Archive for September 8th, 2011

Randomness and “What Happens”

2011 Sep 8

So I was thinking about the chorus of “play to find out what happens” that Vincent describes at one of his PAX panels.

Traditionally, the “what happens” emerges from a number of places, but a couple of the major ones are:

  • what the players choose to do (the biggest one, no question); and
  • what the dice say about their attempts to do things (which often leads to yet more interesting choices).

And I realized one of the things I really like about fortune-less games is that the interesting part of determining “what happens” has nothing to do with the dice, which in less awesome situations can become a crutch that provides tension to otherwise uninteresting “choices” or narrative moments.

Even in games like Apocalypse World, I’ve occasionally seen GMs (including myself, though less and less, I hope) reaching for the dice — especially “Act Under Fire,” which can be a catch-all move — when they think there should be mechanical tension but are unsure or too tired to set up the necessary narrative leverage to create a potent situation with an interesting choice.

Sure, in fortuneless games, you can still do cheap shock revelations and set up other lame choices that aren’t really choices (“Are you willing to kill… YOUR OWN FAMILY MEMBER!” “Choose between your own safety and that of the one you love!”). But there’s no dice to fall back on or help you spice up otherwise lame situations, which I find forces me to be better and think smarter about how I run games. It forces me to be a better GM and player, basically, where other kinds of games make it easier for me to fall on bad habits or otherwise mess things up.

In a game with dice, a relatively straightforward situation — “You’re fighting a dude for no reason!” — can be vaguely compelling just due to the uncertainty of how things will go down, but in a game without dice — just the interaction of player choices — you’re forced to try harder than that. Yes, good games that have fortune mechanics push you in that direction too, but sometimes I just want to be thrown into the ocean (without a life jacket) so I can really learn to swim.

Due Vigilance: Basic Moves, Part 1

2011 Sep 8

I think I have a later version of these moves somewhere, but I can’t put my fingers on them. In any case, this is the direction I’m currently going in.

One of the core principles is if it’s not a crime, don’t roll for it.

When you assault & batter, roll+STAT. On a hit, inflict harm as established. On a 10+, they stay down. On a 7-9, the GM picks one:

  • they don’t stay down;
  • you get ’em, but not before they get theirs (you suffer little harm);
  • you expose yourself or someone else to danger.

If you assault with a deadly weapon, use these results instead. On a 10+, pick which one:

  • you inflict harm as established;
  • you inflict terrible harm;
  • you straight-up kill a dude.

On a 7-9, pick as above, but the GM will first tell you which one it’s NOT.

When you destroy property, commit arson, or sabotage, +workspace. When you have followed the necessary steps, you get hold equal to STAT. Spend your hold 1-for-1 to:

  • inflict harm as established;
  • shock, dismay, or frighten;
  • have the impact linger;
  • ensure this will never be made whole again.

You can pick additional options above, without spending hold, but they also apply to yourself. If you hold 0, you must do this at least once. If you have negative hold, spend as normal but you (and, perhaps, those with you) share in all consequences.