To contextualise my thoughts re: incentivizing ethical decisions in RPGs:

Yesterday I played in a game, running through @DonnStroud 's "The Isle of the Plangent Mage". At the start of the adventure, a scene of townsfolk slaughtering beached whales.

The parent whale had already been killed; its three children were still on the beach, breathing.

The bulk of our session became: "How do we save these whale babies???"

We were playing with Old School Essentials. OSE's rules-sanctioned incentive for play is as old-school as it gets: gold for XP; monsters defeated for XP.

The townsfolk saw the beached whales as gifts from Mother Sea; we'd presumably piss off a poor seaside community for taking away a valuable source of food / resources.

But our Cleric had cast Speak to Animals. We knew the kid whales were scared. We *couldn't* not act.

In the end, we managed to get the villagers to agree to letting three of the four babies go.

The final one -who had been a bit emo and had asked to die, if it matters- our dwarf gave a quick death, instead of being gutted while alive.

Not fucking ideal, but there you go.

True: now there were three whales in the bay, who saw our party Cleric as their saviour.

But I don't think "potential allies" where at the forefront of our minds. More: "These are scared kids. We can't let them die like this."

"XP for defeating monsters": the whales weren't monsters -but the risk of sour relations with the townsfolk who've fucked with "XP for gold"; this was our one access to a local economy.

"We couldn't in good conscience let kids die."

This decision wasn't driven by any rules-sanctioned incentives.

It *was* made meaningful by a table that empathised with the fiction, and a GM / player group ready to play out meaningful "diegetic" consequences.

In this way, you could argue that we as players were "incentivised" to act with empathy by the culture of our play, and the "solidity" of the fiction - framed by our GM; sustained by player buy-in.

Our "incentives" weren't a matter of designing better rules or game systems -but in establishing better ways of communication and sharing of the fictional space, between players.

A matter of communications, as @greerrrr says.

So, to me, the challenge for folks who make tabletop RPGs is less:

- "How do we design a better system to incentivise play we want?"

and more:

- "How do we foster a better culture of communication, so people sharing an imagined space can act with emotional truth?"

We are humans and are capable of enough empathy to act out emotional truth in fiction;
Not coded robots that need the former to simulate and approximate it.


This is also a long-winded way of saying: @benlaurence1 @yungdumbitch @nTs_qpop @throneofsalt @efnord -

I had a blast playing with you folks, yesterday.

Ball Bearing *still* feels bad about the pink emo whale baby we didn't get to save.

• • •

Missing some Tweet in this thread? You can try to force a refresh

Keep Current with Zedeck Siew

Zedeck Siew Profile picture

Stay in touch and get notified when new unrolls are available from this author!

Read all threads

This Thread may be Removed Anytime!


Twitter may remove this content at anytime! Save it as PDF for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video
  1. Follow @ThreadReaderApp to mention us!

  2. From a Twitter thread mention us with a keyword "unroll"
@threadreaderapp unroll

Practice here first or read more on our help page!

More from @zedecksiew

18 Mar

" Gul and others's mistrust [of vaccinations] stems from a much more sinister source ... hunting for Bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, the CIA organized a fake hepatitis B vaccination program to aid in their search. "
" ... though the White House announced that the CIA would no longer use vaccination programs as cover for espionage, Pakistan moved from being a country that had almost eradicated polio to one whose polio cases accounted for a whopping 85 percent of the global share. "
Even if you expect a baseline of USian interventionist evil, this is *beyond the pale* HOLY SHIT
Read 4 tweets
18 Mar
This is my main problem with mechanically rewarding pro-social play: a character's ethical choice is rendered mercenary.

"Being good for a reward isn’t being good - it’s just optimal play. "
Bear in mind I'm not saying that pro-social play can't have "rewarding" outcomes for players:

Any decision should have (diegetic?) consequences in the fiction. The townsfolk are thankful; the goblins remember your mercy, etc.

But extra XP tickets for ethical decisions stinks.
If you give bonus XP for sparing goblins your players aren't making a decisions based on how much their value life. They are making a decision based on how much they want XP.

A subtle but *absolutely* essential distinction, when it comes to ethics.
Read 10 tweets
15 Mar
Tried reading Lancer RPG several times now. (It's been on my bedside table for a month.)

And it is *genuinely* difficult for me to see its setting's central polity, Union, as anything but an analogue to imperial US America.
* centralised polity with clear metropole worlds
* absolutely intertwined with megacorporations
* "safeguarded" by a secret intelligence bureau a la the CIA / KGB
* foreign policy against its "periphery" is expansionism / corpocratic brush war
* sure of its moral rectitude
The text uses the word "utopia" / "utopian" 18 times. (Not counting the phrase "Utopian Pillars", Union's charter.)

I kept looking to see whether it was using this world ironically. It does not.

I'm sorry, but secret police + centralised nation-state + MEGACORPS =/= utopia.
Read 19 tweets
15 Dec 20
Modern cyberpunk's problem isn't dystopia. Cyberpunk fiction has always had dystopia. Punks need a bad world to resist.

Modern cyberpunk's problem is tone. Feels like there's more stories of surrender / evil-ultimately-wins cynicism now. We've stopped resisting the bad world.
Maybe this is natural:

As we slip further into dystopia, cyberpunk begins to dress in the costume of realist fiction.

In real life, as we discover the insurmountability of the corpo-state; as we realise that evil wins not because it is ruthless but because it is convenient;

Creators working in the idiom of cyberpunk may feel like its their duty to reflect these realities:

"We live in a dystopia now. Turns out, we aren't the punks. We're the wage-slaves."

Read 13 tweets
4 Apr 20

Another weekend under quarantine. This morning there were sirens, where I am.

I'd like to leave the house for a bit. Come with me?

Drop me an object-themed emoji? I'll write you a place you've seen before, and long to see again.
1:⛽️At home, with your husband carrying your crying son; your mother on the phone, chattering-

You miss the rig.

It was no less of a pressure-cooker: sixty crew in a football field crammed with gear, crude, a gas flare.

But there, on the deck -wind on an open sea.

2:🔦The light on your suit casts a wavering disc. Hadal amphipods and jellies drift into its beam, then dart away.

You waddle up a dead driveway. Shine your light through the windows of a ruined house. You once lived here. Squid and spiderfish live in it, now.

Read 22 tweets
28 Mar 20

Week 2 of quarantine, where I am; no walks, no meeting friends. Even I, hermit as I am, worry about going stir-crazy.

So- was thinking we can embark on journeys, together.

Drop me an emoji? I'll write you a prompt. An adventure, just beginning.
1: 🥐 The sandwich comes to you via delivery. You unwrap the foil as the quadrotor buzzes away.

There's something in your sandwich, between tempe patties -an oil-stained slip of card. "Come alone," it says. There is a street address.

2: Watering the garden, you see your morning glory stir.

Its tendrils uncoil. Its vines unclench, recede. Knot in on themselves, twine into thin limbs.

They let go of your fence. They have a face. Flower eyes: two purple trumpet blossoms. They offer a hand to shake.

Read 102 tweets

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just two indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3/month or $30/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!

Follow Us on Twitter!