What are your thoughts on negative pick lists and negative pick list items? What is the design intention for them? Consider the options in the Get Paid move for The Sprawl. You’ll get to pick one or three of these, depending on the die roll.
- It’s not a set-up or an ambush
- You are paid in full
- The employer is identifiable
- The meeting doesn’t attract the attention of outside parties
- You learned something from the mission; everyone marks experience
Some of these are negative options. “It’s not a set-up or ambush” and “the meeting doesn’t attract the attention of outside parties” are negative (not, doesn’t).
As a game designer, when you include negative pick list options, is the goal that not choosing a negative option means that the thing it could have warded off will come to pass? Or might come to pass, if the GM feels like it?
That is, if the player does NOT choose “it’s not a set-up or ambush” does that mean “it is a set-up or ambush” or does that mean “it might be a set-up or ambush”?
To me, move pick lists are like poetry: It’s creating a scene in the imagination within tight constraints. The player gets to define the scene that’s about to happen. So to me, “it isn’t not a set-up or ambush” is equivalent to “it is a set-up or ambush.”
It’s important to me for the players to be on my side here, as a GM. If it’s 11:15, and we end at 11:30 and we still have to do end of mission stuff, I don’t want to run a big ambush scene and double-cross. I don’t want a player not picking “It’s not a set-up or ambush” because it’s 11:00 and they know I don’t want to drag things out, so it seems like a freebie (or at the very least, I’ll advance a single clock instead of making a big scene of it). I want them to not choose that option if and only if they actually think that a set-up or ambush would be fun. And I want them to choose it when they really don’t want a set-up or ambush.
This is not a rules question about The Sprawl. It’s clear that the negative pick list options are not guaranteed if the players don’t choose them in The Sprawl. From page 40, where Get Paid is explained:
“These choices give the MC opportunities for action. They do not guarantee that these things will happen. Similarly, these things may happen off screen, and result in the movement of a corporate Countdown Clock.”
But above, same page, it also says,
“The MC’s agenda includes filling the characters lives with action, complication and intrigue and a final betrayal at the end is part of that. The options here allow the players to set parameters on how that betrayal might play out”
To me, that’s saying you don’t have to make good on the threat of these negative pick list items, but you really ought to, because doing so advances your agenda.
I think the Get Paid pick list in The Sprawl is kind of an extreme example, because “it’s not a set-up or ambush” authors a LARGE chunk of content. Dungeon World’s Fighter move “bend bars lift gates” has much smaller story-content negative options. It’s pretty easy to make all the ones the Fighter doesn’t pick come true, because they’re not entire scenes of bloody action that can potentially come at the end of a game session. It’s just a door breaking or making a lot of noise.
So designers - what’s your intention when you design negative pick list items?
And as a designer, if you want negative pick list items to always come to pass if not chosen, how do you communicate that?
Alternately, if you want them to only sometimes, at the GM’s option come to pass, how do intend GMs to make that call? Do you take into account players making choices based on what they think the GM won’t do?
Other thoughts on negative pick lists / negative pick list items?
Roll +Designer. On a 10+, choose two. On a 7-9, choose one. On a 6-, mark XP and prepare for the worst.
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