Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Limiting Relationsips

In the Thirty Theses, Dunbar's Number comes up a lot. Dunbar noted a correlation between neocortex size in primates, and the size of the social groups they formed. Applying that principle to humans, the mean limit for humans came out to something like 150, and sure enough, historical examples abound. With populations less than 150, egalitarianism holds sway, but when populations surpass 150, cognitive "cheats" like laws, government, or stereotypes become necessary to keep things running.

A few important things to note about Dunbar's Number that often get lost. First, 150 gives a mean. Some people might have their limit at 149, and others at 151, or even 100 or 200. Neither does this impose a hard limit. Even if your own limit stands at 150, you can still know 151 people: it just stretches your limits. You've stretched your cognitive capacity. The more you surpass that limit, the more shallow all of those relationships must become. Illustration: "I Got 9,000 Friends on MySpace."

So, to reflect this, shouldn't the Fifth World have a limit to the number of relationships a character can have? Press beyond that, and you get a cap on the number of relationship points you can have, per relationship--maybe a maximum of 30 at the limit, then after another interval it drops to 20, then 10. Of course, 150 wouldn't work, that would give you far too many relationships for just a game. 15 wouldn't give you enough. What would make a good limit?


Jason Godesky said...

No wonder I've seen so few comments on the most recent posts; I just realized, I'd accidentally turned off the comments! They should work again now, sorry for that!

A reader emailed me (I won't say who, since from the email I don't know if he wanted to keep his identity secret, or just tried to get around my clumsiness shutting off the comments), and made a really great suggestion: rather than limiting the number of relationships, limit the number of relationship points a character can have.

Now that would make sense with 150, and it would mean you could choose whether you wanted to have many shallow relationships, or a few very strong ones. And we wouldn't have to put a hard cap at 150, either; that could just serve as a starting number, and then we could include choices where the character could gain certain advantages by sacrificing relationship point totals, or could increase her relationship point total by giving up something. I like this idea very much.

Andrew Jensen said...

I don't know if you are going to have any other stats besides relationships yet, but if there is a social stat of some kind, your "Dunbar number" could be based on that.

Jordan said...

Maybe, to make each character class a little different, each one could have a different number of points. So, the shaman gets 200 points to divy up, the scout gets 150, and the brave gets 120, or whatever.

And like you said, you could have 150 very shallow relationship, on one super relationship. Although, there should probably also be a cap on how many points you can put on one person. Like, 20, or something. So you could have 5 people at 20, and still have 50 points left to spend.

Jason Godesky said...

Maybe, to make each character class a little different, each one could have a different number of points. So, the shaman gets 200 points to divy up, the scout gets 150, and the brave gets 120, or whatever.

The traditions don't really work like that. That illustrates the problem with classes; they become so restrictive. In the Fifth World, for instance, a Big Man type character would follow a Brave tradition, so he'd probably have MORE total relationship points to spread around.

And like you said, you could have 150 very shallow relationship, on one super relationship. Although, there should probably also be a cap on how many points you can put on one person. Like, 20, or something. So you could have 5 people at 20, and still have 50 points left to spend.

I never liked limits like that. If you want to play an idiot savant, why should the rules stop you?

Willem said...

I like this 150 number idea too, because so many members of creation want to relate in so many diverse ways, that it would really mark you to the bone depending on who you became really intimate with...

Sky, iron ore (bloody stone!), oak, river rapids, badger, lichen, cougar, boulder, still air, north wind, mist, plantain, moss, all have so many divergent personalities. Then you have the specific places themselves.

Perhaps as you make your relationships more specific, you automatically get a multiplier in intimacy...

10 points in relationship with the Standing Ones (tree peoples) will have less impact than 10 points with Red Cedar, and that less than 10 points in this particular Red Cedar.

Which explains why humans have such a investment on each other, because you relate to other humans, but often times you relate to entire families in the world around: Fox, Eagle, Maple, etc.

I would say the more you risked and answered the call of the land, the more relationship points you got, but the Land's requests often come at cross purposes (at least on the surface) to human ones. So a big part of the challenge would involve answering the question: do I go with the Land, or with my human father, or Grandmother, or brother, or aunt? Or with this fellow who will trade me his horse for a sketchy favor? Or..?

matt said...

The increasing impact with increasing specification thing really makes sense to me Willem, though it just came to me that rather than having less impact, specification might have a different impact. If I had a really strong relationship with the foxes as whole, there spirit could help me in ways that might be considered magic, in many different times and places, where as a relationship with one specific fox would help me in more physical ways. However, thinking about this, I do think that the individual fox might be more willing to help me with the same level of relationship, simply becuase he might have less relationships to deal with.

Jason Godesky said...


Great idea! I had already had the idea of having different depths of specificity ("bear" vs. "black bear" vs. "the black bears that live in those mountains," vs. "this particular black bear who lives in that particular den on that particular mountain"), but I hadn't pursued the idea as far as realy working that zooming in as part of the game. I think that will actually nicely solve a lot of problems there.

Andrew jensen said...

I was thinking, if relationships are the primary (only?) way of recharging your character's stash of beads, then there are interesting possibilities for using relationship points to purchase other things.

Specifically, I'm thinking of possessions. Lets say you want your character to have an iron knife, or a salvaged gun, or clock that still works, or whatever. Something you couldn't just make yourself. Well, "owning" that thing requires that you spend time maintaining it, and that you spend time and energy defending your claim on it. It strains relationships because not everyone has one, and others will be upset by your possession of it. Having a possession cost you relationship points. Now that possession will give you bonuses to certain contests or other effects, and these effects will be tempting. But because these come at the cost of having more relationships, it will cause your pool of free beads to be both smaller, and recharge slower.

Jason Godesky said...

I'll do you one better: any possessions special enough to write down, acts like a person. So you have a relationship with it. And when you fire your arrows, if you have a bad relationship with your arrows (say, you carved them from the wood of a tree you never thanked, or asked, or gave anything back to), those arrows will veer of course, miss, splinter, or otherwise get back at you.

Andrew Jensen said...

Also, some itemsare merely physical representations of one's relationship. If Eagle grants you a cloak made out of his feathers, it's a magical cloak, but that magic is really comes from eagle, and the cloak merely represents the fact that he likes you well enough to assist you.

But I think it's one or the other. Either the item is a relationship with the normal benefits thereof, or it's a stat booster of some kind, and it ties up relationship points without giving you anything back. This would be the difference between an item that fits into a simple, sustainable technology, and an item that results from a taker technology. The flint knife your father crafted for you from the finest materials when you became a man? That's a relationship. The bog-iron knife you traded a hermit for? That's a stat-booster.

I guess one item could be both, like the bog iron knife your father passed down to you. But there would be some kind of ratio, like 1 stat boost per 2 relationship points spent. So your father's bog iron knife would give you 1 extra point to knife things, have a 3 point relation with it, and cost 5 relationship points.

Jason Godesky said...

I actually thought of an heirloom, like the family katana, and wondered if it might make more sense as a blessing (blessings and curses come from specific relationships, so the family katana might come to you as a blessing from your family relationship, or maybe your relationship with your father).

But yeah, I can see situations for both: possessions as relationships, and possessions as blessings attached to other relationships.

WorldWithoutToil said...

I think it's specifically unsustainable technology that works as an instead of relationship.

As to scale: I don't know if you really need to address it as a rules thing. By which I mean a numbers thing. If I'm getting relations down correctly, there's 2 sides here to them. There's what they do for you, and there is what they demand of you. A large relationship (Bear, the land, your tribe) will do more for you, but it will also demand more from you. A narrower relationship (this bear, my wife) could do less for you, but demand less from you as well. The land wants you to cleans it of te residual taint of that old industrial site, while your wife just needs you to pick up some acorns while you are out.

I'm tired of having to manually type my name in. My Blogger ID is WorldWithoutToil. No point checking the blog, it was for a collaborative fiction that's over now and doesn't contain any truth. But I'm just gonna let it use the name.

Jason Godesky said...

I don't know, Andrew; I'd say I have to do a lot more for my wife than for humanity in general, y'know? The intensity of the relationship you can have with a single individual certainly outpaces the potential relationship with more general things.

Of course, you can't really pick out a "base case" for this; I "am" an ecology of cells and bacteria; each of them "are" an ecology of atoms and molecules. We can continue that recursion all the way down to quantum mechanics and shifting cascades of probability. But it does seem that the closer the parity of the characters relating, the more intense that relationship can become.

No worries on the account, though; I had this Blogger account long before I started this blog, just to comment on others' Blogger blogs.

WorldWithoutToil said...

True, but I also think that your relationship with your wife is probably stronger than your relationship with humanity in general. Its a combination of the size of the favor, the strength of the relationship, etc. I guess I'm saying that if 2 relationships have the same strength, then a favor of equal weight (that is, one with the same mechanical effect on the relationship) would have to be a larger favor for a wider relationship.