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Author Topic: Roll 3d6 .... What is this?!?  (Read 8087 times)
lev_lafayette
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« on: February 23, 2005, 01:50:28 PM »

D&D calls them "Abilities", GURPS, RuneQuest and the White Wolf System calls them "Attributes", whilst Rolemaster and the Hero System calls them "Characteristics".

Roll 3d6 six times and allocate in order; Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity, Wisdom, Constitution and Charisma....

We know what they are in game terms. We know that the provide a foundation of what a character can do.

But what are they supposed to represent? Genetic traits? Learned traits? Should this represenation be consistent? If not, why not?

What is the "right number" and distribution of such "stats"? GURPS has four; Rolemaster has ten - why such variation? Most games don't differentiate between manual dexterity and bodily agility (and thus end up with cheetahs who can pick pockets and mend watches?).
 
What's their relationship between stats and skills? In RQ a character with a Dex of 30 gains +20% to their attack rolls. Using a similar scale, a GURPS character would effectively gain a bonus of more than 100%.  Why is there such variation between two systems both which claimed to be realistic?

Random (the genetic or social "die" is cast!) or allocated (e.g., point-based)? Second-generation players ("you have your mother's eyes and your father's strength")?

How would players react to the idea of randomly rolling their sexual orientation (could be educational for some....)? What about randomly determined alignment?
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Valamir
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« Reply #1 on: February 23, 2005, 01:58:19 PM »

Well from my perspective (and most of the folks who hang out here) the "Right" answer is the one that best matches the game's mechanics with the intended purpose of play...regardless of what that means or its relationship to any philosophical musings on "reality".

The "Wrong" answer is any system (no matter how well in works) that was designed that way "just because" with no real thought as to promoting the game's play goals.

Aside from that you're really left with nothing more than personal preference.  So to keep this thread from becoming a general "tell me what you think" opinion poll (which is a no-no at the Forge), do you have some specific questions or areas that you want to zero the discussion in on?

BTW:  Indie-Design is only to be used for actual games being actually designed for actual publication (i.e. release to the public).  General questions like this belong in RPG Theory.  I'm sure one of the moderators will be around to move it presently.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: February 23, 2005, 09:49:44 PM »

Hello,

You won't be surprised to discover that we've discussed this issue pretty heavily at the Forge too, and we're not alone. This isn't meant to shut down the current conversation, but maybe we'll all do better to review some of the ground that's been covered.

Choosing and defining the stats (this one has important internal links, including one to an essay by John Kim)
Traits and skills threads please (this one has pretty much all the links to earlier discussions)

Best,
Ron
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Callan S.
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« Reply #3 on: February 24, 2005, 02:30:57 AM »

Quote from: Valamir
The "Wrong" answer is any system (no matter how well in works) that was designed that way "just because" with no real thought as to promoting the game's play goals.


I get the feeling a reflexive design practice is actually to go into freeform sim exploration, imagining the world or the specific game world and what would exist there and write down what you find in such an exploration.

So the blunt suggestion that they should determine these stats in relation to the games real life goals (something at a very metagame level), is incredibly jarring. Which leaves game design stagnating.

On the flip side, it'd be interesting to play an RPG where your characters stats were described as X, Y and Z, or such like, with no color at all...and yet it still worked.
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Philosopher Gamer
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: February 24, 2005, 05:57:34 AM »

Hiya,

Callan and Ralph are speaking wisdom. Callan, as a support point, the single value used in Trollbabe for each character is merely called her "Number" and the only mechanic that modifies it is called the "Modifier." Re-rolling it is called the "Re-roll." I purposely left all Color off the numerical features of the game.

Lev, you might not be familiar with Trollbabe. The game offers an extreme example of the idea that the numbers associated with a role-playing character themselves mean nothing in the game-world - until they're utilized in a scene, in which case what they mean is determined on a case-by-case basis.

The game which inspired me most about this were Dust Devils and Hero Wars (now called HeroQuest), but Trollbabe takes it a step farther by collapsing all values into one number. Primetime Adventures then steps even farther from Trollbabe, putting the character's one number (Screen Presence) firmly into the player-level of understanding and usage, and it cannot be mistaken for anything to do with the character's abilities at all.

Best,
Ron
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Valamir
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« Reply #5 on: February 24, 2005, 07:42:12 AM »

Quote from: Noon

I get the feeling a reflexive design practice is actually to go into freeform sim exploration, imagining the world or the specific game world and what would exist there and write down what you find in such an exploration.

So the blunt suggestion that they should determine these stats in relation to the games real life goals (something at a very metagame level), is incredibly jarring. Which leaves game design stagnating.

On the flip side, it'd be interesting to play an RPG where your characters stats were described as X, Y and Z, or such like, with no color at all...and yet it still worked.


Good points, but I don't think the two are mutually exclusive.  Clearly some mechanics can be very successfully designed strictly at the meta level.  TrollBabe's Number or My Life With Master.  The mechanics in those games are 100% strictly driven towards producing a certain type of play experience and any in-game justification is primarily color.  In MLwM for instance the difference between Self Loathing and Weariness is strictly in terms of how they modify certain rolls.  Little to no effort is made to define Weariness as a particular state of being and then make sure there are rules that cover all possible incarnations of that state of being (i.e. "wouldn't a Weary character have a disadvantage to do X").

I consider this approach to be akin to Euro style board games.  Designers like Reiner Knizia create a specific play experience with mechanics and then the "theme" is largely just painted on.  This means that games like Wallenstein are tons of fun to play and mechanically brilliant even though the mechanics have little relation to the reality of the 30 Years War.

This is contrasted with an American style design exemplified by the old Avalon Hill or SPI where where mechanics were created primarily to model a certain "Sim Experience" and only secondarily to promote a specific game play.

However, I think the true pinnacle of RPG design (as well as some newer board game designs like Struggle of Empires) is one that successfully blends the two approaches.

There's nothing wrong with starting from a free form Sim experience to figure out what sorts of things you find there.  I love games like Pendragon precisely because of how effectively they do this.  The next step, however, (which too often is missing) is to be selective about choosing what things of all of those that you might find there you actually want to feature in the game.  Just because it could be in the "sim experience" space, doesn't mean it should be in the game.

Selectively culling those aspects you want to feature and then designing the game to drive play towards those aspects is a largly meta approach to design.  But I think its possible to have the best of both worlds.
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lev_lafayette
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« Reply #6 on: February 24, 2005, 04:13:55 PM »

Hmmm... Interesting.

From the outset I must point out being a stubborn simulationist means the "determine according to flavour the game" doesn't quite cut it with me. OTOH, I love games which provide flavour from the stats (e.g., Call of Cthulu's SAN). Likewise, whilst I think a dramatic attribute like Primetime Adventure's is a good idea, I find the idea of this representing the character's abilities, rather than an abstraction of the player's influence in the plot, to be a little ahh, strange. I should also say I have no truck with the argument that "universal" systems are doomed to failure axiomatically.

The essay on nature and nurture, whilst incredibly short, does provide something of a foundation. To my addled brain, there should be a clear distinction in a game system between the two. Sure, physical strength has a great deal to do with nurture as well. Being the third bastard child of a peasant usually meant that no matter what your gene's said your strength could have been you would turn out to be a runt.

So what about the profound influence of the "social die", when compared to the "genetic die"? This one is a little trickier because it seems there are few derived statistics. So designers tend to use skill abstractions rather than derivations from a memetic trait. I'm still pondering on CHA in particular here. To what extent is Charisma learned versus innate? I know that the pentecostal religious tradition (for example) considers it innate ("the gift..."), which is probably related to "voice" or the in the Irish tradition ("... of the gab"). GURPS (Basic, 3rd, p19) considers it innate but didn't have an attribute for it! Why, for the sweet love of design, I do not know..

Another matter which I think "solves" the GURPS problem as Mike's Standard Rant #4 described it (and yes, it is a huge problem) is the lack of distinction between stat and skill. I don't care how skilled one is, even if they've spent six years doing nothing else except studdying that one skill (boring, eh?). You simply cannot jump ten meters with a DEX/AGI of 8 on a 3-18 human scale.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #7 on: February 24, 2005, 04:34:46 PM »

Ralph,

I fully agree. I just think most new gamers (and many old gamers) don't intuitively reach for that blend.

The freeform sim exploration, then coming back and looking amongst what was explored for material that might be useful as game structure, is the technique I use myself.


lev_lafayette,

Does this help at all? In providing a different means of answering what stats you should have or what is the right number of stats? Edit: I cross posted with you. I'll read your post now.
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Philosopher Gamer
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Valamir
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« Reply #8 on: February 24, 2005, 04:47:53 PM »

Quote
You simply cannot jump ten meters with a DEX/AGI of 8 on a 3-18 human scale.


And that's the point where I ask (in all seriousness)...so what?

Under what set of game play goals does it matter whether or not the stat / skill combination will accurately determine the precise distance a human can jump?  In other words...why is that important?

Is jumping distances some key factor in the nature of the game...a Mario Brothers type world where jumping around from place to place is essential to your character's survival and because its such a central feature its important to focus on it in the rules?  

The typical response is something along the lines of "Well, no its not a central feature, but somewhere along the line a character might be confronted with an obstacle that needs to be crossed by jumping and the rules should handle it."

To which I say "Yes, the rules should handle it...but why is it necessary that they handle it by accurately calculating the precise distance a human with a given stat can jump?  Why isn't it it sufficient to say 'this is a challenging jump' and set the difficulty at whatever point would be considered challenging for the game system?  Or 'this is nearly impossible' and set the difficulty to a nearly impossible level".

See, that totally allows for the occassion when jumping a certain distance is a key obstacle for a character to over come and it doesn't in the least bit require caring about whether the 8 Dex character could jump 10 feet or only 6.5.

That brings us back to the question.  Under what set of game play goals is that sort of precision important?

I'm not saying its NEVER important.  I'm not saying there is no occassion where worrying about that isn't the right way to design.

What I AM saying quite emphatically is that the huge mistake game designers have made for decades is to just ASSUME that it is important and that a game isn't complete without elaborate rules for calculating jumping distances (or running speeds, or lifting capacity, or any of the other things that occupy tons of space in rule books).

If one can answer the question as to why that rule is essential for THIS particular game for THIS particular reason...then by all means include it.

But if the best answer one can come up with is "that's the way its done", or "Its realistic", or "someone may need to know that some day"...then that's just plumb bad design.


I feel comfortable calling it "bad design" without hesitation.  

The cornerstone principal of good design is that form follows function.  If you don't have a need for the function...than including the form "just because" is bad design.  The form of the rules should accomplish no more and no less than what the function of the game is.  If you don't have a well designed function...or you're including a bunch of stuff totally tangental to that function...that's just bad design...by definition.

So to summarize.  Definitely write rules like that if you have a clear and compelling reason to need those rules.  Definitely don't care about it if you don't have a clear and compelling reason to.  Not having those rules in a game that doesn't need them is a good thing.  Just as having those rules in  game that does need them is a good thing.

The essential element of design that tends to get skipped is the part of the process where the designer makes hard decisions about what the game needs and what it doesn't.  Assuming the game needs everything is just lazy design.  Some games (like Multiverser) have a good reason for needing a wide range of things.  Some games (like Trollbabe) don't.

Knowing the whys and the wherefors of a proposed game design is the very very first thing the designer should do...LONG LONG LONG before worrying about the relationship between skills and attributes.

Edited for rampant typos.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #9 on: February 24, 2005, 04:57:44 PM »

Quote from: lev_lafayette
The essay on nature and nurture, whilst incredibly short, does provide something of a foundation. To my addled brain, there should be a clear distinction in a game system between the two. Sure, physical strength has a great deal to do with nurture as well. Being the third bastard child of a peasant usually meant that no matter what your gene's said your strength could have been you would turn out to be a runt.

So what about the profound influence of the "social die", when compared to the "genetic die"? This one is a little trickier because it seems there are few derived statistics. So designers tend to use skill abstractions rather than derivations from a memetic trait. I'm still pondering on CHA in particular here. To what extent is Charisma learned versus innate? I know that the pentecostal religious tradition (for example) considers it innate ("the gift..."), which is probably related to "voice" or the in the Irish tradition ("... of the gab"). GURPS (Basic, 3rd, p19) considers it innate but didn't have an attribute for it! Why, for the sweet love of design, I do not know..


Dude, your going on a freeform simulationist journey right there. And your generating material from the first issue(s) you come across...enough to be the focus of a game. That's the problem if you don't collect from the exploration then cull off the bits that don't matter to your real life goal, you'll end up making a game about the first thing you end up exploring, rather than what you want to make a game about.

I mean, nature and nurture...it is interesting. Do you want your game to be about that? If it wasn't really what you wanted, then don't let the first thing you come across decide your books contents. If you think it wont determine that, either your wrong, or your already doing some culling of game world stuff and only using other what remains because it's important to your game design goal (this is the technique Ralph mentioned).

If you haven't really decided what you want your book to be about and just want to explore the game world till you find that out, your going to end up just writing a diary of your sim journey, complete with arithmatic.

I'm kinda sick today, so I might be more blunt than needed.
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Philosopher Gamer
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Callan S.
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« Reply #10 on: February 24, 2005, 05:23:39 PM »

Ralph,

Ummm, I think it's okay to have the jump distances for sim purposes, as I imagine lev would have. Learning that because you have X in trait Y gives you X jumping distance, grants a pleasurable sim buzz.

lev_lafayette: The thing is...jumping distance is not that interesting (relative to many other things). Don't end up taking up book space on something when it's not that interesting and you only added it because it came up, rather than you making a concious descision on adding it in.

Note: If your making a RPG that's like the comp game pitfall, then jump distance will be pretty damn interesting. Just noting this so as to show how the goal of the book indicates what deserves focus and what doesn't.
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Philosopher Gamer
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Valamir
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« Reply #11 on: February 24, 2005, 05:56:04 PM »

Quote from: Noon
Ralph,

Ummm, I think it's okay to have the jump distances for sim purposes, as I imagine lev would have. Learning that because you have X in trait Y gives you X jumping distance, grants a pleasurable sim buzz.
Quote


I agree, as I noted, that it absolutely CAN be alright to include rules for jumping distances.  But I don't think "Its for Sim purposes" is an adequate reason.  That makes it way too easy to include everything and the kitchen sink "for sim purposes".  Its important for the designer to think about it harder than that.

Sim does not equate to crunchy rules that model reality.  i.e. Having crunchy rules that model reality does not automatically facilitate Sim and the desire to play Sim does not automatically require crunchy rules that model reality.

If one is going to include crunchy rules that model reality (and I feel like Seinfeld here repeating "not that theres anything wrong with that") I think you need a much more compelling reason than "its for Sim purposes".
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komradebob
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« Reply #12 on: February 24, 2005, 07:14:24 PM »

Sim design also doesn't need to have huge amounts of subsystems and charts, either.

Bit of a tangent:
Chris Engle's The Matrix Game (which may or may not be a roleplaying game), is an exceedingly gamist design. However, to achieve that gamist goal, its core mechanic relies upon a (supremely) simulationist technique.
You won't find any large amounts of charts in Matrix ( really, only one core chart), and arguably it is a very generalist design that can be used for a variety of settings ( the sort of venacular usage of "universal" system). I highly recommend taking a peek at The Matrix Game as an example of a sim mechanic that utilizes an almost unlimited amount of "crunch" but almost no charts ( all of the crunch comes from the players' ability to form convincing arguments based on their own knowledge and the situation presented by the scenario played).

Robert
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Robert Earley-Clark

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JMendes
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« Reply #13 on: February 25, 2005, 08:52:13 AM »

Hoy, :)

Quote from: Noon
Learning that because you have X in trait Y gives you X jumping distance, grants a pleasurable sim buzz.


I would like to point out that it also facilitates Gamist play if you have a rope, since then, you can judge the width of the aforementioned chasm versus the length of the rope, and Step On Up to decide whether you'd rather jump or use the rope, somehow.

If the jump is just "challenging", where would that leave us with regard to the 15-meter rope in our backpacks? ;)

But that's neither here nor there. Fundamentally, I agree with Ralph. Things should have a reason for being there, other than, "it's for Sim purposes".

Cheers,

J.
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url=http://lisbongamer.mc-two.com/]Lisbon Gamer[/urlLisbon Gamer
M. J. Young
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« Reply #14 on: February 25, 2005, 12:59:46 PM »

As I was reading Ralph's excellent discussion of jumping distances, I was considering whether to throw Multiverser into the mix on that; then he very kindly brought the game into view, so I decided that indeed it might help.

One of the "tricks" Multiverser uses is to let the referee decide which of several approaches to resolving a matter he want to use.

Let's suppose we've got that jump situation. The player's character paper might have a specific statement on it as to how far he can jump normally (a skill definition) and how good he is at that (a skill ability level). We can roll the dice and determine whether he is "successful".

But what do we really need to know?

If the jump is because he's participating in some sort of athletic competition, we need to know how far he jumped, and that quite precisely. In that case, knowing whether or not he successfully jumped his 9'4" good standing broad jump is really of relatively minor interest to us. What we really want to know is did he do better than that, worse than that, by how much, or did he choke and fall? Multiverser provides a means of determining exactly how far the character jumped based on the roll, if that's what you want to know.

On the other hand, if he comes to a chasm in a cave complex, what are the odds it's going to be exactly 9'4" across? What if it's described as 7' across, with a landing area about three feet wide on the other side? Frankly, if he jumps 9'4" he's going to crash into that opposite wall and fall into the chasm. What we want to know is not whether he can jump 9'4", but whether he can correctly gauge and execute a jump onto that landing on the other side. That should be relatively easy for someone who can jump 9'4", but it's not automatic. So we give the guy a hefty bonus on his chance of success, and we roll the dice. If it succeeds, he made the jump; if it fails, he misjudged it, or slipped, or otherwise didn't make it. We've still got relative success and relative failure built in, so we can tell how bad it is if he missed (did he trip on take-off and is plunging down the middle, or did he slip on landing and is hanging on to the edge trying to scramble up?). In that situation, knowing exactly how far someone did jump is a lot less interesting than knowing whether they made the jump or not; and knowing how far they can jump doesn't help as much as it might appear at first glance.

What complicates this is the nature of setting design. After all, why is that chasm 7' across? Why isn't it 10', or 4'? The answer, ultimately, is that I thought 7' was a good challenge for the character. I don't as much care that it's 7' as that it is an obstacle likely to create a specific degree of tension or challenge within the play of the game. Given that, why should I even have to decide exactly how wide it is? I need only convey to the player how difficult it would be for his character to make this as a jump and what other options he might have. I can say, "It's not that wide, but it is wider than you are tall; I'd give you +20 on your jumping skill if you want to try to jump it." Neither of us ever have to know the width of that chasm, as long as we agree that it would be this difficult to jump it and certain other options are excluded.

Does that help?

--M. J. Young
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