Magic 8-Ball

edited May 2012 in Story Games

A friend of mine has challenged me to design a game using the classic Magic 8-Ball as a central resolution mechanic. I'm starting this thread to think about how this might work and to appeal to the Story Games Hive Mind for inspiration.

The 8-Ball Itself

The Magic 8-Ball is basically a d20 with a distinct "answer" on each face. There are 10 positive results, 5 negative, and 5 uncertain.

  • It is certain
  • It is decidedly so
  • Without a doubt
  • Yes – definitely
  • You may rely on it
  • As I see it, yes
  • Most likely
  • Outlook good
  • Yes
  • Signs point to yes
  • Reply hazy, try again
  • Ask again later
  • Better not tell you now
  • Cannot predict now
  • Concentrate and ask again
  • Don't count on it
  • My reply is no
  • My sources say no
  • Outlook not so good
  • Very doubtful

Asking Questions

So... seems like if I'm going to use the 8-Ball, I need to think about using questions to frame whatever activity is being resolved.

I'm swinging my sword at the goblin. Do I kill him?

or

I need to find some unobtainium to fuel my Doomsday Device. Is it in the laboratory?

or even

Will Mary Sue go out to dinner with me?

One of the central design challenges I see is determining and communicating how to appropriately scope the questions.

Getting Answers

Yes: Out of the box, the Magic 8-Ball is heavily weighted toward success, which I find problematic as I'm very much in the camp that values interesting failure. I can see using the slight shading in the answers to provide a bit more graininess, but I'm not sure where to go.

Ask Again: These results are interesting to me - I can see using them to introduce complication (analogous to 7-9 in AW), or to extend the conflict.

No: Interestingly, the "No" answers are all slightly hedged, whereas the "Yes" answers are mostly definitive. Don't know what this means to me yet.

So...

Before I continue rambling, I'd like to appeal for some of SG's trademark thoughtfulness, wackiness, or whatever. Does this seem worth pursuing? Has someone already done this? Any suggestions or ideas?

Comments

  • edited May 2012
    I see a slightly different "relative scale" than suggested by your list above, to whit:

    100% Yes
    Yes – definitely
    Yes

    Yes, but with suspiciously excessive verbiage
    It is certain
    It is decidedly so
    Without a doubt
    You may rely on it

    Yes, but without perfect knowledge (i.e., opinion, likelihood)
    As I see it, yes
    Most likely
    Outlook good
    Signs point to yes

    Stalling
    Reply hazy, try again
    Ask again later

    Stalling, but with suspiciously excessive verbiage
    Better not tell you now
    Cannot predict now

    Stalling, but blaming the questioner (!)
    Concentrate and ask again

    No, but without perfect knowledge (i.e., opinion, likelihood)
    My sources say no
    Outlook not so good
    Very doubtful

    No, but with suspiciously excessive verbiage
    Don't count on it
    My reply is no

    100% No
    ... (as you point out)

    I got nuthin' more than that. But you might be able to run with that more nuanced "scale" than "Yes/Wait/No".
    [edited to better-sort phrases to match my thinking.]
  • Random thought:

    "Better not tell you now" is actually super interesting - the implications of that result are - wow. "Resolving this conflict right now would be bad, and I can't even explain why that is." That's super strange on a metagame level and sort of has my mind racing.
  • Posted By: David ArtmanYes, but with suspiciously excessive verbiage
    Stalling, but blaming the questioner (!)
    These are awesome, and your revised breakdown is a really helpful aid in trying to recalibrate the continuum of results.
  • I like this idea!

    My inclination would be too look at the positive answers and try and interpret them for as much hedging as possible. Some of them are pretty hard to spin, but these five:

    * You may rely on it
    * As I see it, yes
    * Most likely
    * Outlook good
    * Signs point to yes

    all feel to me somewhat hedged.

    So, a Magic 8-Ball is about the future, whereas most resolution happens in the present moment. It's also about consulting something, rather than assessing a situation directly. In short, it's about being at a remove from the actual action, in multiple senses.

    This inclines me toward trying a game where your fictional situation is also about acting at removes. Maybe you're an emperor, consulting advisers (soothsayers, even) and ordering agents to do your bidding.

    Something about the weaseling nature of many of the answers would incline me towards a political milieu.
  • The main problem with the Magic 8-Ball is that it's slow. So why not preresolve each use, in secret or perhaps not.
  • Bust it open and take out the d20...?
  • ^Yes!
    Step 1 is smack it with a hammer.
  • Do I kill the Goblin?

    Yes – definitely
    "Your sword bites deep into the goblin's armor, penetrating flesh and sundering bone!"

    Yes
    "After a frantic exchange of blows you manage to slip your blade into the goblin's side, killing it."

    It is decidedly so
    "You land a quick series of strikes on the wretched creature, disarming and then killing it."

    Without a doubt
    "Your sword cleaves the goblin's head from its shoulders"

    You may rely on it
    "The goblin lies dead at you feet. Its clan-mates slowly back away, unwilling to take you on after such a display of skill."

    As I see it, yes
    "You strike the goblin, and it crumples to the floor. Is it dead, or just wounded, waiting to strike?"

    Most likely
    "The goblin clutches its wound and begins to back away. Do you strike it down or show mercy?"

    Outlook good
    "The goblin flees down the corridor, trailing blood. That had to have been a mortal blow."

    Signs point to yes
    "The goblin flees down the corridor, trailing blood. Surely it can't survive a wound like that?"

    Reply hazy, try again
    "You exchange a series of blows, but neither of you gain an upper hand..."

    Ask again later
    "Jim, what do you do while Eric is dealing with the goblin?"

    Better not tell you now
    "As you close in on the goblin, the gate crashes in. Looks like the troll is loose..."

    Cannot predict now
    "The lights go out!"

    Concentrate and ask again
    "The goblin catches you off guard and presses you back. You steel yourself for another round... what do you do?"

    My reply is no
    "You can't seem to get past the creature's guard. Keep this up and it's sure to kill you!"

    My sources say no
    "The goblin manages slip past you! Do you give chase?"

    Outlook not so good
    "The goblin presses its attack! You feel your weapon begin to slip from your hands as fatigue sets in..."

    Very doubtful
    "You try to land a few blows, but fail to connect. The creature is fiercer than you thought!

    Don't count on it
    "The goblin's axe rakes your side. Pain spreads across your ribs. You better do something fast, before the pain and blood loss renders you too weak to fight!"
  • edited May 2012
    Posted By: WPTunesThese are awesome, and your revised breakdown is a really helpful aid in trying to recalibrate the continuum of results.
    Thanks! Now, re-read it, because I tweaked it a bit (moved a couple, added a new category).

    I also concur with Jason (it's so easy to do so!): There's something VERY suspicious about a lot of these phrases, and they therefore feel kind of 'pregnant.' I didn't see the metagame aspect he saw, though; i.e., that "the GM" is hedging--I saw it as "the system" hedging.

    Did anyone else notice that, now, the "results category curve" is: 2 4 4 5 3 2 ?

    That's almost a bell-like curve. We loves our bell curves....
  • Posted By: MeserachSo, a Magic 8-Ball is about the future, whereas most resolution happens in the present moment. It's also about consulting something, rather than assessing a situation directly. In short, it's about being at a remove from the actual action, in multiple senses.

    This inclines me toward trying a game where your fictional situation is also about acting at removes. Maybe you're an emperor, consulting advisers (soothsayers, even) and ordering agents to do your bidding.

    Something about the weaseling nature of many of the answers would incline me towards a political milieu.
    This distancing is interesting. The action of shaking the 8-Ball (slow as it is!) and reading the answer clearly has a ritualistic feel, and I can see that interacting well with a setting such as you hint at.
    Posted By: David ArtmanI also concur with Jason (it's so easy to do so!): There's something VERY suspicious about a lot of these phrases, and they therefore feel kind of 'pregnant.' I didn't see the metagame aspect he saw, though; i.e., that "the GM" is hedging--I saw it as "the system" hedging.
    I concur with your concurrence! This aspect of the discussion so far has blown my mind wide open. The hedged and overblown answers are totally in line with the traditional "fortune teller" role of the 8-Ball, but when read closely in a game-mechanical context, the language itself unfolds very differently.




    This discussion is blowing my mind in the best possible way. I'm now thinking of an entirely different sort of game and experience than I started with. Please, please</> continue!
  • Woke up to read this thread. Mind blown.... But as a means to stake setting and subsequent narrative resolution in a solitaire story game! My mind is racing on thinking how to make this work, whilst still incorporating factoring from character traits / skills / aspects. Awesome thread!
  • I used a magic eight ball as a ritualistic oracle in a game submission I offered for a contest a few years back. I think it was a game chef, or maybe the "little game chef" contest. It was the one that had starfish as one of the components.

    The ball is a great tool, and while I was focusing on it as a ritualistic device for determining the origins of mysterious artefacts, I had some great ideas at the time for using it as a proper resolution method. (So much, that I included the ball as an "Infinite Oracle" [an eight on it's side being an infinity symbol] for my goblin tarot deck.)

    Around this time, I also wrote some posts on my blog about the potential for the magic eight ball. --> here <--</a>

    I'd love to see a few more designers explore it's potential.
  • edited May 2012
    The skill/risk is in the question you ask. If you ask for something where a positive result will be helpful, consult the 8-ball straight up. But, if you take the risk and phrase the question where a postive result is bad for you, give yourself a fate chip, yum-yum, or an experience point. For example, 'Am I trapped in the burning house?' is much more risk taking than 'Do I escape the fire?'
    --
    TAZ
  • Posted By: zircherIf you ask for something where a positive result will be helpful, consult the 8-ball straight up. But, if you take the risk and phrase the question where a postive result is bad for you, give yourself a fate chip, yum-yum, or an experience point.
    This may be the missing piece. Cogitating now...
  • edited May 2012

    Okay, here's what I've come up with. It's just a rough idea so far, and this is far from being "game text" that includes all of the cues and clues that would be needed for use in actual play, but it's a start. Breaking this up into two posts for readability's sake.

    I envision this as a existing alongside a task-level resolution system, providing players the opportunity to move from "task resolution" to "conflict resolution" in a flavorful way. For purposes of this post, it doesn't really matter what the more fine-grained mechanic is, just that it exists. I'm also assuming a GM-ed game.

    Each non-GM player has 2 "Oracle tokens" per session, and the GM has a number of tokens equal to the number of other players +1.

    Consulting the Oracle

    At any point during play, even during a scene where the task-level mechanic is already being used, players may choose to Consult the Oracle. When a player wishes to engage the oracle mechanic, she spends an Oracle token, takes the Magic 8-Ball in her hand and raises it so that it is in view of all the players at the table, saying, "It is time - I shall Consult the Oracle." She then asks her question, then shakes the 8-Ball and reads out the answer.

    Asking The Question

    If all of the non-GM players choose to spend an Oracle token, the initial player may frame a question that impacts the group as a whole. Otherwise, the question must relate only to the questioner.

    Questions should be in the future tense, and the scope of the question should be appropriate to the scope of the "conflict" at hand. The question should also allow for negative outcomes that don't "shut down" the joint story.

    So, if the character is holding initial negotiations with Count Froderik to build a business relationship, an appropriate question might be:

    Will Count Froderik allow me to move my goods across his land in exchange for a small cut of the profits?

    On the other hand, if the characters are engaged in a skirmish with a goblin raiding party, the question might be:

    Will we defeat these goblins without taking serious harm?

    Obviously, each group will determine what sorts of questions work best for them.

  • edited May 2012

    Interpreting the Oracle

    Some of the Oracle's responses are clearly just "Yes".

    If the answer is "Yes" or "Yes - definitely" then the questioner describes the outcome.

    "Sir Froderik hems and haws, and consults with his advisors, but eventually comes to a decision. He will allow me to move my wagons across his land for 2% of my net profits."

    Some of the Oracle's positive responses are suspiciously verbose. Why is it going overboard with these answers?

    If the answer is "It is certain," "It is decidely so," "Without a doubt," or "You may rely on it," then the questioner describes the outcome as above, but the GM may spend an Oracle token to write down a caveat that may or may not be kept secret for the time being.

    "We defeat the goblins with only minor scratches and loot their corpses."

    The GM smiles and writes down "Perhaps one of the daggers is cursed?" on an index card.

    Some of the Oracle's positive responses seem pretty weasely. Is it possible that the Oracle may not really know what's going on?

    If the answer is "As I see it, yes," "Most likely," "Outlook good," or "Signs point to yes," the questioner describes the outcome, but any player may spend a token to write down a caveat, and the GM may write one for free.

    "Sir Froderik hems and haws, and consults with his advisors, but eventually comes to a decision. He will allow me to move my wagons across his land for 2% of my net profits." The GM writes "Sir Froderik has already made a similar deal with a competitor." Another player writes "Sir Froderik's daughter is planning to stow away on one of the wagons."

    Sometimes the Oracle seems to have no clue at all. Maybe the stars aren't visible, or maybe Dionne Warwick's psychic isn't taking calls at the moment?

    If the answer is "Reply hazy, try again," "Cannot predict now," or "Ask again later," or "Concentrate and ask again," the questioner gets her Oracle token back, and the scene moves back into "task" mode. No player may Consult the Oracle on the same matter until someone (even the questioner) has Consulted the Oracle on a different question.

    Sometimes, the Oracle seems to think it's just not a good idea to answer a particular question.

    If the answer is "Better not tell you now," the questioner gets her Oracle token back, and may not Consult the Oracle on the same matter again.

    The Oracle is never entirely negative. Perhaps it doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings?

    If the answer is "My sources say no," "Outlook not so good," "Very doubtful," "Don't count on it," or "My reply is no," the GM describes the negative outcome, but any player may spend an Oracle token to write down a caveat, and the questioner may do so without spending a token.

    "Sir Froderik just doesn't seem to be convinced. He's holding pat at 10% of the gross." The questioner writes down "I've been watching Froderik's steward during the negotiations. He seems bribable."

  • Still Unresolved

    As this stands, the GM can spend tokens to add caveats, but I haven't addressed whether/how the GM can directly Consult the Oracle.

    I haven't really incorporated some of the great ideas that have come out in this thread, and I'm still interested in them. In particular, Jason's thought about "Better not tell you now" and Thomas's comments on the intrinsically distancing nature of consulting the 8-Ball haven't gotten thoroughly mixed in yet.

    At this point "Consulting the Oracle" is clearly a player action, and the ritual itself is entirely meta-game, a way of passing the story stick in a limited sense. I wonder if it's possible to take Thomas's ideas on potentially fruitful settings/scopes/what-have-you and apply them so that the character is actually interacting with the Oracle in some way.

  • So far, so good! The caveats bit is a clever way to interpret, in rules, the waffling results. (Though I don't know if I like it as a bolt-on to normal TR.)

    I'm not best-pleased with this one, though:
    Posted By: WPTunesIf the answer is "Better not tell you now,"the questioner gets her Oracle token back, and may not Consult the Oracle on the same matter again.
    a) It shuts down the whole questioning angle, and yet it's one of the neutrals.
    b) As Jason wrote above, that one should be really SINGING and doing interesting stuff in-play, not merely blocking. Get wild with it: it's only coming up 5% of the time! ;)
    Ah, but it looks like you concede that in your second post (I tend to reply as I read, so I don't lose points during a long post). OK, cool: do something with it.

    And, no, don't let the GM have the Oracle! HELL, no! Or go GMless....

    Ooo! Idea! If it's GMless, one could have a set of cards that is used to generate situation; and THEN the 8 Ball is used to tweak that situation, similarly to your caveats above but maybe without the resource economy of tokens. Hmmm....
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