Heroic Sacrifice



  • As a literary person, my goal when playing MUs is to read and write the best possible story. I want the kind of story that, when complete, could be enjoyably read about in a book, without anyone sighing with boredom or rolling their eyes. Such a story requires conflict, progression, stakes, and diverse, fallible, realistic characters. I won't say that such stories don't exist in MUs, but they're rare, fleeting, and require a lot of finesse to achieve.

    One of the most easily identifiable barriers to good storytelling in MUs is something we can call, without any clinical implications, 'the Hero Complex' — or more simply, player egos. Players don't often view their characters as unimportant cogs in the storytelling machine, but as the hero; the victor. They want their characters to be smart, sexy, morally unambiguous, badass, powerful, competent and special, but when these traits are universal, they don't make for a good story; they make for a cast of competing divas on a stage too small to hold more than one.

    They don't want conflict, because conflict with their character feels like a personal attack. They don't want stakes, because stakes implies a risk that they might lose. The don't want complexity or diversity, because they want their characters to be unambiguously pure, upstanding, and worthy of admiration. In the minds of many MU players, ideally all other characters should like and approve of their own, should desire their own, should never fight their own, and no obstacles that seem insurmountable should ever be in their path. Their characters should never lose anything or come to any lasting harm. But can you imagine what a boring story that would be? It can serve the goal of personal escapism, but very little else. As patronising as it sounds, I think many MU players don't actually know how to have fun, and actively avoid it without ever realising that their own inhibitions are responsible for their lack of fulfilment in the games they play and the stories they write. This would be totally fine if it were self-contained, but it rarely is: divas tend to lash out at anyone who threatens their escapist bubble of in-character peace and perfection, are riled up by environmental conflict, and make it their mission to stop any rising intrigue in its tracks by trying to 'solve' narrative obstacles prematurely or creating unprecedented backlash against any moral ambiguity.

    So the question becomes, as a game creator, how do you tackle this? How do you encourage your playerbase to step back a little from their need to play heroes? From their need to avoid obstacles, reject risks/stakes, and inhibit progression or complexity in a story?

    An idea I'm fine-tuning at the moment but would appreciate more feedback/discussion around is something called 'Heroic Sacrifice'. This idea wouldn't solve the Hero Complex, but it would exist to incentivise behaviour in the opposite direction. By capitalising on player needs to feel that their character/play-style is heroic, noble, important and special, the idea would be to reward players for 'sacrificing' some aspect of their character throughout their play. It could be the character's life; it could be an ability, such as sight or their leg. It could be a moral sacrifice, for example taking a life in order to gain wealth, or in the opposite direction, sacrificing the entirety of their character's wealth in order to save another character's life. The idea would be that throughout the story, opportunities arise for the characters (or sometimes the players OOCly) to make various sacrifices, for example a diabolical NPC might want to mutilate your character's face, rendering them ugly, but if you accept this consequence you'll earn some points to invest elsewhere — or in your next character.

    I know that current systems do exist throughout the MU world that allow you to select preexisting conditions that make your character's life harder (a limp, a stutter etc.) in exchange for getting more points to spend elsewhere, but in this instance I'm talking about choices made on a near constant basis throughout the story. For example, letting someone kill your character, having your character fall down a treacherous mountain while the rest of the group struggles to climb and becomes increasingly nervous that they might be next, having your character lose their leg in an epic battle, or having your character betray their own. You, the player, would be rewarded for making unpopular choices, thus helping to balance out in-game demographics, raise in-game stakes, and so on. Ideally such a system would also socially reward you: as a player, you'd be thanked for helping to drive the story.

    For the question of rewards, I'd like other posters to chip in.

    What would incentivise you to let your character be killed or seriously harmed in some way, such as being blinded or losing a limb?

    What would incentivise you to have your character make an immoral choice?

    Under what circumstances would you not be mad at someone whose character just royally screwed yours over?


  • Admin

    @kestrel said in Heroic Sacrifice:

    So the question becomes, as a game creator, how do you tackle this? How do you encourage your playerbase to step back a little from their need to play heroes? From their need to avoid obstacles, reject risks/stakes, and inhibit progression or complexity in a story?

    Start with rewarding failure. Not many games do this; in fact nearly none do.

    Almost all games reward success; you get XP, recognition, ranks, status, resources, all for winning... but then you are also told you shouldn't care whether you win or not. That's a very steep hill to climb afterwards as a player, especially since every other non-MU* game does the same thing. WoW doesn't give you loot for not killing the boss!

    And yet books do exactly that, very often. Heroes don't sit there basking in one victory after the other, they suffer setbacks and then if they win in the end it's brief - they need to face the next adversity, then the one after that. How boring would it be if you read about the adventures of Harry Dresden, the guy who never lost a fight in his life? Yet that's exactly what most MU* players think they want.

    So reverse that. Make having adversaries the way everything is earned; you are judged by your political enemies, you grow by losing social encounters as much as you do by winning them. The more powerful your major opponents grow the more you do in a symbiotic way.

    ... Or something along these lines. Mechanically the choice would be yours, but we need - as a hobby - to ensure what we reward in a game is what we actually want. That is not the default. By default we blindly reward what the last game did, going all the way back to various table-top RPGs most are ultimately derived from, but which were never developed to be used in MU*.



  • @arkandel said in Heroic Sacrifice:

    @kestrel said in Heroic Sacrifice:

    So the question becomes, as a game creator, how do you tackle this? How do you encourage your playerbase to step back a little from their need to play heroes? From their need to avoid obstacles, reject risks/stakes, and inhibit progression or complexity in a story?

    Start with rewarding failure. Not many games do this; in fact nearly none do.

    I quite like the idea that failure would reward you (literally experience, or something similar), but success would cost you. Winning would have to be earned, ideally through a consecutive series of sacrifices made not just by you, but by other players throughout the story.

    So for example that guy whose character was tragically killed in an important battle, their sacrifice paved the way to your success. In this way it becomes not just personal, but social, and cultivates a player culture where taking hits means you're helping the group, the story, and get kudos for doing so.



  • One method I have seen work pretty well, is to allow one to suffer crippling injuries in order to turn failure on rolls into dramatic success. At opportune moments that is.

    Did your roll to lead a charge into battle fail due to the vagaries of the dice? Well you can instead win and be a triumphant hero but you will lose a hand or an eye. That was done (not very consistently) on Star Crusade, Sofia for example lost a hand in seizing an enemy warship twice the size of her own.

    This allows people to be huge badasses, encourages them to suffer and makes said suffering or crippling injuries really memorable. Not very many people want to have one hand because they critically failed the one time, but having one hand because they lost it storming the Citadel of Whatever and got to be the hero in the process? Suddenly that is a positive.



  • @kestrel Another option, which storytellers/gamemasters will have to make on the fly, is to keep an eye on the participants. Is there a player that has chosen to take a backseat from those who pushes out front to shine, and continues to play well, contribute meaningfully as a support player, and reacts/plays more in line with what his character is capable of instead of overreaching just to maintain the spotlight. Tweak the scene/plot/mission where there is a nice twist where that quieter player is the one that spots the crucial thing that leads to success, because he wasn't in the forefront. Just to show that the hero sometimes isn't the one that is front and center, trying to hold everyone's attention.



  • Seems like a pretty good solution would be to give more reward for failure than success. We learn more from failure. Give more XP to reflect the experience earned.

    If there is a built in reward for something, people will eventually have a pavlovian response.

    That said, having your character die or otherwise effectively taken out of play, that is a more difficult issue. That's not failure but that you don't get to develop that character's story further. The only two ways I see to make that easier for players is to either somehow make it a fitting end for the character or have a game like Paranoia or Kult where you KNOW your character is going to be short lived and the goal is to have as much fun as possible before the inevitable end. But that also means players will be much less invested in those same PCs and typically makes for more beer and pretzels type RP than anything with depth. Ymmv.


  • Coder

    I'm in favor of this general philosophy, but I see it as an insurmountable challenge.

    • The majority of MUers regard MUs as games, not stories. Yeah, there are some stories involved, but in many ways the stories are secondary to the game aspect - XP, advancement, minigames, status, and even TS in a way.
    • An awful lot of MUers (perhaps even the majority here too) view their character not as a fictional character in an ensemble story, but as their personal proxy. When their character wins, they win. When their character loses, they lose. This is why we see so much unhealthy IC/OOC.

    I don't see how you can incentivize people against these core ideals. It would be like trying to incentivize somebody to take a dive in a game of chess or to end their Uncharted game midway through. Sure, you might be able to bribe them, but it's going to be unnatural and probably resented because it runs contrary to the whole reason people are playing.

    The only way I can see to steer away from this is to remove the game-y aspects. Downplay stats, remove XP, remove artificial systems of advancement, make weaknesses as important as strengths, remove the quest-y aspect of our plots. You know - all the things that RPers generally despise. But until we start treating these things as stories instead of games, I don't think we can reasonably expect people to embrace them in a literary fashion.


  • Pitcrew

    On Fallcoast we implemented http://fallcoast.net/wiki/Failure_Incentive but not a lot of people take advantage of it. It's only really focoused on XP, but i thought I'd point it out in this thread.


  • Politics

    @kestrel said in Heroic Sacrifice:

    What would incentivise you to let your character be killed or seriously harmed in some way, such as being blinded or losing a limb?

    For many, you have to make the incentive greater than the loss. You can't minimize the loss without altering your objective, which is to have people accept really bad things happening to their character. So, you have to give a reward that's really good, if you want to appeal to gamers. I don't think you'll have problems with people more interested in playing their characters than playing "the game."

    Under what circumstances would you not be mad at someone whose character just royally screwed yours over?

    This is entirely dependent on the player. Some gamers understand that it's part of the game to be betrayed; some writers can't stand the idea of "unscripted" events happening to their protagonists.


  • Coder

    @ganymede said in Heroic Sacrifice:

    For many, you have to make the incentive greater than the loss.

    Sound theory, but that's where I think the "player proxy" bit makes it hard. If the reason people are playing is to feel good about virtual status and badass heroics of their avatar, what possible incentive would be big enough to get them to accept losing virtual status and not being heroic?

    Side note - I think the indefinite timeline of MUs is another factor at play here. I've run a few short-term sub-campaigns on various games, and I've noticed that people are way more likely to take risks and accept losses when they know that the storyline has a finite shelf-life.


  • Politics

    @faraday said in Heroic Sacrifice:

    If the reason people are playing is to feel good about virtual status and badass heroics of their avatar, what possible incentive would be big enough to get them to accept losing virtual status and not being heroic?

    Because sometimes dying while protecting what you care about is what it means to be heroic, even if the villain gets away.

    death transformers the movie


  • Pitcrew

    I don't want my characters to die. Full stop. I don't spend upwards of a month crafting a character to have them ganked in their third scene. I don't spend a year with a character, all up in their head and shit, just to get iced.

    99% of the time, I just play cautiously. I don't attend scenes with a Death Imminent warning, or I go in with a valid IC way to bail if the heat is too hot. He who runs away and all. Nothing is wrong with being a coward, if it fits with that character.

    That being said, failure is fine. I will happily except a maiming. Maim away! I don't mind picking up the pieces after a failure, ICly. I don't even need an incentive. Thems the breaks.

    I'll just take a pass on death.


  • Pitcrew

    I feel like we had this conversation recently.

    All it takes to get me to be willing to kill my PCs is that it's easy to create another one. If CG is quick and painless, if approvals happen quickly, I'm happy to play fast and loose with character mortality.


  • Pitcrew

    @kestrel said in Heroic Sacrifice:

    @arkandel said in Heroic Sacrifice:

    Start with rewarding failure. Not many games do this; in fact nearly none do.
    I quite like the idea that failure would reward you (literally experience, or something similar), but success would cost you. Winning would have to be earned, ideally through a consecutive series of sacrifices made not just by you, but by other players throughout the story.

    What about a game with only a single stat: Karma. In order to gain Karma, you have to take losses--personal, professional, physical, whatever. In order to "buy" successes (probably just in the metaplot/GMed scenes, not in day-to-day RP), you have to spend Karma.

    The group can spend collective Karma, so if one person has been getting their butt kicked for months on the sparring field, they can show some awesome trick that they've learned and drop in 20 Karma, and another person can call in the (NPC) ally they made by losing a political election gracefully and drop in 15 Karma, and another person can lose a hand in the fight (gaining 50 Karma at a whack) but hold on just long enough to get the killshot by dropping in that 50 karma. If they'd spent less than 85 Karma, they couldn't have beaten the villain (but they would have gotten Karma for losing). Maybe they need 185, and so a fourth character decides to pay the ultimate sacrifice and die, gaining 100 Karma on the spot, and tackling the villain into a lava flow after the newly handless character knocked them off balance. Characters 1 and 2 were there and survived unscathed, gaining some notoriety, but characters 3 and 4 are trumpeted as the true heroes, who gave blood and life for the cause.

    Clearly, Karma gains and losses would have to be measured very carefully--you don't want a guy getting insulted and taking it for 6 months and then taking out the Big Bad with an amazing sword maneuver. I would also suggest that the same kind of loss loses its potency over time. If you constantly get your butt handed to you in duels, it stops stinging after a while and people just expect it of you. Maybe the first 2-3 losses are worth 5 Karma apiece, but the next 2-3 are only work 3, and the next 2-3 are only worth 1, and after that, everyone just expects your character to lose any duel they're in.

    In a less extreme system, you can always have a portion of earned XP carry over to the next character someone creates. Heck, you could even have the percentage of XP that carries over go up based on how supreme the sacrifice is (although this gets into issues of appearance of favoritism).

    I also think that @faraday's point about shorter-term games is a good one. I've always wondered how a game specifically and explicitly designed to run for 6 months (or a year, or whatever) RL would do. I would -hope- that as the end of the game's lifespan neared, people would be more willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.


  • Coder

    @seraphim73 I've found that there are two types of people when it comes to game length. Those who are willing to cycle characters more often, and those who won't even bother with a shorter term story. There is not a lot of middle ground for those types to meet.

    Those who don't mind chargen (or love it, I tend to love it) will probably be okay with a short term game, but, it's a /lot/ of work to put in for a game with a limited lifespan unless you planned from the beginning about how to set up the next phase with all new characters.

    Those who hate chargen, or just prefer longer ongoing stories, are going to avoid it like the plague most likely.

    So you just have to build to your target audience and make sure there's not a ton of hoops to jump through. I have found on games that have either A) Rollover xp on character death if it is all handled gracefully IC, or B) No hoops to jump through to get back into the game, will typically be more willing to risk it all so to speak.


  • Coder

    @lithium said in Heroic Sacrifice:

    Those who are willing to cycle characters more often, and those who won't even bother with a shorter term story. There is not a lot of middle ground for those types to meet.

    That hasn't been my personal experience. For example, everyone talks about the character death on TGG, but I think part of what contributed to people's tolerance of that turnover was the campaign length. You knew that each campaign would only be 6 months or so, so it wasn't like you were losing characters that you had been - or thought you would be - playing for 2 years. And on other games, I witnessed people who were suuuuuuper attached to their long-term characters take more creative challenges - including agreeing to killing their characters off or doing dramatic betrayals - with shorter-term ones. There will always be people on either extreme, of course, but I think there's more of a middle ground than you may think.

    @seraphim73 said in Heroic Sacrifice:

    What about a game with only a single stat: Karma. In order to gain Karma, you have to take losses--personal, professional, physical, whatever.

    I think something like that would be more story-oriented. In fact, that's similar to how Storium's mechanic works. You start the game with an equal number of strength and weakness cards, and have to spend all of them before your hand refreshes. Systems like this have other issues, some of which you highlighted, but they do put more emphasis on the fact that storytelling is about more than victories.


  • Coder

    @faraday And I know for a fact, a LOT (relative to my perspective) of people never played on TGG because of the short campaign length.

    That's what I mean by going after your target audience. There are people whom will not be bothered by it, might even enjoy it and that is totally fine.

    But there are people who won't be into it, and won't be attracted to that style of game, which is is also totally fine.

    On the subject of heroic sacrifice though, in order for it to be a 'sacrifice' it needs to be one, people place a lot less value on short term characters, so it's not really a 'sacrifice' to have them die in an exceptionally heroic way. Someone doing so on a 'never ending' game however, it's a lot more powerful moment because it is an actual sacrifice of a character that otherwise, might have been around still in 10 years.



  • Another thought regarding how to reward the death of a character-

    If the death has impact on the game world. If people talk about it afterwards, genuinely, if it's remembered in character. The theme and setting of the game will make that harder or easier: a superhero game, the death of a superhero would of course be a huge deal that people talk about ICly years and decades afterwards. In a fantasy game, a well known hero/noble whatsit would also be remembered. But outside of those positions and themes it gets harder. Why would anyone except his friends remember Joe McBluejeans in modern Chicago, say? Still, given the right story, that would be one way to make it a feel good thing.



  • @faraday said in Heroic Sacrifice:

    • The majority of MUers regard MUs as games, not stories. Yeah, there are some stories involved, but in many ways the stories are secondary to the game aspect - XP, advancement, minigames, status, and even TS in a way.
    • An awful lot of MUers (perhaps even the majority here too) view their character not as a fictional character in an ensemble story, but as their personal proxy. When their character wins, they win. When their character loses, they lose. This is why we see so much unhealthy IC/OOC.

    So for me, this is very much a key aspect that needs to die. The question is just how to kill it. I think the latter can be tackled by swapping out narcissism for group narcissism, i.e. fostering a player culture of in-group loyalty, where individuals feel most rewarded for their contributions to and the successes of the collective. In this case 'the collective' is the overarching storyline, but it's fundamentally no different from getting people to cheer on a sports team, rally for a political party or join a fundraiser. Players need to feel like the way to become their most heroic, badass, righteous selves is not through their character's individual successes, but by supporting other players, supporting the group, and even lining their character up as a sacrificial pawn in the great story-churning machine.

    The former is a little harder. I agree that taking away gamist incentivisation is a good start, but I worry that @seraphim73's idea of having only 'karma' as a stat would also risk people running too wild with their character builds. I like @arkandel's idea of rewarding failure but I feel like this too is a band-aid, as it would still, ultimately, be about a system of rewards and progression. However a band-aid might be the best that can be hoped for.

    Since you've posted on this thread, @faraday, I'll add that one thing I really liked about FS3 was the combat system. Perhaps it's just because I had never played a MUSH before the 100 came along, but I had never seen anything like that before. What I saw there is that once players already know whether they're going to win or lose, and are given freedom to write as they will about the manner in which this has happened, they're generally their best selves in terms of writing some pretty epic failure emotes, narrow successes, etc. If you already know you've managed a critical success then there's no reason not to RP struggling, bobbing and weaving, taking your time and just barely making the shot after almost getting killed, etc. Whereas if you don't, people will RP being ultimate badasses until the result comes in, in hopes of brute-forcing their way to a win.

    @kay said in Heroic Sacrifice:

    That said, having your character die or otherwise effectively taken out of play, that is a more difficult issue. That's not failure but that you don't get to develop that character's story further. The only two ways I see to make that easier for players is to either somehow make it a fitting end for the character or have a game like Paranoia or Kult where you KNOW your character is going to be short lived and the goal is to have as much fun as possible before the inevitable end. But that also means players will be much less invested in those same PCs and typically makes for more beer and pretzels type RP than anything with depth. Ymmv.

    This is a good example of something I see as a game culture issue. Ideally (in a perfect, utopian MU) people shouldn't be focused on 'my story' — this is hero-think; protagonist-think. It should be first and foremost about the story, and sometimes for the benefit of the story, an important character has to die, or suffer. They still get a really cool story, much like Wash did in Serenity, Snape and Dumbledore did in Harry Potter, Boromir did in the Lord of the Rings, and so on. But yes, sometimes the personal story has to end for the purpose of overarching stakes/impact, and then ideally you'd get to create a new, even cooler character than the first one.

    I don't think this makes for beer and pretzels RP; the opposite. The higher the stakes, the more meaningful character choices become; the more the story has a sense of urgency and momentum. Your character is important, and worth investing in, precisely because they could be snatched away at any moment, and every second you have with them counts.

    However, for it to be a sacrifice, you would have to volunteer your character for the funeral pyre, so in reality the character wouldn't be snatched away until you've reached a point where you're happy enough with their story so far and are willing to let them go.

    @kay said in Heroic Sacrifice:

    The theme and setting of the game will make that harder or easier: a superhero game, the death of a superhero would of course be a huge deal that people talk about ICly years and decades afterwards. In a fantasy game, a well known hero/noble whatsit would also be remembered. But outside of those positions and themes it gets harder. Why would anyone except his friends remember Joe McBluejeans in modern Chicago, say? Still, given the right story, that would be one way to make it a feel good thing.

    I don't really know a great deal about modern Chicago (UK here) but I feel like this kind of system would work best in a brutal or gritty setting where death is expected, and moral bankruptcy is accepted. E.g. survival horror or noir. But the idea would definitely be to make sacrifice rewarding, be it because you got an epic death scene or because everyone will always remember IC how your character bravely laid their life down challenging the enemy, so that their friends could get away.



  • @krmbm
    Yeah, I feel like a roster system where the app process entails saying 'Yo, I want this character' or an entirely painless/low intensity CG (TGG had the latter, and the former seems to be becoming more common/accepted as a thing staff should cater to) helps with this a lot. It won't be for everyone but, frankly, nothing should be for everyone.


 

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