I sometimes struggle with analysis paralyses. I'm looking at you restaurant menus and complex strategy games.
In the last session of the Butcher, Baker, and Candlestick Maker, we ended the session with an interesting Duel of Wits. Chase, Peter, and Margaret were going to ensure Julia marries William. And the Duel of Wits turned ugly fast.
As a player, I wanted to advance certain skills and abilities. My character, however, wanted to make sure that her sister's wedding went through as originally agreed. And there was beautiful tension of player and character. As the duel of wits spiralled into the dark corners of a pyrrhic victory, I was marking off tests for various skills and dishing out slander against Julia's future in-laws.
And in this tension, I've discovered more about my character Margaret. She is oblivious to the ramifications of her words…Misunderstood perhaps. She's very rash when it comes to “protecting her family” and will pull no punches.
Take a moment to read Luke Crane's micro-interview from RPG Countdown's “Best of 2011.”
We came to the climax of the [three year] game and every player was chewing his beard or gnawing on his knuckles going, “Oh God, I don't wanna do this thing…but I can't…but I should.” Burning Wheel Gold gets you to that point. When you have those conflicts and they are rewarded, [Burning Wheel Gold] loves it. It doesn't care what decision you make, it just wants you to make a decision.
For my RPGs I want what Luke's talking about – meaningful decisions. Decisions that shape future direction of the game…Decisions that are not easy, but show the mettle of a character. But here in lies a tension with meaningful decisions comes the potential for analysis paralysis.
But, if the decision is important enough – related directly to a character's belief – then there should be some gnashing of teeth and grinding of gears. Characters are forged in the fires of adversity.
Contrast this with D&D 4E. I've witnessed player turns in various D&D 4E games that took far too long – I don't need to witness 3 minutes of decision making paired with 3 minutes of action resolution for a single player. If you are aware of the math in D&D 4E, any single decision doesn't carry that much weight – there are no Save or Die spells.
In D&D 4E, the weight of your tactical decision is inversely proportional to the number of hit points you have remaining. This encodes a narrative ebb and flow. Early, there is little tension, and as hit points are lost, the tension increases.
Whereas in Burning Wheel, the advice for tension regarding tests is based on how close a test cleaves to a belief. If a test is directly related to a Belief, the stakes should be very high.
I'm willing to sit back and watch someone deliberate about a test for something they believe in…a meaningful test. I want to better understand their character. I can take those insights and as a player or game master fold them back into the ongoing campaign.