Thursday, December 16, 2010

IMech 2: The Quest For Tension

Allow me to begin with two circumstances of roleplay, the first of which has come up four times in the last two years of my campaign, and the second that never comes up for my players, for good reason.

The first is interrogation and torture.  The party is smart enough to realize that killing everything is not always a good idea, that outside a lair they're about to enter it's a good idea to subdue a scout, tie them to a tree and interrogate them for information.

In fiction, this can be a tense, difficult moment.  The victim does not want to give in, but the interrogators must have the information.   It's a physical/mental struggle of the first order.  What will it take to break the victim's will?  How does the victim feed information to the captors, and what can the captors afford to believe?  There are lies on both sides, tactics, techniques, deceptions ... what will ultimately work?  How much can we torture and still retain our self-respect?

In D&D, there's nothing.  Why not take out the knife, stab the victim at once, swirl the knife into the victim's intestines, wash our hands in the intestines, eat the victim's kidney while the victim watches while keeping the victim alive with cure serious wound spells, etc., etc.  There's no emotion here.  And if the victim gives out information, we can know with another spell if its false.  And then kill him without any remorse.  Whether the victim is cooperative or not.  What value is there in letting the goblin live?  It's a goblin.  Get the info, stab it and let's get going.

The problem is that there's no emotional resistance to overcome.  As roleplaying, it's just words.  Now, if I could play it so that every time a player gave orders to stab the creature, I could throw an actual bucket of pig blood on the player, that might create the kind of discomfort/nausea inducing reality that actual torture releases.  Stab him again, another bucket of pig blood.  Some players would get to like it.

Then again, reverse the situation.  Interrogate the player and the answer will be (if the information is actually important), "I'll die first, go on, kill me, I'd rather roll up another character."  Either that or the player sings at once.

In either direction, it feels stupid in the session for A) the players and DM to be saying to each other, "I hit him again," since there's no connection whatsoever to the actual hits; and B) people sitting around a table pretending to scream in pain.  (In a way, making the scream does make some people uncomfortable ... but I play with at least one Dominatrix who likes it when I scream).  Everyone feels like an idiot and the whole situation feels like a farce.

Most IMech solutions have as their focus only one thing: does the prisoner blab?  Roll the dice and the result will or won't give you the information.  But it won't be very interesting as the conflict is resolved with very little emotion.  There's no tension.

Let's leave that on the shelf for a moment and talk about circumstance number 2:  gameplaying within the game.

The DMG gives a page over to the playing of different dice and card games, as has the occasional book put out by the 3rd Edition universe.  I don't know if 4e has, but I'd think it probably does.  It always seems like a good idea - to have players gamble with their coins, to place bets with one another and either lose or accumulate income this way.

Problem is, it's all boring.

One doesn't have to get very old before playing cards for matchsticks or meaningless poker chips becomes pretty dull.  I still play this way occasionally with people too uncomfortable to play for money, but I don't care if I lose, it doesn't mean anything and my heart rate doesn't climb above normal as the pot gets bigger and bigger.  The best game of this variety that I like to play is Rumoli, basically because it's a counting game that requires resource management along with playing poker.

Somehow, the reality that losing hit points will mean that a player will never again be able to run this character in my world is enough to create tension and fear.  But losing thousands of gold coins at the casino hasn't got that kind of emotional pull ... characters have most of the gadgets they need already to return to the lair again and at least pick up food money.  Food isn't very expensive.  A character can live very cheap if they need to (they feel no hunger, lack of companionship, boredom or angst).  If they win, its just another big pile of money, which usually just gets plowed into something else that doesn't really matter, like a storage place for their stuff (house), or a bigger storage place (castle).

So, players will either A) not care about gambling, or B) not care about losing.  The IMech isn't enough to create the tension of loss, since the loss of money does not carry with it the personal discomfort for characters that we are all familiar with.

The IMech solutions I read through yesterday, including those that were linked, are all ultimately based on a two-sided result: what you want happens, or it doesn't.  If it happens, you get the information, if it doesn't, no big deal.  Maybe you can get the information some other way.  The highly railroaded argument presented by this site, posted by Anthony, argues that you've got to provide three ways to give the player a chance at understanding this information ... as though this won't be cottoned-onto by the players, who will soon be sitting in your world responding to your clues with, "I don't get it either, but the next one will tell us what we need to know.  We'll wait for it.  No need to think."

Either way, we're still NOT talking about emotional involvement.  And this is the key.  Combat is more than just rolling dice and getting a resolution.  Combat is not about information gathering.  And just so I don't forget to say this with emphasis, any IMech that is based on information-gathering will suck.  It will suck hard.

Let's look at combat from two sides ... the information-gathering side, and, well, the side that addresses the point I'm moving towards.

If I swing a weapon, I am rolling the dice to see if I hit.  This is information gathering.  The weapon's affect is calculated against the enemy's resources, and an effect is achieved.  This effect is conveyed to me and again, I receive information.  I then make an assessment of the situation on the information I've received and decide what I'm going to do.

If combat was not two-sided ... if it was just me rolling the dice to see if I hit, it would be awfully boring.  Imagine a shooting game in D&D that had the player standing in front of a target trying to hit that target by rolling dice.  Dullsville.  But this is what IMech information-gathering is ... one-sided rolls to determine results.  The clues do not roll dice against you.  And if you miss, all you are is ignorant.  No penalty is incurred.

This is the other side I'm getting at.  Combat has enemies, who are trying to kill you.  There's more at stake than getting information ... you know that if you FAIL to hit, it will allow the other side to try.  That could mean your death.  That could mean a very lucky roll for your enemy that could smash you for twenty-two points that would be devastating.  And that's the chance you take every time you miss killing him.  A chance that comes with every die roll.  It only takes one to kill you dead.

You understand ... there are consequences.  There's more than what you're able to gain, there's what you might lose.

In the gambling problem above, I pointed out that the loss isn't very significant.  It's only money.  Neither is the gain, for the same reason.  Last night, talking about this, I was proposing an ad hoc solution: suppose I laid out the following set of rule:

1) You are able to gamble once per session; you may play for a period not exceeding one hour.
2) You must declare your stake in g.p., that being the number of gold pieces you have on hand at the start of the game.  There is no limit on the size of your stake.
3) When your stake is gone, or the hour has passed, you must stop playing for that session.
4) Wins are not assessed until you declare you are stopping.
5) When you declare that you are stopping, for every 10 g.p. you have more than the amount of your stake at the start of the session, you will receive 1 x.p.
6) Gambling houses may have limits on the size of your bets, or ultimately a limit on the size of your total winnings (depending on the size of the city you are in), but beyond this there is no limit on winning.

This should make anyone deeply indoctrinated into the game take pause.  There's no specific rule against this sort of thing, but it is generally conceded that players shouldn't get experience just for sitting there gambling.  If I start with a stake of 10,000 g.p., and I choose to play in my world's Monte Carlo, I can sit and play roulette at 35:1 odds.  If the bet limit is 1,000 g.p. per spin (and it would be, at least), with ten spins I have pretty good odds of hitting for 35,000 g.p. - 2,600 X.P.!  Minimum, since I'm assuming there that the last spin is the winner.

Maybe not very much for a character that has 10,000 g.p., since they're at least fifth or sixth level, but still ... a lucky player could win enough to push them from fifth to sixth, if they had a good run.

Scoff if you will, but ask your players if they would play, if you were serious.  Don't listen to what their mouths say - watch their eyes as you tell them.  Even as the gentle readers right now are shaking they're heads, they're wondering if it's really all that far out there.

Beyond the point that I wouldn't do it, the real problem is that there's no punishment for loss.  There needs to be.  So let me add this, and really upset the ethical community:

7) For every 100 g.p. you declare as your stake, you must put $1 on the table.
8) If you lose that 100 g.p., the dollar goes in the DM's pocket.  Money won back up to the amount of your original stake will be refunded at the end of playing, but the DM is not required to refund the difference between your original stake and your present g.p.

Now, I don't know about you, but I've had players - joking and serious - who have offered to pay me money for experience.  It is the dark, seedy side of the game that no one talks about.  Business that can only be conducted in the dark hallways between the bathroom and the gaming table.  Let me state very clearly that I have scruples, I don't need the money that badly and that, if it isn't clear, I'm not suggesting that any of this be done.

But I am trying to make a point about REAL gains and losses.  Experience levels and death are real sides of a coin, much more meaningful than information/no information.  An IMech, on some level, must have characteristics that punish the characters for failure.

For months I've been thinking about a post on how the game of D&D is gambling, or rolling dice to get a result.  In gambling, you lose.  Without loss, there is no gambling.

Let's hope you're still with me at this point, because I still have points to make.  Bored yet?  Good, we can move forward.

Like the above never to be implemented example, an IMech which is added to the game is going to change aspects of D&D that will be uncomfortable.  There is a finite number of existing numbered characteristics acribed to the characters - all of which are held to be sacrosanct - and therefore a limited number of things that can be reasonably changed.  Steelcaress makes reference in a comment on the previous post about inventing a new kind of 'hit points,' but I really hate that idea.  It lacks creativity, it divorces the whole IMech issue from other aspects of the character and it really reduces the verisimilitude of the familiar stats that have developed meaning over the years in favor of something that feels 'tacked on' and therefore tacky.

In playing the wins and losses of IMech, the stakes should be things that matter.  Having some other scale of wins and losses only matters if, when the points are reduced to zero, something happens.  Something as permanent and distasteful as death.  Something that makes players stop and panic.

Let's return to the torture scenario, and let's say that our prisoner doesn't want to talk.  Let's say the success/failure roll indicates that the player WON'T talk.  So the player says, "I stab him in the belly with the dagger, and the cleric will stand by if it goes hard with a death's door spell."

(As an aside ... your torturers kill you, actually kill you, just slightly dropping you into the death state, then pull you back from that door to zero h.p.  Every ... damn ... day.  Pretty nasty, that.  Who wouldn't talk?)

In the old system, if the dagger stab doesn't work, we just stab the prisoner again.  But suppose you add a wrinkle, and explain it to the player: "If you coldly draw blood against a helpless victim, there's a 1 in 10 chance of losing a point of charisma.  Permanently."

Watch how quickly how the prisoner's information seems less important.

But if that seems unfair, or drastic, or problematic for assassins, consider this alternative, as I wrap things up:

Reputation.  Assume that anything that happens on account of the party's 'failure' to force information will make its way to the ears of somebody ... if through no other source, than by a failed wisdom-check by the party's dumbest member, who saw the torture (or failed attempt to talk to the king, or failed effort to find the murderer in this town) and just felt the need to talk about it to the local bartender.

What if the players get to be known at those annoying, pestering, supposed do-gooders that can't seem to recognize a goddamned clue if their lives depended on it?  What if the players want to be Sherlock Holmes, but they've blown their rolls so often that now everyone knows they're just LeStrade?  Are you telling me that won't create tension?

This was, more or less, the destination I was going to reach for with the charisma-related post I was going to write yesterday.  I've gotten there by an entirely different means, but the point is still the point.  It isn't enough that there's a roll that must be beaten in order to achieve a success.  There must also be a roll that must be beaten in order to avoid failure.


ChicagoWiz said...

Applause - there must be failure just as there is victory.

That's why combat works and the ad-nauseum skills/attribute checks are less important.

Nobody cares about saving throws until they result in damage or death.

I have to admit, you have the brain cells considering how one could resolve this. I'm looking at other games now that deal with problem solving...

Anthony said...

Yea, considerations for failure are missing from most proposed solutions to the problem at hand. In fact, success is deemed implicit by most systems as well. Looking at the Alexandrian example, the Three Clue Rule definitely implies that PCs must solve the mystery.

You can draw a powerful relation to the (pointless) debate between DMs who would never kill a PC and ones who realize that, without death/failure/loss, games are boring.

It sounds like a great way to specify an IMech system, start with codifying failure THEN work towards codifying success :D

Carl said...

I like the idea of ability score damage for failed iMech (I'm not fond of that term, by the way. It's too Steve Jobs.)

I'm going to think about this more, but here's a rough sketch: allow the players to gamble with ability scores relevant to the problem they are solving. Let them make the choice. If they fail, they lose a pip. Maybe 5 pips equals a point. Maybe it's just the loss of an entire point. If they succeed, they may gain a token amount of XP, or perhaps the solution itself is reward enough.

I already allow gambling in my game (illegal in Rome, of course, so there's no recourse if you get cheated) and I grant experience points for wealth acquisition, so you could, if you were patient enough and lucky enough, gamble your way into another level.

Because AD&D assumes that characters can just do stuff because they are assumed to know stuff, implementing a system of task/problem resolution is tricky. I'll have to figure out which situations they can gamble on and which they'd just know.

Wiznor, from my last example, is pretty damn smart. Int 17, or as I usually translate this stat, an IQ of around 170. What's the likelihood that he'd be able to figure out any given logic puzzle in a matter of seconds? Pretty damned high, I'd say. So he may gamble a point of Wisdom, or a point of Intelligence, but he'd have a pretty good chance of winning. Much like a fighter with a high Strength has a much better chance of hitting in melee.

And I may not have a profile, but I'm not unknown. ;-)

Alexis said...

Carl, you lascivious slut,

I couldn't go with "IM" because that's taken ... and you will note it is not "iMech," it is "IMech." As I demonstrated with the previous post, details MATTER! Capitalize that 'I'!

You're concentrating too much on the 'task' problems and not enough on the interactive problems. Simple task problems are easy - stat check. The more difficult problem here is that "I" stands for "Interactive" as well as "Intelligence" ... Wiznor may be smart enough to talk on the level of the Consul, but perhaps he's too smart, lacking the ability to make himself understood to dumber, or differently-motivated personalities. The real issue isn't puzzles, it's the less tangible difficulties that roleplaying is used to fix.

Incidentally, and this I thought about after posting - fridge logic - roleplaying doesn't have a 'fail' aspect either. Not a gaming construct at all.

Roger the GS said...

What about the classic rules way to regulate the torture problem - alignment? Especially if characters who turn evil have a harder life because of it.

The other way, of course, is to have players who intrinsically care about the moral standing of their characters.

Sgeek said...
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Alexis said...


I don't play with alignment for a lot of other reasons. In any case, if you're evil, where's the tension?

Wishing for moral players is one thing, but wishing is purposeless. You're off topic.


You entirely missed this paragraph, so I'll repeat it:

"In playing the wins and losses of IMech, the stakes should be things that matter. Having some other scale of wins and losses only matters if, when the points are reduced to zero, something happens. Something as permanent and distasteful as death. Something that makes players stop and panic."

You would replace terror with inconvenience. Of course they may lie. But that's just another kind of not getting information...where's the actual loss? Yes, the characters could die from the misinformation, but what if the characters don't believe the lies...or what if they use a detect lie spell? Where's the tension then?

Harvicus said...

Excellent post! In relation to having appropriate penalties for failure for gambling, the Deck of Many Things and the Wheel of Fortune from StoneHell came to mind. Meaningful rewards and penalties notch up the player investment and tension.

Though you mention you do not play with Alignment, when thinking of possible penalties for torturing, I also thought of the Alignment Drift/Audit rules from Hackmaster (the older joke version, not the new version), in which behavior against your alignment would slowly drift you to a new one, and the penalty for actually going to far is a loss of level and half of one's honor. It of course includes an over the top chart to track infractions by nature of the game's style.

Speaking of Honor, it may be a less tacky mechanism to introduce for such situations, only because it does appear in many ADnD related games.

ChicagoWiz said...

What if the concept of honor, or reputation, or whatever it is that failure in iMech affects is related to character progression? XP in nature?

Sgeek said...
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Zzarchov said...

For interrogation I do use a "parallel combat system". The difference being it uses the SAME hitpoints. Now in my case I found the concept of hitpoints stupid so I replaced them with luckpoints, which are mechanically the same but represent the hero(or villain) luckily dodging out of the way at the last second (a la any action movie anywhere). You run out of luck points and that orc's sword actually stabs your character in the kidney and you actually die.

Why is that important? Because once hitpoints are very explicitely a measure of heroic luck (divine grace of what have you) all of a sudden they can be used for other things from one common pool.

You fail a stealth roll? You aren't accrue suspicion(damage), you can spend your luckpoints (hitpoints) to avoid being caught, but now you are more likely to be killed when they DO catch you.

Interrogating the prisoner and trying to find out if he's lying? You start accrueing influence against each other, spend luck points to cancel it out. Can't cancel it out? Then the other guy either aint talking/you can't tell if he's lying. If you win, you get your answers, but how many luckpoints did you burn up that you may need to act upon this information.

Every roll to try and break the resolve of your prisoner matters. Now after he's broken there is no reason not to kill him (assuming ransoms aren't around).

In my personal case I make captured enemies worth more XP than killed/fled enemies (even if you kill them after a show trial/sacrifice them on an altar on the full moon etc). But thats an unrelated issue to creating the tension from interrogations.

Carl said...

I'm pretty confident in my ability to adjudicate these situations -- the problem I continue to see is the softer nature of the consequences for a failed interaction versus a failed combat. I use "softer" to denote the more abstract and subjective nature of the consequences and not to imply "less harmful" It's that softer nature that trends a game toward subjectivity and can make your players resent you for being unfair or petty.

Everyone can understand that when they're defeated in combat, their character will probably die. It makes combat interactions tense and exciting. The death of one's reputation is a more subtle and therefore less dangerous thing to a Gamer, especially in a game that doesn't go on for multiple years.

You fail in combat, and you lose hit points, ability score points, limbs, or end up turned to stone. You fail an interaction and you get chastised, ostracized, ridiculed by children in the street, harassed by the watch maybe. How do you, the DM, decide the degree? In combat we have hit points and ability scores for that. We have nothing as concrete on the interaction side. And further, should the character/player be alerted to their faux pas? If so, why, and under what circumstances?

Maybe I can come up with a way to track a character's reputation that's as simple as hit points, but this doesn't come near to describing the complexity of the consequences of a failed interaction. Say you're a jerk to a baker while doing some shopping -- not even intentionally, but your charisma and wisdom are low-average and you have a bad roll. Could you be arrested by the watch if it were bad enough? Do we want tension around each interaction that the characters have to make during the course of their day?

Presently, I have a morning and an evening "turn" in my sessions. You get to do one thing, which lasts until midday (like shop, or go to baths, or visit your patron), and then you get to do something else in the evening. Would it be pedantic to have the character make a Charisma/Wisdom check at each time interval to determine if they impressed someone or pissed someone off?

I'm starting to like this. This could mean the end of "dump" stats as we know them.

Brunomac said...

Problem solving? My players (and their characters) don't know the meaning of the word.

Brunomac said...

My players do not torture. It's "kill or nothing."

TrentB said...

Simple! Save or Die mechanic for conversations! Obviously.

Player: "Morning, barkeep! I'd like a free beer please on account of-"


Player: "Dammit!!"

GM: Grats, rookie!

Serious points now. On the topic of Charisma penalty:

For interaction, not torture, how about using the existing reaction-table? Each (as yet undetermined) unit of failure when trying to suave your way into a free drink drops the persons reaction by X. So you fail a roll, the guy turns from friendly to neutral or whatever. Fail another, he's aggressive. Maybe he punches your face. Prices get hitched, bad word spreads through town.

Maybe make the reaction-table penalty apply to anyone within a certain radius, after a certain time of propagation or something? This could work the other way as well. Want a free drink? IMech his reaction table to max and you got it.

I suspect this may be a little too mild for your tastes Alexis... but I see potential if one were to apply the results of reaction tables to a broader range of things like prices or just tolerance of stinky, selfish adventurers in town. Thus making the penalty real and quantifiable.

All one would need to do is create a really simple mechanic to manage the reaction-table alterations.

For torture, you could create a very similar table.. change a few of the names around or something. If you get too crap, you start to lose Charisma, or again, penalty to reaction-adjustments (representing your temporary madness). Or start to accrue minor penalties (1-10%) in experience gain for the next x days, until you regain your composure. Obviously the XP penalty represents a distractedness from having butchered a living thing for a stressful number of hours.



Anonymous said...

Lots of great discussion going on.

Rather than create a new mechanic, I'm inclined to experiment with an existing one. Take the standard ability score and combine it with Carl's idea of gambling... but I'd make all winning/ losing at such interactions measured by gains or reductions in existing experience points. This hits my players right in the sweet spot. One could even lose enough XP to drop a level. The amount of XP wagered would influence the die roll in some way.

" ... Wiznor may be smart enough to talk on the level of the Consul, but perhaps he's too smart, lacking the ability to make himself understood to dumber, or differently-motivated personalities."

If successful under an XP-based system, Wiznor will gain some greater insight that allows him to progress in his development. If he fails, the loss of confidence/ prestige/ misunderstadning of the situation set him further back.

I admit its both a bit abstract and doesn't account for the value of failing in one's growth and learning. But on the plus side it has a very tangible benefit/ loss in the game sense and could be broadly applied to any situation.

Anonymous said...

The first line above should have read "... take the standard ability score *check*..."

ChicagoWiz said...

What about loss of XP itself?

In combat, players are worried about the loss of HP which leads to the loss of life.

However, some of the most feared monsters aren't the "Save or Die" types, they're the energy drain types. Why? Because they cause a player to take steps backwards. These types of creatures get a LOT of space or preparation.

So if the success of some sort of IMech situation leads to XP gain (the info leads to treasure, monsters, quest completion, etc), then why not the failure leads to loss of XP?

Anonymous said...

Wiz, we must be in rhythm today.

Strix said...

I just wanted to share a link with you. Especially #4.

Alexis said...

I keep thinking about John Rambo from First Blood, and how his appearance/attitude ramps up the situation because the town is filled with pompous assholes; how Rambo's war record works against his reputation, and how violence is perpetrated against him before he himself becomes violent. Lot of interactive stuff going on there, and most of it really isn't brought on by is just the way Rambo is interpreted.

So yes, I think a player could get arrested, or at least harrassed, just going to buy bread. Foreigners/strangers were heartily disliked and not trusted in the Medieval world...for damn good reason. I can certainly see how a hardened, cold-eyed character who has murdered children and gleefully tortured orcs would wear that on his face as he moved through the marketplace, automatically distrusting every person he confronted. It would be difficult to act 'normal' if that was your lifestyle. You wouldn't even need to speak. For the most part, Rambo doesn't.

On the other hand, the exact same person could inspire awe and immediate respect, indeed fear, from much of the populace of a different town; think of any character from a Sergio Leone film...

Such things wouldn't require the player consciously gambling X.P. or stats...just showing up would create a reaction.


ChicagoWiz said...

Such things wouldn't require the player consciously gambling X.P. or stats...just showing up would create a reaction.

True. Such things happen in my campaign irregardless of IMech though - it's based on what the players have had their characters do and how they've done it. If we're talking about Wis/Int/Cha-related activities, though, I'm not sure I would have the whole "failure/reward" be reputation only. Certainly affects reputation, but honestly, a lot of players wouldn't care if their rep is up or down. They just want what they want.

It's an interesting puzzle.

Alexis said...

Something Carl said tweaked with me, and was echoed in other comments. If you divide the environment up into sections (hexes or parts of a large town/city), the reputation of the player could be graded not according to the player's stats, but according to the area and how successfully the player was able to influence the inhabitants. Some actions would require checks to keep the reputations from sliding down in the areas of dissatisfaction, envy, hatred, denial of services and ultimately torches and pitchforks, while successful efforts to win over the people (specified ahead of time) could sweep the reputation upwards towards free lodging, ease of hiring residents, lower prices, help in times of trouble and gift giving.

A bad reputation could spread into adjacent hexes and end up bringing in others who might attempt to kill the party, while a good reputation might bring notariety and eventual commendation from rulers of the realm ... a means to organize and justify the bestowing of benefices, sinecures and titles.

These are things that can't really be gained by just fighting, but if they are not things a player can appreciate than the overall system is nowhere. Players might enjoy having hired 'guns' coming after them on a regular basis.


ChicagoWiz said...

Maybe it's because we approach it differently. My players and I like the way combat works, the rolling of the dice, the slowly reducing resources... the challenge of that. Reputation style mechanics could work, but I'm not sure it would be as much fun for me. If someone attempts to bribe a guard, sure, track the reputation but I would like to have a more direct/measurable effect that means something to the players themselves, like hp/resources. Something that makes them lean over the table and watch the dice rolls - not sure reputation would do that?

Alexis said...

My difficulty with the gambling with experience would be that, while yes, the players would feel the pinch, that way of thinking presupposes that nasty, cruel behavior isn't experiential - that is, it doesn't increase your general familiarity with life. Aha, quite the opposite. You can get too much experience that way.

Without drifting into an alignment discussion, I would rather go after the actual gains that are made on account of the experience: abilities, spells and skill sets. In codifying a set of negative results, I should think that clerics unable to use their healing spells for healing, and only being able to bestow damage, is a good start. Many spells could be twisted this way. Some spells that make distinctions between friend and foe (like hold person, hypnosis or heat metal might bleed into attacking other party members and hirelings because the caster isn't being too particular in selecting out the 'bad guys'. Animals might begin to rebel against party members, like Eastwood's horse in Unforgiven. Fighters might be pushed into choosing more vicious weapons, with which they find it harder and harder to do subdual damage when the time calls for it (their blood is up). I'm sure other sorts of behavioral issues could be applied if players continue to behave cruelly towards themselves (boredom, poor food, uncomfortable living conditions) or others.


Alexis said...

ChicagoWiz is anticipating me as I write these sections; I tend to agree with him that tracking reputation is a problem. I have been thinking about it and I believe that it isn't just the reputation of the player, but also the accumulation of karma and, in some ways, Chi.

The Chi aspect would account for the reduction in the player's experience that others are calling for. I can see the gambling concept, but rather than removing the actual experience, I would rather produce a kind of declining scale to indicate the amount of that experience that could be exploited. Chi being the energy flow of the character, the resistance to Chi would be malaise. Malaise would reduce the player's energy to accomplish tasks without actually reducing the number of experience points. To lift up from the malaise would require combinations of play style (which might include some role-play) and the creation of opportunities to roll for IMech benefits (reinstatement of Chi). It's a nice idea, but honestly at this point I don't see how it would be applied.

Karma I've already alluded to, in the form of the reputation building up actions against the players. In the bigger picture it could be seen as the result of higher forces negatively affecting the die roll, increasing the numbers of actual enemies in any and every struggle, luck with missing important contacts or with meeting schedules, denial of entry on account of bizarre coincidences (the town was shut down for maintenance, hah hah) or otherwise.

Again, no idea how this scale of karma might be divised. Just spitballing.

ChicagoWiz said...

The nice thing about this spitballing is that even if we don't agree, we all move our games into neat directions. Maybe I use XP, maybe you use a Karma/Chi scale, but we all try to incorporate something interesting into the game that takes into account something that most people would handwave or d20 their way into.

Maybe Chi/Karma works like HP - but when you go into negatives is when you see the negative effects. Of course, that also brings into account that Karma likes balance, so the best result is 0? What would too much good Karma do?

Alexis said...

The balance in Karma is not between good bad, but between nature-thought ... so zero is 'good,' deviation from zero is 'bad.'

Brunomac said...

I think the thought of disfigurment and scarring is a big part of the pysch of torture. In D&D world where curing is cheap n' easy to come by, it changes things. I probably would not force a PC through torture. It is up to them to decide if their character is a wimp or staunch and immune to such tacitics.

Anonymous said...

Bruno, I have to disagree. Torture is more fundamentally about the control/ dominance of the torturer and the lack of control/ helplessness of the tortured. There's nothing permanently disfiguring about water boarding or sleep deprivation. Each method instead relies on the torturer's ability to assume control over the tortured. Specifically, by assuming control over what the tortured most wants/ needs at any given time. Oxygen and sleep, in the respective cases I mentioned.

Anonymous said...

I meant to finish the above post by relating it back to the game. If you assume like me that torture is all about dominance... undermining the tortured's sense of self, safety and sanity... then as an attack it's really not much more different than the sort of thing players would roll saving throws for from the victim's perspective. Brunomac's ideas about permanent disfigurement actually fit within this umbrella.

It suggests an apprach regarding torture based more on the victim's ability to resist rather than the torturer's skill at applying, though ideally something systemized would take both into account.

A schoolyard bully out for lunch money isn't so different from a torturer. An implied threat, an actual threat, the application of force... each victim will cave in at a different level and it has more to do with their own make-up than the bully's, though obviously an intimidating aspect is needed to even get things going. Nobody is giving their lunch money up to me, for instance. But if I just cut somebody's ear off,they might be more forthcoming... again, more about their threshold assuming I'm willing to push to get there.

One could combine a saving throw mechanic with some other activity on the part of the torturer to build the system we're brainstorming. Will there be a save vs. social? Intimidate? Anything else we can think of?

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

What about creative methods of getting information, such as faking killing a party member? After all if you're willing to kill one of the people traveling with you what will you do to them? Also, torturing that goblin prisoner should have (in my opinion) a chance of alignment change for good or neutral characters. So should turning them over to an evil character.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Gargh. Never mind the bit about alignment. The bit about creative methods of getting information was asking what penalty would apply if they fail.

Anonymous said...

C'Nor, that sort of trickery one could just classify as a less gruesome and more morally acceptable means of torture. It would also strike me as more difficult to pull off, but that's somewhat dependent upon the situation. If successful, the end result is the same, yes? That is, the torturer has changed the victim's normal behavior pattern by undermining their sense (in this case) of safety.

As for alignment, like others in the discussion I don't use it so I would leave its considerations in the hands of others.

Anonymous said...

C'Nor, in all cases I'm personally leaning toward an XP penalty of some kind for failure, but I could be swayed by a convincing application of some other (new?) mechanic.

Alexis said...

Gentlemen, you are all off topic. The question of the post is not "How to resolve torture scenarios," but how to make them interesting. Resolving the scenario is easy and can be done all sorts of ways. The question remains, how to sort it out in a manner that doesn't leave the players with their arms folded and bitter, and at the same time gets them invested in the game not only as the victims of torture, but as the perpetrators.


ChicagoWiz said...

Damn. Now I'm chewing in my head on how I'd make the torture scene work.

I know it would include these elements:
1. Opposed attribute checks ONLY when players have demonstrated thru RP or just explanation how they'll interrogate the prisoner
2. Failure means loss of XP for those involved in torture.
3. Success means information.
4. Amount of loss would depend somehow on the difference between checks? Or some other metric, this is where I get stuck.
5. I'd also keep in back of my head the effects and ramifications for future play.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough. Let me summarize what I think we've got so far:

- Making a factor such as IMech work is all about what's at stake.

- XP is an easy answer but problematic in terms of not recognizing the value of failure when one is improving.

- Zzarchov suggests a re-imagining of hit points, which I find intriguing but am wary of.

- "Karma/ Chi / Honor/ Street Cred/ Whiff of Chamomile or Brimstone when you happen by/ some other new value" seems more appropriate than either of the previous thematically, but poses problems in implemention and record keeping, two rather significant strikes agianst.

Any other ideas that I've missed?

ChicagoWiz said...

"- XP is an easy answer but problematic in terms of not recognizing the value of failure when one is improving. "

I'm not following what you mean by that.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Failure has a cumulative chance of driving the N/PC being tortured insane. After this point s/he'll talk quite readily but the torturers have no way to tell if something is true or not, as the subject believes everything they say to be true.

I also like the reputation system, but I think it needs refining. What about the players managing to hide that they did it, but people find the body/person, and rumors begin to circulate. The NPC with the highest Int/Wis might have a chance to piece together that the players were the last people in the area, thus decreasing thier reputation, but if they don't then it remains a mystery - unless one of the players decides to confess to someone.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

I hate it when that happens. Note to self: Check the number of comments before posting.

Alexis said...


One of the party members confessing what they've done to a stranger is exactly the sort of IMech I'd be looking for - something that a player wouldn't do from a standpoint of roleplaying, but something they would do if their wisdom was 7-8 points. The urge to tell someone about the shit we've done can be overwhelming.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Perhaps every point of wisdom above average is a +1 on their roll, and every point of wisdom below average -1?

The Rubberduck said...

All this gets me thinking that we might want to have an idea about some of the basics of an IMech mechanic. Take hit points as compared to, say, reputation. First there is the question of abstraction. Hit points is pretty abstract, to a degree that each DM pretty much has to decide for himself what a hp loss actually means in-game. A scratch? A loss of luck? How abstract would we be willing to let a reputation mechanic be? Would a characters reputation score be the same everywhere? What if he leaves town? What if he returns to town?
There is consequences. Hit points don't actually do anything until you've lost all of them. Might a reputation system work the same way, not giving any in-game penalties until the actual point where the player is dragged down by a screaming mob at 0 reputation? Or does it need to have gradual penalties?
There is duration and ease of recovery. Hit points are easy to recover, and it doesn't necessarily take all that long (weeks with natural healing, much less with magical healing). Does reputation losses disappear rapidly as well? This ties in with the abstraction above. Sure, people might not like the character, but if he lies low for a while there won't be an angry mob unless he pushes people again.
Of course, hit points isn't the only loss mechanic in combat. Rarely one encounters ability loss and special conditions (like petrification) as well. Can this be translated directly to a reputation-based IMech system? Important here is how will players know what they are getting themselves into? Going up against a basilisk, you know you are risking petrification. Will players know that every time they go up against the pope they risk ex-communication?

Anonymous said...

@Wiz: Just that failing is often an educational experience so incurring an XP loss or penalty for having failed at something might seem counter-intuitive.

Brunomac said...

I personally would not get too descriptive about a torture any more than I would a rape. Both can happen in my world (although the rape of a female PC is not something I have ever had go down - NPC' are another matter), but I would rather give a basic idea of what goes down, and the player is free to fill in the blanks in mind (and maybe worse than anything I would describe).

But where would you draw the line? Where do you stop with "interesting?" Are you cool with describing a PC having a nail hammered through his gonads? How about his family getting raped in front of him (a favored and effective method in 3rd world shit holes)?

Interesting? maybe. Does an interesting description of brutal torture belong in a game? Probably not mine, and I run a fairly adult, violent, and occasionally sexualized game.

Zzarchov said...

For a reputation mechanic: I might look towards Bethseda and their Fallout games of late.

You accrue fame and infamy with factions when you are caught performing actions (being caught is a key word).

Note fame and infamy aren't opposites, but two different scales that only ever go up, but never (or almost never) down. Thus your reputation is a cross reference of two values. With the peasants of Leon you might have a high fame a low infamy (Say saving villagers from a maurauding troll, but also you keep shoplifting) in which case you may be known as a kind-hearted rogue. Perhaps with the nobility of leon you are known to help out in dire times (save a princess from a dragon) but also to frequently rob the nobility and are even thought to have murdered some of the more tyrannical barons and would have a high infamy and very high fame, perhaps being thought of as an anti-hero.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

How do you determine how much fame/infamy doing something nets you? Is there a numerical scale, or just none - very high?