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Author Topic: Rune - the analysis  (Read 7895 times)
Clinton R. Nixon
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« on: May 21, 2001, 12:11:00 PM »

I managed to pick up Atlas Games' Rune this weekend and am about half-way through it. So far, I think it's a masterpiece, but I was biased going in.

It's extreme Gamism: the basic point is that players gain points for the actions of their heroes, Viking warriors (1 pt/1 hit point damage given to enemies, extra points for killing, points for doing well on a non-combat roll, negative points for taking damage, etc) and the runner (the person running the encounter) gets points for how the encounter went. (This is more interesting. For example, you get points for knocking heroes under 20 hit points. You lose points for killing them. Therefore, your goal is to make the encounter as harrowing as possible without killing the heroes.)

At the end of a session, points are totaled and a winner is declared. This is a far cry from normal RPG's, where the thought of a winner is bizarre.

Another thing I've noticed so far is a move from this "if the rules get in the way of fun, drop 'em" mindset. (IMO--this mindset is crap. If the rules are in the way, the game is either (a) not well designed, (b) designed for a different purpose than you're using it for, or (c) you're a git and should be whipped.) Instead, since Rune is a (hopefully) well-balanced game of strategy and combat, eliminating or changing rules would dramatically change the game and so the rulebook is canon.

The coolest thing in the book that I've seen so far is on my current page (130)--a list of the types of rolls in the game. This could be used to see the types of rolls important to RPGs in general and how they're used. For example, here's the "Multiple Rolls: Countdown":

All heroes may roll; to succeed, they must get a collective total of X successes, in the course of Y rounds. X and Y are specified by the designer.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #1 on: May 21, 2001, 12:47:00 PM »

All heroes may roll; to succeed, they must get a collective total of X successes, in the course of Y rounds. X and Y are specified by the designer.

Robin uses the same mechanic in the Dying Earth RPG...

I cannot wait to get Rune!  Gamism ahoy!  
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hardcoremoose
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« Reply #2 on: May 21, 2001, 06:39:00 PM »

Funny, I picked up Rune about a week ago, and didn't find it all I had hoped it would be.  Not that I have anything against the innovations it presents...the stuff about competitive gaming (particularly Rune tournaments) was very amusing, and cool as hell.  Now I can't provide any sort of an informed review of the game since I haven't bothered to read much of it yet, but that unto itself says something.  I had been reaallllyyyyy looking forward to the game - calling gaming stores in my area on a daily basis until one finally got a shipement in - and Laws is an eminently readable author, but for some reason I put it down after my initial perusal and haven't picked it back up.

Maybe I've been too busy with my own Viking-based idea to really be able to appreciate what Rune does as a game.  We'll see, but for now those are my initial impressions.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #3 on: May 23, 2001, 09:56:00 AM »

A long while back I ran a very gamist thing where the players all made Hero system characters based on the same number of points and then charged into a dungeon. They had 10 minutes of game time (50 turns) to find as much treasure as they could and escape the dungeon before the bars fell across the entrance sealing them in for the monsters to eat. I impartially GMed the game, playing all the monsters to the best of my ability. We played on a huge hexmap that I had laid the dungeon out on. The contents, monsters, traps, and treasures were all randomly assigned when you entered a room.

It worked beautifully and we had a lot of fun with it for a while. Hero system worked perfectly as there is very little ambiguity as to how to interperet stats and effects. When I looked over Rune I thought to myself that there was no way their point system was nearly as balanced as Hero System. I look forward to people actually playing the game and reporting what strategies seem to work best. I fear that it might turn out to be broken, however. Only time will tell. Anybody actually playing the game?

Mike Holmes
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #4 on: May 23, 2001, 10:36:00 AM »

I'm actually running Rune this Sunday. Tell me if you will--I haven't played any Hero--what about the point system in Rune seemed to be unbalanced. I've read it through a couple times and not found anything. (However, I've never run anything quite this oriented towards Gamism before, and generally slack on my duties when it comes to balance.)
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Clinton R. Nixon
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #5 on: May 23, 2001, 11:31:00 AM »

The reason that I fear for their balance is that there seems to be no math behind it. In a narrativist game, who cares. But careful balance in a gamist game, it is going to be crucial. Otherwise, winning strategies will emerge and every session will begin to look the same. I think that would be bad.

This having been said, I am making my assessment based on the free PDF that I downloaded. But looking at the traps section in the back, It seemed to me at first glance that the point assignments were arbitrary. This might not be so; the reading I gave it was cursory. There may in fact have been some math that eluded me. But there were point values for things of such subjective value, that it's hard to imagine exactly how they came up with them. They may have done extensive playtesting, and this might help.

The saving grace will probably be in the point balance that the GM recieves, i.e. the GM has incentive not to kill the characters, but to get the characters pretty good otherwise. Still, that may not quite do it; we might see all GMs scoring max points each time. That's why I'm curious to see it in action. When the computer adjudicates things as it does in the computer game version, there is no subjectivity in the interperetation of results. The paper RPG has no such garuntees as the GM is in the competition as well. Balance might end up relying somewhat on the integrity of the GM. Which optimally would be unnecessary.

Just my $.02,

Mike Holmes
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #6 on: May 23, 2001, 11:42:00 AM »

BTW, Hero System is generic Champions. You may know it as that. While imperfect, it starts with certain assumptions (1d6 normal ranged attack costs 5 points, for example) and then attempts to rigorously figure what other costs would be from there using math to accomplish this. Again, it doesn't always succeed (as Ron will certainly attest) but it makes a serious attempt.

My game had the advantage of an impartial GM. Rune does not and does not appear at least to have been nearly as rigorous. A good example is that adding area effect to a power in Hero System is a multiplicative cost. In Rune it is additive. This is non-sensical as there is more advantage to an area effect attack of a certain area that does 3d6 damage than one that does only 2d6. In rune the marginal increase in cost is the same for each, IIRC. While this makes the math simpler, it may also cause imbalance.

Mike Holmes
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #7 on: May 23, 2001, 12:00:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-05-23 15:31, Mike Holmes wrote:
This having been said, I am making my assessment based on the free PDF that I downloaded. But looking at the traps section in the back, It seemed to me at first glance that the point assignments were arbitrary. This might not be so; the reading I gave it was cursory.


I'm not trying to flame any one here, but I just want to say this is a common problem, and the reason most message boards fail--people making assumptions off incomplete data, and then defending those assumptions.

That said, I can definitely see how you got that from the sample PDF, Mike. I assure you the full-blown RPG is much more balanced. The sample trap/point value combos in the free PDF are "package deals"--pre-cooked trap ideas that have been built using the Rune system. Because of this, the math doesn't come out well.

I'll see how balanced the game is this weekend--I'm running it--but right now, I think it most definitely is. Encounter designers have a net total of 0 encounter points to spend on encounters--each enemy, trap, roll, etc, that is a challenge to the players must be paid for with points gained from things in the encounter that would help the players: boons, treasure, opportunities for trade, terrain features, and the like.

The runner gets victory points for various things, including:
* Damaging players so that they have less than 20 hit points (but not killing them)
* Heroes failing rolls. (Note: Encounters in Rune are highly structured, and every roll that will be required must be paid for ahead of time. A runner can't include arbitrary rolls.)
* When heroes either try to take advantage of an encounter's terrain features or move in order to avoid their ill effects. (Terrain features are a huge part of Rune.)

The runner loses victory points for:
* Killing characters. The runner loses a huge amount for this, actually.

In addition, the role of runner is switched from encounter to encounter. It is possible, probably, for a person to design killer encounters, be excellent at running them, and score extremely well every time he runs. However, he will be forced to be a player much more than he is allowed to run encounters, balancing things out a bit.

(Back on Rune's stringent-ness of encounter design: You'd think a runner could manage to kill no one and try to score maximum points every time. Not so--not only do you have to plan every required roll ahead of time, but enemies actually follow a combat flowchart to decide who they attack instead of being controlled by the runner (unless he pays extra points for them to be free-willed.) The amount of structure balances things out quite well, in my opinion. Although Rune is rather system-heavy, it's kind of cool--all the hard system stuff is done well before play, and only minimal rolls are required at that point.)

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Clinton R. Nixon
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[ This Message was edited by: Clinton R Nixon on 2001-05-23 16:02 ]
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Clinton R. Nixon
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #8 on: May 23, 2001, 01:59:00 PM »

Taken to task I returned to the PDF to refresh my memory. It says that its a sample checklist, and it certainly is not a set of pre made traps, etc. It is a checklist of how to prepare Hazards and Traps for the game, point by point. I imagine that its possible that they have a different system in the published game, but it seems unlikely. Somebody could check if they wanted to be sure.

Anyhow, I stand by my earlier assessment. Actually, it is interesting that the amount for 1d6 damage is 6 points, similar to Hero System. But then things start to break down. As I said math seems to leave things and the numbers seem to enter the realm of speculation. My analysis may be erroneous as I didn't go through any regression testing or anything. So I'll hedge and say that there may be some rigorous thought and math behind the numbers presented. I just can't see them easily, and am guessing that they went by playtest instead.

One thing that I was confused about that is better than I thought is that there is indeed (I believe) multiplication. What had confused me is the lack of multiplication signs in the PDF; there are underscores instead. Anyhow, despite the somewhat more complicated math it doesn't really look all that much better.

Still, the proof is in the puddin'. So please be as detailed as possible with your analysis of your game this weekend. I truely hope it goes well. If I'm wrong, then we have a nifty new game.

Mike Holmes
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Ian O'Rourke
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« Reply #9 on: May 23, 2001, 02:08:00 PM »

The difficulty with Rune is this. I could read it and be happy with the balancing, because I'm not really looking 'that' closely at it and playing for fun.

A systems monkey or a gamist might be horrified with it.

So I suppose, what I'm saying is, may narrativist leanings would make me blind to these issues. I'd also be happily blind until I noticed players picking the same for of attacks all the time, etc.

(But then I'd play it so infrequently may be that would not matter.)
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Ian O'Rourke
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #10 on: May 24, 2001, 06:00:00 AM »

Well, Ian, this is the problem. As a design specifically and intentionally focused on gamism, I think that you'd have to approach it with a gamist attitude. Sure you can play in a narrativist fashion for a while, but I suspect that if that is why you are playing that you'll soon become disenchanted with the gamist nature. The gamists will have fun looking for those best strategies and will be engaged as long as there are new strategies that continue to evolve. This is pure "System Does Matter" stuff; fairly straightforward, really.

Mike Holmes
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Ian O'Rourke
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« Reply #11 on: May 24, 2001, 08:43:00 AM »

Quote

On 2001-05-24 10:00, Mike Holmes wrote:
Well, Ian, this is the problem. As a design specifically and intentionally focused on gamism, I think that you'd have to approach it with a gamist attitude. Sure you can play in a narrativist fashion for a while, but I suspect that if that is why you are playing that you'll soon become disenchanted with the gamist nature. The gamists will have fun looking for those best strategies and will be engaged as long as there are new strategies that continue to evolve. This is pure "System Does Matter" stuff; fairly straightforward, really.

Mike Holmes


I'm not disagreeing with that. I would play it in a gamist manner, but my brain is not rules strong, as a result I will not notice 'bad gamist maths' in the system until its too late.

That's my point, for what it's worth :smile:

It might also explain why I could look at RUNE and thinks it balanced, while others spot major issues in the maths. I just want the game, it sounds fun.
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Ian O'Rourke
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Valamir
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« Reply #12 on: May 24, 2001, 09:33:00 AM »

I couldn't agree with you more Clinton.  Rune is quintissential Power Gaming.  My respect for Robin Laws has increased enormously.  That he can go from Feng Shui to Hero Wars, to Rune demonstrates that he has a tremendous grasp on design theory.

As for the points being balanced...they don't really need to be.  It doesn't matter if a Drowning Trap doesn't cost enough points or an Endurance Roll costs too many, because it shouldn't have any effect on the game play.

1) A designer/runner can't really take advantage of a trap that is pointed cheaper than it should be.  Why?
a) There is a penelty for clumping...repeating the same type of thing over and over. A designer can't simply make you make 10 Singing tests in a row because he found that to be a cheap way of making you fail.
b) There is a budget of the maximum number of points you can spend.  The only advantage of a trap being cheaper than should be is you can then cram in more stuff and stay under budget.  But there is a penelty for forcing players to make too many rolls.  The more rolls you make them make, the easier they become.  It becomes self defeating to cram too much stuff in one scenario.
c) The other use for points is that for every point of bad stuff you inflict you have to include a point of good stuff.  One may be tempted to think than that a trap that is too cheap means you won't have to include as much good stuff.  However, you have to include the same amount of good stuff as the total budget, so the Encounter will have the same amount either way.  More importantly, some of the "good stuff" isn't really all that good.  Like Terrain.  Its "good" in the sense that it makes the game interesting, but it actually is better for the runner than the players so a designer isn't motivated by trying to limit the amount of good stuff.

2)The Runner is expressly motivated to NOT kill the players.  His goal is to beat them to a pulp without killing them.  Since most monsters attack in a preprogrammed manner, and all traps and effects are predefined and must be executed as written, the runner has little ability to play favorites and try to keep a player alive.  If the designer creates a scenario that is too tough, there will be little the runner can do to keep the characters from dieing.  Loading up on the underpointed traps can net the runner negative victory points.

3) The Runner scores points both for how well he is beating the party as the Runner, but also for how well his own personal character is doing while its being run by one of the other players (who are well motivated to do well with the character and not get him killed).  Thus, if a designer did wind up using overpointed traps and the encounter proved too easy, the runner benefits from the extra success his own character earned from the too easy scenario.

4) Any advantage or disadvantage unbalanced points gives to the Runner is further negated by the fact that the runner's role changes with each scenario.


So in other words...your observation is correct, there appears to be little more than gut feel behind the point levels assigned.  They are certainly not based on statistics or regression analysis.  

But in the end my prediction is that will make no difference what so ever to the actual game play.

I will be starting a Rune campaign shortly.  Right now I've only designed a couple of Encounters, but thats given me a real good feel for the point system.

[ This Message was edited by: Valamir on 2001-05-24 15:05 ]
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #13 on: May 24, 2001, 09:50:00 AM »

Cool. I hope that you're right. Points aren't the only way to balance things. Let us know what happens.

Mike Holmes
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