Saturday, December 26, 2009

More on Gambling and Auctions

Earlier I wrote about an idea for using gambling mechanics as a sub-system within the game. I still think this idea has merit; clearly gambling games hold our attention, as they are widely popular. I also like the idea of different subsystems to resolve different tasks.

Upon further thought I'm not exactly sure I'm implementing it in the right way. When you gamble in poker, in general you place your bet based on how strong you think your hand is relative to every other player's hand. Obviously there are strategies which deviate from this such as manipulating the pot odds which makes the game interesting, but that's the general rule.

What I am trying to do at the moment, however, is find a free market, interactive and exciting method for determining how "costly" a commodity (success at a task) should be. Bear in mind that "cost" could be a finite amount of resources (X Healing Surges, Y Spells, Z Gold Pieces, whatever) or a percentage chance of expending resources (X% chance to die, Y% chance to lose healing surges, etc).

One traditional method is an auction. Basically, in an auction, you take an item for which a general cost is known and allow the purchasers to decide its value. Just looking at Wikipedia, there are a wide variety of auction techniques out there.

One major problem I can see right away with using auctions is collusion. Unless you're playing a game like Agon that pits players against each other, in general, the players will want to collude to get the best possible "price" for their "item" (success at the skill check), because usually their goals overlap.

I see a few ways to beat collusion:
- Offer the players incentives to compete against each other. Agon does this rather well with its emphasis on individual glory over group goals. It doesn't matter if the whole team makes it from Athens to Marathon; what does matter is who makes it first. This gets closer to creating a true market.
- Allow the DM or NPCs to bid on the task as well (which denies the players success if they are unwilling to match the bid). This however gets us back to the issues of requiring the DM to arbitrarily come up with the "costs" for items.
- Use a Dutch Auction. Dutch Auctions are less vulnerable to collusion. However, I think you'd still have to include one of the former methods too; just using a dutch auction alone will not be enough to solve the issues.
- Use a silent auction. This reduces the information available to the players and thus they will need to wager more to ensure winning, especially if one of the first two methods is in play.

So, in short, I think a Silent Dutch auction combined with either NPC/DM bidding (easiest to implement, theoretically) and intra-party competition would be the ticket.

Here's an example of play using some 4E terminology in italics (but feel free to substitute resources from your favorite game:

DM: "Ok, you come across a chasm with boiling lava running through it. The first one across will win an Action Point for their daring and pluck. Bids will be in increments of Healing Surges, with a maximum bid of six surges and a minimum of zero.

Additionally, I'll roll 1d6-3; anyone who bids less than this secret reserve will lose their nerve and fail to make the crossing, and be stuck on the former side for a turn while they hem and haw and get their nerve back up. And of course, every turn in this dungeon requires a wandering monster check..."

All the players then think about what is at stake and how much they value winning that Action Point. They all notate how many surges they are willing to spend, perhaps by secretly setting up a six-sided die in front of them. When all the "bids" are uncovered the one who is willing to bid the most will be the "winner" who gets across the chasm first. The party may well be split if some players fail to meet the secret reserve price; to guarantee getting everyone across, all will have to bid at least 3 surges.

Great Success: The winner of the auction who bids the most. They pay their bid, cross the chasm, and win the action point.
Success: Anyone who bids more than the reserve but does not bid the most. They cross the chasm.
Failure: Anyone who fails to meet the reserve. They fail to cross the chasm and waste a turn to boot.

As a twist, you could work skills into it in several ways. Perhaps skilled characters automatically get a +1 or +2 bonus added to their bid if they can explain how their skill is relevant.

3 comments:

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