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Questions re: black box resolution

brahnamin

Will GM for Beer
Validated User
But, of course, this is just me. Not every style of game is good for every player.
You're not alone. I discovered this about myself in an otherwise groovy game of Delta Green right here a couple years ago (where the GM was doing all the rolling - again, not black box, but still disconnected). Everyone else was fine with it near as I could tell, but it bugged me to no end (enough that I left the game fairly early).

I think for people who are primarily in it for the story aspect it would go off without a hitch. For them anyway. It sounds like it could end up being brutal intensive on the GM. Enough that I'd consider enlisting a co-GM to handle part of the load.
 

inoshiro

Registered User
Validated User
Thanks for this info! Yes, I've learned that write-ups can be tedious (from writing summaries of live sessions, which was probably more for my own utility frankly), but I think they would be fun if they revealed the plot and exciting "who saw that coming?" kind of moments.
Pretty much, yeah. The problem was getting from one such moment to another took lots of time.

How do you think it would work for a mega-dungeon crawl? Would pacing issues be negated because the whole party was usually in one place, or at least close by and play running at the same time pace (e.g. old school 10 minute increments)?
Well, so I think it depends what you want the game experience to be. What's the focus?

  • Tactical combat simulation?
  • Resource management during the dungeon-crawl?
  • Character relationships and how psychological stresses affect them? Possibly even player-versus-player conflicts as stresses mount?
  • Exploration and "investigation" of the dungeon (say, mystery or archaeology)?
  • Problem-solving and puzzle-beating?
  • Working through the stresses and tensions of splitting up their haul, managing their lives back in town, etc.
  • Dealing with the fallout of their actions in the dungeon
You could try balance all of these things, as arguably a lot of GMs try to do in face-to-face games, and of course you can shift focus as play progresses, but I think at least at the outset, a constructive imbalance is better, and it's better that you consciously choose it. Like, pick one or two areas to focus on, and then deemphasize (and mechanically simplify) everything else unless it's useful to the experience to do otherwise.

I think actually picking your focus would also help you to pick a system to use, if you decided to use an existing system; it's also help you to avoid getting mired in stuff that's not crucial to the experience you're focused on, and to express what kind of play experience potential players can expect, so they know what kind of a thing they're getting into.

My other idea is for a more political game, with players ruling a small state using a small cadre of PCs: rulers, emissaries, military leader/assets. Obviously if a player is offering a treaty and at the same time sabotaging another player, it should all be handled black box.
Well... maybe. I mean, I've had wonderful experiences playing games (like Fiasco, for one) where every players' character was explicitly plotting against someone else's character, and every player knew it (even if every character didn't). There's a perverse kind of fun to it, but it requires people to be willing to dissociate from their characters enough to let them get stuck in a quagmire. (If someone decides he wants to metagame, or gets overly invested in "winning" then it's not going to work, so you have to have players who understand that "winning" means staying true to the characters and having an interestingly horrible outcome for a lot of them, if not all of them.)

I see what you mean about downtime. I've had problems with that in live games. The action starts the next day, but one player wants to get 5 things done before then. Snoresville. Important to fast forward when needed.
Right, with the caveat that downtime is whatever you decide is not particularly focal in-game. Personally, if I were running a megadungeon in PbP, killing kobolds would be a coarse-grained downtime activity, whereas examining the engravings on the walls of the room with the mysterious shrine, and dealing with the nightmares and deaths-in-the-family that everyone's started having since they broke the seal on that room with all that gold, would probably be the focal activity. Not that I think it's the "right" way to do it, just... "downtime" is whatever is non-focal, and you can abstract it. For example, concocting some kind of "Challenge rating" system for giving characters a single-roll resolution for any combat, possibly with bonuses or penalties for their chosen approach. For example, wading into combat with a horde of kobolds means risking a serious injury, using oil and torching the mob reduces the likelihood of injury... but a bad roll in the latter case could mean smoke inhalation, and an amazing roll in the former case could mean the kobolds flee in panic or bow down before the player characters in terrified surrender. Sneaking up on a dragon or lich, higher risk of failure and bad outcomes, but still better than a direct frontal assault.

Meanwhile, you're spending much more time detailing the effects of the treasure curse, and mechanizing or resolving (and playing out) the reaction of the townsfolk to the adventurers' breaching the tombs, or whatever.

In the case of a political game, if someone wasn't messaging their actions during the week, other players would get stuff accomplished, but that player could jump back into the action once their schedule was freed up again. I'd make sure any NPC rulers gave them a hiatus...but PC rulers might not be quite so kind. That way the game isn't stalled because of one scheduling hiccup.
Sure. Players could also delegate the week's decisions to an NPC advisor, which would allow you to mechanize it a bit: roll a die to see whether the advisor uses common sense, abstains from action without the ruler's go-ahead, succumbs to bribery or corruption, betrays the ruler (spy? mole? crazy person bent on stealing the throne?), or just does something really, really stupid without thinking it through.

Of course, for this to be fair you'd probably want to give the players a point build system so they could allocate points to securing things like "trustworthy advisors" as opposed to, you know, a stronger military, or an established network of spies in one or another kingdom, or a strong state religion that secures order and which is subservient to the ruler, or lots of resources that help keep people fed and happy.

There may well be a system for this in existence, though I don't know it. (Possibly you could hack the faction mode of play in Legacy: Life Among the Ruins (2e, at least), to run something like that.) It'd be nice to have a skeletal framework for the qualities (strengths and weaknesses) of each realm, and it'd also be helpful in giving you the room to focus on whatever part of the "story" you want. Since it's all black box, it probably doesn't need to be as explicit as in Legacy, though.
 

SlideAway

failing every quest
Banned
Validated User
I ran a Labyrinth Lord campaign that more or less used your method of resolution for combat. Here's the turns I wrote as GM if you're interested: https://rnd-diversions.blogspot.com/p/the-wilds.html
Hey, I have read through about 40% of the blog entries. Very cool.

I'm wondering how much the players messaged/emailed before they came to consensus on some of their game plans, or did they all just chime in with actions and you cobbled them all together?

I can see how tying XP to loot would give players some incentive to not all move in a solid clump (i.e. too stodgily), and in a dungeon setting they could split and explore a bit, maybe even pocket a little extra XP in the form of baubles they spotted before their compatriots.
 

SlideAway

failing every quest
Banned
Validated User
Speaking just for my personal preference: maybe if the dice and results were transparent, though at that point you've largely gone from black box to just the GM rolling dice, which is quite a bit different from entirely black box resolution.

What it boils down to is that the game part of role playing game is quite a large part of my enjoyment, so the more that's disconnected from the play experience, the less likely I am to be on board.

But, of course, this is just me. Not every style of game is good for every player.
So I'm giving thought to how I can port my combat mechanics into a PbP, adding some tactical consideration without being too complicated, and without being grindingly slow.

In my system the PCs have a dice pool which is used in combat for everything: attacks, defenses, moving, readying weapons, spell casting, other actions, long actions. As your PC becomes more battle-hardened it will be reflected in more dice and bigger dice in the pool.

So...declaring actions would go a little like this:

1) Free banter phase. Short sentences. If everyone yells something, then it might be impossible to hear and miscommunication might happen.

Then:

2) Declare an action or actions, and assign dice pool dice* (and if/then actions can be declared if desired). Assign dice pool dice for defense, and declare a specific defense if desired. Assign dice to bolster initiative roll if desired, or assign a negative "penalty" if you want to come up late in the initiative.

Wondering if that would scratch the itch of the tactical players out there. Thoughts?

* dice could be double allocated, but they will be 1/2 as effective
 

Kredoc

Registered User
Validated User
Hey, I have read through about 40% of the blog entries. Very cool.

I'm wondering how much the players messaged/emailed before they came to consensus on some of their game plans, or did they all just chime in with actions and you cobbled them all together?

I can see how tying XP to loot would give players some incentive to not all move in a solid clump (i.e. too stodgily), and in a dungeon setting they could split and explore a bit, maybe even pocket a little extra XP in the form of baubles they spotted before their compatriots.
Mostly, people were pretty up front about stuff, probably in part because we used a mailing list for 95% of our messages with each turn as an email chain. We shot for 2 turns a week, so usually we had a day for general "WTF do we do?" stuff and questions followed by a day of actual actions. For non-combat situations, whoever had the time or was most in the center of the action would usually summarize some sort of plan. In combat situations, everyone declared their own three rounds of action. In the latter case, I would roll things out RAW, either for all three rounds or until something went really off the rails.
 
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