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Author Topic: D/F/K and the Unknown Factor  (Read 3331 times)
Zak Arntson
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Posts: 839


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« on: January 14, 2002, 11:23:47 PM »

I've been thinking about mechanics for some time now. I'm trying to come up with a good vocabulary for working out systems in games. This applies only to rpgs with an Unknown Factor built in (which includes most RPGs).

So, here's my thought: An RPG can be made or broken by it's mechanic; a System must not only support the rest of the game, but also provide involvement for the Players. This involvement (often emotional) in gaming is often done by introducing an Unknown Factor.

This does not have to be a way to resolve conflicts. A perfectly viable rpg could have no uncertainty in conflicts, and relationships are where the Unknown Factor is placed. In fact, where the Unknown Factor is placed should be part of the foundation for the entire Game (along with Premise).

So the first step with a the mechanic is just that: Unknown results. I've toyed with the various branching and splitting, but I can't seem to come up with a theory-to-end-them-all. So instead of waiting until lightning strikes, I'm posting my thoughts for discussion.

- Player-Independent Variable. The easiest to imagine is the roll of a die (any randomizer will do). A simple case: 50% of the time you get one Result, 50% of the time, another. Or maybe you roll a 5 or higher on a d6 for the Unknown Factor. You sacrifice Player-involvement for predictability. I wouldn't recommend this for many games.

- Player-Influenced Variable. A simple randomizer influenced by the Player. Say, adding more dice, or adding points to a roll. Players can feel they have some influence in the outcome. There are many variations within this one (bonuses to a roll, dice pools, differing the number of colored stones in a bag, etc.). This is the most common in rpgs, and could probably stand to be split up into further categories. The unfortunate fact is that many games are designed with this (stat (skill/trait/etc) + roll) mechanic without even considering other options.

- Player-Determined Variable. The best example here is a bidding system. In this case, the Players know exactly what their influence is, since they create the variable. The Unknown Factor here is the other Players' influence.

- Player-Ignorance. Not all Players know the outcome of the conflict beforehand. In most cases a GM knows, but you could make a game where everyone is ignorant! The only thing that provides the Unknown Factor is a Player's ignorance. This becomes a Karma mechanic as soon as the ignorance is gone. If I have a Fire 5 and I face a whelp with a Fire 3, I know I'll win and there's no Unknown Factor. If I have a Fire 5 and I face a golem with a Fire unknown to me; there's the tension!

That's all the methods I can come up with for now.

And after the theory, there's application: Once we develop a good sense of System, how do we create a System for our Game?  But that's more Game Design. Should that be discussed here or in another topic?
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Bankuei
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« Reply #1 on: January 15, 2002, 07:53:48 AM »

Before hearing of Drama/Fortune/Karma, I always summed up game systems in terms of Strategy/Luck(effectively Karma/Fortune).  

If we take the idea of the unknown factor, it breaks down to this: Karma-Unknown can be, but doesn't have to be, what the opposing factor has. Fortune-Unknown is the results.  Drama-Unknown is the actions of the other players(how the story will turn out).

As far as mechanics go, my favorite games, cards and dominoes hold three important aspects which I've seen applied to rpgs at various time:  Fortune(you don't know what you'll draw next), Karma(high levels of strategy), and of course, you don't know what anyone else has or will play.

Different styles encourage different types of games.  Playing a game that is strictly strategy or Karma, such as Chess, encourages strategic thinking.  Playing Poker, also encourages a form of strategic thinking, but has a strong Fortune factor as well.  Playing War is pure fortune, so it doesn't encourage any play difference, since its outside of player control.
Playing rock paper scissors is completely random, since there isn't a winning strategy, but it certainly creates a great illusion.

Understanding what you're trying to encourage, more strategy, more unknown results, bluffing, tactics, etc. is the first step in resolution design.  Amber is all about getting the edge and bluffing where you cannot.  It encourages the devious maneuvering for power.  As Ron said in his Sorcerer thread, his mechanics encourage the edginess of knowing there's no such thing as a sure win.

Do you think of "winning" strategies or style of game play first?  Or do you look at simulating a style of play?

Chris
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Garbanzo
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Posts: 108


« Reply #2 on: January 15, 2002, 10:59:57 AM »

Gratuitous sidebar:

It is a common misconception that rock, paper, scissors has no strategy.  People who believe this are the sort that think that wrestling is fake.*  However, the World RPS Society presents a stragegy guide at www.worldrps.com which details a variety of gambits such as:

Crecendo (paper, scissors, rock)
Avalance (rock, rock, rock)
Fistfull of Dollars (fist, paper, paper)
etc.

Just doing my best to clear away Dangerous Myths.

-Matt


*There's a difference, of course.  Wrestling is fake.
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Epoch
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Posts: 201


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« Reply #3 on: January 15, 2002, 11:23:57 AM »

Quote from: Garbanzo

Gratuitous sidebar:

It is a common misconception that rock, paper, scissors has no strategy.  People who believe this are the sort that think that wrestling is fake.*  However, the World RPS Society presents a stragegy guide at www.worldrps.com which details a variety of gambits such as:

Crecendo (paper, scissors, rock)
Avalance (rock, rock, rock)
Fistfull of Dollars (fist, paper, paper)
etc.


Seriously, there is strategy to RPS.  Try throwing the element which would lose to the last winner -- most people try (somewhat unconsciously) to throw the element that would beat the last winner, so this strategy does pretty well for me.

Also, a sizable fraction of people throw a consistent first element.  If you've observed them in the past, you can often guarantee winning your first hand.

That's why RPS is such a piss-poor fortune mechanic.
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Zak Arntson
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Posts: 839


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« Reply #4 on: January 15, 2002, 02:24:12 PM »

Quote from: Bankuei

Do you think of "winning" strategies or style of game play first?  Or do you look at simulating a style of play?


I would place winning strategy inside the list of styles of game play. A winning strategy implies a contest of some sort. Not all mechanics resolve a contest.

We'll see how I design my own games differently with this new (for me) theory on System. I've looked back at some of my previous games ...

Sitcom - core mechanic: You roll dice and pick the highest, consulting a chart (higher does not equal better). You gain and lose dice as the game progresses, independent of strategy. I would consider this a Player-Independent mechanic. This allows for heavy designer control over the situation, which when copying a 30-minutes Sitcom format, I like.

Adventures in Space!! - core mechanic: You roll as many dice as you have advantages (Style +1 die, Bravado +1 die, etc) and pick highest roll, higher = better. This is Player-Influenced. It encourages the Player to apply their advantages, thus creating a more heroic story (by explicity stating that adherence to genre convention = bonus dice). The additional Words of Science is Player-Independent, which is fine because there is no loss or gain from rolling one Word instead of another.

<HR>

Now, I've got a new game in mind which uses a d20. The tens digit is the "Favor" and the ones is the "Rank." Only the Player rolls, the result resolving conflict.  Player always narrates. Favor of 0 means narrate in Opponent's favor. Favor of 1 means narrate in Player's favor.  Rank will be where degrees of success and difficulty comes in. (note: rolls of 10 and 20 are apeshit trumps and break the standard rule).

Looking at this with the Unknown Factor, the Favor is completely Player-Independent. 45% Opponent's Favored, 45% Player's Favored, 10% Apeshit Trump.

The Rank is going to be Player-Influenced.

Now that I've got this neat mechanic, I can think about how I can tie Premise into it. My initial thought is a goofy fantasy, "The Other d20." Player-Independent causes lots of uncertainty, which means the Premise should involve the whims of Fate. I'm still not sure how the Player-Influenced seciton will work. Maybe working on the Premise will help me hammer it out!
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