Destiny points use control

edited December 2018 in Story Games
I want to say something about "non-character" resources, I'll call Destiny points. It's the kind of resources you can spend outside of what was defined as resources for the character (stats, skills, contacts, etc.).

They are very useful to tell stories of Frodo vs Sauro or Robin w/ Batman, and take a break from reality law of "whoever is stronger wins". They are very dramatic Destiny points are good for Epic, Fantasy, Biblical, that kind of tones.

Here is an example of why it is useful : Robin takes a blow by the Iron giant. No problem ! while taking the blow he put a device on the giant that allow him to hack the giant's right arm servomotors. Cool. The action potential of the player is just channeled through some new creative mean.
I think this part is obvious, some tables want to play with a focus closer to the character, but really they just use Destiny points within a tighter frame and that's the aesthetic they want : it's perfect, not a problem for me nor for them.

But I think the use of Destiny points should be clearly framed, even veto-able, to maintain the session's aesthetic. Else, they're a blank check and the defined genre can go all over the place. My assumption is that you can't rely on all players to always use Destiny points in the best interest of the game session.

Example two is intended to show how it can derail aesthetic : Robin is filmed by a reporter while taking a hit in the face by the Iron giant. The player spends a Destiny point so that Robin can take the reporter camera and break it. This is a silly action from the player and in violation with the tone of the game for the session. It's got more to do with the player self esteem than with Robin's personality. If it was made through another procedure, the GM would tell : "you can't do that and defend yourself against the next blow from the Giant" or something. But somehow, Destiny points are less questionable. They are "Destiny" after all (or maybe that's humans failing at abstract thinking). And that's how little bits of meaningless stuff get forced into the game, undesirable consequences creep in.
Example three is shorter : in a game where the table agreed on playing "realistic", if a player wants to spend a point to continue brawling with an arm and a leg broken, players should simply veto, Destiny or not.

What happens usually is that some games begin with Destiny points in their core rules, then promise they can simulate all sorts of fiction. Without a clear frame for Destiny points this is not the case.
Example four is rather a case : In Chuubo'sMWGE and Star Wars 1e, players (GM actually) won't oppose the points spent, but they will note : "Oh, you did that, well, that's rather 'selfish' (or 'nihilistic' or whatever)" and it has consequences. There is a clear frame for using the points.
Example five is Karma in Shadowrun : the aesthetic is "these guys are cool badasses that win", it's very hard to not use them to that intent. It's really letting the reins go on power Fantasy : I sigh at the table standards but still, this is a good implementation.


  • One thing I really like with WFRGP 3ED and Star Wars d6 is that the players get the points back at the end of the session, which means that they want to use the points. Otherwise, you get the healing potion effect, where you play through an entire game and hordes all healing potions, only to finish the game with the backpack filled with healing potions.

    The points should be used, just like any type of rule, and the player should want to use them.

    Another thing, that some other Star Wars game does really well (d20?), is using a kismet mechanic, where any destiny points the players use goes to the game master, and when the game master uses a point, then the point goes back to the players. This will add a sort of choice, but these kind of kismet mechanics haven't really fell out well whenever I tried it (in different kinds of games with different kind of people). The choice is pretty obvious when they should use it, and is therefor never a choice. Just a use of a mechanic with a bitter aftertaste.
  • I'd say HP are a good example of a well limited non-character resource. They work to limit the effect of damage against the character to keep it longer in the game, unhindered.
  • edited December 2018
    I agree, except for the necessity of using these points in game. I like spilling into XP, which I admit can be seen a limit-case of "in game".
    HP crossed my mind but as I don't now them well I couldn't be affirmative.
    Oh, yes, this Kismet mechanic (equilibrium, poetic justice) I call "the China card" (from Twillight Struggle). There's also the shishiodori version in Magic the Ascension : when the cup is full, the badness spills into effect.
  • I am reminded of Tony Lower-Basch's Capes, and the conversation surrounding it, which addresses exactly this issue. The way that Capes requires players to set explicit stakes and then vie for the right to settle them while granting extraordinarily wide latitude to describe other elements of the fiction that have not been established as being at stake creates a very interesting dynamic that speaks to your point: some people found it aggravating that Capes play tended to go gonzo in the absence of a very strong commitment to genre norms or conventions. The question then becomes how do you collaboratively ensure the "aesthetic" of the session or the table? What procedures do you put in place to get everyone on the same page? You've given some indication of the alternatives: (1) give one or more other players veto power; (2) establish game-mechanical consequences or fictional costs or consequences for their employment, or (3) allow their unchecked use and accept the resulting the effect on the aesthetic as an emergent property of the game. Are there others? Or variations on these basic ones? And which alternatives are more or less appropriate under which circumstances?
  • The question then becomes how do you collaboratively ensure the "aesthetic" of the session or the table?
    The technique I use overwhelmingly with Capes and similar GMless games is something I might call "constructive seriousness". It's an useful technique in general because it effectively replaces hard authorial power with soft power that encourages responsibility-taking.

    Constructive seriousness functions by treating the other players and their contributions to the game very seriously; it's sort of the opposite of "trolling" in that instead of misleading the other players into over-committing to the joint endeavour and then laughing at their earnest efforts you encourage them to up their game by expressing earnest creative commitment yourself.

    As a practical technique, consider this approach to dealing with a clumsy and genre-inappropriate contribution in a GMless game: the constructively serious co-player asks the disruptive player to further explain their contribution and what it means. They might suggest a constructive interpretation, even, or explain why they're having trouble understanding the move. The other player is welcome to elaborate on or even withdraw their play if they realize that it is failing to uphold under the observation of the seriously constructive co-player. The additional attention by itself does not cancel or overrule the difficult contribution, but it does help the players make something constructive of it, often taking the game into an unexpected new direction.

    The above may not seem like much, so it may help to contrast it with the opposite approach: many players react to disruptive or difficult moves in GMless games by ignoring them, incorporating them only passively and minimally in their own play. So instead of being constructively serious they effectively ostracize the player who is not contributing at their required level. I believe that this approach does nothing to improve the situation; it would be better if the game's structure justifies and enables the co-players to afford extra attention to struggling players rather than less.

    This approach obviously does nothing with genuinely trollish players - those who deliberately want to ruin the game. However, those are rare, and you shouldn't be playing with them anyway; most of your challenges in playing GMless games with difficult players originate in my experience in lacking skill or misunderstood circumstances rather than willful disruptiveness. By being constructively serious you can support the other players in making the game work despite the difficult moves they make on occasion.

  • Constructive seriousness functions by treating the other players and their contributions to the game very seriously; it's sort of the opposite of "trolling" in that instead of misleading the other players into over-committing to the joint endeavour and then laughing at their earnest efforts you encourage them to up their game by expressing earnest creative commitment yourself.
    I like this approach, because it takes into account the different skill levels of players, assumes that everyone is interested in the success of the game, and treats the play session as an instance of dialogue in which everyone at the table can engage. I think it's a strong alternative to "veto"-style rules or procedures. Is it possible or necessary to "mechanize" constructive seriousness? If so, how can it be done?

  • edited December 2018
    I do the thing Eero does too. I have never mechanized it, but I have occasionally turned it into concise principles for reference.

    "No punchline characters. Treat your character like a real person," has been extremely useful in my GMless supervillain game.

    In addition to catchy phrases that serve as guidance and reminder, I imagine we could create some tools for use in certain situations. "When someone takes action that you deem disruptive, ask them to further explain their contribution and what it means," could be an option on a Moves sheet, or on the character sheet, for example.
  • I've worked with it as a method - haven't tried to mechanize it either.

    I suppose that a mechanical form would be one of those interaction mechanic arrays, with code phrases and such. It would probably attempt to police player behavior to make it more "constructively serious", or encourage players to act like it. Like, there's a key phrase you say when somebody's not being constructively serious, and they have to stop and try again. Essentially instead of using the mechanics to bash the problem player, use them to bash the critical or passive players into being more supportive. (Might end up bashing the problem player anyway in practice - how do you distinguish between a player who needs help from a player who needs to be hit with a stick, after all.)

    What I've generally attempted to do in my game design this decade has been engendering the right attitudes via method pedagogy (having the game teach the players to play correctly) and game systems that are actively, overbearingly fun to play the right way, and not very fun to play wrong. Experience dictates that this works for the flexible "neutral case" gamer who picks up the cues ("oh this is how this game is supposed to work"), but doesn't really do much for "problem case" players who for one reason or another (lack of appropriate skills, prior induction to contradictory paradigm, emotional blocks, etc.) are unable to lightly shift to the stance appropriate for the game. I'm not convinced that those latter cases can actually be dealt with by game design in the sense of removing interactive human instruction from the picture - it is likely the case that sane game design limits itself to facilitating willing and capable players rather than trying to "force" people to play correctly against their own inclinations.

    In other words: I would recommend leaving constructive seriousness to the players playing the game, with the game system remaining neutral and supportive of using the game space to talk about creative issues. The players are better able to support each other than the game could ever hope to be, assuming that the group hasn't actively been selected for maximum dysfunction [grin].
  • edited December 2018
    I use a hierarchy of truth : some intangible lines are drawn from the start (typically : character sheets, GM setting prep) , some things are established as paramount results of common creation, some things are jurisprudence and lastly, some things are just preferences. The point is : if you want a cannon to be respected, you've got to make it into the hierarchy of truth. Pointing at a book or movie (and its pop critical junkpile) is not enough.
    Thus the veto is just pointing at the "no monty python sign". My problem with constructive seriousness is I need a Capes inspired game to deliver in one hour. The time is too short for the consequential gonzo experiment, which I strongly recommend.
  • Out of idle interest, have you tried Zombie Cinema? It's the GM-less game I ended up writing after playing Universalis and Capes and that sort of Forge trash. It runs pretty fast, is completely egalitarian and tries to manage the gonzo chaos issue without vetos or other clumsy authoritative means, preferring subtle cuing instead. It's not a guarantee that it won't descent into incomprehensibility, because it's very honest about letting the players do what they want and can (including incompherensible gibberish), but most of the time it manages rather well. Definitely much better than Capes, thanks to more thorough cuing.
  • edited December 2018
    I never played it, but am aware of the game as you already have mentioned it to me last year or so. I remember it works with different zones that set the degree of tension. For me, I have written it out of my scope very early because I specifically wanted a game that tackles many focuses (exploration, romance, drama, etc.) colours, settings and genres.
    Also, total narration rights is a powerful tool. But you know it's mostly educational. It's too indiscriminate as a tool to make a fine work. I mean : the limits to narration, they are not in the stats. The stats of the shovel against the stats of the mountain, modulo the stats of your biceps : it's not like that. But it's not "player does story" neither. It can be refined over that, even over Archipelago's dominions, which is still : "player does story" only in this dominion. It's cool, but there's still this grey zone of what is legit in this grey zone. The "spout lore" rolls and Fate points are one step ahead, in that they adapt more precisely to the situation. But the control can still be refined. That's what I am saying, I guess.
    And thinking of it maybe the zones in zombie cinema are somewhat like "truth levels" : what is closer to the zombie is "true first" in some way. Is that how the game works ? That would give more control to the player dying, which would be cool because, hey, they can live their death better in a way.
  • I like that comparison to Archipelago's dominions. Might that kind of technique of ultimate, but localized control help get some of the benefits of a strong GM vision in a GMless game?

    I haven't had any such experiences but it seems like there should be some room to explore there.
  • edited December 2018
    Yes, it's about enforcing a vision. But alternatively it's about sharing it. The question is : where does the negotiation take place. Levity games usually works alternating absolute narration rights within a loose or rigid dramatic framework. But if you want more flexibility, like "narrative gloss", you can't prepack all if it before the story begins. You will need finer accommodation in play.

    Annalise makes descriptive notations into active narrative elements (claims) a player ressource to influence the story. It's really the same as this old thread you initiated about the Concubine, the Sultan and the Sicario, where you would try to influence the story without playing a character.

    @Bill_White categories are useful here, I'll try to work from them :
    1) absolute veto (negative) or activation (positive) with a quorum : there must be no negotiation or the benefit of this approach is lost.
    2) resources : the negotiation is grounded, pragmatic, efficient, therefore quick. But it means it has been somehow compiled in advance. There will be grey zones for which an absolutist decision can cut the knot.
    3) no control : can I call that toy design ?

    Obviously the diversity of player resources are the space to explore. I jot down here what I've got.
    Trigger / dispenser / source : Infinity, Grant, Refresh (simulation time), Refresh (simulation condition), Refresh, (Table time), Refresh (Table condition), Epimetheus efffect (Compensation at character creation), Kismet (ad hoc compensation GM vs player), Kismet (PvP), Kismet (self trouble = flashlight dropping)
    Applied to category of narrative elements : declared dominion (character field of expertise), declared dominion (social or natural milieu), unclaimed neutral (small props, public furniture), unclaimed neutral (mechanical, chemical, biological, meteorological, zoological phenomenon), unclaimed neutral (ordinary NPCs), won after conflict.
    Toll / conséquence : Growing bad (declarative), Growing bad (cosmetic), Growing bad (alignment), Fatigue (mental), Fatigue (Physical), Tax collector from hell (eg : Potclin, paradox agent).
  • edited April 2019
    Now I nailed it ! The moon is a hanging, or something to that extent, was the name of the thread.
    Now :

    *edited for clarity *

    in compensation (flaw)

    real time trigger
    simulation time trigger
    table trigger
    fictional trigger
    fictional compensation (handicap, flashlight dropping)
    stake in conflict
    stake in conflict (transfer only)

    character field of expertise
    Encyclopedic (fictive world dominion)

    own PC
    voluntary PC
    defeated character (destiny points)
    defeated character (other conflict)
    unclaimed neutral scenery
    unclaimed neutral colour
    unclaimed neutral characters
    scene framing (when)
    scene framing (where)
    scene framing (who)
    +1 opportunity
    increased probability of success
    increased efficiency

    Badness (declarative)
    Badness (alignment, factions)
    Fatigue (mental)
    Fatigue (physical)

    If I am not making sense to you, read the threads and ask for the package you need mounted. If you do understand, feel free to rearrange the piles in a way that makes more sense so that the clueless reader in the previous sentence can begin to find the package they need.
  • edited December 2018
    Also, in answer to @Bill_White 's questions : flagging. Telegraphing moves. Cardboards and markers. Roadsigns. Emotion wheels. Time scale and meeples. Props and techniques that communicate efficiently player goals without requiring the table stops for an explanation.
    And talking about Capes : I made Capes more stable with a little safety device : activation with a quorum of two. Ever heard of the "problem player duet" ? Me never.
  • The technique I use overwhelmingly with Capes and similar GMless games is something I might call "constructive seriousness". It's an useful technique in general because it effectively replaces hard authorial power with soft power that encourages responsibility-taking.
    Constructive seriousness functions by treating the other players and their contributions to the game very seriously;
    This exactly how I love playing, esp. collaborative games. I call this being "adult responsible players". You don't need so many negotiation mechanics if you work together responsibly towards a common goal & enjoyment.
  • edited December 2018
    "That's right. Down with the rules ! We need no HP or die roll to know when a monster is done for. "
    By which I mean : I agree totally but I am aiming for ALL the toolkit to help in the process. So we can play even with non adult and/or irresponsible (that's where the fun is) players that have no idea how their favourite series dramaturgy operates or even how to collaborate (most people don't and every people forget sometimes, when they are tired) and still play the game and deliver.

    All the techniques you use for this : in the toolbox !
  • edited December 2018
    Even with experimented storytellers, its hard to work with narrative genres : how to stay in them without being trapped by them. That requires fine adjustments, localizing narrative Laplace points. Knowing how much force to put in a move. In a game, giving tools for coordinating this is better than relying on unaided intuition.
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