Wednesday, December 16, 2009

AC: Contests, Choosing Resolution Types

The third and last part of the section on resolving actions in AC. Again, everything still in draft stage.

CONTESTS
Contests involve two or more active parties struggling. The same basic mechanics apply except that both sides draw results and compare those. If one succeeds (OK or better) and the other fails (Just Missed or worse) then the result is obvious. If both sides succeed, then the relative level of that success determines who wins. In some cases one side can be described as the aggressor, attempting to cause a change in the state of a defender. The aggressor must beat the final result of the defender's pull.

For example, Cerise finds herself engaged in a public debate with a Senior of another house. A large crowd has gathered around. The Senior attempts to insinuate that Cerise had something to do with recent troubles and turn the group against her. Both make Social pulls. The Senior must beat Cerise's result in order to cause that effect.

Some contests concern themselves more with quality of success or can end in a stalemate. For example, dueling musical performances or a race. If a winner must be determined, for example in situations where a tie isn't possible, the winner is generally the character who applied the greater number of edges.

Contests Against the GM
The GM draws from the Gamemaster Resolution deck which functions differently from that of the individual players. NPCs and other active opposition have three characteristics:
Area Ratings: For each area (Social, Physical, etc) they are rated as Trained, Skilled, Masterful, or Boss. For Standard Results, the GM consults that area of the card to see what the character's final result is. As the ratings go up, both the relative chance and quality of success rises.
Abilities: Just like characters, NPCs have Abilities, generally used to denote powers and possible redraws.
Global Edges: Since marking and cross-indexing edges on cards for each NPC would be unworkable, NPCs have edges which can be applied to any card draw. Generally NPCs can only apply up to +2 to any particular action. These edges must still be relevant to the action at hand.

Judging Results
The gap between the final results of the two parties should serve as a benchmark to determine how effectively the winner has defeated the loser. If the victor wins by a single level of success, then it is a narrow scrape, with victory unsure until the last moment. If the victor wins by a gap of three or more levels, then the victory is pretty clear cut and certain. If the winner was trying to gain some advantage or reward, that gap should be applied to the GM's resolution. Depending on the results, the loser in a contest may suffer consequences as well. Shaken resolve or mental fatigue can be represented by the temporary loss of abilities for example.

Groups
If multiple contestants are involved, the same procedure applies, with the comparison of each parties results. If two groups battle against one another, the GM may wish to pair off the individuals for separate resolutions, with the total number of victories and their quality as the final result. Alternately the GM ought to consider breaking down the task into separate parts and assigning different players to different roles. For example, if the group is playing a sports event against another group. This can help the players manage their abilities effectively.

If characters end up opposed by more than a single opponent, the GM can handle this in one of two ways. If the adversaries are named characters, rather than Mooks, then handle each contest in sequence, with a bump to the result of each successive opponent. The single target gets the choice of who to engage with first. If the opposition is generally Mooks, then handle them as a single opponent, with the additional persons granting bumps and/or repulls depending on their skills and quality.

NPC Support
NPCs can aid in contests, but they're represented abstractly. The GM can use them to negate bonuses for ganging up, have them carry out secondary tasks or have them grant a bonus through aid actions. Generally NPCs shouldn't show up the results of the players unless the GM wants to make a point about the situations.

Reshuffling
Generally players reshuffle their deck at the end of every non-combat scene. If a player looks through their deck for any reason, they should reshuffle that part of the deck (but not put back in already discarded cards). If players get to the last card in their deck, they should immediately reshuffle all of their cards-- that last card is not drawn, but is instead shuffled back in before drawing next. Players may spend a drama point at any point to reshuffle their deck completely.

Combat
The most involved form of contest is, of course, combat which is discussed under its own section. Combat doesn't have to be simply physical, it can be social, magical or of other forms.

Player Role
The player has the responsibility to bring up relevant narrative or character details (like abilities or edges) when describing their result. Once the GM's moved to narration, they should avoid doing take backs or add ons unless the situation has shifted significantly from their initial impression.

Scale
Action Cards doesn't have any particular scale for time and space. Instead it is flexible depending on the situation. The GM should feel free to move these factors around to increase the drama of a scene. Combat works a little bit differently, with a little more specificity, depending on whether the group is using miniatures or maps.

Using the Detailed Ability System
If using the detailed ability system, most rules remain the same. Skills provide redraws and can be used as support in arguing for bonuses applied to another person's action. Traits serve as “global” edges which means if the player can work them into the narrative of the skill use they provide a +1 bump. This bump counts towards the maximum +3 bonus from edges, but only one Trait may be applied to any action.

CHOOSING BETWEEN TESTED AND NEGOTIATED RESOLUTION
Tested resolution is, obviously, the default mode for most games-- declare an action, make a roll, add factors from character sheet/circumstance and have the GM assess success. While this is still true in Action Cards there remains room for negotiation, even in that kind of resolution-- if it is a special card, the player has an opportunity to make an argument about what happens. If the card has edges on it, they have the chance to explain how those edges apply to the action at hand. And it can also be that the negotiation may come from the GM's side-- if the player can't make an argument from the special card in a timely fashion, or the GM draws his own special card or so on.

Negotiated resolutions, on the other hand, involve the player interacting without making a card draw resolution. The GM is the arbiter of when the risk or challenge of a situation demands the move to tested resolution-- with the idea being that failure would be dramatically significant, appropriate and or dramatic. Here the drama of the narrative aids in making that choice.

Negotiated resolutions involve the player making an argument about why they should be successful about something they're trying to do. They state their goal, their method and then present support for why they should be successful at that. What serves as support for an argument? The situation- if the player has worked to set things up- so we'll call all of that the rp side of things, background, equipment, but obviously abilities. In these cases, things written on a players character sheet-- usually abilities-- serve both a mechanical purpose and as support in an argument.

Equal weight (at least) needs to rest on negotiated tests. Some players may see that falling back to those is a GM “gimme” or not really part of the game. Instead they should view that as a strong part of the game play. Sometimes negotiated arguments don't work-- if the situation is a stretch, if the argument seems weak. At that point the GM has the option to say no or to move to tested resolution. Generally where there's an organized opposition, tested resolution makes more sense, but where there's an impersonal force or circumstances, then negotiated ought to work. Negotiated also works best where the players are working to set something up as support for future activities.

Some examples--

The group is trying to climb up a mountain. What does the mountain mean? Is it intended to be a real physical obstacle, possibly preventing passage or causing injury to the group? If so, then we're talking about tested resolution. “OK, everybody make Physical Pulls for climbing up the mountain. You've got the right equipment for doing it, so you just need an OK result.”

On the other hand is it a set piece just to illustrate the scene- in which case you may just move to negotiated resolution. “OK, you've got a modest climb ahead of you. What does everybody have ability-wise for this?” From the players' answer the GM resolves “OK, Raythe and Ori both have experience as hunters, plus Raythe has the Climb ability, so they can get you guys up the mountain with no problem.

Or as a variation on that same situation, where time is a central concern to the group-- that could be dine as a tested resolution to assess their speed. Or the GM could still follow the negotiated route. “OK, you've got a modest climb ahead of you, but you want to get up quickly. What does everybody have skill-wise for this?” From the players' answer the GM resolves “OK, Raythe and Ori both have experience as hunters, plus Raythe has the Climb ability. They'll be able to get everyone else up decently, but they are slowed by having to make sure of everyone's status, you move on at a modest pace.”

Or if has placed the mountain there to make a point about everyone's different levels of abilities, then the GM can mix it up. “OK, you've got a modest climb ahead of you, but you want to get up quickly. What does everybody have ability-wise for this?” In this case from the players' answer the GM resolves “OK, Raythe and Ori both have experience as hunters, plus Raythe has the Climb abilities. They'll be able to manage this without a pull. The rest of you make straight physical pulls and let's see what happens.”

The same kinds of consideration and switches can be applied to other situations. Consider a group of PCs going into a formal court situation. Cerise suggests that she will try to set up some contacts among the people they group does know (method) in order to provide some support and resources if their interactions at court go badly (goal). She presents her strongest key pieces of support in favor of the argument. A) The whole group will circle out to do this, which means they can talk to a fairly large group, even focusing only on people they have close ties to; B) She has Networking and Asset Management as abilities so organizing this won't be difficult; C) on a personal level she, like many members of the party, has Charming and Diplomacy.

At that point the GM can decide in their favor, have Cerise make a pull to test success, or have the group make individual pulls. What kind of resolution occurs here ought to be determined by the following two things.

1. Did the player present good support, without making a reach? If yes, then move to question 2, if not go to tested resolution.
2. Is failure in this scene dramatically interesting or demonstrates some stakes at hand? If yes, then maybe a test ought to be pulled.

Negotiated resolution has a strong place in interactions with NPCs obviously. As suggested before, if a player doesn't want to go through a full exchange with an NPC, they can state their case as an argument. For example: Beletan wants to convince Prof. Morgandine to teach him some normally restricted magics (goal) and he wants to do that through charm and demonstration of competency (method). Beletan states that he's been working with Prof. Morgandine for some time, he has the diplomacy ability, and he has built up significant levels in a variety of magical areas- including banish which ought to allay any concerns he might have. That makes good sense-- and depending on the reward outcome Beletan wanted from this, the GM should accept the argument. Weighing whats to be gained from this serves as a guideline for the GM's decision.

Negotiated resolutions fit especially well with character with social or diplomatic skills. Often those kinds of skills get lost in the shuffle-- players forget to bring them up or feel embarrassed that they have to fall back to those if face to face table conversations don't go well. Players ought to be willing to bring those skills to bear before engaging in conversation, or even at crucial points in the dialogue itself. One of the things this does is force the players to state up front their goals for the conversation.

For example, Valmont states that he wants to plant the rumor in the mind of Nisa Ocalan about a particular incident. She has some serious abilities and pull, so Valmont wants to play if carefully. Before talking with her in character at the table, Steve (Valmont's player) states: going into this I want to play it cool, but over the course of the conversation subtly suggest that the recent incident ought to be blamed on House Malbrect. (So we have a stated goal, and an implied method of subtle implication). He states that he has Rumor-Mongering and Diplomacy as abilities, and he's spent some time asking and gathering information on her beforehand.

Now there are a couple of ways to this to play out-- we'll can play out the face to face interaction, Steve's conversation with the GM. But Steve's argument will serve as a filter for how the GM will read what Steve says. Since players don't necessarily have the skills of their characters, the GM can account for that here-- keeping in my that what Steve's saying is actually coded to a particular effect. Unless he makes a faux pas in the discussion, the GM probably going to have that result desired occur. What Steve says goes into the black box of the argument and come out translated on the other side. On the other hand, if if the GM is going to make tests during the conversation-- then the GM has to take into account the argument Steve's made beforehand and add that in as bonuses and bumps.

Action Cards campaign should place a strong emphasis on the variety of resolution methods available, especially those which value interactivity. Rolling the dice and winning can be satisfying, but at least as satisfying ought to be the ability to make a case based on your character's actions and buys and have it go off successfully. At the same time, pulls can be satisfying because the often give player's the chance to grab narrative control of the situation. A balance should be struck between these two methods.