Little Idea: Suicide as a gameplay mechanic(Long)

edited December 2007 in Story Games
I was visualizing the game I'm working on by ways of an imaginary play transcript and I came up with a little idea I'd like to discuss. It's a little add-on mechanic.
The game I'm working on is about investigating supernatural phenomena. It's a horror game. I like to describe it as a cross between Silent Hill and Supernatural(the TV series).
Playing CoC, I always thought that offing yourself(in game that is) would make alot of sense, considering the Sanity mechanic and the fact that 90% of the investigators ended up in asylums or dead within a couple of sessions. They saw unimaginable creatures, faced cultists and gunshot wounds, lost friends, realized they were Nyarlathotep's puppets and that the ''real'' world is a stage in Carcosa. It would make sense for at least some of them to eat a few bullets. At the same time, it makes sense that characters that lost friends would view them as heroes(they saved the world a few times but in the end, they still missed their buddies. :( Very sad.) and draw strength from their actions and valiant lives. Then again when your friends blow up their heads, that would seriously impair the investigation...
So the mechanic I'm thinking about:
At any point the character's sanity(let's assume I'm using a sanity mechanic) has taken a serious hit, the player is allowed to end his character's life. The character's actions in previous investigations and personal belongings provide a bonus equally split between the remaining party members. The player has to create a new character and get's no bonus.

Is suicide too sensitive a matter for a game?
Is this mechanic even useful or cool?

Thanks for any input.

Comments

  • I've been working on a game about killing yourself to unleash a giant monster that would crush Tokyo and fight other giant monsters. I think this is pretty over the top and melodramatic, so I feel like I can get away with it. I think suicide is definitely a valid topic for a game, but it's going to take a better designer then me to approach it in a serious fashion.

    Jake
  • It's only too sensitive if you feel that the people youwant playing your games (the customers) will be turned off by it.

    I'm not sure how to answer the second question except to say that if it feels like something you want to pursue into playtest, then go ahead, but have a clear idea what it's supposed to do, and be willing to take your playetester's comments seriously.

    Admittedly, that's a bit of a cop-out answer, because that's how you should treat every mechanic in playtest.
  • Posted By: jake richmondI've been working on a game about killing yourself to unleash a giant monster that would crush Tokyo and fight other giant monsters. I think this is pretty over the top and melodramatic, so I feel like I can get away with it. I think suicide is definitely a valid topic for a game, but it's going to take a better designer then me to approach it in a serious fashion.

    Jake
    I think that sounds really cool, for what it's worth.

    Posted By: OgremarcoIt's only too sensitive if you feel that the people youwant playing your games (the customers) will be turned off by it.

    I'm not sure how to answer the second question except to say that if it feels like something you want to pursue into playtest, then go ahead, but have a clear idea what it's supposed to do, and be willing to take your playetester's comments seriously.

    Admittedly, that's a bit of a cop-out answer, because that's how you should treat every mechanic in playtest.
    I like horror and revenge movies. I also like really really bleak movies. So I'm perfectly fine with it, but I don't want to make something that will make people say ''Jesus what's wrong with you, are you some kind of monster''?
    Yes, yes I am.

    To elaborate a little on the mechanic, it's just a little thing I thought about adding that will allow players to retire a character in a dramatic way and add a little drama to a game about shooting demons in the head.
  • I like the idea that your very existence can be exploited for some bonus. That's crass and, for the right sort of game, really fun. Survival horror comes to mind.
  • Posted By: northerainThe character's actions in previous investigations and personal belongings provide a bonus equally split between the remaining party members. The player has to create a new character and get's no bonus.
    So to embrace the traditional model, it's:

    "I kill me, and you all take my stuff" ? (^.^)

    Some stuff to consider:
    In a game with about four players, what happens to the storyline when, by session six, 3 of the original characters have committed suicide?

    -Andy
  • Posted By: Andy

    Some stuff to consider:
    In a game with about four players, what happens to the storyline when, by session six, 3 of the original characters have committed suicide?

    -Andy
    It's a mechanic for ''retiring'' characters that have lost too much sanity or as a dramatic ending to a campaign or a story arc. At least that's what I'm intending to do with it.
    I plan on using a gauge that will allow players to use this only for good reason(major sanity loss, shocking story events and a certain amount of completed scenarios).
    For example, around session 6, let's say after 3 ''sucesful'' investigations, a player feels his character isn't really up to the challenge to continue working with the investigation team. He still feels guilty about accidentally shooting his best friend and then abandoning him to be eaten by that monster and beeing completely useless on the previous investigations doesn't really help his mindframe. He kinda made up for when he saved the entire team in the last investigation, but he still feels worthless. So he decides to end it all.
  • Suicide is a huge deal in Damned Anonymous, and the rules for that have been revised more times than anything else. Originally, the rule was "you can't, and if you try around others (like suicide-by-cop), folks around you will die instead as the Evil is unleashed to protect you." It was a bit more involved than that, but that was the gist. And frankly, that was when I knew I had to make DA.

    But over time, I began to see a flaw in that, especially as I was drifting more and more into psychologically-unpleasant territory. At it stands, if you want to kill yourself in DA, at any time you can choose to do so. It doesn't matter which part of the addiction/abuse cycle you're currently in (which is a big component to DA), you can decide there's no hope and end your life. There's one mechanical element involved, and that's where the player takes the small, breakable object that he bought to represent himself (part of DA setup is that you get small, breakable objects to represent yourself and each of your loved ones) and smashes it -- yes, physically destroys it in front of all the other players. Suicide is considered a mild victory for Evil, and it hurts the other characters because the group as a whole is the path to salvation.

    The change in rules is because I wanted the players to have a clear out. To commit suicide might be a player roleplaying, but I've also seen it as a player needing a release from a game -- some of my Unknown Armies games have ended in suicide because the players didn't want to be in their characters' headspaces anymore. So I found denying that in this game to be hostile to those playing. So, all that is lead-up to commenting on the following:
    Posted By: northerainAt any point the character's sanity(let's assume I'm using a sanity mechanic) has taken a serious hit, the player is allowed to end his character's life.
    Why only then? Suicide is an intensely personal thing. To mechanically state when a character is allowed to do so, combined with nothing forcing them to deal with the potential for breakdown, I think robs it of some of that personal feel.
    The character's actions in previous investigations and personal belongings provide a bonus equally split between the remaining party members.
    This is going to create a culture of "Dude, c'mon, kill yourself! It'll help us all out." Also, giving rewards will undercut a feeling of sorrow at the act. When people benefit, it softens the blow, and in this case I think it'll soften the blow greatly.
    The player has to create a new character and get's no bonus.
    Which also means this isn't zero-sum. The player gets a fresh character and the other characters are better off. Suicide now becomes a desirable idea, which means that it's no longer a tough, regrettable choice. It's "bubblegum suicide," if you will. I suppose in this case, you do need to mechanically limit when in order to not be horribly abused.
  • I like those ideas for DA. The game sounds more awesome the more I learn about it.
    What you mention is essentially the same reason I want to have a suicide mechanic. Or a mention in the book, or something. Players sometimes don't want to continue playing their characters and that's fine. I wanted to provide a way out that is at the same time part of the game so that the rest of the players won't try and convince the player in question to stop playing his character(''Come on man, you're ruining the gaaaaaame'').
    What I meant by allowing it only at certain times is, the character must have a reason to give up right? If everything's fine, why would he kill himself?
    You're right about the last 2 things though, rewarding players might be the wrong way to go.
  • Posted By: northerainWhat I meant by allowing it only at certain times is, the character must have a reason to give up right? If everything's fine, why would he kill himself?
    I used to think that as well, until I turned it around: If a character commits suicide, then things we not as fine as they appeared. The phrase "the straw that broke the camel's back" is apt here -- it could be a little thing, like seeing a woman pass by in a car that looks like your slaughtered wife, that causes you to break under the weight of the hellishness you've experienced. Maybe that's when you remember why you started this man quest against the Unknown in the first place, and how everything you fought to protect is dead, and afterwards you were just an emotional rock going through the motions until something ate you. Remember: many folks who commit suicide seem fine beforehand. We understand and sympathize with the guy who kills himself to be with his newly dead wife. We're fucking scared of the co-worker or classmate who snaps and kills himself without us understanding why.

    I did lie about DA a bit, in that there is a time when they can't kill themselves, and that's when they aren't in control. But that is a very small (though horrifically powerful, I hope) moment in the game.
  • Well to be honest I was thinking out of a player perspective. Why would a player create a character and kill him off 1 session in for no apparent reason?
  • So am I. A player won't off a character unless there's a reason -- just like the character won't off himself unless there's a reason. And to be frank, a player is unlikely to kill off the character that early. If he does, ask him to talk about why the character decided to kill himself. If you're worried about people taking the option of suicide uncharacteristically, perhaps what you need in your rules is more text talking about what it means to kill yourself rather than trying to solve a potential issue (which, to be fair, I don't think exists) with mechanics.
  • Posted By: Ryan MacklinSo am I. A player won't off a character unless there's a reason -- just like the character won't off himself unless there's a reason. And to be frank, a player is unlikely to kill off the character that early. If he does, ask him to talk about why the character decided to kill himself. If you're worried about people taking the option of suicide uncharacteristically, perhaps what you need in your rules is more text talking about what it means to kill yourself rather than trying to solve a potential issue (which, to be fair, I don't think exists) with mechanics.
    Hm...You're right. That was in place since there is a reward involved and I didn't want players to abuse it. But without the reward there is no reason for it.
    Back to the drawing board!
  • I like the idea of suicide having some reward in horror roleplaying. It is, after all, thematic, in some kinds of game. My gut reaction to how to avoid the reward being a problem would be to make its size conditional. So in CoC, say (since I know we both speak that language) you could make the reward equal to the PC's Cthulhu Mythos, or 50 minus their current sanity, or 5 pts per active phobia. Something like that. Then there's no reward for healthy happy characters topping themselves.

    Another approach would be that everyone in the group must approve of the award.
  • I really don't know where I'm going with it. In my games at least, unless something is mentioned in the book, or has a mechanic behind it, noone does it.
    I mean sure, you could leave it up to the players and the GM to off a character by suicide, but you can do that in any game, any system. So there's no point to mention it.
  • edited December 2007
    Posted By: Dave HallettI like the idea of suicide having some reward in horror roleplaying. It is, after all, thematic, in some kinds of game.
    Suicide is thematic. Rewarding folks for it -- especially rewarding folks other than the suicider -- isn't something you see in the genre though. Or, more to the point, suicide is its own reward. Suicide is cathartic in horror -- it's the ability to go from a cruel, uncertain fate to one entirely of your choosing and design. Frankly, unless it's a survival horror element like what Jason's talking about (though, that's more self-sacrifice than suicide), it isn't about anyone other than the person killing himself.
    Posted By: northerainI mean sure, you could leave it up to the players and the GM to off a character by suicide, but you can do that in any game, any system. So there's no point to mention it.
    There are more ways to remind people of narrative options than attaching mechanics to them. Mentioning it and incorporating it into the text is one. That's where presentation is a big deal -- if you wanted to really push for this idea, but don't care for any mechanics attached to it, a nice, big boxed text on suicide near the rules for sanity loss as a good way to do that.

    I'm reminded of another game where a character tried to kill herself. With GM fiat (and only because I really knew this player well), I denied the option -- the gun she grabbed was out of out of bullets. Later, there was a second attempt, which was foiled. This lead to one of the most powerful moments in the game, where when another character was going to kill himself, she pleaded at him with her eyes. He shot her first, and the player said that that's when he realized his character found true love -- he killed her before turning to kill himself when the Horrors came down. This had nothing to do with Sanity points or anything like that, but just narrative tension. The quest to kill herself was very personal. If there were mechanics attached to the benefit of it, or the group voting on it, or anything like that, I am hard-pressed to believe that there would have been anything nearly as good from that game. Those players still talk about it as a tragic love story.

    Of course, your mileage will vary. I just see things like suicide being similar in effect to things like love -- sure, you can attach mechanics to it, but doesn't that cheapen & disconnect you from that element?
  • Posted By: Ryan Macklin

    There are more ways to remind people of narrative options than attaching mechanics to them. Mentioning it and incorporating it into the text is one. That's where presentation is a big deal -- if you wanted to really push for this idea, but don't care for any mechanics attached to it, a nice, big boxed text on suicide near the rules for sanity loss as a good way to do that.
    I'm still a noob to game design. But I like that. I'll probably go with that. I'm not much of a mechanics guy anyway.
  • That's one of the problems I see fairly often when people talk about their games -- including fairly often in my own designs. We can fiddle with mechanics now, but presentation comes so much later that we put a lot of our efforts into crafting the feel of our game into mechanical ideas. Every now and then, I look back at my mechanics and ask "hey, does this really need to be there as a fiddly bit?" Most of the time, they stay (or mutate over playtesting), but sometimes I think I'm just trying too hard to do something that needs a subtler approach. Frankly, that's why DA isn't out yet -- it took my a long time for that design concept to really hit home, and that's what I needed to understand to do DA even close to right.
  • For what it's worth, if the game can be kept at a (relatively, for Coc-style games) light-hearted level, the idea of an investigator going "ah fuck this" and an-heroing himself is amusing and makes sense... but the problem comes when PCs begin cycling rapidly. Power-game self-offing sprees, a la Suicide Club, could cause a pretty bleak break in the narrative.
  • edited December 2007
    To present an alternate opinion:

    In a rules-tight game, the impact of actions in the narrative space comes ultimately from just that -- their mechanical effect on the actions and resources available to the players. When my Dog shoots your Dog, there's something that distinguishes that from my Dog saying something really cutting to your Dog, and that's that you take three d10s of Fallout, and now have around a 3% chance of dying immediately when the conflict ends, with no intervention possible (plus of course the possibility of death post-serious injury). That MATTERS, and so my decision MATTERS. If your actions don't have meaningful effect on things, then in the end they're basically empty -- on the one hand, some people for whom suicide would be thematically appropriate will shy away from it because it has only negative effects; on the other, when people DO opt for it, it won't have nearly the dramatic echo it should, because our characters might care, but in the final analysis, we don't -- nothing really changed. (Check out the thread on Carry being half-baked for some reiteration of this idea, although note that I don't really know anything about Carry.)

    There are other games in which the player may choose his character's death -- you could argue Dogs, but the game I'm thinking of is Falling Leaves. In that game, you can kill your character to accomplish a goal you would otherwise fail. Because that game is a samurai game, it usually involves a lot of stabbing -- but in a Cthulhu game, that could just as easily be an investigator calmly putting the finishing touches on a translation of the King in Yellow, sitting down at his desk, and putting a bullet in his head. It's all in how you frame the scene. That's just an example, of course. If there's a takeaway lesson here, I want to say it's "To encourage a behavior that might seem self-destructive, find a way to make it profitable for the player who ENGAGES in it, so that they have to make a real tradeoff; and try to parallel, with your mechanical tie-in, the ways in which this behavior is a natural response to the pressures of the narrative situation." WHY would a character want to kill himself? Give the player, as near as possible, that same reason.
  • I've found the Lord of the Rings board game encourages character suicide (each character has to take a turn, and if a character has too few resources that turn might do more harm to the group than good.)

    Another possibility is each player has several characters. When he sacrifices one, make the remaining characters more powerful. Or, have this be the first session in a campaign, and expect the player to eventually sacrifice all but one of his characters in the session. The one he keeps is the one he keeps for the campaign.
  • Posted By: pigeon

    There are other games in which the player may choose his character's death -- you could argue Dogs, but the game I'm thinking of is Falling Leaves. In that game, you can kill your character to accomplish a goal you would otherwise fail. Because that game is a samurai game, it usually involves a lot of stabbing -- but in a Cthulhu game, that could just as easily be an investigator calmly putting the finishing touches on a translation of the King in Yellow, sitting down at his desk, and putting a bullet in his head. It's all in how you frame the scene. That's just an example, of course. If there's a takeaway lesson here, I want to say it's "To encourage a behavior that might seem self-destructive, find a way to make it profitable for the player who ENGAGES in it, so that they have to make a real tradeoff; and try to parallel, with your mechanical tie-in, the ways in which this behavior is a natural response to the pressures of the narrative situation. WHY would a character want to kill himself? Give the player, as near as possible, that same reason."
    Although Ryan has opened my eyes somewhat(game idea doesn't equal game mechanic, at least not necessarily), I like this idea, though it's somewhat limited(it's essentially sacrificing your character to save someone else, or perform a feat). It could be a nice little mechanic for desperate situations when sacrificing yourself can save the investigation.
  • Posted By: cydmabI've found the Lord of the Rings board game encourages character suicide (each character has to take a turn, and if a character has too few resources that turn might do more harm to the group than good.)

    Another possibility is each player has several characters. When he sacrifices one, make the remaining characters more powerful. Or, have this be the first session in a campaign, and expect the player to eventually sacrifice all but one of his characters in the session. The one he keeps is the one he keeps for the campaign.
    This has WIN written all over it. Every horror movie in this genre has a wittling of individuals, until only the strongest remain; and often these strongest aren't who we thought they'd be. Perhaps players must each build a complete party, niche-speaking (say, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, Cleric); and that each player can call out a nuke on another player's dude, sacrificing it for the temporary good of the full group, and permanent bonus to that player's cadre. Once everyone has only one character, of each type, the mechanic evaporates and the really hardcore story begins to unfold.
  • To confuse sacrifice and suicide is to belittle both, and I think it shows how often people want to turnsuicide into some sort of sacrifice benefiting someone still living. The tragedy of suicide is that it rarely does, and even rarer is any potential help left untainted by the act.
  • Posted By: Ryan MacklinTo confuse sacrifice and suicide is to belittle both, and I think it shows how often people want toturnsuicide into some sort of sacrifice benefiting someone still living. The tragedy of suicide is that it rarely does, and even rarer is any potential help left untainted by the act.
    Like I said, it's just an example. The point is that you CAN make a mechanic that does this, and that to do so you need to investigate the act itself on a psychological/sociological level, and that NOT having one makes it not a meaningful narrative option.
  • Posted By: Ryan MacklinTo confuse sacrifice and suicide is to belittle both, and I think it shows how often people want toturnsuicide into some sort of sacrifice benefiting someone still living. The tragedy of suicide is that it rarely does, and even rarer is any potential help left untainted by the act.
    Naturally, the mechanic will now be about sacrifice, not suicide. Suicide can always be an option for a character, if the player feels for some reason that his character would take that road, no mechanics attached.
  • Posted By: pigeonand that NOT having one makes it not a meaningful narrative option.
    I could not disagree more, and I've already illustrated my counter-examples.
  • I think something that fits with the theme of suicide is to kill your self to avoid something rather then to gain something.
    To avoid the suicide being a sacrifice have this be something for the character rather then the group.
    Some benefit (Localized to that incident?) followed by some negatives (Everyone everywhere?)?
    I can't really think of how to expand on this idea at the moment.



    I like how in DA the suicide affects the group.
    Combine that with a suicide that is personal reasons (similar to end game in of My life With Master or the little map in Grey Ranks where how you play your character can eventual force certain actions.) and add in a mechanic where the group can pull the person back from suicide if they can recognize it/get to him at the time of suicide.
    Then I think you could have a game with a nice take on suicide.
  • Posted By: tj333I think something that fits with the theme of suicide is to kill your self to avoid something rather then to gain something.
    To avoid the suicide being a sacrifice have this be something for the character rather then the group.
    Some benefit (Localized to that incident?) followed by some negatives (Everyone everywhere?)?
    I can't really think of how to expand on this idea at the moment.



    I like how in DA the suicide affects the group.
    Combine that with a suicide that is personal reasons (similar to end game in of My life With Master or the little map in Grey Ranks where how you play your character can eventual force certain actions.) and add in a mechanic where the group can pull the person back from suicide if they can recognize it/get to him at the time of suicide.
    Then I think you could have a game with a nice take on suicide.
    That's really good. I can see this as a more detailed Sanity mechanic. Fellow characters have certain time to act before character A is going to break and kill himself.
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