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[Thornes] Issues with Ego.

Started by jburneko, November 03, 2009, 10:47:53 PM

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Last night I play tested a game I wrote called Thornes.  I describe Thornes as a swashbuckling film noir about sex and violence dressed up in lace and steel.  Aesthetically its Sin City meets The Three Musketeers.  The alpha draft of Thornes can be found here:

Overall, the play test went very, very well despite the fact that I had only one player and we didn't finish a full story.  It became clear early on that you really need at least two players as certain systemic components are very clunky without at least one other person present.  I look forward to a play test with more than just one person.  It was also clear that the game is doing what I want it to since the player described the game as kind of "stressful" for what I consider all the right reasons.  I'm *hoping* that element is a fun kind of stress like skydiving is "frightening" as opposed to simply un-fun pressure.  Further play testing will hopefully further explore that area.

What clearly needs work however, is how Ego works.  So, I thought I'd run some ideas here and see what kind of feedback I get.  But first you should understand that the die mechanic is built off of the one used in Sorcerer.  That is, you roll a pool dice against another pool of dice.  Look at who has the highest die.  However many dice come up over the loser's highest die are called victories.  Victories can be "chained" into your next roll as bonus dice.

Right now, Ego adds to all your rolls.  So you're almost always rolling Ego + Other Stat.  That makes it very useful.  This all by itself seems to be fine.  The player really liked that.

There are three types of Injury that can result from a conflict: Wounds, Damaged Relationships, and Ego loss.  Wounds and Relationship Damage are banks of dice that can be capitalized on for bonus dice on a roll; however they fade very, very fast.  Ego loss is just one point at a time.  I had hoped that the narrative incentive behind Wounds and Damaged Relationships would outweigh the otherwise very powerful option of reducing someone's Ego by simply one point.  However, the player reported that they didn't really see any reason not to just keep dwindling away someone's Ego.

I'd be fine simply removing Ego loss as a damage type but there needs to be some other way to reduce it because of a couple of other mechanics.  The first of which is how you gain Ego.  You gain Ego when you kill someone, have sex with someone or crush someone's Ego (i.e. reduce them to zero Ego).

I'm considering removing crushing someone's Ego but that feels a bit brute force.  For one, I like the idea of someone reducing someone else to emotional rubble.  Basically, emotionally killing someone gains you Ego.  Additionally even if I remove this aspect there still needs to be a way for Ego to go down since there's a rather fun consequence called Emotional Scars for losing all your Ego and I'd like to keep that.

To keep Ego somewhat in check there's a mechanic called Ego Tripping.  If Ego *exceeds* one of the other two Stats then the character is Ego Tripping.  In the current text what happens is that instead of rolling Ego + Stat the player starts rolling Ego – Stat.  However, at least two people, including the player from last night, upon hearing that rule immediately reacted very negatively to it.  Both people also offered similar improvements which I liked.

So what I'm considering now is this.  When a character is Ego Tripping they still roll Ego + Stat.  They still get all the victories to play with.  However, the loser also gets up to the margin of the Ego Trip in dice to "chain" themselves.

Example: Alphonse has an Ego of 6 and Violence of 3.  He's Ego Tripping by a margin of 3.  In conflicts he rolls nine dice.  Let's say he succeeds with 4 victories.  He can do all the normal things he can do with those 4 victories but the loser also now has 3 dice "chain" on his own.  Had Alphonse only scored 1 victory then the loser would also only have 1 die to play with.

So the last bit on Ego is called The Appeal.  Right now, all conflicts cause some kind of Injury in the end.  The only way to get anything done in the game is attempt to harm someone emotionally, physically or socially.  If you're picking up the dice you are trying injury someone, period.

With one exception: The Appeal.  The appeal is meant to be a "hail mary" moment of sanity in what is otherwise anon rushing scenario of ego driven brutality.  Basically, it's an attempt to be influence someone's behavior through genuine empathy, bonding and reason.

Mechanically, an appeal is done by rolling just the character's Ego vs. the opponents Ego + Dominance.  Regardless of the outcome the character making the appeal loses a point of Ego.  The reaction to this rule has not been as uniform as the reaction to the original Ego Tripping rule but it still makes people look at it sideways.  So, I'm not real happy with it either.

One suggestion has been simply to eliminate it.  If a player wants to resort to being a "nice guy" then let them just flounder around without mechanical effectiveness to back them.  That's interesting but I'm not 100% sold on it.  I *like* the idea of an appeal having mechanical weight but I also want it to be a very desperate act mechanically.

So that's the lay of the land for Ego and it's what needs the most attention at the moment.  Any feedback is greatly appreciated.


Simon C

Hi Jesse,

There are some really interesting ideas here.  I like how the only way to regain Ego is to kill someone, have sex with someone, or crush someone's ego.  That's some very exciting frontloading of theme!

Here's my initial response: If you're always choosing to reduce Ego over wounds or relationships, why not make them both happen? You choose wounds AND ego, or relationship AND ego.  Getting hurt or losing relationships hurts your ego.  That seems to fix the problem without introducing new ones.

I'm more concerned about your "ego tripping" mechanics.  For a start, I think they undermine the theme of your game.  If the game is about rampant egotists, or ego vs. the world, it seems like you're trampling on the interesting material to have a clear-cut mechanical penalty for too much ego.  The penalty for too much ego should be in the nebulous world of player judgements and aesthetics - like humanity in Sorcerer.

The appeal is another thing that seems to be trampled on by too many mechanics.  If you're rolling dice, it feels like a way to force someone to do your bidding, just like the other ways.  Here's my alternative rule:

"Any time a character suggests a course of action to another character, whether that's a direct order, or a desperate plea in the middle of combat, it's an "Appeal".  The GM and the players should be alert for Appeals when they happen.  The player of the character making the appeal can stake any amount of ego on the appeal (including zero).  If the suggestion is accepted, the accepting character gains the ego.  If it's rejected, the ego is lost."

I'm not sure if that works for you, because it introduces a new way of gaining ego.  What I like about it is that it makes the players alert to a particular kind of interaction between characters, and it highlights the moments when a character makes an appeal as a risky moment for that character.

Marshall Burns

Regarding Ego, and considering the game's Sorcerer heritage, there's an obvious solution:
Whenever something shameful, embarassing, or otherwise ego-busting happens to you, roll Ego vs. Ego; if you fail, lose a point of Ego (familiar, right?).

Now! For the Ego-damaging attacks, the victim still rolls Ego vs. Ego, but suffers penalties equal to the successes of the attack. This makes the other wounding options more attractive, because Ego damage, which is pretty damn brutal, might not work. And it's still worth the risk because it's brutal.

Ego Tripping needs to stay in some form. When your arrogance exceeds your ability, it ought to mean something mechanically. It shouldn't penalize your own actions, though; it should make you more vulnerable to the actions of others, because your arrogance blinds you, leading you to underestimate. So, rather than giving the loser bonus dice, I would say that someone with a lower Ego than an Ego Tripping opponent should receive a bonus equal to the margin of Ego Tripping on any one roll of the conflict.

Appeals ought to be harder the higher your Ego is. I'm not sure how that should be mathed, but it's an idea.

(I've been reading a historical novel called The Spider King, about King Louis XI of France, and it is probably influencing my thinking on these things.)


Quote from: jburneko on November 03, 2009, 10:47:53 PM
There are three types of Injury that can result from a conflict: Wounds, Damaged Relationships, and Ego loss.  Wounds and Relationship Damage are banks of dice that can be capitalized on for bonus dice on a roll; however they fade very, very fast.  Ego loss is just one point at a time.  I had hoped that the narrative incentive behind Wounds and Damaged Relationships would outweigh the otherwise very powerful option of reducing someone's Ego by simply one point.  However, the player reported that they didn't really see any reason not to just keep dwindling away someone's Ego.

Hey, Jesse. I think I posted this before but I don't see my post anywhere, so it may have been eaten. My thought is to allow the loser to choose whether to take the ego hit, or to damage a relationship or take a wound. That has an interesting effect allowing the player to damage themselves and those around them in order to preserve their precious ego.
James R.


Thanks Guys this is really useful,

I really like the idea of the player choosing to take Ego loss.  I'm not sure that quite works with how Wounds and Relationship Injuries currently work though because part of the game design philosophy is that whatever you advantage you gain now has to be used really, really soon or its lost.  That means Wounds and Relationship Injury recover lightening quick.  They last about two or three scenes tops.  That means I'm not entirely sure it would ever be worth it to take the Ego damage.

On the other hand it might encourage rather brutal timing.  If you get hit with particularly nasty injury of some kind knowing full well exactly what the next player/GM is going to do with it then it might be worth it.

I'd almost be tempted to combine James and Marshal ideas.  That you either take the certain injury or risk Ego loss.  That almost fits the theme of the game since if you did the Ego + Victories vs Ego roll that means such an option would always have a less than 50% chance success rate.  Pretty ballsy option.

I also like Marshal's idea that only people with less Ego than the Ego Tripping character benefit.  However, Thornes uses the Sorcerer definition of Conflict which means that each individual die roll is a conflict so there's no way to determine "one roll in the conflict".  Some options.

Least Brutal: One roll in the scene.

Less Brutal:  Any roll which does not benefit from Chained Victories or an Injury caused this scene.

Most Brutal: Every roll, period.

The Appeal issue remains problematic.  On the one hand, I'm tempted to just drop it.  Go the In A Wicked Age route and say attempts at rational, empathetic connection are left to role-playing alone with strong encouragement to the GM that such tactics should simply fail unless what's being offered directly plays into the NPC's agenda.  On the other hand there's a certain *kind* of Appeal that is more than just the player floundering around being afraid to take real action.  There are moments of genuine *tension* built around genuine *empathy*.  I feel like *those* moments still deserve some mechanical treatment.



Winning through someone elses failings rather than your own skill is not much of an ego boost. So what if taking adavantage of someone's ego tripping denies you gaining any ego yourself? At least for that conflict.

Sounds like appeals need some kind of empathy mechanic. Finding the right feel for that could be tricky though.

What if people have weaknesses that they empathise with, and people can try to hit them by revealing their relationships or injuries? Doing such an appeal would require people to test for ego loss. This kind of system would be the thing that stops people killing small children, and it's strength would be based on the relationship/injury rules, using their values somehow to make dice pools. Either that or characters would have hidden sympathies, which can be revealed by success, but there are some issues there with incentives to cheat etc.

I feel like there should be something different for appeals to better nature; ie to get people to do stuff rather than not do stuff, not sure how that would work though.