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Author Topic: "Save vs. X": Gamist?  (Read 7427 times)
coxcomb
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« on: May 24, 2004, 05:34:57 PM »

So, my recent experience with d20 brought a number of things home to me about my personal play style. It also got me to wondering about the creative agendas of the folks who love it.

This post is about one of those musings: what agenda does "save vs. X or big consequence that takes you out of play" serve?

An example from the recent game: We roll our initiatives in combat. I state my action for the round. Then, before any of the PCs gets to do anything, my character is hit with a "Hold Person" spell and fails the save. This PC is now out of action for a number of rounds and the only thing that I, the player, can do about it is reroll the save on my turn in every round.

How does this fit in with the goal of "Step on Up"? No cleverness can get me out of the situation. All that I can actively do as a player is roll the die. Is this a case of the Step on Up being in character creation? "I've got to make sure that my Will save is high enough that even a flubbed roll can't take me out." Or is this rules enforced dysfuntion and deprotagonization?

I'm curious if those gamists among us find this kind of mechanic useful in some way (I suppose the held / paralyzed / dead character can go for a munchie run while his friends play the game). Or if it serves no cohesive goal.

Thoughts?

P.S. - It's not sour grapes on my part--I made my first retry and didn't miss any turns. I'm just curious about people's takes on mechanics that, by definition, remove a player from play.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #1 on: May 24, 2004, 06:01:29 PM »

Well, of course save mechanics and the whole shebang of D&D is stupid, what do you expect?

Seriously, you should remember that there is two distrinct approaches to gamism, the skill- and fortune-based. The latter is essentially gambling, and that's what extreme randomness can provide. If you insist on considering the saving roll as gamism, think of it as gambling. Of course it's entirely dysfunctional gambling, as the player rarely gets to choose the stakes, and even more rarely is winning anything by success.

On the other hand, the save mechanic certainly has other reasons for existing. I'd peg it as primarily a simulationist convention in D&D: because there has to be a chance of failure/success, there has to be something that the players roll. It's not about gamism at all, rather it's a way of including randomness necessary for the simulative experience. Will the character fail the save and fall into the trap, or will he not? When this simulationist query is posited there really is no room for gamism. The game designers do not have tools to make such a reactive situation dependent on player skill, so they make the best of it and posit a character skill, the "save bonus", that decides the matter.

Another reason for the save mechanic is to be one more way of differentiating characters. This, also, has long been a simulationist concern, prodded into existence by the query "Shouldn't a barbarian survive thirst that fells a smaller man?"

You suggest that there is gamism in resource management of the saving roll: the player should have made sure that the character has a high saving roll bonus. This is not IMO applicable, as there is few clear and legal routes for a player to optimize saving rolls, and most of those are automatic. What's worse, there's three different saves to consider, and their usefulness is near random between scenarios and GMs: some use them much, others almost not at all.

In conclusion, there is no sensible reason for the saving roll in a consistently gamist game, and the GMs should replace it with binary considerations: "everyone always fails to resist dark magic if they do not have the amulet of Zoran" is a much better resource management scenario than "some fail to resist black magic because of luck". The previous option makes the saving roll a matter of considering risks and gaining resources, and makes for interesting gamist dilemmas, especially if there is only one amulet of Zoran.

The other option is to consistently remove the saving roll as a GM-controlled phenomenon, and use it only when the player has a choice of taking the roll. Make it a gambling endeavour.

On the other hand, a sim game certainly needs a way of resolving whether a character falls to his doom. A particular kind of nasty game could degree that traps always work, while a heroic game could posit that the heroes always prevail and traps, spells etc. are only color. It'd also be possible for GM to simply decide beforehand which his trap is. Apart from these specific conditions, a game that simulates dungeon crawling will have to have some way of deciding whether a character reacts appropriately.

For your information, my current version of D20 rules does not include saving rolls at all.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #2 on: May 24, 2004, 06:27:59 PM »

Please, Eero Tuovinen, don't go the whole 'stupid' route.

Anyway, on to the issue. I actually ran into this in a game of dragon quest a friend had run previously. However in that, every time you got hit you had a good chance of being stunned and not being able to do anything. Not surprisingly, not being able to do anything leads to being hit more, which leads to more stunning. It was the shitzorz.

So I was surprised that when I read the hold description (And this is in 3.0, where there were no retries at saves), it didn't worry me as much.

The thing is, your tactics with it are forward loaded. You make the descisions before you get there. For example, I think there are a few spells that get you out of being held which might be embedded in a ring or something you can use. Or you might have memorised a silenced spell spell so you could cast it without speaking which would get you out of it (or just provide some sort of offence/defence).

Not to mention that hold is fairly common, but it still requires a bad guy cleric around rather than the usual betiary you fight. This means researching ahead will probably tell you about the dude wearing the platemale and possibly that he's healed people. If you know there's a cleric there, you might want to snipe him from the shadows (or ready actions with a bow to interupt his spell).

I think your problem is that you don't enjoy gamism enough to enjoy this. You see, in dragonquest anyone can hit you with a weapon and stun you. This gamism sucked for me (the only gamism is avoid going into melee to begin with or other pretty dull stuff). But for me, the forward loaded options, the limmit on who can do hold and that once they do it they've used up a resource, etc made it fit within my gamism pleasure zone.

Finally, I'd say that character death probably fits within your gamist zone in terms of that if your PC dies, you don't expect to be able to do anything more with him for the next half hour or so it takes to ressurect him (and presumably you tried all sorts of tactics before he died). Hold is essentially a short death, a game over for not forward loading enough in your tactics.

In addition, its the team work factor of gamism...appreciating a fellow player who stands with you so if someone does try a coup de grace, he'll be fought by your friend and suffer an attack of opportunity too. Or your friend comes over and casts a spell that gets you out of trouble. Yes, there's nothing for you to do, but I believe gamism includes the appreciation of others tactics too and you can only be saved by someone when shit has happened to you.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #3 on: May 24, 2004, 07:55:48 PM »

Quote from: Noon
Please, Eero Tuovinen, don't go the whole 'stupid' route.


Duly noted, and no disrespect intented. It's just amusing to see someone wondering what gamist purpose a given rule in D&D represents, when the system is a conglomerate of three or four different visions of play. How else can you answer that question than by pronouncing the system stupid? It's not stupid in the sense that one should loathe it, but rather in a funny and fumbling way. At times it's one of my favourite hobbies to pick d20 apart and to put together different coherent versions.

Quote

The thing is, your tactics with it are forward loaded. You make the descisions before you get there. For example, I think there are a few spells that get you out of being held which might be embedded in a ring or something you can use. Or you might have memorised a silenced spell spell so you could cast it without speaking which would get you out of it (or just provide some sort of offence/defence).


That's a prime example of the kind of gamism D&D engenders. The problem is, it's still gambling as far as the players are concerned. It's the GM who decides whether the players will have any resource that counters a given spell, after all, and if the players get hold of such, it's a no-brainer to apply it.

Quote

I think your problem is that you don't enjoy gamism enough to enjoy this. You see, in dragonquest anyone can hit you with a weapon and stun you. This gamism sucked for me (the only gamism is avoid going into melee to begin with or other pretty dull stuff). But for me, the forward loaded options, the limmit on who can do hold and that once they do it they've used up a resource, etc made it fit within my gamism pleasure zone.


Acute observation, and surely correct. However, do remember that there are various subtypes of gamism, so it's not a question of "gamist enough" rather than the type of gamism a given game exhibits. In my experience the challenges engendered by D&D are won either by sidestepping the rules in some manner (avoiding combat, rules-lawyering, whining, etc.) or by statistical luck (the challenge is always metered by the GM to be such that the essentially optionless combat system gives the characters good chances to survive). If neither is your cup of tea, you are left with a quite dull game. This does not however mean that the player who does not like D&D is not gamist enough.

The fundamental problem of D&D as far as gamism goes are it's multiple strong subtexts from various sources. Take for example the GM role as the faciliator of story: the game essentially forces the GM to constrain a challenge to a level where the characters can win it, while the occasional unlikely die rolls are fudged because losing is not fun or story demands it. Makes the game quite effectively gambling without choice, as it's clearly non-appropriate behavior to escape an adventure and go do something else. There's very little Step on Up in there, which tends to make for a mindnumbingly dull game. This is then escaped by essentially ignoring the rules: have you noticed how much more efficient and fun it is to confront a challenge in D&D in some way for which there is no rules? Ever win a dragon by talking it over? That's a clear signal that the combat system just isn't cutting it for some people.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: May 24, 2004, 08:37:02 PM »

Hello,

One of the sections in my Gamist essay, describing the "Gamble" angle on this agenda, points out that saving rolls in D&D may be strategized once the characters' hit points are above a certain level.

If one is dealing with a moderately-to-small sized dragon, say, with 44 hit points (going by 1978 Monster Manual; I'm old school, remember), then a failed roll means 22 hit points right off the top and a successful one means 44. I've got my 6th level fighter with 27 hit points ... OK, it's tricky. If I make the roll, I'm OK because the cleric has a Cure Major Wounds left. But if I miss it, then my fighter dies (note consequences vary greatly; in my experience, the most common outcome is taking over the GM's NPC party-member as a player-character).

So strategizing may occur relative to saving rolls, but in a larger-scale sense. Most crudely, once you know the Monster Manual backwards and forwards, then you know which critters are "walking saving roll call-ons," and make your run-away vs. fight-it-now choices accordingly. More subtly, there may be all kinds of options regarding party formation when fighting the thing, or different kinds of spell-scrolls being prepared, and so on.

Best,
Ron
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Halzebier
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« Reply #5 on: May 24, 2004, 10:06:15 PM »

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen
The problem is, it's still gambling as far as the players are concerned. It's the GM who decides whether the players will have any resource that counters a given spell, after all, and if the players get hold of such, it's a no-brainer to apply it.


My experience has been utterly different.

Our group's party is in the process of 'going epic' (level 21+) and resource management is a major part of most challenges.

Under our game contract and world model, every item in the DMG is available at the listed price (at least in any metropolis).

We spent approx. 60,000 gp on one-shot (!) items in preparation for our most recent battle -- and we felt we had to cut a couple of corners!

There were a couple of no-brainer purchases (e.g. potions of protection from fire as we went up against ancient red dragons, among other things), but plenty of difficult and much-discussed choices.

For instance, we decided to pass on flexibility and defense (e.g. a ring of wishes, which is a *very* expensive multiple purpose counter) and went with even more keyed offense instead (e.g. enhanced dragonbane arrows in sufficient quantities).

In the current adventure alone, we've had several instances of excellent prep and one *disastrous* failure (which had us slapping our heads and which cost the party two true resurrections and an expensive planar trip to restock), among other things.

Obviously, this sort of resource-managment game is not to everyone's taste (nor is the type of game described above, with lots of plusses, ancient red dragons in the plural, and zillions of gold pieces floating around).

But there are many, many choices in high-level 3e -- choices which matter and which are in the hands of the players.

Regards,

Hal
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iambenlehman
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« Reply #6 on: May 25, 2004, 03:49:03 AM »

Saving rolls are originally part of a Gamist agenda -- simply a "second chance" for protagonists to survive a blast that, in the context of a wargame, flat out kills them.

Slowly, it drifted Sim -- ordinary characters are "heroes" and as such get extra chances to survive effects.  Sort of a fortune-based, crippled Rule of Jared (which is that things don't effect you unless they are interesting.)

With 3.0, it is back in the Gamist category again (with the rest of the system).  There are numerous tactical and strategic choices regarding saving rolls and, also, which ones to maximize.

yrs--
--Ben
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Sean
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« Reply #7 on: May 25, 2004, 06:49:56 AM »

*polishes glasses*

Historically, the saving roll emerged in Dave Arneson's play as a kind of player immunity device, something like 'rolling for a fate point'. Arneson noticed that players got mightily pissed off when they didn't do the right thing to search for a trap and got poisoned, or didn't stop the minions of the Egg of Coot from getting off their spells in time, and just flat-out died as a result. So the saving roll was introduced as a way to at least give you a chance to live when you boned something up.

(Also, insert usual disclaimer here about how the inclusion of saving rolls in a system is a technique and therefore doesn't necessarily serve any CA.)

I return you now to your regular speculations.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: May 25, 2004, 07:20:51 AM »

Hello,

I think I'm seeing some agreement across my post, Hazelbier's, and Sean's - the combination of "second chance" and "strategize at long-term" seems a fairly strong one, once characters do not blow over in a stiff wind.

... which leads me to a related question, which might do well in its own thread in RPG Theory: when did "begin play with a character who resembles a plucked chicken" become standard D&D, textually speaking? I'm thinking it was with the J. Eric Holmes version (1977), but am not sure. Certainly tourney play at that time was rarely if ever held with 1st level characters ...

But for Jay (coxcomb, you're Jay, right?), does all of this put your observation into perspective? You guys were playing a one-off game, so long-term strategy wasn't relevant, and generally, I think, the whole concept of risk-per-reward was also diminished because the most explicit reward system (levelling up) was irrelevant too. Hence the saving-roll becomes, essentially, abusive - not a chance to escape sudden death, but a chance for sudden death.

Do you want to develop this issue here, especially relative to any features of the Big Model? Or should this thread close?

Best,
Ron
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coxcomb
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« Reply #9 on: May 25, 2004, 12:27:56 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
But for Jay (coxcomb, you're Jay, right?), does all of this put your observation into perspective? You guys were playing a one-off game, so long-term strategy wasn't relevant, and generally, I think, the whole concept of risk-per-reward was also diminished because the most explicit reward system (levelling up) was irrelevant too. Hence the saving-roll becomes, essentially, abusive - not a chance to escape sudden death, but a chance for sudden death.


Yes, all of these posts help me understand a little bit better. You can close the thread if you'd like.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: May 25, 2004, 02:58:17 PM »

Let's leave it open for a bit, just in case. Other brains might happen by over the next day or so ...

Best,
Ron
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hanschristianandersen
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« Reply #11 on: May 25, 2004, 05:24:49 PM »

I'm noticing that almost all of these posts are about having the player make a save to prevent something bad from happening to the character.  Let me turn it around for a second.

At least in 3.x D&D, there are plenty of opportunities to force your *opponents* to Save Vs. Nasty Effect, especially if you're a spellcaster.
I've noticed that some 3.x players love to load up on spells that are perceived as "reliable", while others load up on spectacular spells that are saveable; the former has a guarantee of some effectiveness, while the latter is taking a big risk in the hopes of getting big rewards.

It seems to me that Cleric/Wizard spell choice acts as statement of player preference with regard to Gamble and Crunch.  I can't count the number of times I've had players say "I chose [spell mix XYZ] because I want to be sure it'll work in a pinch," which to me says "Less Gamble More Crunch!"  It's a valid gamist choice.

But because PC's *can* load up Gamble-magic, there's nothing outside of social contract that prevents the GM from making opposing NPCs with exactly the same tactical options.
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Hans Christian Andersen V.
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #12 on: May 25, 2004, 08:11:04 PM »

Hans hit the point I was considering: saving throws go both ways.

They are a last chance to stay alive when you should have died; they're also the chance that your spell failed to kill the enemy.

That's one of the big things. In D&D there is no chance of spell failure. If you throw a massive fireball, it works, and does massive damage. If you cast an ice storm, it works. All spells always work for the caster. They also always work for the opponents.

Thus the chance of failure of the spell or attack form is built not into the spell but into the saving throw. A successful save means the spell didn't succeed in doing what was intended, in that it didn't harm the victim (or didn't so so sufficiently).

Multiverser builds the chance of spell failure into the spell; the caster has to roll the dice to see if it works. This is quicker in play, generally; it also says that most of what matters to whether the spell works is on the caster's end (although defender mods can apply). By putting the chance of failure into the saving throw, D&D more clearly and effectively makes the nature of the target important. If you want to cast a fireball in an empty room to clear out the cobwebs, you've got a guarantee that it will work. If you want to blast a humongous spider with it, the spider has a chance to survive. If you're using it against a zillionth level fighter, it's near certain that he'll be standing when the smoke clears.

So I agree with Eero that it is often simulationist, but I think it's still part of the gamist design. It controls chance of failure of attacks that are automatic otherwise.

For comparison, we could change the combat system such that the attacker announces his intent to hit the target, and automatically is considered to have hit, but the target rolls a save based on his skill and armor class to avoid taking any injury from the blow. The mechanical effects would be much the same, but it would shift the attention from how good the attacker is at hitting to how good the defender is at dodging.

That's really all it does.

--M. J. Young
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