An RPG wish list… in progress

Here is a wish list for my RPGs. It’s a work in progress as I’m still mucking through some ideas, tying to refine them through actual play and reflection. In no particular order.

Plot. I want a plot that every player (including the GM) invests in. The best way to accomplish this is to generate it as a group. “Find the source of the corruption in the City. Defeat the Joker. Save the princess. Survive the next 24 hours. Party all weekend and pass our SATs on Monday.” Those are all good provided the players are invested in it. Of note, I think it is fine (in fact prefer it) if the game gives that plot some direction. “Tell me a story” is a hard task to fulfill. Games that address this issue specifically (games that help you get a *):

  • My Life With Master*: The group collectively creates an evil master who has enthralled them to his or her service and the story plot is always to defeat the master.
  • Misspent Youth*: Like MLWM the players collectively create the Authority, and know that they will defy that authority while growing up.
  • PTA: Any PTA game starts with a pitch session where everyone collaborates to create not only the show’s plot but also the setting, cast, etc. There is no mechanic for figuring out the “plot per episode” however leaving it somewhat questionable as to what a “plot scene” really is.
  • Mortal Coil: Only on a technicality. As “Magic” is defined by the group and magic is a central piece of the game, Mortal Coil almost does this. It falls short of defining the antagonist but gets part of it.
  • Sons of Liberty*: Using a deck of cards elements are drawn and then “deciphered” by the patriots. All players contribute to finding the meaning of a Whist mad lib.
  • In a Wicked Age*: Like Sons, cards are used to create an Oracle, which is interpreted by the players. I know less about this because I’m just going from what I’ve heard about the game.

Story Structure. I want a story structure which increments the plot defined. See Episode 28 of Narrative Control (Engineers vs. Hippies) for more on story structure. Specifically I want to know how many sessions we’ll play and when certain things should happen. For instance, in a three act game put on by Paul Strack we each had dark secrets. In act 1 they could not be revealed, but could be hinted at. In act 2 they could be revealed but none of us could be incriminated for them. In act 3 they must be revealed and one of us would be incriminated because of one of them. In each act we knew what to push for. I want that direction in every session of game. Session goals if you will. Games that address this issue specifically:

  • Dirty Secrets: We establish the length of the game using a board game mechanic. After each scene we move pieces on a board and that determined where we are in the story progress.
  • Zombie Cinema: Like Dirty secrets, there is a board game mechanic that establishes how close each protagonist is to escaping and being devoured by zombies. The board also tells us the role of zombies in the each scene.
  • Montsegur 1244: A game with a fixed end, established in four (?) acts. Each act specifically increments the story timeline. I haven’t played it personally so this is somewhat vague.
  • Burning Empires: Players are given a “scene budget” to establish their goals on a micro level before the Macro level mechanics are engaged and the story is propelled forward.
  • Sons of Liberty: Each Objective is played out like a hand of rummy. Once enough cards have hit the table, someone calls the question and ends the scene. 5 scenes max, each one pushing toward the final objective.
  • PTA: The season is mapped out indicating when spotlight episodes will happen telling everyone to focus on one character and what must happen to that character (issue must change).
  • Burning/Mouse/Anything by Luke Crane: Deserving separate mention from Burning Empires because on a very micro level the Beliefs, Instincts and Traits should tell any character what they should be doing in this scene. This is the weakest form of engineering however, as it only address moment to moment decisions rather than the story structure as a whole (i.e. you may have a belief that you are to be the next king, but that means much less if you don’t know that the next king will be crowned in three sessions).

Stakes or Sticks. Either by setting stakes in advance or by passing a stick around to dole out narration, I want every player to have a say in how conflicts are resolved so that no roll EVER ends in “nothing happens”. Something always happens, whether it was good, bad or indifferent. I want to make sure the players have enough control to say nope, let’s negotiate that to be more interesting but still give the GM teeth, allowing him to really challenge the players.

Games that use stakes:

  • PTA: Is PTA going to be in every section? No, but probably most of them. PTA fails me however in not providing a consequence for failure. Instead it uses a stick model (who ever got high card) to narrate out both success and failure. This allows protagonists to be really hosed by a narrator.
  • Burning Wheel: Very clearly, every conflict has results spelled out on both sides. The downside is that this can cause a bit of “playing before your playing” when results start to be played out before the conflict is resolved. Something to be careful about.
  • Dust Devils: Limited experience here but it uses a similar stake setting mechanic to PTA.

Games that use sticks:

  • Wilderness of Mirrors: You’re simply rolling for narration. Winner gets it.
  • Houses of the Blooded: (noticing a Wick theme here) This is another combo of Stakes vs. Sticks. There is one roll determined who gets what they want but all the juicy narration comes from wagers, which use sticks.
  • In a Wicked Age: Again, going from what I’ve heard the narration passes around the table.
  • Polaris: A very ritualized form of stick passing as player starts narrating until contested by another player.

Mechanically interesting choices.Here’s an area where some of the games that score above fall down. I want enough options within a game to feel that each character is distinct in their abilities and that their actions aren’t just window dressing for an overly simple resolution mechanic. Games that give interesting mechanic choices:

  • Dungeons & Dragons. The king of tactical battles, this game has hundreds of pages devoted to cool options for characters.
  • Burning Wheel: Both because of the huge plethora of skills (which means people accomplish their goals in different ways) and options in conflicts (DoW and Fight! strategies) Burning Wheel if full of interesting choices for characters.
  • Exalted: Charms, Spells, Power Armor, you name it. Tons of choices here.
  • Hero System: Too much crunch for me, but I can’t know the variety of options provided.

Cinematic action where appropriate. I want nothing standing between my wire-fu martial artist and his high flying kicks, in fact I want his high flying kicks to make his that much better at ass kicking. I don’t however want a player to narrate a noir detective bounding from rooftop to rooftop, the player narrations must be confined to the bound of the genre. Note, these games sometimes are in specific conflict with the mechanically interesting one. Games that support cinematic action:

  • Wushu: At the onset this feels like the perfect action movie RPG. Each killer detains gives you dice (in fact they are the only source of dice) but it falls down for me somewhat when I realize that when you strip the color away the characters are nearly identical. Also, rules are dramatically less useful in anything but combat.
  • Exalted: Bonus dice are earned for flash descriptions and the characters are generally not limited in areas of movement and flashiness. The system however can’t keep up with game play and like a baseball game there is a few seconds of action followed by several minutes of waiting. Too slow.
  • Feng Shui: Also unconcerned with trivial details like number of attacks, or even number of foes you drop. Feng Shui, like Wushu rewards the over the top action appropriate to its genre.

Shared investment. I want a game where every character has goals that all the players care about. Read that again and make note of the word character and players. There should be things in game that everyone out of game is rooting for. Maybe the characters disagree, that’s fine (even good) but the players should all be working toward bringing the conflicts that matter to each other into the light. Games that do this:

  • <….>

Short list eh? Well I may be being overly rough, there are some games that encourage this like PTA which hopefully everyone invests in the plots and sub-plots proposed, but there is no guarantee. Other games like Mouse Guard and Dungeons & Dragons really encourage team play both in the spirit of the game and in the mechanical advantages of team work but choices them are often made as a matter of mechanical efficiency rather than actual player investment in other players’ goals. Free Market ( might do this when it’s finished but I’m not sure as I’ve only heard tidbits of it.

This list isn’t done. In fact it’s only just begun. But this is a start. Please feel free to add suggestions, debate my points, add games to lists, or otherwise call my BS.

24 thoughts on “An RPG wish list… in progress”

  1. Curiosity about Shared Investment:

    Could this be accomplished like it kinda has been in BW? We don’t really work towards each others goals, per se, but we do care about what happens to the other characters.

    Additionally: I think some players, my self included to a point, would have a hard time with that last one. It breaks my disbelief, and makes it feel more like a game, less like an immersive, interesting experience. Honestly, BW gets THIS close to doing that for me, with beliefs, since there are so few and they are so spelled out. I don’t often have just 2 or 3 things that I care about achieving, and the mechanic doesn’t allow quite as much flexibility as I want.

    This is going off in a slightly different direction: I think one way that would avoid my brain being forced to say, ‘yes, this is a game!’ with BW would be instant belief rewards, which would allow for instant belief changes. If Jordan hits the, “I want to make a ring” thing early in a session, then he can get rewarded and move on, rather than keeping a completed quest in his quest log till he hits a turn in point. 😉

    1. I’m actually pretty fond of the “this is a game” feeling. Not because it breaks immersion (not any more than being in a play or a show would, and people get VERY immersed in performances) but because it opens the table up to discuss all the cool shit that could happen.

      If a GM is running a game and the players are all looking to him for the answers, then the experience doesn’t have the same potential as if everyone just admits they are playing a game and offers up contribution on how to make it better. There are so many times when I’ve had lame answers for things in BW and someone (often you) have said “I think it would be cooler if we…” and it has made the game WAY better.

      Similarly, I want to see all the players (in any game, not just BW) chomping at the bit to see peoples issues get played out. I really want to say “I can’t wait to find out what happens between Jaime and Jordan.” As the GM, I can say that, but I’d like the other players to be working on creating that confrontation as well both in game (through their characters actions) and out of game by throwing ideas out.

      As for having multiple beliefs, I feel the opposite. I think 3 beliefs is often too many. I’m generally happy if I have one belief per player than I can REALLY sink my teeth into. Most of them are still too vague and distant to really drive the story. I don’t fault the players, I think it is just really hard to thing of three things your willing to get the shit kicked out of your for, and that is what a BW belief is about. What am I willing to suffer for to achieve?

      1. Similarly, I want to see all the players (in any game, not just BW) chomping at the bit to see peoples issues get played out. I really want to say “I can’t wait to find out what happens between Jaime and Jordan.” As the GM, I can say that, but I’d like the other players to be working on creating that confrontation as well both in game (through their characters actions) and out of game by throwing ideas out.

        See, I don’t think that that’s why most of our players play. I think if you or I made a big enough deal they would grudgingly bring out other peoples issues, or in a small game that is more of an experiment they’ll get into it, like the have in BW. But I think, overall, that players play because they like their character, and want to see their character do cool stuff.

        I think that most of the players we have play to have a GM set up a set of stimuli, and then give them as much freedom as possible to do as much as they want in reaction to the stimuli. This puts a lot of onus on the GM to come up with cool stimuli, as well as stimuli that creates players caring about other characters issues, but I would posit that most of our players feel that that’s the GM’s job, much like it’s their job to show up on time, ready to play, etc.

        For instance: The blood rain cult scene didn’t work as well as it could have because it limited player reaction to the stimulus. If it had been as I realized it should have been later, a stone suspended over the lake, players would have had a myriad of responses and been limited only by what they could come up with. I think this is what most players are looking for in a GM.

        Now, I would say there are tools the GM can use to create Shared Investment. You can either be the Great Connector or Eris, among other things. Yes, these are names I use in my head. 🙂

        The Great Connector identifies what the other players are looking for. Then the GM uses that info to make conflicts that beckon all the characters to partake, but also make them care about what the other players do.

        For instance, in L5R. When Jeremy checks in with his dad, if I make it so his dad has been disgraced for appearing to do something involving screwing with the unicorn AND his dad has a convincing story for why he’s been setup, then I can pull your character in through your unicorn fascination. Not a major tie in, but enough that you are more than happy to help Jeremy and are interested in seeing him succeed.

        Eris, on the other hand, identifies the issues and tosses the golden apple at the players, and watches them scramble to try to get it.

        In BW, you’ve kinda done that with Arthas. Arthas is the apple of discord. We all want him, we can’t all have him, and as long as that stays the case, we have a vested interest in subtly working against each other. None of us want to be so blatant that we get thrown out by Arthas or Uther, but we do all want to work towards it.

        Buffer broke. 🙁

        1. ow that I’ve wandered around off topic (it’s like one of our conversations, but in text!), back to topic.

          I think it comes down to player investment, and I feel that the basic comments from DD4, and other sources, stand. ‘The players will never be as invested in the game world, which includes to some extent the other characters, as you are.’

          Even if players are allowed to create locations and npcs, and define them as they want, ultimately, the game is in the hands of the GM. The GM has to know everything about the world, the history, the motivations, all the cogs, whereas the players are controlling only one cog.

          In BW, what I see going on is an ability to be selfish on an epic scale that isn’t present in most games. In D+D, if I’m selfish, I’ll soon get removed from the group both in and out of game because d+d is about teamwork. In Rokugan, if I’m dishonorable, my character will stop being seen as part of the group, because the society values honor. In BW, there was no group except the huge group of Arthas’ Army, which is so big that there is no sense of belonging.

          This, in turn, meant that the PCs don’t interact, and that when we do, we have no issue turning on each other or helping each other as our mood takes us. In other games, that’s not an option.

          Also, there’s a TON of schadenfreude going on in BW. We all take a lot of pleasure watching the other characters fail, or even watching our own fail. We all know that we are part of an expedition which will lead to all of our deaths in the frozen north if we stay the course. This lets us have fun with the failure and the absolute bonage that happens. This is awesome for that game, but I don’t think it ports to others as well.

          I have more to say, but I’m going to end here. If you want to chat it through real time and not worry about responding back and forth, let me know. And if anyone is diehard fans of our random babbling back and forth, we can put up a summary. 😉

          Good god, I’m long winded. Breaking the buffer ftl.

          1. With most of our game specific stuff, we can just talk more in person or email*, however there is one thing your brought up with is a common amongst many gaming groups, but from people I’ve talk to, not all.

            But I think, overall, that players play because they like their character, and want to see their character do cool stuff.

            I agree, and this is very unsatisfying for me. I feel that in many games we’re competing with each other for spotlight to look awesome. And even when we do get the spotlight to look awesome generally only the player of that character REALLY cares about that awesome. The other players may respond with a cheer (or more if it was something that really blew them away) but usually quickly get back to “how can I be awesome” mode, without really investing in the other player’s fun.

            This is a model I’m dissatisfied with and I know it isn’t universal. I’ve played in con games where players were rooting for each other. I’ve talked to gamers who have groups (notably usually smaller ones) that cared about each others issues. I’ve listened to actual play podcasts were the entire group contributed to the story.

            As a GM in this situation, I don’t want the entire onus to come up with the N-x (Where N is the world and x are the PCs). As a player I want to contribute more than just my characters actions. As a gamer, I want to feel that we all care about each others happiness. Because in the end we’re friends and I want the game to represent that.

            * Here’s the one game specific comment. In BW I don’t think the players are selfish. I think quite the opposite. Because their actions don’t hurt the other players they are able to do tons of messed up things and of all games I feel like the players really cheer each other on. As a player you’re constantly goading the other players, giving them suggestions, giving me suggestions for what to do with them, etc. And I think that is AWESOME. I love that we all contribute to the story.

          2. Some thoughts, in no particular order.

            At the core, in my ideal, this is definitely how I would play. I like having player input On story direction and action consequences, as well as some player investment in world design.


            My experience has showed me that most players aren’t looking for that. It sucks, and it’s what leaves me on GM burnout from time to time, but it’s whats real. Most of the players in our group are down for that kind of collaborative storytelling/investment for an experimental game, but not for their big game.

            I’ve also noticed that a number of our players get downright unhappy when someone asks them to invest in other characters beyond what they want to do, or to come up with personal issues for their characters.

            For me, it all comes down to playing for a group. My wish list as a GM is a game whose mechanics make everyone happy. That’s where I find fulfillment as a GM. Not that that’s where you should find fulfillment, just where I’m coming from. Now, my wishlist as a player is very different.

            *Selfish isn’t a dirty word to me, so it wasn’t intended negatively. I think the way we run BW lets players be completely self-interested in terms of what’s motivating their characters. It may lead them to positive interactions, but at the end of the day, your character comes first and you aren’t being asked to risk stuff for other characters, unless you want to. This can be very freeing, and result in more input because it’s not a team mentality, the game is all about 3 individuals being individuals.

  2. It amazes me that these are many of the same things that I am looking for in a game and no doubt others long for the same thing and yet nothing has hit it just right yet.

    If you have not seen the Three Things (expanded) over at the House of the Blooded design blog, I highly recommend it as it gave me a great idea to introduce more stakeholders in the plot.

    I have long been frustrated with a lack of investment on the part of my players while they say to me “its your job to tell me a story.” Mainly, I think that it is because there has been a lack of solid mechanical incentive to help the plot along. I think that something along the lines of the Three Things may help. Essentially, it would be a lot like creating an Aspect (ala FATE) for the story that the players want to influence the game. I would also like to add a ‘narrative economy’ where the players can bribe the other players into letting him define more of the Aspect’s details for compensation later.


      1. I used the “Three Things” – or a variant on it – in setting up my two most recent games (both World of Darkness games).

        I had each player create at least two NPCs and two locations, and they put three True Things about each of them (down on notecards.) I also had each player give me three True Things about their character’s future.

        So far, I’ve been pleased with the results.

        As for the rest of the stuff, I have some questions – or at least one question, which I always ask:

        How much of what you wrote of up there is actually system dependent, and how much can really be done with gaming style?

        I ask because our lists are mostly similar, but I’d sacrifice the top part of the list to get the bottom part first.

        I agree about “nothing happens” dice rolls, for example, though for many of us old-timers, it’s a hard habit to break. (I pretty much mix two philosophies from other games. If a player asks, the answer is “yes” or “roll,” and also the answer is “yes” though it could be “yes, but” or “yes, and.” This puts an end to a lot of those dice rolls. Only once that I recall since adopting this philosophy have I said “no” – that was to a player who wanted his 12 year old child character to drink a huge mix of alcohol and belch up fire as an attack in combat. Maybe in Feng Shui, but we weren’t playing that.)

        I guess my point is that I’m not a “system matters” person. I know people disagree with me, but a lot can be accomplished by saying “here’s how we want to play” and then doing your best to stick with it, rather than finding mechanics that mimic it.

        Or am I really off base?

        1. my own perspective on “system matters”
          I do think it matters in that the system can certainly guide you, and as wildljduck mentions there are games that do halfway good or better jobs at this. Also, in *how* a system guides one it can direct in specific ways that enrich that game. For example, one can of course read and use generic guidelines on how to build a situation for players. But Dogs in the Vineyard’s Town Creation rules provide a very specific ladder of sin that strongly augments the kinds of game sone will play. Not using it is a MAJOR loss in playing this game. In this case it isn’t so much hard mechanics, granted, but it’s clear rules that if one ignores one either outright loses much of the game’s flavor or one simply is either quite lucky in choices or excellent in divining the designer’s intent and applying it well. Now, an excellent GM has many skills that allows the GM to do as I describe, either intuitively or through strong logic, both (typically) born of experience, but I would argue why does one *have* to be excellent at GMing to play a game most effectively?

          An interesting experiment with Dogs would be to just let the group of players construct the Town and then let them play the characters. It does lose some fun of discovery, but it “simply” moves one to the moments of judgement. I would argue in that regard it would be even more powerufl as in town creation the whole group is contributing things to ensure their players and even (if desired) their personal desires are inherent inthe scenario.

          1. Now, an excellent GM has many skills that allows the GM to do as I describe, either intuitively or through strong logic, both (typically) born of experience, but I would argue why does one *have* to be excellent at GMing to play a game most effectively?

            See, I’m aware of the other side of the argument. I just don’t agree with it.

            I have full respect for a lot of indie games. Some I think are trite and overbearing, and the whole pro-indie crowd can sometimes get so dogmatic that I want to vomit. (The anti-indie crowd can be just as ignorant.) There are some I really like – like Mortal Coil and the Committee for the Exploration of Mysteries – and others that I think are just bad ideas put into print.

            However, I’ve never seen any idea that couldn’t be implemented through just good communication – nothing that requires a good or experienced GM, just someone willing to listen on both sides of the table.

            I consistently steal from every game I read – if there’s a good idea, I put it into whatever game I’m running if it fits. Some act like I’m a genius, others like I’m committing some horrible heresy. Personally, it’s what GMs used to do – even when no one had experience – to get a game people enjoy.

            So we’ll never agree on this.

          2. First and foremost, I don’t think this is indie vs. old school as discussions go. I think even old school “system matters.” Now, I’m ont saying people shouldn’t experiment with systems, just to clarify in one tangential but important regard, but I do think that playing the game as written is playing to the expectations of the designer. And I think that can be worthwhile. And from there, if we are playing to the expectations of the designer, doesn’t it make sense for the designer to tell us in osme way how we should be constructing stories with this? D&D did this way back by pushing the dungeon crawl. That very item alone told us where the system sweet spot was and set storyline guidance for the DM as well as audience, though I don’t want to overstate that given that really most of this grew up around the rulebook, the rulebook only incidentally hinting really at the direction – a direction this set of rules faithfully supported, and supported more strongly than, say, Champions would (not to suggest one couldn’t run a dungeon crawl/the equivalent in that system). Note this is a format point, not a content one. Anyway, the point is that if we say system matters at all (and I’m not sure you’d go that far but if so I’d be of interest to hear why system does not drive behavior in your view), why shouldn’t it matter in guiding our choices in setting up the situation or story or challenge?

            That said, I’m not trying to get you to agree or such, but just voicing a bit as to why I would say that system matters.

            Now of course I’m not saying an excellent game might lack such guidance – but I would argue most games could be made better with that, except perhaps a caveat for systems which are very much mining a specific action-adventure vein and catering to a school of thought that one is following a fairly standard action drama curve as exemplified in so-called old school gaming, which was dominated by that. Even then, I think the best old school games included key guidance for story crafting, let alone for character design and more crunchy bits.

        2. My reasons for listing systems that enforce an idea are two-fold:

          1) is to make sure we’re all on the same page (even that I’m on the same page when I read this post 6 months from now). Using published examples of ideas is easier than exhaustively explaining them myself, or rather its better to both explain what I want and use examples to show it.

          2) because part of this exercise is to decide whether I actually want to create a game myself, if I do, I’m building a reference document for myself.

          I don’t think all the game components I want have to come from the system, and I’ve seen the system fail to deliver when a GM (and/or players) succeed. However, I do think that system is a shared language between all players so it put people closer to the same mindset when playing. Example: nobody will play Don’t Rest Your Head without understanding that we’re telling a dark story. The setting and mechanics leave little room for anything else.

          Also, while a GM can reward players for acting in a certain manner (“wow, it would be really cool if your secret comes out now, I’ll give you an XP if you reveal it”) I’d rather create options for players to be proactive (for example you know what you need to do in order to earn Drama Dice in 7th sea). In this case however, my concern is not can you roleplay your character well but can you a) contribute to the story and b) invest in other player’s goals.

          Rich I don’t think were of the same mind on this, but I think we’re of minds which when placed on a ven diagram get lots of brain bits pretty mushed up. I also don’t think there is any need to argue if system “needs” to do this. It is reasonable to just say that I am looking at systems that “do” do this and trying to learn from them.

          1. Sorry. I wasn’t trying to pick an argument or anything, I just have to challenge assumptions all the time.

            That and I do feel the need to defend “old school” gaming from time to time. No idea why.

            In this case however, my concern is not can you roleplay your character well but can you a) contribute to the story and b) invest in other player’s goals.

            That’s understood, and I think my question still stands. Is it really better to have a system support this or to have all the players agree to support this?

            I would think this would be a valid question to think on. Especially if you are thinking about creating your own game. (I’ve gone through this exact exercise, though not on live journal. While I still don’t have an answer for a fantasy game, I’ve discovered that in the end adapting rules I liked to a system I liked worked much better than writing my own game.)

            I guess I was offering a side path for a road I’ve already walked.

          2. That’s understood, and I think my question still stands. Is it really better to have a system support this or to have all the players agree to support this?

            I don’t see those as mutually exclusive, but I do think system reinforces behavior. If it is mechanically advantageous to aid another player (for example the Burning Wheel helping rules which make advancement easier if you aid someone better than you than if you go off alone) then the system gives incentive for the same behavior the players could produce on their own. In my mind it is better if you have both a social contract with the players to act in a certain manner and a system to reinforce that.

            Your question is a good one, worth more discussion that I’m offering here, but it’s not the focus of this post. We could take this over to Story-games or just another LJ post and expand on it there if you’re interested.

  3. story development, other notes

    Side note, regarding the point “story structure,” Mountain Witch does a reasonable bit of work towards this end, not perhaps as exhaustive as you may wish but certainly along the lines of defining the flow and direction across Acts (as it calls it) and Chapters in those Acts (or I’m reversing Acts and Chapters, but you get the notion). It also in some ways enforces a concern with other characters’ goals, in that there’s the whole question of whom you can trust so necessarily, along with the soft-guided (no hard mechanics but “foreshadow here,” “reveal more here”) narrative flow, one is investing in where the others are going in some fashion. But on this latter point it’s weaker than the former.

    Anyway, you sort-of-but-not-quite covered an area I thought was excellent in Dogs in the Vineyard and would like to see in more games (and is not easy to do) is how to build a situation that’s “sticky” (and so out of this one could say storyline, though it’s still GM-driven as opposed to the shared experience you seek). It doesn’t quite address your story requirements, so I’m not suggesting adding it to the lists related to those, but I think this is a related topic hence raising it (even though I’m not suggesting you should have a priority on this).

    Related to mechanical options, I think one thing that Dogs does well is what I call “logical options” or gamist tactical richness. At first glance it seems simple. But one of my strong HERO crunch players, well, actually both I should say come to think of it, have come to appreciate that Dogs has a tactical depth belied by what are essentially simple mechanics, at least in individual use. But as you consider the combination of making Raises people can’t See (even where they are still perhaps left in an otherwise-winning position in the Conflict re the Stakes – this is a VERY strong story-driver when used properly, and you can even win a Stakes just by cornering someone in a simple Raise when you touch on something they and/or you suddenly realize matters even more than the Stakes*), Lending a Die, choices on Taking the Blow, and the wide yet mechanically-neutral effect of narration (which strongly mirrors and extends even ideally, I’d argue, HERO’s/Champion’s historic popularization of the divorce of SFX from mechanics), you get very deep gaming choices.

    * – a) pardon the long parenthetical comments, I do that…and b) one interesing Stakes versus Taking the Blow choice I had was with a character who was trying to succeed in something and was faced with being cornered to be kissed by this really gross hick; she chose to drop out of the Conflict and lose the Stakes, as she felt it just wasn’t worth that; bear in mind the game allows the freedom of course for her to engage a next Conflict with fresh dice on revenge or some alternative strategy, but in this case I realized what she was trying to achieve, which was really just a tactical edge for later, wasn’t worth giving 110% so to speak; now if it were life-and-death, okay…

    1. I haven’t played Mountain Witch but from snippets of actual play that I’ve heard (definitely check out Mel Whites podcast: Virtual Play, the best handling of AP I’ve seen) I agree, it looks like betrayal and dark secrets are are both driving forces, so I’m interested in that.

      And holy cow, how did I miss Dogs in the Vineyard. That game was pivotal in me breaking into indie games and more importantly breaking my mold of “gm directed story plodded through using task resolution and gm fiat”. That game grabs GM (and players for that matter) by the short hairs. When it isn’t 12:52 AM I’ll go back and add that to some of the entries above.

  4. Another note to self. Spirit of the Century and Don’t Rest Your Head need to be added to the categories above.

    A new category for DRYH needs to be created as well:

    Points of Tension. Few but hard choices are better than many meaningless ones.

    A new category for DRYH and DitV also needs to be created:

    Everyone wants to be John McClane. Many games have a death spiral where sucking leads to more sucking. I want a game where sucking leads to awesome. The more punishment the antagonist takes, the cooler he is. John McClane, Wolverine (okay, fucker can regenerate, but its emotional damage were talking about here too), Rocky, Richard Kimble (The Fugitive), Jack Bauer, Sarah Conner, River, Buffy. These characters are like energize bunnies, they just keep going not despite but BECAUSE of how much crap they’ve been through.

    1. Of all places, Mutants and Masterminds addresses this kind of issue. At the start of the game, the players have few Hero Points (one, I believe), and as the villain/GM has a lot. As the game progresses, the player receives them for bad dice rolls at important moments, random GM screwage (like in Buffy), etc.

      By the end, the balance of power has shifted. The heroes have been through hell, dragged themselves through traps, bad luck, and damage, and now the balance of power is on their side. The trick is to encourage them to hold off on spending them until the final encounter.

      1. I wish I could agree with that. From the games I have played, M&M has little in the way of making the characters awesome for enduring. The save Vs Damage system is barely a death spiral considering you can be taken out on a single bad roll. That said, M&M is a great system for crunchiness in the development of ability. I would dare it is an improvement over HEROES only in its simplicity and lack of ‘math density.’ In many ways, M&Ms method would make a great toolbox for a GM’s guide in another mechanic. I have little experience with DitV, but DRYH I know. Must read DitV…

        Also, the game Annalise Eternal Tears looks like it might hold some nuggets in this regard, though rather too focused on its setting’s intent for general use.

        1. Yeah, I agree. From my one experience playing M&M, I remember thinking “this is Champions but WAY faster”

          I’ll check out Annalise Eternal Tears, thanks.

      2. I’ve only played M&M once in Blinkie’s game and I was still getting the hang of it so I didn’t appreciate the nuance of hero point economy. Do they work differently from Drama Dice?

        Specifically, are they rewarded for getting beat up? Can you opt to fail a roll and get an HP? Do you get HP for having your “real life” problems come up (like Mary Jane calling and asking why you’re not at her play)? Can the GM give to the players for letting the villains get away with stuff? Break into their base, get away from a fight, drop a building on them?

        Also, are they scarce enough that players will hold onto them till the end and blow them all in the last fight or do players usually end the game with a stack in front of them?

        If the answers are mostly yes (or even partially yes), then I really should look into M&M more.

        1. I have played M&M in 3 different campaigns (with a total of ~13 games) and ran 1 with 6 games. The HP could be awarded the ways you ask about. Specifically, it mentions Setbacks, complications, acts of heroism, roleplaying, stunts, and GM fiat. Setback is described as being a failure with the worst possible outcome. I have ruled in the past that Setbacks being the same as a Botch in the Storyteller systems, but it could be for general failures to progress the story. Complications are those defects/flaws that the player chooses for the character when they actually enter play. Stunts are for when the player wows the group… an “atta boy” reward.

          The scarcity of HP (as in how fast the GM hands them out) seems to determine the speed at which the players are willing to spend them. I had games where the players horded them til the very end and then walked through the bad guys and I have had them where the ‘wasted’ them and had to fight the end with only 2-3 left. Additionally, almost all of the players took a few levels of the Luck feat so that they started with extra HP.

          Honestly, my biggest issue with M&M is the feeling of walking over a challenge or being stopped dead by it. Oh, and the feel of 1D20+Mod systems is always and issue for me, but that’s just personal tastes.

  5. I hate posting without a counter point, but I think I found an interesting game that could handle the story aspect of the issues raised: Slasher Flick. The basics can be found here

    Couple the ideas of Genre Points and Kill Scenes (change the name to Climatic Scenes??) with the Three Things and allow Genre Point to gain temporary narrative control and I think its a good start.

    grr, stupid game design bug…

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