|"And standing there, facing the pure horrifying precision, I came to
realize the obviousness of the truth. |
What is the Matrix? Control (of a game through preselected verbs and a fluid resolution mechanic)."
The original Engle implementation (and the part giving it the title of Matrix game) involves a pre-selected list of cues ("Anger," "Large Formation," "Love," "Skirmish"). Players select five words from the matrix to construct their arguments ("I will have my troops break into SMALL FORMATIONS and SKIRMISH with the enemy in guerrilla warfare. This will succeed because my troops 1) KNOW THE TERRAIN, 2) and are ANGRY over enemy atrocities, while 3) enemy forces are FATIGUED from overextension.") The referee evaluates how strong an argument is, then rolls to see whether it succeeds or fails.
We've used matrix games in the Hill Cantons campaign as part of domain-game level play, during the Feral Shore phase of the campaign. In these instances, though, Chris elided over the word selection component of the matrix game, focusing on having players construct arguments over the group's intentions, assessing their strength, and rolling based on that.
I see the appeal of this method. It takes away the artificial feeling of selecting words, which I suspect at its worst would start to run into the same trap that bad FATE games do - spurious tagging of aspects to fit into the mechanistic requirements of the system. Obviously the referee's judgment can moderate these tendencies, but it's easy to see how the implementation can spiral downhill.
Something still draws me to the use and implementation of a matrix in resolving situations. The incense of integration alludes to a magic system I've begun conceptualizing, that requires players to draw analogies between the qualities of a zodiac sign and the magical effects that the player wishes to achieve.
“Because I thought the serpent was cunning, like a spy out to be, and the crucible could mean knowledge, what you kind of distill, and the beehive was hard work, like bees are always working hard; so out of the hard work and the cunning comes knowledge, see, and that’s they spy’s job; and I pointed to them and I thought the question in my mind, and the needle stopped at death…D’you think that could be really working, Farder Coram?” -- Phillip Pullman, The Golden Compass, displaying the intuitively engaging feel of magical analogies
Beyond magic systems, I think there's fallow ground in playing with the list of words that compose the matrix and adapting it for targeted use in other situations away from the geopolitical. Adjusting these might provide the tools for a sweet spot in mechanical implementation of social interactions, between the unsatisfying "social combat" and the extremely broad "free RP."
Have any of you used matrix games (or similar tools) in your campaigns? Any thoughts for how to best employ them?