Arbitrating Diceless Role-play


For about a week I was working on a Play by Post Houses of the Blooded game set in Rome called “Blood & Wine,” which I’ll either have to move to Email or scrap entirely since asking after the Open Game License and getting a response from John Wick that basically amounted to a “No.” Although I’m disappointed that it’ll never come to anything–having spent a good chuck of time on setup (and some money, for hosting)–at least it gives me liberty to discuss my own stab at game design, and the philosophy behind it, which I think it of considerable interest to gamemasters, but moreso, to the role-players and their characters.

The Philosophy Behind Rules-Based RP

I like my rules as light as can be while still being able to provide a form of standard arbitration. Why?

I’ve done forum RP when there was no rules set for resolving conflicts. It requires a lot more work on the players’ end to get anything done, since it’s basically impossible to “force one’s hand” without being accused of godmoding. You get a lot of stalemating and a lot of OOC negotiation in order to push plots through if you aren’t catering directly to a character’s desires, which are difficult to justify knowing IC’ly anyway much of the time.

However, when there was a loose system for resolving contested actions you lost some control of your character, and insodoing, allowed for a richer story to unfold. In Black Jewels Trilogy role-play, the strict hierarchy of Caste and Jewels allowed players a basic framework for determining who would be successful in conflicts. Castes provided the basis for protocol that regulated interaction between Witches, Warlords, Queens, and the rest. We had a good reason to give due deference to those higher than us, serving them and heeding their advice, while they too had a duty to protect their wards. The moderated give and take worked.

So, too, the darker the Jewel, the more powerful you were. A Red-jeweled Witch would outrank a Purple Dusk Warlord Prince, regardless of the discrepancy in Castes. In the game this gave us a quick guide to who would come out on top in a fight–unless you wanted to play dirty, of course.

And, as well all know, power dynamics are Fun.

Blood & Wine took its cue from Houses of the Blooded, namely the LARP incarnation Blood & Tears. One’s Virtue Ranks, Aspects, and Style Points would have given you the means to determine who can do what to each other–the higher your ranks in an Attribute, the better you were at it–while simultaneously giving the “losing” party compensation in Style Points that could be used against the “winner” or someone else.

It worked a little like this:

Basically you’d have a bidding war to see who got to determine what was true about the world and each other. You were my lover two season’s ago, here’s a Style. Actually, no, we weren’t; I’ll give you two back. Actually, I insist, have three. Repeat until you either ran out of points or relented. I’d installed a mod that would allow you to make these transactions, and recorded them for you, so it didn’t fall to the players or GM to keep track. I’ll admit, I thought it was pretty cool.

Yet, besides from the BJT games, I haven’t seen this done in Forum RPG’s before, this application of rules for contests. I still wonder what it would be like, whether it would have worked as intended, adding a dimension of uncontrollability and unexpectedness to the mix, or whether it would be abused or make players feel to vulnerable. Again, it comes down to trust, and that’s hard to achieve at the table, much less online.

Your Turn

What do you think? How have you resolved conflicts in your role-play? Have you resorted to creating rules? Something else? Or did you find that plotting and communicating with your fellows outside the game was enough?

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  1. Online or Tabletop, but Never Both; Young Women in Gaming Redux | Triple Crit - [...] as they stand now, most are simply not equipped to handle arbitrated (or rules-based) role-play, diceless or no. Google…

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