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sndwurks

Honor, Glory, Status, Ninjo, Giri - Why The Current Systems Do Not Work

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For those unfamiliar with the idea, I highly recommend checking out Extra Credits’ video on Mechanics as Metaphor (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QwcI4iQt2Y is a good place to start, though https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pP_qNm-96Dc is better and more in depth). It is very useful for game design in general, and one of the primary drivers behind this post. 

At present, the systems in place for Ninjo and Giri, and how they interact with the systems for Honor, Glory, and Status are failing as a narrative.

Ninjo vs Giri is a central narrative to samurai drama, and the current version of L5R acknowledges this in theory, but not in practice. At present , the Ninjo vs Giri is treated as more a narrative aspect separate from the principal mechanics. The Discord Track provides a superfluous system to form a narrative, but has no narrative inherent to itself. The Pivotal Scene Mechanic is more of the same, and the Honor, Glory, and Status Systems only further this separation. This means the current systems subtracts from the narrative, rather than adds to it. 

A good contrast to this is actually the custom dice and Strife. These are systems which very much serve as narrative tools, which inform the player to the game they are playing. By rolling the Narrative dic, the player is gambling on fate and circumstance to see what their character is capable of. The player must then CHOOSE what to keep, balancing success with opportunity and mental stress. This informs the player that A) success is not always the most important thing, B) success can be costly, and C) the direct path is not always the best path. 

Compare this to how Ninjo and Giri interact with the game. If Ninjo and Giri are important to the narrative of L5R RPG, how do they inform the player of this? How do their systems serve as narrative? At present, they may be a source of Strife (a negative / punishment mechanic) if they are not followed, and potentially serve as a source of Honor / Glory loss or gain. By making Ninjo and Giri tied to a punishment mechanic, you are telling players to AVOID their Ninjo and Giri narratively. Unless they want to be punished by the system, they must obey their Ninjo or Giri if it comes up. As such, they are encouraged to avoid those situations by the system, which makes the Discord Track necessary to keep it in the character’s lives.

The Pivotal Scene mechanic does not fix this. It achieves the opposite, in fact. By requiring the spending of a Void point (a limited system resource that can be used to SAVE YOUR PC’S LIFE!), players are discouraged by the system to use the mechanic except as a source of Glory / Honor, which are themselves too separate from the rest of the game to matter. Furthermore, it is a system which encourages players to steal the narrative spotlight, and force the GM’s storytelling. It rewards a certain type of player (The Showboater), at the cost of other’s and their time at the table. 

I actually have to pause here, and without a Save Draft option on this post, I am putting it forward at this point. I will have more to say in a bit. 

Edited by sndwurks

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The Honor, Glory, and Status systems fail spectacularly at serving as a core system for the Ninjo vs Giri narrative. As it stands, for something that is supposed to be the bedrock the game rests upon, the Ninjo vs Giri narrative feels more like something which is stapled onto the Honor, Glory, Status system, which is itself stapled onto the actual game, and then weirdly taped to the Strife mechanic through a single piece of scotch tape. Honor, Glory, and Status do not interact with the main systems of the game enough to be sufficient for Ninjo vs Giri. For the majority of characters, Honor, Status, and Glory is an entirely OPTIONAL portion of the rules.

Presently, most characters leave CharGen with an Honor in the mid ranges and a Glory in the mid ranges. They have enough not to be in penalties (in the form of Disdain for Bushido Adversities or Whispers Of X Adversities) or enough to have benefits (in the form of Paragon of Bushido Distinction or Famous X Distinctions). It is only after significant, OPTIONAL play that most characters can interact with the mechanics aspects of Honor or Glory. By optional, I speak specifically to the "Staking Honor / Glory" mechanic which allows players to have some personal control over their own Honor / Glory progression, which is a system I actually LIKE and one I am glad to see, even if it is (like the Pivotal Scene mechanic) a system which feels written in more of an "In Spite of the GM" style of game play. You never HAVE to stake Honor / Glory on actions, and most characters can get through the day without encountering circumstances which cause them to lose or gain Honor / Glory by the GM side of mechanics.

This means that most characters will never see any mechanical effect of the Honor / Glory / Status systems. Compare this to older versions of L5R, which Honor was a superpower (you added it to resisting Fear and Temptation, and could sometimes Test of Honor to make a roll awesome) and Glory determined how likely someone was to have heard of you (by setting the Intelligence / Lore: Heraldry TN). PCs interacted with their own Honor frequently, and the Glory of others frequently. The systems in place to reflect this were not perfect, but they were most certainly relevant and close to the center of the game.

Beyond any other measure of how the current Beta's version of Honor, Glory, and Status work, it is how they serve the Ninjo vs Giri that their failure is most apparent. As it stands, the Honor, Glory, Status system is a functionally optional system to the L5R RPG Beta with little to no impact on the central mechanic of the game and an entirely optional impact on the narrative of the game. By tying the Ninjo vs Giri narrative to this system, its impact is weakened and ultimately falls flat.

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And now, the Discord Track and Pivotal Scenes, the two systems which exist to interact with the Ninjo vs Giri narrative.

The Discord Track, while a useful tool for GMs to plan sessions around, is ultimately a system rooted in a distrust of GMs and a distrust of players. While a Discord Track or something similar can be used to ensure a GM is giving their players a narrative which is rooted in the motivations of their PCs, this is what a good GM should be doing ANYWAYS. In order to tell a compelling narrative, your story needs to involve the motivations of the protagonist(s). In roleplaying games, the Protagonists are the PCs. If you are running an L5R game that does not on its own interact with its PCs human desires or sworn duties, then I would honestly contend that you should take a step back and figure out if the players at your table are having fun. If so, awesome and more power to you, but I have found that oftentimes, when an L5R game fails, it is because it ignores those aspects or gets them wrong. As such, the Discord Track is a good system for a less practiced GM to use to tell a story with a compelling narrative for their players and PCs, there is a reason I have been calling them the "Training Wheels". By making them a central system to the Ninjo vs Giri narrative, the L5R RPG Beta does not trust GMs to be able to write narratives incorporating Ninjo and Giri on their own, and does not trust players to seek out their own Ninjo & Giri during the narrative.

The Pivotal Scene mechanic further reinforces this distrust of the GM, in regards to narrative control. While it does require express GM permission to allow, it creates what is effectively an ability for any player to pull the arrow on the Discord Track to their PC once per session. By interjecting a Pivotal Scene, the narrative might get derailed, even at the point of requiring a GM to step in and say "No". While GM fiat is always a crucial power to any roleplaying game, any system which requires a GM to say "No," to prevent abuse is not a balanced system and ultimately detracts from the game on a whole.

Add to the Pivotal Scene the cost of a Void point to activate it, and its only mechanical impact is gaining or losing some Honor / Glory? It is asking the player to spend critical resources and time to pull narrative control away from the GM to force a "spotlight" moment, for a benefit which barely has any impact on the systems of the game. While the Pivotal Scene system may seem like it is giving players agency on its surface, in practice it is a system which allows abuse by certain types of players, offers no significant rewards for its inclusion, and actually pulls the game away from other narratives to achieve it.

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Which brings us to the conclusion of this series of posts, how can the L5R RPG Beta fix this?

Honestly, this is part of the reason this post has not gone up earlier. I was saving this for a "Focus Week" on Honor, Glory, and Status, so I could make a post about how that system does not work and what can be done, with a sideline wait of Ninjo vs Giri as a "Focus Week" in hopes. Those are, apparently, not coming as the game is moving into its final Manuscript format, according to the most recent email. This means that the people writing this game are completely happy with their current Honor, Glory, Status system and the current Ninjo vs Giri system, which is honestly disappointing to me.

In naming "Ninjo vs Giri", L5R RPG Beta took a big step in the right direction of guiding players in the direction of the samurai drama. While previous editions of the game spoke of this conflict, none of the others stepped up to make it as central to their game as this version STARTS to. However, it drops the ball very quickly, and I hope that someone working on this project reads this post and hears my critiques, because Ninjo vs Giri CAN be salvaged, and made much more prominent in the game.

By comparison, think about how important mono no aware is to the L5R LCG. "Nothing lasts forever" is a key theme of the LCG, and it informs the mechanics critically. The Fate mechanic keeps the game flowing fresh, and the game encourages you to use your resources before you lose them. It is part of what makes the game fun.

Ninjo vs Giri should be the mono no aware of the RPG. Every time I spend Fate in the LCG, I question if something will be worth the investment, if it will last long enough to win me that Conflict, that Round, that game. Every time I pick up the dice in L5R RPG, I should feel the conflict of Ninjo vs Giri weighing on me when I am rolling. I should feel the need of Human Desire warring with the demands of Sworn Duty when I am picking my results. Ninjo vs Giri needs to be a narrative that pressures my character in every session, not just when the Discord Track says it is my turn.

Look at the films of samurai drama which L5R draws its inspiration from, and you will see this. Every time Kanbei touches his shaved pate where his topknot used to be in Seven Samurai, he is FEELING the weight of his sworn duty ("I must protect people.") warring with his human desire ("I want to rest."). When Shinzaemon smiles in 13 Assassins, it is because he has been given a means of fulfilling both his ninjo ("I want an honorable death.") AND his giri ("I must serve the Shogunate.").

So. How to do this? Well, for this, I would like to reach out to the community and ask for suggestions. I will be putting my own after this post, but I would very much like to hear your own opinions, and hope that this might get read by the people behind the Beta while there is still time.

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I agree with you, but its tough to consider what might be the solution...  I kinda feel like Ninjo and Giri should be more like (dis)advantages - something the player can call upon for a direct mechanical benefit when they can justify that their character is following their ninjo/giri and something the GM can call out against them when they shirk these same things.

The problem with this is that we have quite a few advantages and disadvantages, and the mechanics are already so similar that it doesn't make much sense to pile more on...  I wonder if we should dump adversities and distinctions, using Ninjo/Giri in their place.  These give the immediate powerful ability / penalty of re-rolling that let them be front and center in a gaming session.  A player immediately sees the karmic consequence of their actions.

Then we take distinctions and adversities and we make them a MUCH simpler mechanic.  These turn into a simple list of keywords.  Whenever you commit to an approach you can pick 1 applicable trait to also apply to it.  This trait simply upgrades 1 ring die to a skill die for that roll.  Similarly negative traits can be called out by your GM to downgrade 1 skill die to a ring die.  These traits could include skill specializations rather than subskills as well.

edit: I'm totally with you on the discord wheel...  its something new GM's may find useful as they begin running rpg's but pretty worthless to a gm who knows what they're doing.  Honor / Glory tracking could be scrapped completely and the game would only be made better for it.

Edited by shosuko

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First, I feel we need to rethink how to WRITE a Ninjo and a Giri.

At their core, a good Ninjo is an "I want..." statement, while a good Giri is a "I must..." statement. For people unfamiliar with the societal pressures placed upon characters in a samurai drama, this serves as a good starting point for the Ninjo vs Giri narrative. Players should choose an "I want..." statement as their Ninjo, and a "I must..." statement as their Giri, and be told that they should be difficult, if not impossible to reconcile. While these may change over the course of play, starting in a "I want" vs "I must" already shows the tension between desire and obligation.

Next, tie something in the core mechanics of the game to each, but make it POSITIVE. Currently, by gaining Strife, players are only mechanically punished for their PCs encountering / interacting with their Ninjo or Giri. Give players a mechanical incentive to SEEK OUT their PCs Ninjo and Giri inside the space of the game's narrative. Do not require them to spend mechanical currency (i.e. Void point) in order to interact with this mechanic. The mechanics of Ninjo and Giri should be free and accessible to players, and should inform and influence their choices in a game. In order to do this, they MUST interact with the core mechanic of the RPG: the Narrative Dice.

One way of doing this is to give the Ninjo a Bushido Virtue which is a failure of and the Giri a Bushido Virtue it is a paragon of. Give the character the Disdain for Bushido Virtue and Paragon of Bushido Virtue for the respective Virtues. This causes rerolling of the Narrative Dice, and will find players looking for ways to either apply their Giri for the beneficial rerolls and either avoiding their Ninjo to avoid the negative reroll, or actively seek it out for the hope of triggering a failure to gain a Void point. While this may be sufficient, I feel that something more can be done mechanically.

The answer to that is Strife icons.

Strife icons indicate the mounting emotional turmoil your character endures. It is the small memories, the petty concerns, the microaggressions of the world slowly building up inside of them. Already, thematically, it FEELS a lot like the struggle between Ninjo and Giri, doesn't it? So, tying Ninjo and Giri to Strife icons on the narrative dice is movement in the right direction. So, how to make this work?

My first thoughts are this:

Once per scene, after a character has rolled their dice but before they are choosing their kept dice, the player may call upon the character's Ninjo and / or Giri as an inspiration. Alter any dice rolled showing a Strife icon to any other face with a Strife icon. Alternatively, this can be changed to any other face to scale the power up, or alter up to two dice or reroll them to scale the power down.

Alternatively:

Once per scene, after a character has rolled their dice but before they are choosing their kept dice, the player may call upon the character's Ninjo or Giri as inspiration. For this roll the character may spend Strife icons on dice kept as Opportunities as well as Strife.

Again, these are just some initial thoughts.

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4 minutes ago, shosuko said:

The problem with this is that we have quite a few advantages and disadvantages, and the mechanics are already so similar that it doesn't make much sense to pile more on...  I wonder if we should dump adversities and distinctions, using Ninjo/Giri in their place.  These give the immediate powerful ability / penalty of re-rolling that let them be front and center in a gaming session.  A player immediately sees the karmic consequence of their actions.

Then we take distinctions and adversities and we make them a MUCH simpler mechanic.  These turn into a simple list of keywords.  Whenever you commit to an approach you can pick 1 applicable trait to also apply to it.  This trait simply upgrades 1 ring die to a skill die for that roll.  Similarly negative traits can be called out by your GM to downgrade 1 skill die to a ring die.  These traits could include skill specializations rather than subskills as well.

I LOVE both of these. Upgrading dice is something this game should do more of, in general, and tying the Distinction / Adversity / Passion / Anxiety mechanic directly to the Ninjo / Giri while moving the current Distinction / Adversity / Passion / Anxiety mechanics into a "rolled dice modification" would really work.

Rerolling dice when a Ninjo / Giri benefits or detracts, or gaining / losing Strife when you fulfill or deny them would go a long way to changing how the game interacts with Ninjo and Giri.

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What about once per session, when pursuing either of your Ninjo or Giri, you may recover one Void Point when facing an obstacle? +2 extra Void Points to the already starved Void Point economy.

Edited by WHW

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I've already posted my idea here, and I'm not changing it: Giri and Ninjo are derived attributes that represent the state of the character's official obligations and duties or their private wellbeing, respectively. Whenever another (or even the character!) wants to mess with these things, their TNs are set by the character's Giri or Ninjo. This gives the player a good idea how their character is holding up, provides mechanical importance without needing a lot of thought, but also offers depth via the secondary attribute picks and narrative consequences of messing with them if the player is up to that.  

For example, if you pick Air as the secondary attribute for your Giri then you can say that your character is kinda slacking around (Con Approach) or that he is focusing on the details (Refine Approach) - picking Earth, on the other hand, might mean that the character is using honest logic (Reason Approach) or real hard work (Produce Approach). This effectively writes the character's life story all by itself and allows the players to "pick their drama", so to speak. Ninjo with Earth (Restore)? Maybe your character is trying to reconcile with an estranged family member or friend. Giri with Honor (Duty)? Maybe your character fulfills his task with utmost loyalty, but his blind obedience sets his way to disaster. Giri with Earth (Withstand) and Ninjo with Water (Adapt)? Do you try to intimidate another targeting their Ninjo? They have Ninjo 5, you are threatening the kid of Knight Templar Dad - this won't be pretty even if you succeed. We might have conflicting approaches here! The point is that the player can choose what their character is up to, and even if they decide to ride the Drama Train, no two cases will be the same. 

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5 hours ago, AtoMaki said:

The point is that the player can choose what their character is up to, and even if they decide to ride the Drama Train, no two cases will be the same. 

Thank you for the link, and I like this approach as well!

Do you have any thoughts on the Honor, Glory, Status system as well? Or do you share in my opinion that they simply stapled the old system onto the new system, removed the decimal point, and it really, REALLY does not work?

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5 minutes ago, sndwurks said:

Do you have any thoughts on the Honor, Glory, Status system as well? 

 

I would keep the 1-10 rank scaling system with the addition that Honor would be its own "Ring" with the seven virtues as its Approaches. Also, bring back Infamy. 

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4 minutes ago, AtoMaki said:

I would keep the 1-10 rank scaling system with the addition that Honor would be its own "Ring" with the seven virtues as its Approaches. Also, bring back Infamy. 

It would be impolite to post my immediate response to reading this, but let us say it was along the lines of "*Expletive Deleted*" and positive.

I think L5R is desperately in need of a "Reputation" system, where Glory and Infamy are their own separate "Attributes", the higher of which is your Reputation for people recognizing you, and both of which influence just for what they know you from.

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How about tackling it from an entire different side, then, and creating your own "Legend"?

"Legend" would be a list of Deeds you have performed - Glorious or Inglorious, Honorable or Dishonorable; a Deed would come with a unique name, a non-unique keyword(s), and a point rating. Keywords and the point value would form the guideline of mechanical/narrative implications and effects of the deed (like what kind of people would recognize it, and so on), with some space for hammering out the details as needed to make it personal and unique.

The mechanic would need to help you figure out what kind of Deeds are suitably Legendary for the character of a given Rank, and would probably slowly fade away, overwritten by more recent, stronger (gauged by the point value of the Deed) stories and failures character has been a part of.

It would also put "Legend" part of the title into the game, too : P. Samurai were notorious boasting glory hounds, and game never had gameplay carrots to encourage that kind of behavior.

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On 25.12.2017 at 3:37 AM, WHW said:

How about tackling it from an entire different side, then, and creating your own "Legend"?

That is such a cool idea. Would also emphasis the Legend part of the game.

But seriously you could work towards little goals within the game. Crafting your legend one step at a time. Faced with various decissions: ninjo or giri, coward or protector, leacherous or stoic, forgotten soul or honorable ancestor.

There is so much potential here.

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2 hours ago, WHW said:

I wonder if you could kill two birds with one stone, and tie it also to the XP system? 

This sounds a lot like the Stories progression in 7th Sea 2nd ed. Basically, each player sets a goal for their PC with an achievable ending and takes steps toward that goal. Each step taken is basically treated as XP and once a goal is achieved or abandoned they work toward a new goal.

-----------------------

In the game my group is currently beta testing (and so far really loving), each PC has two goals that may or may not oppose one another (one the PC need not even be aware of). They get rewards for completing their goals; the reward is highest if they have to abandon one goal within their grasp for the other goal. They also get rewarded a type of glory they can cash in for benefits to their current situation.

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