Shock:2 Actions: Using “Offer Them What They Desire” as a Model for Design

In The BLOODY-HANDED NAME of BRONZE, the agency of companions — the characters you stick with throughout a story — stems from four actions you can take with your character to have an effect on the world. Those four types of action, designed and playtested over the course of game design, are the levers a character can pull when they want to do more than plead with the world. They set the moral framework in much the way Praxis does in Shock:Social Science Fiction by saying what you can do to affect the world and what kind of effects that action can have. The consequences have ironies built into them, giving players hard choices between effects they want and passing control to another character whose interests might not coincide: Coercion is liable to harm the aggressor or the aggressed; following your passion heedlessly is likely to make someone else jealous; offering someone something they want might leave you making promises you can’t make good on.

Shock:2, because it takes place in custom-built moral universes like Shock:1.x, needs to present the players with not only an extensive palette of action/consequence sets to pick from, but also needs to express to those players the design process by which those actions were designed. I want players to be able to publish their universes to share, to develop the range of palettes beyond those that I’ve thought of.

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The BLOODY-HANDED NAME of BRONZE was always intended as a precursor to Shock:2, so let’s look at some of its actions so we can deconstruct them into a different kind of setting — a world that is not demon-haunted.

In this article, we’ll examine the Namedealer’s primary power, Offer Them What They Desire.

Offer Them What They Desire

This is the most powerful thing a Namedealer can do: make an offer to a character for something they actually want. In fact, the Namedealer can offer to do things that they can’t actually follow through on, punting the consequences down the road, dreading the moment when the Dice of Gold outroll the Dice of Jet while the Named-One is feeling slighted. So the Namedealer has to hope that making an honest effort is appreciated, or that dissembling buys them enough time to get what they need and get away.

This action is extremely powerful. To pull this lever is to pull levers on the entire World of Names. Anything from the Desert Sky Asheb; to Buru, the Spring of the Waters of the Underworld; to Gudab, a 9-year-old acolyte at the temple of Tadash, can be part of this agreement if you have found out something that the Named-One wants. 

This part is really important because it takes information from the fictional world — from the imagination of one player entering into the imagination of another in the moment of agreement — and works as an input to the mechanical procedure.

When you start talking with the soldier who’s guarding your cell, it’s the job of the player who Knows the Will of the Names of the World to think for a moment about that guard’s wishes. What they really want in life, or even want right now. If you can get them to tell it to you, even to imply it to you, you get to roll the dice when you offer it. Your magic power is that other people cannot disregard your offer of something they want. All they can do, if they don’t buy your pitch but you’ve rolled well enough, is perhaps ask for more.

In this way, the game encourages the interactions that lead to the die roll, then, like all the actions, gives your opposition a chance to evolve the resolution of the action into a new, unstable situation.

A Namedealer can choose between one and two consequences under normal circumstances, with their opposition optionally subverting any that they didn’t choose. (Sometimes, you roll zero strikes and find the tables turned, but that’s not important at the moment.) 

The three consequences of offering someone something they want are:

They agree to do as you ask in exchange

This is the reason you rolled the dice in the first place, the primary thing you’re trying to do. You want the guy guarding you to let you go, or the sky to unleash a thunderstorm against an army. If you don’t choose this one, you’d be better off not having rolled. Some of the actions have consequences that are prerequisites for others, like this one is. Some of them allow you to choose freely from among them.

They make no further demand before accepting this agreement

If your dice show a second strike, you might choose this consequence knowing that you’ve already offered something big, and don’t want to pay more. Or sometimes you want something small, and you don’t want to have to make a big promise to get it.

Depending on the circumstances, you might choose between this consequence and the next.

Their agreement endures

An enduring agreement is how a Namedealer becomes more powerful, adding promises to their balance sheet. Because normally you can choose a maximum of two consequences, though, you will wind up choosing between They make no further demand and Their agreement endures. And that means that, if you want to make sure you get their dice going forward, they will almost certainly make a further demand.

The opposition, though, might not really be opposition. You roll these dice even if they’re on your side. The Named-One might already want to do what you you want to do, and will aid you, irrespective of the outcome of the dice.

In that way, the action gives you reason to trust another character.

Where This Cog Meshes with the Rest of the Machine

The inputs — what the Companion and Named-One want under the current circumstances — generate a new set of desires. The interested characters might find themselves friends, or in a tense and fragile alliance, or resentful enemies, but the players know where to go from there.

Resources have moved appropriately at the same time, representing the changing situation in the number of dice (and destiny), fueling further action and helping the mechanical processes match the expectations generated by the fictional conversation — with abundant room for the surprising twists that thrill and engage players.

Offer Them What They Desire can be a good model for certain types of core action a protagonist might take. It has a primary effect and then a resource expenditure to choose between two secondary effects that represent a fork; each choice gives something to the protagonist while giving their antagonist something to work with. When the progtanonist’s roll goes poorly, it gives their antagonist a choice, or even synthesis, of ideas to work with.

I wonder what the traditions of hospitality in The Fifth World are. How do you feed someone you haven’t seen in a long time? Is it different when you want to ask them a favor?

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