Handling Aspect-grubbing

edited December 2010 in Game Design Help

Hi folks,

I was looking at doing a Lady Blackbird hack and saw how it handles Traits and Tags: 1 die for an applicable Trait and you get a die for each Tag underneath that Trait that you can justify.

This makes intuitive sense, and plenty of systems use it. In practice I find it leads to aspect grubbing--looking to ram those square-shaped Aspects into the round hole of the conflict's context. I'm not asking for a stick to use on players--I think it's always reasonable to look for ways to be effective. I'm noodling on ways to avert this so that players don't feel the need to cast about desperately for effectiveness.

In an unpublished design I turned the Trait/Tag thing a bit "inside out." That is, if you have Soldier (4), you've got 4 tags beneath it, and they are the ones you may not add to your roll. Fate points could buy you tags under your other Traits. This is cute, however it makes chargen somewhat tricky--you strategize by selecting things under a Trait such that they're only tangentially relevant. To show a degenerate case, a two-Trait character could have Soldier (2): Making do with what's there, Sleep whenever; Cook (2): Handy with a rolling pin, Commanding voice. I don't think it's broken but I'm not in love with it either.

Diaspora has the idea of "scopes" where an Aspect can only be used once under any scope--your character, a target character, an ally, the scene, etc. And, of course, it doesn't try to mash Skills and Aspects together as Lady Blackbird does, which gets you a good ways out of that problem, since Aspects (or Traits, whatevah) aren't your only source of effectiveness.

Anyone know other design tricks to tackle this issue?

--JB

Comments

  • I've been trying to work on this issue in the designs I've been working on (such as Final Hour of a Storied Age and the game I was working on for this year's Game Chef). My thinking is that if there are diminishing returns for each additional trait you add to a roll (such as adding a bonus die in a "keep the best N dice" system -- after a certain point adding another bonus die is negligible) and also a downside to adding too many traits (in my original system there's a mechanical downside if you get a 1 on any die, so there's a risk with each die you add -- I've got a slightly different mechanism in my current version of Storied Age) then people won't feel so pressured to grub for traits. (The other thing I'm trying to tackle in my system is the related problem of trait-spamming -- I hate when the same trait gets used over and over again because the repetition tends to suck the energy out of the game, and people start to get lazier about invoking traits that they always invoke -- once it becomes obvious that a trait is going to be used it's much easier to slack off on actually narrating it into the fiction).
  • Make them add some narration for each one. They can only get the bonus when they add a complete sentence of in-game description. That makes the "if you can justify it" more real. They still might go grubbing, but each time they do, they can only get it by adding to the story. And if it's making the game better, does it really count as grubbing anymore?
  • Posted By: jasonMake them add some narration for each one. They can only get the bonus when they add a complete sentence of in-game description. That makes the "if you can justify it" more real. They still might go grubbing, but each time they do, they can only get it by adding to the story. And if it's making the game better, does it really count as grubbing anymore?
    I think the problem is that this narration is often strained, not that it doesn't happen. It's actually worse, sometimes, than just picking the aspect and paying the point.
  • If the players are facing adversity and they have resources they can use, they will try to use them. You need someone at the table whose responsibility it is to maintain the consistency of the fiction and the authority to shoot down things that don't fit. Usually that's the DM because, generally, the DM isn't supposed to care about outcomes (while generally speaking, players are). That allows the DM to play the game without having to work at cross-purposes.

    I don't know if Lady Blackbird has a DM. If not, you could say that players who are not involved in the conflict have the responsibility to judge the applicability of traits and tags and the authority to overrule their use.
  • Perfect used to suffer from this. You'd have 3-4 Aspects, and in order to survive in the game you'd be asked to shoehorn those Aspects in to basically every test. There's only so many times that "the memory of my father being carted away" can help you. Hell, there's only so many times that "sneaky" can help you.

    I came up with a couple intermediary solutions, before just straight-up removing them from tests. The best intermediary solution was this:

    You have 4 Aspects, but only 2 mechanical powers (say: +2 on any test, +4 if you roll an odd-numbered result).
    You invoke an Aspect in order to tag/get one of your two mechanical powers.
    But, you're only able to invoke 2 Aspects per test, meaning that you are grubbing or shoehorning.

    I playtested that for about a year, and it solved a lot of the frustrations that I had with Aspect-centric play. Setting a hard limit on how many Aspects you can bring into a given struggle is good. But something still felt off/forced about that system. And so I came up with something much more fluid:

    You have a Resources score. Let's say you have Resources 6. In every test, you get to invoke that score to get that bonus.
    Instead of having canned Aspects, you declare what the points mean as you invoke them.

    Say you're running away from a cadre of inspectors, at the docks in the pitch dark of night. They caught you red handed, trying to steal a blacklisted art shipment, perhaps. You might want to say, "I duck behind a large stack of crates, and worm my way into a tiny little nook. That's +2." And then the inspectors fan out and call for back-up, maybe. "Well, I'm going to wait until it's totally silent on the boardwalk that I'm on at the moment, and then I'm going to slip out of my hiding nook and slowly slide myself down into the water. It's freezing cold, but I manage to avoid gasping - slipping silently into the water, and under the docks. +3." And stubborn as ever, the inspectors decide to maintain a stake-out on the dock district all night - they'll catch you eventually. "And for my last point," you say, "When I reach the shore, I'm just going to make a mad sprint towards the safehouse. So, that's my +6 right there."

    And then you roll off against each other, to see if you get caught. Ta-da!
    In play, people tend to invoke most of their Resources with stuff that reinforces their character concept, occasionally introducing something totally new and surprising.
    So: the perfect balance.
  • Here's a laundry list of stuff I can think of...

    Limits-based ideas:

    -- You can put limits on how many can apply at a time. Like scopes. Or in Burning Empires, where it's one skill, one wise for extra dice. Probably players will max out that limit every time.

    -- Or limits could vary on the character sheet. You could have a different rating for skill level and for how many aspects you can invoke when using that skill.

    -- Or limits could be determined based on what type of action you are performing.


    Economy-based ideas:

    -- Spending Fate points to invoke aspects.

    -- In Mouse Guard, you check off a Trait when you use it and you have to uncheck it. What you need to do to uncheck it could vary.

    -- Use it, risk it: You can use whatever you can justify, but if the dice go badly, you can lose what you risk. May or may not be related to winning/losing or success/failure or narration rights.

    -- Colour for the action, colour for the consequences. Every aspect you invoke, you give the GM some license to bring in related consequences or results.

    -- Or, if you invoke more than X nmber of aspects, another player gets narration rights, you don't. Or every aspect you narrate gives one other player narration rights, so the whole damn table could end up narrating what happens instead of you.
  • edited December 2010
    i delt with this sort of thing recently. it's a tricky problem.

    In Seed RPG these are called motivations. my goal was to inspire characterful narration and reward it. Characters have a motivation attached to their character' role, body type, and personality.

    a motivation reads like this
    "Caring- I care for others and want to help them. When i act with empathy or passion give me a free die"

    After rolling dice players narrate their results. if another player or gm feels that player narrated something that hit a motivation they give that player a free die. this die can then be added to any future roll. each motivation can only hold one die at a time (meaning there are limits)

    This has been testing well. Some players may reach to hit a motivation but it's usually pretty good narration, given it does not effect the action's success or failure it has less of an "asking momy for a cookie" feel and tend to be used to described both success and failure.

    this is more or less possible because my game has no "pre-action" narration
  • These are great responses, folks, thanks very much. It's interesting to to see the responses reflection where the narration falls in relation to the dice and, if modifiers follow the initial roll, where they fall in terms of declared outcome. Joe's system (like many) pre-loads all narration and the dice decide the outome. Our table's variant on Fate, Diaspora, uses the Fate-point constraint, and nails down the expenditure point to post-roll--as I've remarked in the past, this type of Fate has the die roll just set a cost.

    Tyler, I dig on the other-player-controlled, "pay it forward" idea you have there. Very clever and I'd not seen it before.

  • A possible problem I can see with Tyler's system is that players need to be aware of each others' flags/motivations.

    I think a lot (most?) players are mainly concerned with their own character sheet, and don't tend to learn what's on other players' sheets. If you use those foldable character sheets like you guys have for Soft Horizon, with the little billboard space, to communicate your flags. And if you have a group already playing FATE or something and always comparing Aspects and compelling/tagging each other, it will probably work just fine. But I can see some groups having a really hard time.

    The refresh scenes from Lady Blackbird are a bit similar, actually, where you have a down-time scene that shows your character's character and you get all your bonus dice back. The scenes aren't directly tied to aspects or anything, but you could always fiddle with that.
  • edited December 2010
    Posted By: JohnstoneA possible problem I can see with Tyler's system is that players need to be aware of each others' flags/motivations.
    .
    This is a good point, i think it's working in spite of this because the game is card based so each motivation has a strong visual reminder at the table, the motivations are also written so they can be read aloud at the start of the game.

    However so far i have only tested the game with one motivation per character, it will be interesting to see how well players can use and reward others for using 3 motivations. however a character's motivations will never change during a campaign so maybe everyone else's motivations will become second nature?

    Other then that I have been thinking about ways for players to be rewarded or simply required to hand free dice to other players. i really want to encourage listening.
  • One thing to consider, and this isn't just with Aspects:

    The price of technology that makes things more awesome is that it will also be used with mediocrity.

    I have been running Fate for years, and I don't try to moderate the "grubbing" effect much, because either:
    (a) everyone else at the table sees that it's mediocre, and sees my response and everyone else's response, and seeks to avoid being That Guy
    - or -
    (b) people don't care and I still having fun

    At best, I say "really?" or "c'mon..."

    I say that to say: any tool or process the seeks to mitigate the lamest use of a technology may also mitigate the coolest moments with it. So watch for that when implementing changes to that effect. (And maybe I'll blog further on this, but it would go well off-topic.)

    - Ryan
  • I like what Ryan says. The ideal solution is to play with people who share your aesthetic about this stuff.
  • I think that "Invoke traits to get a bonus" is plain bad design.

    It creates a conflict of interest between getting your character what they want, and respecting the integrity of the fiction of the game. That's sucky. Jason and Ryan's "solution" is also sucky. I mean, I'm sure it works for them, but you can basically replace any piece of a system with "just play with people who share your aesthetic". If relying on the unity of interest of the players produced compelling play reliably, we wouldn't need explicit systems. Explicit systems are there to work against the unity of interest of the players.

    I can't think of a game in which "invoke traits to get a bonus" is not problematic, even in games that I really like (like Dogs).

    Here's a better alternative:

    Traits not only give you a bonus, they shape the consequences of success or failure. If you're using "Gunfighter" in a conflict, then someone is going to get shot. If you're using "Killer instinct" then someone is going to get killed. If you're using "Sneaky" you'll either tell a lie or be lied to.

    It's harder work, because it means you can't use freeform traits as easily, and you need to do a lot more design work up front. The upside is more compelling fiction and no conflicts of interest.
  • Posted By: Simon CJason and Ryan's "solution" is also sucky.
    My solution of "be sure whatever change you make won't fuck your game up" is sucky?

    Awesome. I will keep in mind that retrospective and analysis aren't desired traits here.

    - Ryan
  • Posted By: Simon CIt creates a conflict of interest between getting your character what they want, and respecting the integrity of the fiction of the game.
    I agree that design elements that risk the integrity of the fiction are bad design. Incentivizing people to play near the border of lameness is a recipe for people to overshoot and end in lame territory. Having to call bullshit on somebody, having somebody call bullshit on you, or self-editing because you're not sure where the line is are almost always anti-fun. (I'm interested in exploring mechanical counter-incentives that are stronger than the "don't screw up the fiction" incentive as a possible solution, though, rather than abandoning traits entirely).
    Posted By: Simon CI can't think of a game in which "invoke traits to get a bonus" is not problematic, even in games that I really like (like Dogs).
    It seems to me that skills in a fixed-skill-list game work almost exactly like freeform traits in a lot of instances. Is it critical for your argument that these things be "bonuses" before they start being bad? Is it the boundless stackability that's the source of the problem?
  • Posted By: Ryan MacklinPosted By: Simon CJason and Ryan's "solution" is also sucky.
    My solution of "be sure whatever change you make won't fuck your game up" is sucky?

    Awesome. I will keep in mind that retrospective and analysis aren't desired traits here.

    - Ryan

    Woah! Chill out with the snark!
    Posted By: Ryan MacklinI don't try to moderate the "grubbing" effect much, because either:
    (a) everyone else at the table sees that it's mediocre, and sees my response and everyone else's response, and seeks to avoid being That Guy
    - or -
    (b) people don't care and I still having fun

    At best, I say "really?" or "c'mon..."
    That's the bit I'm talking about.
  • Posted By: Dan MaruschakPosted By: Simon CIt creates a conflict of interest between getting your character what they want, and respecting the integrity of the fiction of the game.
    I agree that design elements that risk the integrity of the fiction are bad design. Incentivizing people to play near the border of lameness is a recipe for people to overshoot and end in lame territory. Having to call bullshit on somebody, having somebody call bullshit on you, or self-editing because you're not sure where the line is are almost always anti-fun. (I'm interested in exploring mechanical counter-incentives that are stronger than the "don't screw up the fiction" incentive as a possible solution, though, rather than abandoning traits entirely).
    Posted By: Simon CI can't think of a game in which "invoke traits to get a bonus" is not problematic, even in games that I really like (like Dogs).
    It seems to me that skills in a fixed-skill-list game work almost exactly like freeform traits in a lot of instances. Is it critical for your argument that these things be "bonuses" before they start being bad? Is it the boundless stackability that's the source of the problem?

    I think stackability makes the problem worse, but it's not the sole cause. One time I played a CoC scenario where my Texas oil baron had 99% with pistols. It was pretty hard not to solve every problem by shooting it.

    The trouble, I think, with mechanical counter-incentives is that you'll still have an optimal number of traits to invoke, and be encouraged to play to the numbers rather than to the fiction. I'm not sure that "Final Hour" solves that problem.

    To my mind, there are some conflicting goals. You want:

    Mechanical significance for elements of the fiction (i.e. it matters that your dude has a sword and mine doesn't)
    Different significance for different fictional things (a sword is good for different things than a happy childhood is)
    Broad scope for including a wide range of fictional things with mechanical significance.
    People playing their characters according to their desires and perceptions, without distractions.

    How you balance those things is a tricky aspect of design.
  • Hey JB, can I ask you why you want to use Aspects in the first place? Obviously they are a way for the mechanics to encourage colour narration, but what is it that you actually want to get out of them?
  • Posted By: Simon CThe trouble, I think, with mechanical counter-incentives is that you'll still have an optimal number of traits to invoke, and be encouraged to play to the numbers rather than to the fiction. I'm not sure that "Final Hour" solves that problem.
    That assumes there's an obvious optimal number, but there isn't always a mechanical "best move" in every system (and if there is it's probably a problem in the design). If the difference in effectiveness between two choices isn't extreme, or is even hard to evaluate in linear terms, then the mechanical choices don't necessarily have to overwhelm the fiction or undermine the fictional integrity. (And I can't say whether my game solves all these problems, but it's certainly an area I'm working on).
  • If mechanics aren't there to be used optimally, than why are they there? They SHOULD shape the fiction. In playing Storied Age, which is the closest thing I have to first hand Aspect experience, the problem I have is that I simply have too few options to choose from, I shoe horn on the occasions I do because I have no other choice. Alternately, such shoehorning can be a lot of fun, especially if the final solution is something that works on a narrative level. I would suggest taking the time to help your player come up with justifications for his traits that both sound good narratively and give him the best bonus he can get, I'm sure a table full of creative involved people could come up with compelling ways to include even far out traits, and if this fails, than the players *should" be willing to suck it up.
  • Posted By: Simon CTraits not only give you a bonus, they shape the consequences of success or failure. If you're using "Gunfighter" in a conflict, then someone is going to get shot. If you're using "Killer instinct" then someone is going to get killed. If you're using "Sneaky" you'll either tell a lie or be lied to.
    I really like the idea of explicitly codifying the effects of aspects. Each aspect has a side-effect attached to it, if you want the bonus you have to deal with the effect. So using your "I have a big sword" aspect means "Someone gets cut," while "happy childhood" means "you go on ad nauseum about how awesome your older brother is" (These are not the best examples..)

    Of course this severely limits the "freeform" nature of aspects, but you could always add new aspect effects through play or something...

    The important thing is that they should be detrimental to your character, or at least put an interesting spin on the conflict, mitigating the desire to use as many of them as possible for every roll.

    Anyway, ignore me, I'm just running with an idea.

    image
  • Posted By: Ryan Macklin

    The price of technology that makes things more awesome is that it will also be used with mediocrity.

    - Ryan
    Posted By: Simon C. I mean, I'm sure it works for them, but you can basically replace any piece of a system with "just play with people who share your aesthetic".
    there is somthing of a conflict in the boardgame community i will relate to this.

    The brightest trend in board gaming is the rise of the co-op game. some designers feel a major flaw with many of these games is the "explainer player" problem where the most skilled player will "help" other players with their turn making the game into a strange single player puppet show.

    Some designers and very successful games do not care one bit about this "problem" and many groups experience these games without this problem ever really happening.

    So is this "explainer" a problem or not, who is right? They are both right. it is both a problem and not a problem. 60-80% of board game groups dont experience the problem however 40-20% may very well hate co-op games because of it.

    However there is no reason to not try and solve problems like these, you may just end up with something much better (that will eventually have new "problems")
  • Another thread covered this in detail. This is a summary of possible solutions which emerged:

    1. Cap stacking, either at a fixed level, or using diminishing returns (eg adding dice and taking the top two rather than adding bonuses. Disadvantage - people will still stack up the limit anyway, meaning that traits become mechanically less important, though the incentive is less.
    2. Restricting the re-use of traits using resource management (eg X times per session, not twice in a row, the bonus lessens)
    3. As GM or player, be that downer. People will get used to it, and love you for it, eventually. If necessary use the phrase "douche."
    4. Peer pressure, but with "calling out" a less socially awkward thing.
    5. Only offer rewards when PCs "lose" (eg Poison'd)
    6. Insist on a narratively distinct use of the trait each time.
    7. Retrospectively tighten up or change traits which turn out to have too many legitimate uses.
    8. If someone in the scene, or even not in the scene, has a more specific skill you can't bring your skill into play. (Mortal Coil). Problem, why shouldn't I use my sword fighting in a duel against a duellist?
    9. Offer a bonus each time a different combination of attributes is used until all possible combinations have been used.
    10. Be very strict during character creation so you don't have to be later.
    11. Let people redefine their traits when they fail / grow bored of them.
    12. Make sure that opponents are likely to be susceptible to the traits.
    13. Trait uses (or maybe stacking above a certainly level) create negative consequences.
  • edited December 2010
    Posted By: Dan Maruschak
    It seems to me that skills in a fixed-skill-list game work almost exactly like freeform traits in a lot of instances.
    This this this this! skills like this are total hogwash, they have even fewer checks and balances then most games give to traits.

    I think the hart of the issue is how many games try to adapt rules to the story. it's like petting a cat from tail to head, it's the wrong direction and most cats don't put up with it. Try as hard as you can you will never have enough rules to resolve any story moment. the less rules you have the less the system inspires the story and the more directions the story can go so few rules will cover even fewer situations. try to have rules for every situation and the game becomes less and less useful because people will rarely be able to find those rules.

    i think trying to adapt a story to the rules and results has fewer overall problems.
  • I ran FATE last night, so I can tell you how I fixed this for my group:

    "If you're looking and digging and reaching for an Aspect to use, step back for a second and think about your character. When you were making your character, did you think, 'man, my character is really good at this'? If you did, you probably have an Aspect somewhere. If not, you are not doing yourself any favors by digging around. Aspects say something about your character, they're little dribs and drabs of how you saw your character when you made them and how they've advanced since that time. So you're sneaking around and you rolled like shit. You want to reroll. Is your character sneaky? If so, look for an Aspect. If not, then your character isn't sneaky and can't count on being sneaky, so don't bother."
  • edited December 2010
    image

    It broke!

    I threw a brick at it.

    This window sucks! It didn't stop me.

    When players abuse systems, my friend Jim is fond of bringing out the window breaking metaphor. No one can stop you from erasing numbers on your character sheet or lying about what you rolled when no one is watching. That doesn't mean the game is broken. RPGs are generally social games that assume you have a functional social group.

    But there is a fine line.

    RPGs are akin to conversation among friends and systems is the language that constrains that conversation. But what does that language encourage? I've seen the best roleplayers struggle with themselves when trying to decide if they can bs the use of a trait. And often they will decide it doesn't make sense to give in to temptation (often out of guilt). But the mechanics often whisper, "if you can justify this, you can win" and even if you decide after 2 minutes of struggle not to use the trait because it feels cheesy, it's still a tension that may detract from the experience. Especially when usage of certain resources comes with little to no risk.

    I like how Mouse Guard handles this. You can only use a single Wise Skill and a single piece of Gear to help yourself. Your friends can help but only with 1 skill and it comes with risk. If you fail, everyone who helped you also suffers a consequence. The risk and limits help streamline the issue.

    I like how in D&D 4E now, Aid Another has a scaling difficulty and if you fail, you give a -1 to your friend (vs a +2 for success). In play, it has made a huge difference. The moment of hesitation that the risk of -1 gives you puts into sharp focus the question... does it make sense for me to even help?

    But as I mentioned, it is a fine line. I don't like the idea that systems should ignore human limitations or the other extreme that systems should assume the worst in people.
  • Burning Empires dealt with this elegantly by just placing a hard limit on how much grubbing you're allowed to do. In BE it was with related skills, and it was capped at 2. The end.

    So you could just you can only grub for X Aspects where X is a reasonable amount.
  • Note that LB doesn't really specify when the gamemaster sets the difficulty. I'd be inclined to increase the difficulty in the face of aspect-grubbing, but that's just the sort of jerk GM I am.
  • One option that's not mentioned here but that I'm fond of is designing freeform traits/aspects with some built-in limitations.

    For instance, if you're having this problem in Dogs in the Vineyard:

    * Each trait must specify which arena/arenas it can affect. And you can only choose two, perhaps. So, for instance, you might write, "My father was a drunk, 2d6", and list the trait as (Talking/Fighting). Then you couldn't use that trait in a shootout or a physical conflict, but only when talking or in a brawl.

    In the case of a game like Dogs, it could remove some interesting possibilities from the fiction. But if you're aiming for balance and/or consistency, clarity, etc, I think it's one interesting solution, and quite functional. It also communicates a little more about what the player may have meant by that trait or aspect.

    Another example:

    In a Wicked Age... does this to some extent, by requiring every Particular Strength to list one or two forms which must complement its use.
  • Paul, interesting point.

    I suspect that Dogs is improved by having traits which are simple and straightforward, like "Good with a gun" or "Knows horses". Those traits are easy to narrate into a conflict, it's clear what they cover and what they don't, and they have clear implications for the fiction. I think traits like "My father was a drunk" are likely to be more problematic for many groups.

    That's just my suspicion though. I'd be interested in trying that out in practice. I've heard people have had good results with pre-generated characters in Dogs - just young kids with a gun, a horse, and a coat, nothing fancy. That fits with my inclination that Dogs is sometimes better when the characters are cyphers - a front for the players. Sometimes playing a character - taking on a role - can be a shield between you and making judgements, which is what the game is all about.

    I think you're dead-on with IaWA, too.
  • John,

    Sometimes people say clever stuff in a thread, and because it's smart and obvious in retrospect, no one engages with them. I just wanted to say that what you said was clever and I agree.

    I think though that ideally, what you're doing by providing a robust system that's difficult to game or exploit is not "assuming the worst", you're allowing people to be their best. You're giving players the ability to do their best, to have everyone at the table's interests aligned in achieving a single thing, trusting that the system is going to stand up to that, that no one has to pull their punches.
  • Posted By: Simon CHere's a better alternative:

    Traits not only give you a bonus, they shape the consequences of success or failure. If you're using "Gunfighter" in a conflict, then someone is going to get shot. If you're using "Killer instinct" then someone is going to get killed. If you're using "Sneaky" you'll either tell a lie or be lied to.
    I was just re-skimming this thread and wanted to underline the above.

    Simon, I like where you're headed here. I can imagine a version of Dogs in the Vineyard where what Traits you bring in affects Fallout. It could be as simple as, if you bring in a Relationship, then Fallout could mean that specific Relationship's descriptor or die size may be affected as a consequence.
  • John, in your game Blackout, do you risk all the traits that you bring into a conflict? That is, do you lose all the traits you use in a conflict you don't manage to win?
  • Dogs is hard to fiddle with. I'm not sure you wouldn't make it worse by making it better.

    Dogs already kind of has a thing where the trait you bring in affects the fallout - escalation. If you bring in "Good with guns" chances are you're also escalating to gunfighting. It's only when you're using ambiguous traits like "Daddy used to drink" or whatever, that it becomes less clear.

    How I see it is that there are two broad schools of conflict resolution: "How Then Why" and "Why Then How". They look like the following:

    "How Then Why" style is seen clearly in 3ED&D, Apocalypse World, and probably a number of others. It's kind of present in Sorcerer, but not clearly.

    You say what your character is doing, and the GM tells you if that requires a dice roll or not. What you're doing gives you a range of possible fictional outcomes, and what you roll on the dice chooses between those outcomes.

    "Why Then How" style is seen very clearly in Cold City, PTA, and a lot of others. It's pretty much how Dogs works too, but not completely.

    You say what your character wants to achieve, and we set stakes. What you roll on the dice determines whether you get what you want, and narration, what dice you rolled, and sometimes other things decides how you get there.

    Obviously, in practice most games aren't clearly in one camp or the other, they're somewhere in between. Burning Wheel, for example, is mostly Why Then How, but the way conflicts can be resolved with either a single dice roll, or multiple rolls, gives it some elements of How Then Why.

    Is that a useful distinction to make?
  • In a game I'm currently designing (which is meant for one-shots, much like, say, Shock:) you have Traits, but the mechanical relevance of those is single-use: only by dropping or permanently transforming one you get a concrete bonus.
  • edited December 2010
    Posted By: Paul T.John, in your game Blackout, do you risk all the traits that you bring into a conflict? That is, do you lose all the traits you use in a conflict you don't manage to win?
    There have been so many playtests versions and I haven't played in almost a year (I think) so it's hard to keep track! But I believe in the version that doesn't use dominoes, every trait you use is wagered into a pot like chips in poker. You risk it by using it, and if you lose it, in most circumstances the winner may change your trait and in rarer cases take it from you. I remember (although it's been a while now) working well. Although it was very tense, every conflict was potentially life changing.
  • Simon, "Why then How" seems to open itself more to "Aspect grubbing" depending on the specific game.
  • John,

    Yes, that is true. It's a product of the fact that we've started rolling dice before we've decided exactly what's happening in the fiction. That means we're liable to make what's happening in the fiction serve what we want to happen with the dice, if we're able.

    Another disadvantage is that, barring any system forcing the alternative, "Why Then How" can let you skip over "How" entirely.

    The advantages are that it's often simpler to have a single stakes-resolution system, rather than a different system for many kinds of conflict (check out 3ED&D's individual rules for each skill), it lets you have freeform traits which are nifty for many reasons, and (this could be a downside too) it's very flexible in terms of the scope of your conflicts.
  • Oh! I would be very interested in people who have played a lot of Sorcerer and IaWA talking about how those games approach this. My sense is that they're somewhere in between, or a third option entirely.
  • edited December 2010

    Just popping in to say thanks again, this is really all very interesting stuff. I've no interest in trying to choke down the thread, though I might start another, more focused one in a bit based on Johnstone's quite to-the-point question about why to use Aspects at all.

  • Posted By: RafuIn a game I'm currently designing (which is meant for one-shots, much like, say,Shock:) you have Traits, but the mechanical relevance of those is single-use: only by dropping or permanently transforming one you get a concrete bonus.
    Remember Tomorrow does something like this, too, with the gaining and using of positive and negative conditions. It felt a little weird at first, but with a bit of getting used to, it works really well in play.
  • Posted By: jenskotI can imagine a version of Dogs in the Vineyard where what Traits you bring in affects Fallout. It could be as simple as, if you bring in a Relationship, then Fallout could mean that specific Relationship's descriptor or die size may be affected as a consequence.
    IIRC, this is a common variant for DitV play called "Use it, risk it." Fallout that causes trait changes must be applied to the risked trait(s).
  • If anyone wants to discuss the way I use traits in Final Hour of a Storied Age, I started a Forge thread to discuss it.
  • Posted By: David ArtmanIIRC, this is a common variant for DitV play called "Use it, risk it." Fallout that causes trait changes must be applied to the risked trait(s).
    Is this much of a drawback? In my recollection, many conflicts used nearly every trait on a character sheet. So you'd still be choosing from almost every trait you have.
  • Posted By: Marc MajcherPosted By: RafuIn a game I'm currently designing (which is meant for one-shots, much like, say,Shock:) you have Traits, but the mechanical relevance of those is single-use: only by dropping or permanently transforming one you get a concrete bonus.
    Remember Tomorrow does something like this, too, with the gaining and using of positive and negative conditions. It felt a little weird at first, but with a bit of getting used to, it works really well in play.
    True! And Remember Tomorrow is oriented toward long-term play, thus showing how this sort of technique is not just for one-shots! (In my strictly one-shot game in development, unlike in RT, you can never gain new traits, just spend the ones you start the game with.)
  • Another aspect of a challenge like this is the negotiation that the game can create or facilitate at the table.

    Consider this game:

    * You roll some dice to win.
    * If you have an applicable trait/aspect, add its dice to huge benefit.

    There are likely to be some tough arguments/negotiations in this case, as a lot hangs in the balance, and a grey area ("Does a freeform aspect apply?") is being asked to be turned into a black/white duality.

    Now consider this slightly different game:

    * You roll some dice to win.
    * If you have an applicable trait/aspect, add its dice to small but significant benefit.
    * If you have a trait/aspect that kind of fits the situation, but not perfectly, you can add its dice for the cost of one Token.

    I would expect that negotiation to be much easier in this game. After all, if the players are arguing about an aspect's applicability to a situation, it's probably in the "grey zone". The player spends their Token, benefits, and everyone is satisfied.

    So, I think you can design so as to make various discussions easier or less conflicted.
  • Posted By: Paul T.Now consider this slightly different game:

    * You roll some dice to win.
    * If you have an applicable trait/aspect, add its dice to small but significant benefit.
    * If you have a trait/aspect that kind of fits the situation, but not perfectly, you can add its dice for the cost of one Token.

    I would expect that negotiation to be much easier in this game. After all, if the players are arguing about an aspect's applicability to a situation, it's probably in the "grey zone". The player spends their Token, benefits, and everyone is satisfied.

    So, I think you can design so as to make various discussions easier or less conflicted.
    Neat!
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