[3:16] Does It Encourage "We didn't roll the dice for three sessions!" Behavior?

Started by greyorm, April 15, 2010, 11:07:21 PM

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We don't play as much as I'd like, probably once or twice a month on average, but 3:16 has been the "go to" game for our group for quite a while now, and a session always receives positive commentary from the players and how much they love it. I still have a couple of issues with understanding the intended running of the game, but the one I want to talk about is "It isn't about the missions."

We've run through, I think, five planets over probably 7-8 sessions of around two hours each, and frankly, I don't get it.

Quick overview: The characters are still sergeants or troopers (no one is gunning for advancement), in charge of two squads. Only a couple of Strengths have been used, and the planets have been a push-over so far (I'm going to increase tokens in future missions, probably by 3-5). Beyond their decimated squads, other interactions so-far have only been with their lieutenant, some other troopers, and a captain.

The game before last ended with the 3:16's capital ship drifting crippled and nearly dead in a field of molten debris -- what's left of the planet they'd just invaded, whose rock-man inhabitants deliberately detonated the planetary core when the troopers infiltrated the highest level of their base. The capital ship was already damaged by an invasion of shadow things from the system's asteroid belt and took the brunt of the blast wave, so this took it out completely.

This session, I meant to run a game of "fix the ship" -- no mission and threat tokens and so forth involved -- but I couldn't figure out how to make it pop without them getting to shoot at shit, or roll some dice for some important stuff, or whatever. And frankly, I don't want to play in a game that consists of "We didn't roll the dice for three sessions!"* stylings. (Seriously, fuck that. Boring.) So instead I just ran another planet, which was cool with everyone.

* For those unfamiliar with my meaning: there is an old idea in the hobby that makes out "role-playing" (ie: in-character acting and talking with NPCs etc) to be the holy grail of play, demeaning die-rolling and various character activities (that are not role-playing or amateur pseudo-thespianism) as some boring shit you occasionally have to do that if you're REALLY good and awesome, you can completely avoid.

So, I don't get it. "It" being "It's not about the missions". It's not about the missions, but the game doesn't provide a mechanical framework for it to NOT be about the missions; all the interesting mechanical stuff to play with (threat tokens, wounds, choosing stat to roll, etc) is only there for use with missions. Which means it seems the game, by claiming it isn't about missions, is literally encouraging "we didn't roll the dice for three sessions!"-type thinking/play.

What am I missing?
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Callan S.

I would have thought that's refering to a morality level - ie, it's not about THAT I'm killing you, it's about WHY I'm killing you. The deed and the reason for the deed are seperate things. It's not about the deed.

But heck, I've seen things said taken a heck of alot of ways (I'm sure Ron could say some things about 'conflict resolution', for example), so I dunno.

Gregor Hutton

It reads to me that you are still way early in your campaign and the players are totally enjoying it being about the missions. So I'd keep at that. I mean five planets in and only a few Strengths used seems early to me. Have there be any Weaknesses? When they _have_ to start using Weaknesses to save their character's skin then I find they feel some "heat".

If I were running it i'd not be getting hot feet at all and trying to move it to "it's not about the missions" stuff. Just keep playing fun missions. Enjoy it. Pick stiff AAs, meaner alien special abilities (Ambush, Induce Weakness, Lasting Wounds, Exploding Bodies) and don't worry about forcing a story or a point to play.

I'd just have got them to make some NFA rolls to help fix the ship and then hit them with another mission. Maybe raiding a planet for ore to patch up the ship? You did that: "So instead I just ran another planet, which was cool with everyone."

I think the rulebook says throw in something that will cause the players to think outside the missions every fourth mission or so. They might bite at, or maybe not. But it's designed that you can happily play bug-killing macho stuff for a lot of missions if you want to.

If a group plays like that all the way to Hatred For Home that is perfectly cool. By the time someone gets that far the GM is very close to being able to combine Special Abilities and bring back in some of your favourite aliens. (The rock guys "stoning" Terra in revenge would be totally on my list of things to do.)

Paul Czege

I had a pretty inspired take-away from an IM conversation with Sean "Calithena" Stidd a few weeks ago about OD&D and early RPGs. One of the characteristics of the games is that players were often pretty chuffed by "we didn't roll the dice once" sessions. And I realized that whether it was a conscious design goal or not, the games have an interesting design paradigm that works toward the desired "didn't roll dice" session over time. Modern indie games front-load a player's engagement with the thematic material of play by making it a requirement going into chargen. (Ron says this all the time: that players have to want to play "this game" with "these people" from the outset.) OD&D and early RPGs were different. They gave players something to do (kill shit, level up, complete quests, etc.) that was maybe adventurous but not particularly thematic, and then sometimes, over time, players developed through play a deeper affinity for their characters, and as a result, a knowledge of what they wanted to do thematically with them. And then you get the all roleplay, all character drama sessions, because play has moved beyond the system of the game text.

So from the thread title I was thinking this was going to be a conversation about "didn't roll dice" as a design goal. Not that it aims to, but I don't think 3:16 delivers on it. I think partly because the system of the game text doesn't drive enough of a diversity of character activities to the mission-based play. There would need to be missions about setting up field hospitals, evacuating civilians, repairing damaged vessels (natch), avoiding battles you can't win, escorting politicians, etc. (Perhaps OD&D doesn't have this either, and the necessary diversity came about from gamer culture extending the game.) And there would need to be less of an either/or manichaean relationship between the character and the good/evil of the war. Because right now you end up either a dumb grunt, a sociopath, dead, or a tragic idealist, all of which make the same thematic statement about war.
"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton


I've been on the road since 9am this morning, so pretty wiped out right now, but if someone wants to push the thread in that direction, Paul, I'm all for it! Regardless, I'll get onto other replies and further discussion myself after some decent sleep. Sorry, all.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Gregor Hutton

No problem, Raven. I'm looking forward to it.

Thinking about it, I think my intention was that the game should encourage you to roll the dice and abide by the result. NFA or FA checks when we don't know which way it'll go. If you didn't like the outcome you have limited Flashbacks to change that.

While further in a campaign characters might be getting their own ideas on which directions to go, I envisaged it would still have Missions as backdrops. I also wanted it to be really easy for a GM to run, without caring for setting up an elaborate back story or campaign a priori, and that does involve handing the GM tools to lean on (dice, tokens, abilities) that need dice rolling going on.

Ron Edwards

Hi Raven,

I have run a couple of in-the-ship missions. I roll or choose stuff for the situation very much like a planet and it works fine. I'm confident that if you sit down and try it without saying "it can't work, I can't do it, the rules won't do it," you'll be surprised.

Think in terms of conditions in space that could be like a planet's conditions. For instance, the heavy-gravity one - OK, the ship is in some kind of nebula or weird black hole type anomaly that inflicts heavy gravity conditions upon every single independent body in the immediate area. Or if you don't mind, you could even say the ship's own gravity mechanisms are screwed up.

In our game, I had the ship attacked by space-sharks. It's very easy to use the aliens rules for such problems. Or if you wanted to go more out-there, you could use the aliens rules to characterize the technical problems on the ship itself, although I haven't done it that way.

To keep it in "the mission" framework, that's easy as pie. The characters' superiors order them into the damaged sector of the ship to fix it, or to provide support for the guys who are fixing it given that the conditions are dangerous. Or if your command structure is as cynical and stupid as it is in my game, they send in the combat guys because they (i) don't care, (ii) want to pad their resumes with "successful missions," and (iii) actually sort of like getting their soldiers killed, so when a player says, "This is stupid, why do we have to stand around with guns while the techies fix things," they are indeed correct.

Best, Ron


Sorry it took so long to get back to this, had some serious computer issues this week (ie: "What do you mean the drive died? Fuuuuuuuu...").

Gregor: one of the "problems" I've been having, is that the missions haven't been very dangerous. Only a couple Strengths have been used overall, and no one has yet used a Weakness. No one has really HAD to because things have never gotten "bad enough" -- a combination of poor die rolls on my part and a failure to use the Abilities when I should. And they keep leveling up, so their scores are pretty high.

Your advice about just doing whatever the group is finding fun is a good reminder. I know I keep second-guessing myself and thinking I need to add "more" to play, which is probably not the case given that my players seem pretty content with it being all about the missions and shooting weird alien bug-things while geeking out on the whole "crazy hard-ass military" schtick.

So I go with it until they start showing they're bored with that, or they clearly show interest pursuing something that isn't a mission. Or at least I need to remind myself of that, as it seems the best course of action.

Paul: those are fascinating observations, and I think quite valid.

Having been in an AD&D campaign where soap opera drama was a big part of play, I was bored out of my skull. However, that may have been because it was completely empty in terms of players being able to act on or resolve those thematic premises in play. That is, there was plenty of character interaction and purple artsy-fartsy role-playing, but it was pointless: it never moved the game anywhere, let alone resolved the character issues it hi-lit. It was just lah-ti-dah pseudo-thespianism, dramatic posturing, or whatever. And then we rolled dice and killed shit when the DM told us to, which was likewise empty because we were only doing so to get through his story arc.

But that was 90's-style AD&D, not OD&D. Though, interestingly, if I look at our group's current 3E game, it is rather a bit like this. Mainly, we've done the "go here, kill that, find this" type missions with some pretty "silhouette" characters (generalities, no significant personal details -- like "This is the elven archer, you can tell because he has pointy ears and a bow." but nothing that sets THAT elven archer really and truly apart from every other elven archer ever, not in terms of uniqueness, but in terms of who the character IS and what he WANTS and what he's done that says something about those things). But recently some events have happened that, I noticed, have started shaping my character's personality, drives, and desires beyond his being "the party's wizard", beyond just a kind-of cut-out of that concept, who I can just have "go here, go there".

I think that's what you're talking about.

I mention this specifically because normally I start out strong on concept and character motivations/desires/history when I make a character, but didn't this time. (Probably because that doesn't really work with my current group, and I've generally been left wanting as the GMs don't pick up on it or use any of that. So I made a drop-in character I didn't need to care about as a person/character.) So it is rather at the forefront of my brain right now: I'm wondering where that will lead, or if that personality stuff will be of any use in our play at all.

But, to the subject, I'm not sure if I believe 3:16 can't deliver this. Because, to me, 3:16 is very D&Dish: D&D is just about killing shit and taking its stuff. You don't really do other stuff. You can, yes, but it isn't part of the rules per se, and you wing all that as you go along. In my mind, 3:16 has the very same vibe.

Ron: (and this goes for anyone else reading this, too) I'd be interested in seeing any "not about the mission" AP so I can see how folks have done it. Because it isn't that I think it can't be done, it's more that I'm flailing about trying to figure out HOW. Do I use the mechanics for stuff? Is it all freeform drama instead, or just NFA rolls? Etc. Can I use tokens for non-alien/monster situations, or situations involving other squads, commanding officers, etc, and how? Or do I stat them out? And that sort of thing.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Ron Edwards

Hi Raven,

I'm seeing that I wasn't entirely clear. We didn't use mission-type rules in order to resolve events outside of missions. I treated events such as the repair scenario as missions, in full. My suggestion is sort of the opposite of what you may have perceived.

When we play outside of a mission, and we did that a lot too - in fact, constantly - I called for NFA rolls to resolve any conflicts of interest that cropped up. And that happened a lot too, including such things as avoiding being zapped by a memory-wiping device (which the player failed, incidentally), or anything to do with winkling any useful information out of the other crew members or the ship's files, or ... geez, anything.

So we were either playing a mission or not, and later in play, some of the missions were defined as on-ship. No matter what, if we were "in mission," we used the mission rules absolutely in full. Whereas if we weren't, then we played quite loosely/freely, with very intent scene-framing based on either GM or player statements (so that we always knew what 'the screen' showed and where every player-character was, if present), and with lots of plot-consequential NFA rolls as we went along, but with no mission-rules at all.

Let me know if that helps or makes sense.

Best, Ron


3:16 is D&D the way it should be. (And would be very easy to mod into D&D.)

It is about the missions - but the missions aren't about killing things - because that's a given (just like it is in any D&D game). You're going to kill everything (also just like you do in every D&D game). It's what interactions you create along the way where the story comes in.

3:16 just streamlines the system so that you're not wasting time on the things that don't really matter to the story.

John Kantor


Ron, that is definitely 180 to what I was thinking you meant. Thanks for clarifying!

On the topic of the thread: it seems, maybe, that the design is so lite, or rather the structure of the use of rules in play, it could encourage the "RP only sessions" depending on how one runs with the rules and where and how they use them, or choose not to. It doesn't necessarily "encourage" it the way I was originally thinking it might, but I'm not seeing any particular discouragement, either. Especially with the lack of any non-mission supporting mechanics.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Ron Edwards

Hi Raven,

If we're strictly talking about "what it seems like to me," then what it seems like to me is, one could only arrive at that conclusion through being determined to do so. As I see it, the out-of-mission mechanics are rather easy but never vague: the NFA roll. There is nothing in the book that says or to repeat, as it seems to me, even implies that out-of-mission play would not use dice.

None of that is written as refutation of or confrontation with your last paragraph in your post. My goal here is to try to demonstrate what kind of reading, or mindset while reading, results in my take on the rules text.

When I was in Italy last week, I described people who had trouble with 3:16 in unflattering terms to three people who'd had trouble with it, and then clarified my point as follows. I asked, Do you personally agree with and support the mission of the 3:16 ship, the ideology of the military it serves, the actions taken under orders by its crew/soldiers, and the basic behavioral hierarchy of that military? They said "no" without hesitation. I suggested that being distracted by the missions as missions was tantamount to precisely such agreement and support. If they did not in fact agree with and support such things, then their characters' behavior should be quite directed and, from a GM perspective, wonderfully disobedient.

Some suggestions: hacking into the ship's computer to find out what's really on the planet as opposed to the obvious lies they were told in the briefing, blackmailing the sergeant or whatever he is that gets everyone up in the morning to let the character get an extra half hour in the rack every morning to jerk off in peace, stashing a grenade in the commanding officer's suit's tailpipe so it'll go off the next time he powers up the suit, breeding up a crop of the little alien-armadillo things smuggled in from the last mission and organizing a tournament of bets on racing them up and down the corridors, getting the uptight loot stoned on hashish and spectacularly laid by the alien prostitute similarly smuggled aboard some missions ago ... and so on and on.

In other words, as I see it, the setting and situations of 3:16 are screaming out for subversion, rebellion, or good old-fashioned malingering at the very least. Perhaps a little more so for me than for other readers, but even from others' perspective, the "hatred for home" option may be seen as a golden opportunity to foreshadow for it.

I hope it's clear too that if someone does want to play a true-blue patriot, or as is more likely from my experience with the game, a stolid careerist or a scheming rank-climber, then that's all the more fun in the context of one or more characters doing what I'm describing.

The folks I was talking to had, at this point, developed wicked expressions which I can only describe as especially Italian. Smiling, they said, "I think we're going to have to play again."

Best, Ron


I'm basing my analysis on stuff pulled from reviews and summaries about the game, but this feels like a case of people outgrowing the system but otherwise staying in the same game/world.

So you have a game system, which is supposedly a subsystem of a much larger game. That larger game must be built by the players, both in terms of some obviously system-y stuff, like making the decision Ron did about how NFA's work outside of missions, and also to do with that whole larger architecture about when we set scenes for what and what our main focuses will be, etc etc.

The game can take the pressure of that by making it "between missions", and pulling back to the track of straightforward killing, which should be fairly robust given the setting; the danger of court martial etc and the focused military life mean that the game is lent the same kind of discipline.

Of course if all your guys run away and don't fight during a mission, and then use NFA to make diplomacy with the aliens to hide them in return for intelligence that will allow them to fight off earth, then in a sense you have transcended the rules, and made it "not about the missions", but isn't that too 90-degree and abrupt a subversion?

Not necessarily, if it's what the players (inc. GM) want to do, it just means they're not going to benefit from any of Gregor's playtesting or design. It can be a dead end, if players are not ready to make such a shift in terms of game stability, (ie they can't do that and make it fun) even though they've burned their bridges as far as the original is concerned, or it can be amazing, if they are ready to do it, and they start coming up with the culture of those creatures and what intelligence they feed them, or using the abilities of the creatures and running the fight system backwards etc etc.

Basically if you put in any game, the disclaimer, "the value of this game is not in the bits I tell you how to do", then you are not determining the creative agenda long term within the game text. The reason for sitting down to play in a coherent way is that you will just start with the game as it is, but over play turn it into something else. There are all kinds of reasons people might want to go off piste, eg the reasons Paul suggests.

"We didn't roll dice" smugness is the smugness of someone who succeeds at that endgame in some fashion, who builds a diceless consensus of causality that expands the game, drifting the game by filling in the blanks and then possibly staying in those blank areas. It's a real achievement, the creation of a game system for themselves, but it's also annoying to a lot of people who like the game they've supposedly transcended.

Ok, with that as the background, if you are gently pushing people to expansion-pack your game, and be game designers, then the next question is how you help them. In other words if people sit down to play your game in the hope of moving from bug splatting to "something more" how do you help them work out what kind of something more they want and how to get it?

One cool thing about the system is that the NFA stat is defined as a negative, which is something I can't remember seeing. Surely someone has made a system where they say "for everything else, roll ___", and a few games try to fit all of possibility within a stat structure, but a negative definition is interesting because of the way it doesn't quite answer the question about what it actually does, allowing people to put in all kinds of possibilities the game designer might unknowingly preclude by the structure of their stats for skills/save rolls.

Gregor, how much more specification do you put into NFA? Do you give prescriptions for use or just examples?

For me the second important feature of that kind of game-making gameplay is to produce features that allow players to scope out other player's preferences (the mission flexibility Paul suggested can probably be used in this way) and to clue at least one player into the possibility that the game could go this way, so they will at least be looking at those cues and have information to help people recognise their commonalities and differences in play.

Ideally also I'd like some kind of scaffolding of heuristics to help people continue to design beyond the game, but I'm not sure how to express that practically in this context.

I think I've overstated the extent to which the game is intentionally designed to be incomplete, as it probably works fine as just mission + commentary, ( eg with the commentary forming a sort of "waiting for godo" critique on commentary itself by it's own ineffectualness) which could also bring inter-mission interludes into their own in a completely different way, or just as blowing up aliens all the way to a cliffhanger on hatred for home, but if I was playing it or designing an improvement, this is what I'd be focusing on.


Ron, I see where you're coming from given -- going back to D&D again -- there is no similar directive in the rules there about "and for stuff in town you do it this way", whereas the process and rules for playing in "the dungeon" (whatever that happens to be for any given game) are cleanly and neatly detailed, and well-understood by the group via an entire book of supporting text.

The only thing you get from the rules is that "town" is a place to rest at the inn, heal at the temple, buy/sell at the store, or find missions. There's more beyond that you could do that isn't dealt with well (or even really at all) by the text. Hence, I'm thinking, the propensity of players to enact the entirely traditional bar-fight: it's a way to bring the rules and game structure from the dungeon into the town, lacking anything better.

Afterwards and once the play group realizes being murdering, looting thugs in town is either a) limited or b) fun, you get either "we role-played like crazy and didn't touch the dice" where they abandon the unsupportive structure completely or "so we ran an evil campaign and robbed or killed everyone and everything" where they embrace it in the only fashion it can be.

Unlike this, in 3:16 "ship missions" are fundamentally just like "planet missions": Set a scene. Try to do something. Roll fighting or not-fighting. Repeat. And if there are alien bad guys around, you drop into the mission "fight the aliens" sub-system. Interestingly, I think this might be 180 to what Joy is seeing above in terms of the system and NFA.

And I thought about that earlier today, too: "Aren't the missions the game? Aren't they the core system?" But after consideration, I don't think so. Which is why I tagged it as a subsystem to the main system of play in the game. But I can also see that might be completely cracked.

I say that because: is D&D's combat system core to the game and the experience of the game, instead of just an integral subsystem? I would argue "yes", given that D&D is a game about killing monsters and the entire system is built on that.

The combat system and everything around that IS the game: not skill checks, or Attribute rolls, or something else. Because: Explore a dungeon room. Fight a monster. Roll fighting. That's the core gameplay right there, and anything else that might be involved is subservient to it.

And there is no "out of the dungeon" system/ruleset/ideal for play, play is supposed to take place entirely in the dungeon, with "town" being this between-sessions thing.

Isn't 3:16 the same, though? That's where the idea gets trippy for me, because it feels like: yes, but no. Not in the same way. Possibly because it is so much simpler in 3:16, with just the two types of checks? Or is it more? Or maybe I'm just splitting hairs.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio