[London by Moonlight] The System

I'd like to thank everyone for their help so far. The last thread was a big help in firming up the world of London by Moonlight. Now, I would like to discuss the system.

The goal I am going for is a system that is a hybrid of story game and traditional RPG. Primarily, I want the ease of setup, coherent rules, and emotional depth of a story game and still have the "long game" potential of traditional roleplaying. I've started a ruleset that is still currently in Alpha status. Its called Dream System and you can download it from here. So far, it is just the Character Creation and Conflict chapters, but there is more to come. I would greatly appreciate some feedback to see if I am on the right track.

Some of the particulars of the game that may not be obvious:

1.) Uses the GM/Player dynamic - Yes, I went with this traditional arrangement. I actually had to throw out some pre-alpha rules because they would work better with a GM-less game.

2.) The rules are meant to be somewhat generic - Dream System is meant to cover 3 interlocking worlds so far.

3.) I am attempting to use the mental tools used by authors to create stories - I haven't some of this stuff down yet. For example, I am going to attempt to use the 3 Act story structure when it comes to creating adventures. I'm not particularly in love with the Character Creation system. I'm sure it would work, but it also seems rather "meh.' I do want the players to be able to make their characters quickly and easily.

Comments

  • I'm going to do the bad thing I do, which is to read your document and write my comments here at the same time, so brace yourself for my unleashed stream of consciousness. First up, Conflict:

    - Order of a Conflict lists "Disagreement" and "Detailing", but these don't match up to the section headers that follow.

    - The questions are presented as a "Will I succeed at X?" format, but could you also have "What will the price of my success be?" as a question?

    - On the results table, perhaps for ease of comprehension, the entries could be standarised? I understood it to mean that "a Level 1 Fact" is the same as 1 level of fact; is that right? If so, I'd use the same format for all entries, i.e. "On a 6, you get 2 levels of fact; on a 5 you get 1 level of fact" etc.

    - I like the dice system, it's similar to InSpectres, but the upgrading of fact levels makes an effective difference, though I don't know how fact levels work, so I'm not sure if getting 2 more fact levels with every 6 rolled is significant.

    - The example of play starts off without referencing the rules for conflicts, with the GM putting a card forward with the current obstacle in the scene written on it. I would guess this is an example of adding Details?

    - Actually, that example of play may not be the best one: it's a situation where the GM doesn't really care about the outcome, they're just throwing in a speed bump, and the outcome itself doesn't really do anything, it just adds a bit of colour to the narrative. I'm all for colour, but I'm not a fan of conflict resolutions that allow for "Nothing really changes, the status quo remains" as a viable result.

    Overall, this shows promise, but I really want to know what fact levels are and how they would affect play: it certainly looks like a game I would play and enjoy, since it gives the players a firm handle on how much narrative control they can assert over the fiction, plus conflict resolution appears fast & simple. More, please!
  • There is really nothing to say about the character creation system. It looks like "over the edge" to me, but you cannot really say if the values generated are adequate, unless you look at how this works in play.

    The conflict system is deceptively simple, but such system need a ton of meta-rules like priciples and agenda to make them work. The only principle given here is "make failure a possibility". For me this sounds like, "even if players come prepared make up some random stuff to crimp their dice pools" (like pig fat).

    Also it seems weird how the example reneges on the stakes: if it is about save or die, the first fact of the writer should be: "you die", and leting the player off the hook with color seems strange. But maybe that is the point: an illusionary death threat for rousing emotions in players and then going back on it, only inflicting some cost or lesser harm.

    It all probably works at your table, people having internalized the principles of threaten-retreact, so I cannot tell you this die-oracle cannot work.

    But it leaves me scratching my head. Is save or die the standard situation at the table? If yes, do characters really die every four dice rolls? Why am I generating high attributes when the GM agenda is to crimp the values or hit me in my weak stats anyway (remember the "make failure a real possibility" principle)?

    Maybe the example is really not good ... but it gives the paradigm on how you envision the game.
  • I'm going to do the bad thing I do, which is to read your document and write my comments here at the same time, so brace yourself for my unleashed stream of consciousness. First up, Conflict:

    - Order of a Conflict lists "Disagreement" and "Detailing", but these don't match up to the section headers that follow.
    No, it doesn't. Messy, since I consider this the core mechanic of the game, but I was still transitioning the system away from an auction mechanic. I personally like an auction, but its too easy to abuse. Or, at least it would have the perception of abuse by the GM unless I came up with something to make it more fair.
    - The questions are presented as a "Will I succeed at X?" format, but could you also have "What will the price of my success be?" as a question?
    Interesting idea. I think that would only be applicable to the mixed results of "yes, but..." or "No, but..." don't you think?
    - On the results table, perhaps for ease of comprehension, the entries could be standarised? I understood it to mean that "a Level 1 Fact" is the same as 1 level of fact; is that right? If so, I'd use the same format for all entries, i.e. "On a 6, you get 2 levels of fact; on a 5 you get 1 level of fact" etc.

    - I like the dice system, it's similar to InSpectres, but the upgrading of fact levels makes an effective difference, though I don't know how fact levels work, so I'm not sure if getting 2 more fact levels with every 6 rolled is significant.
    Facts are a part of the game I haven't written up yet. They are a general placeholder for things that the player or GM can come up with that may be of future benefit. The Fast Levels act just like the Levels of a Trait.
    - The example of play starts off without referencing the rules for conflicts, with the GM putting a card forward with the current obstacle in the scene written on it. I would guess this is an example of adding Details?
    Precisely. One of the things I liked about the abandoned Auction mechanic is that the player and GM would bid Tokens to get the outcome they wanted, but they needed to narrate what those bids represented in the flow of the Conflict.
    - Actually, that example of play may not be the best one: it's a situation where the GM doesn't really care about the outcome, they're just throwing in a speed bump, and the outcome itself doesn't really do anything, it just adds a bit of colour to the narrative. I'm all for colour, but I'm not a fan of conflict resolutions that allow for "Nothing really changes, the status quo remains" as a viable result.
    Duly noted. The next one will be better as the game firms up.
    Overall, this shows promise, but I really want to know what fact levels are and how they would affect play: it certainly looks like a game I would play and enjoy, since it gives the players a firm handle on how much narrative control they can assert over the fiction, plus conflict resolution appears fast & simple. More, please!
    A little more on Facts. They can be anything, as long as they are related to the current action. A possible Fact in the example could be that the Character finds an ornate dagger at the bottom of the pit, or they manage to flip up out of the pit with such mastery that it impresses the Princess that is travelling with the group.

  • If the auction system was superior in so many ways, except for a certain way it could be abused, I'd recommend playtesting it, and just telling the players not to abuse it.

    If it's really fun, then you can brainstorm for a rule or limitation to prevent the abuse, if necessary.
  • There is really nothing to say about the character creation system. It looks like "over the edge" to me, but you cannot really say if the values generated are adequate, unless you look at how this works in play.
    I did take inspiration from Over the Edge. Character Creation Alpha 3 should allow the players to define their Traits better by allowing them to choose a Body Trait, Mind Trait, Profession Trait, etc. These categories can be changed to fit the setting the Characters are to play in.
    The conflict system is deceptively simple, but such system need a ton of meta-rules like priciples and agenda to make them work. The only principle given here is "make failure a possibility". For me this sounds like, "even if players come prepared make up some random stuff to crimp their dice pools" (like pig fat).
    Another game I've taken inspiration from is Universalis. One of the things that I wanted the GM and the players to be able to do is improvise some of the details of a Conflict and have them make an impact on what's happening.
    Also it seems weird how the example reneges on the stakes: if it is about save or die, the first fact of the writer should be: "you die", and leting the player off the hook with color seems strange. But maybe that is the point: an illusionary death threat for rousing emotions in players and then going back on it, only inflicting some cost or lesser harm.

    It all probably works at your table, people having internalized the principles of threaten-retreact, so I cannot tell you this die-oracle cannot work.

    But it leaves me scratching my head. Is save or die the standard situation at the table? If yes, do characters really die every four dice rolls? Why am I generating high attributes when the GM agenda is to crimp the values or hit me in my weak stats anyway (remember the "make failure a real possibility" principle)?

    Maybe the example is really not good ... but it gives the paradigm on how you envision the game.
    In the example, the player rolls a 4, which is a "Yes, but..." result. The Character gets to escape from the pit, but doesn't get to do it cleanly. You're right in that it really isn't a good example. I really think that including other possible results in an example would make things clearer.

    Currently, the weakness of the current mechanic is the high amount of randomness when there isn't a high Trait Level to help insure success. I haven't completely worked out how I want damaging conditions to work in the game yet. At the time I wrote the Alpha 1 document, all I had was "Save or Die" in mind. Now, I think that something like a "No, but.." in that situation, could produce a lesser effect, like a Wound instead of the Goal of Death.

    Good stuff, guys! Keep it up!

  • If the auction system was superior in so many ways, except for a certain way it could be abused, I'd recommend playtesting it, and just telling the players not to abuse it.

    If it's really fun, then you can brainstorm for a rule or limitation to prevent the abuse, if necessary.
    I've kept the Auction rules available in their own document in case I change my mind. I think its possible to limit what the GM/Writer can do. For example, Prime Time Adventures limits the Producer to using only up to 5 cards in any one conflict. However, when I ran that game for my friends, I was continually accused of being able to overwhelm the players at any time, despite that limitation. I think this was primarily because they didn't understand that 5 was an absolute limit. It was Perception vs Fact. Everyone knows the GM can crush you at any time, but having a pile of tokens in front of you that allows everyone to see this may prove to be too much for some.

    The original allure of the Auction was that the Player that wins each Conflict slowly weakens. For each win, they must pay a Token to the Bank (or, perhaps, to the losing player). If they narrate something that pleases the other players, they can pay that player a Token from the Bank.

    It would make for a very tight system. Inherently, it wouldn't allow for mixed results, but it would be possible to allow the players to throw possible "buts" into the bid narration. "The price of success," as James put is in his post.

  • So here's a hypothetical alternative to save or die, one that I tend to use a lot in my games as it keeps the narrative moving forward and it's what I was referring to when I mentioned the "price of success."

    Your example of play can be simplified to "Can I get out of this pit?", but what if we assume that the PC will get out of the pit successfully? The question could then be modified to "Will I get out of this pit..."
    "... in time?"
    "... unharmed?"
    "... and rejoin my friends?"
    "... without help?"
    "... without losing my way?"

    Incorporating this more deeply into your rules, you might not even need to put forward opposition as the GM: there's no need to arbitrarily add complications to the task if you let the stakes encourage the players to commit more resources. For example, getting separated from your friends might be a small, interesting setback, so the player would be happy for the result to turn out either way, but getting injured or losing precious time might be of more critical importance, so players will stake more of their resources to avoid that fate.
  • So here's a hypothetical alternative to save or die, one that I tend to use a lot in my games as it keeps the narrative moving forward and it's what I was referring to when I mentioned the "price of success."
    James, this has me intrigued. Can you tell me more about this? For something like this to work, wouldn't you need to assume that they can always succeed if they pay enough for it?
    Or would there be times when they would need to fail?
  • I tend to find there are moments in every game where there is clearly an obstacle or threat in the PCs' path that has the potential to stop the game in its tracks: for example, the PCs decide they need to confront a powerful politician. Gaining access to the politician is obviously going to be a challenging task, as it's been established in the fiction that they are not an accessible figure, so some kind of conflict check is required, but if the PCs fail, then the story comes to a stop.

    I like to use the "price of success" model in response to "good bad ideas" like that, because I don't want to block the interesting scene from happening: if the obstacle is a minor one, like a locked door, I might even say that the PCs get through it without trouble. I did things like that several times during a Primetime Adventures game I ran recently, as that's a very character-lead drama with light definition of skills & abilities; in short, don't put things at stake that will prematurely end the game (for that character at least.)

    As to assuming the PCs can always succeed if they pay enough... well, why not? If they're the heroes, shouldn't they be confident in their successes? The key lies in that concept of 'paying': what happens when they have nothing left to pay? This doesn't only apply to a resource-based system, where the players can literally run out of dice to roll, but to any story where the PCs care about things beyond themselves: if what's at stake is the life of an NPC they care about, they might well be prepared to sacrifice their own lives to achieve the greater goal.

    In short, I aim to fail forward and avoid outcomes like "Nothing happens" or "You lose, game over." This sometimes means assuming the overall success of a task, with the conflict being used to determine what the price of that success is, until the PC has nothing left to lose but themselves.
  • Excellent post, James. There's another very useful tool in that, uh, family bucket.

    It's "you succeed, but it's not what you hoped for".

    This is where the character's attempt goes forward and more-or-less accomplishes their aims, but the context - or the perception - is subverted. It's another form of "yes, but". It initially looks like a success - the character appears to have achieved what they wanted - but they don't *really* get what they wanted.

    Examples:

    "Yes, you manage to escape from the TIE fighters by hiding inside an asteroid. But it turns out that your hiding place is actually inside the maw of a giant space worm!"

    "Yes, she agrees to go on a date with you. But it turns out she's just pretending to like you so she can write about the date in the newspaper the next day, to humiliate you in front of the whole school."

    "Yes, you do manage to identify the body of the victim, despite horrible damage. Much to your surprise, it's your own brother."

    Like "success, with an unsustainable price", it's really a form of failure.

    Someone recently pointed out that in fiction, protagonists usually *don't* get what they want. They are denied again and again and suffer terrible outcomes. As a game design scene, shouldn't we be looking to emulate good fiction?

    However, I think that the "yes, but" model has been adopted for good reasons in game design. "No, and" removes the agency of the protagonist and shifts the entire creative burden onto their opposition. "Yes, but", however, is a fruitful combination of the protagonist's desires (the "yes" part) and the opposition's ideas (the "but" part). In this way, the game is pushed forward while taking into account the ideas of both players involved, and develops, always moving forward.
  • James.. Paul. I thank you both.

    The Price of Success may make for an interesting diceless game mechanic. As Paul pointed out, this kind of mixed success is indeed a part of fiction, and that is definitely one of the goals I want for the system.

    This reminds be somewhat of Theatrix. In that game, success and failure hinges entirely on whether the plot demands it. Did the hero fall into a pit trap, but his death would stop the story? Then he manages to successfully not die. It's just a matter of how he manages to do it. Has the villain been spotted and the heroes are chasing him down the street? And its too soon in the story to catch him? Then he crosses a busy street and vanishes as the view of him is obscured by a large van.

    I've been waffling between Dice and Auction for weeks now. Dice provide unexpected results, but that can also be a bad thing if something bad happens that you didn't intend. The Auction mechanic is effective and mostly predictable, but a player may feel picked on if the Writer keeps upping the ante against them.

    I have an idea jelling. What if the Writer needs to use one of three basic success models in a Conflict situation?

    1.) Must Succeed.
    2.) Must Fail.
    3.) Doesn't Matter.

    Doesn't Matter runs the entire spectrum of success and failure:

    Yes, And...
    Yes...
    Yes, but...
    No, but...
    No...
    No, and...

    Must Succeed only goes as low as "Yes, but..." and Must Fail will only go as high as "No, but..."

    I hope that makes sense.
  • Your specific problems are quite resolvable, though. Don't see them as limitations!

    For instance, there is no need for dice to create a "bad thing ... you didn't intend". And auctions don't have to be predictable or or make someone feel like they're being picked on. (Simple example: arrange so that the GM bidding high against you is *in your favour* in some other way. More complex example: my Oracle mechanic in this game.)
  • The Price of Success may make for an interesting diceless game mechanic.
    At the risk of sounding ingracious... how do you get to the system being diceless? That is, what is it about that description of conflict management that makes you think of a diceless system? I'm genuinely interested, as I'm questioning my own assumptions.

  • Your specific problems are quite resolvable, though. Don't see them as limitations!
    I've always tended to see things as problems looking for solutions. Comes with being a troubleshooter, I guess. You're right in that they don't need to be limitations at all. Thank you for the words of encouragement. Still working on the solutions, though.

  • At the risk of sounding ingracious... how do you get to the system being diceless? That is, what is it about that description of conflict management that makes you think of a diceless system? I'm genuinely interested, as I'm questioning my own assumptions.
    Not at all. This is just something my mind leapt to when I tried incorporating the Price of Success concept into what I've done so far. I tore it apart and started making something new out of it...a diceless system.

    Lets assume we just have the possible results of Success and Failure without the Ands and Buts, and we're using an Auction mechanic. If the player doesn't have enough Tokens to bid for success, they can pay for it by mixing in a little Failure. Separation from the Party would be worth a Token, as would losing an important item.

    After thinking about it further, the mechanic doesn't need to be diceless, That's just what I ran with.

  • Hey, that's actually pretty interesting.

    You have a blind auction. If you win, you get what you want. If you lose by a large margin, you've screwed up. If you lose by a narrow margin, then your "loss" turns into complications - maybe you choose these, to "buy off" the loss, or maybe the GM spends your loss as a sort of budget to come up with problems for you. That's simple but juicy.
  • If you're concerned about the GM's side feeling unfair, change how it works.

    For example, instead of bidding from a pool (which could appear infinite to the players), the GM rolls a die (different size of die, depending on the NPC), and the result is their bid.
  • edited September 2016

    Currently, the weakness of the current mechanic is the high amount of randomness when there isn't a high Trait Level to help insure success.
    Here's an idea. What if whenever a PC brings their handicap into the fiction, in a situation in which it would be disadvantageous to do so, they earn a one free level that they can apply to help them during any confict roll. For example, let's say that the PCs weakness is "Hot Headed" but they need to be diplomatic in order to get some info from an NPC--(the PC brings their handicap into the fiction)--but instead of playing it cool when the NPC mentions something political their Hot Headed trait kicks in and they complicate their goal...they then earn the level...and act out the rest of the scene. I'm not sure if this would work in your system. Hopefully it makes sense; I'm a bit tired :)

    Cowboy from Amarillo: 2 (He’s competent at riding horses and herding cattle.) Dead Shot: 3 (He intends on doing a lot of shooting and being good at it.)
    Play Guitar: 0 (Really just fiddles with the thing for his own enjoyment. This doesn’t provide any advantage, just color.)
    Hot Headed: 1 (He doesn’t go looking for trouble, but it’s easy to provoke him into a fight.)

    I don't understand why "Play Guitar" couldn't be used to charm someone who is receptive, or to distract a group by entertaining them while another player robs the cash register...Maybe I'm not understanding the system right :) Oh, never mind...I think it is because it has 0 levels...with my rule above they could us a weakness in the fiction and earn a single level to spend so the guitar playing wouldn't always just be color. Just a thought :)

    I really like a lot of the ideas you have so far. I did have a bit of trouble understanding everything...maybe make sure the rules are really spelled out by giving examples and saying things a couple different ways if there not totally obvious. Anyway, I hope to see it as it evolves :)


  • Hey, that's actually pretty interesting.

    You have a blind auction. If you win, you get what you want. If you lose by a large margin, you've screwed up. If you lose by a narrow margin, then your "loss" turns into complications - maybe you choose these, to "buy off" the loss, or maybe the GM spends your loss as a sort of budget to come up with problems for you. That's simple but juicy.
    This got me to thinking. So have some of the ideas about making the Auction mechanic friendlier. Had some ideas spinning around in my head for a couple of days, but I think I've got something solid now.

    One of the reasons I originally wanted to do an open auction is because I had been inspired by a game called Kathanaksaya. I loved how the players bid back and forth, adding actions and story elements to the narrative as the conflict progressed. It's this back and forth narration that feels like the natural rhythm of a shared story.

    Another reason I have for the open auction is that I would like to play London by Moonlight online. I've set up a Roll20 account for this purpose, and an open auction would be easier to do in chat than a blind one.

    Here's what I have to put together so far:

    We do away with Success/Failure. Instead, the goal of the Conflict is to be one the one that narrates the outcome. Success and Failure could probably come into the mechanic, but I think that the player would tend to narrate success for the character and the Writer would tend to go with Failure.

    The player(s) and opposition bid back and forth, using either Story Elements or Tokens as their bid, building up to the outcome. The one with the highest bid gets to narrate.

    After the bidding comes negotiation. If they failed, the player can offer a concession in order to get the narrative. How much the concession is worth is measured in Tokens.

    1 Token to allow the player to narrate the But.

    2 Tokens if the opposition gets to narrate the But.

    X Tokens if the opposition gets to give the player a number of Black Tokens that can be used against them sometime later in play.

    If the number of Tokens taken on exceeds the winning bid, the player may narrate, but must allow for a mixed result in the narration.

    How's that for a start?

  • I really like a lot of the ideas you have so far. I did have a bit of trouble understanding everything...maybe make sure the rules are really spelled out by giving examples and saying things a couple different ways if there not totally obvious. Anyway, I hope to see it as it evolves :)
    Thank you, Jeff! You've actually stated some of the things I have in mind for Dream System. I'm sorry about the lack of detail, but I haven't gotten all of it done yet. And I am also trying to avoid what I call a "redesign cascade." One change to a basic, but integral, part of the game can impact the rest of it. I just don't like rewriting rules if its not necessary. Once we get the Conflict rules pretty much where they need to be, I can move on and you guys can see the rest of the system.
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