Many times, a group needs to pick one out of several contradictory or even mutually exclusive courses of events or actions. This can involve PCs deciding between multiple things to do based on their personal values and motivations, or players deciding which plot would be more interesting to play (especially with more shared-storytelling types of campaigns), or even choices that span both the IC and OOC decision (such as when PC motivations reflect player interests).

Which of the choices is taken seems to have a major effect on the narrative, so such decision-making moments can easily be as or even more important that the 'mainline' mechanics of a game (and than the corresponding mechanical balance).

Why I'm Unhappy with Using Simple Voting

A simple approach to such decision making process is a direct democracy - one man, one vote. However, this tends to amplify differences in preferences as observed over the long term. E.g., if out of four players and PCs, two tend prefer a sneaking approach, one a social approach, and one a head-on combat approach, then ten out of ten encounters will be handled in a sneaking fashion, meaning that with 50% of the vote, the sneaky duo gets 100% of the 'most fun approach' (from their PoV), while the other two players and their PCs account for the other 50% of the vote yet get 0% of the preferred approach.

A second drawback of such simple direct voting is that even if everyone's preferences are stable and known, different issues can still be of different importance to different people. E.g., the social one may really want to handle the encounter with the imperial satrap civilly, but be much more willing to accept a brute force solution or an assassination when it comes to dealing with the local pirate captain. Yet simple, separate voting on each issue fails to account for such nuance.

Some would say: 'Then negotiate, like people in a parliament!' That's an improvement over simple voting . . . in theory. However, I want to reduce the forgetting and bending often associated with promises and negotiations in practice. For that, I'm seeking a way to use bidding mechanics to quantify the relative value of a given choice to a given player and/or character, adding structure and transparency to such negotiations.

In other words, I have seen other solutions before, tried them, found them wanting, and now am interested in evaluating a solution less often offered. I want to evaluate the merits and flaws of the approach written up below:

Bidding Mechanics as Currently Envisioned

All long-term participants of group expected to repeatedly need to make decisions (be they players or characters) are assigned an equal pool of points. Let's say 10 to each participant (or 100 to each - so long as it's the same number). When the group encounters the metaphorical fork in the road, participants can take points from their pools and 'deposit' them into a 'box' that corresponds to a given decision, with the expectation that the choice whose 'box' has most points 'wins'.

This way, a person who doesn't feel strongly about a decision can spend few or no points, saving them up to have a stronger influence in some hypothetical future decision which is subjectively more important. Conversely, someone who feels really strongly about a given decision can contribute a lot to make the party pick it now, and sacrificing influence in the future.

Finally, the pool of points is meant to gradually regenerate - e.g. by 20% of the starting pool for every major fork in the road encountered. There may or may not be a cap on the maximum accumulated number of points.

Nuances I'm Unsure About

There are some things about the process that can be handled differently, and I'm not sure about all the pros and cons of each way of doing things. I will write some that I did notice, but I would like to know of any I may be missing, and possibly of implications I may be missing.

  • Are everyone's bids openly visible, or only revealed after all the bids have been cast. Single-round closed bids seem to be fastest, but also most prone to mind games, which is a reduction of transparency.
  • Are points spent on a choice that was 'defeated' by another choice forfeit or refunded. Refunds intuitively seem likely to produce a 'pendulum' effect, but forfeits seem to encourage all-or-nothing bidding.
  • Are there multiple rounds of bidding. Obviously these don't make sense for closed bids. Still, single-round also encourages all-or-nothing bidding, while multi-round risks making the process take too much time.
  • What is the ratio between the starting pool, the pool regeneration rate, and the maximum storable number of points in the pool (or lack thereof). I'm understanding that the regeneration rate should be roughly comparable to the arithmetically average expected importance of a choice, and suspect that for the smoothest performance the starting pool value should be half maximum value. But are there any reasons to prefer a given ratio of starting/max pool to average choice value/regeneration? Intuitively an uncapped pool seems dangerous due to the potential for hoarding, but is that so - or is it easily made to be self-correcting by other feature switches? Are there other upsides or downsides of a given size of the pool cap or lack thereof?

I'm currently thinking that the best setup is open multi-round bidding, and leaning towards refunding losing-choice points.

What Answers I Seek

I'm in search of more insights on the pros and cons of various configurations of the bidding subsystem, or reasons for picking specific combinations of features. I'm also interested in learning mathematical/mechanical techniques that I may be unaware of that would be helpful in my pursuit of a more quantified, more transparent approach to nuanced and proportional decision making.

I'm not looking for vague ideas without mechanical techniques. I'm also not looking for 'just talk like humans' kind of dismissive answers. Arguments to give up on the bidding approach entirely should be based not on emotions, but on pointing out how it would overall be worse than the simple majority approach that is often a default in roleplaying groups (whether IC and OOC).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Out of curiosity - is this an attempt to solve an actual problem you've been having with your group in play? \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Jan 16 '19 at 13:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NepeneNep it is about applying these techniques in the context of a roleplaying game, though; as a stack we seem happy enough that interpersonal questions within the specific context of RPG groups are within our remit. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Jan 16 '19 at 13:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you care about how this decision is arrived at in character? \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Jan 16 '19 at 13:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ I should forewarn you that your question looks quite a lot like an example of the XY Problem - you've come up with a solution to the problem you've perceived and you're asking for help with that solution rather than the problem itself. I expect you will probably see answers which challenge your frame and explore completely different solutions because of this - try not to take it personally and keep an open mind. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Jan 16 '19 at 14:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, but those questions normally ask about a specific issue, and how to solve it, rather than proscribing a type of solution which isn't in the normal roleplay toolbox and asking how to enact it. \$\endgroup\$ – Nepene Nep Jan 16 '19 at 14:10

There's a lot to break down here, so forgive me if I misunderstood something.

It seems like all you want is for 25% of the group to get their way 25% of the time.

Each player gets an "I choose" token

Let us have players A1, A2, C, D. Players A1 and A2 agree on voting, for this purpose C and D disagree with everyone. The party travels down a road, which comes to a 3-tined fork. If this were to go to a vote, A1 and A2 would get to choose, having a plurality.

Player C raises their token and decides "I choose path 2". The party must respect the decision of the token, each knowing that they had the same power and that they will get the option to decide next time, and player C will not.

Each player gets a token when no one has any tokens.

You're might need some extra rules depending on if your group is subject to analysis paralysis, or is resentful, or if there's an alpha gamer or something similar.

Some solutions include:

  • losing a vote (that does not include "I choose" tokens) grants the losers a token.
    • this allows the 50% to get one more than half the choices, which seems like a fair distribution
  • Decision can only be decided through tokens, no voting (mutually exclusive with losing vote option)
    • this ensures a perfect ratio of everyone's decisions, but removes the ability to decide things organically

A problem with bidding is that you can artificially cost someone more money. If you know they want it, and you've got the points to risk, then you can raise; it costs you nothing to make someone else spend more. Only refunding half points alleviates some of this, but it is still an issue if there is a voting block, as they have much more power with their bidding points than either of the minority voters. I'm not a statistician, nor an auctioneer, so I can't give the exact numerical impact, but bidding benefits those with more, not those with less.

And because it requires being said, despite you saying you didn't want it:

Have you tried talking to the group(s) in question about this feeling of one-sidedness? that can do a lot to alleviate such feelings.

  • \$\begingroup\$ First, to address your last paragraph: Yes I have, to different groups in which such a problem has been witnessed, and I have not found the outcomes satisfactory, as unstructured gaming talking/negotiation tends to suffer the same sorts flaws as unstructured talking/negotiation in other, regular-life situations. \$\endgroup\$ – vicky_molokh- unsilence Monica Jan 16 '19 at 14:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Second, could you please elaborate on the I choose token, as I'm not understanding how exactly it's supposed to work in general and in case where a tiebreaker is required (as you seem to be talking about it in the singular)? \$\endgroup\$ – vicky_molokh- unsilence Monica Jan 16 '19 at 14:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @vicky_molokh no ties. player B holds up his token and chooses. I will elaborate in line \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Jan 16 '19 at 15:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer supposes that players will intentionally game the bidding system to get their way every time. I would think that a table at which some members of the group are only interested in having fun regardless of how everyone else at the table feels would have a broken group dynamic. If you remove the "problem with bidding" section I would like this answer, but as it stands I can't support it. \$\endgroup\$ – GreedyRadish Jan 20 '19 at 11:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GreedyRadish I tried to make it clear that it was only an issue of you felt your players were prone to gaming the system. I'm open for suggestions to change the wording. \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Jan 21 '19 at 4:49

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