Monday, March 25, 2019

Guilt and Conflict

I guess I'm not finished with the subject of the last post.  That is suggested reading before begining this one.

Ultimately, the conflict series I proposed some years ago now failed because the consequences for the players actions were not dear enough to contain their willingness to exploit the system.  As I have said before, the cards were used as a "charm person," in that if the roll succeeded and the defender lacked fortitude to resist, the players could have their way with said person.  This wasn't a problem with the first group of people I played with, but it became one as the system was better understood.

So I took it down, with the understanding that I would have to think about the system to determine a meaningful solution.  It had not occurred to me at that time that success could, in fact, be a deterrent.

As I explained in the earlier post, it might be.

Putting aside concerns about evil characters at the moment (and acknowledging that the decision to "be evil" should not necessarily be seen as an immunity to guilt), I'm only looking for a system that gives players pause.  The goal is to suspent players from simply saying, "Gosh, aren't I well-spoken and attractive; mind if you lend me all your money and the use of your house while I'm in town?"  We could create a system that would cause the charismatic individual to feel some remorse afterwards for making the request, especially if the request was accepted.

It would make the DM the arbiter of bad behaviour, however ~ something I always see as a problem.  A best-case scenario would be to create a list of anti-social behaviours ... but such a list would be extravagant and most likely incomplete, no matter how much work was put into it.  Humans are terrifically gifted at finding new ways to be anti-social.  A better strategy would be to framework anti-social behaviours so that if something new came up, it could be judged fairly not only by the DM, but also by the players.

Anti-social behaviours are those that harm or cause lack of consideration for the well-being of others; intentional acts of aggression; covert and overt hostility; and effectively contempt for others.  This certainly describes murder-hobos, as we well know, but it also describes talking a guard out of doing his job and letting the party past, a favorite example of "smart role-playing" in order to avoid combat.  We give experience for this.

Now, before anyone panics, and assumes I'm rushing to impose a morality on D&D, please keep calm.  I'm merely digging a hole for the foundations.  I'm not digging a grave here.

We have to acknowledge that the so-called "heroes" of many a campaign, particularly those on line, practice an awful lot of this sort of behaviour.  For example, this infamous bit.  I have little to no problem with the choices made by the party than I have with the constant identification of these persons as heroes.

But ... there are always multiple justifications for all the anti-social behaviours listed above.  Those orcs we slaughtered in that dungeon were evil.  Yeah.  That's what they certainly were.  And the children too.  That guard is an employee of evil ... he ought to know better than to defend such horrible, awful people, who are protecting that stone they absolutely have no right to possess.  We're not thieves if we're in the employ of Our King, who doesn't happen to have any actual jurisdiction in this country, but that is really, really not important, is it?  Etcetera.

Francis Drake wasn't a pirate, he was a British patriot.  George Custer wasn't a murderer of women and children, he was an American Hero.  Christopher Columbus wasn't a dick in every sense of the word, he was an entrepreneur and a legal representative of Spain.  Anti-socialism is a question of what social system you defend and which you denegrate.

I have a lot of faith in parties being able to justify their murder-hobo intentions; I don't want to put an end to them.  All I want is to codify it, so that my party can feel content marching into a dungeon to slaughter the inhabitants for the good of the kingdom and the state, and the wellbeing of the surrounding peasant folk ... just so long as they then don't decide to burn a peasant's house down the next day because the peasant wasn't sufficiently grateful.

I don't want morality to impose its absolute will on the party ... but I would like the party to at least acknowledge that there is such a thing and that it's a little important to the fabric and structure of all this goodness and heroism they purport to defend.

You kick that beggar.  You kick him as hard as you want.
Because you have moral superiority.
In that line of thought, along with cards for discussing with persons using reason, status, money and intimidation, we might talk about cards that offer "rationalization," "vindication," "excuse," "legal privilege" and "sadistic indifference," equally based on a player's ability stats, relationship with the crown, local authority, cause or right of revenge.  These cards would then be available in short supply and ONLY at specific times ... and could create a dynamic in which the first part of going off to slaughter all the denizens in the castle would be to get the card granting the legal or moral authority to do it.

And getting that card would have to be done legitimately also, if the consequences of lowered endurance, emotional wellbeing and stomach-churning, weakness-inducing guilt were not things to be managed while killing women and children in the castle 'just for fun."

Once again, I'm mindful that this is NOT your D&D.  Got it.  Think of it as a thought experiment, the imposition of another hurdle that has to be overcome or a guard rail against player misbehaviour in the extreme ... which, I admit, does not seem to be considered a problem around a lot of tables that are definitely not MY D&D.

This could be a thing.  Still needs some more thought.


JB said...

Okay, so I wrote my comments on the last post before you put this up.

Just make it harder to exploit NPCs. The social conflict cards made it too easy to exploit NPCs. You've made people tougher to kill in your game (adding HPs based on mass) to better model the reality of physics. Real world manipulation isn't so easy as a single interaction. It took Hitler a long time to build up his supporters (and convince the thugs he was the right man to lead them). It took Trump many months of campaigning to convince enough Republicans he was the right candidate to put on the general election ballot. Yes, it is possible to procure a "one-night stand" over a couple drinks and a little conversation...if the person you're talking to is looking for that kind of action. It takes a lot longer to seduce your buddy's happily married spouse into the sack.

And it should likewise be really hard to convince a thinking human being into stepping into the open and taking the first arrow, unless the person is used to taking such risks (i.e. is a professional soldier) and is being adequately compensated for the danger (i.e. is being well-paid). Charisma ADDS to the ability to convince someone to do something risky or foolish, but it isn't the same as a "charm" spell. Magic is, of course, magic.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I repeat. I am not digging a grave for good ol' murder-hoboing, served up the way your dear sweet mother used to cook it.

"Just make it harder to exploit NPCs" is, to my mind, basically the same argument as the alignment construction. Granted, yes, some NPCs will be harder to exploit ~ they will have friends and property and titles and levels. But when the decrepit old man steps up to the party and says, "I have some news for you," and Jiger the Assassin kills him outright, there ain't no time for manipulation. And making the old man "harder to kill" sounds pretty darned interventionist as a DM, in my mind.

On the other hand, forcing Jiger to relive the murder again and again in his mind that night, so that he wakes up the next day unrested and tired, and lacking verve, and effectively suffering from forced march effects, that sounds pretty damn fair in my books. And, if I may say so, one way of "making it harder to kill NPCs."

Going back to your comment on the other post, JB, I'm not interested in restoring alignment, or imposing ANY construct that is based on stopping players from doing what they want to do. I'm only proposing putting more obstacles between A and B. If Jiger kills five or ten old men, logically, the guilt and remorse he feels should subside. Perhaps if we designate a certain number of old men as the goal post, once Jiger passes that point, he's free and clear, and he's got the card that says he can kill one or two aging old men per day. Fundamentally, that doesn't take away old man death from the game ... but it DOES give Jiger a reason to feel justifiably proud of his achievement in getting that sweet, sweet card. He went through a lot of sleepless nights to become the butcherous swine that he is.

So please don't think I'm trying to make players traditionally "feel empathy" for NPCs. I am sincerely proposing ~ a thought experiment at this point ~ a means of contributing to the escapism and enjoyment of the game.

Dusk said...

I've been mentally rolling this post and the last around a lot, and I've now passed my initial inclination to refer to other games/systems - as JB pointed out, "those games are ABOUT this stuff ... D&D isn't."

My next leaning is to suggest that an alternative mechanic to leverage is one you've already found successful rather than the conflict cards. Namely, the Sage Abilities. Maybe this angle isn't to your taste, but if the system could run in the same vein where characters master particular fixed areas of "ability", then with practice they would be able to not suffer the same consequences of certain actions suffered by normal characters.

Now, this might be better tied to number of iterations rather than level, but might lead to a method of measuring how much one can do at each stage, tiering from (for example) feelings of shock, to guilt, to nagging feeling, then no remorse at all (perhaps advancing to enjoyment? we'd have crossed the psychotic line somewhere).

It also allows particular actions to be treated independently (or within close groups), which is quite different to the broad movement between, say, alignment categories - a method you've already discarded (and I couldn't agree more with, for the record).

Alexis Smolensk said...

When I advanced the conflict idea initially, there were no sage abilities in the present form. Undoubtedly, any return to the interaction mech would need to MESH with those sage abilities ... and yes, particularly for the thief and the assassin, there would be specific benefits that would manifest as cards.

I see that as a grand opportunity. But, for the present, I'm in no rush. I have lots of ideas on the go, all the time, and I know well that it's best to let them simmer once they're proposed.

Agravain said...

I've been using fatigue as a mechanic for a while now, and it's working really good.

In practice every time you do something tiring, being it running, walking under the rain /sun without protection, turning undead, bashing down an iron-bound door, you get a fatigue token to put on your character sheet Every token gives you -1 to AC, hit, abilities check and movement.

Eating a well cooked meal, sleeping, or indulging in vices removes one (or more) fatigue.

Is pretty clean and easy to track, and pushes players to look for comfort whenever they can, as they would irl. Also lets them experience the "weight" of unfavorable climate.

I also tried a similar mechanic for mental stress, but it turned out to be really hard to track and left very little agency to the players while punishing them in already unfavorable situations.

I honestly didn't think of the physical implications of mental fatigue... And thanks to your idea, I think I see how I can use the same mechanic for guilt, stress and empathy. I can feel the weight on the paladin when he sees an innocenct dying, while unable to help (instead of having him suicide against a hundred orcs because his alignment says so).

There is something real good here. Keep on digging that hole.

JB said...

The idea of making the exploitation more difficult mechanically was meant in lieu of forcing the PCs to have empathy...instead saying “no need to have empathy, but it’s not so simple as a single roll to manipulate” (or whatever)...making it a practical matter of inconvenience rather than one based on any enforced morality.

There are still benefits to taking such an arduous route, of course: cultivating a willing pawn/tool may take time but might bring benefits that outweigh the experience of simply offing a troublesome (or annoying) NPC.

But I think I may have missed the boat when this conversation took a hard turn in this this post, you’re now talking about adding remorse (or an acknowledgement of the existence of remorse) for ALL scandalous actions a player might choose to take? Apologies as I was still focused on the charisma post. Could a build-up of callousness, cynicism, or general “hardening of heart” be linked directly to a character’s level? Or...sheesh, I don’t know. Does a trained fighter (let alone an assassin) feel the same amount (or type) of remorse for “murder-hobo” activity as a druid or monk? Isn’t part of the class training designed to burn out this part of the conscience (as boot camp does for new recruits)?

I think I understand your aim of this thought experiment, but...well, maybe I’m lost. You keep writing and I’ll try to keep up.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I shall keep digging, Agravain. An an answer to you, and to JB, I propose that I never take an arduous route to anything once it's in place in the game. The conflict system was fantastically easy to teach, instantly accessible intellectually to the players and much missed when I pulled it down.

JB, I feel I'm giving you a terrible reason for concern ... my last comment was meant to be reassuring. It clearly wasn't.

kimbo said...

Would a hit to Wisdom be a reasonable consequence to an atrocity? It would trigger problems if the PC had an addiction. More easily disttacted, difficulty focusing for clerical spells. I seem to remember you had some down-time effects for different levels of wisdom too.
Could rest/recovery of fatigue and spells be impacted by wisdom?

Devil is in the detail on what an atrocity is to an individual. Class-based, background culture, perhaps?

Alexis Smolensk said...

Judging from what I'm reading about guilt, a physical manifestation seems more believable than a loss of wisdom. But perhaps if a person is willing to commit atrocities, perhaps their wisdom is in danger of a permanent hit.