In Dying Earth’s persuasion contests, the disastrous result is infinitely less permanent than death. You may enter a ridiculous wager in which you’ll likely lose a few coins – already an eminently transitory commodity. You might open a door you don’t want to open, or be forced to wear a ridiculous hat. In short, your PC will suffer embarrassment.
Seems a significantly smaller setback than death, doesn’t it? But roleplaying culture, or at least a vociferous strain of it, bitterly resists any such mechanic. Control of a PC’s actions must always remain in the player’s hands. Any rule that flouts this, including Pendragon’s trait mechanic and its many descendants, is anathema.
The answer to this conundrum lies in that emotional center of the roleplaying experience, power fantasy. We play adventure games not only for excitement, but for a sense of larger-than-life mastery and control. To many players, the possibility of death is just part of the bargain. Besides, the rules are skewed so that their PCs almost never die – the bulk of the gasping and expiring is left to hordes of orcs, goons, and space mutants, all of them rich in experience points.
To many players, loss of control is much worse than death, because it’s much less imaginary. If Sir Gilbert gets impaled by at the gnarled hands of an ogre chieftain or is felled by poison gas, that’s an extreme event that has little emotional reality to it. Episodes of embarrassment, on the other hand, are something we all suffer, on an all-too-frequent basis.
To experience a split between one’s conscious desires and one’s emotional impulses, to behave in one way while knowing intellectually that you ought to be doing anything but, is to be human. For certain of us, though, the experience is so highly charged it’s positively radioactive.
Aha. Oh, does this relate well to the Social attribute debate I had with the GOO forum.
‘Kill my character, but don’t embarrass me at an imaginary social event. ‘Cause I know I can outwit any NPC inna place.’
At the same time, I like the comments on livejournal here about ‘equal risk’ being introduced to a situation rather than ‘zero sum’. One of the parameters of Social is that idea of an audience, a larger community, and that consequence can rebound on either participant.
I’ve yet to see a nice way of adding heavy Player input to light system input judged against social backdrop to resolve these things in a way that each Player can easily niche.
That is frustrating.