RE: Re: Contest Questions

From: Mike Holmes <mike_c_holmes_at_...>
Date: Sat, 3 Oct 2009 16:46:16 -0500

>In my game Bruno's player he still gets to choose what he does -- always. System removing choise from players is never cool in my books.

Is anybody in disagreement on this? I don't think so. What you're calling "removing choice" I'm calling "making the character uncool."

That said, I could get into a long rant about where one draws the line between character intent, and character success always being equal. We always want to be cool, but we aren't always, in the real world. I agree that since it's fiction, that it's OK to allow player intent to be born out in most cases, in fact more than most GM's. For instance I won't even make a player roll for success in combat unless I feel that they're interested in the possibility of failure.

What... you'd have them roll to successfully kill a rabbit caught in a trap? Do you get my zen point? It is always and everywhere a subjective choice as to when to have a player roll for their character's success.

>1b. Coolness. Integrity always trumps coolness. You can be uncool a million times, and retain the capasity to be cool without any problems. If you lose integrity it's a lot harder to regain.

You'd have to define integrity here for me. I think we're talking, again, about the same thing. Like if what makes my character cool for me is that he's is a Mel Gibson-esque character who always gets beat up, then not allowing him lots of chances to fail is taking away what makes him cool to me. Which might be what you're calling integrity?

>I prefer to resort to Fiat in those cases if nothing helps. However, for the most part it's easy to work with micro-goals, and resolve on basis of those.

Again, not sure what "micro-goals" are, but, yeah, if it would suck to roll, don't roll. That's clearly embedded in the rules.

>No Repeat Attempts. I think I see what I think about this in a better light now. My interpretation of the rule means that for the loser the first result stands: try again, and the same happens. Not "you can't try agsin" -- which would be silly, and goes against the grain of allowing players all the choises I possibly can. If they _want_ their character to keep trying, sure -- and getting hurt in the process.

?? So... you'd let them roll again, and only keep the result if it's a failure? Or... Not seeing what you're saying. But to be clear on the other perspective, it's not saying that the character can't say "I want to do it again" it's saying that when you resolve the roll, the narration of the outcome is, "Well, he tried lots and lots of times, and failed again and again. Then he decided to do something else." If, in fact, you believe that the character would continue trying until they died, instead of moving on to something else, then you've created the wrong contest. The contest should, instead, be whether or not the character can accomplish the task before they are prevented in some other way. Like dying, as an extreme example. But there's lots of other ways to narrate the result. Let's say it's picking a lock (a perennial favorite). If they fail, it's not "You try for 30 seconds, and can't get it." It's something more like, "You try for a bit, but it's tough and takes longer than you expected, and now a gu ard has come along."

If they take out the guard, then allow them another stab at the lock with a different consequence. If, in fact, there are no potential downsides to the attempt, then if you choose to roll at all, the only thing you're rolling for is to see just how long it takes them. Basically the stakes are how much of their lives they decide to throw away on this particular task.

If that doesn't seem like an interesting contest, if they're going to get the lock open eventually, if they have plenty of time to do so, then don't bother rolling.

And that's all without having to resort to the classic "You've broken your pick off in the lock, and can't proceed that way now" result.

>I think I will actually allow retries for the winner from now on: they might lose this time, in which case they will keep losing -- so a retry is a gamble. You might get a better result, or you might lose what you've gained -- which is fine with me.

Wait, they've already got what they want, no? So why would they bother "trying" again?

Are we talking about killing again?

>Hear, hear! I find delineating the exact price of failure and results of success beforehand boring -- assuming the players understanding of the stakes and their chances of success approximates that of their character. ("I jump over the chasm!" Um, you realize it's a mile deep, so if you fall... "Yeah, I know! I jump nevertheless.")

At the risk of sounding patronizing, I think you might still not be seeing player intent. If the contest is to leap the chasm, presumably there's some reason why they're doing this (this is, in fact, a classic example). Why is the player having the character leap the chasm? It's an obstacle in the way of something. Yes, if the player rolls a complete defeat, it might be fun if the situation is right, to have the character plummet to their deaths. But what happens on a marginal defeat? Do they also fall to their deaths? That doesn't seem mandated by the rules, and, I'd argue, is missing out on addressing the player's intent.

Let's say it's a standard dungeon crawlish situation, and there's a treasure on the other side of the chasm. The leap is then intended to get to the other side to obtain said treasure. Failure in this case means that the character simply doesn't get the treasure. That can be accomplished in a lot of ways, but the simplest is that the guage the leap, and decide it's too far. After all, the probably don't have a tape measure, probably have never bothered to measure exactly how far they can leap, and their "Leaping Bound" trait here is all about how much confidence that the character has in terms of how far they can go.

I mean... you wouldn't argue that the die roll represents some tremendous variation in how far they can actually leap, right? I mean, sure, they might slip or something, but their maximum distance isn't really all that variable. They either actually can leap that far, or they can't. The question of whether or not they do is bases on whether or not they think they can.

Note that this actually makes psychological traits like "Determined" or "Confident" of massive importance in such a contest. Even a flaw like "Overconfident" can really help (and goes a long way to explaining just what happened, if, in fact, they roll that complete defeat).

So based on the player's intent, the contest is not to see how far the character leaped, but more like if they decide they can leap at all.

Now, like you say, this might seem like a limit on player "choice." Or, as I'd put it, it might seem uncool for that action hero character not to make the attempt. That, again, is part of trying to determine the player's intent. Some players are playing Hamlet, and like it when their character hesitates. Others are playing the guy who never hesitates. For them the contest is not about getting the treasure, but about risking life and limb.

That's the point. Looking at any such contest out of the context of play, not knowing the player, or the character in question and what the player likes about the character, you can't make this call. There is no game logic that applies here that says "Chasm Leap: the stakes are X." You have to be thinking about what the player's investment is in this particular case, and what they're interested in seeing, not only as success stakes, but as failure stakes.

If the players didn't mind failing at times, then they'd be playing freeform, or not playing RPGs at all. Resolution rolls are a randomization of results that cause play to permutate in unexpected ways. To some extent they are somewhat like the dramatic ups and downs of other forms of literature and entertainment. And like those forms, the question of what's at stake in the contest is a question of what is dramatic, not some "Contest X = stakes Y" formula.

Now... that's my interpretation, and how I play. And though I'm not alone, there are certainly other interpretations, and ways to look at it. But it seems to me that the other ways have to make more adjustments to their perspective, or to the actual rules, to make the system work entertainingly (like allowing repeated attempts, for instance). If that works for you, cool, go with it. All I'm doing here is giving a perspective that seems to work closely with the rules as written, and seems to be fun for everyone I've ever played the game with.

(Once again, that's for HQ, not HQ2, with which I haven't enough familiarity, to say nothing of experience, to be able to comment on directly).


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