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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 158 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: universal vs specific systems, for challenge in many arenas  (Read 6108 times)

Posts: 43

« on: January 30, 2004, 03:04:54 PM »

I'm fiddling with a game in which I'd like to allow detailed challenge in a number of different areas.  In other words, the kind of gamist-oriented play you can get out of detailed combat in many games, I'd like to extend to other arenas.  On my wish list would be social, political/economic, physical, and magical (in addition to combat).

When I started out, I was contemplating a universal mechanism for handling conflicts of any sort, something along the lines of HeroQuest's extended contests.  I love the ability in HQ to frame pretty much any situation as a single extended contest.  This comes at the price of making conflict in all arenas essentially the same from a mechanical standpoint.  Would it be better to have several different systems, where each could capture the aspects of the arena that form an interesting game within it?  Sort of like duct-taping axis and allies, magic the gathering, and monopoly together into a single game to handle combat, magic, and economics respectively.

Obviously a universal system also has the advantage of being easier to understand, learn, and use.  Where is the right place to draw the line between a universal system where nothing varies between arenas except the narration and the applicable traits, and a dozen systems that serve each arena well but are mutually incompatible and collectively mind-boggling?

Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #1 on: January 30, 2004, 03:25:56 PM »

Hi Alex,

For Gamist design, my call is that including several systems adds both to long-term and short-term tactical complexity. That is a big draw and makes play full of possibilities; it is also a whole smorgasbord of possible loopholes for your game to become a easily-broken, humpbacked mishmash rather than a good Gamist design.

Where's the single point that magically captures the perfect combination? Hell, I dunno. I think the best bet is to pick the point first, because it doesn't matter which point on that spectrum you're using (given that you like it). Then the goal is to build the best game you can around that point.

Doctor Xero

Posts: 433

« Reply #2 on: January 30, 2004, 05:55:43 PM »

I often consider the effects (conscious or subliminal) it will have on the players.

If the Magic Research system and the Scientific Research system are identical, the
players will come to think of magic as nothing more a new form of science (or science
as a type of magic?).  Similarly, if combat involving magic and combat involving more
mundane forces are the same, ultimately so are magic and the mundane (and a fireball
wand becomes nothing more than a variant BFG).  Is that what I want?  For some games,
it is.

If I want Magic to come across as a wondrous alternative to the mundane or as a
terrifying violation of the natural, then I want the systems involving Magic to be wondrous
alternatives to the system mechanics for mundane activities or to be terrifying violations
of the systems mechanics for natural activities.

Personally, I've always preferred game systems in which magic and psi operate under
two different systems mechanics -- otherwise, psi is simply mental magic or magic is
simply elemental psi.

I recall one game in which players objected to the fact that the game treated martial
arts combat as identical to melee weapon combat (although different from HTH combat).
They wanted martial arts to be a third alternative to both conventional Western brawling
and melee weapon battles.

For that reason, I am always cautious about universal system mechanics for all sorts
of conflicts and efforts.

Doctor Xero

"The human brain is the most public organ on the face of the earth....virtually all the business is the direct result of thinking that has already occurred in other minds.  We pass thoughts around, from mind to mind..." --Lewis Thomas
Shreyas Sampat

Posts: 970

« Reply #3 on: January 31, 2004, 05:37:50 PM »

My suggestion is to draw the line across rather than between - this is what HeroQuest does, in permitting three different resolution methods to be applied to any given conflict.  Extended, the import of this is that you can take different, independently complex routes to approaching each problem.

You might have one subsystem which emphasizes preparation over performance, another that works like an HQ Extended Contest and emphasizes the moment-to-moment clashes in a lengthy conflict, yet another that simulates the dynamics of feinting and leading, etc, and allow all these to be applied to any conflict at discretion.

This also has the advantage that players can simply omit one or more conflict types from their play if they don't find them interesting, without any wonky mechanical effects, provided that the systems all produce similar types of output once all is said and done.


Posts: 6

« Reply #4 on: February 01, 2004, 10:36:25 AM »

I'd say the answer partly depends on where you want to play the game. If it's for conventions you definitely want to keep it rules-lite and have as few mechanics as possible.

Cheers, Jim

Posts: 69

« Reply #5 on: February 01, 2004, 12:25:14 PM »

Hi all....
new to the forum here, yet thought I'd throw in a few thoughts.....

   Why not make a distinction between system and mechanics?
You can keep the same resoloution method, (2d6, or X + Y/Z or how ever you do it), you alter the path to get there!

   For example, you have Combat.  Thats 1 person attack, 1 person defend, the numbers are crunched there.
   Then take a look at say, Psionics.  Thats 1 person affecting, one person blocking, the numbers are crunched there.
   The differences would be the Attributes/Stats and the SKills/Talents/Traits and what have you.
   If you have the same resoloution system, it's easy to learn and remember, no problems or getting things confused as its always going to be Step 1, Step 2 = Step 3!, yet if you change the requesite parts and add a little shine and descriptive text, you can change the image and flavour drastically!

   You had the examples of Science and Magic.....
OK, Science, the formuliac and systematic approach to a subject.  They really on prognosis and testing to reach a conclussion.
   It would really on time and study, money for research, the kind of stats would be intellect, mental insight, reasoning.  Skills would be research, knowledge based on the subject matter, such as bioogy, or even the specialist fields such as Bio-chemistry!
MAybe MAgic could be worked differently, so it's more to do with willpower, belief and focus.  Its a matter of cause rather than affect.
It would be based on things like meditation, relaxation, mental agility, memory, willpower and mental force to grab and cast the energies needed!  
   Yet both could still be Skill X Stat +2,    or   SKill +2D6,     or flip 2 coins and an orange... what ever your mechanic/resoloution method, just change the image and the route!

Make sense?

Well, I'll try in here and see what I can find.....
M. J. Young

Posts: 2198

« Reply #6 on: February 02, 2004, 12:51:03 AM »

I wasn't here Saturday, but I was thinking about this thread; it occurred to me that it would be better to state the question as a conflict between unified and diversified mechanics. "Universal" doesn't seem to mean the same thing. That's semantic, perhaps, but I think it's important to understanding the question.

The answer actually doesn't lie in most of the issues raised thus far--how easy it is to learn, or to run at conventions, or anything like that. It lies in whether the mechanics accomplish the goal while giving a coherence to the game as a whole.

AD&D has a look of being cobbled together from many different mechanics; yet in some ways those individual mechanics all do their jobs quite well and fit together (or at least don't drive each other apart). One notable exception is the overstressed surprise and initiative system, in which modifiers to change surprise for particular character types resulted in unanswered questions about what to roll when. In that case, too much was being asked of a single subsystem.

Multiverser has a primary resolution system that resolves just about any kind of action characters can take; there are a few mechanics that are distinct but related, yet in the main, whenever anyone wants to do anything, a skill check is rolled. Skill checks are modified according to whatever applies to this particular skill. For example, if it's aimed at someone, it may require offensive and defensive targeting modifiers. If it's holy magic, there may be modifiers related to the character and the deity. Yet fundamentally, all skills are checked using the same mechanic.

One advantage of this is that it avoids the question of which mechanic to use when a character is doing something from category A to accomplish something in category B. The example (coming back to me now) is the difference between magically creating a fountain of water to decorate the courtyard, creating a fountain of water to drive back an ice beast, and creating a fountain of water to put out a fire. In the first case, you're certainly just doing some sort of magic; you would use the magic system to determine the result. In the second case, however, you have crossed the magic system with the combat system: you need to know both whether the water is created and whether it hits the ice beast. If your magic system and your combat system are entirely discrete, you're going to need to resolve these questions independently. The third case is similar to the second, but you're also going to have to determine how much water is created relative to the fire.

A unified mechanic usually means you can get full integration of all aspects of the game. In Multiverser, if someone were to use a spell previously devised to create a decorative fountain of water now to attack an ice beast, I would simply incorporate the necessary targeting modifiers along with the chance of success for the magic, and roll. Similarly, if the quantity and efficacy of the water in extinguishing a fire is now a factor, the unified mechanic provides ways to determine that.

That's not to say that diversified mechanics are a bad idea. If there's a mechanic that is absolutely perfect for running, say, gunfights, that doesn't work at all for anything else, setting it up to run that one part of play can be very valuable for making the game work well. The trick is to know what things really do need their own mechanics and which should be relegated to general mechanics. (The other trick is designing general mechanics to provide answers to all the questions you forgot to ask when you were designing the game.)

I hope this helps.

--M. J. Young

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