Thursday, June 20, 2013

Monsterhearts Design: The Doppleganger (v3 + Dop vs Cuckoo + playtests + Strings/Conditions + alternate moves)

I've heard a lot of versions of Blue Monday, and liked a lot of them. Orgy's is pretty great, the New Order original is good, LeeDM101's are great as well. However, this one takes the cake. By a LOT. This is very much up my alley, style-wise.

So, this is mostly going to be compilation of my explanations/reports I put up on Story Games recently - I realized that maybe Monsterhearts-lovers could be finding this place without knowing S-G, so I'll reproduce it. There's some brand-new material at the bottom though.

Version 3

FIRST OFF: For the games in this post, I prepared a new version of the playbook! It includes Face Dancer. It's also a Microsoft Word file because my InDesign trial ran out, but it's still pretty good looking.

The Doppleganger versus The Cuckoo

Back when Jackson Tegu first announced his Second Skins kickstarter (finished the other day with a glorious $12k, congrats man), I posted about my story of the Doppleganger vs The Cuckoo.
One in particular is of interest to the Doppleganger, and that's The Cuckoo. I became aware of the Cuckoo when I emailed Joe asking for the Skin template and he mentioned that Jackson had something very similar in the pipeline and I decided to email him about it. He shared the example move from the Kickstarter (reproduced here) with me:
When you dress in someone else's clothes in an attempt to pass as them, roll with hot. On a 10 up, you're passing as them - face and body. You'd fool their mother and their favorite hookup. • On a 7-9, same as above, but choose one:
* someone suspects,
* the clothes are noticed missing,
* you receive some unwanted attention.
While you're passing as someone, give social Conditions you receive to them instead. This won't let you avoid physical Conditions, though.
As far as the situations go, this is eerily similar to what I came up with independently. Gotta say this struck some fear into my heart - Jackson's been playtesting and revising this baby a heck of a lot longer than I've been at The Doppleganger. I didn't want to just be obsoleted by The Cuckoo, so I looked for a way around how similar they appeared to be on the surface. I haven't had a look at the complete Cuckoo (I meant to at Fabulous Replacement, but forgot - I'll probably check it out next time I can get to Story Games Olympia) but my basic musings were generally confirmed by Jackson as making sense, so I'm feeling okay about them.

See, what I gleaned from the move is 1) motivation behind the Cuckoo's desires and 2) the different nature of the transformation. When a Cuckoo transforms, they're taking on the appearance of someone else. It's a very physical thing, and they aren't actually changed, they're simply disguise masters. So why is a Cuckoo doing this? In my estimation, it's the desire to take advantage of what they have. You want to use their things and have access to their stuff and be with their friends. But it's always about using their actual tangible THINGS, it's about wanting what they have. It's petty and physical.
The Doppleganger, on the other hand, doesn't become a person just to have their stuff. Sure, that helps, and I'm sure the Dopplegangers of the world sometimes transform just to take advantage, but at their core, the thing that makes a Doppleganger transform is self-loathing. The Doppleganger doesn't see greatness in others and want to hold it, it sees awfulness in itself and wants to escape it. And when it takes on a person, it doesn't just look like them, the Doppleganger IS that person, attitude included. The Doppleganger wants to be them, and that means taking on their personality.

The Cuckoo is manipulative and covetous and envious and physical. The Doppleganger is desperate and clingy and hero-worshippy and emotional. Worldly vs. Cerebral.

Another separation we found was that the Cuckoo actually solves their envy when they take people's stuff. The Doppleganger's problem is eternal - transformation is a patch, but they'll grow disallusioned with their hero and find a new one, they never actually feel better about themselves. Mechanically, the Cuckoo is a Hot skin while the Doppleganger is Dark, and I play with Stats a lot in the moves while Jackson plays with Conditions.

I'm confident that the division is strong enough in theory that we needn't be stepping on each others' toes. I'm not entirely sure if that sort of division is apparent inside of the mechanics of the Doppleganger right now though. Until the Kickstarter is fulfilled people won't have their hands on the Cuckoo for comparison, but does anyone here have any insight on how much you can see that separation in the two, that specific characterization I've given to the Doppleganger? I've been pretty anxious about this for a while, but now that the Kickstarter is launched and the Cuckoo's name is out there I can finally talk about it.
I've now seen the Cuckoo, though not the very final version.Jackson had it at SGO so I had a chance to look. Jackson posted beforehand intimating that they're totally different, and I definitely agree. Fascinating. Anyway, then I played once and ran it once!

Playtesting The Doppleganger and Feedback

So, I somehow forgot to come back here. We totally played and Morgan there did indeed play The Doppleganger! It was very successful, with some interesting observations. For one, Paul, your Face Dancer move was instantly a hit with pretty much everyone who read it and they thought it definitely fixed some issues in an interesting way, so thank you very much.
Other thoughts: Morgan chose My Evil Twin with intention to try abusing it - I mean, getting people blamed for stuff for XP? Sounds fairly easy when you can BE people, right? Turns out it's actually tougher than it sounds, but in a good way, worth investing energy into while not abusable.
A couple memorable Doppleganger moments from the game included:
* The Doppleganger using an imitation Facebook account of the Queen that had some of her clique on it to impersonate her even without transforming. (Also made me think that the Crawl Inside Your Head question would be well spent asking for Facebook or email passwords).
* The Werewolf (played by me) bullying The Doppleganger in art class and events pushing me into Darkest Self, during which I started going at him in half-and-half wolf form in front of the class. In response, The Doppleganger transformed into me, also in half-wolf form. Crazy and awesome PvP wolf fight. I totally won, that move for getting Strings on people when you do harm was very very helpful, plus it turns out the Werewolf is better at hurting things, but it ended up being quite thematically appropriate - even when he transforms into an exact copy of them, he's still not as good as them.
Important Note: We decided on an impromptu basis that yeah, The Doppleganger could totally become The Werewolf even if it wasn't previously established - the Werewolf's Backstory said he wasn't very subtle, so we just went with it, and the game was better for being liberal about it.

But then! Time passed and the next time I showed up to SGO I played Monsterhearts again! In fact, I didn't just play, I ran my first ever game of Monsterhearts! And to my elation, one of us picked The Doppleganger! Thanks to Becka (took a guess, sorry if I got the spelling wrong :( ) for taking a chance. She picked Linked, which was interesting to see. In my nerves of doing my first MH game I kinda forgot about it for the first half of the game, but I definitely made a thing of it in the back half, and it made things really cool. Didn't trigger the mechanical side of it, but the narrative side was cool enough. Later on she also took Walk Like You, Talk Like You, which was pretty neat as well.
Once again, we had multiple moments of ad hoc "can I turn into that person?" and just saying sure, yeah. Also once again, I wasn't expecting it to happen two games in a row, but we had The Doppleganger transform into a person right in front of them. An NPC this time, but still.
Interesting though, I was looking at Jackson's Cuckoo skin and it had a crossed out move about turning into people in front of them labeled as "no fun," so even if it's a common thing and is cool in gameplay, maybe it's not worth making a move out of it.

The big thing I got out of both games was that keeping a small limit on the number of people you can transform into isn't very interesting and I'm thinking I'll just remove it. I'm thinking just put it at "When you have a string on someone and transform into them...".
And alternative idea was proposed to not have a move for transforming at all and instead making the core move about when you're pretending to be someone to other people, like when you try to deceive your subject's friends or whatever.
I was made aware that I need to write more clearly about how Strings and Conditions operate when you transform. To sum it up right now, narrative situations follow your current appearance, but you're mechanically treated as having all of your Strings and Conditions as usual. I'll probably write up a bonus half-sheet to go with the skin describing my reasoning for that so it makes sense to players, since it requires a certain understanding of Strings and Conditions to make it work.

Anyway, just wanted to come back with an update on how the games went! I'll be running a game of Monsterhearts again at Go Play NW, so hopefully someone will pick The Doppleganger again.
Paul brought up that the desire to be all sorts of people could be an artifact of one-shot play, which is a great point. He also expressed some interest in a potential version with Transform based around the interactions rather than the action itself, but wasn't sure about how well it would work.
Additionally, he brought up that a move he'd proposed earlier still felt like a more elegant way to handle Personality Bleed. I'll be including this with the alternate moves below!

Dani came and brought up some cool stuff! Pretty sure she's in my GPNW game, so that'll be fun. She had some questions about existing moves, some ideas for some potential new moves, and the big question of "How do Strings and Conditions work with Transform?" I'd answered a bit before, but only briefly. This is a big deal, and requires a specific understanding of the two mechanics. I'll get to that in a second.
Dani: Being able to transform should require something like a sympathetic token and/or an expenditure of a String in my opinion. It's a powerful ability and shouldn't come without a cost, plus watching them maneuver to get such a token provides great opportunities for interesting RP. That, or spending a String showing that you're using what you know about them to aid you in this process.
Ego: An interesting idea, but I'm not so sure about a full cost, precisely. In the past I considered sympathetic tokens, but I'm not sure that having a token of them means at all the same thing as knowing them - and in fact strays much much closer to the Cuckoo. Spending a string is an okay idea, but I'm not entirely sure that spending a string and then having to roll anyway is so great. Instead what I've got in mind is that you need to have a string on them, but you don't need to spend it to be able to roll. Transforming sounds powerful, but since once you're them you still need to do all the rolls and everything to complete your mischief it isn't quite as tough as you might think. The risk/cost comes from the inherent risk that comes whenever you roll I guess. And for that fun RPing opportunity, instead of where you spend a string, it's the case of trying to GET that string.
This plays into my new alternate Transform.
Dani: One thing that could be interesting is adding a Move that lets you add 1 to any roll against a person you share a String against in common with your current form. For example, The Vampire and The Doppelganger both have a String against The Mortal. The Doppelganger takes The Vampire's form and is able to add 1 to their roll against The Mortal. Does that make sense? Since they both share emotional leverage, The Doppelganger could use what they know as well as the fact that they're currently in the form of someone else who has some sort of pull/hold on them. Just a thought.
 Ego: I like this! Especially if I remove another move for some reason, this is a great contender for an additional move - I just feel a little concerned about bloating the Skin up with too many moves. Definitely a great contender though.
Gonna include this below!
Dani: Would be neat to see a Move allowing for some sort of benefit if another character is in collusion with you.
Ego: Face Dancer is already sort of this, but on a player scale rather than a character scale. An interesting idea, but I'm not quite as compelled as by that other Strings move, and if I'm limited on space I'd pick the other one. Still, a good idea, and a neat mental exercise, though I'm not quite sure how I would model it.
Despite hesitation, gonna include this with the alternate stuff anyway.

Transforming and Strings / Conditions

Dani's question was asking how Conditions and Strings should work for a character who transforms. As something I early-on struggled with, I really organized my thoughts this time. Early on, there was bouncing ideas about getting their Conditions, spending their strings, and other stuff. Here's my definitive answer:
This is a thing I actually have thought a lot about. See, the Cuckoo makes a split with Conditions, dividing them into social conditions (like slut or humiliated) and physical conditions about your state of being (like drained or terrified). When you transform as a Cuckoo, you adopt their social conditions, but not the physical ones, as you suggest.
I don't quite agree, and I think this is where my particular understanding of Conditions come into play. In my understanding, with the exception of drained, Conditions are a list of things that you care about. When the Queen gets labeled by the school bully as a slut, that's significant because the Queen cares about that label - people can take advantage of it because it's a point of emotional weakness for her. The physical truth of the matter doesn't matter; she could sex up the whole damn football team and if she's shameless about it and doesn't care about being called a slut, taking advantage of it gives no benefit, and is not a condition. Even strictly physical matters follow this "care about" trend. If I've got the condition covered in pig's blood, I'm not easy to take advantage of because of the blood, but because I care that the blood is there. If I'm entirely nonchalant and don't give a fuck about this blood all over me, you can't really leverage that over me to take advantage of me, and thus it isn't a condition. Conditions are things we care about. Drained is an exception because it is explicitly about a physical truth of the situation, you can get there through taking Harm, it's more than just a feeling. It's also the only exception I can think of.
With that in mind, if The Doppleganger, who idolizes the Queen, transforms into her, it doesn't automatically matter to her that others think she's a slut. You idolize her, that part included! Her emotional vulnerabilities don't suddenly become yours just because you look like her now. As such, even those social conditions don't affect you when you transform, unlike the Cuckoo. (I think it's also fitting, as the cuckoo is taking their shape out of envy, and thus doesn't have that inherent idolization that overwrites people's flaws in your eyes - even if you want their stuff, you'll still care about being called a slut).
Also, Linked can make it so that when you become them, you DO feel the shame over some of it, so you can totally still tell that story.

Strings are a different matter, but some of the same basic reasoning follows. Here's the law to the approach I'm using: narrative situations follow your shape, mechanical situations are tied to the players. An important thing to this approach is the fact that strings are not tied to the situation they arise from. Once they're created, they become purely mechanical tokens until they're reintroduced to the fiction through a different action. If you help me out and I owe you a favor now and you take a String on me, you can call in that favor without spending the String, or you could spend the String and still have that favor waiting. Because they're separate, that means that it's not bizarre mechanically to be able to spend Strings from other forms.
Let's talk first about spending Strings on others from different forms. Strings are emotional leverage on someone. That's what I've typically described them as. If I have leverage over someone, I know their issues, I know how to take advantage of them. Regardless of what shape I'm in, I still have that knowledge. If I know I can control you with threats of physical violence, that knowledge is a narrative situation that doesn't change with my shape, so I could still use that as my action to spend a String. However, if you owe me a favor and I take another form, the narrative situation follows my shape still, so I can't cash in my original form's favors, so that's not a reasonable way to spend a String. The third path to this is if I'm in another form, why can't I spend THEIR Strings? If I know you owe them a favor, and I'm in their shape, that's a narrative situation I can take advantage of since it follows my shape. I could even use that as an excuse to spend my own Strings, and then they wouldn't be able to cash in that favor again later. However, because Strings aren't tied to situations, I couldn't actually reach over and use any of their Strings.
So what about having Strings spent on ME? Again, narrative follows shape, mechanics follow players. If I'm The Queen, and someone tries to cash in a favor the Queen owes them, they can't spend a String on me - it's not ME who they've got any sort of emotional leverage on. They can try to cash the favor in still, they just can't give it any mechanical weight. If the person has any emotional leverage on my original form though, well, I'm still vulnerable to that person, regardless of what form I'm in, so they can spend Strings they have on me. For this same reason, if they push on me and get new Strings on me, I'm the one who they have emotional control over.

Essentially, both of these things rely on an interpretation of Conditions as "Things about me I feel ashamed of or vulnerable for" and Strings as "Emotional leverage", not as physical or social truths and actual favors. This is my reasoning for treating Conditions and Strings this way, and I definitely plan on explaining it in an additional page page packed in with the Skin.
Now I just have to figure out how to put that on a single MH page... Do you agree with my interpretation of Strings and Conditions? It's weird and not immediately straightforward, so I want to know if there's any confusion or any more exceptions you can think of.

Alternate Moves

So I've decided to write up some alternative moves to the existing ones to test out. As-is, the Skin is playable, well thought out, and fun in games, so as far as I'm concerned, it's hit the point that everything now is experimental.
Transform: You can transform into any character you have a String on. When you transform, roll with Dark. On a 10 up, you take their form perfectly. On a 7-9, choose one:
    * Your impersonation won't hold up under scrutiny. 
    * The process is agonizing, take 1 Harm. OR * The process is slow and agonizing.
    * The disguise won't last long.
This is alternate because: It's an experimental version of Transform, but is the most likely alternate move to make it into the playbook. The alternative choice there takes the one option with a mechanical penalty (and thus is less likely to be selected) and makes it into something purely narrative but still keeps the "penalty" feeling. I'm kinda leaning toward it.
Transformed: You can transform into any character you have a String on. When you act in a way that's out of character for the person you're impersonating, roll with Dark. On a 10 up, you get away with it. On a 7-9, you raise suspicion that something's wrong and need to adjust your performance or your cover is blown.
This is alternate because: It's very experimental, and I'm way less sure about the mechanical execution, so there's some of my own fault there, not in the approach. It has the benefit of being about the social interaction itself, which is cool. I'm on the fence, but it's definitely an interesting alternative to consider.
Mutual Enemy: When both you and the character you're impersonating have a String on someone, you take +1 to all rolls against this character.
This is alternate because: It's a cool idea, and honestly this would be a great inclusion if I end up cutting any of the moves I already have. I just consider each of my existing moves to be slightly stronger than it, and I don't want to have too many moves on the Skin (I already have like 8 with Face Dancer).
Conspirators: While transformed, when another character knows who your really are, they may mark experience if they agree to not expose you. If they do, take a String on them.
This is alternate because: It's a pretty hard-to-gauge trigger, and the mechanism has huge overlap with Face Dancer. It's the character-side mirror to Face Dancer, and frankly, I think just Face Dancer is enough. However, if you don't want to have that meta-gamey "work with me here and it'll be worth your while" conversation and have the interaction be in character, you could go with this one.
Personality Bleed: When you return to your own form, ask what the highest stat was for the character you were impersonating (ask the MC if it was an NPC). Until you next Transform, whenever you would roll with that stat, roll with Dark instead.
This is alternate because: I'm hesitant about what is more or less an unconditional stat substitution. It puts a very high emphasis on Dark, and makes you use Dark even when the fiction says you should be being Hot or whatever. It's not because of the way you do it or anything, it isn't really tied to the fiction as much anymore. However, it is definitely a hell of a lot simpler than the current Personality Bleed, and that's a huge benefit since the current Personality Bleed is more inelegant than I'd like.

End Recording,

1 comment :

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