Meaning of choices and outcomes in „Stranger in a Foreign Land”.

Oracle-like conflict resolution – like present in PbtA games – tend to show interesting outcomes, which may lead to unforeseen consequences. It’s no different in my future game, „Stranger in a Foreign Land”. I’ll present you an example from my playests: a dire situation, where Player Character („Foreigner”) had been put into distress and made a hard choice. There are „What if” scenarios too! How SiaFL works in general.

For a reference, „Stranger in a Foreign Land” is a journaling game about someone who fled their home for good and make an attempt to live in a foreign country, named „The Land of Hope”. Slice-of-life gameplay, where you try to understand how to navigate through local community and integrate into it.

An Example of Defending Your Culture

This is an example which emerged during my playtests. A situation, where Foreigner’s folk were called as „cowards”, the PC himself failed their move about making first impression and I’ve re-introduced a previously made enemy to the Foreigner. Let’s call this PC as Gustavus. But context first:

Gustavus’ Legacy and Pride:

Legacy:
1. All people of my nation live by the chivalry code.
2. We like solving disputes by dueling.
3. We always invite strangers to our homes as guests, no matter what.
4. We’re descendants of a once great empire who united all realms back in the past
5. The art of court etiquette is what separates the civilized from barbarians.

Pride:
1. Our nation abhors slavery.
2. We protect the world from the impending doom by making sacrifices.
3. We believe in gender equality.
4. My language is spoken in every court, market and university.
5. Kinship and clan ties are of the utmost importance to us.

This is an equivalent to „Stats” in Stranger in a Foreign Land. Description of Foreigner’s culture, divided by what is appreciated in The Land of Hope (Legacy), and what’s not (Pride).

Facts about The Land of Hope

  1. There is an institutionalized slavery, backed up by raids for slaves.
  2. Religion in Land of Hope forbids any sacrifices, except of inanimate objects. Dying or even calling in the name of any deity is sacriliege.
  3. Women ain’t equal to men, they have much less rights (patriarchy).
  4. Speaking Imperial outside of temples, events and audiences is sacrielege, because Imperial language is sacred!
  5. Loyality to the khagan, then to your (current) lord of the tumen/city-state lord is put first, above familty ties!
  6. They prefer their own subtle magic, they view open magic tricks as vulgar.
  7. They avoid direct communication, unless it’s an escalation.
  8. They value style and appearance over substance.
  9. They’ll never fully understand Foreigner’s culture.
Take a look: first five facts are derived from Gustavus’ Pride!

Gustavus’ Resources in that moment:

Capability: 2/10
Dissonance: 4/8
Doubt: 0/8

„Doubt” doesn’t matter much in this example. „Capability” allows you to pass Moves in the third highest outcome (-2 Capability). „Dissonance” measures how much dissent and discontent has been created by Foreigner’s action: when it hits 8th, it’s a game over, Locals are fed up with Foreigner!

This Exposing Scene had been framed about trying to get an ally – some influential tavernkeeper (name them Brahim Oseti) – in goal to make a safe place for refugees from Gustavus’ country. Small recap here: many folks fled from Bloodsun Kingdom to The Land of Hope due to disastrous civil war. Within this context, Gustavus also wanted to make an opportunity to earn back some influence (as a spokesman for his culture), as he was an aristocrat back in the days of his homeland…

There was „First Impression” Move and it rolled badly. „Stranger in a Foreign Land” procceds with a given consequence:

„Your impression failed miserably. What went wrong? What’s outside of your knowledge and control? Get 2 Dissonance. People are acting on it, they press on. What impending mess is going to happen?

Firstly, „what went wrong”. Brahim felt under impression that aristocracy of Bloodsun Kingdom also acts like priests: they perform bloody sacrifices to „save the world from impending doom”! Brahim is a religious person, and his religion forbids sacrifices of animate things! Intersection of Pride #2 and Fact #2!

I’ve introduced Delshad, slave hunter captain, an enmity to Gustavus. Mostly, because Gustavus made at least as good impression to lord of the city in a very short time, like Delshad (but NPC worked hard for several years, just to make a similar effort). Envy mixed with racism. Long story short, Delshad and two his henchmen arrived in the tavern, spoke several anti-Bloodsun slurs and racist inquiries, including calling them as „Coward Nation”.

Gustavus could chooose from several choices, like for instance:

  1. Trying ito deescalate the situation while making a point about his culture. (there’s a Move for it, „Act As A Proud Member of Your Homeland”)
  2. Trying to deescalate the situation by refering to good tavern vibes again (another Move, „Act Like You Belong Here”).
  3. Accepting those slanders, possibly making an apology if necessary (another Move, „Make an Apology”)
  4. Trying to leave the scene, thus wasting an opportunity (and perhaps making another approach to Brahim much harder, if anyhow possible).
  5. Making step further ahead in defence of his culture (escalating the situation).

During my playtests, I chose the last option.

Dueling in Defence of Your Culture

While fictional positioning allows the duel to take place (because both cultures tend to resolve disputes by dueling, Legacy #2), this is still a very risky and controversial action according to the game. This fits a description of „Make a Vulgar Display” Move and why it’s triggered:

If you commit an act of violence on the Local folk, display a non-subtle “vulgar” magic of your homeland or you escalate the situation according to one of your Pride, you can only hope that you succeed in such action! What’s your intent of such action? What do you want to achieve?

You can’t “Make an Apology” move as a direct reaction to such a move. If you want to make a public apology for this vulgar display, it has to be a different Exposing Scene.  

Spend 2 Capability or roll dice:

  • 14 or more: Get 2 Dissonance. You succeeded with your vulgar display and with your intent. Also, you created an opportunity or threatened someone into submission.
  • 9 or 13: Get 2 Dissonance. You almost succeeded, but someone disrupted your vulgar display. Who prevented it and why? Introduce the character and the means of wasting this chance. However, your intent has been partially achieved.
  • 8 or less: Get 3 Dissonance. You succeeded with a task (vulgar display), but failed with intent. Choose the price to pay:
    • You get punished according to tradition or laws. Describe short but long-lasting punishment. It’s humiliating, debilitating or branding you as an outsider.
    • You’ve learned another proof that the Land of Hope never changes. What never changes in the Land of Hope? Get 1 Doubt
    • You’ve made a compensation. Lose every Capability points you have. If you have 0 or 1 Capability points, you can’t pick this option.
    • You lose an Ally

The duel is going to spill some blood. Even if Gustavus’ intent wasn’t about killing Delshad, it’s still a physical violence toward the local folk (Delshad). Foreigner’s intent was to defeat Delshad in duel and convice other Locals, that Bloodsun People never were cowards in first place! Classic, mac & cheese trope.

As you can see, „Make a Vulgar Display” Move asks you, whether you pay 2 Capability to earn „14 or more” result OR to roll dice (2d10 plus matching Legacy minus matching Pride) instead. I chose to pay 2 Capability.

Gustavus’ suceeded and met his intent with vulgar display. Delshad had been severely wounded, his henchmen and bystanders spread rumours about Bloodsun Folks’ courage. No rolls means boring stuff, right?

Not exactly, tho. „Make a Vulgar Display” Move still forced a player (me) to pay 2 Dissonance, thus advancing it’s track to 6/8! According to Move’s description, Foreigner is unable to make another Move, which would spare him from some Dissonance („Make an Apology”). He succeed, but he needs to live with the danger of possible entanglement.

Possibilities of this Defence

Let’s explore „what if” scenarios, if I didn’t decide to simply pay for success. As I’ve mentioned before, I would need to take 2d10 and then check Legacy and Pride:

Legacy:
1. All people of my nation live by the chivalry code.
2. We like solving disputes by dueling.
3. We always invite strangers to our homes as guests, no matter what.
4. We’re descendants of a once great empire who united all realms back in the past
5. The art of court etiquette is what separates the civilized from barbarians.

Pride:
1. Our nation abhors slavery.
2. We protect the world from the impending doom by making sacrifices.
3. We believe in gender equality.
4. My language is spoken in every court, market and university.
5. Kinship and clan ties are of the utmost importance to us..

I crossed out irrelevant Legacy and Pride for this situation and Move (for clarity).

As you see, there’s a bit of angling in fictional positioning. Legacy #2 is obvious one, but Legacy #3 also counts. After all, Delshad mocks Gustavus in Brahim’s tavern, thus violated the tradition of treating guests well. Pride #2 intersects, because Brahim’s prejudice toward Bloodsun aristocracy still lingers in this scene. You may argue whether Legacy #1 counts too, but I’m not going to powergaming here. I’ve dropped it out.

Two Legacy minus One Pride equals one. +1 to 2d10. Here are chances for each outcome for 2d10+1:

  • „14 or more” – 36%.
  • „9 to 13” – 43%
  • „8 or less” – 21%

Maybe Gustavus is slightly favored toward success in this duel, however, „9 to 13” result for „Make a Vulgar Display” is a tricky one! If Gustavus rolled „13” or more in two dice (13+1=14), he would succeed as original. Let’s explore possibilites for two other outcomes!

The Middle Outcome, „9 to 13”

9 or 13: Get 2 Dissonance. You almost succeeded, but someone disrupted your vulgar display. Who prevented it and why? Introduce the character and the means of wasting this chance. However, your intent has been partially achieved.

Foreigner is going to pay 2 Dissonance as before (6/8). Gustavus fought more and more upperhand in duel, and almost defeated Delshad. However, someome important or relevant to the scene interrupted and put this vulgar display to the end. This person could be, for instance:

  • Previously established Gustavus’ Ally, lord of the city Morteza himself, arriving with his escort and deescalating the dispute. However. Morteza will have a lot of questions to Gustavus later! Albo, Delshad is even more angry, because the dispute hadn’t been resolved properly and he feels like the lost this duel!
  • [New NPC] Some Archpriest of Taurida (this is a name of the city) coincidentally approached and called the incident to halt, because he states that the tavern and surroundings are „holy site”. Obviously, this intersects with one of the facts of The Land of Hope. Escorts of the archpriest surely prevented duel from re-initiating. Anyway, enmity between Gustavus and Delshad isn’t resolved, the tension just got higher!

Keep in mind the wording, „your intent has been partially achieved”. For this situation it means that Gustavus failed to defeat and harm Delshad, but at least showed that not all Bloodsun People are cowards. Perhaps, at least noblemen ones…

The Lowest Outcome, ‚8 or less”.

8 or less: Get 3 Dissonance. You succeeded with a task (vulgar display), but failed with intent. Choose the price to pay:
– You get punished according to tradition or laws. Describe short but long-lasting punishment. It’s humiliating, debilitating or branding you as an outsider.
– You’ve learned another proof that the Land of Hope never changes. What never changes in the Land of Hope? Get 1 Doubt
– You’ve made a compensation. Lose every Capability points you have. If you have 0 or 1 Capability points, you can’t pick this option.
– You lose an Ally.

Foreigner got more Dissonance (3), the track is 7/8 now instead! What’s more, Gustavus succeed with the task (winning a duel with Delshad), but failed with intent (just harming him and proving that Bloodsun People aren’t cowards). Let’s assume, that Gustavus simply killed Delshad in the process and Delshad’s. Two henchmen panicked and didn’t care much about „fight for proving courage” context…

The situation for Foreigner is dire. Player has an opportunity to choose one of four hard choices, according to the Move’s description. Examples:

  1. Gustavus is punished by this act of murder. Perhaps thanks to lord Morteza’s (Ally) intervention, it’s not a capital punishment nor long-term imprisonment. Still we need to inroduce something humiliating, debilitating or branding him as outsider. Chopping Gustavus’ right hand, perhaps? Or some enactment forcing Gustavus (and other Bloodsun duelists) to wear in certain, humiliating fashion as a slogan to all Locals that „those people likes to commit violence”.
  2. Gustavus got away with this vulgar display for awhile, but he learns some bitter truth about futility of violence for „greater things” in the style of the Land of Hope. +1 Doubt.
  3. Gustavus doesn’t have any Capability right now (2/10 before making „Make a Vulgar Display” move), a player couldn’t pick this option this time.
  4. Gustavus lost his only ally, lord Morteza. After all, Delshad was his very loyal and useful commander and Morteza valued him more than some Bloodsun newcomer with „noble background”.

Obviously, Option #1 puts this Exposing Scene to the end. There’s a possibility of this scene still going on after choosing Option #2 or #4. After all, there would be only innkeeper Brahim and Gustavus present here…

[Now it does matter to explain] „Doubt” measures how many flaws and imperfections of The Land of Hope had been learned by Foreigner. To put it simply: how much Foreigner is dissapointed with this new place of living. If Doubt reaches 8/8, Foreigner feels like the prospect of living in The Land of Hope is a farce (or perhaps, as untenable as living in his homeland). Migrating to another land is one of the game endings to choose.

You can’t reduce Doubt points, ever. For instance, there are special Sanctuary Scenes, where you can regain some Capability and remove a little Dissonance. „Make an Apology” Move is a main source of keeping check with Dissonance, when trouble will hit the fan…

Some Conclusion and Explanations.

Initially, I aimed to write an essay about how oracle-like resolution compels the player to make hard, unexpected choices. However, I’ve already wrote more than 2200 words. Starting a new topic would overshadow the previous presented content. I’ve decided to keep short on „Stranger in a Foreign Land” example, instead. Why „PbtA philosophy” makes this game shine?

One of my acquaitances suggested an idea to write this game on a different „engine” (like „The Magus” from Momatoes, as „seven events” framework fits „slice of life” theme). SiaFL obviously is a game where managing resources is crucial, so why not Forged in the Dark, for another hand?

I wanted to make a game, where player deeply explores social nuisances of interacting with alien (to Player Character) people with their own way of living. Different standards of communication. Cultural differences on top of that. I believe that a framework of procedures working like PbtA Moves makes the job well. You (as a player) investigate the situation, play to find out, check for triggers and make the uncertainity happen, when Moves shows you the outcomes. When I play PbtA games, I feel like I’m diving down to the situation, with all shenanigans and shit happening around, which quickly envelops me. It’s a one-way ticket to unescapable future. I want a journaling player to experience such trip!

I could take FitD engine instead, with the cycle of „Intense Phase -> Regeneration Phase”. However, FitD shines when „Intense Phase” (name it „Score”) compels players to spend as much resource as possible, to feel like they tip on the egde. Then, „Regeneration Phase” (name it „Downtime”) ask you what do you do to regain those resources and perhaps making something else. It’s a rollercoaster play. I’ve wrote something about it earlier.

I want to make „Stranger in a Foreign Land” gameplay to feel more organical. The need for removing Dissonance should be felt rather frantic than „planned and took into account”. The call for „Sanctuary Scenes” more suitable to the fiction at hand. Both this my game and Blades in the Dark took the idea of this two-phase cycle from The Shadow of Yesterday. You play there as a protagonist, spend your Pool during conflicts, then call for refreshment scenes to regenerate those Pools. You describe how do you refresh it by activity with someone else…

Anyway, FitD inspirations still exist in SiaFL. For instance, „Make an Apology” Move works similar to Resistance Rolls, but actually in opposite direction. The Player Character needs to make a public humiliation in order to remove „dangerous points” (and to avoid getting fresh ones). As you may know, Resistance Roll in FitD makes a trade-off „Stress instead of the consequence” instead…

To conclude this article, I want to mention on how „Make a Vulgar Display” Move fulfills an assumption on how Moves in „Stranger in a Foreign Land” – which asks for dice – works. The template is given:

  • “14 or more” result means you retained the most control you could in this situation. [Gustavus won the duel, harmed but not killed Delshad, conviced Locals to not consider Bloodsun People as cowards anymore]
  • “9 to 13” result means you struggled with controlling the situation and something unexpected happened. Or something hampered your effort. [Gustavus almost won a duel, but someone important ended it before the victory. Complication arose, tense situation wasn’t discarged, but at least „Bloodsun Cowards” stereotype starts to dissipate]
  • “8 or less” result means loss of control over the situation. [Gustavus technically won a duel, but actually straight killed Delshad in the eyes of Locals and Gustavus messed up the situation for himself].

Thank you for reading this long article! 🙂

Ten tekst powstał dzięki wsparciu: Jędrzej Śmietański, Aleksandra Sontowska, Jakub KucharzewskiErpegowe Piekiełko, Sebastian Żarnowski, Michał Laskowski Marcin Zaród. Dziękuję!

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