Friday, January 21, 2011

There Ain't No Saving Throw For The Sword

I had a moment of clarity in the shower last night, brought on by thinking about IMech problems all day, which causes me to rethink - again - the principles of 'getting past' the guards as opposed to 'befriending' the guards.  I think there's room for both in the same system now, and for the first time I really believe I have a mechanic.

I'm sorry, but I'm not going to discuss it yet.  I have not, as I myself propounded, tested it.

I am going to talk about something I'm prepared to swallow as a final result to my machinations, which I believe firmly the remainder of the D&D world will not:  that your stats are going to limit you from doing things which your mind, as a player, wants to do.  Things which have been so absorbed as being part of playing D&D, that an alternative, even a moderate one, will be firmly denied.

Here is the problem that occurs to me, the one that I am working on mechanically.  Suppose that a three character party moves forward to confront four guards, with the intention of talking their way through.  Let's say the characters are first level and that this is their first encounter.  Here are a few things I would like to have happen:
  • I would like the characters to have an opportunity to roleplay; existing cards would be implemented at appropriate moments, but with the playing of the cards I would like the players to be able to make a moderate stab at actually doing in roleplay what the card says.
  • I would like more than one character to be able to play a card, and for the cards to enhance one another, so that Player 1 could play a card which would support Player 2's action.
  • I would like it if the guards did not behave as a unit; I would not even like it if the lead guard was counted on as a crutch to handle the multiple effects of the interation.  I would want all guards to have the possibility of being convinced independently.
  • I would like it if this 7-person conflict could be sorted out in under five minutes.
  • I would like it if the guards had a chance to convince the players not to continue trying to talk their way through.
And here, finally, is the kicker.  The last point.  Let us conjecture that the character's wisdoms decide the fortitude they possess in carrying on the conversation with the guards.  And let us say that the third person in the party, Player 3, has a wisdom of 9.  Now, in my mind, Player 3 is listening to Player 1 persuades (he's the smooth one), while Player 2 befuddles (he's the smart one).  Player 3 is also looking at the livery the guard is wearing, and listening to the assured, confident voice the guard is using ... the first aspect being the guard's status, and the second being the guard's training.  And Player 3 is wondering, what the fuck are we doing trying to talk about way past these guards?

In any ordinary D&D scenario, Player 3's question might be in the minds of one of the players, usually the least confident player, or the one with the least experience.  It is never a question that will arise in the mind of a willful player, who counts on his rhetoric to carry him through, particularly if the player is very familiar with the DM's playing style.

But just suppose the confident player is the one that has the 9 wisdom.  To my mind, any REAL mechanic with REAL influence on the player's game play ought to FORCE the confident, experienced player who knows the DM well to adopt Player 3's point of view.  In other words, he should be actively discouraged by the guard's identification and demeanor, and be compelled to say, "Uh, guys, I don't see how we're doing any good here.  Let's go."  Even if the player doesn't want to.

Moreover - and here is where I am really going to depart from the herd - this reaction from the player should in no way result from an action the player has made, but should INSTEAD result from an action the guard has made.  This is a central argument I have been making since the beginning.  For the IMech to work, and work meaningfully, it can't break down to a wisdom check made by the player.  The player does not roll the guard's die in a hand-to-hand combat ... therefore the character cannot be free to 'roll the guard's die' in an interactive 'melee.'

No, no, no, the guard must have the power to stamp his feet, slap his scabbard, invoke the symbol on his chest and say, "MOVE ON!", so that the player actually has no choice but to do so.  Seriously.  No choice.

Now before you think to yourself how terribly, terribly wrong that is for D&D, think for a moment how, if the guard does 18 damage to the player with 4 hit points, the player actually has no choice to do anything except die.  As the title says: tough shit for you.

This is something thoroughly accepted in D&D.  Not pleasant.  Certainly not wanted by the player.  But nevertheless something the player has to choke down with their Cheetos.  Believe me when I say that until players have to choke down the IMech too, in circumstances where the players don't have so much as a die roll, it won't have any teeth at all.

At present, I already know how to make this happen.  I have a pretty good idea on how to conduct the interaction so that all the points above are covered.  It's only a beginning, however.  And it only really addresses this one situation (though I can see how others might be resolved).  This is the reason I'm keeping it to myself.

The falling down point remains, however, how different this would be for D&D, as described above.  Which doesn't bother me in the least.  I'm not nostalgic.  I just want a good game.  I have as much invested in the 'traditional' game of D&D as I have in New Wave from the early '80s, when I was young, in high school and humping girls on the dance floor.  Sure, I listen to Blondie and the Cars now and then.  Those were good times.  But new music has been recorded since then.

Change is life.  I'm proposing the possibility of saying to the player, "No, you can't decide to attack the guard now - you're intimidated and you don't have the nerve to pull your sword."  If that makes you queasy, then we don't have anything left to talk about.  On the other hand, if that lifts the scales off your eyes, then we're going someplace.


Zak S said...

You do realize that there are lots of games which already work like that, right?

Maybe the actual mechanism whereby PCs are forced to act isn't the one you'd design, but the basic idea: "your character is intimidated/convinced/etc. move along now" has been covered by other games.

Alexis said...

I'm beginning to notice two things about you, Zak. The first is that you always seem to comment about ten to twenty minutes after I post. And the second is that you seem to have a chip on your shoulder.

In answer to your question, you do realize I don't give a rat fuck what other games are out there that work like that. I don't play them, I don't care about them, I don't give a shit about what they have to offer me. That's because every other game I've ever read left me feeling about as luke warm as it's possible to be. In any event, you therefore know for a fact that anything I offer here is straight out of my own mind, in reaction to other discussions I've seen on this subject instigated on this blog.

If you are blessed with all this terrific fucking mechanism knowledge about the spectacular arrangement offered by other games, you haven't written it out in detail here. You are, in fact, not contributing to the conversation in the least, except to stand off to the side and offer your snide little supercilious bits of 'wisdom.' Do you camp on this blog just so you get your chance to do so?

Zak S said...

I wake up between 10am and noon pacific and work at a desk in front of a computer and like your blog so i read it when it's updated.

I'm not a bear baiter. Right now I was just saying "Hey, there are games that do this, maybe you could look at them when developing your imech" but I guess this method is just so far outside what you'd do that you took it as an insult.

Zzarchov said...

The one problem I have with that is the interaction with other systems (such as combat).

Ie) what if halfway through the conversation you decide to say "Screw this" and attack? If that is not an option, why? Can attacking a guard (or the guard attacking you) not be the results of failing the event?

With an "IMech" (and I may be understanding incorrectly here what is meant by it, I am using it to refer to a social conflict so you can feel free to ignore from here out if that is not the case) I see it as convincing what someone believes. Like alignment, what someone believes and what they do can differ.

If someone does something they believe is wrong (ie, murdering a guard or showing a weakling mercy depending on alignment) then it should cause things you don't want (Nightmares, Guilt, PTSD or other whathave you's that people with real psychiatry know how can discuss). I know how I handle that in my games as a disadvantage.

But I think you'll walk into a hornets nest if its just "walk away and never come back". How long till they can try again? Can they leave, have a drink and get all riled up and stab the guard 2 hours later? Will it be a lifelong change in personality like Biff from back to the future? What about changes of heart? If they see the guard murder a baby and eat its eyes 2 minutes from now will their outrage let them ignore the failure?

I went with a cinematic abstraction to fit cinematically abstract combat (where you can somehow antagonize a military commander to scream how you can't handle the truth rather than have a coached 'no comment' for 20 minutes), with a hefty dose of "just go with it".

Without knowing the specifics of what you envision, may look to various war and roleplaying games Morale systems, perhaps even D&D?

Have the players consider losing an IMech the same as breaking morale as an NPC. You wanted to stay and fight but you broke and ran like a coward...shouldn't have made CHA a dumpstat.

That might allow you to set "morale healing" times. Getting drunk? Temporary +5 morale, I bet you could show that guard he aint so tough now! bring the broken're just gonna scare em, what could go wrong?

Alexis said...


Thank you sincerely for a heap load of useful, intelligent questions.

The point is extremely well taken, and I think my answer would be, absolutely, go get a drink, buff up your courage and go at it again. I think anything that could be argued to change the circumstances should immediately mean another try. The consequences for failure the second time could be beefed up (seized and taken to a cell this time, as the guards are getting sick of you). The principle point would be that if you can get go back and fight them again, you ought to be able to go back and argue with them again.

Hell, how many movies have the guards saying, "You again?"

And yes, absolutely, if they haven't been intimidated, at any point they should be allowed to say "screw this" and attack. The system HAS to be modulated for the spirit of what is trying to be done. It can't be a stasis field.

I know that was a general answer - did it suffice to get across that I think your concerns could all be reasonably taken into account?

Zak S said...


Presumably you made this post in the first place to make clear things that you felt had not been made clear in revious iMech discussions. (Which I was occasionally in on).

You did indeed make clear something that hadn't been clear to me before. I realized you were looking for something I have seen in other games. I did not sit around biding my time so that I could strike from the darkness on January 21st.

Some games:

DC Heroes from Mayfair, (now called "Blood of Heroes") has a system for "persuasion" that is exactly parallel to physical combat. Dex Str and Body are parallelled by 3 "spiritual" stats and intimidation and charming works like combat. I have played this game and it works fine if you're into that sort of thing, though the DM has to use discretion (or a lot of modifiers) when the option of the main villain saying "give up and go home" arises.

There are also games I have heard (ad nauseum) about but never played, like Dogs In the Vineyard, which work on a scale of ascending "bidding" and forced action. Information about this and other games like this come out of The Forge and sites like

Maybe you know about these systems already, that's why I wrote "you do realize...right?" in my first post. Not to be like "Hey, you must be touched int he head" but to ask if you knew that there were games that did at least a little of what you wanted done.

Alexis said...

Well, it did sound like "What, are you stupid?" to me. As has everything you've written of late. I know you're realizing it, since your post telling me not to scare people on Monday included two qualifying comments.

As it happens, I know when I am scaring people. How about you know when you're calling them stupid?

Zak S said...

Perhaps the "scales from your eyes" and "herd" comments got my hackles up more than I realized. Either way, really, just know that I don't go out of my way to give you static.

You have ideas about games. They are not always clear to me, but you seem like someone who would have interesting things to say about new ideas if they are presented to you. Figuring out how to present them to you in such a way that you don't feel:

condescended to (if I explain too much), or

baited (if I explain too little)

when presented with them is not always easy.

If you can just assume I'm not an asshole whose idea of fun is posting meaningless snark on your blog that'd be appreciated. But maybe I haven;t done whatever it is a person needs to do to earn that level of trust, in which case I guess I am just going to have to post when I think of something to say and not post when I don't and not worry too much either way.

Zzarchov said...

The following portion deals with specific examples of how I run IMech. Social Conflict using very similar mechanics to physical combat is what I use in Piecemeal, playing that way for some time now and it does work as I had hoped (cinematic verbal spars that are as interesting as big climactic battles). It also made the act of playing a "talking hero" more interesting: instead of making one roll you go through all the round by round suspense and tactics of combat.

The downside involves players being able to suck up and have a healthy dose of "go with it". I avoided forcing actions though, merely with forcing intentions. "Your character believes the villain is right". Can still fight the villain, it just impacts various "metaphysical" aspects of the games. On a gamist level that means no re-rolls during the fight etc.

I also make it that if you resort to violence you surrender the social conflict in question.

However, your system with Cards (aka Unlocked Achievment Cards) strikes me as a more interesting development.

Alexis said...

All right Zak; I'll try and be more decent. I am certain that some of my ire was aroused when you argued that I spend an awful lot of time saying how useless stuff I see is. My answer to that should have been, I have no interest in seeing stupid stuff on the wiki; but I suppressed that then, and it came out now.

I cannot help who does, and who does not, identify with the 'herd' when I rail against it. To me, the 'herd' is that bunch of fucks over at Big G's blog who gush on and on about how really, really brilliant he is. To me, the 'herd' is the select group of people who, for some reason I can't figure, feel the need to read this blog and then tell me what's wrong with it.

I recognize that making references to the 'herd' and to 'scales' are a weakness of mine. I should not attempt to pre-maneuver my audience. It is something I have been telling myself not to do since I began blogging. As I write each sentence, I can hear in my head how some dumb shit is going to twist it, misunderstand it, piss all over it or otherwise fail to read its intent, and for several weak reasons I feel the need to say, "Hey, you idiots who aren't going to read this as English ..."

The 'herd' that IS out there (I've been thinking about running a Stupidest Comment of the Month contest) does use this blog as a sounding board too often for my tastes. I want to reach smart people with smart thoughts, and what I find myself mostly reaching are unbelievable idiots who must have trouble telling 4-sided dice from their character sheets. There are a tremendous amount of smart, terrific people who read this blog. There are far. far more idiots.

So I rail against the morons and I do my best to answer satisfactorily to the smart ones. The more polite I am, the smarter I think you are. That's the trick. Sound smart, and I'll be polite.


Alexis said...


There's nothing I'd want better than to have some format that enabled you to do everything you're doing now, with a little more rigor so that everyone knew what chances they were taking. What I do not want to do is hammer players into a format. I want a format that will let players expand their potential.

Zak S said...

Embarrassingly enough, that is actually what I have been trying to do for the last 2 years. I guess I haven't mastered it.

Arduin said...

I cannot help but smash my head against the keyboard thinking these problems over. It is damn well killing me, and I suppose part of that is that, like yourself, I want to do this well.

I have no arguments over forcing player actions. Every time I've been hit by a "Fear" effect, or one of my players, they've moaned, but we buck up and keep fighting. Anyone who knows how to play the game will do the same for an IMech.

So, what we need here is:

-A way to make more stats than CHA matter.
-A way to make character appearance/experience useful.
-A way to have multiple people affected by multiple other people.
-A way to have those multiple people react to the others each in a different way.

I reiterate this, not because I think anyone doesn't get it (I'm fairly certain we all do), but because I just want to have it "out there" to be read. A mission statement, maybe.

I know you've dismissed the idea of "New HP", but I could see how a sort of "Morale Track" might accomplish what we're after. The idea that certain people react well to certain stimuli, and "winning" is about getting the most powerful people to agree.

In the guard's case, we clearly don't need all of them to agree. The guy in charge is technically enough (though the possibility of someone convincing his mind to change should be there).

I'm glad you posted this, Alexis. Things are starting to click slowly into place, mentally.

ChicagoWiz said...

I've kept my mouth shut because 1) I don't have anything useful to add or useful questions - I would have to sit down and work with this over a period of games to get a feel for it, just like any combat system and 2) I'm not sure I have "the vision" like you do. For me, it is a solution to a problem that I'm not entire sure I have or need. That's not to say it's not worthy of solving, I just don't have a dog in the hunt as of yet. However, I'm looking forward with great anticipation to what you come up with. There are always insights I get when I read other things, and you've done that more than once. To quote a great Car's song "Let's go!"

Anonymous said...

This is totally spitballing, because I really read your post as a request for people to throw ideas at you.

There needs to be some kind of feedback between the I-Mech, the hard mechanics of combat, and the softer mechanics of skill checks (you do play AD&D, you use those?)

more specifically, if the PC is not doing well with the -bluff the guard- thing, is in fact feeling a bit cowed and thinking about retreating, but the player is determined to get through even if that requires a shift to violence ... well, then the PC should face some kind of a penalty to combat rolls. maybe cumulative to how many efforts have been made to bluff / persuade / charm up the guard, since all those approaches are kinda contra-violent.

on the other hand, if the PC has been trying (unsuccessfully) to intimidate, browbeat, or hassle the guard, then maybe the *guard* should get some kinda combat bonus just for general aggravation, should things get ultranasty.

or maybe (successful) taunting or intimidation would give the PC a combat bonus against the guard.

anyway, that's a guidepost toward some possible paths for binding the I-Mech more firmly into the existing mechanics, in a way that incents the players to comply with I-Mech results but doesn't dictate what the players must decide.

Kaspars said...

When the guard says "MOVE ON!", it’s a clear case of intimidation. If players fail against it they should react the same way a NPC would. The same rules apply for both sides after all.

As for the “bribe the guard” scenario: first thing that matters is the guard’s Loyalty score. Will he sell out? I presume there’re already rules for henchmen loyalty. Perception might matter too: do the PCs look like they will start trouble once inside? Next would come guard’s Intelligence. Does he thinks he can get a away with taking the bribe? If yes then Perception would tell him whether he can squeeze more gold out of them.

Say, have you seen Rich Burlew’s (OOTS author) Diplomacy skill rules by the way?

Anonymous said...


something like poker, played with tarot cards.

swords = force; wands = stratagem; coins = persuasion; cups = charm.

first play sets the suit. to change suit, must play a higher rank.

after X cards, best hand gets an outcome that matches the dominant suit.

would that fit your idea? or with further development, be worthy of the wiki?

Thrawn said...

I think the Song of Ice and Fire RP intrigue (their term of art for IMech) rules are interesting. Each person has an intrigue defence (like AC) based on Awareness, Cunning, and Status, as well as Composure (like hp) based on their willpower. You also have a disposition towards the other participants, which reduce how much those you dislike can affect you while also modifying how easily you can affect others (deception is hard against people you genuinely like, while persuasion is hard against those you hate). Different persuasion techniques are based on different abilities and have varying mechanical effects (convincing someone does so, but won't increase their disposition, intimidation forces people to flee or become cooperative, but their later disposition is always low, seduction improves someone's disposition towards you temporarily and so on). You can also take different actions which can support other people's arguments, decrease other's defences, help allies regain composure, and even use your high status to force people to improve disposition in that intrigue.

In a recent game I've had my Lord have to storm out of a room to avoid being seduced by another lord's wife. I couldn't just say he would never be unfaithful, only that he realised he was tempted and ran away. Had he been unable to do so he would have wanted to have sex with her.