Sunday, March 16, 2008

Four Candidates

Still no set decision on the core mechanic. I think I could really tear through the rest in short order, if only I could settle on an effective, evocative core mechanic. But at least I've narrowed it down to four main candidates. We've had discussions going on in several threads:

The Bet

The simplest (and original!) mechanic, this one assumes that each person has:
  • Some number of pools, representing different kinds of effort (Possibly Flesh, Breath and Word; possibly the four directions of the medicine wheel)
  • Some number of relationships

So, in the straight form of the bet, each person makes a secret wager of some number of beads from the appropriate pool, depending on the nature of the conflict. Then, the reveal. Whoever bet more, wins. The number of beads in the relationship determines how many beads you can recover, the rest you lose. That would model sudden decisions, like, did your arrow hit the target, or did you make that jump? In the iterative version, modeling things where you can escalate like fights or arguments, you could add more beads, and that stops when both sides stop adding beads. Once again, the person with the most beads bet wins; you get to take back a number of beads equal to your relationship, and lose the rest.

My thoughts on this. Does the escalation lead to a back-and-forth of one bead at a time? Does this really make for a game of awareness, or just overcoming an adversary?

The Mancala Mechanic

Andrew posted the best version of this that I've heard yet on the Forge, especially when combined with Daniel's earlier post in that thread. You have a starting configuration, and then, based on the appropriate relationship, you can either:
  • Add some number of beads to one of your pits
  • Remove some number of beads from one of their pits
  • Move some number of beads from one of your pits, to another of your pits

So, let's say you want to hunt a deer. You have 10 beads in your relationship with deer. So, you can add beads to one of your pits, remove beads from one of the deer's pits, or move beads from one of your pits to another of your pits. Let's say you decide to add three beads to one pit. 10-3=7, you have seven moves left. This can conclude in one of two ways:
  1. The encounter. The two sides match. Whoever moved last gets to narrate how the encounter unfolds, based on the previous narration. So if the hunter moves last to align the two sides, he would likely narrate that he takes the deer; the deer might narrate that he bolts away at the last moment. So, the encounter occurs, and whoever moves last gets to narrate the encounter unfolding on their own terms. Which means you not only want to reach that alignment, you want to do so on your terms.
  2. The escape. One side or the other runs out of moves without any alignment. No encounter occurs. I think madunkieg's suggestion of a "distraction pile" on the Story Games thread might work here: every escape adds beads to the distraction pile, which could hamper you in future encounters (perhaps you don't get your relationship beads to move; you get your relationship beads minus the beads in your distraction pile?)

My thoughts on this. Does a better job of modeling the idea of the encounter, and certainly Daniel's idea of starting configurations drawn out with cave art styles, even to the extent of posters, adds an exciting new element. Opens up the potential to either actively hide, or actively reveal oneself, by either avoiding alignment, or pursuing it. This might offer the best possibility so far. But where does the possibility to burn up your relationship for extra power come in? Maybe after you've exhausted your relationship's normal store for moves, you could begin taking beads straight from the string to buy more moves?

The Necklace

Inspired by Daniel Solis' discussion of gaming with necklaces (may require Story Games membership to view), this model uses different colored beads. These could differentiate between Flesh, Breath and Word, or between the four directions of the medicine wheel. For now, let's use Flesh, Breath, and Word for example's sake, but keep in mind that we could change the colors and dividing lines, too.

For relationships, you still have a string of beads, but now the kinds of beads matter. So, an encounter with a physical coyote would add a Flesh bead to your Coyote relationship; hearing a Coyote story would add a Breath bead; exchanging gifts with Coyote would add a Word bead.

So, you come to a particular encounter where you need Coyote. Let's say you want to coyote around the village perimeter so no one sees you. Now you use your Coyote string almost like prayer beads or a rosary; you make a quick plea to coyote to help you, thumbing off beads in some set pattern as you do. Now, look at the bead you currently have in your finger and thumb. That will give you your result. The third red bead in a row, right before a blue one, would give you 3 Flesh. If the village gets a 2 Flesh from, say, their Hawk relationship, your 3 Flesh wins. If you have a Breath bead, though, it won't help you; you need to coyote fleshly for this, so you have 0 Flesh vs. 2 Flesh. They spot you.

My thoughts on this. I like the free-wheeling dynamic of actually calling on other-than-human persons for help, but I see a lot of potential for abuse. To avoid that, and to keep it functional as a game, we'd need some kind of rules for keeping the exact form of the plea out of the player's direct control, lest every player figure out exactly how many words/syllables/lines/whatever that it will take to get the result they want. This seems to encourage players to specialize with variation. Sure, having all 10 of your beads with Coyote will help if you want to coyote about the woods all the time, but without some Breath or Word beads in there, how will you ever coyote up a clever plan, or coyote someone out of a deal? By the same token, you'd never want something like red, blue, yellow, blue, red, blue, yellow, because everything would have a power of just 1! You'd want red, red, blue, blue, blue, yellow, yellow, so you get the most out of each type. So it seems to me like you'd optimize for runs of 2-4 at a time, before switching over to a different type. Also, this mechanic seems to get us back to the problem of overcoming adversity, rather than approaching the other.

The Color Wheel

This one comes straight from Jared Sorenson, I've just spun it around to the medicine wheel.

So you have the medicine wheel, which gives you four different pools of differently colored beads. All the beads go into an opaque bag. First, you decide the nature of the conflict, whether it comes from the north, east, south or west. Then, you pull a number of beads from your bag equal to the number of beads in the appropriate relationship. For each bead you pull of the appropriate color, you have one success; the player with the most successes, wins.

So, consider an intellectual debate about the next tribe over. The conflict comes from the north, associated with intellect and wisdom. You use your relationship with that tribe, in which you have four beads. So you pull four beads from you bag. You pull two white (north) beads, one black (west) bead, and one red (south) bead. So you have two successes. The other player have six beads with the tribe, and pulls six beads from his pouch, but he pulls one white, three red, and two yellow (east) beads, so he only has one success. You win.

My thoughts on this. The idea of competing numbers of successes certainly fits into the general range of existing RPG mechanics, which puts me on the most solid ground of any of these alternatives. But it also recapitulates the notion of overcoming adversity, rather than approaching the other.

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