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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How would you represent evolving relationships in solo play?

As the title says, "How would you represent evolving relationships between characters? "

If you don't necessarily want to do it by fiat, or by asking Mythic questions all the time, could we take a page from "The Sims" computer game? If I remember correctly, each Sim had a number of preferences. I don't remember exactly what they were, but let's assume that a Sim character might like or dislike things like soap operas, creative writing magazines, gardening, horror movies, country music, and mountain hiking.

For example: 

Rebbecca  likes: creative writing magazines, soap operas, and mountain hiking
Rebbecca dislikes: horror movies

Robert likes: horror movies, gardening, and soap operas
Robert dislikes: mountain hiking

When I've played that game, and let the Sims "converse" with each other, I could see little dialogue clouds with ideograms. If one was talking about travel, you'd see a drawing of an airplane, for example.  Then if the other Sim liked it,their relationship score got a boost (a "+" would float above their heads). The higher the relationship score, the more options become available to you as a player to make them interact (i.e. if the relationship score got high enough, you could then hug the other Sim, etc).
On the other hand, if one Sim happens to bring up a subject that the other Sim doesn't like, then the relationship gets a "-" (minus) and the score goes down.  If the score goes down below a threshold, you might lose some of the options in a relationship. I don't remember what happens if the subject is was neutral, so I'll have to play again sometime. :)

Anyway, I think this is another idea that could be tweaked and integrated into solo play to add more guidance to NPC reactions.  I'm still hazy (as usual) on how exactly to tweak it, but here's what I'm thinking so far:
  • Relationship scores is easy to visualize.
  • Likes and Dislikes (or whatever) are probably a little harder. They should probably be both broad and evocative. "Gore Hound Geek" is probably more evocative and covers more ground than "likes Horror movies".  I really like what I read on this post regarding Sorcerer's Descriptors (, which is what inspired this bullet point Maybe Personality Traits is a better word than Likes/Dislikes. Thoughts? (Note: I think The Window rpg might be very much like this as well).
  • The player could randomly set an NPC's Descriptors/Personality Trait via UNE or Mythic (or Tarot cards in some creative fasion).
  • I'd probably roll for Personality Traits only at the last possible moment (i.e. when I try to interact in a meaningful way with the PC.) I have more thoughs on this and may need to unpack further.
  • If the Personality Traits becamo relevant in a scene for whatever reason then I could use them as a guide of whether the relationship gets a "+" boost or a "-" reduction.
  • I would, in turn, use the relationship score as a guide of an NPC's disposition towards me.
  • Common sense, the needs of the fiction, and what has been established about a character should prevail, though. Not everything that could affect a relationship score can be covered in descriptors.
  • I'd personally make it a requirement that in order to use someone's Personality Trait to your advantage without a roll, your own declared Personality Traits must be conducive to that. If you don't have it written down, if your mental character concept of your PC allows it, then you can use it as well ( see "common sense" bullet preceding this one).
For me, the whole point of trying something like this would be to minimize fiat as much as possible, and minimize the need for Mythic questions.

How would you tweak this approach? What other approaches would you use to roleplay PC/NPC relationships?


  1. The timing of this post has revealed to me an interesting gaming/writing prejudice I didn't know I had.

    Last week or so on my World vs. Hero blog, I wrote about using romance as an obstacle for heroes, so the general topic of character relationships was on my mind.

    Then, I read this post and as I tried to think of an answer to the title question, I realized that in ALL of my solo RPG gaming (and that's decades' worth), the start of a relationship for a character has always led to the exit of that character or a separation from the love interest in some way.

    I've NEVER tried to develop or evolve or play out a character's relationship in a game story. I suppose I considered the idea mundane - but I know it doesn't have to be that way. (So, what's my problem? What kind of a monster am I?)

    This is something I'm going to think about now and, maybe, attempt to play but as an element of substance and not just as window dressing.

    Thanks for the therapy session!

  2. Haha, you're not alone. I don't particularly enjoy romance, unless it's understated. Also, I do remember in a creative writing class (long long ago) that my teacher said that it was more interesting to have the protagonist's relationship break up. :)

    I'd love to hash this idea out further, however. What I want to do, essentially, is try to add some structure to character interactions.

    For example, I want to have that "Delicate Whiny Princess" get exasperated the "American Ninja Commando" breaks the heels off her high-heel shoes so she can run better (remember the movie "American Ninja"?).

    Not only as a structure towards adding flavor, but also to represent how their relationship evolves. Breaking off her high heels should make her be annoyed with him, but later, after he's saved her life from the ninjas, her disposition should be way more positive ( I want that to be noted in some sort of relationship gauge.

    It doesn't have to be only for romance either. I would want to represent the American Ninja's buddy friendship with the Sgt. Jackson, which started on the wrong foot (Watch around 8:30 minutes in:

    So how to take a bit of the fiat out and add some structure that would set characters in motion towards certain outcomes, depending on the situation they get in?

    I'm still thinking Personality Traits that get triggered in certain situations (judgement is still needed), but there could be better ways.

  3. It occurs to me that you can have a primary personality trait and secondary ones. A violation of the secondary one that feeds into the success of the primary one (breaking off the heels to stay free, for instance) temporarily lowers the relationship score but it bounces up to the higher level (go down one, up two) once the primary trait is recognized as being enforced. If the primary trait is never enforced (they don't stay free, or the type of freedom that they have subtracts from some other primary trait), it does not go up, just stays down.

    That makes your set of personality traits more complex, though it does distinguish between who this person is and just stuff they like.

  4. Thanks for the comment, Doc!

    I like the nuances that your idea would add. I think it kind of fits in with how my thoughts have morphed since this post.

    I became somewhat "obsessed" with thinking of these traits as chemical elements, that would interact in pre-determined ways. Your idea of primary and secondary traits makes me want to extend the metaphor to "physics" (I suck at physics, by the way, so be forgiving, lol).

    Keeping the initial metaphor of chemistry, I'm going to refer to traits as "elements. " My initial thought was that Primary Elements would have Strong Attraction, whereas Secondary Attributes would have Weak Attraction. The idea here is that attraction between Primary Elements will always eclipse attraction between Secondary Elements.

    Now, what I'm thinking is that secondary elements should interact first, and only later be superseded by primary elements. I'm visualizing concentric circles right now (primary inside secondary).

  5. I actually tried something like this awhile ago for computer RPG. any two characters have a 'rapport' value based on their accumulated common likes/dislikes vs differing likes/dislikes. The more you have in in common the more positive your rapport & vice-versa.

    the likelihood of changing an attitude depends on the strength of the attitude and the strength of the rapport.

    someone you really like could convince to like something you really dislike. someone you only moderately like could make you like or dislike something you were previous neutral about.

  6. Thanks for the comment, Dave!

    Yeah, that is kind of what I was thinking about, which is why I brought up The Sims. :)

    I still have not given up on the idea, but I've found it kind of hard to visualize an easy way to do it on paper.

    What was it like trying to implement this on your RPG? Any salient difficulties?


  7. There were a few difficulties. it was used in a text-based rpg (a solo MUD).
    each creature had a set of keywords & they were matched against any strings
    the creature might respond to.
    The main problem was sending & receiving text tended to be recursive
    and it was difficult to effectively limit it. An infinite or even a very complex loop frequently occurred.
    I could limit this, but there was
    a loss in how much detail it would produce.

  8. Hey Dave,

    Thanks for the info! I was actually thinking about a solo MUD myself, maybe about a month ago, since there are a lot of free MUD servers one cans et up. It looks pretty hardcore, though, to set up a MUD server and maintain it.

    I was seriously looking at the Inform language ( for interactive fiction as an alternative. Some of the IF games I've seen are very similar to mods in that you still use a command line to play, and the environment is divided into areas and rooms. Not sure that it would necessarily be easier than setting up a MUD, though.

    Part of the appeal for both of those things, though, is the ability to tinker in a more or less open ended way. I sense the potential for gm emulators in those things-- it would definitely make solo gaming speedier, IMO.


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