Thursday, January 20, 2011

Things I Should Not Write About Openly

Having Arduin do a lot of my thinking out loud is very helpful.  But I think we're beginning to deviate enough that it's worth throwing in my own thought processes ... though I admit this topic, that of an interaction mechanic, is beginning to resemble the further scourging of a mortified equus.

I do not have any playable mechanics to suggest.  And without criticizing those mechanics suggested by Arduin and James, I have to say that I've long abandoned any hope that an existing deck of any kind can be grafted onto a D&D template.  There are just too many limitations; the suits or the arcana of either the standard deck or the tarot deck are straightjackets and are not convenient for what I've had in mind.

And what is that?  I've alluded to the answer, but I haven't made it clear.  The deck would have to be of a very particular nature, one that doesn't exist (in my opinion).  In all honesty, the creation could be a significant money making proposition ... so I suppose by writing it here, on this blog, this January 20th, I'm setting myself up for a long and failed court-visit sometime in the future.  If this is as practical as I think it could be.

The primary issue must not be that a problem is gotten past, but that the player gains an ally ... some individual who is sympathetic to the player's needs.  Some allies would be dependent on money - the bribed guard, for instance.  Some allies on friendship.  Some on fear.  The player would be using their influence, step by step in the game, to work these allies towards their own purposes: a savings when buying at this merchant's shop; news about the goings on at the guild; physical aid in times of danger; supplies; reliable messengers; and so on.  Each interactive process would play to create a given morale on the part of the ally, which would be fixed by the IMech as best as the player could ... but without the guaranteed yes/no of a skill roll.  It's the result that makes the dynamic playability of the IMech, not the process.  The result that says, today, the bribe will work, but tomorrow, the guard might have second thoughts.

Towards this idea I see a very wide range of different types of cards.  Yes, there would be a card - one card - each for charisma, wisdom and intelligence.  I think the idea of having the player roll against their attribute when the card is played, to see if it 'works' ... I am assured by my source in the Magic card game that various cards do work like that.  I also think there would be a card for certain charisma-rich or intelligence-rich classes - mage, paladin, druid, bard, cleric and so on.  Being a religious figure carries with it a certain dignity and prestige that ought to be noted in the system.

But the lion's share of cards would not be based on the character's stats at all, but upon what the player has actually accomplished up to a given point.  For example, there would be a card that would be gained the first time the player had gotten into a battle in which he or she had gotten wounded: a sort of 'purple heart' card.

I see a range of cards all based on first time experiences.  The first near death moment; the first time the player had been at sea (out of sight of land); the first dragon the player had seen; the first dungeon; commanding men in battle; the first time the player had ever rescued a stranger from the grip of death; and so on.  These things have their lasting impression on an individual, and provide stories for a person to tell, at the Inn or elsewhere, giving them insight into what frightens a person or what taps into a person's imagination or ambitions.

There would be cards for things that had been obtained, such has possessing land, a ship above a certain size, docks, a house, a workshop, an inn, a gatehouse or a keep ... since these things would produce an element of recognition in the community where they were to be found.  There would be cards for a variety of statuses that had been given: investiture in the church hierarchy, guild membership, a title, affectionate nicknames given by the local poor or the bourgeois, along with other reputations - a reputation as a scoundrel, as a liar, as a thief, as a wastrel, as a drunkard, as a coward, as a generous soul, as a rescuer of children, as a healer ... each dependent upon what the character did when roleplaying their character.

There could be cards gained through ostentation: the clothes a character is wearing, donations given to the church and poor, parties or jousting tournaments that were sponsored by the player, ships or military units paid for privately but provided for the local town's defense, civil works, etc.

Every time that a player does something significant, the card would be gained; and the card could then be played in order to master the environment.  I see the whole process as a kind of "scout's badge" motif.  People talk of 'carrots' to encourage certain kinds of roleplaying and character development ... this is exactly that.

The cards would have to be particular to the design of the character.  A character wishing to get into the good graces of the underworld would hardly do it by providing a military unit to the town.  An assassin, on the other hand, might want the drunkard card, as it would help them pass openly in the worst places as someone not to be concerned about.

Unfortunately, the cards would have a limited scope.  Known as a drunkard in one town would not necessarily correspond to everywhere.  Which brings up a point that I know someone will propose - that cards aren't needed.  That the character can just write all this on their character sheet.

Of course they can.  But the cards represent things the character sheet cannot provide:

1) The presence of the cards put front and center things that tend to get ignored on character sheets.  Being able to rift through the cards - in fact, having to do so - brings the different cards to the character's perception in the way a character sheet does not.  A scout troop could just keep a book that says what scout has earned what badge - but the ostentatious portrayal of the badge display provides a reminder.

2) A list of things on several character sheets does not have any particular emotional impact; but to use the scout badge metaphor again, the collection of cards provides a sense of accomplishment, a sense of pride, and a demonstration of prestige.  It is the fetishistic quality of having the cards in one's hand.  Let's face it, a painted lead miniature has held that place in the game since the beginning.

3) Once an interactive mechanic has been worked out for how players can 'battle out' their roleplaying prowess, the cards exist as a convenient tool.

Now, as a last point, and this is the kicker.  These cards would have to be manufactured.  They would have to be attractive to look at.  And they have the added bonus of constant expansion, as people dream of new things to give cards for, new badges to be won, stacked and played with.

Plagiarism of a business model, anyone?


Anonymous said...

The significant difference between what we propose is that you're specifying all of the things I'm sort of abrstracting with a "level" card. I've considered further having "class" or "social catse" or "war veteran" cards under the IMech I'm toying with, but they all remian abstractions.

I'm comfortable with the abstractions, so no fear of you and I ending up in court or having a message board spat. I'm intrigued to see where you end up, though. How much of your table time would you foresee being taken up by the sort of IMech you describe?

Sully said...

I use a program called "Magic Set Editor" to make and print custom Magic-the Gathering style cards for my DnD4e game. Mosty I make power cards, feats, NPCs, that kind of thing. I'm totally going to steal this idea of accomplishment cards! Being able to give character successes more tangible benefits than just experience points would be a huge boost to the RP aspect of the game. Thanks!

Alexis said...


I believe what's needed is a format that stands apart from experience; it would settle forever all the "give-XP-for-roleplaying" arguments, wouldn't it?


Fine. But if you start selling them, I'm going to lawyer up. I wonder how much Joe the Lawyer costs?

Wickedmurph said...

Something like this would be helpful:

Alexis said...

Thank you Wicked.

Of course, people could just learn how to use a graphic design program. And a print shop.

Anonymous said...

Alexis, I'm not convinced that's a big problem (XP for rping) when considering the current differences between what we each want. A lot of the stuff you call out as potential "earned cards" are the sorts of things one is doing while earning XP and not role playing (e.g. first time wounded in battle, first time near death, etc...). Again, for me it comes back to I'm accepting a large amount of abstraction there where you want the interesting details.

As an anecdote and by no means an exhaustive proof, the one and only time I've actually used an IMEC in my game it was for the purposes of immediately getting paid in gold, or put another way, acquiring XP. If I understand you correctly. this 100XP would equate in some way to the player in question instead getting a "deals well with bureaucrats" card after the encounter?

Alexis said...

I don't think that card would be in the offing, James; I'm not suggesting a "crossing the street" card. I am suggesting that the bigger issue for the IMech to handle is the player's future relationship to the bureaucrat, and not whether they get paid this particular time. The bureaucrat's willingness to pay them would then be based on his assessment of what bruisers these guys are, not on the particulars of their dialogue. You call it an abstraction, but from what I can see you're getting into the nitty gritty of moment to moment interaction, and I am thinking of a demonstration of the player's ability to affect everyone they came into contact with, not just one at a time.

I'm sure we're closer on this issue than you think.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the future relationship aspect of this so far has escaped my ability to solve to my satisfaction. My take on IMech is by no means complete.

Interesting point you've raised... I see my current five-card deck as something of an abstraction of very specific activity that allows room for some detail to be added through narration, sort of like combat. Yours is a reasonable, differing interpretation.

When you say "...I am thinking of a demonstration of the player's ability to affect everyone they came into contact with, not just one at a time." How would this aspect of your system function in contrast to what I have? Do you conceive that IMech is always turned "on" like radar antenna and not the result of some stated activity like "I try to persuade the lackey" or it's combat analogue "I hit him with my mace."

Alexis said...

In large part both, James; my presence in a room provides a certain effect, and then a greater effect is created if I make the effort. A question of intensity, as opposed to on and off.

Arduin said...

My inherent problem with the system you propose,Alexis, is that ultimately one cannot know what is useful in a confrontation until it is tried.

Let me put it this way. I learned that Jim the Guard has, I don't know, a fondness for dogs, when does the DM pass me the "Knows that Jim loves Dogs" card?

In essence, some things are only useful for specific people, specific circumstances, and specific times.

This is why I proposed "Influence" cards the way I did. The player says "I want to use this, this, and that information against Jim", and the DM says, "Sure, it's worth this, that, and the other."

That might be a specific value, a die value, or even kept hidden. For instance, Steve the Bawd could have been lying when he told me Jim loved dogs.

Conversations are far more flexible than a series of specific cards, no matter how vast, could ever be.

The results are the star of this program, we agree on that. How we come to the results is almost piddling in comparison.

Still, I'm glad you posted this. It's given me something more to consider.

Alexis said...

Obviously, not everything is a scouting badge. The organization spent much thought and consideration on what could be considered a worthy achievement to certify as a badge. The same would need to be done here.

The various achievements could be classified according to groups: ie., 'experienced circumstances,' 'status,' 'ownership,' 'appearance,' 'good behavior,' 'bad behavior,' and so on (I don't suggest these would be the final names, this is just off the top of my head). More cards in a particular collection would then translate to greater influence in that category. If you wanted to really have a lot of status, therefore, you'd have to do more than 1 thing - you'd have to gather many different sorts of status, to give yourself considerable leverage when tackling a conversation with someone else with status.

Carl said...

You may be selling me on the card idea. I've used dice in my last two games, and it's working. It's fast, the players are picking up on it, and it has just enough depth to allow them to feel like they're accomplishing something. Kind of the way combat works now.

The cards add depth to the world, though. They add depth to the characters, too, in a way that alignment kind of wanted to but was unable to do well.

I'll have to think on this more.