The Forge Archives

Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: Jack Spencer Jr on July 02, 2001, 06:05:00 AM



Title: Character currency
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on July 02, 2001, 06:05:00 AM
I got this from the GO forum.  It's Hunter Logan quoting Ron Edwards
Quote
Ron wrote,
>Effectiveness then becomes all the ROLLS (or Karma scores) that determine how well the character performs announced actions. This is what most people think of as "their guy" in traditional role-playing, although hit points (resource) is probably part of that too. It also includes spell lists, skill lists, etc - the breadth of effectiveness (good at what?) as well as depth
(how good?).

Resource is the "energy," the "motor" mechanic in play - like Endurance in many games, or Spell Points to use up by casting spells, or hit points, or even lives to spend (in games with
resurrection), and so on.

Just to keep going, then, there's metagame - how the player or GM can break the rules of any of the above at given instances of play. The famous "GM can ignore rolls" is a crude, early example of GM-metagame.

**So currency would be any points or whatever that are none of these three, but permit the character to be put together in ways that enforce a given relationship between these three.**


OK, I'm still fairly confused by this.  Would things like Warhammer's Fate Points be currency or is that just resources?

How about Orkworld Trouble?

Metagaming itself is more than vague since it's just breaking the rules.  Is it a specific way to break the rules?  For a specific purpose?  If the game actually had the rule "Ignore the roll if you need to" would it cease to be metagame?

So many questions.
Not enough question marks.

_________________
When you're picked last for kickball you're not going to be much of a team player.

[ This Message was edited by: pblock on 2001-07-02 10:05 ]

[ This Message was edited by: pblock on 2001-07-02 10:08 ]

[ This Message was edited by: pblock on 2001-07-02 11:17 ]


Title: Character currency
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 02, 2001, 06:36:00 AM
To Jack (pblock),

I am completely disinclined to deal with you at present.

How about, "Ron, I understand you have some notions about something called character currency. I'm interested in learning more about it."

That is called courtesy. It gives me the option of managing my time in the discussion.

Instead, I am confronted by a "challenge." You've quoted a quote, with no context. You've accused me of vagueness. You've demanded a response much like a gaping baby bird.

Start acting like an adult, Jack. When I see some effort in that direction, I'll be interested in discussing things with you.

Best,
Ron


Title: Character currency
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on July 02, 2001, 07:06:00 AM
Quote

Instead, I am confronted by a "challenge." You've quoted a quote, with no context. You've accused me of vagueness.


Ron,

I appologise if I have offended you, however, I am not directly asking you about the matter (although your thoughts do carry weight since it is your concept) but I am asking anyone here who does understand it to help clairify.  I believe there are others with a decent handle on this, probably mostly from talking with you but maybe some on their own making logical leaps from those conversations.

I don't necessarily accuse you of vagueness, but this quote is vague on at least one point and that's probably because it's taken from an (I assume) extended exchange and I am merely asking for clarity.

Had I contacted you directly via email or private message your reaction would be completely justified.  But I posted on a public forum and had not asked you specifically to address the matter.

But it is understandable, I suppose.  I have no idea how many half-baked messages about nuked apple carts and (horrors!) G/N/S you field daily.

And possibly since this is your concept maybe there is no one else to answer this.  There was that feeling on GO but that didn't stop a thread from forming anyway.

Again, I appologise if I have offended.  If you'd rather take this off the public forum I don't mind.  I'm not doing anything.


Title: Character currency
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 02, 2001, 07:06:00 AM
For everyone else,

My thoughts on "currency" are intended to dissect out the components of the mechanical entity called "my character." The idea is to form a basis for character creation that is integrated with the game's general design goals, whatever they may be.

As I see it, there are three very LARGE components to a character. I also think they ALWAYS apply; in other words, role-playing necessarily demands all of the three to exist. Design, on the other hand, sometimes leaves one or more unstated.

EFFECTIVENESS
Any number which is used to determine success or extent of an action. To-hit, skill success, damage rolls, and anything like these, for Fortune-based systems. In Karma-based systems, it would be the basic values (e.g. Everway's Element scores); in Drama-based systems, Effectiveness is governed by rules of dialogue.

In looking over a PC's Effectiveness material, you get an idea of their "niche" or sphere of influence, what they're good at and what they aren't.

Effectiveness is often "layered." For instance, the attribute scores in Call of Cthulhu are literally meaningless during play; only their multiples matter. In discussing Effectiveness, we need to be careful to distinguish between the actual value and the means by which it is derived.

RESOURCE
Any available usable pool upon which Effectiveness draws. The obvious ones are Endurance or Hit Points (or even "lives" in frequent-resurrection games), but this would also be breadth and depth of spell knowledge, for instance. It can also be social resources, like Contact with FBI or something similar; this overlaps a bit with metagame below.

In looking over a PC's Resource material, you get an idea of how tough, (un)stoppable, and flexible they are.

METAGAME
This is a broader category than the "metagame mechanics" we've discussed before. It includes them, like Trouble or Luck Points or what-have-you, but it also includes stuff like relationships ("Hunteds" in Champions) and limitations on behavior (Psychological Disadvantages, alignment). Clearly, material within metagame may AFFECT Effectiveness (like Trouble gives bonus dice in Orkworld).

This category is intimately related to Balance of Power. In looking over a PC's metagame material, you get an idea of the parameters within which the player is at least nominally committing to stay, and the "rights" to screw with the system via metagame mechanics.

Small Point #1
Looking across RPG designs, I see that many games permit "trading" among the categories, often with a rate of exchange.
- If you drop your Strength, you can buy up your Dexterity or if you drop your Strength, you have more points to buy skills. These examples remain within the general category of Effectiveness.
- If you drop your Strength, you can buy up your Endurance or Hit Points or whatever. This would be crossing categories, as would be increasing your Luck Points at the expense of points for other things.

I suggest that such trading (with or without a generalized "currency") is fraught with peril, because soybean trading is almost impossible to avoid.

Here's an example: effectiveness in Champions is largely based on division of scores, like 1/3 of your DEX or 11 + STR/5, or stuff like that. Therefore break points are crucial - everyone ends up with DEX of 20, 23, or 26, for instance; any other score is only minimally useful.

It is especially tempting when "derived attributes" are involved. The famous Champions trick is certainly familiar to many of us: buy up your STR (1:1) and END (1:0.5), which automatically raises your REC 1 point. Now buy down your REC, which gives 2 points back. Net gain: 0.5 points. Do this 10 times, and your gross is 10 points of STR, END, and 10 points of pure profit.

Small Point #2
Character creation varies wildly across role-playing games. We see tons of methods, distributed in tons of ways even within single games: random vs. point-allocation, layered vs. not-layered, explicit vs. implicit currency, fixed vs. flexible relationship among the three elements, and more.

I do not claim that there is any one best way. I do think that most PC-creation design has been imitative and tweak-oriented, rather than conceptually integrated with any general goal of the RPG's design. I also think that certain designs are fundamentally flawed - my attributes/skills argument, elsewhere on the Forge, is an example.

I suggest that the past 30+ years of role-playing design has not plumbed the full potential of how characters may be created and employed in the role-playing activity.

I'm willing to discuss tons of stuff about Currency. This post has just scratched the surface.

Best,
Ron


Title: Character currency
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 02, 2001, 08:44:00 AM
Oh, I just realized that although I described the three categories, I failed to define "currency" itself.

It refers to any RELATIONSHIP among the three categories, which may or may not be overt (e.g. a system of points to spend). We can look at two different RPGs and compare how the three categories are distributed, and under whose control. "Currency" refers to any exchange among or within the categories.

Some games are practically defined by the spendability of currency, e.g. GURPS. Others are fixed solid as rocks among and within the categories, e.g. D&D of whatever vintage. "Class," for instance, usually refers to a specific way to affix currency among the categories; having different classes means standardizing different "nodes" of currency combinations.

Vampire represents an interesting example of a GURPS-like point system for Effectiveness and Resource, yet an AD&D-like class system for most Metagame (and staying very light on "metagame mechanics" as we've discussed elsewhere). L5R is of course built very solidly on the Vampire model.

As I've said before, there are tons, tons, and more tons of variation across RPGs. I'll be happy to do some classifying for games I'm familiar with.

Best,
Ron


Title: Character currency
Post by: Epoch on July 02, 2001, 10:47:00 AM
Ron,

I think I may be a little in the dark as to Effectiveness vs. Resource.  Are you merely differentiating between pool-expenditure mechanics and die-roll (or whatever) mechanics (for example:  in D&D3, I roll to hit a target.  In Nobilis, I expend Aspect Miracle Points to hit a target)?

Or are you saying that fundamentally, there's always a resource and an effectiveness involved in any resolution, so, for example, in D&D my resource for hitting is my modified attack bonus (which might go up and down depending on which weapon I use, etc.), and in Nobilis I've got an effectiveness to hit, even if that effectiveness is entirely dependent on how I spend my resource?

Or is it something else entirely?


Title: Character currency
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 02, 2001, 11:04:00 AM
Hi Epoch,

I classify D&D to-hit mods as components of Effectiveness, as they aren't "used up." In this game, most Effectiveness does not RELY on Resources (which are more a matter of hit points, or of ammo, such as # of arrows or spells).

However, in Nobilis (as I understand it, which is limited), Effectiveness sounds like it relies on Resource to make it possible. This is perfectly OK - you have the Effectiveness itself (whether and why you hit) as reliant on Resource (your actual number of the points in question).

Paul and Gareth both know Nobilis better than I do, so their take on the matter is probably to be trusted more than mine.

My point is that some games really separate and divvy up the categories, minutely - so that in D&D, there are a million nuances to to-hit probabilities, and ne'er shall they be affected by (say) most of the range of hit point totals. Whereas others set up a single number, for instance, that is both a record of Resource spent and the value for Effectiveness itself (a really, really early version of this as a late-70s game called High Fantasy).

A game that I'm familiar with along these lines is Extreme Vengeance, in which you spend Schticks to use them. OK, your Effectiveness is your Guts (a score of roughly 5-8), and it is often modified by the expenditure of a Schtick. So your Effectiveness is raised, but you expended Resource to do it.

It gets more complicated, of course. In this same game, there is a Schtick which allows a re-roll, which is metagame. OK, same Resource - schticks - but a more indirect impact: it is Metagame which is kicked into gear, which ITSELF then improves Effectiveness.

All three categories are interactive, although in some games more than others.

Best,
Ron


Title: Character currency
Post by: Mytholder on July 02, 2001, 11:25:00 AM
Hmm. In Nobilis, you have a basic effectiveness (the level of your Attribute) which you can raise by spending a Resource (Miracle points). If I've got Aspect 3, I can always hit someone with an Aspect 3-level blow - that's my basic effectiveness. I can spend Aspect Miracle Points to boost my Aspect temporarily, just in case I want to take out that helicopter gunship with a well-aimed sneeze.

Similarly, Blood Pool in Vampire is a Resource which increases Effectiveness, right?



Title: Character currency
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 02, 2001, 11:42:00 AM
You got it, Gareth! Thanks for clarifying the Nobilis situation; I didn't know if there was any Effectiveness score beyond the spending of a Miracle Point.

Since there is, that makes Nobilis very similar to many games in this regard. One score = Effectiveness, another pool-type score = Resource which raises Effectiveness.

Here's another basic twist. Let's imagine a game in which one has something like a base Fight score, which is just there on the sheet and you can rely on it. Then you have a "I really mean it" (IRMI) score, which is used up when it's spent, that improves your Fight score. NOW, let's figure that you also have "Wounds" that you check off as the PC is hurt, and that Wounds penalize Fight!

See how it gets pretty tricky? You have two sorts of Resource to manage, IRMI and Wounds. Both affect your Fight Effectiveness. I bet anyone reading this post is nodding, because this sort of thinking is second-nature for most of us gamers. I'm not claiming it was a HARD point, but rather that such points are totally, completely necessary to consider during game design or in deciding what game you might like to play.

Best,
Ron


Title: Character currency
Post by: Epoch on July 02, 2001, 12:23:00 PM
Okay, so my question on this is:  Why?

I think I've got a firm handle on Effectiveness and Resources, now, but I'm not understanding what the goal of the taxonomy is.  Is there some design decision that you see as being important that's affected by, say, whether I spend resources to gain effectiveness in my to-hit task (to continue the example)?


Title: Character currency
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 02, 2001, 12:57:00 PM
I have my own answer for the "Why" question, but I'm curious about what others make of it.

Does anyone see any utility in this method of talking about RPG characters?

Best,
Ron


Title: Character currency
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on July 02, 2001, 01:41:00 PM
I totally see some utility here, although it might not be the same answer as Ron has:

Resources should be assigned to thematically important elements of the game, elements that can be lost by the characters and the designer feels are important to make the players think about and balance.

For example--I'll use Sorcerer--Humanity is a Resource. You can gain it or lose it (much easier to lose it) and you use it for many essential tasks. Sorcerer is not about demons as much as it is about Humanity. By making this a Resource, it forces players to think about it constantly, what it means to their character, and how to keep it while still trying to achieve power (or whatever the characters' goals are.)

On the other hand, Effectiveness should be used for defining characteristics of the character that need to be known, but the designer feels should not be changed throughout the game. While Stamina and Will from Sorcerer immediately jump to mind, the other piece of Effectiveness is your demons. (This is a somewhat related thought--I know I'm jumping around.) By making Humanity a Resource that probably will be lost to increase your Effectiveness (demons), you force the players into thinking about this quandary--what can I afford to sacrifice in order to increase my Effectiveness?

And now, I've basically just repeated Ron's definitions. Go figure.


Title: Character currency
Post by: Blake Hutchins on July 02, 2001, 01:54:00 PM
Assigning consequences or twists to the use of a Resource allows a lot of thematic granularity to a game. I'm thinking about what someone suggested about characters in a fantasy setting having a Fate pool, a finite, non-replenishable Resource that causes the character's death when depleted. This mechanic provides some awesome ways to establish a sense of doom and dark fate in the game. Likewise, in Vampire expenditure of Blood Points can lead to definite consequences (frenzy, Humanity loss, torpor).

Best,

Blake


Title: Character currency
Post by: Epoch on July 02, 2001, 02:03:00 PM
With respect to Clinton's post:

I think you've got two big points here (fill me in if I'm missing one or more):

1.  If something "should" (on a thematic level) vary up and down a lot in play, then it should be a game mechanical Resource.

2.  Otherwise, anything important should be based on an Effectiveness that one can't directly affect with Resources (I'm restating slightly, since everything that has game mechanics is an Effectiveness).

So, if that's an accurate restatement of your point, then here are my responses:

1.  I don't necessarily agree that things which central to the game and vary up and down a lot should be reflected game-mechanically.  I can't respond to the Sorceror Humanity because I don't play Sorceror, but oftentimes, that kind of thing -- a moral/mental stat -- is too difficult to distil down to a few metrics, and attempting to do so ends up hampering play.  A good example of that is Changeling, which tries to distill way too much into Glamour/Banality.

Given a case in which it is appropriate to assign a metric to something which should vary up and down, well, sure, it should be a Resource.  But that's tautological, right?  A Resource is something which varies up and down and has a game mechanic representing that.  So I don't see how the defined term helps.

2.  I don't think that I agree with this at all.  I think there are plenty of reasons why you might cast an Effectiveness as one that's heavily affected by Resource expenditure, beyond the idea that such a thing varying up and down is central to the game.  To take some random examples:  a Resource-centric approach to task resolution is a good way to have a systems-medium to systems-heavy diceless game (again, Nobilis springs to mind).  Alternately, a Resource-based approach might just make sense within the context of the game world (for example, I think a lot of spell point systems find it easiest to use spell points to allow a mage flexibility and yet limits).  Finally, resources may make play balance or repeatability easier.  For example, I use various forms of Resource-based damage systems (for example, my D20 fencing system) when I want to add predictability to combat and make it more controllable by players, whereas I used effectiveness-along systems when I want to emphasize random and deadly combat.


Title: Character currency
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on July 02, 2001, 09:00:00 PM
so, then Effectiveness is the fixed attributes of the character.  "Fixed" being a misleading term since in some (probably most) game these values may be raised or lowered.

Resources contrasts the way Effectiveness values change because the value is essentially spent by the player as the game is played.

Basically, as I understand it in the broad strokes not exactly true for every game, Effectiveness sets up a machine or is a cog in the machine of the game system.  Resources is the fuel that drives that cog or simply greases in a bit.

The machine metaphor is important otherwise many items under the Metagame banner could easily be classified as Resources or Effectiveness.  Effectiveness and Resources  work within the way the game works, Metagame allows you to go outside of this for a particular effect.  For example: Warhammer's Fate Points.  They could be considered simply a resource since a character has a certain number and it is spent and gained during the course of the game, but the way they work is your character dies, the roll on the Critical Hit Table states you were hewn in twain and your body lands in two spearate places.  You spend a Fate Point and no you didn't.

(Egad!  writing that just now I realised this is a form of the "Did Not!" "Did Too!" arguement from Let's Pretend games)

Fate Points lets you ignore the results the system machine gives you.  

Or at least that's how I understand all this.

Quote

It refers to any RELATIONSHIP among the three categories, which may or may not be overt (e.g. a system of points to spend). We can look at two different RPGs and compare how the three categories are distributed, and under whose control. "Currency" refers to any exchange among or within the categories.


This is where I got confused at first.  I thought Resources were Character Currency.  You do spend them, right?  Anyway...

Judging by the examples already mentioned in this thread the relationship can be even weirder than the term Currency implies.  For me at least, the term implies things like dropping your Strength a couple points to gain a few more Hit points or similar deals.

I mean you have games like Wyrd where the Effectiveness works directly off the Resource.

It seems to me that this relatiobnship will come into play during character creation than most other times, but we've already seem this isn't always so, right?



Title: Character currency
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 03, 2001, 05:28:00 AM
Hi Jack,

Looks like you got it. I can see how one could think Resource when the word Currency is mentioned (never thought of that; I was focusing on the concept of "exchange" rather than "spend").

Historically, yes, I think that Currency has generally shown its importance during character creation. However, there are a number of games in which its nuances are central to play (first probably being High Fantasy, in what? 1978? 79?).

Best,
Ron


Title: Character currency
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on July 03, 2001, 06:11:00 AM
Quote

On 2001-07-03 09:28, Ron Edwards wrote:
(never thought of that; I was focusing on the concept of "exchange" rather than "spend").


OK, that explains that.  I was wondering what your thinking was to use the term currency here since to see any spending in some games you really have to want to see it.

It's like the currency exchange offices where you can turn your dollars in to pounds or yen or whatever.  And the little bonuses you can get out of this exchange (like the Champions example you've given) is like like the duty-free shop just on the boarder.


Title: Character currency
Post by: Supplanter on July 06, 2001, 01:20:00 PM
Quote
I have my own answer for the "Why" question, but I'm curious about what others make of it.

Does anyone see any utility in this method of talking about RPG characters?


A lot, actually. I am very attracted to making much of both because it adds a certain dimensionality to action and striving. I'd further subdivide resources into "spendable" or "at-risk-only" - I think it's a distinction that makes all the difference in the world.

Frex, in D&D you can't "spend" hit points to increase effectiveness or raise the stakes. (You can put your character in a position where you can expect to lose them, but I argue that that is a distinction with a difference.) Same with Humanity in Sorc. In Hero Wars, OTOH, your whatever-it's-called (I'm in a public library in a far mountain town on vacation and I don't have my Hero Wars books to refer to) that you calculate from the trait with which you initiate an extended contest, functions as hit points, battery and poker chips at the same time. You decide explicitly how many to risk in what way.

There would seem to be three kinds of resources - hit-pointlike (integrity?); hero-pointlike (battery?); combination(a la Hero Wars).

From an OOC standpoint, resources provide an intriguing answer to the "Michael Jordan question." And because they represent "want-to" and even willingness to sacrifice, they can contribute toward revealing character or furthering story. From an IC standpoint I think they are problematic. John Morrow's anecdote about the FUDGE game at the con - where the players were too immersed in their character's view of the situation to even think about spending Fudge points - shows why.

What I am wondering is if rules (either from the game designer or on-the-fly in player/GM negotiation) couldn't arrive at a set of signals that would signal resource expense without being too disruptive to the immersive position. I'm thinking of something a la Passion Play's hand signals for initiating conflicts. (PP is the Fading Sun's LARP.) If the resource system were simple, a limited set of kinetic actions (This is important to me, This I can take or leave, I am giving it my all) might work.

Best,


Jim


Title: Character currency
Post by: Epoch on July 06, 2001, 03:16:00 PM
I understand and agree that Resources and Effectiveness are different, and they're better used for different goals, but I don't see what, if anything, putting them into a theoretical framework provides us.  Game designers have been using character traits which are aptly described as resources and character traits which are aptly described as effectiveness for years, and I don't think they've been doing it ineffectively.

I do think that there's value in the concept of finding categories to put character -- uh, I want to say "effectiveness," but that's confusing -- character ability or character efficacy under, because I think that people do tend to ignore non-traditional character abilities (things that are other than a simulative portrayal of the character).

I think that there's even more value in putting player ability into a theoretical framework and recognizing that the player's efficacy in the game is only partly funneled through their character avatar.  In particular, I think that Ron's "metagame" category comes perilously close to not being exchanged as a part of character currency at all.

If I were trying to taxonomize the abilities of a character, I'd probably suggest "In-Game," which is Ron's effectiveness and resources, and anything else which rates a character's actual ability to affect things in the game world, and then maybe "In-Role," which represents the aspects of a character's abilities which comes of being a PC (and, in many styles of play, a protagonist in an unfolding story).  Things like dramatic invulnerability and the like.  There may be a third kind of character ability, but if so, I can't think of it.

And, of course, I've got a proposed taxonomy of player ability on record.


Title: Character currency
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 09, 2001, 06:26:00 AM
Epoch,

"Game designers have been using character traits which are aptly described as resources and character traits which are aptly described as effectiveness for years, and I don't think they've been doing it ineffectively."

We could not disagree more. I consider character creation across most RPGs to be a hodgepodge of pre-existing features and improvisation, largely without regard to design and goals, and often obstructive to most role-playing goals that people bring to a game. I think that the three categories I've proposed are often constructed or distributed in bizarre, non-utile fashions.

Since this is clearly an outlook-difference, I don't think we'll profit from debate about it.

Best,
Ron


Title: Character currency
Post by: Epoch on July 09, 2001, 08:22:00 AM
Well, you're probably right that we won't be able to debate it.  But, so that I can get more of a sense of what you're talking about, could you example something?  Then, if we just disagree about it, I'll drop the matter.


Title: Character currency
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 12, 2001, 11:59:00 AM
Finally got back to this thread.

TOON
In Toon, one has 4 attributes, with 14 points to distribute among them (yes, you can roll too, yadda yadda). You also get 35 points to buy a ton of stuff - 1:1 for a skill add (e.g. Zip of 5 and a "Run" skill of 2 means roll 7 or less to run successfully), and about 5 points per starting Schtick, depending on its details.

OK, you also get 8 starting possessions, 4 of which can be tres weird and 1 of those 4 being potentially "fill in later."

Whew. Now here are some of the Currency issues. Consider the following points as a UNIT.

1) You may spend a Plot Point for a one-use Schtick.
2) Many Schticks overlap with skills - like Incredible Speed being a "power" instead of a high Run skill.
3) Possessions, when all is said and done, are basically the same thing as Schticks (especially the weird ones; my fruit bat PC had a blow-up babe doll he used to distract people with, e.g.).

So, if you're well beefed on Plot Points, then spending 5 or more points initially for a Schtick is idiotic - you should buy NO Schticks, take your 8 possessions, and then spend Plot Points as you go for whatever Schtick you feel like at the time.

Furthermore, you can also bag most of the skills in favor of Schticks that duplicate them, and thus spend most of your points on the few really useful skills like "Identify Dangerous Thing."

Are Plot Points hard to get? Hell no - be funny, be clever, correspond to your Beliefs, or correspond to your Goals. My friends and I generated Plot Points a mile a minute.

Solution? Bag the stupid skill-points in the first place. Have Schticks arise ONLY through spending Plot Points. Have the character points, sure, but any skill under each category uses the same amounts (e.g. Zip of 6 means 6 at all Zip-based skills).

And let's not forget the gross mini-maxing available to the PCs. Consider two characters: one with a Zip of 2 (that's 2 out of 14 character points) and who's bought the Run skill up to 9 (max) with 7 skill points; and the other with a Zip of 6 (out of 14 character points) who's bought it up to 9 with 3 skill points. Who's better? Sure, take into account the other Zip skills all you want (most of which are worthless, especially Dodge). You still have one guy who's blown a huge wad of character points (6/14) and saved a measly number of character points (4 in comparison with the other guy). He went to all this trouble to be a "Zip" guy and ended up being just as good as the other at running, by spending MORE points.

In other words, in this game, despite all the apparent freedom of being able to twiddle either attributes or skills, there is actually a fairly limited range of "smart" ways to spend the points in question.

CASTLE FALKENSTEIN
In this game, you start with a bunch of abilities (mostly skill-like, with a few like Brawn), most of which are "Fair" with a few "Goods," a "Great" and probably a couple "Poors" mixed in. These terms correspond to a numerical scale, 2-8 if I remember correctly.

To do something, you play a card and add its numerical value to your score (so with my score of 4, I play a 7 of the right suit, and my total is 11).

Note that the range available through the addition of the cards (1-10 or more, with facecards), far outstrips the range of the base ability. Therefore the actual efficacy of the agile duellist depends far more on the cards being played than on the difference between his Excellent duelling skill and the Poor duelling skill of the fainting-babe character.

In other words - the fainting-babe is frankly just as good or better than the agile duellist, because efficacy is simply a matter of playing high cards. And no, one does not suffer long without the right cards to play. Rules vary, but most CF play grinds to a halt if one's cards are not refilled frequently.

EVERWAY
In this game, you get 20 points to spend on 4 attributes, powers, and spells. Here's the thing: powers are really, really powerful - if you go by their examples, you can be a rootin', tootin', immune-to-normal-weapons weretiger for two measly points. However, two points of spell knowledge is really shitty - you can light a candle, or stuff at that level. If you don't get magic up to 4-5 points (which is 20-25% of your total freakin' points), you might as well not bother.

Both of these examples are easy because they rely on explicit, spendable POINTS to define a character. The same phenomena, though, may be observed across most RPGs, random generation or not, explicit point-system or not.

THE END
Hope that helped. The concurrent thread about Drama dice in 7th Sea offers a good example too.

Contrast systems like Swashbuckler, in which all your skills mean NOTHING in terms of your fighting ability (which is GOOD), or with Ghost Light, in which your only abilities are emotions, or with Hero Wars, in which anything, wealth or good looks or sword-skill or whatever, is an "ability" and works like any other ability. These games have few if any Currency hassles - and I'll tell you, when you play them, it really shows.

Best,
Ron


Title: Character currency
Post by: Blake Hutchins on July 12, 2001, 04:16:00 PM
Ron pointed out a huge flaw with Falkenstein, one that kept our group back when from starting a CF campaign. When dabbling with the game mechanics, I linked the maximum number of cards a character could play to the level of the skill being used. Thus, an Excellent Marksman could play more cards than a Poor one. It seemed to work fairly well for a sample scene, but we didn't test it in extended play.

Best,

Blake


Title: Character currency
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 13, 2001, 06:22:00 AM
Hello,

I'll try to clarify a couple of the examples a bit more.

EVERWAY
For those unfamiliar with Everway, it should be explained that if you spend (say) four points on magic, you have hosed your pool of attribute points very severely. Those attribute points are EVERYTHING in terms of numerical outcomes - your Fire score, for instance, is anything and everything to do with charisma, rhetoric, action, skilled fighting, and so on.

This means that putting points into magic requires dropping at least one of your attributes down to practically nothing - mages are, in Everway, (a) very dense, (b) very weak, (c) very unskilled/boring, or (d) very inarticulate/dumb. The only alternative is to drop them ALL down to pretty weenie levels. And again, this means only a DECENT level of magic use.

And since Earth and Water scores are, in many ways, one's ability to resist damage (and thus somewhat in the Resource category as well as Effectiveness), dropping either of them doubly hoses the PC. That's the "exchange" issue right there.

MORE ABOUT EVERWAY
In Everway, for instance, we see no Metagame mechanic. Not one. This is an unabashedly Narrativist game, with all manner of rhetoric, reward mechanics, and resolution mechanics aimed arrow-straight at the classic "N" goal. However, there's no Metagame mechanic - whether a right to re-draw a card, to dictate the outcome of a contest, to alter physical surroundings, to establish relationships with NPCs, or any of the wealth of existing metagame mechanics available in other games. It's a Narrativist game with no concrete means for Authorial power beyond bullying the GM.

CASTLE FALKENSTEIN
What we're seeing here is a Currency issue WITHIN Effectiveness. The "points" of one's ability scores (because, when all's said and done, your character's scores do have numerical values, unlike say Fudge) are not operating at the same scale as the Fortune mechanic that modifies them.

So in this case, it's not really an exchange issue AMONG Effectiveness, Resource, and Metagame. It's within Effectiveness.

This dovetails with Jim's point that Resource may be subdivided, to which I say, yes, yes, and still yes. Obviously all three may be subdivided, and in many games they are.

FURTHER POINT
One of my other claims about this perspective on character creation and definition (in addition to the soybean-trading one) is that the subdivisions among designated scores and attributes and so on, in a given game, create a weird assortment of (e.g.) underdeveloped Metagame and over-nuanced Effectiveness. I can say "under" and "over" in the sense that the distribution of ERM may be working against other aspects of the game - the reward system, say, or the damage system.

The clearest example I can come up with here is Champions, in which the multiple layers of deriving combat outcomes are truly baroque. Back at GO, at one point, I outlined just how much derivation is necessary to arrive at the outcome of punching a bad guy.

So what I'm criticizing is the tendency to DERIVE the "usable" numbers or other features of a character through several steps, each of which can be twiddled - thus producing cost-break points and exchange issues at multiple points. Not the mention the ATTENTION and energy needed to deal with all of it, especially moment by moment during play.

Why is this "bad," as implied by my criticism? Because Champions, up through 3rd edition, is in many ways the most faithful and even beautiful attempt to capture the essence of 60s-to-mid-80s comics in role-playing. It introduced massive Metagame to character creation, as well as in-game Authorial power in the form of the Variable Power Pool. The numerical hassles I describe above (and elsewhere) work AGAINST these goals and other attributes of the game, whereas the same things in (say) a game about big robots hitting one another would be no big deal.

Best,
Ron


Title: Character currency
Post by: Epoch on July 13, 2001, 10:28:00 AM
Okay.

Of these games, I've played Toon, I played a con-game one-shot of CF once, and I've never played Everway, Hero Wars, or Champions.

It's been a while since I played Toon (we played it religiously in late elementary school), but, as I recall, I think that your concepts of good exchange rates are based on an idiosyncratic style of play that was somewhat unique to your group.  As I recall, we found Zip particularly useful to buy to 6, and didn't find Run useful at all.  I think we tended towards Fire Gun and Dodge, plus a fair number of straight Zip rolls.  But it has been over a decade.

In any event, I guess what I'm saying here is that, within the criticism you made of those games, valid or invalid, I didn't see you using the terms "Effectivness," "Resources," or "Metagame" a whole lot, and I definitely didn't see anything in that argument that I couldn't have understood without ever having been introduced to your concept of those three things.  That indicates to me that the taxonomy isn't particularly powerful.

I think that there is value in your focus on exchange of one thing to another, but the categories that you're putting character efficacy into don't seem to be helping your critique.

Anyhow, if you feel that this is simply a matter of differing perception, you may consider the matter dropped as of this point -- I don't expect a response to any of the points I've just raised unless you feel that there's a productive discussion to be gained from 'em.


Title: Character currency
Post by: Jared A. Sorensen on July 13, 2001, 10:37:00 AM
Speaking of Toon! -- someone (ie: someone reading this) should bust out a cartoon-inspired game that works and isn't just the same-old with funny animal pics.


Title: Character currency
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 13, 2001, 02:33:00 PM
Mike,

"I definitely didn't see anything in that argument that I couldn't have understood without ever having been introduced to your concept of those three things. That indicates to me that the taxonomy isn't particularly powerful."

I suggest that consideration of the following would have helped the designers of all three games:
- what the three categories are
- awareness that all of them do exist in the act of "playing" a character
- how, when, or if exchange is involved among the categories (which is to say, not just among the "named items" on the sheet)
- subdivisions, nuances, and layering within each one

I think that many RPG designers are and were flying entirely by the seat of their pants when it comes to character creation (or "implementation," although that sounds funky). Their attention was on named elements like "strength" and "percent to hit" rather than Effectiveness.

Such an approach to character design allows latitude for all sorts of emergent properties, such as the point-mongering in Champions or the mini-maxing in most late 80s games, or any number of other "take-over" elements of play that subvert the stated goals of the design.

I think that a more fundamentals-based approach to the design process would yield less problems of this kind. Without a vocabulary of the fundamentals, we'll end up with endless permutations of the same currency-mismatches and confusions with nearly every "new" game. In fact, that's exactly what we do have.

Best,
Ron


Title: Character currency
Post by: Supplanter on July 14, 2001, 04:16:00 PM
Quote
In Everway, for instance, we see no Metagame mechanic. Not one. This is an unabashedly Narrativist game, with all manner of rhetoric, reward mechanics, and resolution mechanics aimed arrow-straight at the classic "N" goal. However, there's no Metagame mechanic - whether a right to re-draw a card, to dictate the outcome of a contest, to alter physical surroundings, to establish relationships with NPCs, or any of the wealth of existing metagame mechanics available in other games. It's a Narrativist game with no concrete means for Authorial power beyond bullying the GM.


Because my game is a PBEM, I play Everway every day, so I've had a lot of time to consider it. I think it is far from an unabashedly narrativist game. At most it's an abashedly narrativist game. Tweet in fact goes to great lengths to avoid foreclosing other options: the whole point of the discussion of Drama, Fortune and Karma is to allow the GM to pick the mix that suits his preference. Same with the examples of the different ways to conduct the fight with the giant water rats.

I think that in terms of style theory, Eway is a couple of things at once: 1) a dramatist game; indeed, as the Eway mailing list makes clear, entirely too many Eway GMs believe the game's chief use is to teach lessons, the lessons being, of course, the received wisdom of the most sentimentalized sort of multiculturalism, with a heavy dose of ecological correctness for good measure. "How can I make my players understand that killing is wrong?" is a topic that has come up more than once. 2) a simulationist game, where the "What's it like" question is "What would it be like if the world(s) worked the way New Agers imagine."

And that's probably why you don't have any "redraw the fortune card" mechanic. The game was designed and published for a number of reasons, but one of them was to penetrate a market prepared to believe, on some level, that the fortune deck is, you know, real. A mechanic that lets one redraw fortune cards would be showing the wires - that was not what was wanted.

The most narrativist part of Everway is probably the character fortune (Virtue, Fault and Fate). What strikes me in light of Forge discussions is that this in a sense allows each player to choose their own premise. The problem is getting the chance to live it out in-game.

Best,


Jim


Title: Character currency
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 14, 2001, 05:40:00 PM
Hi Jim,

Three points, in order.

ONE
I do not understand your reference to the DFK issue AT ALL. As you know, I consider DFK to be largely independent of GNS (or rather, that there is no 1:1 correspondence), and therefore Everway's flexibility in terms of DFK has no effect on or relevance to its basic Narrativism.

TWO
Our take on Everway differs, in that I am working primarily with the GAME AS TEXT, and having played it fairly extensively in an attempt to be faithful to that text, in terms of stated goals. You are working with a larger culture of what Everway has "become" in application.

Here's my call: the lack of metagame (or other Author-empowering mechanics) in Everway subverts its stated Narrativist goals, such that in application, the highly-specialized Simulationist priority that you accurately describe is ALSO reachable, to some extent.

I personally think those individuals you describe are jettisoning an enormous amount of the game's written content/goals, in taking this approach. That's why I say "to some extent" above, because converting Everway to Simulationist goals is going to leave giant bleeding wounds in its pre-existing structure.

THREE
We've actually gone off-topic to a destructive degree, because this isn't a Currency issue at all but a GNS one. I suggest we take it to a different thread, if we want to continue.

On the other hand, I don't think we really NEED to continue it ... personally, I can live with the definition of Everway as "abashedly Narrativist," and I agree with you 100% about its basic structure and what has become of it. [We seem to have a confusion between us about DFK, but that's a whole 'nother topic too.]

So if it's OK with you, I'm happy to drop it rather than shout "Narrativist game!" "Narrativist-Simulationist hybrid!" at one another.

Best,
Ron

P.S. I spent some time lurking on the Everway mailing list, when I was playing the game quite a lot. Man! That was some weird shit. Next Generation gone horribly wrong. I think you characterized it perfectly.


Title: Character currency
Post by: Supplanter on July 15, 2001, 07:26:00 AM
Quote
We've actually gone off-topic to a destructive degree, because this isn't a Currency issue at all but a GNS one. I suggest we take it to a different thread, if we want to continue.


Sounds like a good idea. Meanwhile, back to Everway and Currency and currency in general.

Firstly, it may be worth noting that the closest thing I have to a claim to fame in Everway fandom is precisely an attempt to repair the problem with Magic that you note above, from a more-or-less simulationist perspective. People I do not know ended up using the Magic Formula in their campaigns, though others found it overly mechanical and "contrary to the spirit of Everway." (It uses the abstruse mathematical operations, addition and subtraction.)

As it says in the article, I've actually seen players who bought magic feel they got the shaft. But I think a lot of this has to do with the way, when Everway GMs and players set up magic schools, they tend to be far narrower in scope than the sample schools in the book.

The other thing that strikes me is that power pricing in games and campaigns may have an economic component in addition to an efficacy component. The argument has been made on Amber-L, for instance, that Trump is "overpriced" compared to the other powers in the ADRPG. But I think trump is superbly priced from a supply-and-demand perspective - that is, I like the idea of trump being relatively rare in Amber campaigns as it is relatively rare in the Corwin saga. Pure efficacy-based pricing, such as Champions and GURPS at least attempt, would mean that players would tend to create as many trump artists as anything else.  In a campaign with no Chaos PCs, half the players might create trump artists.

To my taste that's too many trump artists, and I get the feeling that's too many for Wujcik's taste too. The economic solution is to raise the price of trump to the point where the only people who will create trump artists are the people who are drawn to the power for reasons other than practicality - that is, they really really want to be a trump artist because they always thought trump was incredibly cool.

When setting up Amberway II (and here's that URL again!) I discovered early on that I had underpriced shapeshifting. Fully half the initial character proposals I got were for shapeshifting characters. Whether shapeshifting was underpriced from an absolute effectiveness standpoint was impossible to say without playtesting. But from an economic perspective it was clearly underpriced: I didn't want to be overrun with the mutable little bastards. I did a quick re-price (adding the 1-point Shapeshifting Patron requirement) and the number of official shapeshifting PC proposals dropped in half. Now one fourth of the PCs would be shapeshifters instead of almost 50% of them, with the players themselves deciding which way to go based on how much it was worth to them.

I believe Tweet priced Everway magic itself on this basis. He seems to have felt that he couldn't do a fantasy RPG without "magic," but he wanted magic to be safe, legal and rare. (The opposite happens in AM, where economically you'd be nuts to make a non-mage as your main character.)

What seems to have happened in the actual played life of the game is that GMs picked up on the metamessage (reduce the attractiveness of magic) and concluded, largely unconsciously, that there was still work to be done in this area. IOW, that they must continue to hammer down the effectiveness of magic during play.

Tweet made a couple of post-publication attempts to counter this, actually, though I've just failed to find an HTML link. He propounded the "two element rule" - a warrior with 6 Fire and 6 Earth could certainly kill a 3-Fire, 3-Earth opponent with one blow, therefore a mage with 6-magic and 6 in his governing element whose magic capabilities include harming others should be able to kill a normal person instantly with a quick spell. Taking the two element rule seriously was a major influence on the mathematics of the Magic Formula. The designer of the second edition seems committed to addressing the problems in a less mechanical way than the MF in the new version.

Best,


Jim


[ This Message was edited by: Supplanter on 2001-07-15 11:27 ]


Title: Character currency
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 16, 2001, 08:19:00 AM
Hi all,

Jim wrote,
"... power pricing in games and campaigns may have an economic component in addition to an efficacy component."

I agree with this observation in full. Essentially, game designers price certain things higher if they want those things to be rarer during play. On the face of it, this is perfectly reasonable ... but it does have some pitfalls, which I hope I can articulate.

First of all, I see two types of economic pricing. (1) Purely at the metagame-level, based on what powers or abilities are considered appropriate (and in what proportions) for PLAYER-CHARACTERS. (2) Based on a within-game-world notion of DEMOGRAPHICS for those abilities. Either way has pitfalls.

For the first/protagonist method, Jim is perfectly right with his Trump example. My favorite example of a power/concept that could use a little of this thinking is the "speedster" character in Champions, which I think is well-conceived and priced in the context of efficacy in that game. However, speedsters are relatively rare in the comics (or were, before the 90s), if not vanishingly so. The speedsters-everywhere effect one finds in the usual Champions game is strictly a product of point-pricing and effectiveness.

But say we then make speedsters really expensive in the interest of staying "on-genre." Then we run into another problem: that playing a speedster AT ALL becomes a big pain in the butt. By pricing "speedsters in general" out of the picture (which Champions does not do, but Everway DOES with magic), the rare player who goes ahead and plays one gets hosed. There's no reason why playing any sort of character should automatically be less fun.

For the second/demographic method, we run into the common problem of game-world-modeling meeting the player-priorities-for-creation. The trouble arises from players' perfectly reasonable desire to play exotic characters, or those with unusual abilities.

Say that a population is designated to be 5% "skookie." There are some older systems that would militate against playing a skookie character, making the cost high, for instance, because they "should" be rare in terms of game-world logic. I remember the painful, convoluted text in The Fantasy Trip that attempted to explain, clearly against the author's own sense of internal logic, why it's OK to have a disproportionately high proportion of mages in your adventuring party, although they represent a very small portion of the population.

Lest the skookies are too abstract, or the TFT example is too archaic, I call attention to Armageddon, which suffers very badly from this problem; starting celestials pay so many points just to be celestials that they end up being pretty wimpy in terms of usable values (attributes and skills).

I suggest that NEITHER form of economic currency-design is especially effective for their goals. Such goals are better met by establishing solid boundaries for creativity rather than playing with the prices of things. Jim's points about Everway provide a good basis for my thinking about this issue.

"I believe Tweet priced Everway magic itself on this basis. He seems to have felt that he couldn't do a fantasy RPG without "magic," but he wanted magic to be safe, legal and rare. (The opposite happens in AM, where economically you'd be nuts to make a non-mage as your main character.)"

"What seems to have happened in the actual played life of the game is that GMs picked up on the metamessage (reduce the attractiveness of magic) and concluded, largely unconsciously, that there was still work to be done in this area. IOW, that they must continue to hammer down the effectiveness of magic during play."

Agreed. Totally agreed. What might surprise people is that I think the players' response is REASONABLE. I think that if one wants to make magic "safe, legal, and rare" in a setting, one needs to set the system-parameters of its use that yield these results. In other words, the desired result should be embedded in what magic can DO, not its price/effectiveness costs in relation to the other things a character can do. If you want magic to be safe & legal, then don't permit its possible effects to be unsafe and (by most standards) illegal, in terms of its capabilities.

The same principle applies, to my way of thinking, to all aspects of play. If there are creative parameters within which the designer wants gamers to be working, then design within them. Making features OUTSIDE those parameters possible but more expensive creates the pitfalls I've tried to describe.

Best,
Ron

[ This Message was edited by: Ron Edwards on 2001-07-19 17:34 ]