So you're reading a book, right? And there's this character who's cute and engaging and he's had some hard lumps so far, and in the part that you're reading, things are finally turning his way and it looks like he's getting a brief little spot of sunlight. And you think to yourself, oh, I hope that he's going to get to be happy for just a little bit; I hope that nothing goes wrong to spoil it. And of course, since it's a story, something does go wrong. Something has to go wrong. In fact, things have to keep going wrong on a regular basis or else the story will just dissolve into rainbows and bunny rabbits. And you know this. It's lurking in the back of your mind that it can't last, and you want to hope but you know that you shouldn't, cause sure enough, something comes out of the bushes and screws up everything even more for the character. And when that little hope is crushed, you aren't really that disappointed, cause you knew it was coming. Right? Okay, remember that bit.

So you're volunteering as a Big Brother, right? And your charge is this thirteen-year-old punk kid who's had the world piss on his head for thirteen straight years, who's never had the least breath of opportunity, has been outside the city sprawl maybe three times in his entire life, if ever. But he's got a thing for octopuses -- who the hell knows where he got that from -- and so you're taking him on a road trip to the aquarium upstate. And you think to yourself, oh, I hope he enjoys this, I hope he gets engaged and wants to learn more and sees that there's more to the world than canyons made of grey buildings, and I hope nothing goes wrong like a flat tire or some punk kids to distract him or whatever else could happen to ruin everything. And you take precautions and you plan appropriately and since I'm not being a cynical bastard for five minutes today you have a fifty-fifty chance that this might be a day that changes the rest of his entire life. So you hope, and when everything goes off without a hitch, you're elated; and when everything crashes down around your ears you're crushed, really and truly disappointed. Right? File that away, too.

Now you're playing a game. You've got your character, who's down on his hit points and luck points and sanity points and the situation is pulling him apart from five different directions. And he stumbles into the underground chamber with the lava flows and the giant demonic idol and the evil sorcerer, and the girl is chained down on the altar, and his father is listening in over the radio connection, and the demon lord that tormented him his whole life is about to be brought into the real world. And you think to yourself I hope he can do this, I hope he makes it, I hope his hit points and luck points and sanity points can stretch that far. And the dice are rolled and... he doesn't. The girl is killed, the demon lord is summoned, and dad always knew you couldn't do it. That hope you harbored for your character is crushed, but are you disappointed?

Is it like the story, where you knew things were going to get worse, so now you're looking forward to fighting the demon lord and contacting to the girl's ghost and arguing with dad?

Or is it like the aquarium, where this mattered and now the thought of going forward seems like just pushing the ashes around?

But wait wait -- go back to the lava and the demons and the last couple of hit points again. You roll the dice and he does it! And he saves the girl, banishes the demon, and wins the approval of dear old dad. Are you disappointed here? Is it like the story, and since everything is resolved now it's over? Or is it like the aquarium, and now everything is possible?

My wife, for whom I wrote Full Light, Full Steam, hates what the dice system in Dogs in the Vineyard does to the story. In her words, "You say all the right things and pull out the Book and the sacred earth and you pray and you use all the skill available to you, but now there's a demon floating around in the room. Can something else go wrong?" For her, it's the aquarium. She's invested. (And with every Raise and every See, she's invested even more.) She hopes that it will turn out right, and when she hopes that it will turn out right, she really and truly hopes that, she really wants to see that happen. She doesn't want to see it reversed at the last minute, defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, no matter how clever the reversal might be. She's all about Bad Things happening after that, in the next episode or in the next room or whatever, but right here and right now, she desperately hopes things will work out all right. Her investment is in that hope, and when her hope is crushed, it destroys her investment in the story. This is why FLFS has one-roll conflict resolution with counterstakes: she knows what she's getting into, and it's set up and resolved before she can invest so much that she can't bear to lose her stakes. And then we move on to the next Bad Thing.

Me, I like to hurt things. I like to hurt my characters, I like to hurt the NPCs, I like to hurt the setting. Brand once told me about a planned campaign arc that we never got to finish, where my character was going to be given the Red Button, and the choice whether to let the world erode into mediocrity or blow it sky-high and let the mutants and the bunker-psychos fight it out to rebuild civilization. Lemme tell you, I would have been all about pushing the button. Similarly, I love me the Battlestar Galactica, where nothing ever goes right, and every two steps forward is accompanied by one step back and losing a limb. When I watched Jurassic Park, I laughed every time a dinosaur jumped out at the characters. I am invested in character suffering. Hope is merely a sort of spice that makes the suffering all the tastier. The only Nobilis character I ever made, but didn't quite play, was the Power of Hope, and she followed the Code of Darkness, intent on crushing humanity. So that's where I stand.

Now, the last thing that gaming needs is one more reductive duality, and so I'm not going to say "There's two kinds of gamers in the world." Because really, for the purposes of this article and my current thinking, there's two kinds of gamers in my house. But I think there's something in here -- somewhere -- that's useful. This isn't a creative agenda thing; it's like creative agenda's cousin. Do you want things to go well for your character, or to go poorly? It's sort of a strange question, but I think the answers may tell us a great deal about the players who put real thought into the answering.

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I can play both ways. I can

I can play both ways. I can play invested in the character, or I can play invested in the story.

Likewise, I like both at

Likewise, I like both at different times. Sometimes I love to pile on the pain for my character, and I'm just hoping that their desperate plan will screw up so I can get stuck into the consequences. Other times I want them to succeed and when it goes poorly, it lessens my enjoyment of the whole thing.

As I think about this, I've realised that the instances where I've been most disappointed and upset with a game is when I wanted things to go well for my character, I flagged that, made is clear to everyone involved, and the system gave me no chance to take that into account. Or where the system was GM Fiat, the GM ignored all of that and had things go badly anyway. And the reverse, when I wanted things to go badly for my character, and in the game I was playing there was no chance of that happening.

And I’ve most enjoyed games where I could signal what I was interested in at the time, and have that make a difference.

I suspect there are many people who like a bit of both.

I like pain. My favourite

I like pain. My favourite characters are either those that are completely and utterly destroyed by the world around them, or those that inflict pain in mass quantities. As far as I am concerned, Iago is the real lead of "Othello", and I live for the look on the face of the main character staring off into the distance knowing that everything in his life has been destroyed.

I think that this observation could potentially bear fruit. You demonstrated one possible implementation in the design of your resolution system to facilitate a specific type of investment. If we could perhaps discover all the different areas where people invest in the game then we can design games that not only cater to, but encourage this kind of investment. For the most part I think we are doing it already (Dogs in the Vinyard, as you pointed out), but making it conscious opens up even further possiblities that we can explore. And its nice to know that there are people out there who could possibly find a game like Infinity appealing (where the entire game is a sado-masochistic exercise in character destruction that spirals endlessly downwards until one of the characters either commits murder or suicide). But that might just be expecting a bit too much...

There are probably some rather interesting psychological observations that could be made here as well.

So did you watch Buffy? I

So did you watch Buffy? I promise this is relevant.

The episode "The Body" almost killed that series for me, because Joss Whedon is an ass when it comes to character death (see also: Tara, Wash, Doyle). Buffy finally had something that resembled a life, and some balance, and then *poof*! Her mom dies. I seriously contemplated not watching it anymore, and a friend of mine said, "But it makes for good story." Me: "Damn you." (The problem there was that it *didn't* make particularly good story, because if I wanted to watch the adventures of Buffy the Hamburger Flipper I'd be watching some other show, but that's beside my main point.)

I am willing to accept that sometimes it's necessary for bad things to happen to the characters I love, but I don't have to like it. And I'm usually quite uncomfortable with *irrecoverable* bad things. Traumatize the characters all you like, but they have to have the chance to get better or I'm not going for it.

The way this usually shows up in gaming for me is that I have a few things about the character that I want to have challenged, and a few things I really don't. And if the things I really don't are going to be touched, it had better be in such a way that I can recover from it. If I were playing Superman, every storyline about Lex Luthor almost discovering my connection to Clark Kent would put me right on the edge until it was resolved--and if it were resolved by having that connection revealed, I might well stop playing that character, or even in that campaign. What fun is it to play a character who's been damaged past the point of still being the same character? And "damage" doesn't have to mean something that's bad for the *character*; it just has to be bad for the *concept*: what fun is Cyclops if he can control his power?

What it boils down to for me is that I want my characters to struggle and suffer, but I don't want them to break. And what "breaking" means is different for every character, and may include things that are objectively good.

There are lots of layers,

There are lots of layers, too. I particularly enjoy playing a character who is wrong, wrong, wrong in some crucial way and either have them vindicate their wrongness through sheer will and cussedness, OR get righteously smacked down by the world. Which one happens isn't nearly as important as that whatever crucible the character gets put into is sufficiently harsh that the outcome feels genuine - as though the character was tested to the end of their endurance.

It's not so much about what my expectations are - whether I have hopes about the outcome. It's that I am satisfied that I got to pull out all the stops, and that my opposition likewise was worthy of me. I resonate pretty strongly with Tony LBs controversial credo.

It seems to me that trying to

It seems to me that trying to link these two sides into character versus story investment is missing the point. It's not really sacrificing one for the other, they're (using my own language for this) two conflicting views of the emotional content of play.

On one side we have escalating despair, this view focusing on desperation rising, anything else is accessory, and falls outside of the view. On the other side we have the dynamics of depair and hope, in particular the transition between the two. So you have one person who wants the descent (like a drop ride at an amuesment park), while the other wants ups and downs, (more like a rollercoaster). The tricky thing is that these two views align for a portion of the time, i.e. as despair overtakes hope, but then they diverge dramatically.

If the rising desperation person gets what he wants, then hope dwindles and the transition becomes at best static, the occasional light flavoring. The transition view goes from patterns to meaninglessness, keeping that player from enjoying that view (especially since they had been focusing on it up till then). The same problem comes when the transition person dominates, and desperation sharply drops out of the view for the other player. Part of the jolt is that up until that moment of decision both players had good reason to focus on their respective views, and so the sudden need to change catches them unprepared.

Now there are several ways to fix this situation, the first is to introduce guidance to help change views. Warning in advance that one or the other pattern will be the focus, or incorporating signs of impending doom or hope, as a way to smooth the jolt. Alternatively, you can try to meet both views, by mixing hope and escalating despair carefully. This is unlikely to produce a great improvement, but can keep each player from being entirely left out, so that play can return to te point where they both work together.

Heya, I'm mostly an

Heya,

I'm mostly an aquarium type of guy. However, heh, the three Ronny games I wrote don't play that way at all. Funny.

Peace,

-Troy

Wow, I don't check things for

Wow, I don't check things for a couple hours and kablooie! Mark, your description sounds like most of the characters I've ever played. :)

I think Claire's got the really strong point -- that personal preference is not so important as being able to express that preference and have that expression have an impact in the game. Implementing this sort of thing will (as Kirk points out) result in some very strong game experiences. I'm wondering if it would be possible to reconcile Mendel's drop ride and roller coaster into the same game -- the experience of one character does not need to be the experience of all characters, after all. Can one character nosedive into the Abyss while another character whirls around the edge of the whirlpool in such a way that both players get their challenge to the character, but neither character concept is broken?

Speaking of which, Carrie, I think a lot of the problem that you cite can be avoided with good stakes setting. Good rules of this stripe make you able to say no to any losing stake that would break your character concept and ensuring that your engagement and satisfaction were maintained.

(Also, Buffy entering adult life is my preferred Buffy, but I came to the party late and those are the seasons that I started with.)

The different characters

The different characters getting different dynamics is part of what I meant with careful mixing of the two rides. Having the players' characters be the "share" of the common content which fits their view only works if the two different stories are integrated well. For example, if the characters have any dependence on each other, there will be a sympathetic effect between one character's spiral to the abyss, and the other's ups and downs, which risks tainting, if not distrupting each other's story. In addition, it is not necessarilly the case that these players have confined their view to a single character, especially since both characters will share their dynamics at least part of the time. So when the other character recieves a different fate, it will be jarring, although not as much as if your character had been directly affected. A return to hope may be paltry at best if it includes a friend (i.e. another PC) being doomed.

Another option which I've considered exploring before, but hadn't mentioned is a matter of scaling. It is possible to make one scale (in time or scope) match the roller coaster, and make a larger or smaller scale match the drop. For example, making the character's decline inevitable, but giving the option of hope for the character's loved ones or people. Alternatively, you could have a roller coaster cycle within a larger droping pattern. In each case, the idea is that the player can adjust their view to the scale where their desired patterns occur. The danger is that one scale is usually more prominent, and could become the focus of all of the views regardless of conscious intent.

In practice almost any combination of views can be nurtured, but in many cases doing so requires great care. Views must be fed regularly, and cannot be adjusted too quickly, or things will go wrong. In this case you end up with two kinds of food, both of which taste great to both views, but either will get sick by eating the food meant for the other. Mixing the food will make them less sick, but if you want to ensure each view only gets their own food, you need either a very careful system or a person willing to separate them out.

Personally, I would find a

Personally, I would find a game where characters are threatened, then the challenge is resolved and everything is hunky dory until the next Bad Thing, to be quite boring. My focus is on breaking characters: this is the way I see characters evolving and developing as characters. If they remain static then I lose interest. So I will choose games that will allow me to break my characters, and force the people I play with to break my characters, because that is the way I remain invested.

But can we mix views? I can be quite happy so long as people don't hold back on doing damage to my characters, and the system supports me doing damage to them myself. But if I were playing with you, Carrie, and I tried to break your character then you would lose your investment in the game. Vice versa, if you refused to break my character then I would lose my investment as well. Perhaps a dial system: each player sets how much pressure they want on their character. The higher the dial setting, the more pressure the system will put on the character, and the more encouragement (and perhaps incentive via a reward system) is given to the players to do damage to that character.

But that also raises the question: what if my investment in the game is doing damage to OTHER characters? Then we have a problem with social contract. There is a possibility that I would be violating other players' investments, and if I were to respect their dial setting then I would potentially be losing my own investment. As I see it, the only solution here is to find a group that suits your investment, same as a player with gamist or narrativist preferences playing with other gamist or narrativist players.

I am also wondering: what other ways and in what other areas can players invest in?

The next question is: how much of this has Ron thought of already?

Huh. I disagree with your

Huh.

I disagree with your opinion about story structure. If Buffy's life finally becomes normal and then *poof* her mom dies for no good reason, that's a bad story. (And, yes, I will argue that Buffy as a whole is a bad story.)

If her mom dies and we go "oh, man, clearly that had to happen because X and Y and Z but I totally didn't see it coming," then the story is structured well.

yrs--
--Ben

Mendel, I think all of those

Mendel, I think all of those ideas have merit; I'd love to see them incorporated into a game design.

Kirk -- yeah, you might be unfulfilled by a structure that returned to equilibrium regularly. The easiest example of this I can think of is any serial television show that doesn't follow the soap-opera model. So like, early episodes of Friends, or any episode of Cheers, or any police procedural. Now, while it can sound kind of candy-ass to wrap everything up each week/episode/session, it can lead to some high-powered, punchy stuff. Law&Order is good stuff, after all.

Ben -- Buffy as a whole is only sort of a story -- each episode, though, is a story in and of itself (with the occasional two-parter, of course). Now, given that The Body was necessitated by outside influence (ie, Kristine Sutherland says "I want out"), there's a worthwhile story in that episode itself. The best argument I've heard against it is that it's barely a Buffy episode -- it doesn't key into the Buffy franchise hardly at all, save for using the same characters. But I don't see any argument for being able to see a sudden death of Mom coming, any more than I want to be able to see the next Monster of the Week coming. Teevee gets to introduce things each episode; some of them are significant, some aren't.

Joshua says:Good rules of

Joshua says:Good rules of this stripe make you able to say no to any losing stake that would break your character concept and ensuring that your engagement and satisfaction were maintained.

Having never played in any game which does stakes-setting this way, I'm going to have to take your word for it. :) Fortunately I play with people who are quite good at doing this sort of thing without rules support.

Kirk says: I can be quite happy so long as people don’t hold back on doing damage to my characters, and the system supports me doing damage to them myself. But if I were playing with you, Carrie, and I tried to break your character then you would lose your investment in the game. Vice versa, if you refused to break my character then I would lose my investment as well.

I think I phrased myself badly, because this isn't quite what I meant. :) I meant to set up a distinction between damaging a character and breaking a character's concept.

I'm all on board with damaging my characters. I set them up for pain, often enough. But they have to be damaged within their own context. For example, I have a character running right now who is a queen in exile. This makes her unhappy; it damages her. But if the GM said at our next session that her title had been restored, that would break the character for me. This despite the fact that she herself would be very happy about it.

The definition problem happens because one way to break a character for me is to damage it in an irrecoverable way. Terminology sucks. :)

Anyway, there are some things that can be damaged without breaking the character. If Cordelia lost her ability to shapeshift, that wouldn't break her for me despite it being significant damage.

Perhaps a dial system: each player sets how much pressure they want on their character. The higher the dial setting, the more pressure the system will put on the character, and the more encouragement (and perhaps incentive via a reward system) is given to the players to do damage to that character.

Again, not quite what I meant. I want pressure; I just want it to be pressure the character can sucessfully resist, or pressure that is directed against parts of the character that aren't vital to the concept. But this is a fine idea anyway, because everyone has different ideas about how much they want their concept to be challenged. One guy may be playing a boyscout to show off his boyscoutness while another wants the boyscout to be continually faced with icky moral dilemmas...

But that also raises the question: what if my investment in the game is doing damage to OTHER characters? Then we have a problem with social contract. There is a possibility that I would be violating other players’ investments, and if I were to respect their dial setting then I would potentially be losing my own investment. As I see it, the only solution here is to find a group that suits your investment, same as a player with gamist or narrativist preferences playing with other gamist or narrativist players.

Indeed, though it's often possible to let the damager hit the "non-vital" parts of the other PCs. But this kind of thing needs to be carefully worked out, IME.

Joshua mentions the TV-series Reset Button

I just realized that it sounds like I want my gaming to be like Classic Trek, where Kirk can fall in love with Edith Keeler and then never mention her again after "The City on the Edge of Forever" is over. Which is not the case, but I'm not certain I can articulate why...

Sure, Carrie. It's the

Sure, Carrie. It's the equivalent of Adama turning around and beating the Cylons, or the A-Team proving their innocence. I think what you're identifying there is sort of your character's premise, and once you remove that premise, you've gutted the game as far as that character is concerned. I don't think it would be beyond the pale to let players identify the off-limits parts of their character. A nice premise-flag saying "Queen in Exile -- this can't change." And of course allowing the player themselves to change it as the game progresses.

Yeah, terminology sucks. I

Yeah, terminology sucks. I get what you mean now (now that I've gone and written an entire post based upon my faulty assumption). I think it may have been the "Lex Luther finds out about Superman's connection to Clark Kent" that threw me off, because I think that is an awesome bit of escalation. To me that just brings a whole new arena of pain we can put the characters through. And better yet it isn't something that the players can run away from, which is one of my buttons regarding fiction. I can't stand dodging the bullet (or jumping the shark or however you want to say it). I want to see the blow taken, no matter how permanent. We'll call that breaking the character, as in the fictional entity. But if Clark Kent hung up the cape or Buffy gives up slaying to flip hamburgers, then that is breaking character premise and stops being fun. Iago deciding to quit his pointless vandetta and go become a priest instead. It takes away the bit that makes the character interesting. We'll call that breaking the character concept.

What comes to mind though, is that television shows and suchlike seem to frequently try and break their character or situation concepts, only to either suddenly decide "no" because the story is getting boring, or use it as escalation. Spiderman gives up being Spiderman: Mary-Jane gets kidnapped so he picks up the suit again: started getting boring. John Crighton finds his way home: turns out its aliens messing with his mind which leads to an epic chase across the universe: escalation. Buffy's life gets normal: her mom dies so she starts slaying again: started getting boring. Lex Luther discovers Clark Kent's connection to Superman: leads to more overt conflict between the two: escalation.

You can break a character concept by completely removing what makes the character interesting (premise), and you can expand a character concept by escalation and changing the circumstances.

Does that make sense?

I think I must have a broader

I think I must have a broader idea of "character concept" than you do, Kirk, because for me "Superman is Clark Kent's secret identity" is part of the concept. :) Part of what makes Supes interesting for me is the tension between the Superman and Kent personalities; if that goes away, he's less cool; it's not quite on a par with Iago becoming a priest, but it would definitely lower my interest in the character.

Or possibly I'm just picky and weird about what consitutes "part of the concept". :)

And I'm not against taking the blow; I just can't handle a blow that can't be bounced back from. Part of my problem with Buffy was that Buffy didn't have long enough to get over the death of her mother: by the end of the series, she was still traumatized over it.

You can break a character concept by completely removing what makes the character interesting (premise), and you can expand a character concept by escalation and changing the circumstances.

Oh yeah, that's all good. It's just that I get odd about which bits of the concept are really not to be touched, and they're not always the bits even I expect.

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