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Fun in games

Over on, Roger wrote:

No one needs a rule to force them to do things they want to do. No one needs to make cat-petting mandatory.

Maybe they do!

Scroll down to lesson 13 in this post:

Lesson #13: Make the fun part also the correct strategy to win

It’s not the players’ job to find the fun. It is your job as the game designer to put the fun where the players can’t help but find it. When the players sit down to play a game, there’s an implied promise from the game designer that if they do what the game tells them to do, it will be fun. So most players will do whatever the game tells them to do to achieve the desired goal (usually win), even if that thing isn’t fun. When the game is done, if the players didn’t enjoy themselves, they will blame the game—and rightfully so!

Our rules and our affordances and our objectives lead us to do things whether or not those things are what we want to do or not. So having rules to do fun things or reward can be a good thing in a game.

The classic Taschenlampenfallenlasser story example from tabletop RPGs:

People were playing a horror game (CoC I think), chars are in some monster infested tunnels, one of ‘em suddenly goes “I panic, the flashlight slips out of my hand, and I run”, tunnels go dark, monsters go omnomnom, rest in pieces rest of party. Players mad AF out of character because the game had set up conflicting affordances. The flashlight dropper had violated their expectation of “trying to win” in the situation. If there had been rules in place that rewarded that sort of behavior (like compels in Fate) or even mandated it (fear checks in Alien, meters in Unknown Armies), that’d sidestep the argument and lead to clarity.

The “actor”/”instigator” type players who like to experience things on an emotional level and act it out fully would be allowed to do so, and the tactical minded players would need to take the psychological state of their characters into account (à la Darkest Dungeon), making it more acceptable as just another vector for trouble, parameter to plan around—or, if the design was focused on another kind of fun, rules could reward or mandate calming your tits for three seconds and just hold the light steady while we figure this situation out. Either way the design would have a clear promised premise and lean into that promise rather than fight it all the way like that PoS game CoC does.

Just the other day actually (and I didn’t connect this to the Taschenlampenfallenlasser story at all at the time but the parallels are super obvious now) we had a situation where a deep in the dungeon party are heading to rescue some prisoners and they come across a torture chamber with row after row of tools and everyone except one of their henches, Amin, make their fear saves. Amin, on the other hand, fails her save, freaks out, high-tail it out of there, I roll a random location for her (+ also put her on the random encounter table, so there are two ways they can find her), rest of part heads back, finally finds her, I get to ham it out sobbingly, chars get to talk frankly about how twisted the situation actually is, she refuses to return (as per the rules of that room, fear effect stays for 4d4 exploration turns), party heads back to fight their foes one hand short while she guards the camp (I roll separate encounters for her, rolling openly as is my wont, but she’s in the clear).

Following my three guidelines for a fear or charm effect in D&D:

  1. No weaksauce effects. Don’t have everyone roll just for “you feel a li’l queasy” or “you have disadvantage on checks for one hour”. (The Alien RPG suffers from this.)
  2. There needs to be a supernatural cause (in this case the module described it as supernaturally caught anguish in the room itself).
  3. Address the people who made their saves and tell them what the person who failed the save does, instead of telling the person who failed the save “you do this and this” (in this case it was an NPC so it worked out). Or, pass a note or send a DM to the person who failed and let them do it, also works great.

Fun fun fun ♥︎
Great session.

Just the other day I linked to this video on cursed problems in game design and a lot of those cursed problems are about just this Lesson 13 kind of stuff. When the fun thing to do (which, in a horror game is to freak out and in a cat petting game is to pet cats) clashes with what you need to do to win.

Follow up

Obviously the sex moves in (unburned) AW come to mind as a perfect example of this sort of affordance. Something a group might not be sure about if it weren’t for the move. Cat petting moves, I call this category of moves 🤷🏻‍♀️

(I mean, I’ve been calling them flashlight dropper affordances but that’s just me)

I remember playing 5e with @tiger and she asks me “this is an adventure game. Is this the sort of ‘you have to focus on the mission’ type games, or…?”

And I look her straight in the eyes saying

“If you fuck up the mission…” “Yes…?” “…you get rewarded.” “You get rewarded?!”

And I explain the inspiration rules.

And she proceeds to kick absolute ass doing all kinds of shenanigans in character.

Insp, just like Fate points in Fate, is such a weaksauce reward (you often give up way more than you get) but I’ve found that, at least for non-competitive games, the reward does not have to be commensurate. It’s just an “hey, it’s explicitly OK to do this”. (I mean, obviously the reward size is a good development knob if you find that your gameplay isn’t working so if you need to crank it up, just go ahead. Like Hillfolk, a game about arguing with each other and winning arguments… solves a lot of problems by giving a massive reward to whomever gives in. Or, Svart av kval vit av lust does something similar but but reversed (winning arguments gives “you” a token but it’s a bad token that everyone else can use against you). Big rewards.