My experiences with different systems

Started by Drachasor, September 16, 2011, 04:09:48 AM

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Well, I was going to post in the design forum, but it recommends posting here first.  So, here is my experience and thoughts about the different games I have played.  I've grown to have a large interest in game mechanics.

Generally, I've enjoyed more gamist play, though I've had fun with narratavist play as well.  I've also enjoyed a certain amount of silliness in games, but usually not as part of an ongoing campaign.

In no particular order:

Old World of Darkness (Mage, Wraith, Werewolf):  I think when I played these my group was a bit confused as to why we were playing.  That said, the dice generally felt fairly consistent with the right touch of randomness, as best I recall, which is something I like.  However, I do not remember the game really helping people along very well with exploring themes or the like, which is odd because it seems more narrativist in intent than gamist.  This is probably I feel in retrospect the gameplay was a bit confused.  I was not impressed with the social conflict mechanics, but I think we winged a lot of it (as is common in many games).

2nd Edition D&D:  I played this as a teen a couple times.  Had some problems with my brother's friend (who was a jerk), and DM favoritism (my brother was new to gaming).  However, the classes aren't balanced all that well, the resolution mechanic is too random for my taste (easy to get a string of bad rolls), and IIRC, there's no system for social conflicts.

3rd Edition D&D:  I've had a lot of fun with 3rd Edition.  However, it has a lot of the problems that 2nd Edition does have, despite streamlining the rules a lot.  Social conflict exists, but the mechanics are horrible and potentially game-wrecking if taken seriously.  The classes are arguably even less balanced than before.  Some concepts that were easy to pull off in 2nd Edition are hard to do effectively in 3rd (Fighter/Wizard).  The resolution mechanic (d20 again), is still too random for my tastes.  Too easy to make an ineffective character, however, hence the rules mastery requirement is something I find distasteful.  If a game is going to be gamist, I prefer the stepping up to happen in the game, not during character creation.

Star Wars SAGA:  Many of the same problems as 3rd Edition.  In fact, all of the same problems - unsurprisingly.  The spectrum of balance is a little bit better, I suppose, but force powers aren't balanced well against each other, are too powerful at low levels and too weak at higher levels.

Sorcerer:  Pretty fun, though I have only played it once.  IIRC, the resolution mechanic felt decent.  I didn't care for core setting idea (binding a demon), ironically.

Universalis:  A ton of fun, and it seems to be good for narrativist play.  The detachment it gives you from a character certainly never made me feel like "winning" was a concept that made sense.  If it has a problem, then it would be the tendency to verge into a lot of silliness.

Eldritch Ass-Kicking:  A very silly game, but also good fun.  The system allows you to easily make an underpowered character though.  Really, a lot of the above systems allow this.  It's kind of a pet peeve of mine, though of course what counts as being underpowered depends on the sort of game you are playing.  If you avoid that though, the game is nice enough for a silly evening.

Dresden Files RPG:  The current game I am playing.  Aspects are a cool idea, but the game makes some characters (e.g. low refresh ones like casters) have very little power to invoke them.  I find this really stifles story and other options for these characters, especially since I am playing such a character.  Power can vary extremely widely and it is also easy to make characters with crippling defects in combat or other situations.  The rolls manage to feel a bit too random somehow, and I think this is because the range of the roll, with a +2 to -2 being common enough on Fudge Dice is about the same as the range of the score it modifies (0 to 5).  Social Conflict feels pretty weak to me in our game, with my fellow players and I often sort of stumbling around trying to figure out how to do something.  Part of this might be we have a number of people with relatively weak social skills.  Physical combat has the problem where weapons make maneuvers not worth doing (generally speaking), which is a real shame.  Lastly, I find the sheer number of aspects always around can be a bit hard to keep track of (6 for each player, 3 for the campaign, and a several others) -- in actual play I believe we underutilize some of the aspects, and it is a bit easy to make aspects that are just plain hard to use (even if you follow the guidelines).

Overall, I like a game where the dice feel a bit random, but not so random that the unpredictability is as large a factor as skill.  This is probably because I like good and bad decisions to have a dominant role in a game, and too much randomness can make your decisions get lost in the noise.  Some unpredictability is good though, since it makes you adapt a bit to unexpected things even the GM didn't plan for.  I've also been keeping an eye out for a game that provides some structure for social conflicts as well, since getting a bit lost and frustrated socially seems to be a common problem in games I've played with others (or at least my current group).  I have to say no game I have played seems to handle social conflicts that well.  Lastly, I have to say I've disliked games that can easily produce crippled characters whether this is generally useless characters or characters that are useless in a common situation (like a social setting).  It just isn't very much fun if a player has to essentially sit out and not do much because of a decision they made during character creation.  The latter seems to be a pretty darn common problem.

Hmm, so I guess, overall I haven't played any game that I didn't feel had a number of significant flaws in it.  Except perhaps Universalis, but that doesn't seem like a good system for traditional gaming.

Christoph Boeckle

Hello and welcome to the Forge

Is there a name we can call you by?

Could you give us an account of a time you experienced your ideal dice rules in action? What was going on? What did you roll for, what where the outcomes? Who had input into the descriptions (GM, the player, other players)?
Same thing for the social conflicts. I'm a bit surprised that you don't qualify any of these games as good for social conflicts, because I've been quite satisfied by the way Sorcerer handles it when I played it, but I can't project my notions onto your preferences and experiences. What are your expectations? Any example of when Sorcerer let you down?


Hmm, isn't the point of picking a forum name so that you can go by it?  I mean, that's why I went with what I did.

I only played Sorcerer for a few months and that was years ago.  I don't remember in particular how well it worked with social conflict.  Maybe I need to review it.  However, I did have a pretty good GM at the time, which can really cloud the issue regarding how good social mechanics are, imho.  I do not recall being impressed with it, but perhaps I don't remember it being awful either.  Like I said, my main problem with social conflicts has been a sort of aimless frustration that players can experience where they don't know how to go about doing something.  A good GM can easily overcome that.  On the other hand, a mediocre GM can easily make this worse.  A good system can provide a little guidance to help avoid such things, but I haven't seen much of that in games, especially compared to how fleshed out combat usually is.

The other (social) problem I've encountered is where players can't engage in social situations effectively because the game makes you split resources too much among various forms of engagement (like combat, social, physical, underwater basket weaving, etc) -- I'm not saying having some characters better at some things is bad, but I dislike it when a game enables you to make a character that literally can't engage remotely effectively in a common form of interaction.  I know some might feel that is realistic, and it perhaps is to an extent, but it isn't very fun.

As for dice rules, I think WoD worked pretty well.  There could be good or bad luck, but overall you could feel fairly confidant about your level of performance, iirc.  This has been some years too, but I do not recall the frustration that D&D could produce when you rolled your fourth d20 that didn't break a 7.  It's not really any one roll, so much as a feeling you could have confidence in generally being appropriately competent as opposed to being ruled by a large amount of random chance.  It's a particularly annoying feeling in D&D, I must admit, where something you are supposedly really good at, can fail multiple times in a row do to bad luck at far too high a rate, imho.  Essentially this boils down to a frustration of random chance making decisions matter little.

I feel like naming anecdotes would be...well..too anecdotal when I am talking about an overall feeling of confidence.  I think it too easily becomes "I like this time when the dice worked well [which was due to luck]".  I will say I have enjoyed parts of how aspects in the DFRPG work into dice rolls, despite the problems I mentioned.


I was going to edit my above post, but I don't see a way to do that.  People sometimes call me "Drach".

Ron Edwards


I wanted to follow up on the social conflict issue. I think that the basic problems encountered so frequently by many groups, for so long, all lie in the realm of an unanswered question for many games: "How much can I affect what will happen next, without permission?"

The question is unanswered in the sense that no one says the answer, but for many groups, everybody tacitly answers it, "Not at all." For many years, games in which I played as well as the ones for which I was GM, "what will happen next" was absolutely, rock-solid, no-negotiations a GM task. I might have my character try to kill some NPC. If the NPC was "too important," the GM would subtly or unsubtly prevent that event. We even rated GMs "good" or "bad" on the basis of how subtly they could deal with such announcements, and we rated players on their obedience, with such announcements being included under the term "problem players." In other words, wanting your character do something which affected the play-fiction in any way that wasn't understood and permitted by the GM, was synonymized with social disruptiveness.

All of which meant that the problems which arose about social conflict among character were actually symptoms of the larger issue. When it came to combat, not only did we have mechanics to handle the outcomes, we also had techniques available to soften and position those outcomes so that the scenes with combat in them would still turn out as intended, or at least permitted, by the GM. I talk a little bit about this in the old thread Is this Forcing?, which as far as old threads go is pretty interesting, I think.

But when it came to social conflict, we didn't have meaningful mechanics, and in many games, we still don't. A game might list "Diplomacy" in its skill list and go on and on about what diplomacy is, but its actual efficacy in promoting my character's agenda actually into the behavior of another character (PC to PC, NPC to PC, PC to NPC) is often absent or totally incoherent (example: some contentious discussion in ). The historical effect of this is fascinating: it meant that every group have to arrive at some local standard for when, if, and how any such genuine influence of a character's behavior was possible. And if the group couldn't arrive at a standard, it meant that the play-practices included a gaping hole in which all play devolved into a bullying-match of the moment to see whether person A could have his character make the character belonging to person B do something, which in reality meant person A making person B play a certain way.

I think the problem has been solved, in the past decade, in the rules and text of many games, mainly because the relationship of "conflict" in the fiction is now much more clearly understood in relation to "how we play" among the real people. and as it happens, I have totally abandoned the idea of being the story-responsible party as GM any longer. However, the solution has yet to filter out into the majority of new games being published, at least the higher-end, more highly-promoted ones. And socially and psychologically, it's a key part of our shared personal histories as role-player, or for many of us anyway, as illustrated in [D&D 3.0/3.5] Spells and swords - fight! concerning intimidating some guards.

So that's me talking, blah blah. What I'm interested to know is how well the above fits with your experiences in play, including how well it might not.

I'll finish the post with some points about posting at the Forge.

1. Please don't defy the stated requirements for posting here and then argue to defend yourself. The rules are simply and exactly what they are, and they are non-negotiable. So far, what you've provided in this thread is perfectly adequate for the requirements, but along the way of the discussion, someone may ask for an example. We know it's an anecdote and isolated to that moment at that time. Since the request is not for purposes of "proving" anything, but rather for illustration, an anecdote is intellectually quite reasonable.

2. Christoph's question about your name is based on the idea that many people here, myself included, very much prefer to use our real names rather than webhandles. It's not a requirement, but a preference. If you wouldn't mind revealing your actual first name, then Christoph, and I, and others, would appreciate it. If you do mind, then you can stay "Drachanfors," and that is OK too.

3. Regarding editing, the best thing to do is to post again with the corrected text. This action also wins a person social respect here because it demonstrates the ability to self-critique.

Best, Ron


Ooo, oooh, social challenges is very close to home for me at the minute.  I have just completed a redraft for the game in my sig, and you guys are touching on some issues I am trying to address.

Ron, if this belongs in its own thread, then shift it please, but for the moment, Ill put the link here:

What do you think?

Ron Edwards


Let's not hijack Drach's thread too badly. I suggest sticking to the exact points he raised, and that I tried to develop, and stating where you think they apply to your game in progress. The point is to provide a basis for comparison, which won't work too well unless you show the way.

If you want to focus specifically on your game, then I recommend starting an additional Game Development thread for it, using the same link.

Best, Ron


Quote from: Drachasor on September 16, 2011, 04:09:48 AMLastly, I have to say I've disliked games that can easily produce crippled characters whether this is generally useless characters or characters that are useless in a common situation (like a social setting).  It just isn't very much fun if a player has to essentially sit out and not do much because of a decision they made during character creation.  The latter seems to be a pretty darn common problem.

I can't quite figure out what you mean here.  You start by talking off about the games producing crippled characters, and end up talking about player decisions.

Do you mean:

1.  You don't like games which have the potential to mechanically-produce, without user intervention, substandard characters?  Examples may include some versions of Traveller, some early versions of D&D, and early versions of Gamma World, among others.

2.  You don't like games which give the user the potential to create substandard characters?  Examples may include most versions of GURPS, and broadly-speaking, many point-buy systems in general.

3.  Both of the above?

4.  Something else entirely?

I'm also not sure quite what you mean with "a player essentially has to sit out and not do much" -- I would find an example helpful here, I think.



There are quite a few cases where players may have to "sit out" - every character other than the hacker in a cyberpunk game, when the hacker is doing a penetration, for example.  Or, in WEG Star Wars, every character other than those with piloting skills (or similar) if they get into a space battle.

Not entirely sure this is solvable by system as such though.

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci


Social challenges:

Ok, so it seems to me that the relatively few games I have experience with offer social skills that amount only to influence attempts - charm, seduce, fast talk, intimidate, orrate, etc...  Variations on a theme, in that the character has an aim, and rolling one of these skills means they can achieve it or not. 

"the guard wont let you through the door"
"ok, I fast talk him with some bullshit about being a messenger"  rolls dice Success!
"Ok, he lets you through"

Which is fine as far as it goes, but it suffers from the complaints that Drach is making - you have a variety of hammers, each a little different but with basically the same purpose - to bludgeon someone socially into compliance.  There is no framework there to accomodate or guide the players in having their characters do anything that isnt an influence attempt.  thats not to say that its impossible to use that array of skills to accomplish other more subtle social aims, but the game doesnt help you -- its all up to the GM and the players to be on the same page with both what is achievable and how it can be achieved using the mechanics at hand.  Like Drach says, often you just make it up, or just as often ignore the possibility that social challenges that arent  bludgeoning influence attempts even exist.

Id like to hear if other people see this as an issue and what can be done about it.  I have my own ideas which I started another thread about in the development section as suggested [Ingenero]


Bargaining seems the way to go to actually describe the process of amicable parties arriving at a conclusion. Seduce or Manipulate in Apocalypse World seems to do something along these lines, in that if you get a 7-9 (a middling success), you genuinely end up with a little give and take;  it's neat and kind of lends a texture or extra-realness to NPCs when they get what they want, in my opinion.

It might be worthwhile devising a mechanic based on the "bargaining" in Polaris between the Heart and the Mistaken, but have the activity be from the perspectives of the characters, not the players, if that makes sense.
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress -

David Berg

Hi Drach,

In many of the games you've mentioned, I've successfully employed two approaches:

1) Character stats as back-up, not as limit.  If you can roleplay a convincing argument, you succeed, and it doesn't matter what your Diplomacy score is.  If you come up with a good plan to ambush the guards, you ambush them, and it doesn't matter what your Tactics score is.  This utterly wrecks the fairness of a point-buy system and incentivizes players to only buy character skills that they can't roleplay, so it's not for everyone.

2) Supporting roles to the leader's roll.  The player whose character has the highest Diplomacy or Tactics score rolls the die (and probably delivers the final bit of narration before the roll), but everyone else contributes (either in-fiction or just by giving advice directly to the roller) to the characters' collective endeavor.  In systems where such help is mechanically irrelevant, players focus on giving advice and adding color.  In systems with situational bonuses, in-fiction action can create such situations ("I play soothing music, +2 to Diplomacy for opponent in a relaxed state!").  And still other systems give Helping bonuses (e.g. "roll a success on your Music skill and give a bonus die to the other player's Diplomacy roll").  If I recall correctly, none of the games you listed do Helping, but most do Situational bonuses.

So, that's how I've gotten around "some character is trying to achieve something cool here, but my character's useless".

As for social conflict via mechanics:

One way to avoid an artificial-feeling "I rolled well so you are now Manipulated" situation is to track disposition, and work the changes into the fiction so each new development is easier to imagine.  For example, "Something about the argument seems reasonable; roleplay that," as a segue between "you don't want to do what he wants" and "you do what he wants".

One way to resolve a negotiation is to look at cost rather than success/failure.  Don't roll to see whether the two parties can form an allegiance; roll to see who gets how much of their way in the specifics of the terms.  Abkajud (Zac, that's you, right?) gives one example of this, in the distinction between the middling success (where one party gives the other a concrete benefit now) and total success (where the benefit is merely promised now, to be delivered later).
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development


David, yep it's me! :)

I've encountered the work-arounds you've mentioned here; personally, I think it's a little unfair (from a designer perspective) to put social skills and abilities into the game if they aren't going to be used. If you're using a point-buy mechanic, players who put points in social abilities are going to get screwed over. If you're using any character-creation mechanic in which one player might excel in one area over another (like random stat-roll, for example), saying that social ability scores don't matter is depriving them of the chance to shine, potentially.
I guess what I'm saying is, ignoring character stats or skills requires negotiation at the social level, and likely some mechanical work-arounds to "compensate" players whose characters are/could be really good at fields of activity that you don't want to enumerate (in the literal sense of assigning numerical value). This isn't necessarily a chore, but it's something to address, to be sure.

Another possible workaround: the player gets to portray the wording, demeanor, and so forth employed by the character when attempting to sway, manipulate, or intimidate another character, but the dice dictate how successful the character actually is, based on mojo, charisma, etc. Sorcerer calls for modifiers to dice rolls when the players wax descriptive (heh, I really don't have examples in front of me. Anyone who can add some detail here, please do!). Obv, that could be used for social contests/conflicts just the same as it could for physical ones, and it seems to take a "middle road" between dice-only and description-only.

Lastly, Swords & Wizardry takes an interesting route: stats have no function in the fiction per se, only tweaking a player-character's capabilities rather than describing how they fit into the fictional world. Charisma, in this instance, is purely a measure of how many hirelings or henchmen the character can employ at once. You never make a Charisma check or anything like that (unless the GM comes up with a house rule or an individual ruling along those lines), so Charisma is something measured only once, with a static, ongoing effect.
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress -

David Berg

Oh yeah, I totally agree that ignoring stats is a group-dependent work-around, and that including stats that are best ignored is no way to design a game.

Good call on mentioning bonus dice for charismatic portrayal.  Sorcerer is a neat example:
- Bonuses can be given as situational mods (as I described above).
- Bonuses can also be given as fanmail, that is, as a reward for making an action more engaging for the group.
- Does this mean you don't get bang for your buck when buying stats?  No, because the stat used for social stuff (Will) is used for tons of other stuff.

So, hey, there's one alternative to simply excising stats that could just be roleplayed: fold them into broader stats.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

Ron Edwards

Let's all hold off on posting again to this thread until Drach does so. I'm interested in his views on the points raised so far.

Daughter threads are perfectly welcome for those who want to continue the specific exchanges begun here.

Best, Ron