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A "political" or "intrgue" game

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In a normal game, the challenges and dangers involve Rayzer Blade stabbing you with a laser gun, getting punched by Obligatory Cold Pun's massive ice-clad fists, or having your secrets stolen by Suckerberg's mind-sharing powers. 

FRED quite wisely proscribes using social skills on PCs for the reasons you mentioned. 

 

But to me, "political/intrigue game" suggests that the challenges and dangers should involve cunning courtesans wooing you so they can manipulate you into acting on their behalf (or so they can stab you when you're unarmored), courtly rivals flinging veiled insults to goad you into brash and reckless actions (possibly ones that end in their bodyguards punching you), or a masterful statesman leading you into a trap of words that leads to you accidentally admitting something unpleasant (like your secrets). 

Put more generally, I would take "political/intrigue game" to mean one where the proscriptions are, by necessity, lifted.  You could, I admit, run a game where the PCs are always "on the attack" in social scenes and everything boils down to them initiating the die-rolls and them being cunning and clever and manipulative.  But that seems to me like it'd gut the ability of NPCs to be cunning and clever and manipulative and place the PCs in this bizarre state where only certain highly specific lines of social attack as determined by their disads are possible. 

 

Overall, to me, "political/intrigue game" requires players to opt into the idea of having less agency.  Communicating that fact to prospective players would be critical. 

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21 minutes ago, Gnome BODY (important!) said:

Overall, to me, "political/intrigue game" requires players to opt into the idea of having less agency.  Communicating that fact to prospective players would be critical. 

 

 

On this, we are in total agreement.

 

I also do not dispute the relative (I assume; I get the impression that this conversation started because there are at _some_ games out there that mandate such things) lack of such rules and mandates in HERO.

 

I can't even pretend to support the idea of them being "necessary" to the experience of the game.  As agreed, I can accept such value _for a given campaign_, but that's as far as I can go.

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18 minutes ago, Duke Bushido said:

I can't even pretend to support the idea of them being "necessary" to the experience of the game.  As agreed, I can accept such value _for a given campaign_, but that's as far as I can go.

 

Good man!  🙂  I agree.  It is not necessary for a game to have a social combat mechanic but I think it is necessary for a toolkit to have it for any game that might be built from the toolkit...

 

🙂  🙂 🙂

 

Doc

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16 hours ago, Scott Ruggels said:

“M’lud, We Ken Yahave made Sir Gilliam Hall yer factor and signatory on that share o’ the whiskey trade, wi’ oot report’n tha’ to the exchequer. T’wood be a turrible Shem, iffen  his name became public knowledge? What surt a’ attention do y’ thenk a Parlimentery investigation woul’ Find? But ya need not worreh, laddiebuck iffen ya will be are man in th’ Parliment, we can make shoor yer name ,and Sir Hall’s never see th’ light o’day,  How does tha’ soond, M’lud? We will be contactin’ ya feels yer answer, wethen a couple a daze, fer yer answer and instructions. A pleasure doin’ business w’ ya.”

 

Now that I'm parked in front of a proper keyboard, I wanted to say:

 

That

was

_awesome_. 

 

:D

 

 

Kudos, to you Sir, and maybe something with oatmeal and raisins in it.  I can hear the grin I am still wearing.

 

Quote

 

P.S this took 4 hours to type from a hospital bed, and I will never do this with an iPhone again. 

 

Two things:

I (and possibly others) have noticed that my posts are the meagerest percent of their normal breadth and extent when I'm using one of those Satan-inspired touch screen interfaces.  Horrible way to communicate, and I have no idea why texting caught on like it did.  My empathy, Sir.

 

Second:

 

Hospital bed?!  Whatever it is (other than not my business), I hope it's resolved both favorably to you and soon.

 

14 hours ago, Doc Democracy said:

 

it comes down purely to roleplay they will 'win' every time.

 

I will freely admit that I've made this next comment multiple times before.  Before I make it again, I will also acknowledge that the primary active membership of this board is from that set of people who derive at least half their fun (and some far much more than half) from straight-out dithering around with the rules, tweaking this and that, and wanting to ensure that there is a mechanic in place for _everything_.  "okay, Turn 16, according to the bylaws, all players whose characters have an odd-numbered SPD score are due for a pee break; even numbers can get refreshments.  Forty-five seconds, then switch."  

 

Ready?  Seriously, because here it comes:

 

This is a GM problem.  The GM needs to understand his players enough to be able to balance out for the shortcomings of certain individual players.

 

Now go ahead, everyone; pile on.  I've gotten used to it.  Ultimately, for the "there _is_ a mathematically-perfect balance possible for each and every aspect of this game; we just have to find it" camp, this  has generally proven to be akin to blasphemy, since the ultimate goal is get a perfect flawless mechanic that determines when the mosquitos are biting _just so_, and how many times you've been bitten, and a chart detailing how to turn 3D6 into a scatter pattern showing the distribution of those bites with regard to armor, clothing, and naturally funky body odor, thereby legislating the GM out entirely.  Ironically, it was done way, way, back when already, and the game was wildly popular, and called "Choose Your Own Adventure!," featuring many, many published scenarios that could be re-run multiple times.  :lol:

 

But I digress (no surprise there).  Even if it's just for laughs, I don't want to get too far off my point or I'll never get back to work catching up the scanning project.

 

To explain:  

 

Well, I did already: the GM should _know_ that his players are going to be of different ability-- even different comfort levels with regard to making the effort-- when it comes to over-the-top theatrical role playing.  Honestly, even among friends, i still remember how goofy it felt the first couple of times.  While it is _not_ the GM's job to cater to every little thing, in the interest of everyone's good time-- the Thespians and monosyllabic mumblers, the talented improv guy and the "I do this" guy, are likely playing at the best combination of talent and comfort possible for them in that moment.  That may change later, but if they are all having a good time, then the GM should keep it going: he should be able to compensate for those folks who simply "aren't there yet," even if they never actually get any closer to there.

 

I was alluding to this quite specifically earlier today when I mentioned-- well, the "I resist it" and "I tell him I don't like it."  And there are even lower (forgive me; I didn't want to use that word, as I don't want negative connotations, but I can't think of a better one at the moment) levels of "role play:"  My character does this.  My character talks to him to find out about x.  My character is going to resupply at a store.

 

Don't hold it against him.  If your entire group played like that (and some do), you wouldn't think twice about still letting the spicy things happen: you have swayed the heart of the Count, and he considers strongly the implications of what he has set in motion.  Or "Don't think I don't see you there, Traveler, standing apart from the crowd.  Don't think you'll find sympathizers in this sorry lot.  If the King orders it, they obey or die.  Your fancy speeches won't fall on deaf ears, though.  Many a peasant fancies he might make a coin passing on what he heard or seen to the ears of his betters....."

 

You don't _have_ to ignore the fact that his character is a part of the world, and you don't have to deny him the ability to affect it the same way as the more gregarious players.  Remember: it is the _character_ who is in the story; the player is doing his best, but you can't honestly penalize the character for the player's inability.  If the player can confer the gist of the character's actions, let that be enough.

 

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If the important conflicts in a game are resolved by combat, the system needs a good combat mechanic. 

 

Not true.  THACO still exists.

 

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It needs to ensure that it is character skills rather than player skills that are important.

 

I understand where you are coming from.  I simply find it unnecessary.  If a _character_ is being penalized for player skills, then the problem is not "we need a new list of mechanics."  The problem is GM skills.  You need a new one of those.

 

 

9 hours ago, Scott Ruggels said:

 

May I?

 

Well of course you can.  What else have you got to do, anyway, lying in a hospital bed?  Last I heard, the nurses can hit back....

 

 

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I believe Doc is talking about something I brought up a while back and was roundly criticized, that social interaction would be dominated by a tyranny of theater majors.

 

I recall the post rather well, actually, simply because it put me in mind of my earliest RPG experiences.  Fortunately, way back then, RPGs on the whole were fairly new, and spreading as slowly as things did before the internet, so we were all pretty wooden and embarrassed for a while.

 

And yes, we had a few run-ins with other groups (used to be a lot more people doing this, from what I recall) at various rec-centers, and hearing their flowery speeches and impromptu tirades made us almost want to pack up and go play in the parking lot.  We got better, and we eventually settled at where we are now, and that's fine for all of us.

 

But no; I didn't fault you for the idea that "my guy goes here" and "my guy does this" is perfectly valid.  I _still_ don't fault you for it.  If that's what your guy does, but you don't have a lengthy speech to go with it, then fine.

 

Oh!  My favorite example of this was actually from a Presence Attack, way back when.  We were "better" (again: judgey word, but I don't mean it that way, nor do I have a better word) by the time Champions rolled around, and very shortly after we started with that (back when all there was was just "Champions."  Not even a second edition) we picked up two new players from a Traveller group that couldn't quite get itself going: no one could get over stage fright enough to be the Ref very effectively.  Anyway, about their second adventure with us, one of them flies through a skylight, crashing down into the battle to reinforce the two of us hemmed up by a group of henchies.  Now this character was conceived as a well-known and admired public figure, renowned for his toughness and fighting prowess.

 

So he crashes in, lands with a mighty thud directly between us and them and prepares instantly to start blasting with his energy beams.  Jim (GM at the time) rules that the guys are startled; yay, free action! :).  One of the other players tells the new guy "Oh, hey-- you've got a rep and you smashed in through the ceiling. You should _totally_ do a Presence Attack!"

 

"Do a what?"

A Presence Attack."

"Instead of blasting them?"

"No; that's not what it is.  It's a free sort of thing you can do, like a speech to make them surrender.  You can like scare the bad guys enough to make them run away or surrender."

"And I still get to blast them if I want?"

 

At this point, Jim had taken over:  "Yes; a simple Presence Attack doesn't take away from your turn.  Since you have a reputation, surprise, and a have made a show of force, you can even get a bit of bonus on your chance of forcing them into submission."

"Okay; I do one of those."

"A Presence Attack?"

"Yeah; I wanna do one of those."

"Do you have a soliloquy?"

"A what?"

"You can make a brief speech to your opponents: a threat of violence, a command to do something, or order them to surrender.  Anything that plays up your position and gives them a quick, instinctive understanding of what you want and what you are willing to do for it."

"Okay, I do one of those, too."

"It's part of the Presence Attack, if you chose to do it."

"Cool!  I want to Presence Attack them and use a soliquy [sic]"

Jim stared for a second, waiting, but not too terribly long.  Then he rolled right along like everything was buttered donoughts.  "okay, are you going to threaten them, command them to do something, or order them to surrender?"

"I'm going to tell them to surrender."

"Okay, then."  A quick glance at the Character Sheet) "roll six dice...."  Like everything was just normal.  Like he had done it as fluidly and dramatically as anyone at the table, and never gave any indication of criticism.

 

I learned a lot from Jim before going on to GM myself, but I learned some of the most absolutely useful stuff right there, in that moment.

 

After the game I asked him about it.  I wish I could claim to remember his exact words as well as I remember "Soliquy," but it was something to the effect of "remember when we were learning how to do this?"

"Yeah.  We kinda sucked.  We got a lot better since then, though."

"You suppose it's because no one told us we sucked?"

 

That has stuck with me for a long, long time.

 

That was the flashback your initial post gave me.  Now you know. ;)

 

 

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Everyone should get to be the hero, regardless of the players personal disadvantages compared to others. 

 

I could not agree with you more.  I just think that this falls more to the group and its members-- in particular the GM-- than it does to any game system.

 

 

Edited by Duke Bushido
Deleted a pun because it looked like a typo and I didn't want to hear about it.

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Duke.  I think you just made my point.  The rules were there, they delivered for the character even when the player could not.  If the player had delivered a stirring peroration, it would have made no difference except to the enjoyment at the table.  A mechanic was used and game effect was accomplished.

 

Now imagine if there was no PRE attack rules and the player has proposed trying to force the bad guys to surrender through the force of his personality.  One guy just says that, the other delivers the peroration.  For whom is the GM more likely to allow the thing to work?  The second guy has roleplayed, the first did not.

 

Doc

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If I recall, the rules specify delivering that rousing speech (though they may not; I haven't re-read Presence Attack for a long, long time). I draw this belief based on the variability of the bonus and how the soliloquy must be judged to determine the value of the bonus: appropriate for the situation, appropriate for the audience, etc.  The mechanic in this case demanded a theatrically-skilled player. 

 

The _GM_, however, threw it out in favor of player willingness, and player participation as best he was able. 

 

I chose that example specifically because it was one of my favorite memories: the kind of moment where I gleaned an insight that has served me well.  It wasn't, on the surface, the best one I could have chosen to make my point about how the GM has not just the authority, but the _responsibility_ to bend, tweak, and outright discard rules in order to ensure that all characters have access to in-game effects without respect to player ability or talent.  Again, I feel this is a GM thing, not a "thirty more pages of rules" thing. 

 

But- and I say this kindly, and with all the respect I have for you, it also flies in the face of what you are suggesting, in as much as it _is_ a book-legal mechanic, and it is a social interaction, and it straight-up requires, as Scott so eloquently put it, theater majors to use it to maximum effect. If you cannot pull off a stirring performance, you are shafted, per the mechanic. 

 

In this instance, the GM ignored the mechanic (rightly so) and based the bonus on a different set of intangibles: is the player enjoying the game?  Is he, in his way, really getting involved?  Does it seem that, we're he able, he would deliver something really powerful, commanding, and tailored to the situation? 

 

He based everything on a gut interpretation of what the player saw in his head and was not able to get out. 

 

Personally, I will take that any day over "roll eleven or less to not join their campaign and totally belive their rhetoric for the rest of your natural life" or "on a fumble, you won't be brave anymore." 

 

It's never come up in my games (baring the one space opera where I forced it as an effort to get a bunch of "lone wolf's" to act like a team), but reading through the quote of the week stuff, people's campaign write-ups, talking with folks over the years, it seems that it's not unusual for characters to pair up into romantic relationships. 

 

What dice are rolled for that?  It's a social interaction, after all.  So is your undying quest for revenge against your Hunted.  What is the mechanic that gave you that motivation? 

 

It's all player decision, based on the history and personality he gave that character the moment he conceived of him. 

 

If we are pushing for personality traits by rolling D100 on a chart every time we interact, why are we _buying_ characteristics?  Or powers?  Or anyrhi g else we can determine equally as randomly? 

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13 hours ago, Gnome BODY (important!) said:

 

Overall, to me, "political/intrigue game" requires players to opt into the idea of having less agency.  Communicating that fact to prospective players would be critical. 

 

Loved this post... and wanted to respond to this piece specifically. It is my take (and I might be wrong) that good Nar mechanics are designed to remove the proscriptions of social/emotional effects on PCs, but WITHOUT removing player agency. The idea being that the mechanics help the PLAYER be as much an agent in screwing over their CHARACTER as the GM. As I stated elsewhere, the immediate psychological impact of mind control/social conflict losses is a "feeling of attacking the player/removing player agency" and so to do it right, you need mechanics that actually enhance PLAYER agency even as you are losing CHARACTER agency. 

 

I think good Nar mechanics/play have certain characteristics:

1) De-protagonism... losing the idea that your character is what is important, that your character is "you" and the results of the game that happen to your character reflect on you the player.

2) Commitment to Theme/Story... the flip side of 1 is that the PLAYER is committed, not to enhancing their character as the main goal of play, but of enhancing the exploration of Theme and Story, even at the expense of your character.

3) Director Stance for All... meaning that even if there is still a GM role, the Players often have levels of influence and decision making on things that are traditionally left up to the GM... outcomes, world building, plot driving, etc. 

 

Yes... the players have to be into this, and it is a non-intuitive at first (I know I struggled mightily in coming to it... I was heavily simulationist in my native form and felt it broke all the rules of good role playing), but I've come around. 

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Perhaps this, more than anything, is the crux of our congenial disagreement:  what we as play groups want out of our games. 

 

Much as Scott and his group are not heavy into the theatrics side, my own groups are more interested in exploring the impact they can make on their world via the choices they make and the actions they follow.  This is completely at odds with the idea of inverting the game to see the world make changes in them. 

 

How about that: you got me to see it as plausible.  It's still something I have no use for at all, but I can accept that someone does. 

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I think the difference you are talking about here in comparing combat and social interaction is that when the PCs engage in combat you and the players are content that the characters are risking negative consequences from their actions and you have system that aids you in defining whether consequences are positive or negative and the relative extent.  In social interactions you are not really content that the characters are risking negative consequences from their actions and content to work without any framework to define the relative extent of those consequences.

 

Adventurers can go carve out a kingdom but may die in the process.  Politicians can go change the policy of the kingdom but do not risk becoming part of the current regime in the process.

 

Why is it OK for the characters to be changed physically but suffer no risk of being changed socially.

 

In Pendragon and the new runequest, the characters can pick up passions and hatreds and loves that can influence their actions later in the campaign, they can work to remove those or change those (as part of their growth and change) but while the players set the initial conditions and know where they want to be, they do not get carte blanche to decide that.  The player may want to be the most persuasive politician of his current generation, unswervingly brave and decisive in his policy but he can no more guarantee such things as he can guarantee that he is the most dashing swordsman of his current generation, never blooded in a duel.

 

It is, however, all about the kind of game we want to play.  It is all about us having fun.  If my players wanted all their combats to be decided on a coin toss on whether they win with consequences or just win, I would play that game.  There is nothing to be gained by trying to tell folk that their game is BadWrongFun and I am in no way suggesting anyone needs to play my way to be correct.  I just think that some of this has the potential for adding a different dimension to a game, especially one set in and around a city.

 

Doc

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On ‎2‎/‎8‎/‎2019 at 9:45 AM, Doc Democracy said:

Adventurers can go carve out a kingdom but may die in the process.  Politicians can go change the policy of the kingdom but do not risk becoming part of the current regime in the process.

 

Why is it OK for the characters to be changed physically but suffer no risk of being changed socially.

 

Another great way of putting it... but worth exploring exactly that... why is it NOT ok for characters to be changed socially?

 

I still think it comes back to PLAYER psychology. Traditionally, the only power the player has is "who is my character and what decisions do they make?"  The rest is up to the GM. If the game suddenly forces certain decisions on the character that the player doesn't want... you've taken the little piece of what they had away. It is legitimate to ask, "What is the point of me playing my character when decisions and personality changes are made for me?"


This is no small thing and must be addressed. Some may never want/like that kind of thing in their games. I think a great deal of acceptability is circumstantial. 

 

For example: Go to a CON and play in a game with pre-gens. Given a character already made with certain likes and dislikes, passions, loves, hatreds all decided ahead of time, a good player will do their most to bring that alive at the table, and work within the framework of the character they are given. But if the player themselves "created" the character, with certain likes and dislikes, passion,loves, hatreds all decided... then changing any of them is, again, an attack on the PLAYER. 

 

To paraphrase Duke Bushidod above, if the enjoyment comes from "using my character to influence the world", rather than "react and play off of how the world changes my character" then there is going to be a struggle here.

 

A great compliment from my players who did, much like Duke Bushido's group,  in my game. They felt like they mattered, that their characters were pillars of the game world, and what they did , the decisions they made had real impact on the game world. 

 

It was true, and very much something I wanted to promote... but it really wasn't until later that I realized that much of the enjoyment of the players came from the ego-stroking it gave them. This is not to cast aspersions, but to realize, psychologically, what is going on. The players have fun because the players feel good about themselves for what their characters did in the game. The character, as proxy for the player, was successful, so the PLAYER felt successful. This is a very direct and common and easy to understand bit of psychology. We all feel it, but I'd argue we are usually not really aware unless we do a lot of self-examination (my specialty my curse) to understand what is going on.

 

The downside is that when the characters fail or lose or die, it also feels like the PLAYER failed or lost (but hopefully not died). That can create bad blood at the table, or at least grumpiness. 


This psychology is very natural, and is separate from Play Preference (Gamist, Simulationist, Narrativist any combination of). As human beings, we need to invest our Ego in some part of the game, otherwise we aren't engaged. We need to feel our efforts were successful, or we didn't have fun... but what does success mean when it is stripped from character advancement, character influence, character winning... from the character as proxy?

 

How do you Ego stroke Players when the game may call for their character to be a humiliated failure?

 

I believe (and again, this is all just my interpretation) that Nar mechanics are trying to help the Player invest in something other than the character... so that the Player finds satisfaction that isn't dependent on character success.

 

I would also say that at the core, the difference can be in source material influencing the game.  "Literature" (mostly) is very much about characters learning and being changed by events and the realities of the world. "Genre Fiction" and "Comic books" etc., are (mostly) power fantasies. Stories where the characters impose their will on the world. Clearly, traditional RPGs play into the very natural power fantasies of the players/GM, so that things like social conflicts, give and take, falling short of your ideal self, being co-opted by the power structure, being socially changed are the ANTITHESIS of the power fantasy... thus feel... wrong.

 

 

 

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4 hours ago, RDU Neil said:

 

Loved this post... and wanted to respond to this piece specifically. It is my take (and I might be wrong) that good Nar mechanics are designed to remove the proscriptions of social/emotional effects on PCs, but WITHOUT removing player agency. The idea being that the mechanics help the PLAYER be as much an agent in screwing over their CHARACTER as the GM. As I stated elsewhere, the immediate psychological impact of mind control/social conflict losses is a "feeling of attacking the player/removing player agency" and so to do it right, you need mechanics that actually enhance PLAYER agency even as you are losing CHARACTER agency. 

 

I think good Nar mechanics/play have certain characteristics:

1) De-protagonism... losing the idea that your character is what is important, that your character is "you" and the results of the game that happen to your character reflect on you the player.

2) Commitment to Theme/Story... the flip side of 1 is that the PLAYER is committed, not to enhancing their character as the main goal of play, but of enhancing the exploration of Theme and Story, even at the expense of your character.

3) Director Stance for All... meaning that even if there is still a GM role, the Players often have levels of influence and decision making on things that are traditionally left up to the GM... outcomes, world building, plot driving, etc. 

 

Yes... the players have to be into this, and it is a non-intuitive at first (I know I struggled mightily in coming to it... I was heavily simulationist in my native form and felt it broke all the rules of good role playing), but I've come around. 

 

Interesting, but so much an anathema to my way of thinking gaming that I have to walk away from this quickly XD. I spent too much time in Hollywood, and have screen writers move on to being novelists, because of the collaborative nature dilm

leaves them wanting more agency. Any collaboration involves compromise,’but too much leads to dissatisfaction,’in my experience. I am not saying this appproach is invalid, far from it, in thatnto just seems like entertainment vegan food.  Everyone wants to be the hero, at least for a while. Pure oldest traditions have a single story teller, with some omitted call and response,

so people imagine themselves as Gilgamesh, or cheer him on. Also Inwill always be a member of the minis on a board school, even if pixels. 

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2 minutes ago, Scott Ruggels said:

 

Interesting, but so much an anathema to my way of thinking gaming that I have to walk away from this quickly XD. I spent too much time in Hollywood, and have screen writers move on to being novelists, because of the collaborative nature dilm

leaves them wanting more agency. Any collaboration involves compromise,’but too much leads to dissatisfaction,’in my experience. I am not saying this appproach is invalid, far from it, in thatnto just seems like entertainment vegan food.  Everyone wants to be the hero, at least for a while. Pure oldest traditions have a single story teller, with some omitted call and response,

so people imagine themselves as Gilgamesh, or cheer him on. Also Inwill always be a member of the minis on a board school, even if pixels. 

 

Oh... I get it. It really seemed "wrong" to me years ago, and required me to come to terms with it. It is not what I want in every game, but is what I want in some... just like a don't want Gilgamesh in every game... sometimes I want Macbeth. 

 

Also, it is difficult to have any kind of dramatic story when all six people at the table want to be their own version of Gilgamesh, all the time. O'l Gil never took a backseat to Enkidu. 

 

I can only say that some of the most satisfying games  I've ever played were inherently tragic and involved very difficult and unpleasant things happening to the characters... not because the GM just decided that... but because the dice moved the story that way, and having the characters react and change to these events brought them fully to life. Top 3 games I've ever played in, a session of Velvet Glove, run by the creator, Sarah Richardson. We were all teenage girls in the '70s in our own gang. My character was supposedly the bad-ass, but she failed at every attempt to do anything tough, to protect her crew, to do anything right (the dice just went horribly wrong for me every time, so much so the other players were all super sympathetic and kept expecting me to get frustrated, and I was like "No... this is tragic gold!"). My wife's character was the smart, bookish, positive and care-free one, who ended up choking on her own vomit, dying because she was just a bit too carefree and things went badly. Friendships broke, betrayals happened, mistakes were made and it was one of the most bleak, baleful and beautiful gaming experiences I've ever been part of. It was the most literate of gaming experiences I ever had... not by intent, but by mechanics driving role playing that had great pathos.

 

Sometimes I want that in my game. Sometimes I want to just kick-ass and take names. Sometimes I want a mix of both. (Actually, most of the time I want a mix of both).

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On 2/6/2019 at 5:05 PM, RDU Neil said:

Since I'm the one who said that, I'll chime in...

 

It is very possible to have a game using Hero that has a lot of intrigue and politics in it, but IMO that is more the genre/trappings of an otherwise action adventure game, not the "point of the game."  For example, I've been running a Heroic level game called Secret Worlds off and on for years now. The characters are "specials" in that they have a level of skill and ability above average to normals, but no real "powers." They specials are involved in conspiracies and back alley battles between secret organizations vying for power. It is very much steeped in the real world politics and events. (Think Mr. Robot, X-Files and Jason Bourne combined).

 

That sounds amazing, and I would love to play in that setting.

 

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While building alliances and figuring out the plots and agendas of the competing groups... determining who is the enemy is, etc., ... are all part of the plot, the mechanics around these are tangential. They involve the same basic "make some skill rolls to find out information" that any other game would. Having Perks and Contacts and Resources are all important, but they don't decide the game mechanically. There is no "Perk vs. Perk" resolution system... is my investigation better than your dark conspiracy?... type of mechanical resolution. They are background, color, and occasionally important for a turn in the narrative...

 

So, that to me, would be the meat of the actual play sessions. The goal of investigating (or even establishing) a dark conspiracy and the things the PCs do towards that goal would be driven by the interaction between the players and the GM.

 

I have played games that mechanic'd this a bit (Warhammer 3e for instance used various tracks to drive tempo and plot events pretty successfully), and I'm aware of games (Gumshoe comes to mind) that mechanic around that sort of thing, but for me I prefer to provide that functionality in the way I run the game.

 

I tend to find attempts to mechanic complex subjective things in an attempt to formalize something that maybe not everyone is good at dealing with on their own to be very confining. Relatively recently I checked out Blades In The Dark which features some mechanical scaffolding which drives adventure crafting and execution, and while it was interesting it didn't do it for me.

 

In the end, even in the real world you can't really quantify political power in real terms...and even if you could you'd have to recalculate it constantly as political shifts make quicksand look like concrete.

 

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... but mechanically, the game is Hero-style action adventures. Gunfights and martial arts battles. Knives in the dark, and car chases, etc.

 

Ok, I'm going to call a timeout there. "Political" is a metagenre that can be grafted on to other genres, making a subgenre. Thus the "political action thriller" of modern parlance.

 

Lets take a movie as an example. You mentioned Jason Bourne, so lets go with that. I haven't seen the first movie in a long time, but it is a favorite and I have an ok recollection of its broad strokes. Mechanically, The Bourne Identity is a "political action thriller"...in fact some would argue that it reinvigorated that subgenre; grouping movies in it as "pre-Bourne Identity" and "post-Bourne Identity" definitely show a strong influence by it. The tentpoles of the movie (and the franchise in general) can be fairly said to prominently include CIA high espionage hi-jinks, undercover super-assassins, and exotic foreign locations. It is, essentially, an Americanzied James Bond franchise; grittier and more visceral but a "world famous secret agent" kind of a flick.

 

The crunchy parts of the movie are car chases, fist fights, gun and knife play. But the political skulduggery and interpersonal interactions are what make it work as a movie and in my opinion are the more interesting parts of it.

 

This brings us to one of the main problems of a rpg vs a scripted story. Assuming that the heroes of the story are Jason Bourne and Marie Kreutz, then their relationship with each other would be left in the hands of the players to sort out. Meanwhile, all of the CIA shenanigans happening in the background which are what move the plot forward, are "off screen" from the perspective of the players and their PC's; it's likely just noise in the back of the GM's mind. Sometimes this kind of thing, the true nature of the ongoing story vs what the PCs experience, is called a "meta-plot".

 

Now, a more  indie game might take the approach that, no, Nicky, Conklin, and Abbot are also PC's...or maybe, no, Nicky, Conklin, and Abbot are the PC's and Bourne and Kreutz are NPC's, etc, and then offer mechanics to support that sort of non-typical set up. And a certain type of player would be totally down for that kind of an approach and find games like that a rewarding experience to play. Most players, not so much; they want their ego fulfillment, they want to be the bad ass secret agent and kick ass and be awesome. Neither type of player is wrong, they just each know what they like (and a given person might like both).

 

Which brings us back around again to my point. The GM and players must agree on the paradigm of the game they are playing together and it should be oriented to provide at least most of what each player and the GM want to experience.

 

If the GM thinks they are running a political action thriller game but all the political stuff and thus the dramatic thrill created by the viewer, who sees all the scenes, knowing things that the heroes, who only see the scenes they are in, happens off screen then they are really running an action game and the players cannot be faulted if they think they are in an action game and respond accordingly with action tropes.

 

If the GM wants politics in their campaign, then they must ensure that enough political shenanigans happen "on screen" and they must either involve the PC's or if that fails entangle the PC's in political maneuverings. This really means they must involve and engage the PLAYERS, because regardless of if the PC's have diagetic engagement with the politics involved in game, if the players are disinterested they will subvert or reject the premises and hooks stemming from it.

 

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To me... a game that is "about" Politics is a game that mechanically supports the characters taking political actions... assembling coalitions, persuading and influencing others, etc. And not just a basic "Roll Persuasion" and then have to just "make up" what that roll means. It would have defined, mechanical impact on the opposing character... they could deflect the argument, verbally riposte... there would be back and forth just like a martial arts fight in Hero, punching and blocking and dodging, but in a verbal/social way... and there would be just as many variants and complex mechanics for resolving these political and social conflicts as there are in Hero for resolving physical and mental combat. (It might be possible to bastardize the mental powers and combat maneuvers to reflect this, but again, it is bending Hero out of shape to do something it wasn't intended to do.)

 

So, you are taking a very "micro" approach to politics with this. I think of politics in a more "macro" way.

 

To me politics is about influence. Political power is not about a Persuasion check. It's not about rolling dice at all. It is about being able to influence what is happening in the world now, and exerting influence about what will happen in the world tomorrow. 

 

A digression...

 

I used to play a lot of AD&D 2e, set in Greyhawk. The early years were pretty typical D&D of that era, but after Carl Sargent blew the setting up and dialed up geopolitical dynamics, secret societies and cabals, treachery at the highest levels...There wasn't much on our character sheets that spoke to "politics", but man o man, those later game campaigns (with an ongoing continuity) were very political.

 

I used to play a lot of White Wolf (1e and 2e era), particularly Vampire and Mage but we ran a "anything goes" WoD combined setting with an ongoing continuity. There wasn't much on our character sheets that spoke to "politics", but man oh man, those campaigns were very political.

 

I used to play a lot of Top Secret / S.I., and we really explored the "private intelligence agencies" shtick. Deep skulduggery and a long running continuity. There wasn't really anything per se on our character sheets that spoke to politics, but man oh man, those were very political games.

 

I could go on. I think a key element here is "continuity". In a campaign that's just a handful of episodic adventures with no long term continuity or definite future, politics really have little purpose beyond a thin adventure premise. If there is no definite future, there is no reason to scheme and power broker to gain influence over what might happen in the future. It's more about developing a REPUTATION which can be parleyed to some advantage, or REAL POWER which can be used directly if necessary, rather than INFLUENCE.

 

But I contend that any campaign that has an ongoing continuity will naturally develop a political aspect as PCs and significant NPCs extend their zone of influence into the persisted setting.

 

I know you (RDU Neil) have deep experience in the area of long running continuity, so hopefully that resonates with you.

 

tldr;

In a roleplaying context what is on your character sheet is the mechanical part of your character. Turning that into influence on the game world might be determined by mechanics, but it might also be determined by in-game circumstance and the player's ability to leverage the character's mechanics and capitalize on in-game circumstances. Either or both approaches are valid; any system that doesn't actively block political influence in some way can thus be used to power a "political" campaign.

 

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Think of it this way... in Hero you often have hundreds of points in combat skills, abilities and powers, and a few skills that are social. A truly Political or Social game would be the opposite... the majority of a character focused on many and varied nuances of political skills, abilities and powers... and a few skills like "Fight 13-" to resolve the background moments of combat.

 

That's a bit reductive. 

 

A different way to look at it is, some things are very concrete and can be represented with granular mechanics in an effort to define and simulate. In Hero terms, the system has a strong desire to strongly "simulate" things that occur in combat time (bullet time as one of my past players insisted on calling it) and thus focuses heavily on discrete things that happen in combat time in a granular way to further its attempts at simulation.

 

Things that happen outside of combat time it is much less picky about. It sometimes charges some points for things as sort of a nod towards formally including them, but for instance "unlimited wealth" costs 15 character points, which would be incredibly empowering (particularly in a political sense) in the real wold, while a rifle that costs $500 in the real world might be more than 15 points. So, yeah, obviously, the game has a different sense of "impact" and is biased towards simulating second by second combat vs simulating "reality".

 

You could make a game that went the other way and was biased towards simulating reality, in which literally "unlimited wealth" or equivalent would be incredibly valued and "hunting rifle" would not. 

 

However it would presumably still be true that the game you made would enjoyably support a campaign with action elements, just as it is true that the Hero System (and many other games that don't prioritize mechanically defining political influence) can enjoyably support a campaign with political elements. 

 

So, I agree with you that the Hero System is not designed specifically for politically oriented campaigns. However, I don't agree that it is unsuitable for running campaigns that include politics.

 

When setting out to make a new campaign or setting from scratch, a GM has to decide on what rules system they will use or adapt, or decide to make their own mechanics. Part of that process is identifying what the GM wants the campaign / setting to focus on and then considering what each potential game system offers; the process of pro-conning. A GM determined to make a purely political campaign would undoubtedly find a system that caters to that sort of play better suited to their needs. But a GM determined to make a more typical mainstream campaign that features a mix of combat, talking, and intrigue could reasonably choose most game systems and inject the political aspects via storytelling and roleplaying. 

 

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I think continuity was the key.  For that long running, map based, political,

Fantasy Hero campaign , I started with the maps, then the coutri s and some vague history. One area was dialed in sharply as The starting are for the campaign. I’d it wasn’t for my compulsions and obsessions, I would be too lazy to GM. The first  compulsion was another GM wouldnpass out these digest sized, yellow, notepads for his players to do his version of blue booking. I would grab a couple of these and doodle faves and head shots. Men, women, young, old, various limited ethnicities seen in the campaign area. I would sketch them out and then throw some ink on them, so I could scan them in and remove the lines , but later.   When, during the course of a game, I wouldflipp through the notepads, find a face that fit, then pancil the name under the face and pass it to the players. This gave them a face and a name, and established another piece of the continuity.  The other compulsion was maps and world building, but unlike others who didrivernby river derail, I started with a map, Logical placement of cities and towns, and a fairly tightly worked out list of deities. I allowed the players to treat the world like a sandbox.. me, furiously scribbling few steps ahead of them. But it worked, because I myself was wondering what would happen next. To keep things fresh for me as the GM I would devise System’s, such as that Parlimentary resolution system above to generate a voting record, a list of NPCs, and why such and such district was important., because, I learned if you gave the players a gold plated path in one direction they will pick the other one. I was more carrot than stick sort of GM. But the players remembered names, favors, contacts, and used them. To great success.   So much so, that one off the monarchs offered the party to lead an expedition to the unknown desert east on a mission of survey and exploration.  But it was taking by taking copious  notes, and setting up semi autonomous systems, compulsively doodling faces, and writing down a few ideas while daydreaming about the campaign at work, thaat kept the prep time to around a half hour or so. This seems like a lot of work but remember, I am a lazy GM.  Where I skipped thee work is that I cannot do HERO math well, so I cribbed stuff from published material, whining to other GM friends to make sure my packages and custom monsters balanced out, and offloaded magic spell creation to the players within strict cultural, and power guidelines. The games themselves were mostly simulationist- narrative-travelogue. I really am mathtarded. But the games were fun and it lasted a long time. One really can’t havenpolitics without history, consistency, and and the ability to plan for the future. 

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14 minutes ago, Scott Ruggels said:

I think continuity was the key.  For that long running, map based, political,

Fantasy Hero campaign , I started with the maps, then the coutri s and some vague history. One area was dialed in sharply as The starting are for the campaign. I’d it wasn’t for my compulsions and obsessions, I would be too lazy to GM. The first  compulsion was another GM wouldnpass out these digest sized, yellow, notepads for his players to do his version of blue booking. I would grab a couple of these and doodle faves and head shots. Men, women, young, old, various limited ethnicities seen in the campaign area. I would sketch them out and then throw some ink on them, so I could scan them in and remove the lines , but later.   When, during the course of a game, I wouldflipp through the notepads, find a face that fit, then pancil the name under the face and pass it to the players. This gave them a face and a name, and established another piece of the continuity.  The other compulsion was maps and world building, but unlike others who didrivernby river derail, I started with a map, Logical placement of cities and towns, and a fairly tightly worked out list of deities. I allowed the players to treat the world like a sandbox.. me, furiously scribbling few steps ahead of them. But it worked, because I myself was wondering what would happen next. To keep things fresh for me as the GM I would devise System’s, such as that Parlimentary resolution system above to generate a voting record, a list of NPCs, and why such and such district was important., because, I learned if you gave the players a gold plated path in one direction they will pick the other one. I was more carrot than stick sort of GM. But the players remembered names, favors, contacts, and used them. To great success.   So much so, that one off the monarchs offered the party to lead an expedition to the unknown desert east on a mission of survey and exploration.  But it was taking by taking copious  notes, and setting up semi autonomous systems, compulsively doodling faces, and writing down a few ideas while daydreaming about the campaign at work, thaat kept the prep time to around a half hour or so. This seems like a lot of work but remember, I am a lazy GM.  Where I skipped thee work is that I cannot do HERO math well, so I cribbed stuff from published material, whining to other GM friends to make sure my packages and custom monsters balanced out, and offloaded magic spell creation to the players within strict cultural, and power guidelines. The games themselves were mostly simulationist- narrative-travelogue. I really am mathtarded. But the games were fun and it lasted a long time. One really can’t havenpolitics without history, consistency, and and the ability to plan for the future. 

 

Details were different, but played in and sometimes ran adventures with Storn Cook in a similar Fantasy Hero campaign, using chunks of the Forgotten Realms maps that were "frontier territories" for our own take on the nations and politics (i.e., we used the maps, not the source material from FR). It was very political, both local scale (my character was given a dukedom as a reward, and had to rebuild a frontier town where silver had been discovered and was being mined)... to the very high level/high stakes (turned out, this border town was near an ancient forest where High Elves were coming back to the world to wage war against a great army of lizard-kin coming from the south). My character was duke, but the others were members of the court, all adventurers of some kind, and we were the human representatives caught between much more powerful forces. (Semi-low magic campaign... more swords and sorcery than D&D ridiculous magic... PCs were not allowed to be True Elves, because those were 400pt or better characters, where PCs were 150pt types... wizard type spell-casters were rare and terrifying (there was a PC spellcaster tangentially attaced to the PCs, and he was batshit crazy), no traditional magical healing, a cleric type simply had poultices and good first-aid. A true layer on of hands was considered divine and leader of the great religion of the land)... 

 

Anyway... my point for replying is not just that I've been involved in something similar... but that it didn't require massive amounts of history and complex cultural and legal development to be political. It was political in nature because there were competing factions, and the PCs were in no position to solve anything at sword point. The entire duchy could be wiped out in an afternoon if either side had chosen to do so, and the human forces of any size were leagues away and not caring about the fate of a frontier backwater. 

Politics were of a necessity, as negotiation and trying to effectively position ourselves to NOT get crushed in between these forces was our only option.

Yes, playing for a while, we began to create a history that came from play, or from being introduced as it became relevant to the unfolding plot/story... but things were political from the get-go. This worked because the PLAYERS at the time were into this, and it was done with vanilla role playing... but this was long before Nar style role playing was even a concept known to us. It was a great campaign, but I can only imagine how much better it might have been had we had access to even basic PbtA mechanics.

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1 hour ago, RDU Neil said:

Yes, playing for a while, we began to create a history that came from play, or from being introduced as it became relevant to the

unfolding plot/story... but things were political from the get-go.

 

I wasn't referring to "history" or background content; rather I was speaking in terms of forward moving / future looking continuity. Serialized rather than episodic.

 

1 hour ago, RDU Neil said:

This worked because the PLAYERS at the time were into this, and it was done with vanilla role playing...

 

In my experience, it always comes down to the players and the GM to inject this sort of thing into their campaigns regardless of the game system. 

 

1 hour ago, RDU Neil said:

but this was long before Nar style role playing was even a concept known to us. It was a great campaign,

 

Well, of course. Narrative, Gamist, and Simulationist styles existed in the wild since more or less the beginning of the hobby; categorizing them as such and slapping labels on everything didn't cause them to suddenly exist where before they did not.

 

And also of course, a campaign's greatness is its own proof of validity, regardless of how formalized or organic it's organizing principles.

 

1 hour ago, RDU Neil said:

but I can only imagine how much better it might have been had we had access to even basic PbtA mechanics.

 

I've checked out Dungeon World via skimming while at the gamestore. I was not hooked; it seemed...well, incomplete, or to put style over substance to me. I also have Apocalypse World pdfs from a bundle and I skimmed some of them. I was put off by its style and conventions and put it aside.

 

image.png.ebe23f1715c66195427b2afbd4ece6e4.png

What mechanics do you refer to in PbtA specifically as being helpful for a political game? I'd like to look them up and come up to speed with you. 

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Duke I use my texting all the time!

1) It convient cause I work at a factory not an office.

2) I can text (even with erasing and  retyping my words) faster than i can type on keyboard.

3) Even at home I hardly am on the computer.

PS. I turn 45 soon so I ain’t no young kid either 😜

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19 hours ago, RDU Neil said:

I think good Nar mechanics/play have certain characteristics:

1) De-protagonism... losing the idea that your character is what is important, that your character is "you" and the results of the game that happen to your character reflect on you the player.

2) Commitment to Theme/Story... the flip side of 1 is that the PLAYER is committed, not to enhancing their character as the main goal of play, but of enhancing the exploration of Theme and Story, even at the expense of your character.

3) Director Stance for All... meaning that even if there is still a GM role, the Players often have levels of influence and decision making on things that are traditionally left up to the GM... outcomes, world building, plot driving, etc. 

 

Out of curiosity, have you ever played or read Universalis?

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I've been mulling over something similar to this with an idea that came out of considering the impacts of a foreign occupation of the PC's city.

 

Specifically, I've been mulling over if it could be fun to design a sort of Track system for the Resistance/Occupation, and depending on where you are in the Track there are different modifiers to rolls for PCs (for Contacts, Persuasion, Stealth, etc.).

 

The Tracks might be various centers of power (literal, figurative, embodied in persons etc.) that have specific effects. For instance, the Minister of the Census (i.e. foreign spymaster) might put out a bounty on the PC's heads. They will have negative modifiers to move around the city stealthily as they can't trust all the people around them to not turn them in, negatives to reach certain Contacts, etc. Should they take action to counter this stratagem - assassinate the minister of deal some sort of embarrassing defeat to the occupiers that would make it clear that the PCs will never be betrayed by the populace - the Track moves in favor of the PC's and that center of power is replaced by one for the PCs, giving them bonuses - "Defiant Propaganda" perhaps, where the populace has taken the wanted posters and turned them into bills that mock the power of the occupiers and calls for increased resistance. 

 

So, this is a way to put some of the power of the background plot into the PC's hands, but they don't HAVE to engage with it if they don't want to - they could just pursue a central plot that doesn't entail this and it could just be something that inconveniences them for the duration they are in the city. But they have the option, if they want to pursue it, that might make their main task easier in the end (rescuing someone from the dungeon in the Impossible Keep, for instance, would probably be easier if there's a full rebellion at your back).

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On 2/6/2019 at 9:09 PM, assault said:

 

Amongst other things, there's a "KINGDOM COMBAT MANEUVERS TABLE". 

 

I want to do a Martial Throw on the neighboring kingdom and land it in the ocean because I'm pretty sure it sold back all its points in swimming.

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On 2/7/2019 at 10:11 AM, Doc Democracy said:

 

I am a pretty loquacious guy.  I love to play face type characters but sometimes I dont.  I do inevitably play all my characters as if they had more charisma or conversation skills than they actually do.  I roleplay interactions with the GM and get in game benefits that some of my friends, whose characters have more skills than mine fail to achieve.  That is not right...

 

 

I'd like to add to that thought.

 

I used to be a pretty loquacious guy until about 16 years ago when I had a severe head injury. Now I swing back and forth (mostly at random) between being what used to be my normal self to being barely verbal, sometimes within a few minutes. I can do thinking and writing but I stop being able to produce words verbally or my rate of being able to get out words slows to a crawl. And even at my best I sometimes substitute a wrong word for the word which I thought that I was saying.

 

I vastly prefer roleplaying to roll-playing. But a system needs to be able to accommodate various levels of player skill, even if it's from moment to moment within the same player. ;)

 

I don't really care whether the way of dealing with that is a having great GM or having a comprehensive set of rules. But I've seen more sets of rules in my life than great GM's so I'd think getting a set of rules would be easier to come by even if having a great GM was strictly the superior option.

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On 2/7/2019 at 9:53 PM, Duke Bushido said:

the GM has not just the authority, but the _responsibility_ to bend, tweak, and outright discard rules in order to ensure that all characters have access to in-game effects without respect to player ability or talent. 

 

This is a really important part of DM'ing and why the Rule of Cool often trumps RAW.  I completely agree.

 

The whole point of the rules is to facilitate an enjoyable RPG experience for everyone at the table (GM included).  Nit-picking rules minutia doesn't add to the fun for anyone.

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On 2/7/2019 at 1:00 AM, TranquiloUno said:

Someone in the "6e = teh bestest mechanics" thread said this: "Hero is not suited for your political game..."

 

Not wanting to derail that discussion I'll ask here:

 

First part: What does an "intrigue" or "political" based game mean to you? What would it include or not include? What would make a game "political" as compared to say a normal fantasy game with treacherous Imperial courts or compared to a cyberpunk game with treacherous corporate turds?

 

Second part: What mechanical effects would you want in such a game? (Mechanical effects re: intrigue\politics, to be clear)

Second part: Part two: How would you model those effects using Hero?

 

Third part: What non-mechanical stuff would you definitely use but not bother simulating in game mechanics?

 

Forth part (optional): Is Hero suited or not suited, mechanically, as a system, to political\intrigue type games? Why or why not?

For me all games - Card, Video, Board, P&P Roleplaying - are about interesting decisions.

In order to do that, the mechanics must be designed for it. You see that most clearly with Videogames and the Board-/Cardgames, wich can have utterly different mechanics despite being in the same basic category. I doubt anybody has issues mistaking Munchkin and Poker, even if both are nominally card games.

 

And the Hero System as is seems not mechnically designed to offere meaninfull decisions in a Political/Intrigue game.

The part Hero Shines in is Group Combat. And it does not have a "Social Combat" System natively. In a political game, you are building "Warriors of the Words".

Look at Mental and Magical Powers: Even those are mapped to be closer to Physical Combat in resolution (still use SPD, CV's and defenses/Maneuvers)

 

That does not mean you can not retrofit one. Indeed APG II has a whole Chapter on Social Combat. It offers 3 differnet Systems, IIRC. It starts on Page 79. Let me jsut quote the forword:
"Most combat in takes place in the physical arena of guns, fists, swords, energy beams, and like. In some campaigns, mental or HERO System campaigns
magical combat can also take place using certain
specialized rules (often adapted from the physical
combat rules in some respect).
But there’s a fourth type of combat that can
occur in almost any genre or setting: Social
Combat. Social “combat” is a way for characters
to interact with one another, and even “fight,”
without delivering a blow or wielding a weapon.
The pen, they say, is mightier than the sword...
and in some cases a well-turned phrase or biting
comment is even more effective than the written
word.
This section of APG2 discusses Social Combat
systems for your campaign. After a preliminary
discussion of the considerations and implications involved when using Social Combat in your
campaign, it provides several possible Social
Combat systems. None of them is more “official”
than the other, or necessarily “better” — pick the
one you like best or that you think will work the
most effectively in your campaign, adjust them as
needed to fit your setting or your plans for Social
Combat, and you’re set!"

 

That is pretty much my Opinion on the mater.

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