Here's a little aphorism that's been rattling around in my head recently:

An engaging game leads players to make decisions whose consequences affect later decisions.

So: do I buy Park Place, decreasing my cash on hand and giving me a potential profit later, or do I let the other players bid for it on auction, perhaps spending significantly more or less than the list price in order to gain that same potential later advantage? Whichever way I go, I will have changed the variables of the game so that when I later land on Boardwalk, I will have different cash, assets, and/or competition that affect that decision.

In the "traditional roleplaying game" this principle is harnessed in weak and uncertain ways. The consequences may risk hit points, spell points, maybe willpower; occasionally some gear can be lost or gained. Those are the concrete things that can get involved. Most everything else involved in the decisions and consequences, though, is in the fiction. You risk alienating the Duke but might gain the support of the Archbishop; you might find the McGuffin or incite the tribesmen or disrupt the timeline. Or its most basic: the tunnel splits in two directions: down one tunnel is riches and the damsel in distress; down the other tunnel is goblins and pit traps. Generally speaking, both the arbitration of the decision and the consequences of the choice made are in the hands of the GM or hanging out there in imaginary space between the players at the table. It's hard to get a handle on any of this stuff, and you can run into all sorts of problems with disconnects between player expectations, realism, favortism, social maneuvering, and the like. As I said above, it is all weak and uncertain. But it certainly feels immediate and visceral, like you really are deciding the fate of the Duke, Archbishop, tribesmen, damsel in distress, et al.

Here's what I like second-best* about Dogs in the Vineyard -- writing new shit on the character sheet. Taking moral stances on complex situations is nice and all, but hot fucking damn do I love playing the character and in so doing defining what the character is about. In fact in my (short-term) experience I keep finding I want more ability to shift and grow the character through play, and I think it'd be neat if new traits happened more often and your starting set of defined traits was smaller (Annie Rush's Hatch will attempt to do just that). But what's at the core of my glee, here? It's that feedback loop of decisions and consequences -- I stared down the Steward and he's going to support me, now? That's nice. But I've got this new trait, I stared down the Steward 2d4! To me, the consequences in the fiction are secondary to the consequences on my character sheet. The fictional consequences are just that -- fictional. And they're going to go away when we head off to the next town. But this thing I've written on my character sheet? That's tangible and lasting -- that's something that I can use in later decisions as long as I care to keep it.

Tony Lower-Basch is doing something that I hope will ratchet that action up another step with his game-in-progress, Misery Bubblegum. The stakes of each conflict are shifted between players -- so if I win a conflict whose stakes are Sophie Loves Me, I take control of the Sophie Loves Me card. My "character sheet" is composed of the stakes that I've won throughout the game. The various cards on the table all represent different elements of the fiction, and controlling those cards means you can exert control over those elements of the fiction. It's all Decision and Consequences land made real and tactile and immediate.

Stepping beyond the player character, this is something I am groping towards in Web of Shadows. Each and every scene inescapably has specific consequences on the situation as represented by the web of cards. This is the easily-overlooked first part of the aphorism I'm talking about: an engaging game leads players to make decisions. This shit isn't optional. It shouldn't be possible to not make decisions with attendant consequences. With a good deal of luck and a little bit of good design, the consequences of player decisions elaborate the world, creating a vibrant context in which to make later decisions. It's iterative creation, and can be applied to characters (Misery Bubblegum), situation (Web of Shadows), and setting (minutiae in Shock:). It isn't hard to argue that this is how individual scenes work in every roleplaying game out there.

It's also useful in analyzing why some games or individual mechanics within games fall flat. If a decision has no consequences, it's not engaging the feedback loop. If I'm playing a game of Mage and I choose to make a Son of Ether, there are two broad "consequences" to that decision -- I get a dot of Matter and I'm a member of the Son of Ether organization. If I was already planning on buying one or more dots of Matter, the first consequence is weak to the point of irrelevance. If my character's membership in the Sons does not bear any affect on the ensuing game, so is the second. This has led many Mage players to tell me "it doesn't really matter what Tradition I choose" and explains a lot of limp organizations and politics in Mage games. You're a Euthanatos mage? So what! More significantly, when the available choices include options that will have consequences and other options which will not, you have what Chris Chinn calls "bunk choices." If the consequences are good, of course you pick those options; if the consequences are bad, of course you don't pick those options. Either way, this is not really a decision, and the consequences are more the creation of the game designer than the players. Less investment, less engagement, less fun.

I'm not sure how far to go on this tack, however. I'm tempted to leap from the rooftops shouting, "Every invocation of the mechanics must have consequences outside the fiction!" and I'm not certain that that is the case. What about those short conflicts in Dogs where nobody takes fallout and the only repercussions is that some guy gave and told you what he knows? Do they have a place, or are they instances where the GM should have just said Yes in the first place? Or take a glance at Capes -- if somebody puts out a conflict that nobody expends any effort in winning either side, is it really a conflict? The only consequence is that the original player spent their turn putting it out there. And of course there are the players out there in the world who are perfectly happy eating dinner in character, chatting away merrily about the weather of their fictional world. Where do they fit in on the decisions-and-consequences diatribe bus? I never know where to put them on any bus I'm driving.

---

* What I like best about Dogs -- it says what it does, it does what it says.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Yes. Oh, and as a note --

Yes.

Oh, and as a note -- we were doing it wrong in Dogs with the "change dice size" fallout. It isn't change it 1 dice size, it is change it however much you want. So your 4d4 can go to 4d10 just like that.

I don't know if it was you or Ice that I was arguing with about that.

P.S. Do you have an RSS feed for this blog? I always miss your updates because you’re not on my Thunderbird.

Bottom of the page, yo. I

Bottom of the page, yo.

I must ponder the ‘d4 to d10′ thing. Cause that’s a significant difference from moving up and down one step. Dunno if I like it.

Here's what keeps that dice

Here's what keeps that dice thing from getting too wacky- check out how many way you can also instantly reduce a Trait or R-ship to D4's on the drop of a dime. We saw some pretty brutal situations where relationships or stuff like "I've seen the good in people" gets shafted down to D4's as a thematic statement. Sometimes we saw those restored or even strengthened later on- but not always.

Oh, I get going from d10 to

Oh, I get going from d10 to d4, and that is (I believe) a Long Term Fallout option. I'm all about that. It just strikes me that the reverse should be something won only with difficulty and hardship, not redeemed in a moment. But that may be just me.

Okay, bullshit 'maybe it's just me'. What's to stop you from just going down your character sheet and just upgrading everything to a d10 with your first handful of experience fallouts? The only thing stopping you is your own restraint, and that's bull. One player shows restraint and says, "I will grow my Faith in People through struggle" and another player is all, "Yay! Everything is happy, now! Faith in People goes from 3d4 to 3d10!" Which wouldn't be a problem except for the fact that that's a pretty big disparity in player authority tools based on aesthetics. The rest of the game is pretty finely balanced; why is this just hanging out there waiting to cause problems?

There's nothing to stop you.

There's nothing to stop you. There's also nothing to stop you from blowing out all your Humanity in Sorcerer, except "your own restraint". Why should you restrain yourself? Oh, because you want to? So why should everyone else have to be restrained because you want to? Everyone gets equal access to the same rules- so any disparity is self imposed- the aesthetics deal with the players' choices, no one elses. If you want to have the fun of struggling with slowly raising a Trait, you get that. If you don't want it to be a bother, then you get that as well.

The real point of Dogs isn't broken by uber-characters- they still have to make some fucked up decisions just like everyone else does.

The link at the bottom of the

The link at the bottom of the page, she no worky.

How about shouting from the

How about shouting from the rooftops this: "Every invocation of the mechanics must might have consequences outside the fiction!" You can't tell going in which conflicts in Dogs will have consequences and which won't - which is why it's okay that some don't.

(The rule is, increase the die size to whatever you want. For lots of groups, it turns out, "whatever you want" is next-size-up increments. 'Scool.)

Group consensus I get.

Group consensus I get. Mostly, I suspect, it's just me.

Every invocation having the potential of extrafictional consequences -- maybe. I'd still be annoyed by stuff that goes nowhere and does nothing.

I'll poke at the RSS feed link.

Which wouldn’t be a problem

Which wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that that’s a pretty big disparity in player authority tools based on aesthetics.

I don't think the dice translate strictly into player authority, or rather, that's not the intent of the game. The player has authority to decide what is important to him, and what statements he will make about what decisions are worth escalating for, what decisions are worth taking fallout (and what degree of fallout) for, and what decisions are worth bringing which traits in for. The dice just say, ok, now that you've made your statement, this is what transpires.

Note also that having big fat d10 traits is an invitation to the GM to push you damned hard to defend that statement. That 3d10 Faith in People trait? Man is that an invitation to present you lots of people who might not be deserving of such faith. And if the player still holds fast, and defends that 3d10 trait, well then we learn something. And there sure as hell are folks out there in the real life who have such a trait, and they didn't necessarily struggle to gain that trait. In real life, I've defended a similar trait (though I don't know if I have "Every person has inherent worth and dignity" at 3d10, but it's a pretty important trait to me) against someone bringing up the debate losing H person...

Frank

Hey, Frank. Welcome to my

Hey, Frank. Welcome to my corner of cyberspace.

What I mean by 'authority tools' are stuff on the character sheet that allow a player to make statements regarding the fiction that are lent more credibility than statements unsupported by stuff on the character sheet. That is, if I have more and bigger dice in Faith in People than you do, that means that, on average, I the player have more opportunities to spout off and spout off longer than you do. My 3d10 come out as half a see, half of another raise, and a reverse the blow, that's me contributing to the fiction three times. Your 3d4 are all part of one taking the blow, that you contributing once. Now, I'm not talking at all about what the things that we say mean -- that's another question entirely. What I'm getting at is that I get more opportunities than you do. And I get more opportunities because you had more restraint, and I don't like that.

As Vincent points out, though, if I really don't like that, I take it to the group, and at our table you only raise your stats by one die size, and we move on and have fun.

Yea, so your 3d10 gets you

Yea, so your 3d10 gets you more opportunities to make a "play" in the game. I still don't buy that it's actually an issue (and if it is, I think it's purely a social contract issue - I mean is that any different than a pair of D&D players, one who doesn't spend any points on Charisma so he can be the best damn fighter possible, and the other who spends points on Charisma, and takes a social skill cross class just because it all fits his "concept"?). Before I agreed to such a limitation on the rules, I'd want to see the rule as written actually cause a real problem in the game, that couldn't be solved just by talking about the problem.

Heck, I can also get more say by always taking my long term fallout as new d4 traits. Sure, I may take more fallout that other characters, but I've got more dice to bring up, and can outlast other folks.

Also, are you going to worry about the guy, who given your rule, who concentrates his traits into more dice, so he gets more bang because he increased a 4d8 trait to 4d10 compared to your increasing a 1d6 trait to 1d8?

And what about this other player over here who uses his experience to decrease a trait (which you could decrease from d10s to d4s by RAW)? Boy, he's throwing away ability to contribute to the game. Or is he? That's a pretty darned powerful statement to decrease a trait from 4d10 to 4d4 (and then to 3d4, 2d4, 1d4, and gone).

Frank

Post new comment