Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Show me Where it Hurts (So I Know where to Kick)

While we were discussing consequences and explicit statuses, Fred threw out a point which has sent me thinking. The idea is that you might be able to explicitly lay out what consequences you are willing to accept for your character in advance. In a multiplayer game, this makes useful public knowledge. If you know what sort of consequences another player is willing to take, then you can cater your play towards that (or avoid play with people whose choices are too far removed from your own). This is a pretty good theory, though I admit I think it would fall apart under actual stress. Specifically, I look a back on the lessons (People Lie) and expect that even something as explicitly clear as this would probably lead to drama.

However, it occurs to me that same approach could be very fruitful on the tabletop. See, when you make a character, you're communicating things to the GM and the other players. Fred and I call this "The Secret Language of Character Sheets", and it's a fruitful topic, but it has one dangerous flaw. When a player buys a power or skill at a high level (like a fighting skill), he is communicating one of two contradictory messages. The first is "I am really interested in this thing, and I want to really get pushed hard within it" and the second is "I want to be good enough at this that I don't have to worry about it." The contradiction means that this is a potential landmine unless the GM takes the time to communicate with the player to figure out which is which.

This kind of communication with the players is important, and that's what got me thinking about, of all things, John Wick's other hundred points.

The Other Hundred Points is a technique John Wick used in 7th Sea for getting player input into the nature of the game. Players are given 100 points to divide between the thematic elements of swashbuckling that interest them most - the 5 options are Action, Romance, Intrigue, Exploration and Military[1]. Every player divides the points as he sees fit, and the GM uses that information to shape the campaign appropriately.

I bring this up because I think the two ideas (explicit consequence and the other hundred points) can be combined to create something that could help a GM further tailor events in his game to his players tastes. The idea is to take the model of the other 100 points and, instead of dividing them among thematic elements, divide them among consequences that the player is most interested in running into. Put another way, the assumption is that bad things are going to happen (Doyce Testerman had some great observations about this) but this way the player can steer those bad things towards the things that interest him most.

So what are the categories of consequence? Off the top of my head:

Physical - I'm looking to take physical punishment, most often in the form of injury. I want fights, and I want the big threat to be the damage done by violence.
Personal - I want the threat to be to the things I value. Treasures to be stolen, houses to be burn down, weapons broken and so on.
Social - I want to be hurt through people. Not only do I want my relationships to be at risk, I want the people in those relationships to be at risk.
Emotional - I want to be kicked in the teeth, metaphorically speaking. I want to be sad, angry, broken-hearted and everything in between.
Abstract - I want high level threats, threats to the world, the kingdom, things which are important but which don't impact me directly.[2]

The list could probably use some refining - Emotional is a little vague, and social might be two categories, just for starters. But the basic shape of it should be pretty transparent. I need to think about this a little bit more, but I think this might be something to add to the pre-game bag of tricks.

1 - I think. Going from memory here.

2 - Some of your are rolling your eyes at that one, since it's really the "I don't want to be threatened" choice, but the reality is that mode is out there, and you cannot bully people out of it. The best you can do is respect it, but make sure that the prices that other players pay are awesome enough to make the player consider extending you enough trust to take a real risk. You can't change your players, only yourself, so take this sort of a response as an opportunity to look at yourself and ask what you are doing that is making this a desirable choice. It's easy to say that you always act in a way that is deserving of your player's trust, but when you get a clear sign that maybe that trust isn't there, you shouldn't just brush it off.

Of course, also don't beat yourself up over it. Some players just roll this way, whatever the level of trust. If your player's happy with this and everyone's having fun, then don't worry about doing it "right".


  1. I'd call it "Indirect" rather than "Abstract", because ultimately the world getting screwed should be something that still matters to the character and has impact on the character. So ultimately, the character still gets hurt by it, but indirectly, as fall-out.

    Good stuff here, man.

  2. @fred I like that. Also sounds less pansy-ish. Mental list updated.

  3. I like the idea of quantifying the areas of interest. I'll talk to the guys to see if we can discuss this post on Canon Puncture.

  4. Just want to point to Josh's tangential but really neat post:

  5. Wow thanks for this great post. Extremely insightful and simple ... what a good potential tool to throw in the GM bag of tricks! Thanks!!!

  6. Could not find a suitable section so I written here, how to become a moderator for your forum, that need for this?


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