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Subject: New BOTC Blog Post: Behind the Curtain #2 - Outsiders. Why? rss

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Steven Medway
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Originally posted here on the BOTC blog, 13 April 2019: https://bloodontheclocktower.tumblr.com/post/184311432935/be...

Behind the Curtain #2 - Outsiders. Why?

Outsiders are an unusual type of character. They are good, and win when the good team wins, but their abilities are… different. Their abilities are… interesting. Their abilities are… not helpful.

Each Outsider has an ability that is a detriment to the good team. Maybe their ability helps them personally, but at the expense of the team? Maybe the good players think they are evil, without realizing they are actually good? Maybe they are so holy, so valuable, so indispensable that executing them forces the townsfolk to see themselves the true monsters?

Unlike the Townsfolk, who start in a neutral position but with the opportunity to gain an advantageous position by cunning and clever use of their ability, each Outsider starts in a negative position but with the opportunity to gain a neutral position through meeting the challenge that their ability presents… and maybe even turning that into a positive as well.

Holy crap! That sounds awful! Who would do such a thing?! How is that possibly fun? Let’s find out…

Balance

The original mechanical purpose of Outsiders is to balance the game. When designing the game, there were many priorities: fun, inclusiveness, uniqueness, creativity and balance. Balance was one of the big ones. Each player needs to know that their victory or loss is due to their own intelligence, courage, savvy, wit, and teamwork. Nobody wants to lose because things are unfair, and winning under such circumstances would feel hollow. I knew that the game was balanced for 7 players – with 5 good players and 2 evil players. Later on, after several hundred recorded games, the statistics would show the evil and good win rates to be within 1% of 50% either way. Good would go from winning 49% of the time at the lowest, to 51% at the highest, even as players developed strategies upon strategies.

However, the question was “When adding an extra player to the game (i.e. making it an 8 player game), should that player be good or evil?“ If the player is good, then good would have an unfair advantage, due to having extra information due to their ability, an extra vote, and an extra player that the Demon needs to kill in order to win. If the added player is evil, then evil has an unfair advantage due to extra power, votes, and misinformation. Either way, adding a good or evil player to a 7 player game was an issue.

My solution was to add a good player, but to make that good player’s ability an active drag on the good team. The bonus of having an extra good player in the game is offset by that player’s character ability - which sucks. The character ability should roughly be bad enough to balance the extra good player, but not so terrible that the player should be executed to remove it. This has been a tough balance to strike, but I think it has been met decently well. Intelligent Outsiders should never campaign for their own execution. Staying alive and being trusted by the good team more than offsets their disadvantages.

So… Outsiders enter the town of Ravenswood Bluff. Their overall force is neutral, but if trusted and played intelligently, they become a definite boon.

Speed:

Trouble Brewing was originally designed for lower player counts – 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 players… with extra players a nice bonus but not necessary. I didn’t want to have all players acting every night, otherwise each night phase would go too long. As such, many characters were designed to gain information, or to use their power during the day, such as the Virgin, Slayer, Artist or Savant – they gain fantastic information, but need to be proactive during the day to get it, not receive it passively at night.

Generally speaking, the Outsiders follow this trend, having abilities that effect the game in some grand way, but do so without lengthening the night phase. Each Outsider was selected to facilitate the flow of the game, so that all characters have their important game-effect more or less linearly as the game progresses. Things got a little more complicated as redesigns occurred to facilitate higher and higher player counts, but that was the original idea.

You are not awesome:

There is a design philosophy is most games that I call “Everyone is awesome”. Much like characters in a superhero film, each and every person is full of fantastic powers, and close to flawless. Every single character is as engaging as possible, dressed as cool as possible, has skills beyond reason, is a positive role model, has “plot armor” protecting them, and a cocky, assured, witty comeback to punctuate every situation where their supernatural levels of acrobatics and kung-fu knowledge have impressed us. Essentially, everyone is awesome. This kind of setting is fine for a power trip. As a viewer, we get to see Batman clash with Superman, and the undiluted epic-ness is unmistakable. As a player, we get to be the fantasy hero or heroine that we imagine we could be if only the world worked differently, kicking ass and taking names.

For Blood On The Clocktower however, I didn’t want that type of setting. The game is not on the scale of the normal vs the epic, but on the scale of the comic vs the tragic. Ordinary people go about their ordinary lives, and are forced to come together to defeat a supernatural force that threatens their existence. Nobody has superpowers. Nobody is awesome. The door to the unusual and the unbelievable is certainly open… but it is rare. I was inspired more by Greek myth, the works of William Shakespeare, and (yep, unsurprisingly) H.P. Lovecraft. In such narrative settings, the protagonists are often everyday people. Soldiers. Chefs. Librarians. Detectives. Washerwomen. Butlers. Such people have abilities, and they also have their flaws. I wanted to explore both the positive and negative parts of human nature and human talent. I wanted the game to feel like a story, and each character in a story is interesting precisely because of their flaws, their dreams, their comic and tragic elements, not just their “special power”. Outsiders proved to be the perfect way to explore this, adding to the game as a whole, whilst providing the player with a unique challenge that they probably wouldn’t have expected in a game of this type.

Instead of games where something epic happens because a character ability says that something epic happens, I wanted a game where epic things happened because the players showed creativity and courage, worked together as a team and accomplished something they thought would be impossible an hour before. To do that, they needed to start off as ordinary, and achieve greatness based on what they DO as a player, not on what they ARE as a character. This requires trust, listening, team-building and decisive action. In the case of the Outsider, it requires intelligence and savvy to overcome a negative ability. In order to help your team win, you don’t passively sit there and "let your character ability win the game for you”, you have to actively find a way to neutralise it. Your goal is to win by overcoming your limitation, not by simply using your special power and then tapping out. I feel that this is a unique challenge, and I like Clocktower because of it.

Games are not epic because your character is written to be epic. Games are epic because you fought tooth and nail, overcame incredible odds, and EARNED it.

Subtlety & Teamwork:

All characters in BOTC are written so that there is no single dominant strategy for the player to use. If a dominant strategy has been found, I rewrote the character. What this means is that it can take several plays of the game to figure out an effective way to play a character. For example, the Ravenkeeper can: 1) Tell the group they are the Ravenkeeper, in order to survive to the final day. 2) Bluff as a powerful good character, in order to be killed at night. 3) Stay silent, and hope for the Demon to accidentally kill them. 4) Ignore their character ability and focus on other player’s information and powers.

No character ability can win the game single-handedly. No player can win the game by themselves. Whilst using your character ability most effectively (if you are a Townsfolk), or overcoming your character limitation most thoroughly (If you are an Outsider) can help you win, the majority of your actions and words should be focused on other people - learning what they are, convincing them you are good, strategising as a group. I have found that players that are more focused on working as a team, are less concerned about “getting a character that sucks” because they see that the game is less about them as an individual, but them as a group.

Outsiders are forced to play as a team. When you are an Outsider, it is crucial that you co-ordinate well with others, or face certain doom. You’ll need to listen to the good players, and act as a leader, or at the very least, a helpful assistant. The role of the Townsfolk is to develop power and deliver information. The role of the Outsider is to form allegiances and combine the skills of others.

Trials and Tribulations = fun

Another reason that Outsiders are the way they are, albeit a contentious one, is that adding in deliberate limitations is fun. In most games, as in most stories, there is an obstacle for the protagonists to overcome. Maybe it is a journey to be made, a villain to be defeated, or a puzzle to be solved. The overcoming of that obstacle IS the game. It can be more interesting if the obstacle isn’t external to the character, but internal, or personal.

For example, in a game of Dungeons and Dragons, one way to run a game (as the Dungeon Master), is to have a party or 4 or 5 hyper competent characters, and a suitably evil and world-destroying villain for them to defeat. Another way is to give your players a more modest goal, such as preventing a bad harvest in a local town. With these more modest goals, the real hurdles are found with the characters themselves – maybe the thief has a bad history with the local public official and needs to disguise themselves in public, or the wizard has hayfever and their spells misfire, or the cleric has lost a leg due to a war, but is wealthy, and is chauffeured around the various adventure zones in a palanquin. These limitations, if decided upon as pre-conditions of the game, may seem cruel or unfair to a beginning player at first glance – particularly a player obsessed with character power and ego – but they serve the narrative of the game. They provide an unusual situation, a limitation on the usual choices of the player, but one that creates stories, one that creates a memorable experience precisely because of its uniqueness.

Adding Outsiders to game isn’t a result of a sadistic need to be deliberately cruel to players, it is a way for the Storyteller (or the Dungeon Master, or the game referee, or the game designer) to create a situation that the player must negotiate - a challenge for them to overcome, and when done successfully, that becomes a memorable experience, and a fun one.

If your players don’t like Outsiders because they feel that they are “bad” characters, that’s a real shame. I really like them, specifically because of their negative ability. They are usually crafted so that the downside of their ability is due to the actions and abilities of the OTHER players, not as a “flaw” in the character themselves. They serve the greater whole of the game, and many players have fun precisely because they recognize this.

For example, I was running a game for 15 players: all actors or filmmakers or otherwise in the film industry. Sean, the Saint, comes up to me at the beginning of the game to ask a few questions in private. The conversation went as follows:

“So… I’m the Saint?”

“Yes.”

“And if I die, I lose?”

“Yes.”

“And if that happens, the game ends?”

“Yes.”

“Does my whole team lose too?”

“Yes.”

“Wow. That is REALLY unfair.”

“…Yes?”

“Awesome. I LOVE it!”

Sean then proceeded to have the most insane and intense Saint game that I’ve ever seen. The Imp, claiming to be the Fortune Teller, was *hammering* the Saint from all angles, claiming that they registered as the Demon on at least four consecutive nights. A Minion, claiming to be the Investigator, was relentless in saying that the Saint was a Minion. Sean, the poor Saint, was sweating bullets for about 5 days straight. The entire evil team kept voting for him, but other players always got more votes. I have never seen a Saint campaign so hard for so long against their own execution… and successfully so. It was beautiful.

This was a super fun game, and only happened because the player saw how “unfair” their character was, and gleefully dived straight into the challenge.

In short, the point of outsiders was to provide balance for larger games by adding an extra good player but in a way that meant the evil team wasn’t completely over run. Outsiders are an obstacle for the good team to overcome, but in a way that is still ridiculously fun.

I hope this peek into the design ideas behind Blood On The Clocktower has helped you determine whether Blood On The Clocktower is the game for you and your group. And if it is, I hope that these Behind The Curtain articles will help you really get the most out of the game - whether you are a player looking for strategy and insight, or a Storyteller looking for ways to engineer more fun for your players.

- Steven Medway
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Gamer D

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Outsiders remind me of one of my favorite bits in the Battlestar Galactica board game expansions which added a Mutineer to the game. The Mutineer is someone who may be a human but who regularly gets Mutiny cards which have a beneficial action but which also potentially has a downside for the humans. For example, one card destroys all Cylon boarding parties by venting them into space but in the process damages the ship. Not playing the mutiny cards can result in the Mutineer being automatically sent to the brig so it’s important that they use those cards or else they will be relatively unable to assist the other humans. Like outsiders they are intended to be on the human side with specific counts of four or six players to counterbalance having an extra human on board.

Roles like the Mutineer and Outsiders are definitely fun to play. 🙂 It’s a case where you want to do good for your team but have to figure out ways around your limitations.
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Nocturnal Pizza
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Hello, thank you for the inside on the thought process behind the outsider roles.
I have a question regarding the step from 7 to 6 players or the other way around. It is said in the article that the game was balanced with 7 players, 5 good and 2 evil, and to not unbalance the game with the addition of a good or evil player you added a good player with a small drawback.
So I wondered when the game for 6 players not only takes away one townsfolk but actually two and adding an outsider. It seems to give good a bigger handicap. Or if we think the other way around and consider the game balanced at 6 players with 3 townsfolk, 1 outsider and 2 evil characters, it seems strange to add not one good player but also taking away the drawback from one.

I would be really interested in the reasoning behind this.
 
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Dylan Thurston
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At 5 or 6 players, the Demon and Minion don't know each other, and the Demon is not shown bluffs.
 
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Nocturnal Pizza
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You are totally right, I completely forgot about that. Thanks for reminding me.
 
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Steven Medway
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Hi Nocturnal Pizza..

Yes, the game is pretty balanced for 7 players. The article goes into the reasoning and maths behind adding characters for larger player counts, but not smaller player counts.

For games with 5 players, 2 Townsfolk are removed. This gives evil the added benefit of having 1 less day that they need to survive for, but also the benefit of having 2 fewer Townsfolk players - players who would be getting information, using their abilities, and voting for the evil players to die. The loss of 2 Townsfolk is a significant loss to the good team, both in information and in voting power.

To balance this, the evil team gain no starting information. The Minion does not know who the Demon is, and the Demon does not know who the Minion is. This means that not only can the evil team not co-ordinate their abilities easily, but they may accidentally vote for each other to be executed. This gives the good team a significant boost. Additionally, the Demon does not know 3 not-in-play characters to bluff as, so they will have to pick characters blindly, or based off the bluffs of the group.

What this means is, is that the evil team has a much bigger challenge to face when compared to 7 player games. Not only do they need to use their abilities to discredit the good players, they need to figure out which players are good and evil as well... or they may accidentally kill their own.

The step from 5 to 6 players is the same as the step from 7 to 8 players - adding an Outsider - the reasoning for which is explored above.

If you run 5 or 6 player games, you can remove these penalties for the evil team by adding the Toymaker, a Fabled character that lengthens the game and helps the good team but gives the evil team their starting information back. Either way, the game is roughly balanced for 5 or 6 players, just as it is for 7 or more players.

Interestingly, some evil players prefer the extra challenge of 5 or 6 player games, and it opens up a few more bluffing opportunities for the good team as well. I was in a game once where the (real) Chef bluffed about their information, saying that the evil players were sitting next to each other when they actually weren't, so that the Demon would keep their neighbors alive and kill a Minion instead.

Does that answer your query?
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Nocturnal Pizza
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Yes thank you Steven for your detailed answer.
I forgot that evil has no starting information for 5 and 6 player games. It's easy to understand now. And I see how that makes an interesting game for the evil players.
Also thanks for the story about the lying Chef, always cool to hear these anecdotes.
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