(Not) Mechanizing Favors


HILT // BLADE's core mechanics generate a simplistic, tangible simulacrum of the idea of a support network. Since support networks are built out of relationships and socializations, there is an unspoken exchange happening constantly between all parties in a network: we give one another the allowance to ask for labor to be done on one another's behalf. Usually, we call those specific requests "favors," right? Problematically, though, a "favor" is a pretty loosely defined concept -- try some sessions of Urban Shadows and you'll see pretty quickly how what qualifies as a favor differs between players.  I don't think that's too problematic: it models how actual people and communities operate inter-relationally. That's the model I took when I introduced favors into HILT // BLADE: they are player-defined and more or less hand-waved in the text. Here's why:

In both US and Monsterhearts 2, social capital is gained through doing favors and social maneuvering, respectively. In HILT // BLADE, the mechanics presume the player characters are supporting one another and enabling each other -- you don't need to go out of your way to do something for someone else, but sometimes you may want another character to act a certain way. That's a favor: do something for me for nothing in return. For nothing in return is very important: once you are exchanging something, it becomes just that: a deal. I wanted there to be a way to impress on a player and their character (at both meta and textual levels) that they really want their support in some way. The player (character) being asked has no obligation to agree. There is pointedly no mechanical benefit to doing a favor -- in fact, the player (character) asking for a favor must spend a Link (the social capital currency in the game), regardless of whether or not the other player (character) does the favor.

This has been a little contentious in playtests, but it's a mechanic I've retained for the final version. In US and MH2, sometimes it feels like players are bending over backward to make a mechanical decision into a narrative one. I want to avoid that. In addition, the advancement system in HILT // BLADE works quite differently from both US and MH2, so Links aren't incentivized in the same way -- but I still wanted them to mean something tangible. That meaning can be constructed individually, but ideally this helps to strip away mechanical incentives for solely narrative ones. In the end, the player isn't getting anything, but the character? Those are the moments we live for in fictional dramas, so why not ask for them in a game?

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