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MEOW in games

August 10, 2012

Time to break that down with some examples.

Dungeons & Dragons

D&D is somewhat a complicated beast – it has very different rules for combat vs. magic, vs anything else, and even from it’s inception had a vast split in “play styles” (aka, being completely different games, procedurally, depending on who was running it). I’ll just talk about combat, so this doesn’t spin out of control.

Methods

D&D typically finds itself split across two lines here.

“Referee” D&D styles has the players declare actions and the GM makes up rulings on the spot that determines success/failure/bonuses/penalties. This type is very particular about methods.

By the book D&D styles generally are looser – for example Basic D&D a melee round is 1 minute of you trying to bash someone’s head in using a given weapon, but there’s not a lot of choice or particulars about it. Later D&D gets more particular – 3E introduces grid combat and feats, 4E basically turns every option into the equivalent of a feat.

Events

Usually the specificity of the methods plays into the specificity of Events, but in all cases D&D has never gotten very strong into providing events as part of the mechanics.

In just about all D&D editions there’s been advice to describe these things in more detail, forcing the group to step up to put this stuff in. Whether that’s a minute long brawl or a 6 second duck-weave-strike, doesn’t particularly matter as far as the sort of low priority given this.

Outcomes and Waste

D&D has set the basic design for iterative Outcomes – you have a combat round, if both sides are still alive, they decide if they’re running or fighting more, and you keep repeating until someone’s dead, or they’ve decided they’ve had enough. Basically, you gamble taking on more Waste until you reach an Outcome.

Aside from being incapacitated/killed, or whatever resources are spent in the process, D&D also doesn’t say much about Outcomes, in fiction.

Much like Events, groups are forced to fill in the details about what losing 7 hitpoints looks like in the game. In most cases, it simply is glossed over and ignored.

Overall

You can see the strong results of what the difference is between referee called D&D and it’s absence – when you have the GM using Fictional Positioning & making up rulings on the spot you don’t need a lot of mechanics because the expectation is that the GM will do all that.

When you don’t have that, the group is looking to the mechanics, which for most editions provides very little support into specifics, only into general strategy and results. You can see a lot of gaps where translating fiction into mechanics and mechanics to fiction are left open and many groups generally end up defaulting to “I attack.” “I retreat” etc.

Primetime Adventures

Methods

PTA doesn’t do a lot of demands for Methods – usually you only need to know enough to know a conflict is beginning and which Traits apply. That said, there’s a simple pressure towards doing more detailed methods – Fan Mail. Bland descriptions don’t get you Fanmail, good descriptions will.

Events

The results of the conflict also don’t demand detailed events, but Fanmail nudges the narrating player towards doing so. In play, what happens is that groups focus on the things that are interesting depending on the people at the table, and drop the rest.

Outcomes

PTA is strictly negotiated group stakes. Beyond that, everything else falls into the narrating player’s hands.

Waste

The Narrating player sets these up and though the game doesn’t say anything about it, once you get a little proficiency in play, it becomes one of the best ways to set up future conflicts.

Overall

PTA does a lot of slick things that don’t become obvious until you play. The game simply marries a system of generating interesting conflicts, a strong sense of genre expectations among the group, and a flexible reward for creating good stories.

Because good descriptions of Method, Events, and Waste are naturally part of conflicts in stories, Fanmail pushes everyone towards producing those things without a lot of fuss about translating things back and forth from mechanics to fiction.

Heroquest

Methods

HQ generally does ask for a good number of methods because the GM sets pretty heavy modifiers based on whether the action described is appropriate or stretching.

Events

HQ plays loose with this, both in short and extended contests. The lack of support here actually makes this one of the places where groups have to step up to fill in the details.

In extended contests this becomes somewhat of a chore at times, because both Outcomes and Waste remain unknown until the end of the contest – describing someone attacking someone with a sword and being unsure of how bad the results are means you end up with a lot of vague descriptions.

Outcomes and Wastes

In practice HQ tends to jump between either negotiated stakes by the group or non-negotiated GM fiat, depending on the group and their normal play practices. The only specific outcomes are the result of the Waste rules which comes out the final results of it’s conflicts.

Although various editions of HQ have had rules for wounding, they’ve been pretty small stakes. What has been a heavy effect of Outcome or Waste has been the option to risk your allies or followers in a conflict. “Sacrificial friends” is a common heroic genre trope, but it’s kinda brutal as a game mechanic, and one that perfectly fits with HQ’s idea of heroes building networks of alliances and allies… and the costs of using them to your advantage.

Apocalypse World

Methods
AW is all about methods. Played to the book, the players actually should only be describing methods at all times, and it’s the GM’s job to really look at the Moves. AW throws out modifiers determined by method and simply sticks hard to “What method?” = “Use this Move”.

Events
AW is also about events. Because any given Move can be deeper zoomed in to a single moment, the results of Moves becomes Events, as well. It does a slick thing where Moves often provide lists of possible results, which produces Events and Outcomes in one go.

Outcomes
AW takes a relatively traditional view of Outcomes – effectively everything is an iterative action, and the Outcomes are when the fiction changes enough out of the Moves.

This is actually why a lot of folks read and play AW then walk away saying, “Wow, I can use this GMing advice for other games!” – the Principles and Hard Moves fill in a structural support for what has been left GM Fiat for most games.

Waste
The cost of conflicts comes out of either Moves directly (often with the player having to make hard choices out of a list) or failing a Move and taking a Hard Move. Funny enough, AW’s view of cost is less about making it an outcome of conflicts as much as a springboard to CREATE conflicts. Being successful in AW often means pissing someone off…

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