A collection of rambling posts about gaming, running, and politics. (and, in 2009, photography.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

TSOY and breaking down the system

So we got together for our Shadow of Yesterday game this past weekend.

It went well, in *very* brief form - because there's a particular aspect that I want to discuss- the party ambushed a wagonload of goods bound for Lord Philip. They bested the guards (and the red-haired sorcereress, again), and found part of the Evil Crown, then managed to glean from Red-Head that more of Philips men were headed to the Ruined City of Thet, looking for more crown parts. They supplied up in Lucen, their temporary base city, and headed off to Thet. They stumbled across a Sorcerer named Valadon and his retainers, who were upset at the party's mistaking them for Philips men. But they managed to avoid having a serious misunderstanding. Searching the ruins for Philips men, they happened upon some hungry cannibals, they were able to kill a couple and drive the rest away. Then, they were captured by a large litter of rats and ratkin, and taken before Lucas, the Litter Boss..

The meaty part that I wanted to talk about include stakes, and dice mechanics.

In the Shadow of Yesterday, it uses conflict resolution. If you run into two bandits on the highway, and we get to the point where there are two conflicting objectives (You: not get stabbed, not give them your gold; them: take the gold from you, or stab you and take the gold from you), we setup stakes for the conflict. stakes might be "If I win the conflict, I sneak past the bandits, they dont even know I came by, if I lose the conflict, they've caught me and tied me up." When you roll, you're comparing skills. The outcome is determined by the stakes you've set, and the roll of the dice, influenced by your skill level.
But lets take it to another level. What this means is that you set the stakes. Your stakes could be "If I win, I kill all 40 bandits, and I lose, I only kill 20 of them, before their arrows wound me enough that I flee". This is great because it is swiftly modified to the kind of game you're playing. Gritty and hard core? "If I win, I drive my icepick into the guard's skull, if I lose, I miss, and it catches him in the neck, he's bleeding all over the place, and he's triggered the alarm". Over the top and cinematic (kill bill)? "If I win, all of the Crazy 88's are dead or dismembered, if I lose, they've driven me off". Let me note that while these examples are primarily combat oriented, they can be anything. "I win- I manage to pound a hole in the outer fortifications with my bare hands", "I win- I've talked the king into abandoning this war and releasing the princess" Again, the defining thing here is what the group wants the game to be like. The players have veto power on each other's stakes.

The same applies to Bringing Down the Pain. It uses a Harm tracker. Whether you're trying to serenade the princess, talk the judge into letting you off, convince the captain that he's got you confused with someone else, sneak past the attack dogs, or simply trying to brain the watchman into unconsciousness, you use a harm tracker. It is abstract. I'll note that hit points are abstract as well, but this is even more abstract. Here are some examples. You're in a conflict, you've resorted to Bringing Down the Pain (more blow-by-blow than conflict resolution). Let's leave the nature of the conflict blank - you've made your opposing rolls, and you're up by two, so you'll be inflicting two harm to your opponent. Here are some things that you might hear at the table. "Bang! Two harm! You tell the prince that you've never met someone with worse teeth. You see tears well up in his eyes.", "Two harm! You pull slightly ahead in the footrace, your opponent looks like she's beginning to tire.", "Two harm! Your plasma cannon belches out green liquid fire that sends a Klingon gunship to oblivion!", "Two harm! A great swing of your axe sends a half dozen of the Baron's men to the creator.", "Two harm! You punch the beefy thug square in the nose. He looks pissed." All of these are perfectly fine and dandy, depending on nature of the game that you're playing in.

This goes right into Social Contracts, which I won't dwell on long.. but here's how it relates to role playing games... all of the players and GM need to be on the same page, in simple common things like "We're playing a fantasy game with elves and sorcerers", to things like "This is a gritty game, the object is just to stay alive" or "this is a game with politics and intrigue!" etc. The same applies to figuring out what kind of stakes will work. Do you plan to be doing high adventure powerful gaming, or smaller scale gaming?

And finally, kinda winding down and changing gears a bit - this was something that I meant to mention before I got sidetracked... During the game, when the players were taken by the ratkin, the conversation at the table went something like this. me: "Guys, like a hundred rats and a dozen or so ratkin suddenly come pouring out into the street around you, you're totally surrounded. They're apparently trying to overwhelm and capture you. There are just SO many of them.. you're totally going to be overwhelmed.. We can roll dice for this I guess, but man, there are just SO many of them.. it'd be tough not to be taken down.." The gang kindly consented and on we went, but here's how I think I should have handled it. me: "Guys, a hoard of rats and ratkin come pouring out into the street surrounding you. Now, I'd like to have them capture you, because I have a cool scene that I'd like to do when they take you before the Litter Boss. What do you guys think?" I think asking the players is a better way to go, because it lets them buy into the story, rather than being forced into it. It worked out fine, but with the former way, the GM is steamrolling them into it, whether they really like it or not. Maybe it totally doesnt work for them.. and there's going to be frustration because of it. This also gets into PLAYER involvment in the story, as opposed to CHARACTER involvement in the story. Sure, most of the time we're doing it first-person, "*I* shoot him the with arrow, *I* sneak past the guard" etc, but sometimes letting the players have some weight in how the story goes can work really well. Well, it can if done right, you players can also be horrified when you say "You sneak into the noble's compound, You've gotten past the guards and are headed up to the main house. Do you encounter anything along the way?"

And to back up again, the other thing I was going to mention, which turned into the long thing about stakes and harm and so forth, is that during our game, two of the players got involved in some fighting, Jason facing off against two guards, while Krissi faced off against another two guardsmen. Using the stakes and dice system, rather than, in each conflict, playing out two NPCs against each of the characters, I played them as one entity each against my player's characters. Jason faced two guards, but I used only one "turn", one dice pool, one harm tracker. But the narration was where the difference was. ("Jason, the two guardsmen use their tactics skills to try to flank you, one on either side of you, hoping to catch you between them.") I thought it worked fantastically, though I'm still talking it over with Jason a bit ;)

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