rowyn: (Default)
Everyone ends up with their own pet peeves in tabletop gaming. One of mine, which has annoyed me since I started gaming 38 years ago, is "character creation choices that require the players to bet on how long the game will last."

Most games are short-lived. I haven't made up as many characters for games that never started as I have for ones that have, but the ratio is probably no better than 1:3. Many games that make it to one session do not get more than one. The campaign that goes on for years is the outlier. Moreover, you never know which you're going to get when you're making up a character. Plans for epic story arc campaigns often die after a few sessions. The game where my character gained the most power, from starting level to finish, was advertised by its GM as 'a half-assed playtest that will peter out after a week or two.' Mirari and Game of October were both intended to be short-term games and both ran for 2-4 years and had more than a hundred sessions each. The only sense in which they were "short term" was that they each ended at the completion of the game's full story arc. ("Just Trust Me", which took several months to finish, was as close as I ever got to running an actual short-but-complete game).

My point: I can tell you many things about a game during character creation, but "how long will it last" is SO not one of them. And yet many games have things which are in place nominally for "character balance" but in practice are only "balanced" if your game is lasts for exactly X sessions. In original AD&D, the nonhuman races generally had stat advantages but in most cases had harsh level caps. If your game didn't last past level 5, the elves and half-orcs were clearly better. If your game lasted to level 18, they were at a vicious, hideous handicap. (If your group actually played with level caps. I don't know anyone who did.)

Most of D&D descendants don't take approaches quite this dramatic, but I still know many systems where you can take a short-term handicap to get a long-term advantage. "Your character is a Quick Learner: pay 10 xp now and get +1 xp per session." Or conversely: "You are a Slow Learner but you've studied hard to get this far: you get an extra 10 xp to spend now but will get -1 xp per session". Sometimes the abilities themselves are like this: "the skill is useless at the starting level but it's great once you've built it up." "This skill starts out great but it doesn't improve at all with experience, unlike other skills." Vampire: the Masquerade did this thing where your max power was entirely determined by your generation. If you didn't buy the lowest possible generation at game start, your character could never become powerful -- but if you did, you had few points left to be competent at the outset.

It's like the designers think "well, you can trade being great now for being great later, that's balanced." Except that I don't know if later exists, and if later does exist, I have no idea how much later there will be. It's like being told "plan for your retirement: you have about a 40% chance of dying tomorrow and a 1% chance of living 2000 years, and we're not going to tell you the odds of the possibilities in between, and no, you can't get a job again later if you don't save enough. GOOD LUCK." Systems like these always make me feel like the game hasn't even started yet and I've already lost.

I usually make the bet that the game will last for years, when some system makes me do it. I don't think I've ever been right.All my games that lasted for years weren't in systems that did this.

That may not be coincidence, come to think of it.

Nothing in particular motivated this, just thinking about game systems. So what are your tabletop peeves or preferences?
rowyn: (studious)

I thought it'd be fun to compare the number of people who had played each game with the number who liked that game's mechanics. The breakdown for all the games was:


+Terrible Butterflies+: 4 / 4 (100%)
Champions: 5 / 10 (50%)
World Tree: 5 / 6 (83%)
Ars Magica: 5 / 8 (63%)
Savage Worlds: 4 / 6 (67%)
D&D 4e: 3 / 7 (43%)
D&D 3.5: 5 / 13 (38%)
GURPS: 6 / 13 (46%)
Legend: 1 / 0 (undefined)
Heroes Unlimited: 1 / 3 (33%)
Marvel Superheroes: 3 / 5 (60%)
Cyberpunk 2020: 3 / 7 (43%)
ElfQuest: 1 / 2 (50%)
Star Wars (West End Games 1st ed.): 3 / 8 (38%)
Vampire: the Masquerade: 5 / 13 (38%)


If I narrow down games to just those where the mechanics were liked by more than half those who'd played that game, it's a short list:


+Terrible Butterflies+: 4 / 4 (100%)
World Tree: 5 / 6 (83%)
Ars Magica: 5 / 8 (63%)
Savage Worlds: 4 / 6 (67%)
Marvel Superheroes: 3 / 5 (60%)


There wasn't a clear "favorite mechanics": four games got two votes each, three games got three votes each, and the rest got one or no votes.  The two and three vote games were:


Champions: 2
World Tree: 2
Savage Worlds: 2
D&D 3.5: 2
Marvel Superheroes: 3
Vampire: the Masquerade: 3


My conclusion from my totally unscientific poll: gamers' tastes vary wildly, and not just between a few different camps.  I don't think this is just about hack&slash vs roleplayer vs problem-solver, or realistic vs game-balanced, or simple vs complex.  Maybe about all of those at once, but I suspect there are a number of subtle factors at work which aren't easily quantified.


... the lesson probably isn't "+terrible butterflies+ is a great system and I should run a game of it".  Although it might be.  c.c



Jan. 9th, 2012 01:18 pm
rowyn: (current)

[ profile] howardtayler tweeted about Hasbro's plans for a 5th edition for D&D. It's only been four years since the 4th edition.


It got me thinking about gaming systems in general. Lut and I quit playing Warhammer 40,000 in part because Games Workshop replaced the rules with new incompatible one every 7 years. (They also eliminated rules for one of Lut's armies, which greatly reduced our interest in investing in more miniatures.) The 'frequent new editions' phenomenon feels like a ploy to sell old gamers new books.  When was the last time Monopoly or Scrabble changed their rules?


And yet.


In the 90s, I played a heavily house-modified version of Champions Hero System 4th edition, and loved the rules.  Hero System was one of the 'generic' systems, like GURPS, and it was many years before I finally admitted that it was only a really great system for superheroes.  And it required a deep understanding of the system on the part of the GM: [ profile] koogrr told me about an utter disaster he had playing Champions, where his character had Speed boost/drain powers. The second he said that, I knew why the game was a disaster, but it's not something the rules will stop you from doing.


I've played so many RPG systems: D&D, AD&D, Cyberpunk, Champions, Shadowrun, Nightfall, Vampire: the Masquerade, GURPS, World Tree, various simple homebrew systems or non-systems, +Terrible Butterflies+, some d20 games, Savage Worlds, and more that I don't even remember.


I used to have strong opinions about what the Best System was: for several years, it was Champions.  Then I decided that the best system was no system, or a very minimal one: the Mirari and Just Trust Me games didn't really have a system so much as list of what the characters were good at.


Then +Terrible Butterflies+ made me fall in love with RPG systems all over again, or at least with the idea of having one. I tried to make one of my own, and failed.  I've been running a World Tree game for over two years on FurryMUCK: I love the setting so much, but the rules mechanics are clunky for an online game.


And I still don't know what I want out of an RPG system, really.  I want it to be simple, but with enough decisions to make it interesting for the players. I want player choices to matter, and players to feel like they're well-informed about their choices.  I want the system to have a feel and a flavor that matches the setting.  If there's magic, I want it to be flexible and thematic, or quirky and specialized, but at least intelligible: I want players to understand what is and isn't doable by magic. Same of technology in an sf game. I want the system to settle questions, not raise them. I want it to be fun.


And you'd think, in the 34 years I've been playing RPGs, I'd know how to do all that, but I still don't. I'm sure there's not a Platonic ideal of an RPG, an RPG that would fit everyone's needs perfectly, but it feels like there ought to be one that fits one particular game and group perfectly.  But even my favorites fall short, sometimes badly so.  Apparently, this is really, really hard.  Maybe that's why they want a 5th edition for D&D: they're still trying to get it right. 


What about you? What are your favorite RPGs, and why?  What do they do best?

rowyn: (studious)
The most popular of the proposed game methods was PBEM/Forum, so my current plan is to go with that. I need to poke at Google Groups again and see if I like it better than Yahoo Groups. The features I value are:

* Easy to use either by email or by forum, and seamless (ie, makes no difference to other users whether your posts and replies were sent via web form or email.)
* Convenient file-upload space
* Convenient image storage space
* Searchable (Yahoo is bad for this; [ profile] bard_bloom set up a GMail account for archival and search purposes)
* Threading (Yahoo's threading is bad, too, but in theory I'd like good threading.)
* Database: Yahoo Groups has a little database tool, which I like in theory but which, in practice, is a little clunky to maintain.

It looks like Google Groups has all the features but the database one. I'm tempted to try it, given some of the technical glitches we've had with Yahoo. My most common everyday complaint is formating: the angle brackets (>) that denote replied text format wonkily in Yahoo. Google handled it better. A minor aesthetic, granted, but still. Yahoo also suffered from delays in delivering mail, a few outages, and the infamous duplicate message bug -- where every single message sent to the group got sent out ten or twenty or more times. Oy. That may all be in the past now, but the temptation to look at alternatives remains. Also, I don't think Google has banner ads yet.

Anyone have a bias?

One wish-list item would be an *easy* way to filter people out, so that messages would be visible to certain people and not others. The key word here is 'easy'; I don't want an awkward method or one that requires effort for the GM to track.

On a related note: anything which makes bookkeeping easier is a Good Thing. We used the databases to keep track of things like active spells and NPC names (the last is especially handy for those pesky minor NPCs.) The databases were nice when they were up-to-date, but updating them was still an extra step that people had to remember to take. The biggest advantages of the databases over a file was that (a) anyone could update it and (b) no messing with uploading it.

But in my ideal world, some programmed feep would make the database for me, by combing through posts, detecting NPC names and descriptions, and compiling them. :) I could ask for keywords on posts that have certain types of information, like :desc: the first time a character is described, or :name: the first time one gets named, etc. But that's not as useful as a database, and I'm not sure it's enough easier that it'd be worth doing. Also, I can forget to include a keyword as easily as I can forget to update a database. :P

Bard gave out occasional exp bonuses to incentivize players to do bookkeeping, which I thought was rather a nifty way to get work done. But there are still disadvantages to that, not the least of which is 'someone still has to do it'. And bookkeeping can apply to a range of continuity things: GM rulings on the way things work, setting descriptions, object descriptions, plot points, information revealed and who it's revealed to, etc. Anyone else have ideas on how to handle bookkeeping?
rowyn: (Default)
"You hurt me more than I ever could have imagined
"You made my world stand still
"And in that stillness... there was a freedom... I'd never felt before..."
--Sarah McLachlan, "Plenty"

No, I didn't quote that because I feel I'm in great suffering. I just like the final line.

I didn't do much this weekend. The most productive thing I did was finally comment on some writing a friend had sent me. The least productive was play "Insaniaquarium." Apparently, however, I have been saved from wasting any more time on the game, since I haven't been able to get it to load the last several times I've tried. Well, it's a free product, I don't expect too much.

Oh, and I ran a surprising session for Rasheeka.
Rasheeka SPOILERS ahead )

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