05 July, 2009

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #27: Ro-Sham-Bo





I've heard a few options recently for "Diceless" systems. Some of them are quite clever, and some of them seem overly simplistic.

But what is a diceless system and what ramifications does a diceless paradigm impose on a game. There are said to be three forms of resolution in roleplaying Fortune, Karma and Drama (with references here and here). Dice are a fortune method, so that leaves karma and drama as methiods to resolve actions.

I've already offered a concept for using beads as a method of randomisation. But hard-core diceless fanatics seek to create a game with no usage of randomisation what-so-ever.

Amber was the first game I encountered that claimed to be diceless. I played it a couple of times (the most notable of which was a home-brew based on a combination of Amber and Mage: the Ascension). This uses a karma system, where the player with the best score simply wins, with a bit of control from the game's GM to determine what that win means in the context of the story.

Many of the Australian Freeform games I've been a part of have used the drama system. This probably due to the inventors of this game style coming from a thetrical background. These have their merits as well, but force of personality plays a huge role in the game (often marking some characters as far more important than they should be dramatically, simply by virtue of a good player acting behind them).

I'll look at these two phenomena in future weeks.

But for the moment I've been toying with something else that's somewhere between a fortune based resolution mechanism and a karma based one.

Players use the numbers on their character sheets, then play a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors to modify the outcome in some way.

White Wolf's second incarnation of the Mind's Eye Theatre products uses this as a basis for game play. Play RPS, if it's a tie, compare character traits (if your character's traits outweigh your opponent's by at least 2-to-1, you can call for a rematch...and there are other complications that come in).

It's great as a quick system, until too many of those complications come into play from too many special powers.

But I'd like to see something that brings the character's traits into play from the beginning, adding a bit more complication up front to avoid a whole heap of excess complication at the end.

Consider this.

Two character declare their intentions, then reveal the relevant traits. Such traits could be attributes, skills, power levels, it doesn't really matter and could easily be defined based on the type of game being played. You might even get the chance to add two types of traits into a total for comparison. Then play RPS.

If you beat your opponent, you might get to double your respective traits. If you lose then your opponent get's to double theirs. If you tie, then traits are simply compared.

You could even play the five way version, where if you beat someone using an adjacent sign (eg. scissors-vs-paper, or rock-vs-lizard) you get to double your trait value...while if you beat them using an opposing sign (eg. paper-vs-spock, or rock-vs-scissors) you get to triple your trait value.

I haven't really thought of a good use for a mechanism like this except as an alternate fortune method of resolution that involves a bit of player-vs-player psychology.

If someone can think of a good use for a mechanism like this, let me know.


GreedyAlgorithm said...

The best RPS mechanics are almost always set up to have variable utility based on how you win. Not like in your 5-way example, though, where whether you double or triple is essentially still random. Instead you can do something as simple as "if you win by throwing rock, not only do you win, you also gain a bennie. Win with paper, a token. Win with scissors, a coin." Then instead of guessing randomly being an unbeatable (can't do better than it, against it) strategy, you have to try to evaluate your own and your opponent's utility function. Another example would be "winning with rock redoubles your Strength, with paper your Agility, and with scissors your Intelligence". The idea is always the same, though, change the utility of winning with different choices so that an optimal mixed strategy can't be computed without a ton of time and a ton of knowledge of the other player's mind.

GreedyAlgorithm said...

Real example: Burning Wheel's scripting. Win with Point or Rebuttal and you gain a Persuasion test. Win with Feint and you gain an Obfuscate test. Win with Avoid and you gain a Will test. etc etc.

vulpinoid said...

Great food for thought...in retrospect, I guess the 5 way could have been an automatic win if you beat someone with an opposing sign.

But I think it merits better exploration to look at the options you've provided. It certainly pulls the context of the RPS back into the setting of the game.

GreedyAlgorithm said...

Mm, not quite what I meant. Here's what I'm trying to get at: in the 5-way version, if I'm playing you, right now, what do I pick? I have no idea what you're going to pick, so I might as well pick uniformly at random. Can't do better unless I know that e.g. people in general like to pick lizard for no apparent reason. I can't say "oh, well I want to win with an opposing trait, so I'll pick... wait, no way to tell, because I still have no idea what you'll pick." The game is easily solvable by anyone: picking completely at random is an optimal strategy.

Instead, say that e.g. winning with lizard were tied to doubling agility, spock with strength, etc. Specifically agility, not whichever ability I happen to be using. Now if you're using agility and I'm using strength, what's my optimal strategy? Hard to compute on the fly. I could figure out the right mixed strategy given time, but I'm not gonna, so I've got to go with my instincts. Now PvP psychology actually plays a factor. In straight rps it's only a factor if someone is really, really good at rps.

So for use as an "alternate fortune method of resolution that involves a bit of player-vs-player psychology", best practice is to break the symmetry between the alternative choices in a smallish, somewhat different way each time the method is used. Breaking the symmetry means that before you choose a gesture, you can say "all other things being equal, I'd rather win with paper" or "all other things being equal, I'd rather not lose with lizard" or something.

Now your next question, using this as something other than a fortune resolution? Interesting... with no changes, it's just a d2 that feels like a skill game sometimes. My first thought is to tie each actual choice to a different resource or effect (as discussed above) and have part of the game involve changing how much e.g. picking rock adds to your mana pool, or by how much winning with lizard multiplies the horror level of the scene. Then instead of using the rps (or 5-way rps) to resolve a task or conflict or whatever, it could simply be something that happens periodically (exactly every 10 minutes, timed? :D) and you're striving to make the various side effects better for you when they happen? Plus it's good for whoever wins in some way, of course. They um... get a point. Or a dollar. heh

Congrats, I think you just made me think up a mechanic I haven't seen before anywhere. :D

vulpinoid said...

Providing inspiration is one of the reasons for this blog...

But this also reminds me of something else in White Wolf's Mind's Eye Theatre. There is an option with many power to produce a hand throw called "The Bomb" (it blows up paper and rock, but scissors cuts its fuse).

The bomb beats most things, but you need to declare that you are able to use it before the contest.

A common psych out tactic is to declare that you can use the bomb, then use rock because most people will throw scissors against you once this has been declared as an option. This is where I've been thinking of really playing into the psychology of the situation.

Another thing I commonly did when playing Mind's Eye Theater was exactly as you've suggested. I created a deck of cards with "Scissors", "Rock" and "Paper" printed on them and shuffled before going into a contest. No psychology involved...pure randomness.

My comment that your ideas warrant further exploration was actually directed at the notion of equating scissors with intelligence, and similar suggested concepts.

I like the idea that if you throw something that links to the trait you're using then the trait might gain a bonus, otherwise the trait is used as is. A system like this really adds in the psychology, because other players will expect you to throw the sign that will give you an advantage, and a cunning player will take advantage of that every now and then. If you gain a benefit from throwing paper, then someone is more likely to throw scissors against you...so throw rock.

Micah said...

I've been thinking about using Rock, Paper, Scissors as a way to express tactics in a gunfight.

I've noticed that, in a first-person shooter, where people are (for the most part) evenly matched that the specific tactic used in confronting an enemy, and the enemy's chosen tactics, are as important as the weapon they have chosen, their position and their skill level.

Every situation is different and certain things might give you a small advantage, but if you choose to attack in exactly the right way to counter an opponent then you have a much larger advantage (even if everything else is stacked in their favor).

This translates well to your description of RPS effects on the outcome of a conflict. It becomes less of a matter of just comparing numbers or dice rolls and a little more about strategy.

Specifically, this is what I'm thinking:

Sprayed Shots = Fast, inaccurate, broad attack.

Pointed Shots = A conservative attack. Neither fast nor slow, accurate nor inaccurate.

Aimed Shots = Slow, accurate, focused attack.

Weapon choice and abilities would give a bonus to choosing a specific tactic (like a +1), but choosing the right tactic to counter an opponent would give a much larger bonus (like x2).

I haven't tried this out in play but it sounds interesting.

vulpinoid said...

Micah, check out the miniatures system "Alkemy" for an example of how this could be applied. It uses this very idea of fast attacks vs moderate attacks vs slow attacks in a scissors-rock-paper method.

Micah said...

Thanks V, I will.

Wordman said...

As long as you are considering RPS mechanics, you might as well take a look at RPS games using 7, 9, 11, 15, 25 and 101 hand signs, all of which are at http://www.umop.com/rps.htm.

I can see three effects of increasing the symbol count. 1) it makes everything harder to remember, 2) it makes ties less likely (i.e. tilts the Fortune/Karma balance away from Karma) and 3) it allows for more nuanced degrees of success (e.g. a given gesture might have "marginal success" against some signs, "significant success" against others and "total failure" against still others.