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Sunday, January 3, 2010

GMing with Mythic - Player Emulation

Today I tried something new I've been meaning to try for a while: emulating players with Mythic.

The concept is rather simple. You act as the GM and you host an adventure for X characters whose decisions won't be made by you, but by Mythic. The good thing is that it allows one to use premade modules, which is a nice change from having to imagine everything based on Mythic's answers. The "bad" thing is that it's just as tiring, if not more (for some reason), and it's a bit sad to see your characters escape your control (after all, you still have to create them, yet not control them).


Even worse is that I decided to try yet another system hack. I made a mix of PDQ# and Mythic. PDQ# is great in that a character ends up looking something like this:

Gruff, dwarf
Past: Senior Mechanics of his clan +2
Race: Dwarf +2 (techniques: stone cunning) (note: this is an addition of mine, races as a trait)
Motivation: Become a legendary dwarf +2
Main Forte: Warrior +4 (techniques: warhammer, brutal, charge, shield, thrown axes)
Prosthesis +2

Foibles: Overconfident, Mechanical prosthesis

Bam, that's it, you're done. No need for detailed equipment (obviously this one has a warhammer, a shield, probably some armor and some mechanical tools...), no need for detailed skills or feats or strengths or whatever (dwarves have darkvision, resist poisons and so on? that's all assumed under the "Dwarf +2" forte)
Techniques are (usually) linked to a forte and give a bonus if an action includes them somehow.

I've oversimplified things for my own hack, so it ends up going something like this:
Base chances are always 50%, modified by task difficulty. Any applicable forte gives a bonus rank (+10%). Any applicable technique also gives a bonus rank.

Mythic note: this is another of my hacks to Mythic. I don't use the Fate Chart. I just add or subtract 10% per rank. I'm pretty sure it messes up stuff here or there, but it's still fun.

Say Gruff wants to bash a door with his warhammer with brutal strikes. The door is somewhat strong, so I give a penalty of 2 ranks (-20%). He can use his Warrior forte for a bonus of 2 ranks (+20%) (I know, it says +4 but to fit Mythic I had to divide every PDQ value by 2). Since he's using his warhammer, his technique is valid (+10%). He's also doing it like a madman, so brutal goes too (+10%). He ends up at 50(base)-20+20+10+10 = 70% chances of making good damage to the door. With goblins, who are admittedly less sturdy than a door, it's more like 90%... Yeah, Gruff is a basher :)

What's great is that it's easy to create characters based on a concept... and it's easy to define bonuses to any action. As PDQ does it, you also get easy bonuses as long as you describe things the right way. The brutal technique will almost always give a bonus here, unless Gruff is trying to bash things silently (*chuckles*). It's not for powergamers, for sure :)

The Adventure

I ran a bit of the Dungeon of Akban, found in the free Quickstart for Sword and Wizardry. If you plan to play this adventure, stop reading now...

It was pretty difficult at first to switch from player to GM while still using Mythic. I had to think of what I would describe to these virtual players/characters... or in other words, what the characters themselves would see. Admittedly, this is only difficult because I've never GMed any D&D :).
Then, instead of deciding what the characters would do, I had to see what actions they might do and weight them for a question. I used 50/50, 33/33/33 and 25/25/25/25 when there were multiple possibilities. Sometimes, I had 50/40/10 because some options seemed much more logical than others (adventurers explore the room they're in before running to the new doors, right?)

The group of four (the dwarven warrior, a human pirate-adventurer, a gnomish alchemist and an elven swamp witch) started by exploring the first room. They happened upon a strange statue with magical flames. Here again, I had to ask if they were intrigued by the statue or not... They were. Were they intrigued by the flames? No... So they looked for some secrets hidden by the statue... and found none (I rolled the dice for them, as a GM would probably ask for rolls to keep some mystery as to wether there *is* something there or not... assuming clearly failed rolls would mean they were none the wiser).
At times, I had no idea what they might do, so I used Complex Questions (using a dictionary). It gave me some contradictory actions at times... They seemed uninterested by the flames... and a complex question just led them back to them... oh well! So they examined the flames some more... tried a stick in them... which burned... and then they got bored with it and tried the doors.

The door was chosen randomly, of course... Further directions too. They ended up in a room with giant ants which had digged tunnels from below. That's where Mythic did interesting things. As player, coming face to face with three giant ants, I might have not insisted much... or just attacked with simple tactics.
I asked if the group fleed, waited or attacked. They waited. They saw the ants didn't seem to mind them from where they were, but they had been clearly spotted. I asked if they fleed or attacked and, despite a low chance, they decided to attack. But next, the group closed the door (one of these contradictory Complex Questions). I asked if they now went back or had an attack plan instead, since they *were* about to attack... They had a plan indeed. But what?
I supposed they were going to boost themselves before the attack (among other things)... and asked which of the alchemist or the witch would do something. The alchemist apparently had an idea. Since I didn't describe any equipment linked to her skill (I went for a very freeform game àla FATE v3) she could come up with anything from acids to sleepy pills. Another Complex Question later, I had the answer: she would try to recreate the chemical scents used by ants to recognize each other, danger zones and such... Wow!

I assume most GMs, especially in a regular D&D game would just say "no way!". But hey, it seemed fun. I made the roll difficult but it succeeded anyway... and our gnome ended up with a vial of ant scent which everyone promptly spread on their bodies. I decided, as the GM, that it would only make the ants neutral.
The group went back in, searched the room without being bothered by the ants and ended up with gold pieces and a magic scroll (generated by my newly acquired D&D DM Guide :D). Lucky! I asked what they did then. I assumed players would usually be intrigued by the tunnels, so I included this in the possibilities. They were indeed... but thankfully not too much (I might have rigged that :P... didn't want to stray too far from the module... eh, railroading virtual players).

But what happened next was yet another surprise: apparently, they were not finished with chemicals. The gnome wanted to perfect her scent to make the ants friendly! I made it way more difficult but she still succeeded (really lucky roll...) so... she ended up with two friendly giant ant workers as bodyguards. I limited it by saying it was only for her, and would only last 6 minutes (1d10 mins). But wow...

The adventure went on with the discovery of a room full of goblins, their easy dispatching by the dwarf and the human pirate (no ants were used because of a very narrow corridor). Admittedly, it was 1) too easy, 2) rather boring because of this, 3) I had issues with my hack and went back to something closer to Mythic for the combat... which made this part quite frustrating. I was also getting quite tired by that point, which didn't help...


It was an interesting experience. I don't know if I really want to resume it later or if I will go back to what I did for Hollow's Last Hope. I mean, it's *really* fun to come up with strange plans thanks to Mythic inspiration, and it does feel like you have players with crazy ideas, but it's definitely not as fun as being in there and discovering things as you go or, at least, reacting to some rare Mythic surprises when playing through a premade module.

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Blogger Quin said...

Everything's twisted around... the PCs have become NPCs, and the GM has become the player. That's an even stranger twist than Dungeon Keeper. I imagine most of the fun must come from the party making unexpected decisions.

I chuckled when you rolled the dice when the party searched the statue, even though there was no reason gameplay-wise to do so. I think that just shows how much you were getting into it!

January 6, 2010 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger Moni said...

Hey, I had no idea you were still reading this :)

Most of the fun *did* come from the virtual players' decisions. The idea of faking ant scents through alchemy was...... both brilliant and crazy! I would have never even *tried* that as a player, thinking "nah, that's just too much", wether I was playing solo or with an actual GM. But here, what could I say? It was as if an actual player came up with that. As a GM, I could either brush it off as craziness or OK it. I decided to OK it because it sounded fun :)

As for the statue roll, my thinking was this: players get some meta hints through their rolls. If you ask "do I recognize what the statue is of?" as a player and the GM says "roll your Religion Knowledge"... you get an obviously bad roll. You can more or less be sure that... you can't be sure of anything. But if you roll good and the GM says "you don't recognize it as anything specific", you can be quite sure it's "just a statue" or represents something very very obscure.
Thus, I decided to make them roll even things that would not lead to new information, to get a better feel of what they might *imagine* from their rolls.
At some point, someone rolled great on a "is there a trap here?" check. There were no traps so I virtually declared "there are no traps"... and given the good roll, the virtual player would be quite sure there is INDEED no trap, thus act confident.

Admittedly, it makes for a lot of schizophrenia. Right Moni? Right, right :D

January 6, 2010 at 11:21 AM  
OpenID rpgnouns said...

This is so neat! I have to admit I chuckled when I read about you railroading virtual players! :-)

How do you think this technique would work with a more plot-oriented module?

Brilliant writeup...

January 9, 2010 at 10:35 PM  
Blogger Risus Monkey said...

I think this is a brilliant idea! I totally have to try in the next time a start a new Mythic game. I have a bunch of packaged modules that I'll never be able to play otherwise.

January 10, 2010 at 8:57 PM  
Blogger Moni said...

@rpgnouns: Thank you very much for your appreciation!

I'm not sure what you'd consider "plot-oriented" (both because of translation uncertainties and a lack of knowledge). Any example you have in mind? In the meantime, I'll try to guess that it would have more social interactions and a more open-ended structure. More often than not, I'd expect situations with many non-obvious possibilities and subtleties, especially during dialogues. The latter is already difficult when taking the role of the player but it's not impossible.

I tend to use an "attitude meter" from 0 to 100 (purely hostile to absolutely friendly), guessing where a specific character is at when it comes to a specific person or group. For example, a guard in a medieval town might be mostly neutral with a pinch of suspicion. I'd rate this as 40. I'll usually ask a non-descript Mythic question with this number as a percentage (consider this Unlikely). A yes means the NPC is in a good mood (+10 attitude) or in a bad mood (-10 attitude) (extreme results would change it even more of course). This is done once and is meant to have variety in starting attitudes. The two same guards might end up as one grumpy guy and a helpful one through this.
From then on, whenever I, as a player, ask the NPC something, I'll ask "Is his attitude to this question positive?" using his current attitude rating as a basis, modifying it if it makes sense (like asking about sensitive information or being outright insulting). Any action by the PCs can modify the attitude on the fly and the attitude from a previous question can inform a new attitude rating (didn't answer the first time, probably won't like it if you ask again, and might not answer other questions either).

Based on this, I think it would be useable for the virtual PCs. You're being the guard and refusing to answer, see if it makes the PCs angry or not. Another thing I wanted to try for virtual PCs was to give them personality traits that would shift ranks around whenever they were influential. You want to know if Gwendala the Swamp Witch is going to be respectful in the presence of the King. You set it as Very Likely or Near Sure Thing (which I always simplify as 80% or 90% -- I don't use the Fate Chart) because, well... it's the King... and then look at her traits: "savage girl", "no manners at all", "says what she thinks" and shave off 30% (or 3 ranks) off that. Suddenly, she's only 50/50 or Somewhat Likely to act respectfully. Ouch!
I really wanted to do this for the Akban test but I ended up asking questions with the whole party in mind: "do they examine the statue?", "do they attack the ants?" I don't think it would have been fun to ask the same question for each character actually, though it would most certainly create emergent bickerings :D Hmm...... I might have to try that after all.

Outside of social aspects and personality, if there are too many possibilities, complex questions remain a good help. The party needs to reach a far away place, "How do they plan to get there?". The action/subject or dictionary should hint at something... by way of boat? Through the mountains? Looking for a guide? Who knows :)

Let me know if I've missed the point. I'm still curious about player emulation in spite of my initial disappointment and further questions might motivate me some more ;)

@Risus Monkey: Thanks! I've had good success playing a premade module as a player using Mythic too (I still need to finish writing about these) but since someone suggested emulating players on the mailing-list, I've been wanting to try :).
Let us know how your attempt goes! It's such an unexplored facet of Mythic that we need all the opinions we can get.

January 10, 2010 at 9:22 PM  

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