Monday, February 20, 2012

Lukas & Melchior's Cards



A few comments about the cards in general.

It's been difficult online to express how the cards are used.  There is a tendency to view them as a kind of 'weapon,' or magic spell.  I want to persuade Jack to take off his armor.  It seems natural to use my persuasion card, tell him to take off his armor, roll a successful die and boom-bada-bing!  Off the armor goes, right?

Wrong.  People do not interact that way.  Magic interacts that way, but conversation does not.  While I was testing this, among about thirty people, this was inherently understood.  I must ascribe that to my many statements in person where I made clear you couldn't simply shout at people to do ridiculous things and have them obeyed.  Offline, people 'got it,' jumped in and talked quite normally, as though to actual people, and the cards worked beautifully.  Better than I expected, actually.

So there had to be something about explaining this in person that got the message across, which I can't seem to manage online.

I want to throw out a reminder.  I gave up on these.  I decided that although I could make them work, in the long run they didn't add that much to my campaign.  I decided it was going to be a losing venture regarding trying to sell them, and wouldn't be worth the production cost.  I am really, really glad about this.  Watching and reading some of the feedback I've gotten, I'm certain I have dodged a bullet.

Basically, the disconnect appears to be: what can the cards do for me, if they do not allow me to manipulate NPCs?

To which my only answer can be, if you insist on manipulating everyone to the nth degree all the time, by drawing out your persuade card and using it on the bartender for a free drink, and on the stable keeper for free provender for your horse, and on the merchant for 20% off goods, and so on and so forth ... all of this is going to slowly and steadily build up one hell of a lot of resentment for your character.  Why?  Because unlike magic, persuasion as a conversational style does not work quite so well when people have had time to think about what you've said.  Again, why?  Because, sorry to say, the players do NOT exist in a vacuum.

Let's take the case of the bartender.  After you've gotten your free drink, and jested him into having a generally good attitude about your presence, and after you've walked out and been on your way, what then?  Why, the bartender tells his wife all about you.  She finds out about you not paying your way, and she isn't influenced by your wonderful persuasion.  She's furious.  And she yells at the bartender, using her persuasion, and now he's pissed.  Then the bartender's wife talks to the stable keeper's wife, and they talk to the merchant's wife, and next thing you know everyone in town knows what a smooth-talking CHEAP rat bastard you are.  Hope you're heading out of town soon.

Yes, players don't think this way.  They don't because worlds aren't built this way.  Worlds are built like clapboard fronts, and if you act like a cheap rat bastard, the only people who notice are those you're affecting this minute.  There are no after effects.  Ever.

Yet when I say this, now I have players afraid to use their persuasion cards ... oh no, there'll be reprecusions I can't dream of and then I'm fucked.

Everyday you try to persuade people of things, and you're not fucked when you succeed.  Why?

Because you know in your mind, your actual, real mind, that there are potential reprecussions to everything we do.  And we're careful.  Sure, we make a suggestion here or there, but when we want something, we look at it instinctively from the other guy's point of view.  We don't ask for free liquor.  We 'suggest' that since we've bought four already, perhaps the guy might make the fifth one free.  We don't stupidly push everyone around with our talking skills.  We approach things with the idea that both parties should walk away from this happy.

If you pull the cards out like a sword, someone will start swining back sooner or later.

If, on the other hand, you see the cards as a 'sale' or a 'con' or a negotiation, everyone can walk away happy.  Even if they lose.

My failing with these things is that I never set out a set of negative modifiers that would automatically destroy attempts to get stuff the NPC was never going to give you.  Why?  The reason should be obvious.  Just exactly on what do you base this group of modifiers?

So I took it from an all or nothing point of view.  If you asked for something the NPC wasn't going to give, period, the cards would fail, period.  You had to word your proposal in a manner that would at least stand a reasonable chance of success, or no dice.  Literally.  I'd say no, and you wouldn't roll the dice.

I didn't see this as fundamentally different from having to have a roleplaying-based conflict approach where there were NO rules ... but I was wrong.  As soon as I introduced rules, a certain segment of the population immediately attempted to cheat those rules.  No matter how that fucked with logic or practicality.  I put a sword in their hands, and by GOD they were going to use it, exactly like some dumb ass 3e skill or magic power.  I wave my fucking hands and the bartender signs his bar over to me!  Look, I rolled an 11!

Yep.  Dodged one bullet.


Andrej said...

I was tempted to use the Conflict! cards in the last encounter to persuade the guard to only send in two men to search the palast. It moved past that point so quickly, and all ended well enough, that I suppose it doesn't really matter.

I'm pointing it out, though, to say:

a) while I haven't gotten much use out of them yet, other than the fantastic results of the wedding ceremony, I'm often thinking about them


b) I'm not looking for excuses to use them.

By "b)" I mean that I see the Conflict! rules as an elegant and quick way to objectively resolve social conflict. When a social conflict arises, we have a set of rules to turn to. It's not my intent to have Andrej walk down the street picking social conflicts any more than it is my intent to have him swing his maces about looking for a melee. Any sane and/ or reasonably smart player will naturally assume that were he or she to embark on either path there would be unpleasant repercussions.

The Conflict! cards are just another tool in the tool box.

Lukas said...

Exactly, you may have heard my intentions to use them in a situation. That is not without a reasonable or slightly less than reasonable plan including said cards. Not assuming it has the same effect as charm person (or why have charm person?) But because I had a logical or emotional argument I feel has a shot of success.

As for the main problem with Conflict! lacking negative modifiers, or a basis for creating them, as with assigning bonus cards to NPCs, or even assigning their original statistic blocks, it is up to the DMs best judgement. This 'best judgement' being what separates a good DM from a bad one, and the whole reason you have to expand on the 10,000 word post. Good judgement can't be summed up in words, easily or ever. You can't set carved in stone rules for good judgement.

In fact, good judgement from the GM, DM, Storyteller, Spymaster or what have you, is what separates a video game from a pen and paper role playing game. No matter the system, no matter how gamey it may be or feel, a GM with good judgement can swing it away from the gamey to allow players to be immersed, through both allowing players to circumvent rules when appropriate, and disallowing players to initiate rules when appropriate.

Ahmet said...

I like the concept, because I've always wanted a way to balance out a player's ability vs. a character's ability when it comes to interacting with NPCs.

We've all been in gaming groups where the Barbarian with an 8 INT and 8 CHA does all the talking because of his player's intelligence and experience, while the Bard with an 18 INT and 18 CHA sits quietly at the table because because he doesn't have the real-life ability to think on his feet and fast-talk past NPCs.

Some players will attempt to abuse them, but some players also will try to pickpocket everyone in the marketplace, or use Charm Person on the stubborn merchant, or demand information from the bartender at swordpoint. Abuse of the cards is like abusing anything else on your character sheet. How will the DM handle it?

Alexis said...

I'm glad you guys are all on board, and I think we can make use of these.

What I suggest is that you think in the cards in future - rather that pushing the "we're writing a book" kind of lie or explanation, try instead a more direct path, such as to use a the cards: "I attempt to speak with the barmaid (REASON), making sure she sees my best side (BEAUTY) in an attempt to make her understand that I don't want to speak with the bishop, but I would like to know if there's any word about that he is in town."

Then roll dice.

The cards, you see, provide the "story" ... you can come up with one if you like, but you're less likely to put your foot in it if you concentrate more on your goal, and less on the method of getting to it. It is for this reason that I made the cards.

Glad you guys are out there. You went quiet on me yesterday. And today I am flooded - seems all hell broke loose on the weekend, with only the janitors to stuff their mops in the dikes.

Andrej said...

Still out here and eagerly anticipating a return to the game. I'm thinking the ball is in your court, once you're ready and able, to make two posts for Sunday, yes?

Lukas said...

That's strange, I thought we were waiting on you. I'll have to review the last posts.

Alexis said...

It's only that I can hardly believe no one in the party has any questions. I can't possibly be that thorough, can I?

Lukas said...

Well I did ask if there was any information I would know about Soest previously. But other than the apparent confusion due to the message giving conflicting orders I think we're going onwards.