Villain Conditions as Phase Transitions

1512418726

Edited 1512420947
In MMORPGs, and probably similar single-player games, the PC party can fight bosses that have multiple phases, or stages. I think this concept maps well to Masks villain conditions, and I want to talk about how we might use it. An MMO example: the Garuda fight in FFXIV, a battle against a wind-controlling Primal. We start in an arena surrounded by cutting winds, which keep us from running away. The party fights Garuda for a bit. After she takes enough damage, she summons some extra minions, who spread out and must be killed. Her next phase is jumping into the air and coming down with a hurricane-like gust. The group must hide behind some rocky pillars on the battlefield, or take heavy damage. The minions from earlier will attack these pillars, making it important to kill them. After this, we go back to fighting her until the third and final phase, where there's areas on the ground that will do damage and must be avoided. The "mechanics" - the things you must do to avoid damage, and be able to damage the boss in return - can change every phase. So imagine that every time a villain marks a condition, the villain move they get to make immediately changes the mechanics of our fight in a similar fashion. For example, say that the party is fighting Cold Iron, a woman wearing a magical suit of power armor made by the Fair Folk, which traps a powerful demon inside of her. She can take four conditions: Afraid, Guilty, Hopeless, and Insecure. This gives her four phases. Her moves are as follows: "Use my Fair Folk battlesuit's numerous magitek weapons"; "Change the battlefield with my unreliable self-taught sorcery"; and "Become invisible or cast illusions to deceive or misdirect". Not my finest hour, but you get the idea. Starting out, the party engages Cold Iron in a museum theft, where she wants to retrieve a valuable artifact. She takes one condition, and makes her first move: "become invisible or cast illusions". She vanishes, so now the party must use its powers to try and detect her, and/or retain possession of the artifact. We find her, and inflict another condition. This is another phase change, so she uses her sorcerous powers to animate the museum displays as a mini-army! Suddenly we're fighting a bunch of other guys, and must still protect the artifact. The cops show up, so she takes off, unleashing a torrent of firepower at the police and any bystanders outside. We must protect them, rescue people, etc. etc. the whole time. We've gone from "fight" mechanics to "detect", to another variant of "fight", to "protect", as distinct phases. Finally, either we knock her out, or she gets the artifact and escapes. A hopefully simple way to approach these phase changes is to switch the basic move that the PCs would most likely make. For example, "directly engage a threat" becomes "assess the situation" or "unleash your powers" (to find the foe or retain the macguffin). After that, "directly engage" or "unleash your powers" to deal with the horde of mooks. Finally, "defend", with some optional "unleash your powers", to protect the cops and civilians.
1512420894
Sometimes, like in the Garuda example, the basic move for a phase will be "take a powerful blow" unless the PCs position themselves in the fiction to avoid it. In my example above, maybe instead of protecting bystanders and cops, Cold Iron lets loose a barrage of firepower, and the PCs need to shield themselves (using valuable museum exhibits) or take a powerful blow. This forces us to decide how much collateral damage we consider acceptable.
That all sounds interesting and makes a decent amount of sense -- and I will betray my ignorance of enough of Masks' mechanics to say, "Um, isn't that what we we would normally kind of do?" Or is the point that the system sort of supports that overall series-of-shifting-battle-situations already?
1512421262
*** Dave H. said: That all sounds interesting and makes a decent amount of sense -- and I will betray my ignorance of enough of Masks' mechanics to say, "Um, isn't that what we we would normally kind of do?" Or is the point that the system sort of supports that overall series-of-shifting-battle-situations already? This specific post is in response to Doyce's GM summary of sessions 11-15 (http://randomaverage.com/index.php/2017/12/masks-actual-play-analysis-sessions-11-to-15/) and his comments about making moves against us like this ("but for some reason I’m way way way more tentative with GM moves and even narration in this game"). I wanted to offer him a suggested structure for pacing those, and a sort of permission to make those hard moves have more bite. This is how I would tend to run Masks, for example, and I think it's how the game is intended to work.
1512427412

Edited 1512427904
Doyce T.
Pro
Sheet Author
Thanks for verbalizing this, Bill. To Dave's question: I think this is both things - something we might already do and something you could, if you wanted to, codify into a "Phases of the Boss Fight" sort of structure. Heck, you could do both in the same campaign - this sort of structure really feels like a fun thing to do when you've got a big set-piece sort of thing set up, especially with a kaiju sort of situation or something of that nature. Bill's picked out the thing that's been bugging me about my own play in the last call-it-five sessions or so: I've been second guessing myself a lot, and I'm annoyed with myself both because my second-guesses have been wrong, and ... if I can blow my own horn for a second, I've actually got a pretty good sense for fictional tension, cause and effect, consequences, and the like, so I'm sort of annoyed with myself for not trusting my own head. I think... I think this hesitation is coming from the quality and especially the involvement of my players. (Bear with my for a second while I unpack this. I'm just working this out myself, as I type.) I've made a nauseating number of comparisons to GMing Amber and GMing Masks and other PBTA, but the irony there is that while those games loom large in my gaming history (certainly they were the campaigns with the highest percentage of entirely home-grown plot developed by me personally), they don't make up a very significant percentage (~10%?) of the time I've spent playing RPGs. And even with some of its more groundbreaking assumptions and practices, there was still a pretty traditional assumption about player/GM balance in ADRPG, right? Pretty standard. The toughest challenges in terms of player contributions most of the players' threw me during those campaigns was saying "[my character] can fly, like a superhero - it's just something she can do" and leaving it to me to figure out the 'how'.  ADRPG didn't give me a lot of practice in SOME of the new stuff a game like Masks does. With me so far? Okay, so... after (and, in fact, while) I burned out so spectacularly on d20 3.5 (mid-2004), I was getting to story games like Dogs in the Vineyard and so forth, and while we (eventually) had some good games that came out of that, one of the hardest achievements to check off in those games was getting lots of player-created "stuff"; games like Donjon or Inspectres or even early Fate demanded it, and people (well, a lot of my players) found it exhausting. I started playing shorter sessions just because people burned out after only a few hours of this 'GMing lite' they were being called on to provide. I've come at it in stages, over the course of years, really - maybe lots of player contribution and invention and creation during chargen, which then dropped off precipitously as play progressed. I'd try to push for it, but let's be honest - I've always been more than comfortable filling in with my own ideas if folks didn't have an answer ready in the first three to five seconds of a question being asked, so if someone just shrugged or looked blank, I moved forward. I asked for the input, but didn't really bother if I didn't get it, and so didn't get as much practice as I might have, working with it. (These days, I count silently to seven after asking a question. V e r y s l o w l y.) And I think some preference toward contribution is just a ... I dunno. GMing gene? Some folks like kicking this sort of thing in. Some don't. That's fine.  I love these games that ask for player input, as a player , because I'd always rather be kicking this stuff in. So. New Play Group. Star Wars. Using Fate. PBTA. All stuff that should ask for that kind of feedback, and which sometimes get such things but not a LOT more than I've learned to expect. Let's chalk that up to getting to know the GM and group? Trust takes time. And then Masks. Whole new dynamic. A setting that both invites and demands invention. Players who are now pretty comfortable with one another. And HOLY SHIT the players are REALLY kicking in their 2 cents gold doubloons. HARD. And... as much as I've asked for it over the years, I've finally GOT the kind of player contribution and invention I've been asking for nearly fifteen years, and I've been so leery of stepping on their stuff (because as weird as it sounds, interacting with this level of co-authorship is actually totally new for me, because I so rarely got it, and it was - even then - presented so hesitantly), that I'm hesitating myself with doing stuff that should be obvious, or lunging forward when I misread the signals. So a lot of my thinking lately has been reminding myself "You are also pretty fucking good at this, so just... go be good at it and don't wreck people's stuff and it'll work out, man. Or you'll fix it. Jeez." Damn I hope that makes any kind of sense. I'm not rereading it until I hit Submit Post.
1512428037
Doyce T.
Pro
Sheet Author
The upshot is, I'll try to trust myself more, and in turn trust you guys to remind me of stuff I might have forgot, or to ask questions like "what about this other thing?" or "actually do you mind if I narrate..." or whatever. Which of course you will do. Of course.
1512429057
Yeah, it all makes sense. And like I think Dave was getting at, there's nothing new or groundbreaking mechanically here. It's not news to anyone that the GM can do things this way. If you prefer, this is one possible social contract for a gaming group. "I'm going to do villains like this, and I hope everyone is on board with it," this can say. It needn't be so formalized, either - but sometimes, feeling that strict progression of phases in a fight can be comfortingly familiar. But yeah, I've said elsewhere that your storytelling is solid, and I still stand by that statement. :) Unrelated, do you folks think there'd be interest in this text on the Masks G+ group?
1512430686
Doyce T.
Pro
Sheet Author
I think it's a fun... I don't want to say 'hack', but a kind of expansion or spin-off of the standard combat rules. I've done similar stuff with some stages of fights in Fate, and this does some good stuff there as well. I'm sure some grognard will whine about it or something, but others will find it useful.
Well, my question was more about the mechanics than the GM Meta, but the mechanics question seems to have been answered. As to the GM Meta [which turned into a much longer digression than intended, apologies in advance] ...  It should be no surprise now to Mike and Bill (and certainly  no surprise to Doyce by this venture (let alone the denizens at the Consortium)) that I get a little bit ... story-oriented with characters, from a creative writing perspective. It's doubtful I've spent this much time on any character before (unless you count the two novels and ideas for 3-5 more based on a one-off  Mortal Coil game eons ago, but that's a different kettle of fish), though I recall a lot of logging and writing around our Nobilis and ADRPG games.  Reading this from Doyce has an ironic resonance ...  And... as much as I've asked for it over the years, I've finally GOT the kind of player contribution and invention I've been asking for nearly fifteen years, and I've been so leery of stepping on their stuff (because as weird as it sounds, interacting with this level of co-authorship is actually totally new for me, because I so rarely got it, and it was - even then - presented so hesitantly), that I'm hesitating myself with doing stuff that should be obvious, or lunging forward when I misread the signals. So a lot of my thinking lately has been reminding myself "You are also pretty fucking good at this, so just... go be good at it and don't wreck people's stuff and it'll work out, man. Or you'll fix it. Jeez." Because I'm always paranoid about writing something about my character that's going to break stuff, ruin plans, unravel plots that Doyce has cooking, etc. (This should not come as a surprise to Doyce, either.) There's a lot of stuff I could have just asserted, rather than hinted at, but not wanting to tromp all over whatever horrifying fiendishness Doyce has in mind has kept me from doing so. (Also, not wanting to know what awful shoe is going to drop before it does so ... but, here, let me hand you a few more shoes to add to the collection of potential plot complications . I like being surprised.) Now the above is, of course, kind of silly, because Doyce has never been hard-assed at anything I ever have put out there -- and has also had no hesitations in a couple of areas (esp. early on) to suggest that a plot point I put in would be much more potential-ridden if it was changed from X to Y (Amir being dead vs Amir being an estranged survivor being one example, which I have no doubt will come back to bite me now that I have reminded Doyce of it). But that hesitancy comes both from being an emotionally conflict-averse person, and imprinting very early on in RPGs with modules that were either tightly written by a third party or by the DM, and please don't ruin my surprise reveal about your character or the plotline to the Boss Monster I have you railroaded along, thankyouverymuch . So I feel fine taking ownership of the character (in fact, demand it), but only within the bounds of the overall story I usually see the GM as running. Of course, I have no doubt that if I posted a "Jason Quill Has Had A Sanity-Cracking Long Day" in which I revealed that Alycia Chin is actually my X-chromosome-manipulated clone, or that I'm really a highly sophisticated android built by Dr Chin (complete with retractable spider legs), or that my Dad and Doctor Chin were in fact co-conspirators on some mysterious plot , Doyce would either gently suggest something even better without resenting my zaniness, or start to salivate at the possibilities and toss out / re-align anything he had in mind that indicated otherwise. And would do a fine job in either case. I'm not worried about him stepping on my stuff nearly as much as I'm worried about stepping on his stuff. (And don't get me started on my dread of about stepping on any other player's stuff; there's a reason all but one of my videos co-star holograms.) Which again is probably silly, within demonstrated bounds of being in a group of highly creative and collaborative grown-ups and all that. So if I come up with some mad idea, I'll try feel free to throw it out there, knowing that Doyce and/or the community will course correct me or support it enthusiastically. And I encourage Doyce to do the same, and will feel free to say, "No, I really don't think Jason's going to be found naked in a holo-suite with both Travel Agent and Security Cam Alycia." Let's just do stuff and see how it works .
1512437374
For what it's worth, I trust both of you guys with Leo and his associated NPCs. I hope I've written enough to give you a picture of who these people are, and on the rare occasion where I've had concerns, I've voiced them - and on those occasions, my concerns were usually groundless. So good job. :)  This doesn't mean you have to write for them, only that I give you license to do so.
1512439123
Doyce T.
Pro
Sheet Author
*** Dave H. said: (Amir being dead vs Amir being an estranged survivor being one example, which I have no doubt will come back to bite me now that I have reminded Doyce of it). Oh, no need to remind me - I've been waiting for you to say "But... if Dad and Chin were working together, and Amir was there... wait what the HELL?"
It hadn't escaped me that Amir wasn't (as I recall) described in the video you mentioned. (If you have a written transcript of that video, I would not turn it down, as I -- as Jason -- would like to parse it more carefully before before I go charging off to our favorite AEGIS agent.)