[A Taste for Murder] Influence question

Just a rules/advice question:

When you have the highest Influence roll (and therefore get to decide whether the Influence succeeds or fails), should you make your choice based on what you think would be most fun for the story, or somewhat in-character? Or based on some other metric?

We had a couple of awkward moments when we played this week when we weren't sure which way might be best.

Generally speaking, it's almost always more interesting (story-wise) for the Influence to succeed. However, there is also the dice strategy to consider, and moments when your Influence seems like it should push a character one way or another (if the suggested action would he against your character, for instance).

I realize this isn't a particularly important detail, but I'd like to get your thoughts on it nevertheless.

Comments

  • When you have the highest Influence roll (and therefore get to decide whether the Influence succeeds or fails), should you make your choice based on what you think would be most fun for the story, or somewhat in-character? Or based on some other metric?
    That's a question that has come up a lot at my tables too. @Graham Walmsley, I summon thee!
  • edited December 2017
    Generally speaking, it's almost always more interesting (story-wise) for the Influence to succeed. However, there is also the dice strategy to consider, and moments when your Influence seems like it should push a character one way or another (if the suggested action would he against your character, for instance).
    The game doesn’t say but it might give a hint:

    The other players must not give or withhold the Black and White Dice for tactical reasons. They are expected to play like ladies and gentlemen, giving the dice to acknowledge that an opponent has played well.

    Perhaps, this is a hint that tactical considerations are not the most important aspect of the game. If they were, why create a rule that produces a conflict of interest between playing tactically and rewarding good character and story play?

    The more feasible answer is that the game does not take a position; much like Fiasco, the game can be played from the perspective of the player, the character, the storytelling, or other meta-game interests. If so, we will likely have to play the game a few times to find out what works best. I guess the design stance of these games is not to strictly preference Dramatist game-play and values, and to let the group decide what is the best play style for them? This seems like the main reason a designer would not narrow the focus and declare a more specific way to interpret things—that, or they think no matter the approach it will result in the same story quality, or—more likely—close enough to the same quality that leaving the preferred play-style open is a good trade off in order to accommodate more preferred approaches to play.
  • I agree; it seems intentionally vague. However, I started this thread to see if someone had some useful experience to share.
  • edited December 2017
    I agree; it seems intentionally vague. However, I started this thread to see if someone had some useful experience to share.
    Yes, I’m very interested about this myself—sorry for getting off topic and kind of just stating the obvious.
  • edited December 2017
    I've played/facilitated ATfM quite a bit, so here's my observations: the game works great when players just push for what they want to happen in the fiction, without tactical concerns. Sometimes you might want to see an influence fail, if you don't like where the success would take the story, and if you roll highest you get to say so.

    There are tactical considerations to be taken into account, but these only become apparent after you've played 2 or 3 times, e.g. your initial investment of Relationship dice at the start of the game is incredibly important, as it's your declaration of which PCs' stories you want to have the most influence over. You're essentially being asked to place a bet on which other character's story you will find most interesting before the story starts, which is often not how the game actually unfolds.

    Even if you get that bet right at the start of the game, it's hard to gain a distinct tactical advantage of any kind: even if you have 4+ dice against another PC, the combined dice of the other players can still outweigh yours. Call that a 50/50 chance for you to determine the outcome when they are Influenced in the First Act and you're actually pushing all your dice to (almost) guarantee you win just one Influence scene against one other PC.

    Finally, if you do play with obvious tactical intent, as above, then you leave yourself open to other players responding tactically: if you've leveraged your influence to gain an obvious dice advantage, you're just asking to be nominated as the murder victim, hence removing all that influence in the Second Act.

    TLDR: you can play tactically, but the game doesn't really do anything to support or reward that style of play; in fact, unless you're desperate to play Inspector Chapel in the Second Act, it's more likely to turn around and bite you in the ass.
  • edited December 2017
    Fantastic, @James_Mullen ! Thank you.

    I am in Paul's group and it felt weird to me when I was "penalized" (lost die) for making the dramatic story choice against the interests of my character. But I didn't know the Influence totals early on would feed into the murder selection the way you describe. Makes sense, now that you spell it out!

    The other weirdness was that I was only slightly in favor of the influence failing, whereas the rest of the group was strongly in favor. So I roll my dice looking for a high result, and then I'm psyched when I get it, and then it means... nothing. However, if next time I have a different opinion than the rest of the group, then I suppose a good roll would feel like a win.

    Do your groups manage this dynamic in any particular way? Say who wants what before a roll? Specifically avoid saying who wants what at all, so the roller's decision is more free?

    Still wrapping my head around how best to view the influence totals... I guess I should just view them as belonging to my character, not to me, and being descriptive of their place in the web of relationships, rather than prescriptive of what they can accomplish.
  • That's a great summary of the situation, Dave. I'm looking forward to hearing from James and/or Graham (or whoever else), in case there's more advice to share.
  • I don't want to keep speaking on Graham's behalf, so the opinions I'm about to offer are just that: my opinions, not a statement on how the game is meant to be played. Here goes anyway though...

    I view the dice as just a randomiser in a democratic system: in each scene, just one player will make the choice as to whether the Influence or Investigation succeeds or fails, the dice simply determine which player gets the vote. There is obviously some weighting in the system, so you're more likely to get the vote against someone you have previously won Influence over and the two players in each scene can play for the Black & White dice, which make them the two most likely to have the vote on average.

    The dice aren't important, only the vote is: you could easily replace them with any other weighted system, such as drawing lots (rather like the method for selecting the murder victim) or a spinner with different sized sections on its wheel and so on.

    The crux is what each individual player wants to see in the game, which is often a collaborative decision, with the voting player acting in consensus with everyone else. There's an element of taking the temperature at the table and judging whether the mood is hot or cold towards one outcome over the other, so going against a strong desire for victory/failure simply out of tactical concern is most likely going to mar the game for others. If they all want to see your caddish PC get pushed down the stairs by their own mother, you'd better have a better reason than not wanting to lose a die in order to go against popular opinion!
  • That was my reading of the rules, as well.

    Although I don't want to be criticizing a really lovely game that I've only started playing, it seems to me that part of the problem is that nothing terribly interesting happens on a failure. Someone getting Influenced is quite interesting (both mechanically and fictionally) whereas someone failing to be Influenced is much less dynamic (again, both fictionally and mechanically).

    I'd imagine that we will find situations later in play where failure to Influence might feel more narratively interesting, but so far it feels like enough of a "boring" outcome that we are hesitating to choose it.

    I think that was Dave's dilemma: narratively, he wanted the Influence to succeed, and then felt punished for making that call, since it penalized him mechanically to do so - even though he won the roll.

    As someone who has just barely started playing, this is a shot in the dark, but I wonder how the game would play if the high roller got to decide how the Influence turned out and also which character gained a die over the other. (Or somehow otherwise decoupling the transfer of dice from the fictional success of the Influence.)

    If we still want the fiction to correspond to the dice moves, on the other hand, it could be a demand of a major concession on the part of the Influencer - showing that, even though they got their way, they don't have the upper hand in the interaction, but, rather, are getting in over heir head.

    Of course, I haven't played the game enough to see if either of these would be good changes; I'm just throwing out ideas here before signing off.
  • edited December 2017
    There's an element of taking the temperature at the table and judging whether the mood is hot or cold towards one outcome over the other . . . If they all want to see your caddish PC get pushed down the stairs by their own mother, you'd better have a better reason than not wanting to lose a die in order to go against popular opinion!
    Hmm. That sounds like a socially functional way to play, sure, but the more we use consensus, the less relevant it is who wins the roll. And if the roll only matters during those rare times when the winner has something more entertaining in mind than everyone else at the table, then it certainly isn't worth tracking odds of roll-winning via Influence totals. We could still track Influence totals as descriptions of changing character relationships, but why factor it into narrator arbitration?

    The way Influence was introduced to me, I thought it was a measure of dynamics present in the fiction, dynamics with causal power. My guy has a great deal of influence over your guy, so when push comes to shove, my guy is more likely to get his way. Consequently, if I roll higher, the likelier possibility has come to pass and my character does in fact get his way. This makes sense to me.

    "Hey, let's randomly select a player to decide an outcome!" also makes sense to me, in a different system.

    A system that's kinda in between? Still gonna have to wrap my brain around that.

    @James_Mullen perhaps I'm misreading you, though, and your main point was just "don't be a dice hoarder"? So maybe wanting your guy to succeed just because you want your guy to succeed is another story, and ought to be totally acceptable to the table?

    Separate but related question: have you seen much correlation between winning a roll and narrating outcomes? So, like, the table consensus decides that my guy gets pushed down the stairs, but when I win the die roll, I get the spotlight to narrate the event and characterize everyone in it the way I want or some such?
  • My main point is that, at least from my perspective, the resolution system is "One player gets to decide whether the Influence succeeds or fails" and the dice are just the system for deciding who that player is. The dice system allows for some weighting, so it's usually but not always one of the players in the scene who gets to decide. It's an interesting distinction in ATfM, that the dice don't decide who wins or loses a conflict, but rather who has the authority to decide who wins or loses.

    A hypothetical player can decide to play tactically, but they are still largely at the mercy of the other players' decisions, e.g. you can only attempt to Influence one other PC per round, but your PC might be the target of Influence as many times as there are other players. Even if you do have a lot of dice stacked against one other PC, it just amounts to that one PC having to do as you say and answer your questions, while you don't have to do the same in return, so my other message is "Being a dice hoarder isn't very efficient." It can also be non-fun for the other players, if you have gained a dice advantage against everyone else, so that you're the authority in every conflict.

    On the separate question, we've pretty much always decided these outcomes consensually (including where one player shares a great idea and everyone else just enthusiastically agrees at once) but then it is always the player who was the target of the Influence or Investigation who gets to do the narration.
  • The crux is what each individual player wants to see in the game, which is often a collaborative decision, with the voting player acting in consensus with everyone else.
    Woah, that's not even remotely how I understood the mechanic... It seemed to me that the winner chooses according to their whim or preference. There doesn't seem to be any mechanical support for choosing the consensus.

  • I think the rules are pretty clear that the high roller gets to make the call; I'm going to interpret what James is saying as, "In real life, though, of course, you may want to take into account the vibe at the table as you make your choice."

    I still feel (again, my lack of experience with the game notwithstanding) that the somewhat uneventful nature of a failure makes this more awkward/difficult than it should be.

    We continue to play in two days, so we will see if further play changes our perspective on this one way or another.
  • I think the rules are pretty clear that the high roller gets to make the call; I'm going to interpret what James is saying as, "In real life, though, of course, you may want to take into account the vibe at the table as you make your choice."
    Yes, that's exactly it. :-)

  • edited December 2017
    Whether we wind up playing it the way you do or not, this is excellent data. Thanks, James!

    It certainly doesn't sound fun to be the only player at the table pursuing dice. If everyone is pursuing them, though, I could imagine that being fun... But only if they matter. I wouldn't bother if it's all just consensus-decides and influenced-person-narrates.

    We shall see which direction the table wants to take this...
  • Victory or death! :p
  • When we play, the roll itself is more a character-vs-character thing.

    The game itself isn't competitive. That is, the players aren't trying to win. But, in that moment, one character wants something and one wants something else, so they roll to decide.

    I might be playing it wrong, of course.
  • Thanks, Graham!

    Does that go for the characters not actually in the scene, too? Or is that decision, rather, made out-of-character?

    Great to hear from you - I'm thrilled to finally get a chance to play your game.
  • edited December 2017
    Although I don't want to be criticizing a really lovely game that I've only started playing, it seems to me that part of the problem is that nothing terribly interesting happens on a failure. Someone getting Influenced is quite interesting (both mechanically and fictionally) whereas someone failing to be Influenced is much less dynamic (again, both fictionally and mechanically).
    Well, in our second session we proved this idea wrong. Anita tried to convince her father Roger to call off the wedding with her chauffeur Billy [the winner of the roll decided that Anita lost]. Roger turned it around, claiming that Billy is dangerous and that the whole thing is Anita's fault (due to her inappropriate flirtation with Billy), and that only she can fix the situation.

    This really changed the direction of the story in an interesting way, because it created an opportunity for Anita's other suitor Everett to steal her away from Billy, convincing Anita to publicly declare that she was marrying Everett instead.

    Awesome!

  • I was very happy with this session.
    • I think we had a nice variety of some "take the temperature at the table" and some "I won the roll so we're doing what I want", with everyone agreeable to both. All decisions were based on entertainment value rather than on influence gain/loss; I suspect that being on the same page on that front helped things go smoothly.
    • I had zero investment in the values of my influence scores, but they were at times a fun reminder/marker of some fictional dynamics and developments.
    I expect to continue playing the game like this unless I encounter a compelling reason otherwise. :)
  • edited December 2017
    I had an "ah-hah!" moment yesterday when I realized that in the pre-murder scenes (Act 1) I had to be an asshole trying to piss off the other main characters. This would feed into the murder and post-murder mayhem. Of course, the best murder mysteries are the ones where everyone has a motive to commit the murder...

    Somehow, in the vote to see who would get killed, it wasn't my character. So we'll see how that pans out next time...
  • Indeed, the second session was a lot of fun. It seems that the decision of the Influence can be played either way, without really hurting the game - for instance, I twice won the roll and allowed myself to be Influenced anyway, giving my character an interesting arc, from confident manipulator to someone who has had the tables turned on her, and is now just struggling to stay afloat.

    Demiurge,

    You are absolutely right that we should all be looking for opportunities to sow motives for murder throughout the game. I thought I had done a good job outlining that when we started playing, but maybe not!

    In any case, the game is progressing very nicely. We stopped just after the murder, to resume Act Two later. A delightful game, and remarkably easy to play! I've long wanted to find a no-prep RPG which is GMless and likely to work with motivated non-gamers, and the combination of mechanics and theme here seems just about right.





  • Although I don't want to be criticizing a really lovely game that I've only started playing, it seems to me that part of the problem is that nothing terribly interesting happens on a failure. Someone getting Influenced is quite interesting (both mechanically and fictionally) whereas someone failing to be Influenced is much less dynamic (again, both fictionally and mechanically).
    Well, in our second session we proved this idea wrong. Anita tried to convince her father Roger to call off the wedding with her chauffeur Billy [the winner of the roll decided that Anita lost]. Roger turned it around, claiming that Billy is dangerous and that the whole thing is Anita's fault (due to her inappropriate flirtation with Billy), and that only she can fix the situation.
    This was, absolutely, an interesting and really welcome development. Notably, I was the winner of the roll, but still chose failure.

    Dave paused the game and explained to us what would happen on a failure - setting up the stakes - which really "sold" the table on this outcome. Now we had an interesting outcome to look forward to!

    My sense is that this might be a really good way to play.

    However, I drew the opposite conclusion that you did from this experience! After this, I was carefully watching the rolls and the outcomes as the Round continued.

    In every subsequent attempt to Influence, we always chose for the Influence to succeed, and I believe it's for the reason I brought up (above). Success is colourful and interesting and moves the story forward. A failure, however, "on paper" doesn't seem to do much - or, at least, doesn't tell us *what* the consequences are. Dave's narration of what a failure entailed in that scene changed this dynamic and gave us something interesting to look forward to.

    I really felt that we chose to have all subsequent attempts succeed simply because Influence was so much more interesting than failure.

    Perhaps, then, Dave's approach here is the best way to play the game: we should have the party being Influenced (or table consensus) briefly summarize what's at stake should the Influence fail. That gives us two interesting outcomes, which we can consider and weigh against each other.

    In any case, I'll be looking out for this as we continue! (Although it's possible that there won't be any more Influence rolls - we will see. The Second Act allows us to alternate between Influencing and Investigating, as we like.)

    I really need to review the Red Herring rule, as well... that's the only bit of the rules which was confusing for me.

  • Another comment:

    This game has a lot of little bits which sound rather dull on paper, but really deliver in play. For instance, having a roll to determine the weather in order to jumpstart the conversation in the opening scene is a great nod to the theme/setting of the game.

    When we arrived at the "murder" phase, I was a bit disappointed to see that our decisions so far - the Influence dice and the events of play - didn't really have any direct bearing on who might be killed. Furthermore, just writing down four names and drawing one seemed a little unexciting (it is, after all, the most dramatic event of the game so far!).

    In practice, however, it was very effective. You see, the pseudo-random nature of the procedure allows a) the players to take the fiction and the Influence numbers into account themselves (no need for the rules to do so, really, it turns out), and b) the unpredictable and semi-random nature of the murder is what makes this feel like a mystery. What happened, why, and who did it? I think we were all - or at least three of us! - very surprised by the outcome, and it raises all kinds of interesting questions for us to explore in the Second Act.

    Awesome.
  • A delightful game, and remarkably easy to play! I've long wanted to find a no-prep RPG which is GMless and likely to work with motivated non-gamers, and the combination of mechanics and theme here seems just about right.
    I don't think playing with 4 experienced GMs is a useful test of anything, but I do think the set-up combo of relationships, weather, and thing-everyone-might-be-doing is auspicious for rookies. :) Paul, I'm curious, what do you see as more newcomer-friendly about this than Fiasco?
  • edited December 2017
    I will have to get back to this question, as I'm short on time!

    Short version: LOTS and LOTS.

    The premise itself is far simpler, for instance:

    Arguably some familiarity with the genre is necessary, yes, in both cases. Nevertheless, I think the tropes of "old-school British murder mystery" are far simpler than the tropes of "a Coen Brothers film", which are rather varied and come in a great many colours.

    You can make a simple boardgame (e.g. Clue) which contains all the basic plot elements of a traditional murder mystery. Good luck making a "Coen Bros movie" boardgame! Uffda.
Sign In or Register to comment.