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Author Topic: Character currency  (Read 13752 times)
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #15 on: July 03, 2001, 05:28:00 AM »

Hi Jack,

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

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

Best,
Ron
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #16 on: July 03, 2001, 06:11:00 AM »

Quote

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


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

It's like the currency exchange offices where you can turn your dollars in to pounds or yen or whatever.  And the little bonuses you can get out of this exchange (like the Champions example you've given) is like like the duty-free shop just on the boarder.
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Supplanter
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« Reply #17 on: July 06, 2001, 01:20:00 PM »

Quote
I have my own answer for the "Why" question, but I'm curious about what others make of it.

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


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

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

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

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

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

Best,


Jim
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Epoch
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« Reply #18 on: July 06, 2001, 03:16:00 PM »

I understand and agree that Resources and Effectiveness are different, and they're better used for different goals, but I don't see what, if anything, putting them into a theoretical framework provides us.  Game designers have been using character traits which are aptly described as resources and character traits which are aptly described as effectiveness for years, and I don't think they've been doing it ineffectively.

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

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

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

And, of course, I've got a proposed taxonomy of player ability on record.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #19 on: July 09, 2001, 06:26:00 AM »

Epoch,

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

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

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

Best,
Ron
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Epoch
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« Reply #20 on: July 09, 2001, 08:22:00 AM »

Well, you're probably right that we won't be able to debate it.  But, so that I can get more of a sense of what you're talking about, could you example something?  Then, if we just disagree about it, I'll drop the matter.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #21 on: July 12, 2001, 11:59:00 AM »

Finally got back to this thread.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best,
Ron
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Blake Hutchins
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« Reply #22 on: July 12, 2001, 04:16:00 PM »

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

Best,

Blake
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #23 on: July 13, 2001, 06:22:00 AM »

Hello,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best,
Ron
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Epoch
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« Reply #24 on: July 13, 2001, 10:28:00 AM »

Okay.

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

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

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

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

Anyhow, if you feel that this is simply a matter of differing perception, you may consider the matter dropped as of this point -- I don't expect a response to any of the points I've just raised unless you feel that there's a productive discussion to be gained from 'em.
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Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #25 on: July 13, 2001, 10:37:00 AM »

Speaking of Toon! -- someone (ie: someone reading this) should bust out a cartoon-inspired game that works and isn't just the same-old with funny animal pics.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #26 on: July 13, 2001, 02:33:00 PM »

Mike,

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

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

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

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

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

Best,
Ron
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Supplanter
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« Reply #27 on: July 14, 2001, 04:16:00 PM »

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


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

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

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

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

Best,


Jim
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #28 on: July 14, 2001, 05:40:00 PM »

Hi Jim,

Three points, in order.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best,
Ron

P.S. I spent some time lurking on the Everway mailing list, when I was playing the game quite a lot. Man! That was some weird shit. Next Generation gone horribly wrong. I think you characterized it perfectly.
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Supplanter
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« Reply #29 on: July 15, 2001, 07:26:00 AM »

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


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

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

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

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

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

When setting up Amberway II (and http://www.highclearing.com/amberway2">here's that URL again!) I discovered early on that I had underpriced shapeshifting. Fully half the initial character proposals I got were for shapeshifting characters. Whether shapeshifting was underpriced from an absolute effectiveness standpoint was impossible to say without playtesting. But from an economic perspective it was clearly underpriced: I didn't want to be overrun with the mutable little bastards. I did a quick re-price (adding the 1-point Shapeshifting Patron requirement) and the number of official shapeshifting PC proposals dropped in half. Now one fourth of the PCs would be shapeshifters instead of almost 50% of them, with the players themselves deciding which way to go based on how much it was worth to them.

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

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

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

Best,


Jim


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