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[MV's Rogue] Hello and Matching Rules to Play Goals

Started by Matthew V, September 06, 2009, 03:46:54 AM

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Matthew V

First off ...

Let me say that while I've been reading these forums for a few months, this is my first post. If I muddle up terms or post in the wrong forum, please excuse and advise me.

In late 2007 my gaming group reformed after several years hiatus and decided we'd had enough of D&D. Or rather, after years of not really gaming together we tried playing D&D again and went, "huh, this really isn't cutting it any more." College was a long (in some of our cases make that "looooong") time over, D&D had put out 3 new editions (3e, 3.5e, and 4e), and any residual "fantastical feel" that the rules might've carried had faded. Several of us had advanced theatre and writing degrees (there are 8 masters' degrees in the group) and wanted something that gave us more story control as players, while reducing or eliminating the GM workload. Oh, and we wanted to play thieves.

We tried other games that we had. GURPS. Ars Magica. Traveler. Most of those we tried were great games. None of them was quite what we wanted. After a few months of trying to cobble together bad rules modifications and skill systems, three things happened simultaneously.

  • We realized that what we wanted was to tell a collective story, right here, right now, on the fly, every single time we gamed, with minimal constraints over our narrative flow and gaming experience. In essence, we wanted to feel like we were "winging" it, and there was a chance for any story to go anywhere from "awesome and deeply moving" to "out of control but still fun."

  • I moved, started a new job with fewer constraints on my time, and therefore felt I had the time to take a solid stab at really writing coherent rules.

  • In (I think) late 2008/ early 2009 I stumbled onto The Forge and started comparing what I'd written to what had been expressed here in a kind of "sounding board" fashion where I'd write a rule, test it, get stuck, examine Forge posts and articles on the topic, revise, test, sound, and so on. Good old fashioned analytical testing. Anyway ...

What happened was that ...

The ideas on the Forge, coupled with our collective drive to create a game we wanted to play, led to me writing "Rogue," a game of Narrative and Skullduggery, where players work together as rogues in a mob to perform heists, robberies, and confidence games in a "fantasy" world (though, presently, there's nothing but some hints of color to nudge players toward making their setting "fantasy." As one player put it, "As long as something's being stolen, manipulated, or skulldug, the rules support thieves on the moon as easily as much as in Lankhmar." That may be a unity of purpose issue in the writing. We'll see?).

The basic rules are pretty simple. GM authority is spread throughout three roles (Narrator, Bookie, and Boss) and authority rotates within each session, and from session to session. Everyone has a PC, everyone narrates to greater or lesser degrees. Setting, theme, and play goals are set by the players at the first meeting. Character abilities are highly narrative with a dash of "fate" (right term?) mechanics for spice, and are created on a PC-by-PC basis. There's a lot of effort to encourage collective storytelling, while trying to dodge "sandbox" play (which makes the group members a bit batty). There are some game and metagame mechanics to control all this.

The folks at the Forge have lots of experience looking at a gaming goal and lining it up with the rules as written. Their ideas seem (as I understand them currently) to reflect many things my group is looking for. I was hoping to bounce ideas and problems we encounter during playtesting off ya'll.

Here's what I'm hoping will result from my post(s) ...

Each time the group runs a playtest, I'd like to bring you a report that expresses what we did, what our explicit (and implicit, where detectable) goals were, and what rules were causing issues with achieving those goals. Hopefully some of you experienced and intelligent folks can say "here's why I think rule X was causing result Y, when you wanted result Z, and here's a way to change X to get to Z." And from that feedback, I hope to bring the rules closer into line with the results we're after. We could continue to muddle along on our own, I'm sure, but I'm a big believer in hearing as much feedback as possible while drafting, in order to identify patterns in response and generate new ideas.

I also have a secondary goal of getting acquainted with the community, since I appear to share a common goal and vision of and for roleplaying with a lot of you. After years of looking at RPGs and thinking "what's missing here?" that's an exciting idea to me. 

All this is based, of course, on my assumptions based on just reading posts and articles. So, please let me know if this is this something that can be done, and if I have approached it properly. Is there a way to better facilitate these goals or make it easier for other Forge members? Or a better forum for this?

Thank you!

- Matthew V

Simon C

Sounds like an interesting game.  I for one am looking forward to hearing more. 

My experience with posting in Playtesting is that feedback is often pretty muted.  In First Thoughts people are happy to throw out basic advice and random ideas, but I think it's more difficult and more time consuming to contribute meaningfully to a playtesting thread, so it happens less. 

My best results have come from very short threads with very specific questions, like "This rule is supposed to do this, but instead it's doing this other thing, what can I do?"

Matthew V

Simon: Thanks for the reply and the advice. I considered posting in First Thoughts, but I think the game has evolved a bit beyond that forum's scope, and I don't want to give the false impression that its still in its infancy.

My plan is to limit all future posts regarding Rogue to tightly focused questions regarding how a specific rule example does / does not facilitate the play we're after.

Matthew V

We ran a playtest last night, and some players gave the magic system a whirl for the first time. Its raised a lot of questions for me about narrative (thought not necessarily "narrativist," as I understand it) magic system design.

I'd like a magic system that is centered on narration, supported by a "Fortune in the Middle" (think that's the right term) skill roll, followed by more narration to describe the result (success or failure). We're also shooting to keep magic performable "on the fly," to represent our idea of rogues as opportunistic problem solvers who try anything to get out of a situation. For example, while in a bind, one player said, "Wait! I saw that wizard we robbed summon Kelugar, Prince of Hell Puddings last week. Can I do that?" The Bookie said, "Sure, roll a d10 and add your Moxie for a Demonology skill. Mark 25 though." The player rolled and failed (missed the Mark), resulting in Kelugar appearing, but going after the rogue (at the Narrator's descretion), rather than obeying him. This is, ideally, what should happen all the time. But this was the only example of the system running properly.

The Problem:
While trying this, people get hung up on exactly what they can narrate with magic, asking, for example; "Can I do this with a magical skill?" or "How does lighting a fire with magic work?" Players are very concerned about the "limits" of magical skills. The rules currently allow you to say a skill can do almost anything you say when it is first used, which I'd hoped would encourage narrative magic play. Sadly, people keep getting hung up on that much freedom. So I'm wondering; how can I create a magic system that allows for "on the fly," narrative use, but still puts enough constraints on a magical skill to make its use(s) obvious?

I'm not sure if that's enough information. If you need to know more, just ask, and I'll fill in the blanks.

Simon C


I really like the example from play you posted.  It has the feel of sword-and-sorcery magic, where spells are more like science than magic.  Anyone can complete the formula and obtain the right result.  Perhaps this is something you can explore further?

Like, the roll is to see if you can remember and successfully perform the right formula to obtain a known, specific result.  So you could have two rolls - one to know the right formula, and the second to perform it correctly.  This puts a stop to the "can I do this with magic?" question.  It's decided by a roll. The player asks "Can I light this fire with magic?" and the answer is "Let's find out".  If you've previously established that such a thing is possible, that the formula is known, then it should be easier to do so again.  Sorcerers are just people who know a lot of formulas.  Rogues are the kind of people that, given the formula, can figure out the right way to perform it, or are willing to wing it anyway. 

Are you familiar with the concept of "IIEE" (Intent, Initiation, Execution, Effect)?  You might find it helpful in describing some of these issues.  Let me know if you want me to explain it some.

Matthew V

Simon -

An interesting solution, and not one I'd considered. I especially liked the phrasing of "spells are more like science." Don't know why, but that feels right to me, and it reflects something one of the players said about a year ago; "magic should be like solving an equation."

I am not familiar with the concept of IIEE, but it sounds like it might help my conceptual frame. If you could give me a summary or direct me to a solid link, it would be much appreciated.


Simon C

IIEE is a way of expressing the stages of a conflict.  It's especially useful for breaking down fortune (dice rolling, card flipping etc.) mechanics to show what is decided before you roll, and what's decided after. 

Intent: What the character is trying to achieve.  So something like "get past this guard" or "get into that tower" or "light this fire".

Initiation: The character has just started to do something to achieve their intent.  They've chosen what they're going to do, and they've just started doing it.  So it could be "engaging the guard in conversation, working around to bribing him" or "going up to the tower edge, getting ready to climb it" or "getting out flint and tinder".

Execution: The character is doing what they chose to do to achieve their intent.  They're offering the guard a bribe, climbing the tower, trying to stike a spark.

Effect: Did the character's execution achieve their intent? Does the guard take the bribe? Do they reach the window of the tower? Does the fire light?

You can roll before any one of those stages, and acheive a different effect in resolution.  The most common place to roll is between initiation and execution.  You want to get into the tower, you decide to roll "climbing", you roll it, and if you climb successfully, you're inside. This is sometimes written as "II*EE", the asterisk marking where you roll.

Another common setup is to roll twice, once before execution, and again before effect.  Like D&D combat.  You decide you want to kill a monster, you roll your "attack" skill.  If you hit, you see how effective you were at that by rolling damage.  This would be written as "II*E*E".

Rolling for effect is a powerful thing in games because it stops the kind of weasling out of results that you can get otherwise.  If you roll and your execution achieves your intent, you've got it, no questions asked.  No more "roll until you fail" or "roll until you succeed".

There are other configurations, but they're more funky.

For magic in your game, you could do something like I*I*EE, I*IE*E, or I*I*E*E.

Decide you want to do something (like light a fire, or get away from my pursuers).  Roll dice to see if you know a magical means of doing this, if desired.  You can add a subsystem here that makes it easier to succeed if you're asking for a specific spell, a spell you've seen done before, a spell you've cast before, and whatever else you want to encourage. If you succeed, you can start casting the spell.  Then you roll dice to see how well casting the spell goes.  Maybe it can go terribly wrong and demons start chasing you around the place, or maybe it just fails to come off how you wanted.  If you succeed at casting the spell, you get your intent.

As above, but instead of rolling to see how well the spell gets cast, you roll to see whether the spell actually gets you your intent.  Sure, you've summoned a fire demon that could light the fire for you, but instead it decides to light your bedding on fire.  The fog demon tries to hide your escape, but the pursuers can find their way through it.

You roll for both whether the spell goes off right, and if it helps you get your intent.

Of these, I think I like I*IE*E the best.  It's still only two rolls, it allows for mayhem and failure and hilarity, and it gives you a clear indication of whether you've achieved your intent or not.

I'd also strongly advise you to come up with some underlying rationale for magic, whether it be mustering elemental forces or abusing alchemical formulae.  My sense of what works with the rest of your setting would be something like the Demon summoning from Moorcock's Elric stories. There are myriad demons, and each is willing to make a deal with a human, for a particular price.  Some obey the strictures of ancient pacts, others hunger for sacrifice or worship. Each has its own peculiarities and predilictions.  Sorcery is knowing a lot about demons, what they can do, and how you can get them to help you.

I don't know enough about the mechanics of the rest of your game to know if this is right for you, but I hope it gets your thoughts going in the right direction.

Matthew V

Magic as Skill

I think that IIEE primer was exactly what I needed. Based on your points, I was able to explicitly codify our process for Skill rolls (which include magic) in a way that makes quite a bit more sense. I'll try to fill in rules as I go, so you can see what I'm talking about.

Now making a Skill roll (whether magical or mundane) looks like this:

1. Announce the way you intend your rogue to use a Skill.
2. If it is not clear at this point whether a Skill may be used for a particular action, make a Skill "Knowledge" roll against the same Mark for that action. Success means the Skill may be used that way from now on. If it is already clear that this Skill may be used, skip this step.
3. Narrate how your rogue attempts to use the skill.
4. Roll 1d10, add the Skill's Level and Relevant Ability.
5. If the result beats The Mark, the Skill use is successful, producing exactly the effect the player Announced in Step 1. The player now narrates the result of the success.
6. If the result fails to beat The Mark, the Skill use fails, producing an effect other than what the player Announced in Step 1. The player now narrates the result of the failure.
7. If this Skill is being used in combat, roll for damage.

This looks like the I*IE*E you describe to me, with Initiation and Execution being expressed as one Narration following the Announced intent, and with the possibility of rolling again I*IE*E* if in direct combat. Is that correct? Or would damage be a subroutine of some kind?

Magic in Setting

Your point about nailing down magic in the setting is well taken. Unfortunately I can't nail it down in quite the way you describe, since setting is created at the first game by all the players by spending metagame currency ("Setting Points"). What I could do is code it into the way setting gets made. That actually worked well, from a color perspective.

There were 10 setting elements, one of which (Time) we'd discussed replacing with something with more teeth. Magic is the perfect replacement. Now the players define Place, Population, Site Logic, Environment, Economy, Leadership, Social Structure, Major Beliefs, Magic, and Starting Location & Time as part of Setting. I hope that combined with the addition of a "Knowledge" roll option should handle a lot of the issues we were having.

I think this should settle up a lot of things. We playtest again on Sunday, and these rules will get a test drive. If you (or anyone) has ideas on how to make this clearer or more in line with end goals, feel free to speak up. Thanks, Simon. This has been very helpful.

Simon C

Hmm, I'm not sure you've quite got that right.

The asterisks represent a dice roll (or card flip, or some other use of fortune).  So your system is II*E(*)E, with the asterisk in parenthesis for combat only.  You decide your intent, say what you're going to do, roll, then describe how you do it, and how that gets you what you want.

I think you need to be very clear on the concept of "intent".  This is your end goal - the reason you're doing something in the first place.  Here's an example:

A detective has snuck into the office of Capital Drilling Co. He's looking for dirt on their CEO.  That's intent.  The player says something like "I'm gonna search around the office, and try and crack the safe".  That's initiation.  Then the player says "Ok, I'm searching around the office, and then I get to work on the safe, and I get it open.  That's execution.  Then the player is like "In the safe I find a bunch of files that show the CEO is paying bribes to a Congressman".  That's effect.

Can you see how at each of those points, we could roll dice, or a different player could narrate, or we could make a decision? Can you also see how deciding the execution (opening the safe) doesn't neccesarily decide the effect (you find dirt on the CEO)? That's a crucial point.  Many systems determine execution, but leave effect up to the GM.   

I'm a little worried because in the system you describe, there's no room for intent.  You seem to start with Initiation - how you intend to use a skill, skipping what you're using it for.

Matthew V

Don't get too worried yet, I'm just working through the confusion of new terminology. Thanks for your patience in explaining all this. I understand how between each of these points some kind of fortune system can interrupt. What I think I went muddy on is the precise dividing line between, for example, Intent and Initiation, Execution and Effect. I also think that I stuffed "Intent" into Step 3, without distinguishing clearly before that what the PC was trying to do. I'll give it another go:

1. State your rogue's Goal in the scene (e.g. "My rogue is trying to kidnap the princess by jumping out the window.") Intent
2. [Roll, as necessary, to see if a particular skill can be to achieve the Goal. Assuming it can, proceed.]
3. Narrate the way you intend to use a skill to achieve that goal (e.g. "My rogue grabs the princess and drags her to the window") Initiation
4. Narrate what you actual do with that skill. (e.g. "The princess and I jump out the window") Execution
5. Roll a d10, add bonuses, etc.
6. If the roll succeeds, I get the Goal stated in Step 1. (e.g. "My rogue whistles between the shutters, princess in tow, yelling 'so long, suckers' to the guards as he goes"). Effect A
7. If the roll fails, I get some effect other than the Goal (e.g. "The princess elbows me in the teeth, breaks free, and kicks me backward out the window.") Effect B
8. Roll for combat damage here, if skill roll was successful, and narrate what happens (e.g. "Crap, I made it out the window with the princess, but landed on one of the guards posted below.") Effect C

Does that clearly add Intent the way you meant? Or, if not, does this at least reveal the precise location of my confusion?

Also, does that look more like I*IE*E as you described earlier? If so, I'm still not sure I understand how damage fits into that model, since its only one of several possible effect steps.

Again, thanks. Even if I don't quite get how the notations work, this is helping me figure out how I want magic and skill use to work, which can only be helpful.

Simon C

Close!  You've got intent and initiation now, and it's making complete sense.

I think you're still blurring the boundry between Execution and Effect.  So from your example, Execution is jumping out the window.  If you've got this far, you're out the window, with the Princess.  Effect is successfully escaping with the Princess.  So if you roll after Execution but before Effect, Success is "you escape with the Princess" and failure is possibly "You land on a guard" or whatever, but not "The Princess elbows you in the teeth and pushes you out the window".  Does that make sense? Effect is whether you succeed in what you were trying to do.  Effect is if what you were trying to do gets you what you want.

I think this is why you're not getting damage in Combat either.  Execution is hitting in combat, and Effect is how well you get towards your goal of killing them.  Fully written out it would be:

Intent: Kill this dude.
Initiation: Swing my sword.
Execution: Did I hit?
Effect: How much damage did I do?

So in rules like this, damage is a kind of funky sub-system that determines how much of your intent you get.

Is that making sense? I'm enjoying this conversation.  I think your game is going in a good direction.

Matthew V

So I*IE*E would be more like this:

1. State your rogue's Goal in the scene (e.g. "My rogue is trying to kidnap the princess by jumping out the window onto my horse.") Intent
2. [Roll, as necessary, to see if a particular skill can be to achieve the Goal. Assuming it can, proceed.]
3. Narrate the way you intend to use a skill to achieve that goal (e.g. "My rogue will grab the princess and drag her to the window") Initiation
4. Narrate what you actually do with that skill. (e.g. "The princess and I jump out the window. Do I land on the horse?") Execution
5. Roll a d10, add bonuses, etc.
6. If the roll succeeds, you get the Goal in Step 1 (e.g. "We leap out and land on the horse, I spur it forward and escape"). Effect
7. If the roll fails, you get something other than the Goal (e.g. "I miss the horse, land hard, and twist my ankle"). Also Effect

How's that?

Damage is a funky sub-system, eh? That feels right. Some kind of "extended confrontation" system is still there, but it can be ignored whenever the participants want to just "get on with it."

Oh, and it strikes me that there seems to be a connection (at least in our examples) between the tenses and voices of the statements being made, moving from more passive statements to increasingly active, present-tense ones. Also, I noticed an instinctive tendency to write 1st person as Effect approaches, and 3rd while in the "II" part of it. Maybe that's just me though. Or is there some previously noted correlation?

Simon C

Quote from: Matthew V on September 10, 2009, 08:46:59 PM
Oh, and it strikes me that there seems to be a connection (at least in our examples) between the tenses and voices of the statements being made, moving from more passive statements to increasingly active, present-tense ones. Also, I noticed an instinctive tendency to write 1st person as Effect approaches, and 3rd while in the "II" part of it. Maybe that's just me though. Or is there some previously noted correlation?

I've not heard that noted before, but it's an interesting observation. 

I think you've got it now, but there are a few things that aren't quite right.  Your intent blurrs into initiation. "My rogue is trying to kidnap the princess" is intent. "by jumping out the window onto my horse" is the beginning of initiation.

I want to be clear that you get Effect also.  "Landing on the Horse" could be part of execution, and in fact usually would be.  Effect covers all the things that surround that, like, is there an open gate for you and the Princess to ride out of? Are there guards everywhere, stopping your escape?  Remeber that your Intent is to kidnap the Princess.  You can be out the window, on your horse, with the Princess, and still have not pulled off the kidnap.  That's what Effect resolves.

Let's write it out in full:

1. State your rogue's Goal in the scene (e.g. "My rogue is trying to kidnap the princess") Intent
2. [Roll, as necessary, to see if a particular skill can be to achieve the Goal. Assuming it can, proceed.]
3. Narrate the way you intend to use a skill to achieve that goal (e.g. "I'm going to grab the Princess and jump out the window") Initiation
4. Roll a d10, add bonuses, etc.
5. If the roll succeeds, you succeed at what you said you were going to do in your Initiation (e.g. "We leap out and land on the horse"). Execution
6: If the roll fails, you fail at what you said you were going to do in your initiation (e.g. "The princess elbows me in the nose" or "We jump out but miss the horse") Execution
7: Succeed or fail, did you get your intent? Many games leave this up to GM fiat, but it can be a roll, or you can assume that if you succeed at Execution, you succeed at Effect.  The GM might say "The Princess elbows you in the nose, but then she says "I know a better way out of the Castle" and leads you to a secret door.  You've escaped!" (you've failed the Execution, but you still get your Intent), or the GM might say "You leap out the window onto your horse, but your horse is surrounded by guards, you've not kidnapped the Princess yet!" (you've succeeded at the execution, but you still haven't got your intent). Effect

Is this making sense now? Looking back over my previous explanations, they could be clearer.  I think this is clear now though.

It's important to distinguish between resolving Execution and resolving Effect, because otherwise you can get very confused about how things actually get done in the game.  Without a tight system for resolving Effect, it's essentially up to the GM whether characters succeed at Intent or not.  A lot of the "craft" of GMing is about knowing when to let the characters succeed, and when to delay their success at their intent.  In a game like yours with no GM, resolving Effect is even more important, because there's no GM to make the judgement about whether succeeding at the Execution succeeds at the Effect.  You can end up in a kind of limbo.

It's also important to have a good guide to what kind of Intent is permissable. I'm sure you can imagine how it makes for a markedly different game if Intents are things like "I'm going to become King" or "I'm going to kill all the Dragons", over things like "I'm going to get into the merchant's house" or "I'm going to kill this guy". 

I hope this is useful stuff to you.

Matthew V

It took me a bit, but walking me through in that level of detail solidified those last couple points. I think I've got it now. At least, got it enough to proceed and see if trouble arises.

Just FYI, Intent in Rogue is covered in a what skills can't do list. It limits one Skill roll to affecting one part of the narrative (a creature, NPC, PC, etc), disallows Skills from having an impact on more than one narrative "step" (e.g., you can narrate your own skill use, but not the skill use of someone who goes after you in the Turn), and "no disintegrations" (no instant kills). When a scene opens, Intent is also covered since part of the Narrator's job is to ask players "What is your rogue's goal here?" (as opposed to the classic, and somewhat pointless GM question, "What do you do?"). Those Goals also set up what I think will become "Intent" when skill rolling comes about.

Effect is, presently, left up to the Narrator who is given the power to either add complications to a Scene, or grant the PC his "Goal" for the scene. I'm not sure I'm satisfied with the "teeth" of that though. Is there a game system that produces effect without a GM to handwave it? If so, I'd love to grab a copy.

Simon C

Hi Matthew,

Sounds like you've got the idea solidly now.  Your ideas for your game sound solid also.

Regarding games that don't handwave Effect, there are plenty.  Combat is an example in most "traditional" games, where how well you achieve your intent is determined by your damage roll. 

A common way to decide Intent is with "Stakes".  That means that the player says what their character is trying to achieve, and in some games the GM (or another player) can give counterstakes - what will happen if they fail.  You roll the dice (for Execution) and that also determines Effect.  Burning Wheel is a good example of a game that's got really explicit advice about determining intent before initiation.

A problem with some of these games is that sometimes Initiation and Execution are blurred together, or ignored completely, and you get "I_*_E" resolution.  Lots of moments of characters achieving intents, or not getting what they want, but no real nitty-gritty of resolution.  Lots of "why" but not much "how".

There are lots of other ways of doing it.  For example, why not apply the concept of "Damage" to all intents? You roll a skill (execution) to see if you succeed in working toward your goal, and you roll "damage" (effect) to see how far that gets you.  The "Hit Points" of various goals could be determined by the group, and the "Damage" of each roll could be based on a judgement of how effective that action should be.

I'd like to recommend Dogs in the Vineyard as a game that has a really novel take on this whole process, as well as being a very fun game.  It will definitely open your eyes to the possibilities of different resolution systems.