of entrapment, which would be worse than having no such "red button" mechanic at all.

Given that I haven't played these things out yet, there's no way to tell if this is going to be the case. For that matter, there's no over Mind Control, although if a player wished to burn off his Hubris in a Herculean manner, i.e. slaughtering his own family in a fit of madness, I'm not going to stop him from choosing that. Thirdly, the social-manipulation skills represent a fairly weak or narrow tool-box for the would-be Illusionist/Force-wielding GM; on top of that, Oaths mean that a GM has no choice but to draw directly on player choices if he wants to rain crap on them (literally, if he wishes).

Ron, I am curious, though, about the potential redundancy of Telling Lies, and I'd like to hear more about this:
QuoteA lie is a lie because what's said doesn't match with something else, and in fiction, that something else is an action or event, either past or present. So one lies with any influential or information-delivering skill; what makes it a lie isn't the telling but how the telling relates to something else.
- so, influence/information skills use lying because they introduce new information that contradicts the old stuff? I guess I'm not seeing the difference between genuinely editing the information (such as the info regarding a PC's attitudes towards someone) vs. blatantly stating, "The following is not true, players! But does your character realize that?"

I suppose the capacity to be "caught in a lie", after acting like a falsehood was true, is the difference - you establish a sort of temporary zone where people agree that something is true, but that zone is overrun the moment an action takes place that contradicts the falsehood sufficiently. Simply stating "that's a lie!" isn't enough - it would probably take some visual, physical reveal, or someone rolling an equal or higher margin of success (with Oratory or something) against those fooled by the deception.

Brimshack - hey, there! I don't see what you're describing as exerting Force in any way - you're drawing on the fairly straightforward, um, environmental factors, so what's the problem? If you told the players "you've got to get out of here", that's a problem. But if you just say, "Dear God, it stinks in here!", I see no harm in that.
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress -


Update - I've had a long talk with a gaming buddy, and I've come to the conclusion that I was trying to find a problem to go with my solution, i.e. the "passive" virtues of wisdom and temperance. The four classical virtues were used in some manner in Exalted, and I thought they'd look awesome as stats, but after Justice and Courage, I couldn't come up with anything more dynamic than what I'd already listed here, so...

A solution: given that there's no sort of Charisma, Diplomacy, or anything like that in the design, I'm going to stretch a little and say that Temperance is just that - the ability to get people to get along with each other when they may not have much reason to.

Given that only one skill relates to generalized knowledge or education, that's what Wisdom is going to become.
I'm still really intrigued by this discussion, but given that I've been mostly unable to come up with situations in which the players would actually be confronted with this sort of potential entrapment, it's all kind of academic. I think NPCs will use these virtues as mental "resistance" stats now, in addition to their new, central uses.

I'm still really intrigued by Ron's suggestion that Telling Lies is redundant; anyone who wants to chime in on that, please do so!
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress -


Sorry Ab,

I clouded my example. My point is that I would not simply accept that the character had decided to stay in the room. I would have required a will save with a graded set of consequences for failure, the most extreme of which is 'you lose control and walk out of the room.' ...Might implicate force there after all.


Sounds like Force to me! It could certainly be useful as a "so I think this would happen, and hey, maybe this is a good reason to say we're leaving the room", but at the same time, you could just as easily, and much more transparently, say "Okay, so when you're all healed up and ready..." >cut to next scene<
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress -


Could certainly go that route, but I think part of my concern is that I am skeptical that the characters in question could have stayed as long as they needed to in order to be healed. This struck me as an example of a situation where a player can simply say 'my character does x' where a real person would have real difficulty sticking to that decision. I also think the difficulty is interesting in itself and worth trying to model in some sense. It's instances like that that strike me as generating plausible grounds for the GM to reach in and say that a character may not do what the player intends.

...and of course this is really a reaction to the general topic of force; it may not be real helpful to the issue of lying. If this strikes you as a derail, then I am happy to discontinue it.


It relates to what is and isn't Force, so that's fine with me!
I think the priorities you're espousing center around being faithful to the Shared Imagined Space; as such, provided you have a coherent play group, I think the players would be cool with this. Gamist play might not work with it, as you're forcing the players out of their tactical fallback position.
It also sounds like you're getting hung up on an unspoken if/then condition: if it gets that smelly in here, then we'd have no choice but to leave at our first opportunity. If the players in the group disagree, and you "overrule" them, that's Force.
If you say, "hey, guys, once you're all patched up, let's get a move on," and make it a request or a plea to get a-moving, rather than making the chamber your new home, that's not Force.
If there are dice rolls, Resource expenditures, etc., related to getting ready to move again (like a medicine skill-check, f'r instance), then I would let the players do all that stuff they want to do and then encourage them to do something else. If they want to leave, good; if they want to roleplay about the situation, establish a little tension, desperation, hopelessness, or what have you, that's good too - I believe that's called a Bob, in Sex & Sorcery. A sort of holding pattern for a while, to give the Bangs and the charging-forward-through-the-plot a little more meaning, by contrast.

I think the problem comes along with this attitude:
Quotehere a real person would have real difficulty sticking to that decision
Not to be obtuse, but characters aren't real people, and we only need to do what we think "real people" would do if we want to. And everybody needs to be cool with that, or we're just bullying people along without their say-so, and that's a pretty overt show of Force.

Then again, imposing a penalty to dice rolls would be perfectly acceptable - if they accept a penalty to-hit in darkness without complaint, then this should be fine, too. As long as you don't make decisions for them, or tell them how their characters feel emotionally, or what their characters think, then you're good.
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress -


The if,then condition is neither unspoken nor a hang-up. It is explicitly the point of the example, and that point may be sound or not. Describing the thesis of my point as a 'hang-up' serves little purpose other than to poison the well.

My point is that there are times that a personal choice may be undone by failures of will-power. I have not argued that one must incorporate such factors into any RPG game, but I did analyze the example in terms of simulationist priorities. Of course other priorities may take precedence for different groups.

Moving onto the quote, I am well aware that characters aren't people and that we need not always model games on such matters. I have not suggested otherwise. My point is simply that there do exist moments in real life where a person may want to do one thing and end up doing another, and that the decision to incorporate such moments into a game may serve legitimate purposes. My example addresses a style of play wherein the GM is endowed with the authority to make a variety of decisions unilaterally, and argues simply for the reasonableness of treating this kind of problem as falling under that authority. What I have not done is to argue that any failure to do so constitutes bad gaming.

You say that everyone needs to be cool with the decision to model twhat characters do on what real people do. Fair enough, but at what stage is this done? From your initial responses, it seems clear that you consider group consensus in the session to be the only legitimate grounds for making such a decision. I assume this is the case with the game you are discussing, so once again I may be leading you off topic. But your categorical assertion that a GM making such a decision unilaterally is bullying seems more than a little unwarranted.

I am thinking of games in which the GM is empowered to decide on a variety of matters such as what foes a party will face and what powers the monsters will throw at them. So, assuming that a GM does have such authority and isn't usurping it altogether, I do not think it unreasonable to apply it to instances in which personal instincts for lack of a better word may get the better of personal judgement.

In such games a decision that a stench will compel a character to move away from it is no more tantamount to bullying than a decision that a given wall is too smooth to climb (or simply assigning a prohibitively difficult target roll for the act). Either way, a GM is in fact imposing an unwanted consequence on the player character.


"I know you wanted to climb the wall, but you failed the roll, so now you are still on the ground."


"I know you wanted to stay in the room, but having failed a will save, so you are unable to control yourself and move toward the exit."

A decision of that kind may be a sound reading of the situation or not (A GM may over-estimate the significance of a physical obstacle just as she may over-estimate the significance of a source of distress, but it is no more bullying the players than any of the other threats and obstacles imposed on them by the GM. Now if the GM is doing this with a group that expects to have consensus on all such judgement calls, then sure, that is a problem. But if the tacit assumption is that a GM can decide the circumstances in which your character falls and takes damage, then I see no reason she could not also decide the circumstances in which your character's will to execute a given course of action fails.


Fair points - my colors are showing, for sure!
That being said, I think that the PC's inner life is somewhat sacred ground - it's the area that is under the player's control, and no one else's. For his decisions to matter consistently, the final say on the inner life of a character must fall to that player. [note: I think that. Just my opinion]

I feel like we're arguing past each other, because we have underlying differences in our priorities for play. Generally, I place a lot of importance on designing rules to provide and magnify player choices, with only a nominal degree of internal consistency of physics and logic so as to maintain suspension of disbelief; the players making their mark on the landscape is the point. It sounds like you place a lot of importance on physical causality and the innate logic of it, and therefore abiding by this logic seems to be the point.

If I'm mischaracterizing you, I apologize, but given the lofty position you've afforded comparisons to real-world people, to willpower, etc., this seems apt.

My point in attempting to characterize you at all is to say this: it sounds like our Social Contracts and Creative Agendas are, or would be, very different at the gaming table. Given that, I don't think we can force a "translation" of these priorities and underlying assumptions into something useful; either one or both of us will have an a-ha! moment, or we'll both keep thinking, "Geez, what is this guy talking about?"
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress -


Whether it is "forced" or not, I think, is irrelevant.  The question we should be asking is "Does taking this control away from the player create fun?"  Ultimately people are gathered around the table to enjoy themselves.  They are there to play a game, not (in theory) to consider philosophical points regarding social contracts and implied consent.

In my experience, very, very few players enjoy themselves when control of their characters is taken away.  This could be through, say, a Charm spell ("You now view the Lich as one of your closest friends and should act accordingly.") or through social manipulation rolls.  This makes sense, I believe, when you realize that the fundamental mechanic of an RPG is acting out another character's existence, their actions and motivations.  By reducing the level of control the player has over their character, you detract from this core element.

Another gotcha is that if you allow Diplomacy/Persuade to work on PCs you are not just opening the door to the NPCs manipulating the players, but you might also be allowing players to manipulate players.  If one player has a plan and another player doesn't like it, the first player can just roll to make the other shut up.  It's a question of where you draw the line, I suppose, in terms of who gets to manipulate who, but simply not having this sort of thing work on the PCs to begin with neatly sidesteps the whole issue and, in my opinion, results in more fun.


Can't argue with that, V. Well said. I think "is it more fun" is one of those implied questions, one where we generally assume the answer is "no" for this kind of thing. I've actually done a 180 on the whole question of allowing this to happen in my design - increasingly, I've been unable to come up with any concrete scenario in which this would occur; I keep coming back to "he convinces you not to kill him" situations, and every one of them is much more suited to something the players would be doing to protect themselves from NPCs.

So yeah - just going to leave it as a non-option to control PCs in this way, especially because I want any and all PC conflict to be resolved through either "talking it out" or a physical struggle. If it comes to wrestling in the dirt, okay, roll some dice. In that kind of situation, I definitely want some neutral assistance in arbitration.

Something that comes to mind - I'm sure many or most of us have been in situations where the social conflict rules and/or stats have been ignored; it seems that, to avoid Force, we need to do this with NPCs, but not the player-characters. As in, never you mind what an NPC's Charisma score is; it won't come up.

An exception, of course, could be turning secondary good guys against the protagonists; so it's still worthwhile to map these traits for NPCs.
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress -