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Getting Stabby

June 20, 2011

A friend gave me some interesting feedback yesterday. He said that in every game he plays he wants a mechanic to just try and kill someone. He feels that this is missing from the Team Event. This was actually quite perplexing to me and took a while to understand. He might just want to throw down…but this primarily a strategic, political game! And most importantly, everyone you’re going to want to kill is a player from another team. We just can’t have players eliminated from the game – that’s guaranteed not to be fun for that player. But he still wants a straight up attack option. So where does that leave me?

Well, I could just say “no”. He’s a good friend; he’d understand and it wouldn’t be a big deal. But maybe he’s not the only one with this perspective. So maybe the problem is real? Well there’s lots of resource trading games that aren’t RPGs where you never get to attack someone directly – it’s just not part of the rules. And many of these games are very popular and successful. But these aren’t usually set in medieval kingdoms (the example setting for the Team Event), so maybe it’s just a genre problem? No, he still wants to kick some ass in other settings. So maybe it’s just an RPG expectation? “If I have a character that character must get stabby.” How many times did your 1st-level AD&D wizard run out of spells and have to pull out the dagger to fight for his life? I can think of lots of RPGs now that you might never get into a fight, but I can’t think of any others where there’s no option for a direct attack. Even when that option is crazy-dangerous, like in Burning Empire’s “I Corner Him and Stab Him in the Face” mechanic, it’s still there.

But there is an option in the Team Event – narration. You can’t use it to do lasting damage to a fellow player character, but you can kill his guards, stab his mother, and kick his dog if that’s what you want. Whoever you’re up against might counter-narrate your attack failing or might walk away from the transaction if the stabbiness was part of your counter-narration, but maybe that’s the outcome you want? Or maybe they think it’s cool and ramp it up a notch? You’re creating a big story here and maybe lots of people need to get hurt in order to make the omelet. And maybe I’m looking at this wrong. Maybe the Team Event does have straight up attacks in the one-on-one abilities – you get to go right at one other team and those are focused on your character’s personal strengths. Perhaps all it will take is pointing this out clearly in the game text or modifying the example of the one-on-one ability use to be more stabby and the problem will be solved.

But will narrating your badassery be enough? I think so, but I won’t really know until we run the event. In fact, I’m not yet certain this is an actual problem that will ever come up in play. But now, if it does, I’ll have a quick answer. Lots of new style RPGs have limited or different roles for the characters that don’t encompass the full range of all possible actions – at least not from a mechanics perspective. Sometimes those other things you might want to do just aren’t relevant to the story or experience the game is trying to create. Sometimes it’s about balancing the options in the absence of a GM. For the team event it’s a bit of both.

So what do I think I learned here? Well, any feedback is valuable even when you don’t agree with it and every piece of feedback can lead to some kind of improvement in the game even if it isn’t what the person who offered the feedback expected or intended. Agreement isn’t nearly as valuable as clarity and only you know your game well enough to make that call.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 21, 2011 9:33 am

    Very interesting question there.

    Of course, a heavy political game is unlikely to provide a lot of support for “I stab him through the heart.” Because, really, that’s pretty counter-productive behavior in most political situations. You might have a dueling option. You might have a “hired thug” option to carry out an assassination or kidnapping. You might even have a stabby option that would be accompanied by a significant loss of face.

    I really don’t know what your solution should be, but I do think I sympathize with your player’s request.

    • June 21, 2011 11:25 am

      Thanks Lugh! I empathize a bit as well. But now I realize there’s a point I didn’t make in the blog post and that is that this game has up to 40 players learn the rules and play the game in under 4 hours. So any addition to the rules – any new option of any kind – has to be very necessary. Most RPGs this isn’t the case; you can add an optional or little-used rule at no great expense to game play. For the Team Event I worry that any one more thing to learn will be the thing that is too much and makes the game unplayable in four hours. And that four-hour limit is essential for convention playability.

      Maybe playtest will show that a stabby option is worth it, but right now it looks like a distraction I can’t afford.

  2. RpBowman permalink
    June 21, 2011 7:51 pm

    I think it boils down to a difference between the sense of team conflict and the sense of personal conflict.

    The idea of “killing off” another team by gradual elimination is not as visceral as directly taking out an opponent.

    I’m going to examine some team stories, like “The Right Stuff” and, oh, I dunno, a heist movie. The interaction between personal dynamic and group dynamic has always intrigued me.

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