Thursday, June 2, 2016

Yes, and...

So far I’ve been discussing the problems that I’ve had with running and preparing my game. Because of this I have been looking at systems I’ve used in the past that mesh well with my ad-hoc gaming style.

Let’s first discuss the concept I mention in the title of this post. For those unfamiliar with it, “Yes, and…” is an important technique used in improvisational theater, where two characters start a scene together with a simple premise, and are only allowed to respond in an affirmative manner to each other, while also adding to the scene. An example of this would be the following as done by two improvising actors:

Actor 1: “Man, it does suck to be a farm hand”
Actor 2: “Yes, and the boss is working us so hard!”
Actor 1: “Yes, and we should’ve followed our mother’s advice and looked for a job in the city.”
Actor 2: “Yes, and if you would’ve done that, you would’ve ended up broke within weeks. And meanwhile, I would’ve worked hard enough to become the new farmer, so that when you return and beg for a job, I would’ve become your boss!”

This is a very basic example, but immediately you can see a simple story forming. A more important thing to note that despite both actors agreeing with one another, we still get conflict! So this looks like a very decent basis for a roleplaying game.

I’ve been looking at systems that apply this concept of saying “Yes, and”. Two notable examples of this kind of system that I’ve used in games in the past are John Wick’s Houses of theBlooded and John Harper’s Lady Blackbird.

John Wick’s Houses of the Blooded deals with the enigmatic Ven, who are the nobles on a post-sorcerer king, pre-Atlanean earth. Despite its flaws, it has some neat mechanics: All characters have 5 different stats. Each stat allows a character who succeeds at a roll to state things which are true about the world, which will last throughout the game. Two characters can roll off against each other and resources so you end up with a game of “Yes, and…”

I must resist the urge to fill up the entire blog with mysterious masked women.
An example that I’ve seen in one of the games I was in:
GM: “The pompous viscount Moreandal enters the room!”
Player: “I roll my Beauty to state something about his romantic past!”
GM: “Sure, he will roll off against you so he can state something about himself as well.”
After the game mechanic, it is determined that the GM is allowed to determine 2 facts for Moreandal and is allowed to go first, while the player is allowed only one fact.
GM: “Moreandal is infatuated with the Lady Alliana.”
Player: “And he has kept this fact barely secret from his wife, Shanina, the Black Priestress”
GM: “Alliana however has been trying to convince Moreandal to break of the relationship.”

Now we suddenly have a tragic love story for the tall and brooding viscount who entered the court room. Zero prep required, and the player can immediately see the impact of his actions. Pretty neat, huh?

The Owl certainly has seen better days, but what ship that has faced sky-squids and the Imperial Navy on a regular basis hasn't?
Then we have Lady Blackbird. I will be using this free to download game designed by John Harper quite often in his blog as an example, just because it is that awesome! I have yet to encounter a player who doesn’t like this little gem.  The game starts the players off in the steampunk adventures of the eponymous Lady Blackbird. The approach used by Harper in this game is that the GM is supposed to ask the players questions, to which the players provide the answer so the game can continue.
An example:

GM: “So you are stuck in the brig of the Hand of Sorrow. How have you smuggled the file aboard the ship that you are now using to break out of the ship?”
Player: “Well, I have an old poker mate of mine who works in the engine room of the Hand, even though he is obviously part of the empire, he was able to give me this file in exchange that I waved some of his debts to me!”

A very different way of dealing with player interaction compared to Houses of the Blooded.

So now we get back to Yes, And…

This is something I have been missing in my own GURPS games. I see that both systems mentioned above allowed my players to add details to the world that I as a GM use for further inspiration. We can see that Lady Blackbird’s approach could actually work almost straight off the bat in any system, but I want to do something more with the system.

My own GURPS game is partially an investigative game, and we want to add some simple mechanics to the game to enhance this aspect, while also increasing player agency similar to the mechanics mentioned above. This has resulted in me adding the following optional rule for all investigative skills. Investigative skills are any skill used to determine a truth about the world, these can either be social, technical, biological, historical, etc etc. As long as there is something to study up on and to determine a truth about.

It probably turns out in the end that the butler did it anyway.

Narrative Investigation
When a character uses an investigative skill, they perform a Narrative Investigation to determine facts which are true within the gaming world. The usage of the skill still requires any prerequisites (time, materials, etc.) as per normal use of the skill. Penalties for the roll, for instance for rushing the skill role and BAD (Action 2 – Exploits, page 4) still apply.

The initial investigative roll always has a question which is posed by the investigating character regarding the subject he is investigating (Was the murder committed by the butler?) or (Was the murder committed by a left-handed man?). The more specific the question, the higher the penalty on the roll will get.

On a successful roll, the investigator gets to state if his question is confirmed or unconfirmed. The character will also know everything that the player knows regarding this investigation roll.
Once a truth is established through the investigation, it becomes part of the world and a fact within the gaming world. These new facts cannot be changed by further investigation, but new investigations and points spent can add nuances.

For every further 2 points worth of margin of success on the investigation roll, the investigating character gets 1 Investigation Point.
Investigation points can be spent on the same scale as per Player Guidance (PU 5 – Impulse Buys, page 7). Facts are added to the investigation on the following scale:

Minor: An element that fits the scene perfectly - 1 point.
Moderate: A believable coincidence or addition, similar to the effects of Serendipity (p.B83). - 2 points.
Major: Something that, while plausible, stretches disbelief - 3 points.

The first investigation points spent in a single investigation always have to determine a basic truth about the subject at hand (The murderer is left-handed!). The skill used also determines what can be determined as true. So you cannot use Body Language to determine that King Arthur was actually an alien, but you use it to state that a thug is used to beating up his wife.
The player can also choose to add a bonus to his roll, but for every point worth of bonus added to the roll, the GM also gets an investigation point. This investigation point can be used by the GM after each statement made by the player to add a complication. Complications use the same guideline as mentioned above to spend investigation points.

All points gained during the roll must be spent immediately on the same single investigation. It is however allowed to state multiple connected truths and the statements are allowed to build off each other (Yetis are carnivores. But they will never eat a human).
New investigations into the same subject can only be undertaken when new evidence comes to light regarding the subject.

On a failure of the investigative roll, the player has to state which assumption his character makes regarding the fact he is trying to investigate, and why it is wrong.


  1. Hello !

    I don't know if you're still active and reading this, but ...

    This idea is really good for GURPS ! I'm therefore stealing it whole and adding it to my game ! For almost all skills and ability checks, also - it has tremendous potential !

    Thanks ^^

    1. Definitely steal it! I really need to get back to this blog, and update this post, but I think the basics work very well.

    2. I'm glad you're still out there ^^ . It was courageous to start a blog, even if to have it stopped somewhat.

      My DM / preparation style seems to alternate between yours and Mailanka's, so both outlooks are interesting - and i'm also gaining motivation to try Action ^^.

      Good luck !