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GameNerd: You keep using that word...

Two GameNerd bits: first, I am guestblogging again over at Mr. Topp and the Big Bad Blog.

Second, I have been thinking about The Princess Bride. It's one of those iconic pieces of fantastic media that gamers of my generation tend to keep in mind when coming up with ideas. It's got pirates, fencing, torture, twoo wuv - all the good stuff.

How can we model The Princess Bride as a game? Let's assume that we have Wesley, Inigo and Fezzick as our players (while Buttercup is important to the story, her lack of agency would imply that she's an NPC).

Inigo's stat niche is his mastery of fencing. His motivation is revenge.
For Fezzick, his stat niche is strength. His motivation is acceptance.
Wesley is harder to deal with, stat-wise - he's good at everything! In a balanced game, how do you end up with a character like Wesley who can beat the master fencer at fencing, out-wrestle the mighty giant, etc.?

Here's my thought - when Inigo and Fezzick fight Wesley, they're dealing with it as a random encounter - a standard amount of effort. For Wesley, this is a throw-everything-at-it kind of quest. My contention is that if Wesley and Inigo fought when something other than Buttercup's life was at stake, then Inigo would win.

How can we make a game mirror that kind of narrative imperative? One idea is having something like "fate points" or "miracle points". Some kind of finite resource that lets a character exceed thier limits temporarily. Wesley's burning through those like crazy. Inigo holds onto his until he meets Count Rugen. Characters use thier resources when the conflict directly impacts thier motivation.

A frequent model for regaining these kind of points is to a) have a character's flaw come into play (as in Nobilis), or b) when something bad happens to a charcter. It's not unreasonable to think of Wesley being tortured to death, and then coming back as severely weakened, as a good reason to refill his fate points.

This kind of thing has definite advantages for introducing a sort of narrative driven uncertainty - and I maintain that uncertainty creates excitement for the players. The down side is that it can lead to focussing the attention of the game onto management of the points, instead of the actual story. This is a criticism that I have seen levelled against Nobilis, for example. If players are using thier points in every battle, and contriving situations to gain back more, their attention may be focussed on gaming the system instead of playing the game.

Still, I like it as a way to have a Princess Bride style game. It's a better explanation than that Wesley's player just rolled better than everyone else, and works better in a game than just having Wesley be better than the other characters at thier specialties.



( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 9th, 2009 04:54 pm (UTC)
Most game systems that I like have something like that - precisely because unlikely accomplishments against more powerful enemies are such a standard feature of most hero tales, so there has to be some way to reflect that.

World of Darkness games have Willpower points, where you can get one automatic success on any roll (which, given the game mechanics, doesn't necessarily guarantee the roll will succeed, but does at least improve the odds). The idea is to reflect exactly what you said about Westley - "throw-everything-at-it", all-out effort of will. And what I like about how that's handled is that when you run out, it's not like you're just out of miracles but can otherwise still perform normally -- you're basically so mentally exhausted from stress that you pretty much can't do anything. And the way you regain them is determined by your character's Nature, so it's kind of keyed to good roleplaying to an extent. (This is based on the old WoD, BTW - don't know if it's the same in the new one or not.)

Deliria has Fortune points, which are not so much reflective of an effort of will as the sort of bizarre strokes of luck that can happen in fairy tales, which the game is based on. By spending a Fortune point, you get an automatic Triumph (outstanding success - basically like rolling five successes in WoD) on any challenge. So they're a lot more powerful than WP. But they're also a lot scarcer - you start with fewer of them, and you have to do something really oustanding to get them back.
Apr. 9th, 2009 06:11 pm (UTC)
For some reason, I always manage to forget about the WP in WoD. I've never seen the Nature mechanic for regaining Willpower work terribly well, but I haven't played in that many WoD games. IME, PCs' Natures and regaining WP tends to get forgotten.

Design-wise, I like the idea of something like Nobilis' regaining points when your flaws inconvenience you. In practice, though, Nobilis draws criticism for being too focussed on managing miracle points.

Apr. 9th, 2009 08:03 pm (UTC)
Seriously, go read one of the reviews of Mortal Coil that I posted earlier. There are some flaws in the system, but it deals with head-to-head challenges very well, and certainly accounts for some amount of investment or commitment in these kind of encounters.

Briefly how it works:

Two players, or a player vs npc, have a pool of resources that they can use in categories of force, grace, wits and will. A character has a predetermined prioritizing of these categories, and so gets bonuses when using one over the other, and resolution relies not always on which category is most suitable, but how the player can use his/her strengths.

For brevity: we'll say player a is attacking player B with brute force, but player B would rather talk player A out of it altogether. So, secretly each portions some amount of their pool of resources into (for instance) force, and wit, respectively. They uncover those tallies together, and player A has put in 4 tokens, and player B put in 5. We'll assume equal bonuses and storywise, character B manages to talk character A out of the clobbering. Yay! The system allows for complex actions, etc. Where it seems to fail is in interactions between multiple players (I don't see why this can't easily be adapted), and interactions with nonsentient objects.
Apr. 9th, 2009 10:49 pm (UTC)
I read a review of it a little while ago on one of my RPG blogs. It does sound pretty interesting.
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 9th, 2009 10:48 pm (UTC)
To help with the fear of losing one's character, I am fond of making a deal with the players that I won't kill off their characters without warning. Damage, injure or screw over, yes, but the PC will always have a chance to fix things, more or less.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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