Monday, December 14, 2009

AC: Actions and Arguments

Continuing the revision of Action Cards, the first part of defining how resolution is handled in the game. Some of this is a revision of some earlier ideas I posted-- the second half I'll post tomorrow

RESOLVING ACTIONS
During a game, players will face obstacles they must overcome. As in most rpgs, players and the GM resolve tests or contests to determine if and how well the players match these obstacles. This game generally takes the view that unless an event or obstacle is narratively or dramatically important, players shouldn't have to make a pull to resolve a test. The GM has at his disposal a set of other options, broadly called 'negotiated resolutions' for these situations. For everything else there's resolution based on the draw of the cards. The bottom line is: any check the player has to draw for should have some meaning.

For obstacles in general: the GM should have some meaning behind them. They could be to illustrate a point, to set the scene, to provide challenge, to create tension and so on.

NEGOTIATED RESOLUTIONS

If an obstacle is superficial, the players have time and freedom from pressure or not getting past the obstacle stops the story dead, then the GM probably shouldn't have the players draw. For simple things, the GM can assume the player or group have enough ability to get past them. This can be woven into the narrative. In these cases, the GM can take into account the abilities the group has and perhaps spotlight those abilities in the description.

*steps of prep leading up to an operation
*climbing a fence
*shopping for a good deal on food

So where the consequences aren't too vital or where the players will have plenty of time to get past the obstacle through repeated attempts, move past by narrating success.

Informal Arguments
Players have the option of presenting their actions as arguments about why they ought to succeed. In some ways, this parallels the mechanic of Taking 10 or Taking 20 in other systems. The player states the intended action and indicates the abilities he or she has which support that action. The GM can then action the action as successful or ask for a draw. Creatively narration of actions, tying in the abilities a character has purchased should be rewarded by the GM. Informal arguments can also be made for one character to support the action of another.

Formal or Matrix Arguments
For larger scale or longer actions: social networking, spreading rumors, managing logistics for an army, establishing connections with a group, rebuilding a village, and the like- players may consider presenting a more formal or matrix argument. Such arguments have three parts:

Objective: Stated goal for what the characters want to achieve long term
Method: The basic plan the characters want to undertake to do achieve this
Three Supporting Statements: Three things the group or the player can bring to bear to actually carry that out.

In the first example, the player focuses mostly on the abilities he can bring to bear

Objective: I want to start a club on campus
Note that the objective describes the end reality a character is working towards. Another version of that objective might look like this: I want to gain a social position on campus by starting and leading a club. Keep in mind how that stated objective shapes what follows.
Method: Find a niche that no one has exploited
Support #1: As a Changeling of the Fairest I have natural abilities which increase my presence (Human Perception and the Fairest Trait), but also the life of the Court is always about finding the next hot thing.
Support #2: I have the ability Leadership and I've been a leader before, and that experience should show me the best way to get both student and administration support.
Support #3: I have Contacts: School as an ability. In particular, I know Kay Ballentine, plus a few other older students on campus who have been here for some time. I can get from them what might be an area no one else has come up with.

In the second example, the argument is presented more generally, not relying on specific abilities.

Objective: We want recruit like-minded converts to our cause in the city
Method: Establishing a fraternal organization that covers our true purposes but draws in people to be screened.
Support #1: Balamon has extraordinarily strong social skills plus magics to supplement this
Support #2: We have a goodly supply of money to pour into the project
Support #3: We'll craft a particularly appealing set of precepts that will play on peoples egos, since the characters have a strong religious background we have experience in proselytizing.

That's a fairly broad-scale example. Matrix arguments can also be used on a smaller scale. They're not as formal in that case and can serve an additional purpose for a player. Sometimes a player doesn't want to play out a particular scene or event at the table, but they still want to accomplish something. Or alternately, their character possesses abilities that they don't feel they can adequately narrate at the table. Suppose you have two people playing Courtiers, both with a broad range of social abilities. One player's more comfortable with the back and forth banter at the table, while another gets tongue-tied when put on the spot. Part of the GM's obligation should be to recognize those divisions and help level the playing field. The system shouldn't necessarily penalize the articulate player, but should give the less articulate player another means to demonstrate that they have equal social skills-- as measured by the game system. In a case like this you can use a Matrix argument.

Once a player has presented a matrix argument, the Gm should assess success. If the support seems to match the difficulty of the objective, then the GM should narrate positive results. If there's some question about that, the GM can require the player to make a resolution pull (see tested results below). Again, the level of concrete detail can vary from argument to argument. The more specific the supporting statements, the more benefit of the doubt the GM should apply. The players should convince of the GM of the validity of the plan. As well, the GM should take into account the importance of the objective to the story and any potential opposition to the goal. Matrix arguments can also provide fodder for future GM storylines. In the second example above the argument suggests a made up propaganda "code" which might be brought up later.

These kinds of arguments can also be useful for players who look at the mass of information and NPCs in a game and aren't sure where to start. Stating an objective up front and then negotiating with the GM provides a short-hand allowing players to actually apply abilities while not necessarily reducing everything to passing a test. For games with community building, this can be a great aid. Where players have many things on their plate they can craft a matrix argument to deal with secondary agenda items while maintaining ownership of the process. Some abilities players purchase can to get lost in the shuffle of the game table, and this argument form allows them to put those to use. Used carefully, this tool allows the group to devote table time to more active interactions and primary agenda topics.
Matrix arguments are an optional mechanic for the game-- intended to help the GMs and players organize their actions.

Other Abstract Approaches
Players with advanced social skills have a couple of other negotiated methods they can put to use as well. For example, they have the room to take pauses of breaks in the conversation to gather their thoughts without penalty. The other option is for social take-backs-- a quick rewind if they've stated something inelegantly or gotten a particularly bad reaction. Both of those can be used to help model the suave character.

Investigation Scenarios
These ideas drawn from the Gumshoe System by Robin Laws

Where investigation and the discovery of clues forms the backbone of the game, GMs should think about the kinds of clues players can uncover. An investigation usually has a flow to it-- a line of places, people or events, beginning with an initial scene and heading towards a final discovery. That path may not be linear and may have several branching directions. But if players can't find the information which moves them forward, they become stuck-- shorting out the story.

So information can be divided into two types in any investigation scene: linking information (which shows the players options about where to investigate next) and plot information (which provides them the pieces of the puzzle to solve the problem as a whole or colors their perception of the scene). Linking information should be provided through negotiated resolution, identifying players with the appropriate abilities to pick that up. The system assumes that players with the appropriate abilities can uncover those clues by virtue of their training. Plot information may require the use of tested abilities, with the players gaining some, all or none of the information available at the scene.