Wednesday, August 18, 2010

KWORC Part 4: Stuff to Watch For

Now, at this point you've got enough tools to build an adventure - start with a goal, isolate the problem, figure out what needs to be done to overcome that problem and state that as another set of problems. Repeat as many times as necessary to feel like you've filled things out. It's fairly simple, but there are a few loose bits that are worth nailing down to help bring the whole thing together.


As you plan these potentially long sequences of problems and resolution, it's easy to feel like you're leading your players around by the nose. If you view this all as a a series of tasks the characters need to perform it can become precisely that. The trick, of course, is that's not the way to view it.

See, there's a tendency to look at the specific problems and solutions as hard points that need to be stepped through to reach the end point, but that's backwards. The important thing is the core problem, not the path to it. Players will surprise you, but if you keep the core problem in mind, that won't take things off course. Instead, it will just prove to be a different route to the same end.

Consider for a moment how liberating that is. There's no right or wrong direction for play to go - there's a direction that may result from events, but no direction things MUST go. As an extension of that, so long as you keep the goal clear, there's no need to push players towards specific action - the goal provides a point of reference that gives context for all actions.

Clarity and Urgency

Sure, it's all pretty much cupcakes and puppies if you can keep it working, but there are two things which can grind everything to a halt - if the players lose their sense of clarity or urgency, things go badly.

Clarity is the most dangerous thing to lose. The whole KWORC model depends on the characters having a sense that they can do _something_, and it will matter. There needs to be a sense of a thread connecting where the players are to where they want to be, and if they lose that thread they can get frustrated.[1]

It's usually pretty obvious when players have lost that sense of clarity. They argue about what to do next without any real passion - they're casting the net out and hoping to catch something, anything, and starting to get annoyed.

When this happens, you need to ask yourself what you're seeing that they're not.[2] You know what the core goal is, and you know where the player's stand, so you should still have a clear view of the options and problems facing them. The disconnect between what you can see and your player's seeing is usually pretty small, and once you spot it, the means of correcting it usually suggests itself.

Urgency is, strangely enough, not necessarily as urgent provided the game is going well. Sometimes the big goal can take care of itself for a while, especially if the players are enjoying an engaging distraction. But when things start to slow down, it's important that players _want_ to get back to the main goal. If they don't, you may need to go back to whatever initiated the game, and possibly dial things up a notch or two. The villain takes an action. The problem gets worse. The clock starts ticking.

Why Opportunity Matters Most

I've mentioned a few times that opportunity problems are the most important for solving the big problem, but that's not necessarily obvious. Opportunity problems don't require anything else but character action to resolve. Why is that important?

See, every other kind of problem[3] is going to require _something_ to resolve - a source of knowledge, rare or hard to get items, consequences and so on. Opportunity tends to just require the one thing players have in excess - pure cussedness. Opportunity problems can often be solved by pounding you head against the wall long and hard enough, and if there's one thing players will do, it's that. Players are almost always willing to try a little harder or push a little harder. This is actually something of a problem in many cases[4] but this is one situation where that can get rewarded.

To Sum Up

Ok, you hopefully now have the problem areas nailed down, so tomorrow we can tie it all together.

1 - Now, that said, a little frustration can have its place, but only very little. It's a reasonable follow up to things going badly wrong, but it can't stay in that rut for too long.

2 - Unless you have also lost the thread, in which case it's time to seriously review the situation.

3 - Ok, Capability problems can be overcome in this fashion too, but that tends to be all or nothing. Either they can, and they do, or they can't and they don't.

4 - It's the anime fighting thing, where fights are resolved by "I FIGHT HARDER!" Players are always willing to fight harder, so that translates pretty badly into play.


  1. "It's the anime fighting thing, where fights are resolved by "I FIGHT HARDER!" Players are always willing to fight harder, so that translates pretty badly into play."

    If "fighting harder" is represented mechanically in some way - by a resource for example, requiring a roll of some kind (I'm thinking Pendragon passions here), or having some other cost associated with it, then I think you could make it work.

    …or does that move the problem into the realm of Capability? Maybe, depending on the resources involved.

  2. Speaking broadly, it can be represented in a way that is mechanically workable, but deviates form the source material. In some fighting anime the "power up" is a result of the stakes being raised (friends being endangered or the like) but often it's arbitrary - the hero gets stronger solely because he needs to get stronger to win. It's serious will to power sort of stuff (which is a bit creepy if thought about too long). In terms of problem solving, the character's capability is basically unlimited. All fight scenes do is use up time.

    That ends up pretty lame in play (doubly so when it becomes clear that the only reasons to lose are plot ones) and I've mostly just concluded it's something that looks cool in Anime, but really does not translate out of the medium (or at least it shouldn't).

  3. Its not present just in anime - Batman's deus ex machina level of forethought in some interpretations comes to mind.

    And of course you also have the filtering effect that heroes rarely lose. The heroes always seem to pull a win out, but we don't have a look at what resources they are using to do it. Did that power up come as a result of a mid-fight XP expenditure? Or can you model it with consequences that aren't necessarily narratively related - like the ability to punch a hero in the girlfriend in PDQ? Maybe the trouble in the typical anime hero's personal life is due to something like that.

  4. In theory you can do a decent "You may buy up your ability now by buying future trouble" model, but there's a tipping point. Eventually the character will have bought so much future trouble that there's no way the GM can deliver on it all - at that point they have no reason to not just keep spending. It can't get any worse!

    If you can find a check against that math, then you might have a winner.


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