Last week we described the Choices RPG system built for a Black Shield events at Miscon. It was extra light and fluffy for a system, so let’s talk about why I designed it that way.
Temptation in RPGs is a tough one. I’ve seen a lot of systems that try and include insanity, passions or other mental mechanics into the game and I generally find them fascinating and then very hard to play because they violate one of my key rules - they tell a player how to play a character. Players want complete control. It’s one of the reasons that they role-play live rather than deal with computers. And it’s probably worth a whole paper not just a blog. So we won’t go very deep into it, except to say that I did not want to use any of those mechanics.
What I wanted is consequences and rewards. You can do whatever you want, but here is the system benefit/penalty for doing it. I spend my professional career designing these systems and they taught me one thing - if you want the system to truly influence action, it has to have immediate, noticeable effects that provide visible and obvious rewards. So I could have given them a +1 to a dice roll every time the resisted temptation (or vice versa.) They would see it, understand it and modify their behavior.
Except that’s no fun.
The fun about temptation is that it might come back to haunt you. You might have to pay. If you always have to pay, it’s not temptation, it’s making a rational decision.
This is why I decided to use cards. They let me play around with probability without being obvious. Using the card mechanic does two things to help make my game work:
1. It allows me to change the probabilities without anyone being able to tell.
The composition of any deck of cards may be anything - the only rule is that the backs are all the same. I can hide multiple aces, put only black cards in the deck, and the only thing anyone knows is what they turn over. In addition, the composition can be defined to make actions more or less likely to succeed, despite the skills or rules mechanics. This is “tread carefully” territory, but conceptually you could have scenes where the players are supposed to fail and “stack the deck” against them without actually a guaranteeing the fail. This could be done for dramatic purposes, or even after a fortune had told them things would go badly. . .and they can learn not to take things so lightly.
2. The universe of outcomes is static and happens one at a time till they are all done.
A more complicated point, and one I am breathlessly waiting to examine in practice, is the fact that every card is turned over before a reshuffle. This means that if there is a critical failure in the deck, there will be one. . .eventually. The exact opposite of the first point, the use of cards allows you to inform the players what action results are available and then reveal them one at a time, each player knowing that the critical success is still in the deck and could turn over at any moment, or knowing that they’ve used up the rest of their good luck and they are in trouble from now on. The smarter players will even start putting probabilities together in their head - wait, we have five red cards left and only one black, time to try something heroic. Now isn’t that an interesting game to be playing?
Well, what I am after is seeing what choices players make - given a different set of rules.
Black Shield will be attending Miscon again this year and bringing an assortment of new things:
Look for us in room 162 - Greg, James and Casey.
Friday Night Theater will be back this Miscon. Black Shield will be hosting the 7th Sea Live-Action Theater game - The Hand of Fate Friday evening, May 24th, at 8:00 PM. 7th Sea is a fantasy version of Elizabethan Europe of the 1600's with magic and dark forces at work. Get ready to get on your costume and play in a magical renascaince Italy
The mystical Derwyddon, adviser to the Queen of England has foreseen that England must join with the corrupt, political country of Italy in order to survive. While this is strange news, it has led to messengers being sent and an agreement between the Queen of England and the Italy Prince Lucani to marry one of his four daughters (all powerful Fate Witches) to someone of importance in England. Queen Elaine chose the highland noble McDuff, who has tentatively agreed to the proposal, depending on meeting the ladies. The Queen and her entourage will travel to Italy for a meeting where the true participants of the wedding will be decided and the wedding will take place, with the bride being returned to England.
Of course, such an event could not go unnoticed by the other lords of Italy, and all of the Princes (except Prince Caligari) imposed upon Lucani for an invitation. Lucani could not refuse and suddenly had a huge party with political implications descending upon his house.
And that evening the adventure begins. . .
You can reserve your character and get costuming right now by requesting a character at this link. Come join the fun!
Choices RPG Event
GM: Greg Schneider
Friday, May 24th, 8 PM - Midnight
Everyone wonders what happens after you die. These six people are about to find out. "Choices" is a dramatic storytelling RPG. Black Shield developed a new system specifically for this event.
This has special scheduling, as players will only participate in one 30 minute session with the GM from eight to eleven and then all players will convene for the final scene from 11 PM to midnight. Pre-generated characters, mature themes.