Tuesday, September 30, 2008

L5R analysis

To play L5R as we've been playing, I need to pretend I've just written my Burning Wheel beliefs, and that I actually decided to write "Honor is everything", "The General of the West knows Best", and "My companions are all that matter". There's also a Glory and Status and Shadowlands Taint measure, but they haven't come up in the game yet. Since there is no support for "here is what I want my character to care about", instead I need to retcon my brain into thinking "these things - honor, glory, etc - are what I want my character to care about". I don't know if this is possible but it should be, brains are easily tricked.

Also any system where failures are uninteresting had better either roll a lot, or get out of my sight.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Burning Consequences

From Corsario here:
But regardless, what's a good way to develop cool consequences, other than actual play?

This is an interesting question. During play there are definitely times when (as GM or not) I think "this should definitely require a roll, but wth happens if it's failed?" Sometimes the answer is "um no, then, it shouldn't require a roll, just say yes". But sometimes the answer is "your brain is on leave, there are tons of awesome failure consequences, you just didn't manage to think of any of them for some reason".

Players suggesting consequences can help. But due to groupthink there are still times when everyone knows there should be a roll and everyone knows they're failing to think up an awesome failure. What do we do about this? As I see it there are three options.

1) Say yes. The table does not have enough ranks in role playing to succeed every time.
2) Have some mechanical fallback for failure to be used only when the table fails to state some other failure consequence. This means if no consequence is stated in advance, and then the roll occurs, and then the GM fails to state a consequence, and then the GM + table fails to state a consequence. This shouldn't happen often at all, but when it does, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
3) Get better at consequences. Experience through play helps. The question is whether there is another way, a flash-card approach, other brain exercises, etc. that are actually worth doing.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

D&D Play

We played a little D&D last night - not much, it was a short night, we started playing at about 8 and ended at about 11, and leveled from 2 to 3 in between - but I felt it went much better than the last few sessions. Play consisted of a skill challenge, some incidental moving around, a fight on a ship, and the sale of said ship.

At the end of last session a bunch of changeling had jumped the PCs on a tall bridge in the middle of the city. The changelings were slaughtered. To start out this session, we had a skill challenge: the guards are here, what now? First we bluffed them, then failed to intimidate them, then talked them down. IMO it was the second-best challenge thus far. We are better at playing them, but I still feel failures should actually do something, even if the challenge isn't failed overall.

Then we had some moving around where we wrapped up a major and personal quest, leveled to 3, and shipped out on a boat to our next quest destination.

Pirate attack! This was a near-ideal fight. There were two boats separated by a few squares of water, with a dozen or so minion hobgoblins and some beefier folks on the pirate ship. The PCs all began on the other ship except for Fen-Gol, our orc ranger played by Jesus Christ the Living God, who we fired over to the pirates on a ballista. In my opinion there were exactly two things wrong with this fight (as run by the DM), and they're both pretty minor. First, the only thing Kaoru the rogue got for winning initiative over the hobgoblins was -18 HP and the chance if she rolled well enough to have the choice of using her action point to make an attack. Luckily that was exactly one turn out of the entire fight, so hardly any impact. Second, we were all over a ship in the middle of the water, we knocked two enemies into the water, and none of them tried to knock us into the water at all.

Loot! Now we gave the slaves some coin to row the ship to our destination, we set them free, and then we sold the ship for lots of gold. In reality it was about the amount necessary to buy the magic items the DM was planning to have the party find but missed before we hit level 3. Also he didn't want the players to know that, for some reason. IMO it would be more fun, not less, if he said "Oh god you're level 3 already and I missed some magic items how can we get you moneyz? Capture a pirate ship? Awesome, sure."

What I liked: the skill challenge, the fight. What I didn't like: the downtime, especially setting up the fight. Perhaps this is a good use for a random prepared puzzle? There is an implicit time limit (until the DM finishes setting up), and the reward is that we shoot the orc over with the ballista (the puzzle is colored as "figuring out how to use the old magic ballista).

Friday, September 19, 2008

PTA: Aperture Actual Play

Last Thursday's game didn't go so well. What felt like easily 2/3 of the time was spent looking at each other and saying "well do you have an idea for a scene? I can't think of a conflict!" Upon reflection I'm certain we were breaking the rules and fairly certain that's what caused the play breakdown.

Here's how it's supposed to work, as far as I can tell: a player requests a scene which may or may not have a known general agenda ("here Dr. Mere is going to argue with Colonel Hike about a fair trial for the corrupt planetary governor", "all right this is the volcano eruption scene!", etc.) but which has a known starting point, enough for the Producer to frame the scene. Then there is freeform play for a bit until someone calls for a conflict, at which point stakes about how the characters are affected need to be set.

The goal is that the great majority of scenes culminate in a conflict. But this is a symptom of good play, not a cause, and trying to short-circuit the process and think of your awesome conflict before the scene starts, every scene, causes a breakdown in play. Proof: last Thursday.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Burning Wheel BITs

Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits are the most important part of a Burning Wheel character. They're not everything, but they are a lot. Whenever I'm playing another game like D&D 4e or L5R, I end up thinking "man I wish we had Beliefs!". As it turns out, I'm pretty sure this instinct is wrong. Here's how I think of the BITs and what I believe (trait actually) they are for.

Beliefs: We must learn from the humans or die, so I will retrieve the knowledge of cannon-making so we can use these weapons against the orcs. This belief has two parts. The first part is a Principle you'd like your character to follow, and the second part is a specific action or Goal you're giving your character that flows out of the Principle. Most importantly, by writing this belief, you are telling your GM and fellow players "Look! I care about this Principle and this Goal and I want you to challenge it, beat on it, and prod it with flaming pokers!". If you'd like you can leave off the Goal portion of the belief (for a while, then fill it in during play!), but all beliefs should at least have the Principle.

Instincts: Always sustain Turn Aside the Blade.This is Instinct Type I. Here you are saying "Okay, I'm really not interested in a 'you are ambushed without your trusty shield spell!' twists. No matter what I want to be able to have TAB sustained." Never lie to the King. This is Instinct Type II, and has rather the opposite effect. This instinct is just begging the GM to have you rat out your fellows to the King. Few instincts are purely I or II, but usually it will be clear where the focus is.

Traits: Wolverine is a Die trait that makes characters who have heavily invested in recovering from injuries mechanically much better at recovering from injuries. Poker Face is a Call-on trait that makes characters who have invested in lying to others' faces mechanically better at lying in those situations. Arrogant is a Character trait that describes a character who has been consistently (or dramatically) arrogant in the past.

How does this work in play? What are they good for? Let's take a look at lots of Actual Play examples.
Luke and Rich one-on-one
Rich wanted Si Juk to start his cult and the trance fighting. I asked him, "What do you want from the trance fighting?"
"Complete immunity from Persuasion."

Wow. That's a big power. We talked about it and decided that this would be trait that he would have to earn. Essentially, he'd have to get me to vote for him to get this trait. Fun stuff.

Here Rich's character, Si Juk, has been hosed in the past by Persuasion. Rich wants a mechanical display that shows Si Juk has experienced this and surpassed it through trance fighting. And so it is agreed that Rich and Luke will negotiate what must occur to give Si Juk this Trait. Notice how this is different from a Belief. Rich is not asking Luke to challenge the notion that Si Juk wants to learn trance fighting. He is saying "This is a part of Si Juk and I would like to see it reflected in the mechanics. Let our story be built upon that."
I decide on an instinct
Bribe first, talk later.

I used this as an instinct for my character Jays for two reasons. The impetus was that I wanted him to keep getting into trouble because he had bribed lots of the nobility. Whenever that happened, this instinct would qualify me for a point of Fate. The specific wording means that additionally, if someone is trying to talk to Jays about mutual favors, responsibilities, etc. I can if I wish cut straight to "nope he tries to bribe them first".
zabieru describes Clint Eastwood's player's goals
Clint Eastwood's character in Unforgiven doesn't have a belief about protecting his kids. Would he do just about anything to protect them? I imagine he would. But it's not a direction he's interested in taking the story, so he doesn't put the belief on the sheet. He does have a belief about how his bad days are behind him, and one about how he's gonna claim the whores' reward. The conflict therein drives the movie (along with his relationship with Ned, etc). He doesn't write a belief saying that the Devil's gonna come home to roost once he picks up a gun again, because 1) he doesn't need to, it'll come from playing out the conflicts the GM and the other players push onto the beliefs he has, and 2) writing that belief is playing the game before the game's even started.

Beliefs are not about what your character most deeply believes. Instead beliefs are about what you, the player, want to see happening in the game, formalized by a challenge to the GM.

Clint: "Will believes his bad days are behind him. I want you to burn that until it's ashes on the floor or emerges purified!"

Building on that example, it may come out through play that Will does do anything to protect his family. During trait vote he would then get Family Man or something as a character trait.

[Later perhaps I will add more examples.]

So what are these things good for? They enable the players to do various things:
  • Belief Principles
    Call out aspects of their character's personality which they'd like to see challenged and be rewarded for challenging.
  • Belief Goals
    Call out plot points which they'd like to see challenged and be rewarded for challenging.
  • Instinct Type I
    Veto certain very specialized types of conflict.
  • Instinct Type II
    Call out tropes that they'd like to be rewarded for incorporating into the exact implementation of how their character gets into trouble.
  • Character/call-on/die Traits
    Formalize aspects of their character's personality (or physical nature) which they don't necessarily want to see challenged but which they'd like to call out as important in differentiating their character from the norm.
  • Call-on/Die Traits
    Get mechanical benefits from aspects of their character's personality (or physical nature) that they've invested heavily in.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My Intent in Games I'm Playing

I'm currently playing in three multi-session games: Legend of the Five Rings, D&D 4e, and Prime Time Adventures. Sometimes just before a session of one of these I play some Death Stakes. Here, explicitly and honestly, are my intents (above and beyond "have fun with friends") for each. The reasons I'm playing these games rather than others.
  • L5R
    My "standard" gaming group decided to move from a schedule of 1 system for an undetermined amount of time, one a week, to 2 systems for an undetermined amount of time, once a week, alternating between the systems, with an occasional other system thrown in. So A A B B C A A B B C' etc. Mike had wanted to GM L5R for a while so that became one of the systems. My intent in playing L5R rather than something else is to make Mike happy.
  • D&D 4e
    I played RPGs but had never played D&D, and my new roommate was very excited to DM a D&D 4e campaign. My intent in playing D&D 4e rather than something else is to know (first-hand experience) what most people are playing and to make Thomas happy.
  • PTA
    This is the other game in the aabbc progression. It's a game I'd read a lot about on the Forge, that breaks far away from the traditional authority roles, and that has scene mechanics. My intent in playing PTA rather than something else is to know first-hand how our group plays PTA and to emphasize the differences in authority and scene management between this indie game and our traditional game, hopefully buffing skills useful for playing Burning Empires.
  • DS
    I am very bad at on-the-fly freeform narration. DS is almost solely on-the-fly freeform narration. My intent in playing DS rather than something else is to level my freeform skill.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Burning Investigations

Power 19
  1. What is your game about?**

    Within the context of Burning Wheel, drilling down on parts of the story involving the characters discovering things hidden from them. Parts like puzzles in a dungeon, murder mysteries, or spooky paranormal OMGWTF is happenings. Giving solid mechanical support to playing these types of situations in the way that I want to play them.

  2. What do the characters do?**

    Anything they can to figure out what's going on, how to solve it, etc. Trap-wise, Circles, Intimidation, etc. etc. to coerce the world into helping solve their problem. Standard BW behavior, except for two differences. First, in many cases the characters can use the results of an Investigation, good or bad, to severely help or hinder another thing (Big Reveal). Second, while usually the characters can only try one thing to achieve an intent (Let It Ride), it is possible to try several things during an Investigation, though too many failures will result in failure to achieve the purpose they had in Investigating.

  3. What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?**

    Aside from standard BW play, the GM designs an appropriate puzzle that is solved alongside play, in stages. The players solve this puzzle. Their successes and failures in-game translate to better odds of successes and failures at the puzzle, and their successes and failures in the stages of the puzzle translate to better odds of successes and failures in-game.

  4. How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?

    It doesn't.

  5. How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about?

    It doesn't.

  6. What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?

    During an Investigation the players are under more pressure than usual to succeed at rolls, and thus have their characters take more conservative actions. Near the end of an Investigation the players are rewarded for going out on a limb and gambling they have the correct solution to the puzzle.

  7. How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?

    Since each Investigation roll is essentially a linked test to the next, succeeding them is rewarded by better odds of succeeding the next. Since there are only so many allowed actions during the Investigation, failing a roll is punished by reduced odds of solving the puzzle. Players correctly solving the puzzle and then gambling that they've solved it correctly is rewarded by high odds of success on a single roll pretty much within the players' choosing; incorrectly solving and then gambling is punished by low odds of success on the roll they wanted to succeed on.

  8. How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?

    Identical to BW.

  9. What does your game do to command the players' attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)

    First assume they care about the BW game they're playing. Then presumably they care about the Investigation intent, so that solving the puzzle invites participation. The fact that the sculptures are shiny and the players enjoy induction invites attention and engagement. *Feedback from success/failure at the puzzle should generate interest, but may be problematic since +1D or +1 Ob out of context isn't as riveting as knowing to which intent these modifiers will apply.* The game remains interesting because to make any progress on the puzzle after staring at it for a bit requires additional play.

  10. What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?

    The GM marks guesses right or wrong according to fixed secret knowledge.

  11. How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?

    This is precisely what I want an Investigation to do, I don't want to feel cheated because the world state shifts.

  12. Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?

    Identical to BW. Maybe there can be die traits related to breaking the rules somehow, who knows.

  13. How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?

    It doesn't.

  14. What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?

    The feeling of solving a puzzle without the effort on the GM's part and without ever blocking the game.

  15. What areas of your game receive extra attention and color? Why?

    The Big Reveal, because it gives a way to have time pressure without making an accidentally-too-hard-rule impossible and thus blocking the game due to AP.

  16. Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?

    The Big Reveal, because it seems awesome and was not an obvious requirement given the constraints (playing Zendo to investigate).

  17. Where does your game take the players that other games can’t, don’t, or won’t?

    It makes it possible for the GM to present legitimately challenging puzzles to the players without putting the burden of "challenging" on the GM. So it makes good on-the-fly investigations far easier.

  18. What are your publishing goals for your game?


  19. Who is your target audience?

    Me, Eric, Mike, Robin, Thomas, David, Mark, Rohini, Jesus, RDJ?

Burning Investigations

  • First the GM and preferably the players should have played Zendo.
  • For any intent, if the appropriate task is an investigation (find the murderer, unlock the door, etc), you may begin the Investigation mechanics.
  • To begin an Investigation,
    1. the GM (final authority) and players decide whether it will be Not A Big Deal/Standard/Big Deal
    2. the GM (final authority) and players decide how many secret sculptures the GM will build and how many rounds maximum the Investigation may take
    3. the players decide whether they want to do the Investigation given these decisions
    4. the GM secretly writes down a rule to classify sculptures as red or black (its difficulty guided by how big a deal it is), builds one sculpture marked red, and builds one sculpture marked black
    5. the GM secretly builds several sculptures to be used in the Big Reveal according to the agreed terms
  • During an Investigation, any roll may be suggested by anyone to be an investigation roll. The GM has authority over which rolls are investigation rolls.
  • An investigation roll is a roll like any other in BW - it has success and failure consequences. Additionally, if the roll succeeds, the player may either Guess the rule or build a sculpture and call Master or Mondo. If the roll fails, the GM builds a sculpture of his choice and calls either Master or Mondo.
  • On any investigation roll, if the previous sculpture was a Mondo and the players guessed correctly, that roll is at +1D. If they guessed incorrectly, it is at +1 Ob. If the previous sculpture was a Master, the roll is not modified.
  • Before any investigation roll with an intent orthogonal to the intent of the Investigation, a player may declare a Big Reveal in which they try to classify the GM's secret sculptures. Success gives +3/5/7D on this final investigation roll and success on the original Investigation intent. Failure gives +2/3/4 Ob on this final investigation roll and failure on the original Investigation intent. A Big Reveal ends the investigation, succeed or fail.
  • Investigations break the Let It Ride rules in one key way. A player may have the same intent as the Investigation intent for an investigation roll, but upon success at the roll, that player must Guess rather than Master or Mondo, and the intent is not achieved unless the Guess is successful.
  • Each Master, Mondo, Guess, and Big Reveal is one round of the Investigation. If the last round occurs without a Big Reveal or successful Guess, the players have failed at their Investigation intent.

Zendo actions:
-Master: GM classifies a built sculpture as red or black
-Mondo: Players guess which way a built sculpture will be classified, then GM classifies it
-Guess: Players guess a rule and the GM builds a counterexample or the Investigation intent succeeds.
-Big Reveal: GM reveals his secret sculptures and the players try to classify all of them. The player rolling has final authority over each guess. Once their guesses are made, the GM reveals the rule and classifies all of the sculptures. If the players were right on all guesses, they succeed, but if they were wrong on any, they fail.