Monday, January 9, 2017

The Metrics of Happiness

My next struggle for the bard is creating a metric for performance, namely the effects of performance and the overall definition for how we see a performance from an amateur bard as opposed to an authority or an expert.  How, exactly, does a performance from a pleasant singer at the open mic night down the street compare with the professional who comes to sing for the local fair?  What is the difference between going to a concert to see the latest band climbing the charts and a chance at seeing Bruce Springsteen?

Again and again I find myself coming face to face with happiness and the need to create some sort of defining measure for it.  On the whole, there isn't need of one for the players.  The players are happy or they are not, depending on their feeling for the game, their sense of achievement, the anticipation of success or the concern about the death of their characters . . . but we don't need to create a number on their character sheets that defines whether or not they're happy.

Non-player characters, however, that's a different thing.  For the most part, no one has bothered because, well, who cares?  If the non-players get in the way, we kill them, and if they don't get in the way, good.  Why in the name of the game would we give a damn if any of them were happy?

I grant that.  The only reason I have at the moment is that the bard is going to want to get up in front of these non-entities and read poetry or sing a song, and it would be nice to know if the audience claps or not.  It would be nice to know if there was any reason to do it, beyond the bard saying, "Yes, I sang for them last night."  That's not much.  I mean, once or twice, we might be able to fool ourselves with our imaginations into thinking, "Cool, it was great being a bard last night," but that's not going to sustain itself through a whole campaign.  It will get sour fast.  Soon enough, the bard is going to not bother.

It would be pleasant if the bard had a reason to bother, which is what brings me around to happiness.  Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that a particular sort of bard was able to make a particular crowd happy to a particular degree.  And let's say that a better bard made everyone feel happier, and that a terrific bard made everyone positively joyful.  We might even be able to think of a collection of adjectives for seeing Springsteen.  I have it on good authority that people pay hundreds of dollars to see these things in order to have an experience that will last them the rest of their lives ~ that's got to count for something.

More to the point, seeing someone perform live can be a life-changing event.  People walk out of such events on the edge of making a decision about who they are and who they want to be.  We want to include that, yes?  We want the bard to feel the experience of creating that . . . and on some level, we want the bard to be able to see other, more fabulous bards, and experience that change for themselves.

Okay.  How?

Just now, no idea.  Working on it.  On the whole, happiness is a state of mind.  It has confounded philosophers for three millennia, not to mention a host of people tackling the subject from a biological, psychological, economic and artistic point-of-view.  We don't think old Alexis is going to solve it in a fortnight, do we?

Here is what I have.  Happiness makes us flourish.  That is, it causes us to do more than simply wallow in our happiness, it has a side effect of causing us to either continue doing the thing that makes us happy in exclusion to all else (hedonism) or it causes us to seek a means of keeping ourselves in a state of health and welfare that ensures we will never be unhappy again.  The latter interests me, since it is the most positive, practical aspect of what the bard might be able to cause: people work harder, they sing while they work, they fight less, they invest their money, they set up families, they strive for a better life, they explore, they invest in progress, they imagine a world that will be in existence after they've left it.  If the reader wants more, it is all there in Aristotle.

He has all this flourishing bound up with "virtue," which for most people in this culture is a sort of dirty word. The politics of Virtue has come to stand for every miserly, uptight, sanctimonious, pompous, anti-sexual voice that's ever been raised for the "good of the country" and "decency."  This is not what it meant to Aristotle. Mostly, to get to the meat of it, Aristotle meant virtue as not being stupid.  Temper your habits because untempered habits will fuck you over big time.  Be prudent in your decisions because too many stupid, rash decisions will ruin you.  Be courageous because cowards are hated by everyone and that will certainly make you miserable.  And be just, because if you treat others badly, they will most certainly make you pay for it.

Don't be stupid.  Which, if memory serves, will lead you into a life of efficiency, friendship, a sense of self-worth and, on the whole, someone respected in the community.  These four things will help ensure your happiness, as it is easy to be happy when you're prosperous, appreciated and respected.

Applying this to the bard.  We need to imagine our ordinary little bard, a poet say, getting up in front of a crowd at the local roadhouse, calling out for attention. I've already established in a previous post that our bard is somewhat talented ~ so it doesn't take long to get the attention of the room, given that the room is in a late medieval world where poetry is something not seen regularly and would be received like Beyonce randomly turning up at your local pub and being willing to belt out a song or two.

What happens?  Well, presumably, the bar fills up with people who have a good time.  And then they go away, back to their lives, and make decisions based on what they just experienced.

We know that for sure.  We know it, because we do it ourselves, all the time.

The question is, how to measure it?


  1. Hmm. I think you may have already hit on the differing-quality solution in your writing above: the persistence of the effect. An average-quality performer may have a similar effect on whatever happiness metric you land on as a Springsteen, but the effect of one fades quickly while the other sticks with the audience. A novel that's a bit of fluff might entertain the reader while they're reading it and a few days after; a truly great work might change their outlook for years to come. Or there might be separate 'immediate impact', higher for higher-quality performance, that degrades over time. Or both!

    As for the metric itself, I almost want to say it should act like Morale. Getting ourselves to do the things we could do, should do, on a regular basis feels almost like a morale check for combat. It is easier to muster that energy when you are happy.

  2. Start with a base value of 0. This means the crowd is not unhappy but neither are they notably happier than normal: they are in a neutral state. We may apply modifiers to this happiness rating fue to circumstances - a recent war or conflict takes young men from the fields or places a tax burden on the people, so the crowd is at -1 happiness, for example. Regardless, we can produce modifiers later. We start with base happiness of zero; the bard performs; we consider his skill level to see if a die roll is required (or if he automatically succeeds) and we go from there.

    And work calls. I'll post more later today.

  3. Had to think about it, but I'm inclined to agree with Jonathan: where success is not guaranteed, we can use the creature's base morale. We can draw similarities to current morale modifiers - if the bard is known and liked, morale is adjusted to make success a little easier. I think we can also look to the target's Intelligence, where a higher Intelligence makes it harder to sway the target. I think of it like playing with children: it's easier to make them feel happy and children are, generally speaking, less intelligent than adults. (Of course, the comparison breaks down when dealing with teenagers but not because of relative intelligence.)

  4. Just to clarify, I wasn't suggesting that we use morale to determine a bard's success or failure; I was suggesting that the happiness of a person/audience/population could be measured using a similar scale. Rather than testing a willingness to engage in lethal combat, it could test a willingness to put in time and effort to improve their personal or community's health or well-being. Or for groups, the overall tendency to do so.

  5. I feel like measuring that effect should incorporate two variables: the percentage of the crowd actually affected and the degree to which people are affected. We've all been to performances where most people are "feeling it" and walk away changed, and we've experienced art where (it seems like) we are the only ones struck by that particular piece.

    While there's a little codependence there, I think we can determine them (and the bard's effect upon each) independently.

    For the former, perhaps a percentile roll modified by tech level? For the latter, maybe something like morale?

  6. The tech level is an interesting suggestion for a modifier.

    Before we can talk about the independent person vs. the group, we need an actual EFFECT, something that the players would notice and would matter to them. On this, I continue to be stumped.

    I can see the parallel to morale. We can set a happiness rating, call this 2d6 like the morale rating, which people must roll against in order to act or otherwise alter themselves and their world; and I can easily see a number of modifiers to the roll, based on an immediate experience or based on long-term issues.

    But I still don't see any actual effect this causes. Putting in time and effort to improve their personal or community's health has little meaningful impact on the party's situation . . . and it is the party's situation that matters. It is impractical to come up with a system that tracks dozens, perhaps hundreds of people who don't matter.

    For the most part, where followers or hirelings of the party are concerned, it is morale that applies to most situations. How can happiness apply? The way the party is met when they enter a village, town or city? Taxes, tariffs, fees, tolls? Perhaps unhappy communities put a heavy premium on these things, perhaps they are xenophobic, perhaps the player's sense of welcome can be made tactile, in a way the party feels yet can mitigate by increasing the environment's happiness.

    This is as far as my thoughts have taken me today. I have also had a few additional ideas regarding the bard's emotional state prior to giving a performance: is the energy there? Does the bard have to dig deep to fake a winning performance from a place of weariness or despair? How to measure that? I'd rather not have a yes/no die roll to determine if the bard holds it together to make the performance. I hate yes/no die rolls for these things, yet they are almost always the place where we must fall back upon.

  7. Well, the yes/no check gives us a place to start, a binary we can problematize later.

    Perhaps while happiness "checks" work like morale ones, we want to think of communities operating on a happiness spectrum. You've already generated some behaviors that one sees in happier communities.

    1) Can we create model towns of extreme happiness/unhappiness?
    2) Can we create a happiness-neutral town?
    3) Can we place the appearance of behaviors found in happy/unhappy towns but not in happiness-neutral towns into some sort of logical progression? Grouping behaviors into clusters, functioning like tiers, might make this seem more organic.

    I feel like all three questions are answerable. Hopefully this structures how we might think about this?

  8. Regarding the bard's emotional state, I offer questions: do we check the cleric's faith or piety before he casts his spells, or before his daily prayers? Do we do the same for the wizard or the fighter? Actually, in some sense, we do. The fighter is impacted by the number of hit points he currently has. And, given Alexis' rules for body points (whether they're in use or not), we can draw a correlation: a fighter who begins a fight with fewer hit points is negatively impacted with proportionately lower abilities. Similarly, a wizard or cleric who has not rested and studied/prayed cannot regain spells. They are, in a sense, mentally or spiritually tired. So there is a precedent. What can we use, then, for the bard? Or do we have to create something? And if we do create a new ability/stat, can we use it with other classes so as to improve its game relevance?

    For example, perhaps we add a stat and call it Spirit. (Admittedly, the exact term we use will matter a great deal, so much more thought should be put into our choice.) If a bard's Spirit is low, he has less energy for his performance. But that's creating an entirely new stat for one class. Can we apply that stat to another class? In my mind, not without some shoehorning. It might apply to the Cleric, but we already have Wisdom to work with. So what if we look to the bard's Charisma? Where that presents a problem is that bards have a minimum required Charisma, which limits our ability to distinguish between bards (if they all have Charisma 15 or higher, then the measure of their performances is limited to just four data points). This would, however, allow for more nuanced situations. A bard who has just returned from the wilderness is beat up and exhausted (at fewer than half max HP), thus at a penalty to all stats (including Charisma), thus limited in his performance - and if the locals don't look too kindly on vagrants in their town... maybe the cleric should have spent that last Cure Light Wounds on the bard.

    I'm still puzzling over the happiness metric. I agree with Alexis that there needs to be an immediate connection or impact for the players, else they won't consider the ability worth using. What holds me up, however, is my own experience when it comes to working with unhappy people. Clearly, I'm no bard, but I should think that there's a correlation to regular human relationships - if a coworker is having a bad day, she will likely perform poorly; and if I can lift her spirits, she's likely to perform better. Or to remember my help and return the favor. Or maybe that one moment contributed to a significant change in her life, something that has been building for a long time but that just needed a little push. Or maybe - and I consider this much less likely but still possible - maybe that moment of kindness sparked a real change in behavior, one that will last a bit longer than it otherwise might.

    One of the things that comes to my mind is the duration of whatever effect/metric we devise. Human nature is such that people routinely experience periods of emotional highs and lows. Assuming the player affects the NPC and there are no significant external (DM defined) influences, how long should the bard's influence last? Is that a function of Charisma or level? Or the strength/power of the invoked effect?

  9. Lest we forget, Ozymandias, that a bard performing is a sage study ~ and I have already made several new stats that just apply to one class, where sage abilities are concerned. Not all bards can perform ~ for example, the architect or the maker of ceramics and glazes. The bard is getting to be quite a complicated class, one with a tremendously wide variance in abilities, focus and potential.

    So for the moment, it isn't about the bard not being able to perform because he or she is in low spirits, but in the ability for others to measure that performance "emotionally." There is no emotional response to the fighter hitting with a weapon or the mage casting a spell ~ those are physical responses that are managed quite well. It would be nice if the bard's performance produced a physical response as well . . . I just can't think of one that isn't going back to the same old wells again and again. We can give the audience temporary hit points, saving throws, morale, all the standard things that are the result of spells and other abilities I've created. I'd like the bard to produce a NEW response ~ physical or mental, whatever could work.

    I'm casting around for what that might be. I have a thread of something in my mind, but I'm still contemplating how it might go ~ and I don't have enough to count it an idea, not yet.

  10. Off the top of my head, some things which seem a bit different mechanically, as ways to make bards influence both the NPCs and the players, might be forms of regeneration (reacquisition of spells, minute post-combat healing, regaining action points partway through a round - allowing for a potential "minor action") or resistance (subtracting from damage taken due to combat, wilderness, or injury, potential resistance to spell expenditure, morale checks – all these are perhaps too powerful) or some form of "anti-stress" effect (perhaps a stress level or statistic accumulates from certain actions – fighting dangerous creatures, sustaining an injury or disease, failing ability checks, travelling in bad weather – which the bard can then alleviate or dispel). Depending on the nature of the work, these sorts of effects could be temporary or immediate (songs, art) or longer-lasting (food, literature) and location-based (architecture).

    If virtue is not being stupid, stress would be someone's anxiety at being stupid or feeling helpless. Looking at the stress option, a community could suffer heightened stress due to a number of different dramatic factors (overbearing lord, malevolent magic, terrifying art, rampaging monster, drought, accident) but also from more general minor events (village lunatic, vandalism, a new child being born) or relieve stress very quickly thanks to fine art or good bards. Having too much stress could make everything take longer to do, reduce healing, lengthen the time needed to study, make it harder to stand guard or follow orders, or perhaps reduce friendliness to newcomers in different ways? Hm, I see the problem with reusing existing effects here.

    I realize though that more negative effects may not be very appealing especially for bardless parties (although presumably a cleric, paladin or illusionist might be able to reduce stress using certain spells or abilities) given the many other things to keep track of. You'd likely want some bonus to being low stress, which is perhaps where the other options could come in?

  11. One last crazy idea: could bards provide bonuses to other people's sage abilities? Whether in terms of temporary or permanent points (in small increments) or bonuses to different classes' sage abilities (say druids grow mushrooms better, clerics preach more effectively, fighters can train recruits or control animals more effectively, thieves can sneak better... somehow to music, and other bards are better bards). It would give you a fair bit of work to do adding a "bard bonus" but it would certainly provide a unique bard effect if it also managed to be relatively fair.

  12. With this last crazy idea, Tim, you're quite close to the thread of an idea that I mentioned in a comment earlier today. What concerns me is the "fairness" problem. Also, that the bard could prove TOO important ~ but would players be happy with very small adjustments to things like foraging, pathfinding or trap making (singing along, muttering a poem the bard just gave them)?

    My issues with "stress" is that we're not really looking for a way to formalize a character's bad luck ~ though it is an interesting idea. Just imagine, a particular character blows a check, then a saving throw, then another check, then gets knocked unconscious in a fight . . . and all that adding to "misery points" that the bard might be able to alleviate. Or, perhaps, the players, when getting back to a town, decide that a night at the inn is more important than rest, as they've got to feel better! That's dead on accurate where it comes to being in the wilderness overlong, and certainly something not remotely considered in most thinking.

    But . . . I can't imagine anyone wants to tally up their bad luck, measuring it. That's going to rankle. And one thing with game design, we have to be careful not to rankle.

  13. Perhaps we can turn this latest idea on its head to remove the rankle factor.

    Suppose instead that bardic performance abilities charge up a (small, capped) pool of points, which might be used by the bard when needed to remove a point of damage here, wipe away a bit of stat penalty from the day's travel there? On self or on others, naturally.

    Or there's another implementation: the pool of points (let's call them inspiration points) recharges in some way, and bardic performance discharges them to produce effects. Perhaps the pool replenishes from drinking booze, as you've put forth previously.

    And then from there we can naturally suppose that performers or all artists might be able to draw these inspiration points from some other source than hedonism: religious awe, for example, or self flagellation, or even roving in the countryside to see the sights.

    So we could conceive of the bard's core talent as spreading inspiration from himself to others. Art which makes it points successfully is essentially magnifying the effect, spreading that inspiration from one person to a dozen or a hundred.

    That seems in line with the happiness-generation angle on the bard. It's just that something other than happiness is being spread, something more general.

  14. "art which makes it points" should read "art which makes its point, i.e. successfully causes a given viewer to make a connection with it"

  15. So, "bard miles."


    But no, not for healing. I feel very strongly that people go to healing far too often as a means of empowering something; the last thing I want is to make damage too easily removed.

    Yet the idea of the bard being able to spend points to increase another character's efficiency or work done, that does strike me as very doable. But woah . . . just imagine specifying how much a bard point would buy, with all the possibilities available.

  16. Imagine the bard toiling for weeks and months to accrue 50 bard points which are to be spent to make a planned architectural project properly strike people with awe when viewed.

    That makes me think of alchemy, or breeding monsters per your rules, or planting and sowing crops. Long term effort, guaranteed reward. Perhaps on the one hand the bard doesn't have guaranteed success -- there's also a chance element involved in successfully moving one's audience -- but on the other hand, as an artist may get nowhere with one work only to return to its principles later, the bard may be able to start from a position further along than 0 when trying again at the same type of project.


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