03 March, 2015

Thoughts about all encompassing minutiae

Yesterday I posted an image on G+.


By this stage it's recieved over 80 +1s, it's been shared over a dozen times and it has spawned quite the conversation thread. It's probably the closest to "viral" that any of my posts has gone.

In a similar vein, I posted something just over a week ago regarding 'Design by Exception'. A bit of a meander through some of the problems I've seen in games that try to play the 'supplement treadmill game' only to end up as an Ouroboros, back where they started with so many quirky options that they all just end up blending back into a bland soup of indecision.

I went through a phase where I loved these games. I promoted RIFTS to people as "a game where you could play anything you could imagine", I drew a wide variety of players to my D&D 3.0/3.5 games because I'd let people play virtually anything they wanted, I created games and settings around the concept that everyone might want something different. 

Getting the players was easy, getting their characters to gel as a cohesive whole was a task I had to learn and refine.

When other GMs tried the same thing (and I visited quite a few GMs who tried to accomplish this feat), they allowed anything into their game and the efforts of players pulling in different directions just ended up with a dynamic tension reaching equilibrium. If one player was more outspoken, then the whole campaign would end up moving that way...other characters wouldn't get a chance in the spotlight because their specific benefits were n longer relevant to the story. In some cases, these other GMs would even bother with a story, they might just do a string of combat events, or if we were lucky they might run a dungeon that catered to both combat oriented and sneaky characters...social interaction in game was unheard of.  

I think that's why my games were different, I always tried to push my stories in directions that drew on the backstories of the player characters. Regardless of what they might have been, I'd try to share the spotlight between the characters. But when the options started to become too eclectic it became harder, and eventually started to feel like a chore when dealing with rule-lawyers who had the latest supplements and expected me to have memorized the entire rule set. More often than not, I'd play fast and loose with the rules, focusing more on story than anything else.

When doing things that way, we don't look at the player's character questions from the context of rules that might prove unbalancing, instead we look at what kinds can be told through the interaction of those disparate character concepts. What makes a werewolf a werewolf? What makes a warforged? If a werewolf gains their power from a blood-born virus, do warforged have blood? If not, then the player's answer is simple ("NO"), if the power comes from something else, then what is it, and how can that form a part of a story?

Or we can look at it from another perspective. Does the player want to be a werewolf warforged because of some power combo? Could the combo be justified through some other "transformer" concept that makes more sense with a soul-imbued construct?

If we're focusing more on story, do we really need a complex and elaborate system of interlocking game mechanisms? Can we get away with something simple at the other end of the gaming spectrum?

I like the idea of a game that can handle anything, but tells the kinds of stories that feed on the input of all the players. But I don't really want the whole game reduced to something vanilla, there needs to be some difference between the characters and the way they interact with the story, otherwise the player characters are basically just the same internal organs under different skins. When exceptions become the norm, that's basically that way things end up. Every character is a nightmare to integrate mechanically, so the complexity gets discarded and you often end up with the basics being used. Everything "special" about the characters becomes dressing, and if you don't use it as a part of the story even the dressing seems a waste.

Why not just admit this from the beginning?

I've spent a couple of days developing quirky game mechanisms for characters in "System 4", trying to balance them, trying to make sure different abilities felt different while maintaining consistency system-wise, then trying to spread the same ability functions across different parts of the system. I'm using 6 different categories of skills: Casting, Fighting, Knowing, Praying, Talking, Thieving, which meat that my design methodology saw me trying to replicate equivalent benefits among the fighting skills and talking skills, then struggling to fond something that worked as an analogue in the field of "knowing". A lot of that was starting to feel contrived, even when I could get it to work.

So I'm stripping the whole thing back to basics. There was an adage going around a few months back (maybe a few years back), it basically stated that if you can't fit the rules on a single page, you'll probably forget to use the rest of them. For the rest of tonight, I'm basically going to work on a "Microlite System 4".

It feels good to get rid of that baggage.
Post a Comment