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Inactive Forums => Scattershot => Topic started by: M. J. Young on November 08, 2002, 11:59:47 PM



Title: Responding to the Invitation
Post by: M. J. Young on November 08, 2002, 11:59:47 PM
Please don't think me ungracious; I really do appreciate being invited to the forum. I have too much on my plate as it is, and my wife would shoot me were I to take on another forum. Scattershot sounds very interesting, and if I didn't have a million things undone with deadlines looming over me, I would eagerly devour what's here.

The idea that players are going to spend points to build their characters, but they have an unlimited supply of points, is intriguing, but I'm not entirely sure what it gets you. You and I agree in principle that the best way to create a character is to imagine what you want and then translate it to game mechanics. In Multiverser, that transition is done directly--jot down the attributes, skills, equipment, and any description that matters, all in game terms. In Scattershot, it seems that you use points to buy what you want, but you have an unlimited supply of points. Now, I can see where this might control character creation in a psychological sense, through a, "my goodness, look at how many points I've spent, I'd better stop" notion. On the other hand, if a player either has absolutely no concept of an appropriate number of points to spend (such as, has never played a point-based system) or gets his head around the fact that there really is an infinite supply of points, that psych benefit flies out the window. You could tell players to imagine the character they want and then express it in game mechanics without going through the motions of spending points. After all, what's the difference between
Quote
Let's see, my strength, let's push it up to thirteen...fourteen...fifteen...yeah, fifteen is right, put it there

and
Quote
Let's see, my strength, let's add a few points, spend three points to get thirteen, four more to get fourteen, five more to get fifteen...yeah, that's twelve points on strength, gives me a fifteen, that's what I want

in any aspect of the creation process? The points seem superfluous to me; but then, I haven't seen the thread that explains them (or the game--and I sincerely apologize, but my workload here at the moment has been incredible for months, and even coming to the Forge at all was a crazy idea).

I think you misread my statement that a certain approach was realistic and made for better stories. It was phrased to suggest that it was each of these independently, not that they were dependent upon each other. Realistic stories can be very dull, and good stories can be very unrealistic. I wasn't exactly arguing in favor of randomized systems (like you, I use a system that attempt to create a concept to a character directly) but making the case for them. That case includes that it creates characters of different levels of ability, which is on the one hand more like real life and on the other hand better in most stories, two unrelated ideas which are both supported by that. Point based systems, when they use limited numbers of points (which they do, apart from yours), tend to create characters of equalized ability, which is unrealistic and less interesting in stories (again, unrelated ideas). But I agree that character involvement is more important to player enjoyment than either equality or inequality.

I hope I can actually look at Scattershot sometime. I've been promising Seth that I'd do a Multiverser conversion for Alyria before he goes to press, so that's a lot higher on the list, and I've got a lot of other pressing matters. But it sounds interesting--as you said in another thread, it's interesting how the same priorities can result in very different games.

--M. J. Young


Title: Re: Responding to the Invitation
Post by: Le Joueur on November 09, 2002, 12:43:32 PM
Hello and welcome to our show ;)

Quote from: M. J. Young
The idea that players are going to spend points to build their characters, but they have an unlimited supply of points, is intriguing, but I'm not entirely sure what it gets you. You and I agree in principle that the best way to create a character is to imagine what you want and then translate it to game mechanics. In Multiverser, that transition is done directly--jot down the attributes, skills, equipment, and any description that matters, all in game terms.

It was a long hard trip to understand what I've got (even for me), but the first step is not to think in terms of "an unlimited supply of points."  You can see how that creates the idea that points are in need of limitation.  Do you think in terms of Multiverser characters as written with an unlimited number of words or concepts?  Probably not.

It's a tough shift, but necessary to understanding how Scattershot's Development Points work.

Quote from: M. J. Young
In Scattershot, it seems that you use points to buy what you want, but you have an unlimited supply of points. Now, I can see where this might control character creation in a psychological sense, through a, "my goodness, look at how many points I've spent, I'd better stop" notion. On the other hand, if a player either has absolutely no concept of an appropriate number of points to spend (such as, has never played a point-based system) or gets his head around the fact that there really is an infinite supply of points, that psych benefit flies out the window. You could tell players to imagine the character they want and then express it in game mechanics without going through the motions of spending points. After all, what's the difference between

Quote
Let's see, my strength, let's push it up to thirteen...fourteen...fifteen...yeah, fifteen is right, put it there

and
Quote
Let's see, my strength, let's add a few points, spend three points to get thirteen, four more to get fourteen, five more to get fifteen...yeah, that's twelve points on strength, gives me a fifteen, that's what I want

in any aspect of the creation process? The points seem superfluous to me; but then, I haven't seen the thread that explains them

That's okay.  I haven't done a good job explaining Scattershot's Development Points by themselves yet.  So far all I have is a discussion of how such points might work (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1385), comparing character classes to point-based systems.  At the point of initial Persona Development, the points are...pointless.  They only become meaningful when the group gets together.  When the players compare how many points they have to the number of points the other players have.  As Scattershot is a 'shared gaming experience,' this is when the players decide how well their Personae relate; the points make that a bit more explicit (but no system is perfect).

(And by the way, just as a point of information, Scattershot uses a point-for-point set up; a Strength of 13 costs 3, 14 costs 4, 15 costs 5 total, not cumulative.)

Quote from: M. J. Young
I wasn't exactly arguing in favor of randomized systems (like you, I use a system that attempt to create a concept to a character directly) but making the case for them. That case includes that it creates characters of different levels of ability, which is on the one hand more like real life and on the other hand better in most stories, two unrelated ideas which are both supported by that. Point based systems, when they use limited numbers of points (which they do, apart from yours), tend to create characters of equalized ability, which is unrealistic and less interesting in stories (again, [as] unrelated ideas). But I agree that character involvement is more important to player enjoyment than either equality or inequality.

I know that was terribly naughty of me, but I didn't want anyone to take your words literally.  And I completely agree with you about the 'realism' (which I often instead call verisimilitude) and less interesting.

The points in Scattershot are a way for the group to negotiate the relativity between characters.  If there is any kind of "psych benefit" it'll be had at this point; my hope is that in having to 'count out the points' a player will have gained a better idea of what is crucial to the Persona concept (called Sine Qua Non (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2009)) so they may negotiate better.  I consider the composition of a group to be entirely up to the group and choose not to put limitations on that from a design point of view.  I may suggest a few based on the game's Genre Expectations (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2043), but I haven't seen any value in making those kinds of hard limitations.

After that (and unlike games where point-based cut-offs that pretty much abandon points after character generation), the points inform the participants how the player wants to play the Persona.  The gamemaster can orchestrate opportunities for the Persona; the players can 'make room' for that kind of play.  This is why Scattershot has, at times, an aggressive in-play Persona Development system, to maintain this presence throughout the game.

Quote from: M. J. Young
I hope I can actually look at Scattershot sometime. I've been promising Seth that I'd do a Multiverser conversion for Alyria before he goes to press, so that's a lot higher on the list, and I've got a lot of other pressing matters. But it sounds interesting--as you said in another thread, it's interesting how the same priorities can result in very different games.

Thank you.  I look forward to it.  Don't worry about a presence in this forum; I appreciate any attention (and it's pretty quiet right now).

Fang Langford


Title: Responding to the Invitation
Post by: Bankuei on November 10, 2002, 12:34:46 PM
Fang,

I've been mulling over the idea of protagonism and character concept for a long time, and it's finally clicked with me that your point system is basically a signpost as to the most important parts of character concept.  

Would you have a GM or player take note of the top 3 or 5 things that points have been spent into in order to define a character and work towards emphasizing and bringing out that concept in play?  

Second, would you have any guidelines for GM's and players in order to create not a balance in Gamist terms, but a balance to emphasize Narrativist play?  For example, if I want to present a major villian who will be tough, but not impossible to beat, how much higher can I rate his skills and abilities before he's too tough?  How do xp dice play into this factor?

Chris


Title: How Do You Mean
Post by: Le Joueur on November 10, 2002, 01:54:08 PM
Hey Chris,

Quote from: Bankuei
I've been mulling over the idea of protagonism and character concept for a long time, and it's finally clicked with me that your point system is basically a signpost as to the most important parts of character concept.

That was what I was getting at in the Fundamental Particles of Character Class (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1385).  I think the most important part of emphasizing "the most important parts of character concept" is getting them into play without another player 'stealing your thunder.'  As I understand it, that's the essence of protagonizing in role-playing games.  I tend to think of this as 'niche protection' (but I've been told I'm using those terms wrong).

Quote from: Bankuei
Would you have a GM or player take note of the top 3 or 5 things that points have been spent into in order to define a character and work towards emphasizing and bringing out that concept in play?

That kinda defeats the purpose of spending points on anything else doesn't it?  (Which is actually something you can do too.)  Likewise, it's really hard to create a point-based system that captures everything one might want to be important about their Persona.  That's why I also created the Sine Qua Non (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2009) Persona Development Technique.

The point expenditures are meant to accent fields of efficacy or narrative impact of the character.  All the rest of the 'fuzzy concepts' are supposed to be captured by the Sine Qua Non (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2009).  If you abandon anything after the fifth most expensive expenditure you may lose a lot of the depth a person may have designed into their Persona.  I do think that one must be more mindful of the 'top five,' but don't let them overshadow the whole Sine Qua Non (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2009).

Quote from: Bankuei
Second, would you have any guidelines for GM's and players in order to create not a balance in Gamist terms, but a balance to emphasize Narrativist play?  For example, if I want to present a major villain who will be tough, but not impossible to beat, how much higher can I rate his skills and abilities before he's too tough?  How do xp dice play into this factor?

The problem is that you are thinking in terms of strictly points to emphasize the 'toughness' of a villain.  The ways which a villain is tough are included or implied by a game's Genre Expectations (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2043).  One kind of thing a Genre Expectation (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2043) includes are Sequences (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3572).  They are invoked to align the narrative more with the expectation.  Thus, if your villain is tougher, like in professional wrestling, you expect them to win early on; a player can rack up Experience Dice (called Gimmes (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3572)) by 'letting them win' at that point (and by beating them during the climax).  This is one way a Genre Expectation (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2043) is constructed to aid in Thematically Ambitious (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2142) [<-two links->]Auteur Approach (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1662) (Scattershot's rough analog for making primarily Narrativist decisions throughout a game).

If you don't follow the Genre Expectations (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2043), you don't get any reward.  Besides that, there's Referential and Gamemasterful sharing and Self-Conscious play (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1662), all orchestrated by the Genre Expectations (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2043).

I'm not really sure what you mean by "a balance to emphasize Narrativist play."  Except the different ways of empowering the players as implied by the Proprietorship Mechanix (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1339) used in Referential and Gamemasterful sharing during Self-Conscious play (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1662), I don't know how you mean to 'balance' Narrativist play.  Can you explain?

(I've got a headache, so I'm gonna stop typing now.)

Fang Langford


Title: Responding to the Invitation
Post by: M. J. Young on November 10, 2002, 07:03:26 PM
Quote from: Fang Langford a.k.a. Le Joueur
At the point of initial Persona Development, the points are ...pointless. They only become meaningful when the group gets together. When the players compare how many points they have to the number of points the other players have.

Thus the points are a way of comparitively valuing characters once they are created. In essence you give each player an unlimited supply from which to build his character, but then when the group gets together they compare what they've spent and so get some idea who has the "strongest" character.

The question then is what value has this information thereafter? Does it impact how the spotlight will be shared? Do players with less costly characters have certain advantages which compensate for this? Can someone say, "No, that character is just plain too strong for the game we've envisioned, get rid of some of that"?
Quote from: Again Fang
(And by the way, just as a point of information, Scattershot uses a point-for-point set up; a Strength of 13 costs 3, 14 costs 4, 15 costs 5 total, not cumulative.)

The funny thing is that I picked those numbers out of the air entirely, without any knowledge that those were even valid numbers for attribute values.


So we have players who in private build characters; the characters can cost anything, but when they get together they have to reveal the costs to each other. This then does something useful in play preparation that I have not yet grasped. That would be?

--M. J. Young


Title: Not Always About Equality
Post by: Le Joueur on November 10, 2002, 08:46:21 PM
Quote from: M. J. Young
Quote from: Fang Langford a.k.a. Le Joueur
At the point of initial Persona Development, the points are...pointless. They only become meaningful when the group gets together. When the players compare how many points they have to the number of points the other players have.

Thus the points are a way of comparatively valuing characters once they are created. In essence you give each player an unlimited supply from which to build his character, but then when the group gets together they compare what they've spent and so get some idea who has the "strongest" character.

I'm not sure how I can communicate this.  (It is one of the things I'm struggling with for the formal write-up of the game.)  I'm trying to write Scattershot as a 'concept first' game.  You come up with the Persona's Sine Qua Non, what they 'really are,' and only then convert it to points.

In practice, that's how it has gone; you figure out who you want to be, then count up the points it takes.  This isn't ordering a new car, 'do I want this package or that, how much are they?'  'Oh, you have as much money as you need.'  It's like a recipe, 'here are the ingredients you need, add them in any order and mix well.'

The only Approach I've seen that is concerned with points during the entire process are people who self-select as Joueur players.  One of the Techniques that has cropped up for Competitively Ambitious Joueur Approach players is 'challenge limits.'  The players collectively choose a target number and then, taking that as their 'design challenge,' build Persona to that limit.

Really, the bulk of the playtesters have created characters 'points last.'  They make up the character, assigning abilities and powers to a rarefied character concept (generated by the Sine Qua Non Persona Development Technique) using the Exemplars from the Genre Expectations as a thumb-rule, then they count out how much it costs.  (Note, 'private Persona Development' is uncommon and not expected; many times the whole process takes place as a group.)

Quote from: M. J. Young
The question then is what value has this information thereafter? Does it impact how the spotlight will be shared? Do players with less costly characters have certain advantages which compensate for this? Can someone say, "No, that character is just plain too strong for the game we've envisioned, get rid of some of that"?

Compensate?  That sounds suspiciously like your looking for some 'balancing mechanism' underlying the rules.  We depend upon the group to find its own equilibrium of spotlight time.  However, unlike a lot of games I have read, we don't expect them to work it out for themselves.  Our instructions have always included dialogue about being conscious of spotlight time issues; the 'current totals of points' are a way of making who is likely to dominate spotlight time by efficacy more explicit.  This allows the people who supply the components of structure and direction to the narrative (like a gamemaster in traditional games) to 'play upon' Persona who might get the 'short end' because of Development Point inequality.

One thing not immediately evident (something of a late entry) is that Scattershot has something of an aggressive 'Design in Play' Persona Development system.  This in no way limits people who prefer to design their Personae prior to play, but even those characters develop.  Likewise this DiP Mechanix are used to account for potent in-game acquisitions.  (Say Bilbo decides to keep the ring?  How does that count for the character's efficacy?)  When a Persona 'takes on' something that gives it notable efficacy (even if the player is just 'trying it out' before making it permanent), this is used to develop the character.  Putting on addition Development Points is relatively easy and these go for this kind of change.  That makes it vital to keep track of 'current totals of points' as play progresses.

"Plain too strong" is exactly one of the most common reactions to certain designs.  There are a number of reactions beyond "get rid of some of that."  For example, players can offer alternatives that result in the same efficacy by 'redesigning' elements; perhaps the player didn't realize additional field of flexibility based on their initial development.  Another is 'backgrounding' it; this often comes up with a character that has a long list of 'professional skills' taken for completeness, but not expected to see much use.  (This is one of the reasons that Sine Qua Non is so vital, it helps the participants work things out this way.)  And yes there are times the group will either ask the player to alter/replace their character or the 'vision of the game' get altered.

Quote from: M. J. Young
So we have players who in private build characters; the characters can cost anything, but when they get together they have to reveal the costs to each other. This then does something useful in play preparation that I have not yet grasped. That would be?

"In private" is not a requirement, but an option.  (That was one of the main purposes for including Solo Play in the Mechanix.)  I guess I never saw it as "reveal," it always plays out as 'share.'  Probably because so much of the game is written around the idea that everyone shares responsibility for how well the game goes and at least tries to empower everyone in that direction.

Per my article on "The Fundamental Particles of Character Class," Scattershot has 'fat points.'  Instead of spending 5 points to raise a stat 1, instead of using a progressive cost scheme of diminishing returns, it costs exactly 1 point to raise anything 1.  What this results in is Personae of as low as 12-25 points in construction.

When the group finishes their Personae Development together this has an effect similar to "I'll make a thief."  "I wanna make a ranger."  "Okay, that means some wilderness adventuring."  "I want a magic-user...."  "Me, too!"  "Hang on, somebody has to take a cleric, is that okay."  "Sigh, ya I can do that."  Except it comes out much more flexible than that.  Likewise, each Genre Expectation comes with a number of Exemplars (like archetypes from the genre or character classes or example characters).

When everyone brings their Persona 'to the table,' you get rid of 'everyone wants a magic-user' problems (or at least a game that won't support such, because 'where the game will go' can be adjusted too).  This is also why Mystiques are an important component of the Techniques too; you don't have to 'give it all away' (not even to the gamemaster), but you will be more likely to know if your Persona's 'niche' will be 'intruded upon.'

Since at the point of sharing everyone's 'public development,' the game is being primarily formed in all minds.  If the game is structured where the gamemaster prepares a fair amount of 'input' into where the game will go, this will give them a good idea of what to expect in terms of what the Persona are capable of and what the players expect to do.  (In games where more members supply direction, this is where the form opinions of what to do.)

What I'm wondering is, most of your questions suggest a bias towards point-balanced gaming (this is a viable style and one potential Approach).  Words like "unlimited," "compare," "strongest," "compensate," and "reveal," sound like some kind of equality is expected based on points alone.  In early development, this proved to be problematic, not only because of how the different Approaches treat points differently, but because groups have very different dynamics of who needs how much spotlight time.  Is this the perspective you are coming from?  Provided I can identify the Approach you would take with the Mechanix, I think I can offer the additional Techniques that come into play for that specific Approach.

I'd be glad to offer any kind of help or answer any questions you might have.  This has been a very stimulating discussion (and is getting me closer to being able to explain the 'concept first' quality of the game).  Thank you for taking the time to return to this thread.

Fang Langford


Title: Responding to the Invitation
Post by: M. J. Young on November 11, 2002, 10:58:14 PM
It seems to me that character generation systems ultimately are limiters; they are designed to be limiters. In every case, they have the function of establishing the minimums and maximums for characteristics of a player character.
  • Dice-based and other randomized systems do this essentially by determining the possible range for each ability. In a well-designed system of that sort, player characters will predominantly be better than the average bear, as it were, and the degree of difference between them will be sufficient to make play interesting without causing one character to dominate every situation.
  • Point-based systems, in the main, achieve the same outcome by limiting the total power that can be purchased for a character, and allowing the player to spread that power in whatever generalist or specialist manner desired. In most such games it pays to be a specialist, because there aren't enough points to be "good at everything" and being "above average at everything" doesn't play well. Thus the differences between characters arise from the choices made to prioritize one aspect over another, because prioritizing is essential. I have more than once played characters who were generalists, whose objective was to be at least competent at everything and then to get better at everything over time. There would always be the temptation to create the superb generalist, the jack-of-all-trades who could do everything, and do everything well, the character we only meet in fiction, such as The Great Leslie (in The Great Race). The limitation of points prevents this character from being created, and so prevents one player from dominating the game because his character can "do everything".
  • Ability pool systems are similar. If everything the characters need to know how to do is dropped into a pool and then divided among the players equitably, you again prevent anyone from dominating the game. If I understand it aright, Amber is something like this; certainly Fred Wolke's wonderful card-based system of character generation for that game is. You can't have something if someone else has it.
  • Even modern "narrativist" character creation games have these built-in limiters. A game will often say something like, "give your character five descriptors", and think that this has eliminated the limitations. What it has done is shifted the limits to those descriptors. I can now use those descriptors either as a generalist or as a specialist. If I use them for specialization, I'm going to be very good in a limited area; if I spread them out, I'm going to be adequate in more things.
  • At first blush, Multiverser would seem to have ignored all of these limiters. The rules start with the idea of creating yourself as a character, and thus the limitation for most characters is whether they adequately and accurately define the players. Thus if you declare yourself equal to an Olympic medalist as a swimmer, the referee might well challenge you to provide some sort of evidence that you're that good, whereas if you merely say that you've got professional training as a life guard and were a member of the swim team in college you'll probably get professional, but not expert, level in this. But then, the rules allow you to play the "not I" character as well. At this point, the player is imagining what he wants to be. If he takes a character from elsewhere, such as playing James Bond or Luke Skywalker or "My elf fighter magic user from the D&D game we use to play", the limitations carry over from there. But if he merely says, "this is my character idea," it could be absolutely anything, and there are no mechanical limits on that. Yet there is a subjective limit included: the player has to clear his character with the referee. Personally I can barely imagine a character I wouldn't approve; but then, I can always bring the level of the game up to match the level of the character.[/list:u]
    Now, it seems to me that you're really trying to do the sort of character creation Multiverser uses: create the idea, then convert it to stats directly. But you've got these points in the middle, the function of which seems to be to facilitate evaluating the relative power of the characters in the game. Yet clearly from your examples the points don't tell that. If I'm going to play the Dr. Zarkov character, I'm going to have a massive amount of skills in sciences and technologies. For the sake of completion, I'll probably have everything from astral navigation to glassmaking. It's going to cost a fortune to be complete--yet it's not going to make my character more potent or even more important than Flash Gordon, whose points are all in looks, strength, agility, and courage. The point system tells me how many points I spent; it doesn't really tell me anything about how strong a character I've created. That's too subjective.

    I've never used a point-based character creation system; I've used point-based character improvement systems. I'm not exactly looking for how your points limit characters or impact design decisions or influence play. I'm looking for why you have the points at all, as opposed to just going directly from character concept to character stats.

    Perhaps this will help explain; let me suggest an alternative way to do it.

    Each player takes a piece of paper and writes up a character concept. He includes the name of the character, any description he thinks important, and an idea of who the character is (your sine qua non) including what kinds of abilities he has without reference to system mechanics. Thus for Dr. Zarkov, "brilliant scientist whose theories put him a bit outside traditional scientific circles and thus forced him to develop skills in a vast array of technologies in order to continue his work building equipment to explore space". For Flash Gordon, "All-American football player in the handsome hero mold with plenty of physical prowess but not a lot of emphasis on education". Now once those papers are written, everyone passes his paper to the player on his left. That player reads over the paper and considers, if I had to translate this character into game terms, how would I do it? He converts the character to game stats, and gives it back to the player who wrote the concept. Obviously the Zarkov character will have a high intelligence and a lot of appropriate skills in the sciences and technologies, and the Gordon character will have high strength, agility, stamina, and maybe personal skills.

    At no point in that did you need points. The points don't add anything to the effort that I can see. And this is my problem with the unlimited points system you're using: the points don't add anything. I have to decide how strong Flash is based on my concept of how strong Flash should be, whether I do that by saying, "Flash has a 17 strength, so that's 7 points" or just "Flash has a seventeen strength".

    I find it difficult to imagine that you've included a point system which
    • doesn't limit either maximum or minimum character power
    • doesn't adequately measure character power and
    • doesn't impact game play[/list:u]
      Thus I'm looking to find out what the points actually do, besides create the illusion of a limiting system. Now, maybe that's all they have to do; maybe if the players have to "spend points" on their character abilities it doesn't matter that the points are free and unlimited as long as the psychology of spending them impacts at some point. But for someone who has no concept of how many points are appropriate to spend, and for someone who really grasps that there are no consequences for "overspending", that's lost. You say a typical character runs about 25 points. How does the game respond to the character that comes in at two hundred fifty points? That might not be gamist system breaking; that could very easily happen with a player trying to create a very strong generalist, or even a character who is very good in several fields.

      I hope this helps.

      --M. J. Young


Title: Responding to the Invitation
Post by: Andrew Martin on November 11, 2002, 11:43:12 PM
Quote from: M. J. Young
It seems to me that character generation systems ultimately are limiters; they are designed to be limiters. In every case, they have the function of establishing the minimums and maximums for characteristics of a player character.


And the reason this is so, is because the game mechanics usually can't handle an infinite quantity. They're limited to a certain range and precision. If one has a game system which has infinite range and infinite precision, these limits could be easily removed. I've made some hesitant steps in this area with my Ratio system, which has infinite range and infinite precision but potentially infinite dice rolls (one has to take the good with the bad). Unfortunately, Ratio doesn't yet handle opposed rolls in a way that makes sense to experienced players; it also makes me nervous...

I'm also curious about the points system in Scattershot. I've got players who would take all the points available to them and then some.


Title: Responding to the Invitation
Post by: Bankuei on November 12, 2002, 05:47:57 AM
Quote
Thus I'm looking to find out what the points actually do, besides create the illusion of a limiting system.


After checking deeper into Fang's reply, and his older threads, I see that points basically serve as "importance meters".  Sine Qua Non is effectively a mission statement; a statement about character concept, the points are seeing it in action, the fine print if you will.

I think the biggest unstated assumption that's going on here is that the social contract is in control and the group as a whole will find a balance for the use of points.  The assumption is that everyone is trying to play intelligently and is responsible and shouldn't require explicit rules to tell you not to design a superhero for a gritty game just as there are no explicit rules telling folks to be cool, not be assholes to one another, or not randomly stab each other with kitchen knives.

Notice that most of the problems come up in games from that social contract problems, which have more to do with players and the GM not being on the same page about such things, or one player not fitting with the other players.  

Chris


Title: Responding to the Invitation
Post by: Mike Holmes on November 12, 2002, 07:28:58 AM
Quote from: Bankuei
After checking deeper into Fang's reply, and his older threads, I see that points basically serve as "importance meters".  Sine Qua Non is effectively a mission statement; a statement about character concept, the points are seeing it in action, the fine print if you will.


To be fair MJ, no point system accurately models power if it's allowed to be used for character breadth. Hence GURPS, in the text, says that it's point system does not make "power balanced" characters. The real limit on power for Hero System is not the total points, but the "Active Point Limit" which limits the height of each ability. So you are right, this point system, like others, has no direct correllation to power, but neither does it claim to. In any case, though, this does mean that adding the points together for a total is not particularly useful (except perhaps to note extremely outrageous misuse of the system). BTW, this means that while the Jou..., Jeor.., Gamist players can try to use the system for power balance, they will likely fail. Or rather, the player who plays even slightly out of Pawn stance will suffer.

But that said, we can look at the claim that the points denote the important character abilities as Chris notes above. The problem with the assertion is that the points that describe each stat don't seem to do anything that the stat's rating itself does not do. If we aren't looking at the total, we must be looking at the value associated with the different stats. But what does 5 points tell me that Level 15 does not?

So, MJ is right again. The points are an extra step that provide us with no more information than would neccessarily be presented in the form of the statistics themselves.

So, given that Scattershot is billed as a game to subtly convert the "average gamer" to a new style, how is that gamer, with presumably less theoretical knowledge than MJ or I, designers who cannot figure out what the points are for after Fang has tried to explain it numerous times, how is that player going to understand what these points are for.

Would the game really suffer without them?

BTW, I was expecting to hear that the points had an in-game use. That would be a reasonable need. Essentially all stats would be double rated. That said, however, there's usually a way to put both stats together into a single system.

So I can't even theorize a reason for the points.

Mike


Title: The Points aren't for Everyone
Post by: Le Joueur on November 12, 2002, 09:31:05 AM
Hello once again!

(I just had to pull this up to the top:)

Quote from: M. J. Young
I hope this helps.

Absolutely, every little bit helps.  I appreciate all the time and effort everyone spend discussing this with me.  It helps me get a handle on how different my perspective is and how to communicate it better.

You've posted a lot of really high quality information.  I'm going to attempt to break it apart by points, but I hope not to lose the overall message (check and make sure I don't).

Quote from: M. J. Young
It seems to me that character generation systems ultimately are limiters; they are designed to be limiters. In every case, they have the function of establishing the minimums and maximums for characteristics of a player character.

I guess that's the first assumption I've got to tear down.  Y'see, I don't see it that way.  To me a character generation system establishes your 'rights' to the narrative.  Without a character, you cannot affect the narrative in traditional role-playing games.  That's why death is a punishment; it eliminates your ability to play.

If your superhero doesn't take the flight power, they cannot do anything during 'flying scenes.'  I don't see flight as a limitation but as an empowerment.  You take something for your character and that's what they get to do.  I realize years of playing point-limiting systems breed the idea that the attributes of a character are what you're limited to, it took me a long time to unlearn that perspective, but I'm trying to write Scattershot so that 'what you take is what you get.'

Quote from: M. J. Young
  • Point-based systems, in the main, achieve the same outcome by limiting the total power that can be purchased for a character, and allowing the player to spread that power in whatever generalist or specialist manner desired. In most such games it pays to be a specialist, because there aren't enough points to be "good at everything" and being "above average at everything" doesn't play well. Thus the differences between characters arise from the choices made to prioritize one aspect over another, because prioritizing is essential. I have more than once played characters who were generalists, whose objective was to be at least competent at everything and then to get better at everything over time. There would always be the temptation to create the superb generalist, the jack-of-all-trades who could do everything, and do everything well, the character we only meet in fiction, such as The Great Leslie (in The Great Race). The limitation of points prevents this character from being created, and so prevents one player from dominating the game because his character can "do everything".[/list:u]
<side note>I love The Great Race</side>

Point cut-offs mechanically force specialization exactly as you describe, that's true.  But surely that isn't the only way to end up with specialization?  The point being missed here, I think, is that the Sine Qua Non Technique virtually demands specialization (as I've chosen to work 'concept first' into the game).  Saying that you must only list the things that define your Persona, only the things that the Persona fails to be who they are without, is the same as prioritization isn't it?  Imagine having to come up with a bullet point list of 'what makes the character' in plain English; next imagine someone (probably your 'internal gamemaster') asking you, point by point, if any of them can be dropped without 'damaging' the character conception.  That's how Sine Qua Non works.

You can even take a Sine Qua Non that clearly states your Persona is "good at everything."  In the advice I have offered gamemasters, I've been very clear (and this will make it into an Emergent Technique one of these days) about one thing regarding dealing with players and their characters; "give them enough rope."  If you take a Persona who is "good at everything," that's who they are; something like that doesn't remain a secret for long.  Consider Buckaroo Banzai; he was good at everything and in this case everyone is knocking at his door ("enough rope to hang themselves by.")

There are two things that would make the Great Leslie a playable character.  First of all he wasn't "good at everything," he was "excellent at anything."  This means, no matter what comes up, you know he'll be great at it.  You don't poor tons of points into the Persona Development of the Great Leslie, everything he is "excellent at" is bought along the way using the aggressive Persona Development Mechanix.  The second thing that makes him playable is that the Genre Expectation of The Great Race isn't about 'doing things,' its about getting into, and out of, incredulous situations.  Professor Fate is every bit as effective as the Great Leslie, except there is a Genre Expectation that all his activities end in hilarious misfortune (until that kicks in, he is quite effective).  [Given that The Great Race is a role-playing game for capturing the high jinks and flavour of the movie.  What I want to know is how you knew that it was one of the test formats for Scattershot?]

Quote from: M. J. Young
  • Ability pool systems are similar. If everything the characters need to know how to do is dropped into a pool and then divided among the players equitably, you again prevent anyone from dominating the game. If I understand it aright, Amber is something like this; certainly Fred Wolke's wonderful card-based system of character generation for that game is. You can't have something if someone else has it.[/list:u]
That's a really good way of 'protecting niches' (I'm told I'm not using that term correctly so please correct me if I've got it wrong).  Something like this is planned for the guidelines of the latter, group-centered, portion of initial Persona Development.  We intend it to go into detail about 'efficacy overlap,' but allow people to still take the Jack-of-All-Trades with the explicit provision that they must not perform any tasks belonging to the Sine Qua Non of another character except in the case that would cause the game to fail at its Genre Expectations otherwise.

Quote from: M. J. Young
  • Even modern "Narrativist" character creation games have these built-in limiters. A game will often say something like, "give your character five descriptors", and think that this has eliminated the limitations. What it has done is shifted the limits to those descriptors. I can now use those descriptors either as a generalist or as a specialist. If I use them for specialization, I'm going to be very good in a limited area; if I spread them out, I'm going to be adequate in more things.[/list:u]
That's a very competitive way of looking at comparative character creation in Narrativist games.  It seems to me that such a system would be ideal for efficacy unbalance; take the Great Leslie as an example.  His "excellent at anything" descriptor is going to pretty much overshadow anyone else's batch.  The reason this causes no problem is because, in a Narrativist game, it isn't important what a character can do; all that matters is what they're for.  If you take the "five descriptors" as limitations of what your character can do, then I believe you are missing the point with Narrativism (I can't say for sure, I never feel comfortable with my estimation of what that is).

Quote from: M. J. Young
  • At first blush, Multiverser would seem to have ignored all of these limiters. The rules start with the idea of creating yourself as a character, and thus the limitation for most characters is whether they adequately and accurately define the players. Thus if you declare yourself equal to an Olympic medalist as a swimmer, the referee might well challenge you to provide some sort of evidence that you're that good, whereas if you merely say that you've got professional training as a life guard and were a member of the swim team in college you'll probably get professional, but not expert, level in this. But then, the rules allow you to play the "not I" character as well. At this point, the player is imagining what he wants to be. If he takes a character from elsewhere, such as playing James Bond or Luke Skywalker or "My elf fighter magic user from the D&D game we use to play", the limitations carry over from there. But if he merely says, "this is my character idea," it could be absolutely anything, and there are no mechanical limits on that. Yet there is a subjective limit included: the player has to clear his character with the referee. Personally I can barely imagine a character I wouldn't approve; but then, I can always bring the level of the game up to match the level of the character.[/list:u]
So you relegate the mixture of the game's characters on the gamemaster's plate?  That works pretty good (but can require gamemasters of some skill at times).  Do you offer any advice or techniques on how to 'clear characters?'  What suggestions do you offer when two people want characters who are clearly of far different caliber?  I'm always curious how other games do that.

In Scattershot, because we felt it important to support the idea, and feeling, that the game is a shared experience/creation/toy, we decided to get more of this 'clear the character' process into the group effort.  Since everyone has a quick grasp of the character's impact on the game in terms of efficacy or 'plot weight' from the number of their Development Points, they may either adjust their expectations or negotiate.  That eliminates the 'oh I made the wrong character for this game' disappointment.

I know this is a highly unusual way of doing it, but I can't see any way doing this entirely with a point-based system or a text-based system so Scattershot uses both the Persona Development Points and the Sine Qua Non Technique in concert.  We feel this makes the game 'more approachable' to gamemasters and players who are not confident in their skills as might be necessary in Multiverser.

Quote from: M. J. Young
Now, it seems to me that you're really trying to do the sort of character creation Multiverser uses: create the idea, then convert it to stats directly. But you've got these points in the middle, the function of which seems to be to facilitate evaluating the relative power of the characters in the game. Yet clearly from your examples the points don't tell that. If I'm going to play the Dr. Zarkov character, I'm going to have a massive amount of skills in sciences and technologies. For the sake of completion, I'll probably have everything from astral navigation to glassmaking. It's going to cost a fortune to be complete--yet it's not going to make my character more potent or even more important than Flash Gordon, whose points are all in looks, strength, agility, and courage. The point system tells me how many points I spent; it doesn't really tell me anything about how strong a character I've created. That's too subjective.

(All point systems are subjective; some acknowledge that fact, others insist they are 'balanced.')

During initial Personal Development, points are shorthand.  They are acknowledged to be subjective.  The problem is the assumption that all skills have the same weight from Genre Expectation to Genre Expectation; that isn't the case.  In a Flash Gordon Genre Expectation, it is clear that the game will not turn on the use of a narrowly defined science skill, therefore you do not split them up into astral navigation, physics, sub-nuclear particle acceleration, and et cetera.  You simply take a 'sciences' skill (and, if desired, make a list that limits the range of sciences the skill is good for).

The points come up in three ways.  They are shorthand for character efficacy and 'narrative requirements' during initial Persona Development.  They are a mechanism to spending the reward units of the game in the aggressive Design-in-Play Persona Development Mechanix.  And finally, they afford a numerical basis for the effects of the resolution Mechanix (both when using abilities that 'grant skills' or when taking catastrophic injury - like gaining a disfigurement).

This spreads out where and when the points are used.  One thing I have never liked about most point-based systems is that once you've made your character, you're done with them, the points never come up in the game.  What a waste.

Quote from: M. J. Young
I've never used a point-based character creation system; I've used point-based character improvement systems. I'm not exactly looking for how your points limit characters or impact design decisions or influence play. I'm looking for why you have the points at all, as opposed to just going directly from character concept to character stats.

Well, since making a stat (or average skill or power or ability) higher than 10 costs simply a matter of as many points as it is over 10, this is a pretty thin membrane at character creation.

See, the problem is you've fallen into the trap of thinking that Development Points are only of use during character creation.  You keep trying to determine why they are necessary at all based on how necessary they are at character creation.  If that were all they were for, you'd be absolutely correct; they're useless.  But it isn't and you can't judge them on that criterion alone.  If you didn't use them for the aggressive Design-in-Play Development Mechanix, if you didn't use them for determining the results of certain situations of die resolution, then yes, they have no use.  However, if they did everything they do but Persona Development, you'd be asking why they weren't there too.

I think.

Quote from: M. J. Young
Perhaps this will help explain; let me suggest an alternative way to do it.

Each player takes a piece of paper and writes up a character concept. He includes the name of the character, any description he thinks important, and an idea of who the character is (your sine qua non) including what kinds of abilities he has without reference to system mechanics. Thus for Dr. Zarkov, "brilliant scientist whose theories put him a bit outside traditional scientific circles and thus forced him to develop skills in a vast array of technologies in order to continue his work building equipment to explore space". For Flash Gordon, "All-American football player in the handsome hero mold with plenty of physical prowess but not a lot of emphasis on education". Now once those papers are written, everyone passes his paper to the player on his left. That player reads over the paper and considers, if I had to translate this character into game terms, how would I do it? He converts the character to game stats, and gives it back to the player who wrote the concept. Obviously the Zarkov character will have a high intelligence and a lot of appropriate skills in the sciences and technologies, and the Gordon character will have high strength, agility, stamina, and maybe personal skills.

At no point in that did you need points. The points don't add anything to the effort that I can see. And this is my problem with the unlimited points system you're using: the points don't add anything. I have to decide how strong Flash is based on my concept of how strong Flash should be, whether I do that by saying, "Flash has a 17 strength, so that's 7 points" or just "Flash has a seventeen strength".

You are absolutely correct.  However, since it becomes an effort in futility to try and compose a list of technologies that Dr. Zarkov is good at, and make sure you capture everything that might come up in an over-the-top, serial, space opera game, how do you appreciate his skills without having him 'hog the limelight' by pulling play into scientific circles?  You can let the gamemaster 'figure it out' or you can create a set up where the occurrences of technologies Dr. Zarkov is able to 'use with impunity' is limited by the same resource that lets Flash 'save the day.'  We made those resources directly tied to the exact same mechanism used 'in the background' of character creation.

Another mistake you appear to make is assuming that everyone cares how many points go into a character; this is not always the case.  The strangest thing occurred when we began testing the 'give them as much as they want' Persona Development Mechanix.  They didn't know what to take.  "The points are 'too big,'" they said.  "What do we need to take?" they asked.  "Just take what fits your Sine Qua Non," we answered.  "What if that's too many?"  "We'll add it up later if it's important, don't worry about that now."

And you know what?  No one has ever 'gone nuts' with the points.  Only a few times have we added up the totals and compared them (and those were only the times that the players decided to match points).  You're really putting too much emphasis on what the points do or limit 'up front.'  It only takes seconds to total up the points a character is built with and it isn't necessary in every case.  The most frequent example is when the points are used to point out to a player where they have taken abilities implied that they didn't want.

So in other words, all you say is "Flash has a 17 Strength."  When someone else sees that, they can go, "That's superhuman, is Flash supposed to be superhuman?"  Or Dr. Zarkov's player can say, "hey, Flash has 19 points, but I have 37; is that okay?"  (And then someone can point out to him about the 'take Sciences instead and buy them as you need them' part.)  You could almost say that, during initial Persona Development, Development Points are optional, just another way of looking at the character.  There certainly isn't any complicated math to them (the resolution system has more math than the points do).

Quote from: M. J. Young
I find it difficult to imagine that you've included a point system which
  • doesn't limit either maximum or minimum character power
  • doesn't adequately measure character power and
  • doesn't impact game play[/list:u]
You've created a list of the common misconceptions about point-based game mechanics here.  Let me explain:
  • No point system (especially coupled with an improvement mechanic) ever truly limits a character.  A barbarian in the senate is not worth the points he's built with, nor is the senator in the jungle.  (Scattershot's points clue the group into the fact that the game will need to go both into the jungle and the senate in order for everyone to be properly validated.  If a player goes to the trouble to spend points on something, you know that's what they want to do; vis a vis the 'rights to the narrative' I was talking about.)
  • Per the barbarian and the senator, it should be obvious that no point system "adequately measures character power." The best I think they can do is indicate player interest.
  • As most character creation point systems are not used past character creation, they don't impact game play (except by front loading it).  (Scattershot does use them in play with both the aggressive Persona Development Mechanix and the application of extreme die resolution outcomes.)[/list:u]I'm beginning to believe you might be calling out problems on a technique of game design you don't care for, for no other reason than you don't like it.  Is this the case?

    Quote from: M. J. Young
    Thus I'm looking to find out what the points actually do, besides create the illusion of a limiting system. Now, maybe that's all they have to do; maybe if the players have to "spend points" on their character abilities it doesn't matter that the points are free and unlimited as long as the psychology of spending them impacts at some point. But for someone who has no concept of how many points are appropriate to spend, and for someone who really grasps that there are no consequences for "overspending", that's lost. You say a typical character runs about 25 points. How does the game respond to the character that comes in at two hundred fifty points? That might not be Gamist system breaking; that could very easily happen with a player trying to create a very strong generalist, or even a character who is very good in several fields.

    I just don't get where you have this idea that "there are no consequences for 'overspending.'"  The consequences are clear; the rest of the group will have clear-cut issues to point to when suggesting that your Persona "doesn't fit" the expectations of the game.  In a game with four 25-or-so characters, the player with a character of 250 points will have to explain both the detail and the efficacy as it relates to the Genre Expectations.

    Let's toss out my most prevalent example.  Lois and Clark: the New Adventures of Superman is about Superman and his cronies back at the Daily Bugle.  Since we are to assume that Clark and Lois are peers in reporting, the presence of Superman's powers completely blows the point apportionment out of the water.  (Unless you want to suggest that Lois' experience alone matches the points involved in being Superman, but then what about Jimmy Olsen?)  How did such an imbalance happen?

    Let me speculate.  (We'll assume the series is the game that resulted from a group Persona Development that occurs in a world with no Superman.)  The Genre Expectations chosen for the game is the basic (to four-color) comic book superhero set-up.  Now one player chooses to make a 'damsel in distress' character that's a reporter (not considering the height of powers potentially available, maybe expecting a Batman or Green Arrow type of hero).  Without knowing it, another makes a cub report/photographer for a similar role 'in distress' or maybe as 'a buddy.'   Finally, much to everyone's surprise, the other player makes Superman.

    So what do you do?  In a point-cut-off system, Superman has to 'dumb down' his character while Lois and Jimmy gotta hunt up more things to spend on; ultimately nobody gets to play who they wanted.  In Scattershot, the group notices that Lois and Jimmy are both newspaper oriented and discusses 'how neat' it would be to poke around in the traditional superhero world from the perspective of newspaper reporters.  The only change necessary is Superman's secret identity becomes a newspaper reporter as well (not a big stretch, I expect anyone who spends that much on powers probably doesn't think much of their secret identity).  Now the game is about superhero reporting (with the periodic 'throw the dog a bone' ending, using Superman's powers); everybody basically gets to play the character they wanted to.

    And yes, the points didn't mean much on an individual level.  They aren't supposed to.  Points are a tool, you don't use every tool in your box on every project do you?  The people who seem to care the most usually self-select as the Joueur Approach; the Techniques for that put points to the front and usually call for the players to come up with some point-level challenge limits (who can make the best character on 40 points?).  Scattershot can't be made to satisfy every Approach all the time; it is supposed to be available to all but the extremes though.

    Does that answer the question?

    Fang Langford


Title: Simple Question
Post by: Le Joueur on November 12, 2002, 10:49:21 AM
Hi Andrew,

Sounds like you've got a poser, let me see....

Quote from: Andrew Martin
I'm also curious about the points system in Scattershot. I've got players who would take all the points available to them and then some.

Simple question: "And do what with them?"  Will they be able to justify the expenditure in their Sine Qua Non?  (That's why we use both and an example of a different order 'to mix ingredients.')

Fang Langford


Title: Kind Praise
Post by: Le Joueur on November 12, 2002, 11:07:05 AM
Thanks Chris,

You may have put it into better terms than I have so far.  It's funny how many people seem to think I have Scattershot 'done' somewhere and am just thimbling out information (I dunno, for attention?).  The real state of affairs is that I've gone so far outside of traditional game design that I have a hard time expressing my thoughts so that they may be understood easily.  This is why I consider having a forum a huge boon to the work.  May I use your characterization of Scattershot if it comes up?

Quote from: Bankuei
Quote from: M. J. Young
Thus I'm looking to find out what the points actually do, besides create the illusion of a limiting system.

After checking deeper into Fang's reply, and his older threads, I see that points basically serve as "importance meters".  Sine Qua Non is effectively a mission statement; a statement about character concept, the points are seeing it in action, the fine print if you will.  [Exactly; rights to the narrative and all.]

I think the biggest unstated assumption that's going on here is that the social contract is in control and the group as a whole will find a balance for the use of points.  The assumption is that everyone is trying to play intelligently and is responsible and shouldn't require explicit rules to tell you not to design a superhero for a gritty game just as there are no explicit rules telling folks to be cool, not be assholes to one another, or not randomly stab each other with kitchen knives.  [I always felt that it said a lot about the state of the writing in the industry that there's this assumption that everyone will want to 'exploit the rules.'  I believe in good gamesmanship and write frequently of expecting it.]

Notice that most of the problems come up in games from that social contract problems, which have more to do with players and the GM not being on the same page about such things, or one player not fitting with the other players.  [And I don't plan on writing that part of social contract into any game system.]

Let's not forget that I wrote Genre Expectations into the Mechanix as an aid to 'get on the same page' for all involved.  Thanks a lot for the kind words Chris.

Fang Langford


Title: About Stat Ratings
Post by: Le Joueur on November 12, 2002, 11:28:39 AM
Mike and I have discussed this before (thanks for bringing it up Mike) and it's true; the costs for stats are pretty much a 'double' rating.  However, since 'powers construction' for Joueur Approach superhero gaming seats them comfortably (and with familiarity for the Joueur players), points stand well enough during 'very custom' Persona Development.

At one point we did actually test 'single rating' on the stats (and other ratings).  A Strength rating of 15 costs, well...15 and et cetera.  It fell flat.  The feedback was that the 'much higher' number of points to create a Persona eradicated the 'importance meter' effect of using 'fat points.'  Following that we considered using a 'zero centered' mechanic (where zero is average); the reaction to that was that it was too counter-intuitive (we have some very vociferous playtesters).  Which left us back at the original (with notes of 'why change what worked?').

To be honest, there isn't as much need to track ratings for stats as there is for Advantages, Disadvantages, skills, and powers.  In fact, the primary way of noting character 'importance' isn't by looking at the points, but looking at the number of things listed (we've even entertained the idea of doing away with stats entirely, so few people alter them; again deemed counter-intuitive).  The points only come up, as has been noted, by seeing the concentrations of them (and matching that to the Sine Qua Non).  "Sure he's got 12 skills, but he spent 10 points on these three!"

To be fair, I think that I should explain that the 'natural human' ranges of all ratings (stat or otherwise) is 8-14; in playtest, people quickly get used to 'sight reading' the points spent thus without a second notation.  If there were a way to not use points for a part of character creation (the stats) without it seeming counter-intuitive, we'd try it.  (Abandoning points altogether wouldn't work well for Joueur Approaches to combat where Telling Blows result in Disadvantages and the like.)

Fang Langford


Title: Responding to the Invitation
Post by: Mike Holmes on November 12, 2002, 12:04:16 PM
You are arguing in circles. It all comes down to the fact that you need them for the gamist play. Presumably because they are "power balancing" to make it all "fair", right? Or is there some other reason you can explain?

But the problem is that you've already pointed out how point systems fail to make power balanced characters.

So, why would we want it for The Gamist version if it doesn't work. And why would we want it for the other versions if it does nothing at all for them? It sounds like you are saying that people ignore them in those modes of play anyhow. Which, frankly, is what I'd do with them if I were to play. Just like I do with GURPS, Hero, etc.

MJ is right, you haven't demonstrated their usefulness beyond balancing, and they are of dubious use for balancing.

Note that I believe you can make a balanced point based system (some sort of balance anyhow). Just that this isn't it, and niether are many systems that exist. Also, there is a potentially different and interesting use for points which is in-game. Which you seem to have, poossibly, but won't let us in on. But as an example, In Hero System, the number of points in a power determine how hard it is to drain for example, or what size pool can contain that power. Very important in play. Not particularly well designed, as far as efficiency goes, but it works.

BTW, Fang, the reason people believe that Scattershot is a complete game that you are only thimbling out, is because that's how you present it. It's never, "Scattershot will have x, y, z when it's done". It's, "In Scattershot, this is how this works." It's hard to swallow that you know that any of it works when you don't apparently have an entire system. And if you've actually played it, and know it works, then where's the rest of the system?

Do you see the problem? It also makes commenting difficult. There is this feeling that it'll all make sense someday, once we see it all. But until then all we can do is wait. Are you interested in feedback and suggestions, Fang, or are you just here to design a game in front of everybody?

Mike


Title: Responding to the Invitation
Post by: M. J. Young on November 13, 2002, 01:50:55 AM
If I'm reading between the lines and picking up the hints correctly--well, let me quote myself, and comment:
Quote from: I
I find it difficult to imagine that you've included a point system which
  • doesn't limit either maximum or minimum character power
  • doesn't adequately measure character power and
  • doesn't impact game play[/list:u]
It would seem that you have not done this, exactly.

Although the points don't directly limit character power and don't adequately measure it, there is an implication that the points measure character power well enough that they give the group a handle on being able to determine whether limits ought to be imposed. That is, we could sit around for hours arguing about whether Superman is too powerful or Jimmy Olsen too weak to be in the same scenario, but if we can actually point to the number of points spent we have something tangible on which to base such an objection. In the words of Wallace & Davis, "It's not good, but it's a reason."

More significantly, there is this undercurrent that the point system plays some role after play has begun. This doesn't strike me as at all unreasonable. Star Frontiers did not use point-based character generation but a combination of randomizers, minor adjustments, and menu choices; but once the game began, points earned could be translated directly to improving characters, whether by increasing ability scores, buying new skills, or building skill ability levels in existing ones. I'm not saying that's what you have in mind; but there is something reasonable to a system that uses points to develop the characters initially because the points are going to continue to have meaning in play. There are scattered hints about this, including that the expenditure of points in an area creates the presumption that the game will include aspects which involve that area, that more points spent on something does something more than merely raise the value, that they are somehow connected to the damage system--all of which is interesting, and suggests that the function of point-based character generation is only fully understood when connected to the gameplay aspects.

If that's incorrect, I still don't get it. I think that the hesitancy of players to go overboard on character creation is mostly a psychological benefit derived from their experience with point-based systems and, as (I think) Andrew has said, I've got players who would run with this.

For my part, I have a tendency toward the strong generalist. They say we all ultimately play ourselves, and in some sense there is truth in that--we play characters which express facets of our personality, even when those facets are underplayed in life. I'm a generalist (I learn less and less about more and more until ultimately I will know nothing about everything); a disproportionate number of my characters are also generalists. I have no particular distaste for point based systems, but I think I would create a character with a lot of strengths in a lot of areas. I would defend that choice in that most of the people I've admired in life were generalists. My cousin, back in high school, was state champion wrestler in his weight class, all-state orchestra cellist, honor roll student, Eagle Scout (at thirteen, I believe), well liked by his peers, and never lost at Risk or Stratego; and I wished I was more like him. Cut me loose to play my fantasy character, and that character is going to be extraordinary even in a completely non-gamist environment. That's just me, of course; but there are a lot of people like me in this regard, I'd wager.

Quote from: Fang Langford, a.k.a. Le Joueur
So [in Multiverser] you relegate the mixture of the game's characters on the gamemaster's plate? That works pretty good (but can require gamemasters of some skill at times). Do you offer any advice or techniques on how to 'clear characters?' What suggestions do you offer when two people want characters who are clearly of far different caliber? I'm always curious how other games do that.

We do state that we wrote the game for experienced referees and experienced players; but also that we are convinced anyone can do it with the tools we provided. We also emphasize that it is more of a disadvantage than an advantage to play a "not I" character in most cases. There is within the I game framework the implicit assumption that at least initially your character knows what you know, recognizes what you recognize, understands what you understand. I have no problem with the idea that a twentieth century human can recognize and distinguish the principles behind a transporter, a magic lantern, a ghost, an alien life form, and a telepathic voice. Once you step outside yourself, you no longer have that presumption working for you, and we have to consider much more carefully whether your character, whoever or whatever he may be, has the same understanding as you. So we tell people that they should play themselves, and when they define themselves we ask them to provide some evidence for any abilities they claim that are well above normal. That is, if you tell me you've got an intellect that puts you in the top two percent, I'm going to ask why I should believe that--what tests have you taken, what awards have you won. If you tell me you're an expert in a field, I'm going to want to know what books or articles you've written and where they were published. As long as you're playing yourself, it's really relatively easy to get a version of yourself which is not a superhero, even if someone might quibble with a detail here or there.

But with the not I characters, the referee does have the final say. But no, we don't provide a lot of guidelines on this. As it turns out, neither absolute nor relative character power is terribly important in play. It will change the kind of experiences you have, but it won't minimize the experience. I've had a third grader join a game in which another player character had already developed to very near superhero abilities, and they played together perfectly well.

One reason is that there's nothing to earn. That applies to a lot of games, one way or another, but it is notable here. You never fight something because you're going to get experience for it. You fight it because you want to or you have to; there's no reward for winning besides winning.

But then, you must understand also that it is normative play in Multiverser for characters to be doing completely unrelated things simultaneously. This impacts situations significantly.

Let's suppose that I've got a guy who's a combat monster and another who's a practiced psionicist and a third who is an average high school kid. I I'm doing my job right, there will be challenges available for each of them that they can pursue. But if they're all in the same world, they may well decide to pursue the same things. (That doesn't always happen; I've often had it happen that player characters were in the same world and ignored each other entirely, each doing what appealed to him. But it happens often enough.) Probably the combat monster and the practiced psionicist are going to go after something they perceive as dangerous and rewarding. That could mean that they're going to go to the abandoned city and explore it, knowing full well that there are some very deadly creatures within. It could mean that they're going to try to steal batteries from broken down robotic battle machines in the north, along the edge of the strange mechanical warzone they don't understand. It could mean they're going to try to rescue a princess or something. Maybe they're going to start working on a project to attempt to build a kinetic pulse cannon, based on what they've learned elsewhere. Whatever it is, it's going to be dangerous for them. Now, if it's dangerous for them, it's going to be potentially deadly for the kid. What's going to happen? Well, maybe the kid will decide to do something else, and let them do what they want. That's fine; the game is designed to support those decisions. Maybe the kid will go along and the strong guys will try to protect him, making the story more interesting because of the threat to his life. And maybe he'll be killed--but that doesn't matter at all; if the kid is killed, he immediately finds himself in another world where he gets involved in another story, and since now he's on his own I don't have to have anything in that story that's challenging for his friends. Thus the disparity of ability is irrelevant. If you tackle something too difficult, you get knocked into another world and find something else to challenge you. If you stick with the easy things, they aren't terribly rewarding--remember, this isn't a game where you can rack up points by killing kobolds; the reward from fighting comes from having succeeded when you thought you would fail. "I've always wanted to fight a desperate battle against incredible odds," says Grig; if you're looking for something challenging, you'll find it. If you'd rather sit around and do something peaceful, the game will accommodate you (while accommodating everyone else). I've got a player right now who is having a great time trying to design steam power systems and hydrogen dirigibles in a world that's been knocked back to wind and water power, flirting with a bright NPC fifteen years his junior, and doing nothing more dangerous than a weekend camping trip into the Rockies. He's enjoying it. That's fine.

It is also inherent in the system that no one stays where they start. One of the first people to comment publicly about Multiverser from a base of having seen it said he wasn't so egotistical as to imagine he, as himself, could survive or be a hero. But the system makes it possible for you to learn and do anything at all, given the right circumstances. When I started playing, I was a thirty-something father of five in pretty poor shape who had never been athletic at all; but within a few months of game sessions my character was getting in better shape, remembering the tumbling I learned as a boy, practicing acrobatics and balance, and otherwise getting into extremely good shape, plus learning to do a few other things that would be the building blocks of a much stronger character. One of my sons started when I did, and inside of three months he was teaching psionics to Paul Atriedes. It doesn't matter who you are when you start, because if what you want is to become more powerful, you can become as powerful as you want.

And since most of the time you're on your own, it doesn't particularly matter if you're more powerful than everyone else at the table combined, because you'll be playing in scenarios in which that power is necessary to face the challenges. When you get together with them, who knows what wil happen? Perhaps they will all ask you to teach them what you've learned; or maybe they'll have things to teach you; or maybe if I'm really on top of my game there will be challenges you will have to meet because only you can do them, and other challenges they will have to meet while you're otherwise occupied.

I feel I should say two more things about this. One is that because of the use of bias, it's often the case that a player character is very powerful in one world and not terribly effective in the next. If you've become a great wizard, that's good as long as you're in worlds in which magic is easy; but you just might find yourself in a world in which magic is very difficult and everything is done by ultratech. At that point, your magic will still work to some degree, but you've got an entirely new set of challenges.

The other is that all this talk of how powerful a character is sounds very gamist. That's because it is generally gamist players who strive for more powerful characters. Not all players do. Some become extremely explorative, wandering around in the worlds they visit just to see what's happening, helping out where it seems appropriate, and staying out of trouble until something unavoidable sends them to another world. Some become much more involved in people and events, but never try to better themselves. When we speak of whether there needs to be limits on what a character can do or be, it is very much the gamist aspects of play that require these (not that they are never required by the others, but that for narrative and simulationist concerns it is more a matter of defining the way the thing should be than preventing it from becoming what it should not).

The I game concept brings in another limiting factor that we didn't recognize until we were involved in play testing. Because players are playing themselves, they always come to lines they have to consider crossing. That is, each of us has a self-concept beyond which we could no longer recognize our selves as our selves, possibly not as human. I found for myself that I could not push my character into "impossible" body skills; that is, I would not be able to adjust easily to having chameleon-like skin, or wings, or stretchable body parts. That would push me beyond the lines of what I perceive as "human", and I won't go there. People do; and I do a lot of things that some people won't do. I know players who cannot accept the idea that their character could or would learn psionic abilities, because they perceive these as being inhuman. Some won't use cybernetic prosthetics or enhancements (and I've got my limits here, as well). When your character concept is, "This is me, in some extraordinary situations", that aspect of it being you becomes a limiter on what you'll allow.

I've said a lot more about Multiverser than I have about Scattershot in this post; but I'll hope you excuse it on the basis that Scattershot seems to be after many of the same objectives as Multiverser, so understanding how we create characters may translate in some ways. I sometimes tell people that we don't have a character generation system; we have techniques for translating people, real or imaginary, into game characters. That strikes me as very like what you're after: I have this idea for a character, how can I translate him into game terms so I can play him? Because I do it directly, I don't understand the need for points; but as I say if those points actually have some function once play begins, there may be a reason for them which is not apparent from their place in character creation.

--M. J. Young


Title: I See the Light...Finally
Post by: Le Joueur on November 13, 2002, 09:37:52 AM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
BTW, Fang, the reason people believe that Scattershot is a complete game that you are only thimbling out, is because that's how you present it. It's never, "Scattershot will have x, y, z when it's done". It's, "In Scattershot, this is how this works." It's hard to swallow that you know that any of it works when you don't apparently have an entire system. And if you've actually played it, and know it works, then where's the rest of the system?

Do you see the problem? It also makes commenting difficult. There is this feeling that it'll all make sense someday, once we see it all. But until then all we can do is wait. Are you interested in feedback and suggestions, Fang, or are you just here to design a game in front of everybody?

<boink!>

Blink, blink.

And the clouds parted.  And the light shown down.

Y'know Mike, that is exactly what I needed to hear.  (I'm surprised it took me this long to hear it.)

You're absolutely right.  And I think I know why.  In my line of work, at least once a month they take us out and beat us with the 'be professional' stick.  There's indoctrination and the whole nine yards.  How does that impact here?  I overdo the professionalism.  I keep presenting things in an overly professional manner and keep wondering why people don't see how rough everything is in Scattershot.  I'm swimming in professionalism so I don't notice how it looks to other people.

Gosh, I wish I'd learned this sooner.

Well, I taught myself to say "I think" or "here's my idea" or "...is my opinion," this'll just be a matter of putting it "I want..." or "Scattershot could..." or "If I find a way..." into everything I post.  I'll make that my top priority.

I can't say how grateful I am for this pearl of wisdom, Mike.  (If you catch me slipping back into 'professionalism mode,' let me know.)
    As a side note (and to demonstrate how 'overly professional' I've gotten), I'd like to point out a couple of important contributions others have made to Scattershot.

    A while back someone heard what he thought was me talking about an instant
player rewards system in one of my posts (damn my eyes, but I can't find his name).  I thought so highly about the idea that I quite directly asked if I could steal it.  I talked it up for a while (again over-professionalizing it) and slowly came to understand what it could do for a game.  That amalgamated with the whole Genre Expectations idea (which, if you go back and read, it was a half formed, half-assed idea) and finally resulted in a decent and usable mechanic only very recently.  I'm still trying to work out if I can get it, as a whole, to support the Transition design goal by actually creating a number of Genre Expectations.  (By the way, it was Ron who identified that Transition was system facilitated Drift, my original concept was something not so elegant.)

And you, Mike, the whole opposed-only, unopposed-only, and mixed-bad, thread lead me to analyzing our die mechanic that turned up the fact that it was a covert opposed-only system and gave me a concrete basis to work numbers from (something that I did not have before and was just 'winging it').

I guess I should've been clearer that these kinds of things have been going on all along.  I frequently incorporate things into Scattershot that I've heard or learned on the Forge.  I'd say, by now, about 30% of the content is Forge inspired; what I have trouble with is noting that when I'm speaking (too long in the vat of professionalism).  Any suggestions?[/list:u]
Quote from: Mike Holmes
You are arguing in circles. It all comes down to the fact that you need them for the Gamist play. Presumably because they are "power balancing" to make it all "fair", right? Or is there some other reason you can explain?

But the problem is that you've already pointed out how point systems fail to make power balanced characters.

I suppose I deserve that crack.  It isn't too far off the mark.  With the Transitional goal, there is a need for Gamist-priority-play-facilitating Mechanix.  I'm working really hard on finding ways to 'make them at least useful' for other Approaches, but a lot of that is still somewhat nebulous.  (Too much professionalism here too, trying to make it look like 'I already got it.'  The only truth is 'I just know it can be done,' not how.)

I would like to point to one important 'missed space' in the logic of you remark that gives me hope I may find this someday.  "Fair" and "balanced" in this situation are not congruent; this is especially true when Scattershot's points don't do the 'fairness test' themselves, but aid in doing it as the group is comfortable with.

Quote from: Mike Holmes
So, why would we want it for The Gamist version if it doesn't work. And why would we want it for the other versions if it does nothing at all for them? It sounds like you are saying that people ignore them in those modes of play anyhow. Which, frankly, is what I'd do with them if I were to play. Just like I do with GURPS, Hero, etc.

MJ is right, you haven't demonstrated their usefulness beyond balancing, and they are of dubious use for balancing.

While it may be true that points are dubious at balancing by themselves, that has proven to be a functional practice in other games (I'm still trying to figure out why so bear with me).  I believe I can say that as far as Gamist 'balancing goes,' the whole catalog of Scattershot powers and such does balance as well as any extant system.  (Here's the full superpowers list (http://www.scattershotgames.com/ScatPows.doc) circa December 1999 as an example; it works as well as any other Gamist point-based system, I think.)  I wasn't so much saying that my 'Gamist balance' system doesn't work, so much as I was saying that none of them are perfect.

It is my hope that at some point I won't have to tell other Approaches to ignore the point-based Mechanix.

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Note that I believe you can make a balanced point based system (some sort of balance anyhow). Just that this isn't it, and neither are many systems that exist. Also, there is a potentially different and interesting use for points which is in-game. Which you seem to have, possibly, but won't let us in on. But as an example, In Hero System, the number of points in a power determine how hard it is to drain for example, or what size pool can contain that power. Very important in play. Not particularly well designed, as far as efficiency goes, but it works.

Then I believe we agree that 'it can be done?'  I haven't done it yet.  What we see in this thread is me struggling to 'do it' behind the scenes while practicing altogether too much professionalism.

Simply, yes at this point only the 'Gamist balancing' part of the point system is solid (and I think it works, I may have to start another thread to ask; provided I can figure out what the question is beyond 'does this work?').  What I want to add is I can sense (like you, I think) that there is value that can be generated using points for the other Approached, but right now I'm still struggling (and open to suggestions) about how to do that.

Sorry for all the confusion, I am going to change the way I post about Scattershot.

Fang Langford


Title: You're Right
Post by: Le Joueur on November 13, 2002, 11:20:59 AM
Quote from: M. J. Young
Although the points don't directly limit character power and don't adequately measure it, there is an implication that the points measure character power well enough that they give the group a handle on being able to determine whether limits ought to be imposed. That is, we could sit around for hours arguing about whether Superman is too powerful or Jimmy Olsen too weak to be in the same scenario, but if we can actually point to the number of points spent we have something tangible on which to base such an objection. In the words of Wallace & Davis, "It's not good, but it's a reason."

More significantly, there is this undercurrent that the point system plays some role after play has begun....

...There is something reasonable to a system that uses points to develop the characters initially because the points are going to continue to have meaning in play. There are scattered hints about this, including that the expenditure of points in an area creates the presumption that the game will include aspects which involve that area, that more points spent on something does something more than merely raise the value, that they are somehow connected to the damage system--all of which is interesting, and suggests that the function of point-based character generation is only fully understood when connected to the gameplay aspects.

If that's incorrect, I still don't get it. I think that the hesitancy of players to go overboard on character creation is mostly a psychological benefit derived from their experience with point-based systems and, as (I think) Andrew has said, I've got players who would run with this.

It's correct, but in my previous urge to seem all so professional-like, I was hiding a few underdeveloped parts.

For the most part, I think it would be poor gamesmanship to self-select as something other than the Joueur Approach to gaming (loosely related to Gamism) and then take such advantage of the 'limitless points.'  I haven't worked out all the details, but I'm pretty sure that such a character played in the other Approaches, Avatar-Swashbuckler-Auteur, would be of little extra value (like playing a min-maxed character in a Simulationist or Narrativist game).  Likewise that still leaves me wondering what such a theoretical player would say to justify these expenses in their Persona's Sine Qua Non (or how they'd justify it to the other players, vis a vis the 'Superman to Jimmy Olsen' problem) if it weren't for the purpose of playing in Joueur Approach.

Joueur Approach, I believe we've all but decided, will require the group create some scheme of cut-offs.  However, as Mike points out, that more-or-less says that the points aren't for all Approaches.  While I believe they can be made so, I haven't got any clear ideas yet.

Quote from: M. J. Young
For my part, I have a tendency toward the strong generalist.

The question is, do you prefer a more Joueur Approach (placing primary value on what you, through your Persona, can do) or Swashbuckler Approach (placing primary value on what you can do things to)?  In the former, a point-based system will probably require some sort of limitation because that kind of play tends to use the Mechanix as an 'I dominate the spotlight time' engine.  In the latter, I suspect the nebulous thoughts I've been having regarding a 'generalist' of 'jack of all trades' skill might be exactly what you are looking for.  (At the moment, my thinking is that these have been treated too vaguely in the past, but Scattershot's way of handling the 'scope' of a skill may give a way to moderate this; I haven't had any time to consider it, or its ramifications.)  What do you think?

And again, that doesn't do much to bolster the unsupported idea that I can make points valuable to you self-selected Approach to play.  I'm just 'thinking out loud.'

Quote from: M. J. Young
Quote from: Fang Langford, a.k.a. Le Joueur
So [in Multiverser] you relegate the mixture of the game's characters on the gamemaster's plate? That works pretty good (but can require gamemasters of some skill at times). Do you offer any advice or techniques on how to 'clear characters?' What suggestions do you offer when two people want characters who are clearly of far different caliber? I'm always curious how other games do that.

...But with the not I characters, the referee does have the final say. But no, we don't provide a lot of guidelines on this. As it turns out, neither absolute nor relative character power is terribly important in play. It will change the kind of experiences you have, but it won't minimize the experience....

One reason is that there's nothing to earn. That applies to a lot of games, one way or another, but it is notable here. You never fight something because you're going to get experience for it. You fight it because you want to or you have to; there's no reward for winning besides winning.

...It doesn't matter who you are when you start, because if what you want is to become more powerful, you can become as powerful as you want.

I've always felt this creates a problem (or at least a lot of work) with a 'displaced Gamist.'  A 'displaced Gamist' is someone who recurrently prioritizes Gamism in a group that mostly doesn't, the more polar opposed, the more problem.  Being able to "become as powerful as you want" chafes the other players in many ways.

On the other hand, I've found that 'left to their own devices,' a group of Gamists with open-ended power levels tends to set its own pace.  If the gamemaster can suss out that pace, the game keeps to it too.  We decided to not set that pace in the Mechanix (like so many games do), because that can interfere with the fun.  The strangest thing happens though; the pace is much slower after a game or two, much slower than I even expected.  Life is funny.

Quote from: M. J. Young
...The other [thing I should say about this] is that all this talk of how powerful a character is sounds very Gamist. That's because it is generally Gamist players who strive for more powerful characters.

That is typical to some forms of Joueur Approach (the effect the Persona, therefore the player, can have on the game is highlighted).

Quote from: M. J. Young
Not all players do. Some become extremely explorative, wandering around in the worlds they visit just to see what's happening, helping out where it seems appropriate, and staying out of trouble until something unavoidable sends them to another world.

This is typical to the bulk of Swashbuckler Approach (the contents of the game are highlighted).

Quote from: M. J. Young
Some become much more involved in people and events, but never try to better themselves.

And this is typical to a few forms of Auteur Approach (the overall aspect of the game, like important people and events taken together, is highlighted).

We've also identified players who highlight what goes on 'inside' their Personae as Avatar Approach.

Quote from: M. J. Young
When we speak of whether there needs to be limits on what a character can do or be, it is very much the Gamist aspects of play that require these (not that they are never required by the others, but that for Narrativist and Simulationist concerns it is more a matter of defining the way the thing should be than preventing it from becoming what it should not).

Exactly what this thread seems to be getting at.  (About the parenthetical remark: while I don't have as much done on this as I gave the impression of earlier, I think it can be done and am highly interested in finding a way to do it.)

Quote from: M. J. Young
I've said a lot more about Multiverser than I have about Scattershot in this post; but I'll hope you excuse it on the basis that Scattershot seems to be after many of the same objectives as Multiverser, so understanding how we create characters may translate in some ways.

Note: I did ask for this information.

Quote from: M. J. Young
I sometimes tell people that we don't have a character generation system; we have techniques for translating people, real or imaginary, into game characters. That strikes me as very like what you're after: I have this idea for a character, how can I translate him into game terms so I can play him? Because I do it directly, I don't understand the need for points; but as I say if those points actually have some function once play begins, there may be a reason for them which is not apparent from their place in character creation.

In part, that's exactly it.  I want the Sine Qua Non-to-points set up to work exactly like that.  However, I have, on occasion, done the reverse; I start toying with the eccentricities of a system's point mechanics and 'find' a character concept.  I also recognize that character creation is not limited even to those two methods.  That's why I keep up with the 'combine all ingredients, in any order' priority for the initial Persona Development Mechanix (and that means points could, technically, be last, as long as I create some reason to have them later in the game).
        (And I keep having to tell people that we don't have an initiative system for combat; we all have our crosses to bear.)[/list:u][/list:u][/list:u]All in all, you've done a wonderful job illustrating the direction I need to go with 'making points valuable to other Approaches,' I'm just sorry that I let my professionalism turn it into an argument that it didn't need to be (your 'what good are they' versus my professionalism-veiled 'I know I can make it work, eventually').  I'm going to change how I present things in the future.  (Thanks Mike!)

        Fang Langford


      Title: Re: You're Right
      Post by: M. J. Young on November 14, 2002, 09:25:16 PM
      Somewhere in all this there was a question; ah, yes, there it is.

      Quote from: Fang Langford, a.k.a. Le Joueur,
      The question is, do you prefer a more Joueur Approach (placing primary value on what you, through your Persona, can do) or Swashbuckler Approach (placing primary value on what you can do things to)?  In the former, a point-based system will probably require some sort of limitation because that kind of play tends to use the Mechanix as an 'I dominate the spotlight time' engine.  In the latter, I suspect the nebulous thoughts I've been having regarding a 'generalist' of 'jack of all trades' skill might be exactly what you are looking for.  (At the moment, my thinking is that these have been treated too vaguely in the past, but Scattershot's way of handling the 'scope' of a skill may give a way to moderate this; I haven't had any time to consider it, or its ramifications.)  What do you think?

      Not to duck your terminology, but to avoid confusion: I want my character to be able to respond intelligently and effectively to whatever happens in the game world. If the party medic is shot, I want someone to be able to save his life, and if I'm the only other one there, it has to be me. If someone has to fly the thing, and no one else can, I want to have a chance.

      Perhaps you can understand what I'm after if I explain why it's not a problem for me in Multiverser.

      I remember being in a Star Frontiers game in which we were all carrying these "first aid" kits which contained the medicine to save anyone. Because we came upon a battle between creatures we had hoped to contact and a group that had attacked us several times in the past, and immediately decided to join that fight. We split our six into two groups of three, including a medic with each. In the group which contained my character, two of us were temporarily delayed and the third, the medic, pursued the enemy--and was shot, what was certain to be a fatal wound. We rushed to his side, but he was unconscious and could neither take action nor instruct us. It was at that moment in play that we discovered that the first aid kits we carried were useless, because we did not have the medical skill to use them. O.K., that's a flaw in the system, a game system that had been simplified to the point that anyone who learned to stop arterial bleeding also had a chance to do brain surgery. But it drilled home to me the need for every character I built to have a chance to do anything.

      In Multiverser, any player character always has a chance to do anything. The skill acquisition system decrees that at any moment a character can attempt to teach himself to do whatever he needs to do. In that situation, my character having just discovered that he doesn't know how to administer the drugs he's carrying, a verser would say, "well, I've seen this done, and I've got the necessary background to understand that this injection has to find a vein to be useful, so right now I'm going to try to teach myself how to give this medicine." At that moment I have the chance to save the guy's life. I don't need any unspent points or anything like that. I don't need to argue that I studied something never before mentioned in play. Even if I've never seen it done, I have a chance to do it (a smaller chance, and for extremely difficult tasks which are way beyond my character's ability--such as a character just figuring out how flintlocks work trying to repair a time machine--possibly non-existent after modifiers). I can try to teach myself how to do something at any moment. Thus I am a lot less concerned with whether I know what I need to know.

      I find in most game systems, since you don't know what's around the next bend you have to be "ready for anything". I don't like my characters to be overly dependent on his companions; rather, I want to be able to do whatever needs to be done, and know that if I'm the only guy standing, or the only guy who can get to that place, or I'm cut off from everyone else, I can still have a chance of doing it. I'd like everyone else in the party to be generalists, too, but that's more reflected in my character's attitude that specialists, as important as they are, are not the best people to have around. If there are only two of us, I want the guy with me to be able to do everything, too, just in case it's up to him to save us.

      That's the sort of generalist I am in games. In life, I'm a generalist because I can't contain my interests. (Did you know that geckos can climb walls because they use weak force molecular bonding to become part of the surface for an instant? I find that fascinating. I find too many things fascinating; I can't learn enough about all of them.) I try to project that reason into a lot of my characters as their motivations, but my motivation for making them generalists is that they are more survivable.

      Quote from: Fang Langford, a.k.a. Le Joueur
      I've always felt this [aspect of allowing characters to become as powerful as they want] creates a problem (or at least a lot of work) with a 'displaced Gamist.'  A 'displaced Gamist' is someone who recurrently prioritizes Gamism in a group that mostly doesn't, the more polar opposed, the more problem.  Being able to "become as powerful as you want" chafes the other players in many ways.

      It's not a problem, that I've seen, largely because:
      1) when that player character is not in the same world as I am, what he does with his power doesn't much matter to me. It's more like channel surfing, in that regard--we'll watch some of his superhero show, some of my sci-fi, some of someone else's romantic comedy, all playing at once as we shift between them.
      2) if we're in the same world, I don't have to associate with him. I've seen situations in which some player characters are literally sitting around laughing at the posturing and bragging of the "superhero" type, which is fine with everyone, because it simply means that the superhero will go do something suitable to his wishes and everyone else will find something to do together that fits their interests.
      3) even if I decide to associate with him, I can usually incorporate him into something related to my interests. I'm particular remembering a rather humorous set of events in which the referee was running out of ideas for what to do with me in one world, and was trying to get me killed. He created an adversary of significant power, a monster really, and set me up to face it. I sidestepped the initial encounter by confusing the beast and walking away. Seeing that this wasn't going to work, he versed in another player character who was terribly powerful and dangerously wreckless--the sort of guy who takes on space ships single-handedly, but is likely to get himself killed in the explosion, who never supposes he might not be up to the challenge, whatever it is. Before the referee knew it, I'd managed to get the superhero to destroy the supervillain.

      There is a sense in which each player is in his own game which overlaps with the others; each is creating his own story, facing his own challenges, exploring his own worlds. Each decides to what degree he wants to do each of those things. When they come together, each becomes a character in everyone else's story, and everyone else becomes a character in his. It's always about the adventures of these seperate people, even when they come together.

      This sounds unworkable; yet it works. It actually works very realistically. Let's imagine for a moment that we were in a real isolated adventure situation; you and I were in a lifeboat, one of several that made it to shore following a marine accident. We start to explore our situation and discover that among our fellow survivors are Arnold Swartzennegger, Thomas Edison, Dick Rutan, and James Randi. Now, I can think of all kinds of things we could do in our situation for whom those people would be wonderful assets; but the fact is they aren't assets, they're people. If each of those were a player character, I would have no right to dictate what they would do, any more than I would in real life. My story is still going to happen, and so is yours, and so is each of theirs; and those stories will overlap and interact because we're in the same microcosmic world. But they are independent stories, and will only interact to the degree we want to work together.

      Of course, Multiverser has always dissociated game play from the "party" concept. We don't care whether the players work together or not--we just provide some situations in which it will be fun to do so, and others which are just as fun handled individually.

      I should comment that there is another limiter to power gaming which seems to be inherent in gamist play interacting with the system. It is much easier to improve to superhuman levels of ability by the very boring activities of practice, and Multiverser rewards long-term practice with gradual improvement. It is possible to improve a skill by a sudden inspirational "new use" during an adventure, but this proves actually slower than the practice aspect. This catches the powergamer in a sort of bind: as long as he's practicing, he's probably not really "out there" doing something. Thus there is a tendency to try to practice a bit while doing other things (which means very slow improvement), or to take short breaks to practice for a few months and then go back (which means spurts of improvement). The gamist wants to be more powerful, but he also wants to do things with his power, and so he has to limit his own rate of improvement to the degree that he wants to do things. This is counter-intuitive to most game design (which rewards doing things, and thus creates the odd notion that you get better only by adventure). It is possible for some types of adventure to be viewed as a sort of practice (and thus result in slow improvement) but this too is very slow.

      I think that answers the questions?

      --M. J. Young