Abilities in Agon

edited August 2007 in Story Games
Over in a thread about skill-flagging, Justin asked me this awesome question:
Posted By: Justin D. JacobsonHow does [Agon] make every ability relevant to play?
This was a key design goal for the game, which I tried to solve in a couple related ways:

1. Closed ability list.
There are 16 abilities in Agon, no more, no less. No one, including the GM, gets to create any more. This helps make the abilities relevant because the closed list defines the entire scope of activities that the game system cares about. The ability list answers the question, "What do I do in this game?"

To put it another way, the game is about earning Glory. You earn Glory by engaging in contests. The abilities tell you what kinds of contests you can have.

2. Each ability has a defined mechanical effect in relation to the reward cycle.
Check out pp. 64 & 65. In addition to the general action of the ability that you use in most contests (Orate is the ability to affect others with speech) there's a special mechanical function for each ability that impacts the core activities of the game. For example, Orate is used to determine who will lead the hero group. Music gives a bonus when you refresh abilities. Cunning is used for tactical maneuvers in battle. &c.

Since Agon is a game that is played out as a long series of interactions with the game system (everything is a contest), this makes each ability important during the course of the game. There are no pure "color" abilities, in other words, or abilities that the GM must create a special scene around. The stuff covered by the abilities is the only stuff you will be doing during play, and each of those things always impacts the reward cycle of Contests > Glory > Quests > Fate.
Posted By: Justin D. JacobsonIsn't it still incumbent on the GM to take note of the specific abilities of the PCs and respond accordingly? E.g., if a character "maxes out" on oratory, it wouldn't do to have the GM pose only obstacles like golden boars, raging rivers, and ascensions of Mount Olympus.
Nope. That's not how Agon works. The gods hand down their quests, and the GM comes up with some objectives for the heroes to accomplish. The objectives are not set in stone, though, and they are not specific contests. They're just a guide for the GM to fall back on as material to introduce if the heroes get stuck. The heroes decide where to go and what to do to complete the quests, and by taking action they say what their characters are doing, which then sets the stage for certain types of contests. In Agon, it's not the GM's job to pre-plan specific contests that the heroes have to make, only to create opposition for whatever the PCs decide to do.

So you don't look over their sheets and see what they're good at and then try to plant stuff in their path that will provide opportunities for them to shine. Never, ever do that in Agon. Finding opportunities to use their good abilities is the players' job. It's an important one. And there's lots of fun to be had when two heroes disagree about the next course of action because one of them is really good at Hunting and the other is really good at Athletics and they have to settle it with an Orate contest. Which they then lose to a third hero who starts an oath bidding war to see which hero he will support with his leadership. :-)

Hmm. I have to step away from the computer. I hope that's enough to answer your question. If not, maybe Shreyas or Fred or someone will drop by and explain further.

Comments

  • So it isn't so much that the system forces every ability to be meaningful, as much as it is that the players are made to decide which abilities they want to be meaningful in any given quest?
  • edited August 2007
    Hey John,
    What about the Named Character battles? These are serious Glory producers, and they don't HAVE to be physical battles, do they? I had some characters fight Odysseus, trying to avoid going mad as he babbled at them. This was totally under my control as a GM. Was I breaking the game by saying, "This guy ambushes you with his crazy-talk. You've got to talk him down." (The characters did engage him physically to gain advantages, but the mission was to get him alive)
  • My impression (from an Agon one-shot) is that you as a player try to steer contests toward your more powerful abilities -- your character starts the game session better than the other characters in a few abilities. However you can voluntarily take a temporary hit to an ability, or take a hit because you do poorly in a contest. So it's not like you're always trying to shoot from the same spot.
  • Posted By: georgeMy impression (from an Agon one-shot) is that you as a player try to steer contests toward your more powerful abilities -- your character starts the game session better than the other characters in a few abilities.
    Sounds a lot like Amber in that respect.
  • The characters did engage him physically to gain advantages

    That's the key, right?

    As Antagonist, you have some dominion over the challenges you construct, but the oath economy and advantages give the players flexibility to bring their abilities to bear in ways that please them.

  • Shreyas, here's the thing: Since the conflict was framed as a conflict of Orate and other vocal abilities, that was the only way to damage Odysseus. So while gaining advantage allowed you to use physical abilities, it did not end in Glory. I don't feel this is a corruption of the system (I can't imagine being able to use Orate to damage someone in an extended conflict that is framed as a fight), but it does seem to put some responsibility on the Antagonist to give some endpoint challenges that engage multiple skillsets.
  • Posted By: John Harper1. Closed ability list.
    There are 16 abilities in Agon, no more, no less. No one, including the GM, gets to create any more. This helps make the abilities relevant because the closed list defines the entire scope of activities that the game system cares about. The ability list answers the question, "What do I do in this game?"

    To put it another way, the game is about earning Glory. You earn Glory by engaging in contests. The abilities tell you what kinds of contests you can have.
    (emphasis added) How is this different than, say, D&D or Passages, which also have defined skill lists. In D&D, you can have Perform (flute) contests; that is something you "do in the game".
    2. Each ability has a defined mechanical effect in relation to the reward cycle.
    Check out pp. 64 & 65. In addition to the general action of the ability that you use in most contests (Orate is the ability to affect others with speech) there's a special mechanical function for each ability that impacts the core activities of the game. For example, Orate is used to determine who will lead the hero group. Music gives a bonus when you refresh abilities. Cunning is used for tactical maneuvers in battle. &c.
    Not seeing it. Heal? Hunt? Wrestle? How do these impact the reward cycle in any way beyond, e.g., the bard using Perform (flute) to gain an audience with the king. Take, say, Heal. It's not used for contests per se and, thus, might be irrelevant to the reward cycle, no?
    Since Agon is a game that is played out as a long series of interactions with the game system (everything is a contest), this makes each ability important during the course of the game. There are no pure "color" abilities, in other words, or abilities that the GM must create a special scene around. The stuff covered by the abilities is theonlystuff you will be doing during play, and each of those things always impacts the reward cycle of Contests > Glory > Quests > Fate.
    See, e.g., Heal above. Am I missing something?
    Posted By: Justin D. JacobsonIsn't it still incumbent on the GM to take note of the specific abilities of the PCs and respond accordingly? E.g., if a character "maxes out" on oratory, it wouldn't do to have the GM pose only obstacles like golden boars, raging rivers, and ascensions of Mount Olympus.
    Nope. That's not how Agon works. The gods hand down their quests, and the GM comes up with some objectives for the heroes to accomplish. The objectives are not set in stone, though, and they are not specific contests. They're just a guide for the GM to fall back on as material to introduce if the heroes get stuck. The heroes decide where to go and what to do to complete the quests, and by taking action they say what their characters are doing, which then sets the stage for certain types of contests. In Agon, it's not the GM's job to pre-plan specific contests that the heroes have to make, only to create opposition for whatever the PCs decide to do.
    Again, am I missing something? From page 36:
    The Antagonist will name which ability to use, based on the actions taken by the aggressor to trigger the contest.
    From page 76:
    It's the Antagonist's job to create quests that are interesting, creative, colorful, and challenging.
    And from page 85:
    ...take all of these pieces [the random island components], fit them together and put them in conflict, and thereby construct the quests.
    So youdon'tlook over their sheets and see what they're good at and then try to plant stuff in their path that will provide opportunities for them to shine. Never, ever do that in Agon.Finding opportunities to use their good abilities is the players' job.It's an important one. And there's lots of fun to be had when two heroes disagree about the next course of action because one of them is really good at Hunting and the other is really good at Athletics and they have to settle it with an Orate contest. Which they then lose to a third hero who starts an oath bidding war to see which hero he will support with his leadership. :-)
    Right, but how to the Hunting guy and the Athletics guy resolve the objective (from one of the sample quests) of Learning about the holy Serpent of Apollo?

    (I wrote this response over the course of a couple of hours interrupted by, among other things, a couple of hearings I had to handle. So it might be a bit rambling and scattershot. I reserve the right to edit! And, to clarify, I'm not dissing Agon in the slightest. I'm trying to crack it open and fiddle with the tiny gears here.)
  • Posted By: RemiShreyas, here's the thing: Since the conflict was framed as a conflict of Orate and other vocal abilities, that was the only way to damage Odysseus. So while gaining advantage allowed you to use physical abilities, it did not end in Glory. I don't feel this is a corruption of the system (I can't imagine being able to use Orate to damage someone in an extended conflict that is framed as a fight), but it does seem to put some responsibility on the Antagonist to give some endpoint challenges that engage multiple skillsets.
    And thanks to Remi for crystallizing succinctly in a few sentences what I was rambling on about.

    Another way: John, how is what you are saying Agon does different than the bard using Perform (flute) to distract one of the goblins down the hallway while the fighters mop up the others? It's usable; it's not mere "color"; but the bard would be more "engaged" if the conflict wasn't a battle with goblins but a flute-playing contest, right?
  • So while gaining advantage allowed you to use physical abilities, it did not end in Glory.

    Hm... I am not sure about this. Granted, I'm not at my bookcase right now, but I was under the impression that you perform an advantage contest to gain advantage, and apart from the Glory for beating others or the opposition, there is also Glory built into succeeding at contests? Am I misremembering?

    I think that it is good Antagonising to mix up the challenges you present; what I'm trying to express here is that I think there's a structure present that protects players from being completely screwed when the opposition presented isn't good.

    Justin, I'd like to understand better why you quote 36: "based on the actions taken by the aggressor to trigger the contest." I would tend to think this means that, if a player says, "Okay, Perihelion is going to compound a poison and slip it into the king's soup," then, when you say, "Okay, contest of Shield," you are not playing by the rules, but if you say, "Okay, contest of Medicine," then you are. I think what that rule is saying is, 'you as the Antagonist are responsible for sensibly translating the descriptive things the players say they are doing into mechanical actions that relate to them."

  • Justin: The abilities are MUCH more constrained than the abilities lists in D&D. John is right to say they cover all the actions you should do in Agon.

    Heal is quite useful (You get Glory for Healing someone in a contest, and can also withhold healing for Oaths). I don't think there are any 'dump stats', but I am confused by John's claim that you shouldn't build multiple challenge types into your adventure. The players CAN choose courses of action that are optimized for their skillsets, and this absolutely should be allowed. The Quest components are a general structure, not a specific map. However, I think in terms of certain, unavoidable encounters (If you're charged to Kill the King Wyrm, for example), you should be aware of the skills at the table, and perhaps not always hit the same skills with every challenge.
  • edited August 2007
    Shreyas: If it's BEFORE the battle, yes, you get Glory. If it's DURING the extended contest, I don't believe it does. (In this case it was an attempt to 'schoolboy' Odysseus in order to distract him and gain a +2 advantage on the next argument volley. A Might maneuver that rolled into a future advantage.)
  • Just so I'm clear, is Antagonist another word for GM, DM, ST, or HG?
  • Posted By: James McMurrayJust so I'm clear, is Antagonist another word for GM, DM, ST, or HG?
    Yes. The Antagonist is responsible for creating the quests the heroes go on. The Antagonist is constrained, though, and has to use Strife points (which are generated by player action and quest length) to create challenges.
  • I have yet to see anyone use Wrestle for anything.

    But other than that...
  • What Remi said: Yes, it's similar, but no, the Antagonist isn't a GM.

  • As an outside observer, it feels like there is this undercurrent of hostility in this discussion. I hope I'm just misreading that, but just to be sure: we're talking about the use of skills and so on to better understand the concepts involved, not to piss on each other, right?

    I actually have a question, too: to what degree is the GM's approval involved, per the rules, in each case?

    In classic D20, if I want to use a flute on goblins, I have to get the GM's approval on whether and how it works. Are the goblins susceptible? Are there bonuses or penalties because of circumstances? How exactly do they react?

    Does Passages move away from that Mother-May-I model?

    In, say, Iron Heroes, there are a lot of special abilities that put more power into the players' hands. Use the Thief's Distraction ability, get a specific benefit. Though the GM retains veto power.

    Now, I don't have my copy of Agon in hand, but I understood it in the way that the benefit is determined, and the players get to use it exactly in that way. It's up to them to come up with proper narration, but does the GM actually even have a veto right there?
  • I have yet to see anyone use Wrestle for anything.

    I think either the last or first time I was in an Agon game, someone Wrestled a cliff face to get up to the top. It was badass.

  • The one trick the players in my group appear to have found is to do the Creative Ability thing with any stats which have a +2. Which appears to be very powerful (because even d4+2 gives that +2 to the whole roll) as long as it's used carefully. Great resource management and lots of fun. We realised that a character with any of the +2 ability Heroic Traits (like Great Spirited for example) and a good Music score would have a very interesting set of strategies available.
  • edited August 2007
    Christian: I really love Agon. It is the unofficial opening game of Camp Nerdly. I was just confused by some statements and am trying to come to a better understanding of the game, which, I hope, will make playing it even more fun.

    I think that as long as the players have a good justification, they can use any ability for anything in a simple contest (in my first Agon game, I commanded a river to allow me to cross with Orate). It's the extended conflicts where I don't think this holds as true, and I'm trying to figure out if I'm correct.

    Re: Wrestling: Lisa P literally wrestled everything and everyone her character (Helvektiva) came across. It was fantastic and really defined her character well.
  • Posted By: shreyasI think either the last or first time I was in an Agon game, someone Wrestled a cliff face to get up to the top. It was badass.
    That's better than badass. It's GREEK HERO BADASS!
  • Posted By: Rich StokesPosted By: shreyasI think either the last or first time I was in an Agon game, someone Wrestled a cliff face to get up to the top. It was badass.
    That's better than badass. It's GREEK HERO BADASS!

    And THAT is a really important aspect of the game. You are Greek Heroes, and you can do legendary feats like it ain't no thing. I think I need to reinforce and encourage this sort of behavior more when I'm Antagonising Agon.
  • Posted By: RemiIt's the extended conflicts where I don't think this holds as true, and I'm trying to figure out if I'm correct.
    But the players (granted as a group, not individually) get to choose a second ability to use in an extended contest. Recently we had the players trying to get some magic weapons from this old guy. It was a test of Cunning, because the guy didn't want to give the stuff to them) and they chose Orate as the second ability, but thinking about it, they could just as easily have said "screw that, I use Wrestle and grab the damn things!" That is, if they hadn't all use Wrestle as a dump stat :^)
  • edited August 2007
    Now, I don't have my copy ofAgonin hand, but I understood it in the way that the benefit is determined, and the players get to use it exactly in that way. It's up to them to come up with proper narration, but does the GM actually even have a veto right there?
    No, he doesn't. Except for throwing pop-corn, of course.
  • Posted By: shreyasJustin, I'd like to understand better why you quote 36: "based on the actions taken by the aggressor to trigger the contest." I would tend to think this means that, if a player says, "Okay, Perihelion is going to compound a poison and slip it into the king's soup," then, when you say, "Okay, contest of Shield," you arenotplaying by the rules, but if you say, "Okay, contest of Medicine," then youare.I think what that rule is saying is, 'you as the Antagonist are responsible for sensibly translating the descriptive things the players say they are doing into mechanical actions that relate to them."
    Right, but unless I'm missing something, the Antagonist can be the aggressor and thereby dictate the relevant ability.
  • Posted By: RemiJustin: The abilities are MUCH more constrained than the abilities lists in D&D. John is right to say they cover all the actions you should do in Agon.
    Really? Maybe this bears out more in play. Because purely on reading 16 abilities vs. 20-odd skills (plus BAB to keep things parallel) in D&D doesn't seem to be much of a difference to me. Particularly when you consider that many of the D&D skills could be combined to "form" the Agon abilities. John said they cover all the things you can do in Agon. If none of the PCs have any skill in Orate, then I think we can expect (and I assume John would be okay with) an Orate contest never coming up.
  • Posted By: xenopulseAs an outside observer, it feels like there is this undercurrent of hostility in this discussion. I hope I'm just misreading that, but just to be sure: we're talking about the use of skills and so on to better understand the concepts involved, not to piss on each other, right?
    I can see how that got lost in the thread diffusion that resulted in this thread, but to be explicit: Absolutely correct, sir! I've said elsewhere that Agon holds the honored place on my nightstand so I can read it before I lay head to pillow at night. I'm pushing hard because I know John will push equally hard right back, and I'm hoping to learn a thing or two.
    In classic D20, if I want to use a flute on goblins, I have to get the GM's approval on whether and how it works. Are the goblins susceptible? Are there bonuses or penalties because of circumstances? How exactly do they react?
    I don't think that's a perfectly accurate description of d20 (at least not as I play it--I'd have to comb through the DMG to see what the specific direction on this issue is). Bard says I'm going to play my flute to lure one of the goblins away. The GM says roll the dice and then narrates a result based on the roll. Yes, the GM might say that's a really hard thing to do, but I think characterizing it as prior approval isn't quite right.
    DoesPassagesmove away from that Mother-May-I model?
    In this important sense: When the player wants his character to do something, he proposes -- not the rules -- which of his character's modifiers apply: one attribute, one skill, and any applicable advantages. The Narrator can veto absurd applications, but creative uses are encouraged. (But I don't want to derail the thread too much.)
  • Justin: It's impossible to not have skill in Orate. You can suck at Orating, but you do have a skill in it. And, if I were the Antagonist and everyone had d4 Orate, you can bet your sweet booties that there would be speech contest after speech contest after speech contest.

    Have you read Agon or are you just going on hearsay?
  • edited August 2007
    Justin: Except the Abilities in Agon don't map directly to the skills in D&D. It maps to the entirety of the D&D system, including combat. So all the systems that deal with combat, spells, movement, etc (the bulk of the game) are all focused into the sixteen Agon abilities. In comparison to that sprawl, Agon is extremely constrained.

    EDIT
    Ben: How does your Orate example jibe with what John said about the Antagonist NOT being aware of what's on the character sheets? Am I applying that too literally?

    SECOND EDIT
    Rich: I believe that all non-combat extended contests already have defined Attack/Defense/Armor abilities, and I'll get you a page number for that when I get home. That said, it feels like the intent of the game is that non-combat extended conflicts are meant to be used fairly sparingly, as so many of the systems come together so beautifully in the combat system (range, special maneuvers, etc).
  • Remi: I'm meaner than John.

    yrs--
    --Ben
  • edited August 2007
    Posted By: Ben LehmanJustin: It's impossible to not have skill in Orate. You can suck at Orating, but you do have a skill in it. And, if I were the Antagonist and everyone had d4 Orate, you can bet your sweet booties that there would be speech contest after speech contest after speech contest.
    Sure, but d4 in Orate is comparable to any PC in D&D just using their Cha mod to Perform. The abilities of Agon and the skills in D&D are measured to their counterparts on a relative scale. And, as Remi noted, you seem to be on my side of the primary issue of discussion, i.e, that the Antagonist essentially determines the relevance of the abilities in play. I am missing how your post relates to the larger issue; can you clarify that for me?
    Have you read Agon or are you just going on hearsay?
    See my post just above: It's on my nightstand; I'm reading it now--skimmed it through once and on my second deeper reading. Hell, I quoted to specific passages in the text. If I'm coming off as ignorant about the game, I'd sure like to know how/why.
  • Okay, so abilities in agon range from d4 to d12, and d12 is really hard to get to, so d10 is the effective "high stat".

    So it's a totally different scale than d20. If my 10th level thief is trying to do something, chances are that he can do something automatically which my 10th level fighter couldn't even begin to attempt. d4 vs d10 is not nearly so bad odds.

    yrs--
    --Ben
  • Posted By: Ben LehmanOkay, so abilities in agon range from d4 to d12, and d12 is really hard to get to, so d10 is the effective "high stat".

    So it's a totally different scale than d20. If my 10th level thief is trying to do something, chances are that he can do something automatically which my 10th level fighter couldn't even begin to attempt. d4 vs d10 is not nearly so bad odds.

    yrs--
    --Ben
    Actually it only seems that way because "4" seems very close to "10". In a d4 vs. d10 conflict, the d4 only wins 15% of the time. (I'm not exactly a probabilities wiz, so someone with more ammo in that department should probably check me on this.) But that's not really the question is it. What we want to compare is the likelihood of success against the target number. So we'd have to compare d4 vs. 2d6 [the Antagonist's "generic" roll] against d10 vs. 2d6. I don't have the time or wherewithal to crunch those numbers. But it's even thornier than that because we'd have to try and compare that disparity to d20, but we don't know what DC to use as a point of comparison. Acch! Brain exploding.

    I do get the idea that, in D&D, there are some things that one character simply cannot do because they couldn't meet the DC even with a 20. Whereas in Agon, breaking the rules for a moment, a PC with an ability of d4 could theoretically succeed at anything--even an obstacle where the Antagonist is rolling, say, 50d12. And I get that it is an important distinction that bears on this conversation.
  • Hey Justin, don't forget that you always get your name die. So a player will always be rolling at least d6/d4.
  • edited August 2007
    Whew! I go away and my thread explodes. Cool.

    Many things to respond to here. First, thanks to everyone for answering questions for me. You all know Agon well and are sexy rockstars whose names will be remembered forever.

    First: Remi! You are doing everything right. If I said anything that made you doubt your Antagonist-fu, it was my fault in how I communicated it. Here's the thing: As Antagonist, you play your NPCs like a bastard! They want stuff, and they will try their damnedest to get it. So yeah, Odysseus ambushes those fools with his mad Oratory and kicks their asses. That is right and proper.

    But what you don't have to do as Antagonist is fret over the skills in the hero party. You know how you did this when you ran D&D? I know I did. Like, "Hmmm. No one is good at swimming, so I shouldn't screw them with an underwater thing. Bob's guy is good at Diplomacy... so I'll have some Diplomacy stuff for him to do in the next town..." No. None of that. Just make your cool island with quests and objectives that interest you and are full of colorful stuff. Don't worry about how the heroes are going to accomplish their goals. That's their problem.

    Finally: Yes, you do get Glory for contests of advantage, even in the middle of a battle. You always, always get Glory for winning a simple contest and for being the high roller among the heroes. And yes, any other hero can join in your advantage roll with you, by narrating how their hero participates, just like any other simple contest.
  • edited August 2007
    Justin: It sounds like you're getting yourself tied up in knots here. It sounds like you're arguing that the d20 and Agon skill mechanics are not different. This is crazy moon talk. Is that what you meant to say? Let's start there. If we can first agree that yes, they are different in many ways, then we can get into the nitty gritty of how they are different.

    So. I propose that they are different. Do you agree? If so, check out this next part.


    Here's the first big difference, which is relevant to my first post:

    In Agon, every PC is very good at every single ability in the game. They each get their name die, plus any creative ability dice, plus any oath dice, plus any helping dice -- before their "skill level" is even considered. This means, in D&D terms, that every PC is a well-trained Thief, Cleric, Magic User, Fighter, and Bard. No one has to put skill ranks in Perform and then hope that it comes into play often enough to justify that point expenditure. And also hope that points spent on Perform are as valuable to successful play as, say, Spot skill levels. And also hope that Perform checks have results that are non-trivial.

    In contrast, every single ability in Agon can be used equally well to win contests and earn Glory, and the players decide what tasks the PCs undertake to accomplish their goals, thus guiding what abilities are called for in contests. Let me say that one part again: The players decide what tasks the PCs undertake to accomplish their goals. There is no "With the GM's permission" attached to that, just to be clear.

    In Agon, the players say, "We compose a song to lull the beasts to sleep." The GM is not allowed to say no, that doesn't work. "Music doesn't affect them," or some such is forbidden. The only thing the GM can do is call for a contest, and she can make it a hard one (which costs Strife!), but that's the extent of her authority. And when you have a contest, you use your ability and you can win Glory. Thus, every ability is relevant to the direct purpose of play.

    Contrast again to the Perform skill in D&D. Is your Perform skill earning you XP as well as your Spot, Tumble, and Basic Attack Bonus? And who decides which of those skills is favored in terms of reward?

    I hope I'm communicating clearly and the differences are highlighted a little better. Let me know if we're making progress toward understanding between us.
  • NOTE: My Agon knowledge is limited. Extremely limited.

    Killing the royal guard WILL earn you XP in D&D.
    Lulling the royal guard into sleep MIGHT, MAYBE earn you XP in D&D if the GM awards for creative problem solving and thinks this deserves it. Most GMs don't in my experience.
    Befriending the chief royal guard and getting him to let you through the defenses WON'T earn you XP in D&D.

    Killing the bad guys will guarantee you XP in D&D, where everything else is pretty poorly mapped out and up to GM discretion.

    In Agon, I get XP for succeeding. At anything. If I want to befriend the chief royal guard and you say "I'm unsure if you can do that, let's test" then you are promising me XP if I win.


    ---------------------------------------------------------

    Second thing: The DC for a skill in D&D is determined by GM approximation of difficulty. Which means if a GM thinks playing musical instruments in the middle of a conflict is badass (maybe he played Zelda: Occarina of Time like twenty times), then he might say, "Yeah, I could totally see that happening! Epic lute, bitches! DC of 15."

    Another GM might totally scoff and say, "Um, okay... you are going to play the fucking lute at the three headed cobra dog demon? You're not going to like... defend yourself and shit? I think you'll probably die, but whatever... DC of 40. And I'm so going to kill your fucking ass if you fail."


    In Agon, the Antagonist/GM has a budget. Making something harder COSTS. The limited resources of antagonism mean that it is less fiat. In some groups - no big deal, the GM isn't a huge prick or particularly biased to certain actions (and in such, certain classes and characters). In other cases, it might mean a world of difference.
  • I totally get that they are different. Yes, we are talking about degrees and, I suppose, whether the difference is sufficient to reach a tipping point on this issue of GM/Antagonist attention being relevant to PC success.
    In contrast, every single ability in Agon can be used equally well to win contests and earn Glory, and the players decide what tasks the PCs undertake to accomplish their goals, thus guiding what abilities are called for in contests. Let me say that one part again: The players decide what tasks the PCs undertake to accomplish their goals. There is no "With the GM's permission" attached to that, just to be clear.

    In Agon, the players say, "We compose a song to lull the beasts to sleep." The GM is not allowed to say no, that doesn't work. "Music doesn't affect them," or some such is forbidden. The only thing the GM can do is call for a contest, and she can make it a hard one (which costs Strife!), but that's the extent of her authority. And when you have a contest, you use your ability and you can win Glory. Thus, every ability is relevant to the direct purpose of play.
    I posed this up-thread and I don't think it was answered. My understanding of the rules is that: (1) the Antagonist can be the aggressor in a conflict, and (2) the aggressor decides what ability is relevant to the conflict. Isn't this contradictory to your "never" in the above passage?
  • Posted By: joepubKilling the royal guard WILL earn you XP in D&D.
    Lulling the royal guard into sleep MIGHT, MAYBE earn you XP in D&D if the GM awards for creative problem solving and thinks this deserves it. Most GMs don't in my experience.
    Befriending the chief royal guard and getting him to let you through the defenses WON'T earn you XP in D&D.

    Killing the bad guys will guarantee you XP in D&D, where everything else is pretty poorly mapped out and up to GM discretion.
    This isn't a fair representation of D&D. The DMG explicitly provides for ad hoc xp awards and offers suggestions for when and how to award them. Granted ad hoc awards aren't as concretely presented as combat awards, but the rules and direction are there. Moreover, you're ignoring the long-term relevance to the reward cycle. If befriending the chief royal guard ultimately nets you a +5 sword of ogreslaying, that contributes to xp in a very real, easily seen, though admittedly delayed way. Again, I recognize this as a difference between Agon and D&D.

    That's not really the point.

    It seems like this thread has devolved into a comparison of Agon and D&D (and I've contributed to that direction). But, really, that's an entirely different and relatively silly excercise. They're vastly different games on many levels. Let's reflect on the original question: How does Agon make every ability relevant in play? I recognize the features it has in this regard, but I think it is overstating things to say that every ability is equally relevant in actual play and that the Antagonist has no role in determining which abilities are relevant in any given session. Maybe that's not what you are claiming at all. If all we are doing in answering the question is saying that it does a better job of ensuring this than D&D, I recognize that as well.
  • I'm thinkng about this aggressor thing.

    I think it's a possible thing, but it's not likely outside of the context of a battle or a pretty specific event. Usually, cliff faces don't wrestle you.

  • Posted By: shreyasI'm thinkng about this aggressor thing.I think it's a possible thing, but it's notlikelyoutside of the context of a battle or a pretty specific event. Usually, cliff faces don't wrestleyou.
    Fair point. And I will certainly defer to those with AP experience on this point.
  • Posted By: Justin D. JacobsonPosted By: joepubKilling the royal guard WILL earn you XP in D&D.
    Lulling the royal guard into sleep MIGHT, MAYBE earn you XP in D&D if the GM awards for creative problem solving and thinks this deserves it. Most GMs don't in my experience.
    Befriending the chief royal guard and getting him to let you through the defenses WON'T earn you XP in D&D.

    Killing the bad guys will guarantee you XP in D&D, where everything else is pretty poorly mapped out and up to GM discretion.
    This isn't a fair representation of D&D. The DMG explicitly provides for ad hoc xp awards and offers suggestions for when and how to award them. Granted ad hoc awards aren't as concretely presented as combat awards, but the rules and direction are there. Moreover, you're ignoring the long-term relevance to the reward cycle. If befriending the chief royal guard ultimately nets you a +5 sword of ogreslaying, that contributes to xp in a very real, easily seen, though admittedly delayed way. Again, I recognize this as a difference between Agon and D&D.

    If we're talking about one of the 3.x editions of D&D, the DM will have to go against the rules in order to refuse to give you XP for the second and third scenarios. The gaurd is a challenge, and XP is awarded for overcoming challenges, whether you kill them, diplomacize them, put them to sleep, or kidnap their children and force them to comply with your demands.
  • Posted By: shreyasI'm thinkng about this aggressor thing.I think it's a possible thing, but it's notlikelyoutside of the context of a battle or a pretty specific event. Usually, cliff faces don't wrestleyou.
    Except in Soviet Russia, of course. ;)
  • Except in Soviet Russia, of course. ;)

    Sure, but THIS IS SPAAARTAAAAA!

  • edited August 2007
    The "GM as aggressor" thing is tripping you up, but it's not really an issue. Remember when I said that PCs are good at every ability? That's the key part. Sure, an NPC can initiate a contest, and thus determine which ability is used. But the PCs are good at everything! So it's no big deal. Because you don't ever have a situation where an ability is needed in a contest and you can't participate because you didn't spend any points on it. You can always roll at least a d4 + d6 or better (your name) and you have lots of resources to get even better dice, for any contest in the game.

    Also, note that an NPC initiating a contest is not the same as the GM mandating the terms of an objective from a privileged position.
    Posted By: Justin D. JacobsonI think it is overstating things to say that every ability is equally relevant in actual play and that the Antagonist has no role in determining which abilities are relevant in any given session.
    I'm not saying that. I'm saying that the GM may not employ blocking like "that won't work here." No single person determines which abilities are relevant in play because they all are, as I hope I've been able to show. There's no need for a selection process to find the ones that are "really" good.
  • Posted By: John HarperAlso, note that an NPC initiating a contest is not the same as the GM mandating the terms of an objective from a privileged position.
    I think it is safe to say that this is my light-bulb moment. Thanks, John.
  • Cool! Thank you for sparking a fun discussion.
  • Oh and Rich:
    Use Wrestle against unkillable monsters! If you don't have the right magic weapon or whatever, run away, and then start a Wrestle battle with the creature. Wrestle the thing down, truss it up, and find a convenient portal to Hades to toss the thing into. Problem solved.
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