mechanic for arranging marriages

  • 6 Replies
mechanic for arranging marriages
« on: November 26, 2013, 10:25:22 AM »
This isn't even for a hack I'm actively working on at this point, more just a vague daydream of a hack I might one day make.

And it's also -- in my daydream -- wandered somewhat afield from the Powered by the Apocalypse structure, to the extent that I'm not sure it would even count as a hack anymore, despite being very much inspired by the Apocalyptikin (particularly Sagas of the Icelanders, with a bit of AW and Monsterhearts...). I'd keep the basic ideas of the conversation, with moves triggering as the interface between fiction and mechanics, and the core agenda, PC/NPC asymmetry, things like that.... but I might even mess with the central 2d6->6-/7-9/10+ paradigm.

But anyway, I'm thinking about a historical setting with bifurcated gender dynamics like Icelanders, in a community where marriage is considered basically the apex of human life and, if you asked people there what the victory condition of their existence was, marrying their children and grandchildren well would be a big part of it.

Agency in making a marriage is pretty distributed, with the bride and groom, both sets of parents, and one or more matchmakers all having some degree of say (of course, given the AW heritage, which of these happen to be the PCs has everything to do with how the mechanics fall out, so that if the PCs are young people it's them rolling to have some influence on who they marry, once they reach middle age they're rolling to try to achieve good marriages for their NPC children...)

Since this activity is among the central aspects of the game, I'd like it to have some meaty mechanics, to devote the same care and focus to it that Dungeon World devotes to combat, that Monsterhearts devotes to social exclusion and psychological bullying and manipulation, that AW devotes to the encounter with the incomprehensible beyond, that Sagas of the Icelanders devotes to negotiating honor and to scrabbling out an existence this side of starvation.

Any ideas?



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Re: mechanic for arranging marriages
« Reply #1 on: December 16, 2013, 04:27:43 PM »
Coming to this one late, but this is something that screams for a countdown clock.  These kinds of arrangements are always about the process.  There are lengthy and complicated negotiations involving numerous participants, many of which will have been underway long before the potential bride and the groom ever meet.  At any of these steps, things can break down, but once things reach a sort of "critical mass," they're hard to stop.

So maybe it's something like, before 9:00, parties are interested, negotiations are ongoing, the idea is being given weight but no one is committed yet.  Without active participation to advance the pact, both families will entertain other offers and passing time will mean a weakening of the prospects.  In other words, if no one is actively trying to advance it, the countdown clock will tick backwards, much like Harm before 9:00 healing on its own.

After 9:00, however, the negotiations have been largely settled, a good-faith agreement has been made between the families, and preparations are actually underway.  This is when the aroma of inevitability begins to permeate the proceedings, and unless someone is actively trying to stop it, the deed is going to be done whether the bride or groom want it or not.  In other words, Harm after 9:00 gets worse with time.

And after 12:00, it's time to head to the wedding chapel.

Adding even more fun, there could also be additional Threat Clocks representing the proposals of other suitors.  This gives more opportunities for both hilarity and fuckery, as discrediting other suitors becomes an additional aspect to the battle.  And if two PCs are both vying for the same PC/NPC's hand?  Hilarity indeed.

To handle these complicated negotiations, you might have some custom moves like:

Gifts Befitting a Blushing Bride
When you give gifts to the family of the bride, roll+barter (up to N barter may be spent this way).
10+: The bride's family is greatly impressed.  Advance the countdown clock by one tick, and take +1 forward on your next interaction with the bride's family.
7-9: The bride's family is duly impressed, but there's a complication.  Advance the countdown clock by one tick, and choose 1:
  • The bride's family lets it drop that there's another offer on the table.  Create a new Threat Countdown representing this alternate merger and set it at 3:00.
  • The family likes the gifts, but can't help comparing them to the gifts brought by the family of suitor X.  Advance suitor X's Threat Countdown by one tick.
  • One of the bride's relatives takes an instant and intense dislike to a member of the groom's family, and begins trying to put on the brakes.  Take -1 ongoing to all future negotiations with the bride's family.
  • Perhaps all is not as it seems.  Some member of the bride's family lets something slip that indicates that perhaps she is not quite the catch she has been talked up to be.  The bride's "Eligibility" score goes down by one.
6-: The bride's family is insulted.  Maybe they feel like the amount was not commensurate with what their daughter is worth, maybe they just didn't like the gifts themselves.  Or maybe they're just looking for an excuse because they've had a better offer.  Either way, pull the countdown clock back two steps.  If this drops it to 0:00 or earlier, this window has closed irrevocably.

First Impressions
The first time the bride and groom meet, roll+Hot.
10+: The bride thinks you're a smoking hottie and stops (or at least greatly slows) throwing tantrums to daddy about not wanting to get married.  Advance the countdown clock by one tick and take +1 forward to your next interaction with the bride herself.
7-9: The bride thinks you're decent looking, but isn't blown off her feet.  Advance the countdown clock by one tick and choose 1:
  • The bride's chaperone doesn't like the look of you.  Take -1 forward to your next interaction with the bride where the chaperone is present.
  • The bride isn't all that impressed with you, but the bride's little sister is completely smitten, to the point that she's on you every chance she gets.  Any time you are doing anything in the presence of the bride's family, you are Acting Under Fire as you try to keep the little minx's lascivious attempts to get at you from being discovered.
  • The bride likes you but doesn't find you as attractive as suitor X.  Advance suitor X's Threat Countdown by one tick.
  • Turns out those pictures of the bride were pretty well-doctored "glamor shots."  She's not nearly as attractive in person.  Reduce her "Eligibility" score by one.
6-: The bride finds you revolting.  Maybe she really doesn't like your manly unibrow.  Maybe she doesn't like tall men.  Maybe she doesn't like men.  Either way, she has threatened to throw herself out the window in the tallest tower if forced to marry you.  Daddy still remains resolute that this is a good match, so while your countdown clock is safe, take -2 ongoing on all future interactions with the bride-to-be.  Yeah, she hates the look of you that much.

Any time you undertake negotiations on behalf a suitor (or a smear campaign against one), roll+Sharp.
10+: You make your case convincingly.  Advance the countdown clock of the suitor in question by one tick in the direction you desire.  Additionally, your arguments are so well-stated that you may advance the countdown clock of another suitor in the opposite direction.
7-9: Pick 2:
  • You are well spoken and the family seems receptive to your ideas.  Advance the countdown clock of the suitor in question by one tick in the direction you desire.
  • You are treated as a valuable source of information by the bride's family.  Take +1 forward with them in your next interaction.
  • You don't have to lie through your teeth to get what you want.
6-: The bride's family sees you as either an intrusive busybody or a bitter harridan.  The countdown clock of the suitor in question goes one tick in the direction opposite to what you intend.

Throw a Tantrum
You rave like a lunatic, throw things, break stuff, behave badly at social functions, and generally make a pest of yourself.  Once per session or after a suitable amount of downtime has passed, you may roll+Hard.
10+: In an effort to get a little bit of peace in their household, the family relents and agrees to take a step back from the negotiations.  You may pull back the countdown clock of a single suitor of your choice by one tick.
7-9: Your parents offer you the kind of choice that parents tend to offer - pick one:
  • Pull back the countdown clock of a suitor of your choice but take -1 ongoing with your family whenever marriage negotiations are concerned
  • Suck it up and mark experience
6-: Your parents have had enough of your shit.  Now they just want you gone, and the sooner the better.  Advance the countdown clock of the suitor who is the front runner by one tick.  In the event of a tie, use the suitor with the highest "Eligibility" score.

Any of the above described moves could have an Advanced Form: on a 12+, the desired change in countdown clock is doubled, or two clocks may be moved.  Plus also, it would be awesome to have a character who had Advanced Throw a Tantrum.  ;)

And certainly some of the basic moves work too, particularly things like Seduce or Manipulate.  The actual mechanical effects might be more nebulous to adjudicate, but at some level it's all about positioning the characters within the fiction in order to set up the next move.  So as a suitor who has attracted the unwanted attentions of the bride's hussy of a little sister, I could roll a Seduce or Manipulate on my buddy Sergio to be my wingman at the big feast the bride's parents are throwing and keep that little minx occupied (meaning I wouldn't have to Act Under Fire as described above).  I could even drop him 1-barter to hit the 10+ without having to roll.  "Seriously, Sergio, I'll even outfit you with luxe new threads for the party.  But I need you, man."  And if Sergio is a PC, well, it's his choice and further hilarity will ensue.

For "Eligibility," I'd rank it from -3 to +3 (with a -1,0,+1 value for each of wealth/prospects, beauty/temperament, and breeding) and subtract this from any rolls for negotiation.  The thinking behind this is that highly eligible brides or grooms will have lots of offers to choose from, whereas the families of less desirable candidates will be much more willing to get them married off with less hassle or haggling.  Even for something like a First Impressions move would use this - after all a rich, beautiful girl from an important family has seen lots of pretty-boys come and go.

Alternately (or additionally), you could use the combination (probably the difference) of the bride and groom's Eligibilty scores as the negotiation modifier.  So a suitor with +3 Eligibility isn't penalized for trying to land a girl with a +3 Eligibility, but a suitor with a -3 Eligibility is going to need a miracle to make that match happen.  And if a family with a +3 child wants (for whatever crazy reason) to marrying that child off to a -3 suitor, that shit should be super easy (i.e. taking +6 to the rolls) because the parents of the less eligible partner are thanking their lucky stars their child is getting married off at all.

And for the next generation, maybe the children's base Eligibility will be that of the average of the parents.  I mean, it's always in peoples' best interests to marry up, right?  So after the PCs manage to arrange marriages for themselves and start having kids, they'll start haggling to advance the prospects for their children (and subsequent generations).

Obviously this is written from the AW perspective (using terms such as barter and attributes like Hot or Hard or Sharp), but I think it gets the point across.  But I think the idea of a process of negotiations is interesting.  it certainly gives plenty of opportunities for things to go badly, for other suitors to pop up as Threats, and for the whole process to feel like a giant, organic, delicate social process, which is what I've always imagined an arranged marriage to be.

Is this at all useful to you?

Re: mechanic for arranging marriages
« Reply #2 on: December 16, 2013, 06:41:37 PM »
Hey, thanks, Munin, this is very useful.

I like the idea of countdown clocks, and the 9 o'clock momentum inflection point, and moves for various parties.

Part of the difficulty of designing here -- which you've partly addressed -- is offering moves when the PCs can be in various roles here: potential bride, potential groom, matchmaker, parent. (And maybe sibling, stealing the suitor/bride or trying to ensure not too much of the dowry pie gets sliced off for sis?) And they can have varying motivations -- the bride may be just as eager to hurry the marriage as to delay it, or the parent as eager to derail it as to bring it to closure.

So "First Impressions", say, needs to either be symmetrical for bride and groom, or for there to be two parallel moves.

Eligibility seems to me to be multivariate. Marriage is a big event in the lives of the PCs, a major watershed/phase change/payoff. It's likely to only happen once per PC, though it might also happen zero, two, or three times. The stakes should be high; if you marry an NPC, you could be getting anything from an extremely useful ally (loyal as a Dungeon World hireling, but more useful) to creating a Threat with an enormous amount of (in Monsterhearts terms) Strings on you. And marriage to another PC can be just as beneficial or disastrous. And, particularly with NPCs, you're operating in a partial absence of information about them, so there's kind of a poker thing going on.

One issue is generating the available pool of potential partners. I imagine this as something like when the Hocus generates their following or the Hardholder their holding -- they've got surpluses and wants, as it were. So their eligibility in the PCs eyes may be subjective. It also would be interesting for them to have potential Secrets, as a mechanic -- like a family history of madness, alcoholism, cheating, heresy, or radical politics? -- which is subject to investigation, with PCs concealing their own Secrets? I realize that "PCs investigating and seeking hidden information known to the MC" is not necessarily a great fit with Powered by the Apocalypse, color-first games (though maybe some manage it? Haven't played Tremulus...), but it seems like something along these lines would make the choice more interesting than just "how high an Eligibility can I get here".  Potentially, it turns out you have the same hidden radical politics or heresy, you've got a hidden upside...

On the other hand, in the eyes of, say, NPC  parents, the eligibility could be something as simple as, say, dowry on offer on the bride side, and on the groom side, simply some kind of arbitrary valuation of prospects, not necessarily correlated with the PC's preferences...

The interaction between these mechanics and the rest of the story is important too. It would be cool if, for instance, the looming threat of a 10 o'clock countdown with a problematic suitor was a spur to a PC bride to run away, disguise herself as a man and join the Czar's army...

Re: mechanic for arranging marriages
« Reply #3 on: December 17, 2013, 01:39:10 AM »
So I'm thinking now that the key to figuring out the pool of suitors would be in setup -- Hx-round-time, something like the classroom setup in Monsterhearts. Things like:

How many suitors do you have? Name each suitor and give each one a String. For NPC suitors, tell the MC what's wrong with each of them. (Maybe a list: poor, feckless, violent, simple, lecherous, old, enmity between your families...) If you have no suitors, tell the MC what's wrong with you. You can also declare that another PC of the opposite gender [expression] is your suitor. If so, they get to say if it was their idea, or their parents', and also they get to say what's wrong with them from your parents' perspective. If a PC is your suitor, each of you takes a String on the other.

Are you in love with someone? If so, you need to hold steady not to do whatever they ask of you, and give them three Strings. If it's someone unsuitable -- far richer than you, or scandalous, like a traveling actor -- mark experience. If it's someone totally off limits -- a different religion, or a person of the same gender [expression], mark experience twice!

My thought, by the way, is that PCs all start out as young adults/adolescents of the same generation, and that after a certain amount of play there's a trigger (maybe a mix of mechanical and fictional? advances taken, plus at least one marriage? or just fictional) and we enter a wrapping-up phase like Monsterhearts' last session of the Season; and then we fast forward eighteen years, and in the second Season the stakes involve marrying off your children...



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Re: mechanic for arranging marriages
« Reply #4 on: December 17, 2013, 11:23:49 AM »
OMG, is this a game of family intrigues and politics set in czarist Russia?  Hell yeah, sign me up!

In terms of Eligibility, I think you could also do a lot with tags.  Maybe that's what you were getting at with "tell the MC what's wrong with them."  And maybe you can use the tags in interesting ways, like if you are doing something that aligns with the tag, take +1 forward.  If you are doing something against the tag, take a -1 forward.  So for instance, if your suitor is known to be lecherous and you want to take advantage of that fact, put some fiction into it.  "I wear my lowest cut dress with the bodice that best accentuates my cleavage."  Awesome, take +1 forward into your First Impressions roll.  Alternately, "Yeah, I think this guy is a loser anyway, so knowing his lecherous tendencies I dress like a nun for our first meeting."  Equally awesome, take -1 forward into your First Impressions roll.

Setting up the number of suitors in set-up would be a good start, but I almost think that it could be routinely altered by something like rolling Wealth or Augury or Moonlighting - every so often, you roll+Eligibility.  On a hit, a new suitor is available.  On a 7-9, some change to your existing suitors happens.  This could be advancement or retraction of a countdown clock (family negotiations speed up or break down), a change in suitor Eligibility (your beau gets a commission as an adjutant to Prince Bagration, improving his future prospects and making him more desirable), or some conditional thing (your beau's family decides to winter in Odessa this year, putting a hold on negotiations for a season).  You could even add or remove a tag from a suitor (your beau is wounded in action, adding a "crippled" tag, or is induced by his own family to sober up, losing his "alcoholic" tag).  On a miss, one of your existing suitors gets taken off the market (either she marries someone else, dies of the pox, or dislikes the thought of marrying you so much that she runs away, disguises herself as a man, and joins the czar's army).

I am not familiar with the Strings mechanic from MonsterHearts.  Can you give me the tl;dr version?

I think part of the fun would be what the PCs do in order to enhance their own Eligibility.  Pursuing advancement of one's military career, amassing wealth, getting named as a chambermaid to the duchess, all could enhance a character's Eligibility, which in turn will help them attract more suitable suitors.  And if you have the backdrop of an ongoing war, there's plenty of opportunity for fighty characters to do fighty things.  Similarly, if you have internecine court politics, it gives an opportunity for social characters to do social things.

Man.  Just thinking about this is making me want to re-read War and Peace.

Re: mechanic for arranging marriages
« Reply #5 on: December 17, 2013, 05:42:58 PM »
Close, Munin, but not quite! It is indeed a game of family intrigues and politics set in czarist Russia (Poland, Lithuania, the Ukraine...) -- but not exactly the way you're thinking. (Though I love the War and Peace idea too! I'd like to see that as well.) A little less Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, a little more Isaac Bashevis Singer and Sholem Aleichem. Yes, the game I'm daydreaming about making is.... Shtetl World!

(Which as you can imagine gives a whole other meaning to running off to join the czar's army!)

Monsterhearts' Strings are like a currency of emotional hold over someone. You can get Strings on PCs or NPCs, and you can spend a String to do various things to mess with or manipulate the PC or NPC.



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Re: mechanic for arranging marriages
« Reply #6 on: December 18, 2013, 10:57:00 AM »
Yes, the game I'm daydreaming about making is.... Shtetl World!
Hahaha.  Nice!  My wife would be all over that.  :)