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Saturday, September 5, 2009

[Game Theory] Through the looking glass-

The following is an idea that came to me after reading through Telecanter's Receding Rules site, as an aggregate of his posts, rather than any single one in particular.

* As one advances a character, one usually grows attached to that character. When Bad Things happen to that character, but these BTs are recoverable-from, or drive the character on to new directions, this is seen as a Good Thing. But, when Very Bad Things (like non-recoverable death, or loss of Paladinhood, etc) occur, these takes the jam out of the doughnut and is UnFun. Tragic, poetic, but UnFun nonetheless.


^ As one advances one's character, one learns more valuable information about the environment (village, subterranean complex, city-state, region, continent, etc.), and this Fact-Map become more valuable as more dots are connected. When a character loses a connection (allies turn to enemies, opportunities sour, locations are destroyed or gain new leadership, etc.), this is a Not Good Thing (not as bad as a Bad Thing, but not as good as a Good Thing). It makes certain resources (info, stuff, spells, etc.) less useful, and may add a vacuum-like effect that time in playing was a waste, etc. 'Suckage' is perhaps an appropriate term.

---[Looking Glass]---

@ When a character dies, they re-start in some other location, perhaps far, far away, with all of their gear and spells/etc. No Boon Suckage, no Data Suckage, just a new grid to explore. In time, and perhaps enough deaths, the character finds a link to a previous 'Dot' on their grid. Jackpot! Their experience (as a character logging Game World Hours) is not lost, their gear and abilities still function, and now, however tangentially, the map has become a little 'smaller' and less obscure.

===[Incorporation with Parties]===

If the above is done on a small-enough scale (city or 'dungeon-level'-sized), it can actually speed-up the exploration process, while still presenting a challenge to the players.
--If a character left a personal glyph where they 'awoke' and then marked each course they chose with their 'x' on the walls, etc., then other party members could find these and trace their way through the same steps. If caches were left by separated characters for their parties to find, and vice-versa, the resource-management aspect of the game is maintained if altered in an expanding-contracting manner, and the 'scouts' can play an important role in being able to act as tactical detachments (happening upon the 'enemy' from a more advantageous angle or being able to whittle the foes' rear-elements to reduce their effectiveness as the PC follows them to the Party, etc.)

Granted, this sort of thing would perhaps best function on a locale-based scale, and would diffuse the Linear Effectiveness of the Party, but if the group is quick on the uptake, the resulting 'Blip-Factor' could present some entirely unique possibilities for both individual character glory, as well as the afore-mentioned Party Boons.
--Fey glades, Eldritch ruins, Dimensional cities, Mad mazes, etc., are likely the best usage for traditional Party-centric games. But, for one-player games, this sort of play mechanism may prove useful throughout the entire run of the 'campaign'.


  1. Yeah this player attachment thing to dead PCs is a bit weird.

    I find giving them last words etc kinda helps. Make it fun, ham up the drama/pathos/bathos etc of the moment. Then roll up a new PC and move on.

  2. Chris T,

    I think that is fine in certain games, and an especially prevalent stance in 'hardcore' Old School philosophy, but I don't think it is universally applicable.
    --For those games in which it is not, I had hoped to create a challenge and capitalise on the strategic value of the 'Blip', to cpoin a phrase.

    Still, I think the Blipping adventure can exist, in a limited sense, as a locale or locales within a traditional, 'too bad, so sad, grab 3d6 and roll 6x in order'-sort of game.
    --The fact that I favour roll 3d6 7x and drop the lowest, arrange to suit must mark me as a pansy-gamer in some eyes. ;)

    Thanks for commenting. :D

  3. I agree with the 'last words'! I've been using a set of British skirmish rules where heroic last words get points, and the players enjoy hamming it up.

    Tekumel's a little different then most RPGs in that it's a little hard to get permanently dead; with the application of enough money, in the designated amount of time before the spirit-soul has gone out of reach, people can be brought back from the dead. But it does cost whacking great amounts of money, and whacking great piles of personal influence; in practice, my RPG players are very careful about risk management and tend to think twice before they do something stupid.

    Can they get really, for sure, dead? You bet they can, and they know that if things go wrong, they'll stay dead. They've had some very bad - but, according to them, very enjoyable - adventures that nearly saw them all get wiped out. One dead (well, freeze-dried and stuffed into a back-pack) player was able to keep playing, as another one was able to contact him and keep his information in play until he could be revivified; imagine combat seances, and you get the idea.

    Losing stuff doesn't seem to be a Bad Thing in our group; the PCs are wealthy, by Tekumelyani standards, so they have all their basic needs catered for. They do tend to lose their goodies while off on their adventures, but the losses are due to their own actions, and usually happen because they didn't think their way out of the latest peril.

    Maybe we're lucky; the jam tends to stay in the doughnut. It's the egg that usually winds up on the face that adds the flavor, though...

  4. Thanks.
    --Yeah, I can see that for TEkumel.

    I was thinking in the broadest of terms, or in the narrowest of locations.
    --A game within a game, sort of thing, where the regular rules of mortality wouldn't apply whilst inside, but on the Outside, it did, as per usual.

    Losing stuff can be a Very Bad Thing in games in which the item is uber-rare or Unique, and cost arms and legs to get in the first place, such as ruins of the Ancients, etc.
    --Characters can survive without their gear, and are forced to grow without dependence upon it, but some things are idomatic --Excalibur for instance. If that's gone, not only is Arthur not much of a king, but the setting stops being Arthurian Britain.

    > shrug <

  5. I agree with you about this, actually; my merry troupe of heroes follow what you outlined exactly. They work really hard to keep the unique items that have, in several cases, cost them arms and legs, and let the 'little stuff' go overboard if they need to do that to survive.

    Your 'blip' concept is a good one, really, and ought to be included in any GM materials you do as a strategy for the GM ti use in the cases that you posit. It's very useful, in a lot of cases, and I think would be good for keeping players interested in the game even after catastrophe strikes.

    Refine it, and keep it; it's a good way to keep people in the running and interested.

  6. I hope i'm not taking your insights in a different direction, but here's a comment.

    I recent read a sample adventure plot hook, about characters who find themselves resurrected, but they have no memory of their prior lives. Neat idea. What if, instead, a dead character or finds herself in the underworld, and has to find a way out? This would eliminate the sting of losing a character, and give that character an interesting campaign. Not to mention that the surviving party may discover that they can travel to the underworld to retrieve said lost character!

    Hope i'm not misunderstanding your post above.

  7. This is an inspirational post. It's so easy as GM to devalue what matters to the PCs. I have been guilty of this in the past.

  8. With Dead PC's one thing I like to do to add a sene of closure is go through a session where the players spirit has to make it to the Afterlife they are looking for (usually some kind of linear adventure down the river styx, or fighting to the gates of Valhalla)

    The other pc's will be some of the characters deceased allies (Assuming he made any) trying to help him reach the path.

    This in time means that OTHER dead PC's can make cameos helping the newly dead reach the finish line.

    Then after that, its back to the game in the world of the living.

  9. Here's another angle on the issue. We used to play Diplomacy in the high school lunch breaks. That can be a tough, frustrating game. Then someone bought a player's guide (I forget what it was called exactly) which had the best advice which could easily apply to RPGs mutatis mutandis: the odds of actually winning a game of Diplomacy are actually rather slim esp. if you have the full complement of seven players (think about the three body problem in physics, but extend it to seven bodies). What the book recommended was adjusting your expectations about your role in the game: if you play not to win but to help someone else win (or lose) then you are going to enjoy the game a whole lot more, because ultimately the fun is in the playing (the haggling and the trickery) and not the result - the journey not the destination. And it works!

    As to introducing a PC for players who has just lost one and accounting for the knowledge the late PC accrued, there's a really simple solution - esp. if you consider that the player has that knowledge anyway and it'd be really hard to role-play his or her not having it - why not have the new character privy to the knowledge already. For example, the new PC has been hunting the same monster/NPC or searching the ruins etc for some time already before meeting the party and so has roughly the same knowledge of the deceased NPC.

    In the Rite of Passage module that comes with Gamma World 2e all the NPCs the PCs rescue are
    of this mould (in case you think I came up with this idea on my own).

    Losing stuff can be a Very Bad Thing in games in which the item is uber-rare or Unique, and cost arms and legs to get in the first place, such as ruins of the Ancients, etc.

    Well Gygax actually recommend giving PCs such items but only temporarily, eg. to serve the objects of the particular adventure such as rescuing the villagers, defeating the necromancer, etc, and esp. if it seems that it would make the PCs way too powerful. I can hunt chapter and verse later if you want.

    It lets the players interact with the juicy stuff without having to wait to level 20. Same goes for the scary ass monsters that they don't need to fight - esp. if role-playing is an option...

    And despite what I've said elsewhere, game balance is important (or at least some rough sketch of it). Only it can manifest in more ways than just ensuring the PCs will always meet monsters they are guaranteed of beating in battle....

  10. The funny thing is that this post had very little to do with the Dead PC issue, per se, and more to do with what I actually wrote about it.

    As far as quoting Gygax: Please don't. :)

    Now I understand how James Maliszewski feels when the comments mutate further and further from the topic. ;)

  11. @A Paladin in Citadel: I read that as well, and thought it interesting. Again, I don't think that it ought to be done on a regular basis, but I could see how it would be a neat way to get the PC back, if the PC meant a lot to the player.

    @Christian: Cool. I'm glad. Thank you for commenting, and please don't be a stranger. :)

  12. Timeshadows
    The funny thing is that this post had very little to do with the Dead PC issue, per se, and more to do with what I actually wrote about it.

    And the difference is..?

    They do tend to lose their goodies while off on their adventures, but the losses are due to their own actions, and usually happen because they didn't think their way out of the latest peril.

    Yeah of course. That's the only way. Good to hear that your players are cool with it.

  13. Ah... OK, I get you now. Sorry about that, chief. =S

    I like the idea but I fear that the people who'd think PC death is bad or a VBT will probably (mis)construe "Blipping" as a form of rail-roading... : /
    (ie. a deviation from their own firmly rail-roaded path to PC god-hood or whatever)

  14. Chris,

    I can see that possibility, perhaps only slightly more prone to such lack of vision.
    -- ;) :D

    I also don't doubt that the disorganised writing of that post contributes to the confusion.
    --Under much stress of late