Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.

Main Menu

[The Hellenes] mental/social wounds and player agency

Started by Abkajud, July 01, 2009, 07:19:47 AM

Previous topic - Next topic


[cross-posted at]
Since one design led right into another, I have a lot of holdovers from Mask lurking in The Hellenes.

Case in point, here's an excerpt from my latest version of the rulebook:
Mental Wounds, which bruise the ego more than the flesh, heal differently – be sure to write down whoever caused your character a mental Wound. At any time that you are able to get revenge on that person for humiliating you, roll the Wound's value; each success you get on the roll knocks one point off the Wound's value. In this way, you might not be able to salvage your pride all at once, and will need to prove yourself again and again
What I'm worried about here is that I'm holding a player hostage to the dice - if he doesn't roll well enough, he's stuck with a penalty to social or mental activities, which might even make it harder to seek revenge in the first place.
Any suggestions?
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress -


What are you trying to simulate using this mechanism?

Perhaps players could have a pool of self-respect, possibly even their ego.

Such a pool might work like an endurance stat for physical wounds in many other game systems.

A high ego/self-respect, makes it harder to been mentally/socially wounded. It also allows characters to laugh off minor insults at low levels or even ignore major mental impacts at higher levels.

Once wounds do get through, a player might roll against this pool in some way to restore their mental balance (at the end of a scene, or at the end of a story). But along the way, they might get extra chances to roll against this pool if they encounter the source of their humiliation and get adequate revenge.

Otherwise, the way your mechanic currently stands, it looks like a downward spiral from both parties.

Alexander insults Laertes. Laertes takes a mental wound.
Laertes gets an insult back at Alexander. Alexander does take a mental wound, but Laertes only gets a chance at regaining his mental composure.
Alexander tries to regain his composure and insults Laertes again. Laertes may be a second point down, while Alexander only has a chance of restoring his first point.

If the cycle continues, the pair if them end up in a death spiral, eventually with no ego left because they've worn away each other's self-respect completely.

But hell...this might reflect the type of narrative that you're trying to present through the game.

Maybe characters can regain their self-respect by accomplishing other types of feats (successfully facing a hydra, or other story antagonist). They might find it easier to regain a bit of respect by confronting those who humiliated them in the past, but this is only one of the possible options available to restore mental equilibrium.

Just a thought...

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


I realized the death-spiral aspect, yeah. One thing I'm going to try out is Tricks - if your character plays a Trick on someone, he can inflict a mental Wound and, if needed, can heal some or all of his own mental damage, depending on how successful the Trick is.

I wonder what this could do for/to the tone of the game?

Overall, I'm not so sure if I want or need to have social combat, anyway. It was and still kind of is a dream of mine to pull that off successfully, but it isn't at the core of what this game is about.

Still, the idea of mechanically fueling a tit-for-tat between rivals seems interesting <-- that's what I'm trying to simulate.
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress -


I would actually say that having high Ego would mean you have a lot of energy you could dedicate to getting revenge, but you have a damned hard time ignoring slights.
Someone with low Ego wouldn't be able to come up with vengeance-schemes quite so easily, but he probably wouldn't care in the first place. Mine is more of a Buddhist perspective on Ego/self than a Freudian one, though.
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress -


Quote from: Abkajud on July 02, 2009, 05:48:20 AM
Mine is more of a Buddhist perspective on Ego/self than a Freudian one, though.

But would the game benefit from something that takes a Freudian or a Buddhist perspective? It might be worth considering the source material.

Valid point though, and I've conceded that these two options could be used to simulate different psychological profiles.

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

Ron Edwards

Assuming that you're keeping this at all, it's a pretty painful mechanism. OK, I'm wounded, so I'm penalized. I have to make my roll which is penalized in the first place, and all I get is reducing the Wound. I have a long way to go and the first part of it is the largest hump.

Again, if you want something here along these lines, how about this: the Wound operates as a Wound, for most purposes. But if I'm seeking revenge on that person, the very same value acts as a bonus instead, and if I succeed, the Wound goes away.

Now you can bet I'll practically be begging to get my ass Mentally Wounded this way in play.

Best, Ron


Thank you, Ron!
Good idea. This goes particularly well with the Glory mechanic over at - to sum it up, every time you pull of a kick-ass stunt and earn a Glory point, you get an extra die for all pools for use against your rivals. If you include the values of any mental Wounds done to you by a particular rival, you could get a real Vengeance! thing going on.

As it stands, almost all social skills are tied to influencing or manipulating people, based on what kind of relationship they have with your character (familial, friendship, strangers) - I'm thinking if you're using the skill to convince them to help you towards getting revenge, you can still use them normally. But for anything else, you get a penalty.
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress -


How about this, V:

We'll go with the Buddhist definition, kinda, of "ego", for the sake of Stoicism - Ego becomes a character trait, and the points put into it (rating of 1-5, usually) must be divided between the sub-traits Barbs and Noble Bearing.

Barbs is your social "offense" stat - you can use it to humiliate (inflicting mental Wounds), or to goad an unfriendly rival (one who wouldn't listen to you at all) into action.
Noble Bearing is for social "defense" - used to resist Barbs. Naturally, a player who wants his character to suffer the Wound, becoming that much more powerful against a particular rival, would gladly take it. Secondly, a PC doesn't actually lose control and behave recklessly just because he fails a Noble Bearing roll; rather, the situation plays out such that he loses face from the interaction. It's up to the player whether or not his character actually takes this opportunity to go right for the throat.

Thoughts? My only concern is that this makes things too complicated. I guess it's not too bad; all you have is an attack stat, a defense stat, and a form of damage and its effects. I dunno - it's something that I think could provide an alternate way of driving the story - if your character isn't particularly Glorious, he could always be thin-skinned instead, and seek vengeance for such slights, real or imagined. NPCs don't get the boost from suffering insults; they already have all the motivation they need (if we wish it) to get back at someone for insulting them!
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress -


Something occurs to me; if damage is a bonus, then perhaps ego can be used in a different way: Suppose that you have a social health stat (bearing) that is the same size for everyone, but the damage you take is dependent on your own ego score. As I'm sure you can see, this means that the person who is easier to insult will get a bigger motivational bonus on vengence, but can take far fewer insults. Everyone can dish it out but can't take it, unless they are meek and low ego'd.

Now if your not careful, this system could mean that high ego means high bearing recovery, which I don't like that much; it's not much of a tradeoff. On the other hand, in a way the ego could be just like a personal dial scaling the effect of the social wounds system on play. So if your not into that element that much you could just lower the value.


JW, I'm not sure I am clear on what you're proposing. Could you give me more information? It sounds neat.

Overall, I think that a low Noble Bearing character belongs to a player who wants to be very vengeance-driven, and is cool with focusing a lot on settling scores.

Someone with high Barbs belongs to a player who wants discord and bad blood to be a big part of play.

Someone with high Noble Bearing belongs to a player who would rather be "true blue" - he keeps himself out of the muck, and can make more thin-skinned heroes look foolish or petty, by contrast. Okay, so he doesn't have to *really* stay out of the mud; he could just be pulling a Machiavellian "appearance of virtue". I like!

With these things in mind, I want to introduce a sort of Super-Kicker: the Insult. It's a group-approved situation-starter that has caused the discord driving the conflict, and the injured party can be *anyone* in the setting. Players derive their individual Kickers from it. I think that setting up the Situation in this way puts the group in the right mindset about the complete and utter touchiness of ancient gods, heroes, and kings.

For example: King Minos of Crete, who is busy fighting Athens to secure his throne, chooses to skip a key sacrifice to Poseidon. The would-be offering, a bull, is then ensorcelled by the sea-god to be irresistible to Minos' queen, Pasiphae; she mates with the bull, producing the Minotaur. (The Insult is done to Poseidon)
Individual Kickers:
- Minos needs a place to hide this horrid monster - Daedelus (a PC) is hired to design a grand Labyrinth for this purpose. Upon the project's completion, Daedelus and his son Icarus are thrown into a dungeon by King Minos, that they might never reveal the secrets of the maze, or the Minotaur's origin.
- Athens, defeated by Minos' armies, is made to offer tributes to the Minotaur, in the form of seven young men and seven virgin girls, every nine years. Theseus, a heroic youth (and PC) is among this year's sacrifices, currently bound for Crete.
- Ariadne (a PC), has a very simple Kicker: she sees the Athenian tribute-ship arrive, and falls in love the moment she lays eyes on Theseus.
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress -


My idea is that instead of ego getting put on a higher and more abstract level (and things on that level tend to get cut from games over time), I thought about how to build that barbs/noble bearing tradeoff in one mechanic. So it works like this:

Say you can take 10 damage whereas someone else can take 5, this means you can take 10 hits of one damage each, and the other player can take 5 of those hits. So say you've both taken 4 hits, then you both take a -4 to everything except vengeance, when you get +4, and the guy with lower noble bearing is at more risk (of whatever happens when it runs out). The thing is, you may not be able to go all the way to your ten anyway, because your too shaking with rage to do anything else (the minuses on normal action) and have to take up the issue.

So what if both of you have 10, but he takes double damage? Then you still take 10 hits to his 5, but after 4 hits, you are on -4 or +4, and he is on -8 or +8! So he already has that barbs thing built into his success at insulting people.

This version of the system makes ego about the pace of feuds; people with low ego can take a few insults before they retaliate, whereas people with higher ego must retaliate pretty soon or take two many minuses. I'm sure you can see that in such a system, you don't really need a top to the track; if people take -28 to all tasks, does it really matter that they can go up to -30? Instead people can be unable to eat and do all kinds of normal things until they deal with the source of their offence. Depending on your dice you could give ego a rating from 1-5, as each step should give a sufficient jump to be distinct.

I notice in that example, shame is also playing a part, in Minos trying to conceal the barb of poseidon. Could that be another way to replenish ego, particularly when the gods do stuff?