Thursday, June 07, 2007

Backstabbing? In A Spy Game?

There were lots of fun twists and in the finale of our Covenant game last night, but we had a bit of trouble in the climatic scene, with the villain coming out ahead in the multi-way conflict. In a way, he seemed too powerful, due to the game’s affect-a-die-or-bow-out mechanics. He just kept invoking the PCs’ Consequences to keep his Edges in reserve. Thinking about it, I can come up with three ways within the system to deal with it, though there may be more.

  1. Resolve Truisms. These give you the ammo to keep going. Behold, mechanical incentive to address Premise!
  2. Set up preliminary conflicts. Use these to put Consequences on the Big Bad before the final showdown. You run the risk of taking them yourself, but in that case you might choose to sit out the showdown. Or not. Which leads to. . .
  3. Invoke Consequences for people on your own side. So far as I can tell, there's no reason why you have to limit yourself to using the other side's Consequences. And in a game that focuses so much on betrayal and hidden agendas, I think that's a good thing. (This occurred to me literally five minutes after people left last night.)

I need to think more on this. . .


Blogger ParadoxDruid said...

I think the "use minor scenes to layer consequences" is how I see the system's intention to be used. A scuffle with the opposition-- maybe we confront Jeff at the beach and wound him, but he gets away and we have a chase scene where he loses his last goons, until a final scene where we've cornered him in a dockside warehouse and we pull out all stops, using the new "Wounded" and "No one left on my side" consequences against him.


In an unrelated point about Covenant, Teisha and I had an interesting conversation last night about narrative resolution vs "what happens". I think the back and forth mechanism of Covenant worked well for one-on-one confrontations because narrative outcome and action outcome were identical, and the two players work to ensure the parity. But I think the final showdown was flawed because of multiple actors and, especially, having multiple narrative conflicts dictating "reality".

For example, in the first conflict of the game, Teisha said that Maria tripped in the alley as her narrative declaration. This dictated an action as well, "Maria trips". The two players implicitly allow this, because it doesn't prematurely resolve the narrative conflict ("Does Maria get away?"). If Teisha had instead suggested, "Maria gets shot dead in a drive-by shooting", we would have rejected it for prematurely resolving the conflict.

But in the final confrontation, Tonino was narrated to grab the Cure and drag it underwater away from the action. The action, effectively, prematurely resolved one of the conflicts ("Does Jeff get away with the Cure?"). But because Teisha's roll didn't set her into winning the narrative conflicts, it didn't set the resolution-- in effect, the cure was still "up for grabs".

This was confusing for me (I wasn't sure what happened, action-wise, in the movie in my head) and I think it was frustrating for Teisha. This could be that there was too much going on, and we should have been more focused on Teisha's narrated action for Tonino, saying "No, you shouldn't declare that because it prematurely resolves the conflict". But that seems unsatisfying to me. In the movie-in-my-mind, a SCUBA spy grabbing the Cure and causing a tense chase scene where perhaps enemies must ally to stop the traitor _should_ work (Raphael would have gladly worked with Jeff to stop the Cure from being released, for instance).

Looking at Covenant's rules, I see one possible resolution, if I understand the rules correctly. If Teisha had declared (somehow) that the act of snatching the Cure resolved one of her truisms, she could immediately end the conflict (Does Jeff get away with the Cure?) and frame a new one ("Does Tonino swim away with the stolen Cure?"), changing it into a a chase scene with swimming, boats, etc. But that demands that she has a truism suited for the task.

... I guess I don't like that Covenant doesn't have a re-framing or escalation mechanism for when an action taken changes the situation enough to make the old conflict no longer apply. I think this also bled over into the joining of Jeff's get-away to Stephanio's life. Maybe Jeff should have rolled two sets of dice to resolve the different conflicts he was facing.

Then again, we're definitely new to narrativist systems, and it could just be my confusion regarding them. When I roleplay I have a "movie in my mind" where actions happen and cause immediate consequences which are then acted on, and that's what I'm used to (i.e. most traditional resolution systems, from DnD to UA to Nobilis).

1:02 PM  
Blogger Paul Tevis said...

Regarding the narrative problems, this is something that it seems like Covenant shares with Wushu. Just because you narrate something that you might expect would end the conflict in your favor doesn't mean that it does. Your narration is essentially unconstrained, but it can't resolve the conflict. That takes some getting used to, as not many other games do it. (Along with Wushu, Dogs certainly can, and Sons of Liberty absolutely does.)

I actually missed the part where Teisha said she was getting away with the case. I knew she had grabbed for it, but I didn't catch that she narrated her escape. In which I case, I totally agree a chase scene should have ensued.

Covenant does have big conflicts, much like Sorcerer and kind of like Dogs. Unlike the former, however, you explicitly set stakes at the beginning of the conflict, rather than setting intentions each round. Unlike the latter, you're right that there isn't an explicit escalation mechanics. I think (and I'd need to recheck the book on this) that one of the advantages of Bowing Out is that you can frame a follow-on conflict in a different arena. I'm not sure that would have helped in this case, however, as we'd all pretty much decided that this was it.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Matt Machell said...

Sounds a good game despite the unsatisfying end scene. I'm intrigue to know what the cure was for...

One useful option to avoid consequence overload is the double up similar consequences rule. This is key, as it feeds into the moments of truth option to turn story consequences into edges. It also stops somebody killing all your dice with a range of consequences, but gives them more appropriate times to do so.

The whole say something that might, but doesn't definitely, end the conflict is a bit of a learned skill for the game. It's definitely one of the harder things to get used to about the system.

It does sound like at the modification of: "I drag it into the water", the next player could have bowed out (taken consequences, resolved a truism etc) and reframed the followup with the same goal in the Other arena as a chase. Alternatively they could have declared a different goal and gone with the same arena as before...

7:44 AM  

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