Monday, December 20, 2010

Poker Personalities

Trollsmyth did a few posts recently about how if you want your players to do social interactions in-game you need rules that will push them that way.

I think people commenting on those posts were resistant to the idea that you need any rules to roleplay at all, that it can just happen on top of anything.  That's a post for another day, but I thought I might offer an example of rules that would push players to do more social interactions in-game.

What was really enlightening about Trollsmyth's posts for me, was not that rules shape behavior--that system matters-- but that the rules often shape behavior indirectly.  In other words, if you want players to interact socially you can't just give them XP to do so, it won't work well.  Instead, we need to break down what we mean by "interacting socially" and try to implement rules that will promote, or afford, that behavior.

With the caveat that I've never played any of the World of Darkness games and am very happy with the exploration of old school D&D, I think when people talk about social interactions they mean:
  1. learning about npcs and their desires through conversation
  2. utilizing information learned from npcs to make things happen
  3. investigating npc-npc relationships
  4. building a web of npcs to interact with and gain information from
  5. joining guilds/factions and climbing up through their hierarchies
  6. utilizing guild/faction affiliations to make things happen
    Phew, that's a lot of stuff.  But I think we can do this.  

    I love using simple materials we all have around the house and have experience with, so we'll use playing cards. I think Zak may have mentioned NPC reactions with cards briefly, but I've been intrigued with the idea since I heard a game used cards to resolve pc/npc interactions (was it Shadowrun?). Last caveat, I know this is a simplistic view of humans and their motivations but we have to start somewhere and hopefully complexity will emerge from the simple system.

    Okay, the players want to enter somewhere but Bob the guard is tasked with keeping people out. What to do, what to do? Here's what you do:

    Draw 5 cards, 1 up and 4 down.
    The first card is public knowledge, the next three are private knowledge and the last card is a deeply held secret.

    To get what they want from Bob the players will have to either threaten him, bribe him or convince him with a rational argument.

    What is Bob susceptible to you ask? The suits tell the tale:
    • : Wealth, power and advantages dealing with acclaim, fame and prestige.
    • : Love, lust and approaches to life dealing with the appetites-- but also nostalgia, security, and comfort
    • ♣: Threats of violence and harm, fear, dread
    • : Reason, rational arguments involving laws, systems, explanations, and examples.
    Let's follow peoples' expectations and say low cards are weaker. So, with a two of hearts, it appears Bob is really vulnerable to some aspect of that realm.  Players can determine this by briefly observing him or interacting with him.  Maybe he's a ladies man, checking out every female that walks by.

    If players start following him around or asking questions of people that know him, the DM will flip over those private cards.  Maybe one card for each lead investigated. These investigations reveal:
    So, after a little poking around it seems Bob is susceptible to rational convincing, but because the 9 is the same suit, like a flush, it strengthens his resolve here. The 7 offers some possibility of bribing him but it will be more difficult than utilizing his weakness in hearts.

    The hole card, that last secret, should be difficult to find. Traditionally it is the npc's diary, maybe they talk to themselves when they believe they are alone, or talk in their sleep.  And in fantasy games these could be discovered through magic or mental powers such as ESP.
    The 2 probably puts the nail in any attempts at reasoning with Bob.  Perhaps he is affable and listens politely (the appearance of weakness with the discovery of the 3), but is just too dumb to understand the players' arguments.  But the knowledge of all his traits does not undermine the idea that he is susceptible to persuasion through hearts.

    So, knowing this what do players do?  What is the mechanism for resolving the outcome of interactions?  Two things spring to mind:  First, you could convert player stats to card equivalents.  I think subtracting 5 might work: a pc with an 8 charisma might just be able to personally seduce Bob (8-5 =3).  Strength could apply to ♣, Intelligence to .

    But what about the guild and faction interactions in our list above?  That's the second thing: give members of organizations certain leverages as they advance through the ranks.   Cutpurses in the Thieves Guild might have access to 3, 3♣, and 3.  A Mages Guild member accessing their archives might wield a 10 in examples and anecdotes.

    I think this would push players to investigate people rather than places (discover npc cards), use what they learn to interact with them, get involved in organizations (to have access to powers greater than their stats and personal wealth allow), and continue interacting with npcs even when the short term events are finished (Bob may be useful to apply pressure to another pc in the future, or in advancement in some organization).

    I also think the abstraction of the four suits leaves a lot of wiggle room for creative players.  Maybe players think to influence Bob by bringing around one of his old war buddies, this would fall under s as well.



    1. I like the hearts, spades, clubs, diamonds system is nice and easy to remember.

      I feel like the system's a little weird since it seems like the 2 of hearts means he's MORE vulnerable to appeals to the heart, but the 2 of spades means he's LESS vulnerable to appeals to reason.

      I feel like that should be consistent.

    2. Yeah, the "higher is more" metaphor is tugging me in two different ways here and I held back on posting this for a few days.

      More of a suit meaning someone is more affected by that trait makes sense, but pcs marshalling higher cards to successfully maneuver a social challenge makes sense, too.

      Doesn't seem like they can both be working at the same time. I'll get some coffee and think more on this. Any suggestions from folks would be welcome.

    3. Okay, coffee had. I think I was confusing myself thinking about an earlier draft of this post. This should work.

      But I left out that I was assuming additional cards of the same suit would act as a flush, strengthening the npc's resolve in that area. The 2 of spades makes Bob unassailable to reason only in combination with the other spades.

      I would also assume a straight flush in suit would be even more resistant to bribes/threats.

      What would straights represent? The different suits of cards would be about different things, but we might say a sequence of numbers is related to each other. If Bob had a 2 of hearts, 3 of diamonds, and 4 of clubs maybe they all resulted from his hard childhood in the slums, or a betrayal by a friend.

    4. i think actually using poker rules (straights, flyshes, etc.) ideas isn't necessary.

      Just having ways the NPCs can have traits and the PCs have access to ways to exploit them seems like enough. i'd build the rules around that

    5. I like it, objectively.

      I think, however, that it might become a bit of a pain in play? Perhaps not though! Are you doing this with everyone or just the dudes you are trying to influence?

      Anyway, I think there needs to be a little randomness involved as well, perhaps some dice roll influenced by the pc's active stat vs the npcs card-thing. Otherwise people will just get their high charisma girl-pc to start making out with anyone who shows up hearts in public. Which, admittedly, would work in a lot of cases, but perhaps not. Maybe the guy is after love, and is a romantic, not really into the free-makeouts thing, you know?

      Also are you, the DM, privy to the information on the other cards if they try something before revealing them all? I think there should be something which mitigates or otherwise opposes the 4 influences. Something to say 'Ok sure, he has a 4 of hearts publicly, but that could just be a facade, maybe we should get to know him more' or something.

      Lastly, What would the result of someone getting zero cards of a certain suit, ie clubs in the example given? How resistant is he to chest-poking and uppercuts? Supremely, or not at all?

      Anyway yeah, I think it's a very straightforward solution(which is great) and it also has the potential to cover a lot of options(which is also great).

      It's piqued my curiosity.. I'm interested to see what can be done with it, but still kind of unsure. I AM FEARFUL OF NEW THINGS.


    6. I'd agree with Zak here. KISS and all that. The simpler, the better. Let complexity emerge from just people being people. ;)

    7. Thanks for the comments, both of you.

      Yeah, fullhouses wouldn't make much sense. And you could certainly handle each card revealed as a discrete fact to be utilized by the players.

      I just thought it would cool to be able to leverage what most players will know: which poker hands beat which others, and the relative probability of getting one. It seems to go hand in hand with a mechanic that involves revealing hidden cards, too: "Is the Abbot really a lush? or will the next card complicate that." Something I'll have to ponder and try in-game.

    8. Trent, my blog thought your comment was spam, sorry.

      Insightful questions. I had thought of some of them. The big advantage of cards is that you can always have a deck at hand and drawing from the deck is probably faster than any chart. So, you can flesh out npcs as necessary.

      Now some you may want to develop fully before hand to get a sense of the relationships of a place and how they interact with each other, but most npcs will just be that public card.

      Also, the fun of DMing is often not knowing what will happen, so I would draw those other cards when the pcs make a move-- try to exert influence in some way.

      As far as randomness . . . maybe the cards point you to what stat is in play and then you do a regular ability check.

      The zero cards rule is something I hadn't thought of. But not everyone is weak in every aspect or what's the point. So, I would make them uninterested/unassailable, or at least more aware in control with the aspects present.

      That just gave me a new idea, perhaps mutliple cards of a same suit represent a history with an issue. So with the example above Bob used to be fool by quick talkers but after getting into trouble several times he's wising up. But, I just realized no one would ever have a history that led to them getting worse if you go with high card. Hmm, maybe the last card revealed is most relevant, so you can gamble that you know enough about someone to try and inlfuence them, but a little more poking may reveal a bigger weakness. Thanks Trent!

    9. Diamonds might, possibly, have a history that causes him to get worse with a high card. Perhaps he's a compulsive gambler, or in debt and desperately looking for a way to make some money without getting caught in another scam?

      Clubs could have something similar, such as a mugging that made him more scared of physical harm.

      Hearts could reflect that he hasn't had problems with his relationships. Perhaps he's always been able to get any girl he wanted? That could make for some interesting stuff later on, if he tracks down the person that tricked him into leaving the gate.

      Spades, are the trickiest, but you could do something like, have him not have listened to reasonable arguments before, with bad consequences, and now be more easily influenced by them.