Roguelike Celebration 2020 - non-violent roguelikes topic
Here's some random notes from an unconference session at Roguelike Celebration 2020, which unlike the main sessions was on Zoom and not recorded.
The topic was about roguelikes that had a mechanic other than murder-hoboing your way around. Were there games that had non-violent conflicts? That rewarded persuasion or social interaction rather than weapons?
Signs of the Sojurner was mentioned as an example game in this "tend and befriend" genre, though perhaps not a roguelike.
There was quite a lot of discussion about how death is a mechanic that removes a character (even the player, for permadeath), but other defeats do not. What is "social permadeath"? Does player death provide a catharsis ("OK, I have to start over") that is preferable to the game continuing after a bad social outcome? Will players power through, or just quit? How do you deal with an NPC that you've "defeated" but is still around, when you see them again? Do you just extract concessions instead of sending them to oblivion?
One suggestion was a "Groundhog Day"-style game where you got to retry your mistakes, coming back with new knowledge each time, so that failure wasn't, in fact, permanent.
One person (sorry, I really don't have names attached to any of these points) brought up that hit points are very ingrained as a mechanic, so everything is a battle. In the game "We are the Caretakers", for example, there are nonviolent ways to get rid of poachers, such as intimidating them. But that acts just like a hit point system! (My thoughts on this are that we all have conversations and relationships, so we expect more complexity. But very few of us have ever been stabbed with a spear, so we're more willing to let that interaction be abstracted. Hit point are a poor abstraction of combat, too!)
There was also some discussion of culture and etiquette as systems. What might a happen in a game if nobody ever told you a key piece of information? Like, perhaps, a control in the game! Are there games were "please" and "thank you" help? One mention was Oblivion with its persuasion minigame (speech wheel) where you must act based on the character's attitude, shown in their facial expression. Another example was Stellaris, where you should talk to the computer opponent in the way that matches their values, and Heaven's Gate, where you collect idioms of the language you're deciphering. The game We Should Talk was also mentioned. This ability to read the room and code-switch could be a mechanic in roguelikes.
Emily Short's narrative states article was mentioned as a possible source of inspiration. How can a game "play with the fuzziness of the situation" when something is not as straightforward as alive or dead? There's a continuous space of interactions, which is hard to anticipate as a designer.
A technique that's mentioned is to have multiple motivation trees: what do I say vs. what I really want, as a way to give characters more depth. (I was reminded of the game Miracle Merchant where this is very explicit-- the customers have a firm requirement, but some other component that they value more.)
"How to romance" seems a lot creepier to look up in a wiki than "what is this monster's hit points". Maybe players do it anyway, but there feels like fewer hidden motives to "I just want to kill or avoid it."
One of the participants pointed at his attempt at making a conversational game: Conversations.