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Author Topic: Having too much source material too full of rules  (Read 10542 times)
Christoffer Lernö
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Posts: 822


« on: October 14, 2002, 02:20:44 AM »

I checked out Peregrin's Wayfarer's Song yesterday. He has some really nice stuff in there. However, as I was going though the material I felt more and intimidated by it as the rules seemed to pile up.

But it wasn't the mechanics that actually were piling up. The mechanics seemed good and simple enough. What was piling up were the magic effects and their rules.

I bring it up because it's not just a problem here, but for me building Ygg as well, and I think for any game where the source material for the things your character can do (I'm not talking about setting) reaches a certain level.

I think we can say the typical example would be a skill list. The skill resolution might be harmless enough, but if we go for completeness we end up with maybe 30 pages of decriptions of thing people actually already know about or could make up themselves. The solution to this particular problem can be said to have one of it's simplest solutions in free descriptors.

However, this is only the most obvious area, the problem of wayfarer's song (and maybe of Ygg too) lies elsewhere in a place much harder to reduce in this manner: the magic system.

Unlike skills where you can say "Ok, I'm good at jumping" and everyone knows pretty much what you mean, magic powers is a difficulty because we have no reference. In addition they are tied to the setting in what might be non obvious ways. Is it any strange that magic system tend to be the most complex parts of a system?

So anyway, what happens? Well usually we think of effects, codify them in some manner (lists or components) and off we go.

But what if we have 2 magic systems? Well usually we think of effects and so on twice and make two different systems.

What if we have 3? What if we have 10? Wayfarer's song has several, so in an attempt to cover them all some corners are cut in characterisation I suppose, and some common ground between them are established. But the fact still remains that you have many different unique mechanics.

Is it a wonder that many games don't fully explain their magic until you buy their sourcebook on the subject (hello Shadowrun)?


Writing my horror game The Evil (or actually editing it) I gut struck by how I could do about a million different versions of magic and monsters and summoning and it was all contained in those 6 (now 7) pages.

If you check the game the answer why is obvious: there is no magic nor monsters the GM doesn't come up with and effects of it is simply decided on by the GM, never formalized.

Kinda obvious right? Everything in that game was simply "told" in the style of Donjon or something, but without any contested right. The GM decided it all.

Now let me go back to Wayfarer's Song. In the first book you have this listing of animals and their abilities because they are partly sentient. Here's a quote

Quote from: Wayfarer's Song Book 1 - Setting
Foxes
Foxes, though clever, tricky and cunning, seldom learn much of a talent for words. They are more capable of repeating things they have heard, or speaking in riddles than saying anything of any real sense, and no fox anywhere worth his salt, ever gave anyone a straight answer.
One of the chief reasons for trying to make sense of a fox is their capacity for rumour, and their love of enchantment. They often go wandering in elvish realms and a part of that elvish magic has worked into the fox's blood, making the whole race seem mysterious, and on the border of the limits of mortal knowledge.


It's excellent isn't it? Now do you need any rules to support the above stuff? Do I need to know what range of intelligence foxes have? Or how high their magic ability is? Or what spells they have even?

Heck no!

Compare the above to this part taken from the rules:
Quote
Lay of the Unelfed

I know a tenth, if I see hag-riders
Stream across the sky.
I can cause them to wander,
Away from their proper forms,
Away from their proper minds.

Allows you to try and swamp a spirit with magical energy and disrupt its physical form. For a spirit of least enchantment test your willpower at –1. Lesser: -2. Greater: -3. Grander –4. High –5. If you pass the spirit dissipates, temporarily turning into a phantom entity unable to do you harm, or be harmed for an hour.


Isn't the sudden intrusion of numbers very jarring?

I'm reminded about something Walt wrote in an old ygg thread:
Quote from: wfreitag
For example, the system could give free-form attributes to parts of the setting ("The Old Forest is Semi- Sentient, Pathless, and Energy-Sapping") and rules exceptions occurring there would each have to tie into an attribute, perhaps with a die pool roll to determine a cost for the exception, paid for out of a limited currency whose starting value would represent the overall "wonderfulness" of that place


The attributes here, given to the description of the Old Forest, they could be pluggable into the system couldn't it? Let's remind ourselves of Hero Wars which has the "write 100 words" to make a character which is in the same vein but of course that is applied to the nowadays "solved" problem of skills.

So what am I suggesting really? Well that the same approach could be made to construct an entire magic system. Instead of having a ruleset explaining how the magic works, you'd have text explaining how the magic works in the world. And instead of having spell effects listed, you'd have an explanation how it would appear devoid of actual numbers.

Now if you'd have approached me with this idea I would have said: Oooh. Bad idea. That's because most source material which doesn't have explicit rules tend to be rambling excuses for the designers to try out their writing skills.

BUT what if it was actually made to be rule material, and what if we made some rules on how to interpret rule material without numbers? If we look at "Pathless" in the "Old Forest" description, I think most of us already have a pretty good idea of how it works right? Same with Semi-sentient and Energy-sapping. Of course we could code HOW energy sapping it is, but then we go into rule creating hell again.

I don't really want to present a system here, I need to think more before I do that. But some observations beyond what I already outlined above would be:

* Use FUDGE like levels to differentiate between different powers. For example "Energy-sapping" might be nice and all, but we might want to compare it to a spell which is "Energy-sapping" or some similar description. How do we do it without saying it's "Energy-sapping level 1" (which would make us think of creating descriptions for what energy-sapping level 1 means and how it compares to level 2)? Well saying that one thing is Slowly Energy-sapping and the other is just Energy-sapping we get a good feel of the approximate magnitude, don't we? There is no need to really get in to how much slower "Slowly" means, because that's up to the story.

* We need to realize that what we have here are descriptions, even of magic that we could bend according to the needs of the story. Maybe in one story Energy-sapping needs to be "this way" and in another story or campaign you want to do it a little different. Without the mechanics butting in that is a breeze. Notice how it also corresponds to the way books are written... new interpretations of powers appear as they need to for the story, they're not something predetermined and then bound to by contract for the rest of one's life.

* Despite all of this, these effects have to feel well determined, so that the GM and players still have a solid direction. "What can be done?" should be answered, it's just that the answers are not particular bonuses but a range of abilities. Notice how for example "Pathless" can be translated into many different ways in a system. Maybe penalties to orientation rolls. Or the environment actually changes. Or the characters might be teleported. What we are doing is simply focusing on the outcome and feeling rather than mechanics.

Finally one thing. All games are already doing this (yes you read me right). By having rules written and explained we already use words to communicate how they work. The level of abstraction varies though. For example a game might describe the effect of me falling over, but there are no combat result or skill result which would require me to use this effect. So if we only communicate using the mechanics there are actually mechanics we cannot reach unless we bridge it by "fudging the rules" or thinking about "what happens" rather than only clinging to what the rules explicitly say.

In a spell description you might have a description of how a ball of fire explodes, but it says nothing about using it to destroy inanimate things say blowing open a blocked cave entrance. If it can or cannot has to be interpreted from its description in the end.

It's already here - everywhere. Even in gamist and sim games.
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damion
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« Reply #1 on: October 14, 2002, 06:26:57 AM »

Good point, although I'm not sure what you'd do about it.  
You seem to be suggesting a system to basicly create the needed rules out of descriptions as needed.
The problem here is the GM has to create the rules from descritions on demand, as players may want to know about something,  because the actualy rules are what they use to relate to the world.  To take your forest example: If players are considering going there they would like to know if 'Energy Sapping' means there is a penalty to all actions, or their characthers will just feel depressed while there(penalty to resist fear).  In charachter this translates into knowing the place weakens you by draining your soul(case A) or is just forboding.  Obviously this is more of a problem in sim or gamist games.
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James
Christoffer Lernö
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Posts: 822


« Reply #2 on: October 14, 2002, 06:41:55 AM »

Quote from: damion
The problem here is the GM has to create the rules from descritions on demand, as players may want to know about something, because the actualy rules are what they use to relate to the world.

If I understand you right James, this is your main complaint about it?
Well, I go back to my horror RPG which is totally unashamed about being an illusionist game. In that game, it doesn't matter what's written down, all that ever matters is the GM's own judgement.
In most games, the situation isn't as obvious, but there is a whole lot of interpretations going on even in more mechanic controlled game. They take the form of house-rules, GM modifications to the setting as well as group-specific rule interpretations. So in a sense there is already an interpreting process going on.

How's that relevant you might ask? Well I mean there is already an process of "GM creating rules" in happening in most games.
Your objection I think is that this will not create consistent data, but within the same parameter's, that is the same gaming group and same GM it would be the same as establishing a game world and interpretations of more mechanically defined rules. It means that the GM has more leeway in using abilities but I see that as an asset rather than a difficulty.

As for the situation of "players want to know about the world", when would that be? Their own powers will be defined by themselves together with the GM, that is through consensus. If we are playing an illusionist game there is not really anything the players need to know about the world except what is given to them through their adventures. They don't need to know that "Energy-sapping" means "being tired" rather than "being sad" because this keyword is only a GM help to describe what happens when they enter the forest. Just because the GM is free to interpret will not mean it will be inconsistent. Hopefully anyway.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #3 on: October 14, 2002, 09:05:11 AM »

Lot's of magic systems work like this already. To different extents. See games like Ars Magica (Imporv magic), Hero Wars, Story Engine, etc.

Even magic in Hero System kinda works this way. Let's look at that system. I decide that I need to have a spell that looks like this:

Quote
Deathlight: A magical seal in the form of an eye appears in the palm of the mage. From this seal a fascinating light radiates which draws attention. Any person looking at it will stand hypnotised. If not pushed away they will remain standing there looking into the light until their mind is permanently destroyed.


What I do is determine what "powers" are behind this spell. In this case, Mind Control, and Transform. I consider how powerful I think that the spell is, and from the description I decide to go big. Let's call it a 15d6 Mind Control attack (should be able to get anyone who's not superhuman to stand still while bad things are happening around them), linked to a 1d6 Transform (defined as Being into Mindless Being). The Transform should be cumulative (or perhaps gradual effect of a larger Transform if it takes a realy long time). Anyhow, the spell obviously has the advantage Constant, and area effect (Cone? Sphere?), limitation Gestures (-1/2, constant). Probably some other things as well, but I'm not going to get too technical. Call it about 225 Active Points, and quite a bit of Real Points (probably more limitations than I'm aware of, however).

Anyway, with what I have here, I can tell you exactly how to adjudicate the spell in one of the more complex combat Sim RPGs out there.

Now, you may not want this much complexity. But it shows how this sort of thing worksin such a system. You take the description, and determine the effect from it. I can make any spell, and any type of magic you can imagine using Hero System. For how this works in a different style system, in Hero Wars, the chracter would get this spell as part of his religion, or as part of a grimoire for certain types of magic users. In any case, it would end up just being covered by one number. Might be Deathlight 19, or something. In any case, that number and the description is all I need in Hero Wars (in addition to the rest of the stats, of course) to mechanically resolve the use of such a spell.

In Story Engine, I'd just use my Death Magic 2 trait, or something. All works just fine. You have the description, and from that you determine the mechanics. Simple.

Mike
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Demonspahn
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« Reply #4 on: October 14, 2002, 01:00:19 PM »

What sort of feel are you going for with magic in your game?  I mean do you envision ancient wizards poring over spellbooks?  If so, these comments might not apply.  

What if magic was fairly random, all based on a roll, with the GM deciding the actual effect, higher the better?  Let's use d6 for the example.  

A spell user casts a "polymorph" spell to transform someone into a lizard.  The caster rolls 1d6

1.  The target develops a lisp.
2.  As #1, and the target's skin turns green, eyes become slitted.
3.  As #2, and the target is covered with scales
4.  As #3, and the target shrinks to 1/2 his size.
5.  As #4 but the target becomes a lizard, but retains human int.
6.  As #5, and the target eventually begins to think like a lizard.


Novice spellcasters get no bonus to the roll.  Experienced spellcasters might be able to add a +1 to the roll.  Veteran spellcasters a +2.  Ancient wizards a +3.

A more random system like this would allow you to define the base spell using description alone.  The effects would be decided by the GM based off the roll + modifiers, a 5 being a complete success, a 6 (or higher)  being an exceptional success.  
 
In play this means that a beginning PC mage and an NPC arch mage both have a chance to get the maximum effect out of a spell.   In order to level the playing field, you might want to limit certain spells by caster experience.   Say, only veteran spellcasters have access to certain spells, ancient ones access to more, etc.  

This might not be what you had in mind, though.  It might be too random.  

Pete
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Andrew Martin
Member

Posts: 785


« Reply #5 on: October 14, 2002, 01:55:16 PM »

Quote from: Pale Fire
...what if it was actually made to be rule material, and what if we made some rules on how to interpret rule material without numbers?

If we look at "Pathless" in the "Old Forest" description, I think most of us already have a pretty good idea of how it works right? Same with Semi-sentient and Energy-sapping. Of course we could code HOW energy sapping it is, but then we go into rule creating hell again.

I don't really want to present a system here, I need to think more before I do that. But some observations beyond what I already outlined above would be:

* Use FUDGE like levels to differentiate between different powers. For example "Energy-sapping" might be nice and all, but we might want to compare it to a spell which is "Energy-sapping" or some similar description. How do we do it without saying it's "Energy-sapping level 1" (which would make us think of creating descriptions for what energy-sapping level 1 means and how it compares to level 2)? Well saying that one thing is Slowly Energy-sapping and the other is just Energy-sapping we get a good feel of the approximate magnitude, don't we? There is no need to really get in to how much slower "Slowly" means, because that's up to the story.

* We need to realize that what we have here are descriptions, even of magic that we could bend according to the needs of the story. Maybe in one story Energy-sapping needs to be "this way" and in another story or campaign you want to do it a little different. Without the mechanics butting in that is a breeze. Notice how it also corresponds to the way books are written... new interpretations of powers appear as they need to for the story, they're not something predetermined and then bound to by contract for the rest of one's life.

* Despite all of this, these effects have to feel well determined, so that the GM and players still have a solid direction. "What can be done?" should be answered, it's just that the answers are not particular bonuses but a range of abilities. Notice how for example "Pathless" can be translated into many different ways in a system. Maybe penalties to orientation rolls. Or the environment actually changes. Or the characters might be teleported. What we are doing is simply focusing on the outcome and feeling rather than mechanics.

Finally one thing. All games are already doing this (yes you read me right). By having rules written and explained we already use words to communicate how they work. The level of abstraction varies though. For example a game might describe the effect of me falling over, but there are no combat result or skill result which would require me to use this effect. So if we only communicate using the mechanics there are actually mechanics we cannot reach unless we bridge it by "fudging the rules" or thinking about "what happens" rather than only clinging to what the rules explicitly say.

In a spell description you might have a description of how a ball of fire explodes, but it says nothing about using it to destroy inanimate things say blowing open a blocked cave entrance. If it can or cannot has to be interpreted from its description in the end.

It's already here - everywhere. Even in gamist and sim games.


That's what I've been working towards with my Accord system, which was inspired by Sergio's The Travels of Mendes Pinto (on RPG.net). I think it could allow the production of RPGs based solely on written description, and be able to use historical or fictional sources directly in the game.
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Andrew Martin
Christoffer Lernö
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Posts: 822


« Reply #6 on: October 14, 2002, 04:56:42 PM »

Let's take it from the top...
I have only looked at Ars Magica, and if I remember right it used a combination of power words. I don't know how Hero Wars' magic works so I can't say anything abou that, nor have I played Story Engine.

However you bring up Hero, so I think I understand what you try to say Mike. Basically it's "you have a text then you translate it into mechanics and use it"

This is actually not what I am suggesting. What I am suggesting is having text which is used directly, no interfacing it into the mechanics needed.

Let's look at the "Pathless" thing again. In the envisioned system there is no ability or spell called "Pathless". Let's say now someone writes down the keyword "Pathless". It's not defined yet, not until it's invoked by the GM with a good explanation of how that would be the effect.
If you go with the Hero system you translate it into effects and modifiers after which the keyword is "frozen" as an ability.
But the "pathless" I'm suggesting is never defined within the mechanics with bonuses or the like.

Maybe an example would be better: Entering the pathless forest, the GM might rule that they can't find any paths, regardless of how they mark their way those markings mysteriously disappear.
Another way could let people keep markings, but the forest is confusing you, so if you don't pay attention you will keep wandering back and around.
Yet another way would be that the trees themselves move so that paths appear and disappear.

All those are possible for the forest. In fact combinations are ok. The GM is only limited in the word itself. The GM can't use this power to create monsters or kill characters (other than out of starvation). The limits are clear, but the specific implementation is open.

On the HW homepage there is a sample of the first 3 chapters of the book. In an example a character has the "Sack of Black Winds, in which the Four Collapsing Words have been trapped since the War of the Straw Giants". At game start it's not clear what this is. Later this happens:

Quote
Rick's character description includes the sentence, "Kallai owns the Sack of Black Winds, in which the Four Collapsing Words have been trapped since the War of the Straw Giants."

Rick has no idea what the Sack of Black Winds or the Four Collapsing Words do, nor does he know anything about the War of the Straw Giants; he's just using them because they sound cool.

Kathy, his narrator, approves the character, and play begins. Kallai and the other characters have gone on a heroquest, traveling back into the Storm Age to the scene of a great siege. Rick suggests to Kathy that the Four Collapsing Words are used to bring walls down, and that, if released from the Sack, they might bring down the battlements of the fortress they are besieging. Kathy agrees that this is entertaining, and a reasonable interpretation of a previously ambiguous reference, so she allows Rick an action roll to attempt to knock the walls down.

Later, Rick may find another, quite different circumstance in which Collapsing Words might be appropriate, and convince Kathy to use it. Thus, through the use of evocative language, he gets two abilities for the price of one, in exchange for which he helps to create the magical atmosphere of Glorantha for the rest of the group.

The point here is that there is never any need (in this description of HW anyways) to quantify the extent of the power of the sack. Nor limit it to specifics. To actually try to put in mechanics how the sack can be used (what range? how many rounds of preparation? what are of effect?) just detracts from it. Let the story make that up.

I'm not sure if it's clear what I mean.

Finally: Andrew, in a sense it's like Accord although with some differences. The biggest is that I want to keep a standard resolution system and some hard mechanics, but to plug this into the less defined areas. Look at combat: the combat roll is well defined. But if we look at the "falling prone" we have a sort of this "descriptive mechanic" already at work, because I don't describe what happens if someone falls. The modifier to apply to attack rolls only cover the general state of advantage or disadvantage, it's not added together from modifiers created by in-mechanics positions such as "standing up", "back turned to attacker". The GM is instead supposed to categorize the whole situation as "advantageous" or "extremely advantageous". The mechanics takes it from there.

For Ygg and I'm certain for other systems as well, it's interesting how we can use these lose descriptors to create a way to deal with those areas which usually become chock-full of exceptions to already established rules.

Accord has everything already built in and it forms the core of the system. What I'm interested in, is there some other solution to it? Some solution that would mesh better with more traditional mechanics?
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Andrew Martin
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« Reply #7 on: October 14, 2002, 11:38:20 PM »

Quote from: Pale Fire
Accord has everything already built in and it forms the core of the system. What I'm interested in, is there some other solution to it? Some solution that would mesh better with more traditional mechanics?


At the moment, I don't think there is a solution that links with traditional mechanics. I'll be happy to be proven wrong. It's because I think that most traditional mechanics promote an absolute scale, one truth world view. Descriptor based systems like Accord, Fudge (default with no "customisation" by GM), TToMP, and Matrix Games (which are closely related, see http://www.io.com/~hamster/ ), have relative scales, multiple truth world views.

One way that could work, perhaps, is to collect a series of mechanics that work with relative scales, along with advice on how to interpret description and to use these to resolve different situations in different genres and to return appropriate descriptors/description.
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Andrew Martin
Mike Holmes
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« Reply #8 on: October 15, 2002, 05:26:58 AM »

I think I do see what you mean. But I totally disagree.

You state that somehow by associating mechanics with a word or something that you "freeze" that term into place. But that's nonsensical. Look on any Hero System board at a thread about how to make a certain spell, and you'll see that any five GMs will come up with five diferent ways to cover the spell mechanically. And it all depends on the description. Further, even if I have the same mechanics for a spell, that does not mean that I have to describe it the same way. Different incarnations can have different "Special Effects". Further, if I want the single spell in question to have more than one "Special Effect" I abuy it with the advantage "Variable Special Effect" and I can change the exact description of the effect each time I cast it. And yet further, if I want to have a many powers all related to some term then I can create an "Elemental Control" of that term, allowing me potentially great lattitude in designing powers to fit the description. And if I want to have any power related to the term designed at the moment that the spell is cast, then I can take a related "Variable Power Pool".

So, there is no reason that such a term need be "frozen" in any way. You have options available that range from very specific in the current magical application to completely open. Again, I'm not advocating anything like Hero System per se. Just that you have a system in the background supporting play.

Anyhow, you further make an error with your HW assessment (you really ought to read the rules). Yes, you can start with undefined equipment. But as soon as it becomes defined in play in its use, guess what? That equipment gets stats. Usually in the form of a mechanic called Edges, but through other means as well. But again, just because you find a Wand of the Pathless Forrest with particular powers in one case, doesn't mean that the Pathless Spell has to be defined similarly at all. The argument just doesn't hold up. In fact in Hero Wars, the nature of the item can change over time.

What you're advocating, it seems to me, is just narrating freely through magic. You say stuff like,
Quote
The GM is only limited in the word itself. The GM can't use this power to create monsters or kill characters (other than out of starvation). The limits are clear, but the specific implementation is open.

But the limits in this case are anything but clear. Mechanically, I have no idea what I can do. Is it likely that this spell is powerful enough to affect a forest such that the characters will get so badly lost that they will starve? Or will they just get hungry wandering around, but then find their way out? How long will they be lost? Why can't Pathless imply monsters? What if I think it should? How does this systemless part of the game affect the part with a system?

You have decided to have a system for at least part of your game. To make another part systemless will void the reason for having system in the other part. System provides players with a sense of arbitrary (non-GM) resolution. In this magic system, you will lose that completely. I'm not against freeform play, but I think mixing is a big mistake. I didn't even like the Ars Magica Improv system's subjectivity. This would just be worse.

Do you think system is neccessary for this game? If so, have a system that can be used to resolve everything (even if only generically). If not, then just chuck all those rules you've been working on and play that way.

Mike
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Christoffer Lernö
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« Reply #9 on: October 15, 2002, 09:51:58 AM »

Like I said in the other thread the extent of the power has to be regulated somehow, I don't dismiss that. Think instead of my proposal as having "Variable Special effect" added some kind of basic ability which only has two parameters: How powerful it is and what kind of "alignment" it has (using the later in a very loose sense)

For example we have Pathlessness. This is our variable special effect. It's a way to challenge the characters. The extent of how much this can challenge the characters depend on it's power. Here we can have a number or use FUDGE style descriptors such as Harmless, Powerful, Legendary.

The second parameter is what it's intentions are in stopping the characters: beneficial (this is just such a magical place that people are drawn in here and rest and get healed, the pathlessness keeps them there to prevent them from leaving before they are fully healed), evil (tries to kill the characters, so it confuses them so it can trick them into traps and stuff), dangerous (just leads the characters into walking around and maybe run into good things, maybe very bad things, maybe things that are both like a magical fountain guarded by a wyrm).

This limits the effect of the pathlessness.

There's still some stuff hanging in the air, but if we at least define these two and add rules to them we're not completely lost anymore.

We could apply it to spells too. Evil spells try to kill, dangerous spells could harm or maybe not, good spells are only used for positive, life enhancing things. The spells would also have a rating which would explain how much impact their effect could have. A spell that could raze a city is so powerful it has to be Legendary, which something which summons a magical sword doesn't affect so much so it might be something around "slighly useful" or whatever that level is called.

Beyond those parameters and the actual name of the power itself (which is maybe one or two words) there is nothing to decide the effects. It's just something the GM makes up.

(Incidentally, freezing might have been a bad word.. I simply meant that from having a fuzzy concept it becomes well defined in terms of system. A little like going from liquid to frozen form for a substance)
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #10 on: October 15, 2002, 10:43:49 AM »

Quote from: Pale Fire
Here we can have a number or use FUDGE style descriptors such as Harmless, Powerful, Legendary.
What do I roll to see if my woodsman can find his way out of a Powerful Pathless forest? A Harmless one? If you give me those guidelines, then maybe we're OK. But as it stands I just have to guess, which is no guideline at all.

Quote
The second parameter is what it's intentions are in stopping the characters:
How about instead of this, you just right out the intent in clear language. And then give us some rules for how to adjudicate it's use.

Quote
This limits the effect of the pathlessness.
I don't see how. It gives the GM vague guidelines. Which to me is worse than nothing. I'd rather just make it up on the spot.

Hero Wars gets a little vague this way, but I always know what to roll against.

Quote
A spell that could raze a city is so powerful it has to be Legendary, which something which summons a magical sword doesn't affect so much so it might be something around "slighly useful" or whatever that level is called.
Why not just enumerate the effects of the spell? In game terms. (Legendary Spell of Dangerous City Blasting - 30d6 EB, Explosive w increased radius x 10, etc, or for HW, Legendary Spell of Dangerous City Blasting 18M4).

Quote
(Incidentally, freezing might have been a bad word.. I simply meant that from having a fuzzy concept it becomes well defined in terms of system. A little like going from liquid to frozen form for a substance)
That's exactly what I thought you meant. And then I showed you how that's exactly not how it happens in Hero System. With a Variable Power Pool I could change the entire way the spell works mechanically every single phase in theory. There are still mechanics, but you can change them all you like. And they are still limited by a single power rating. Which actually is two less than you're using above.

Ex. This turn I use my Pathless Forrest VPP of 100 points to be a wide radius Change Environment made to make pathfinding more difficult. Then next round, I change it to 20d6 Mental Illusions to lead the players to a particular part of the forrest. Then next round, I use it as a 10d6 Entange representing the forrest actually grabbing the PCs. I don't change it to a 6.5d6 Hand Killing Attack (to have the trees rip the characters to shreds) because, looking at the description of the forrest (or spell, or whatever), I see that it would not do that. Thus I interperet the description any way I like, but in the end I know how to resolve the effects mechanically.

For your game, how about the spell just creates a static difficulty rating that any contest based on defeating it has to roll against? Or somesuch? That becomes your "difficulty". But I'd only do this for spells. As for the Forrest as an entity, I always just call it a character, and rate the forrest appropriately.

Just how I see it.

Mike
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Christoffer Lernö
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« Reply #11 on: October 15, 2002, 11:01:28 AM »

Darn I should be sleeping now, but I just wanna clear this up first (yea right).

What you're complaining about Mike, is exactly what I want to find. A way to untangle the descriptors into actual mechanics in a fairly simple and straightforward way. If we had a more general system would could actually make it into a difficulty roll which the players roll against with their level or something. It would capture the essence of what I'm trying to do. However we want to flesh it out a little, don't we?

Let's go ratings, since that probably will let you see a little more what I have. We have a Pathless, Semi-sentient, Energy-draining Old Forest, Alignment Dangerous at a Legend rating 3 (Slightly intimidating)

That means that the energy drain can at the most have a Legend of 3 (I guess we have to invent a kind of scale which everything rolls against). For a Legend 3 attack an average Legend 3 character might have 50% chance of success. Or whatever.

So if it uses entangle, then an average character would have a 50% chance. However, all characters have slightly different skills and stats, so this figure would vary. For example weaker characters would have more difficulty with the entangle than stronger ones and so on.

However in general this is just a challenge roll which the forest can make. If the forest would try to kill a character, then it would have the capabilities of a Legend 3 character or monster in terms of average killing ability. The alignment decides if the forest actually tries to kill anyone or not.

Back to the spells, our Legend 3 spell could take out a Legend 3 character  on average 50% of the time if it's attacking someone. When it comes to say healing spells, figuring out what Legend 3 means gets a little more tricky.

But if this could work somehow...

I'm not really arguing with you Mike, in fact what I'm looking for is a solution, not saying I have one. The above is something that might eventually go towards one, but I'm not sure.

Somehow there has to be a language to quantify effects, without getting into the expressions of it. C. Edwards (I think) called it a "self-contained generic system". For Champions you actually have to go down and make the calculations for how much you can get for the point pool. In Ygg I can't afford that much rules. Something easy, a rule of thumb which works "well enough" has to suffice.

A suggestion would be something along the lines of the above. How DOES HW work with the items by the way. Any links I could check out or something if you don't feel like explaining? (It might get long I mean)
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #12 on: October 15, 2002, 11:24:31 AM »

The rating you want would seem to me to be effectively an opposing skill. Or a static skill check difficulty rating. Depending ohn how you see it.

This is how it works in HW, simply. You roll against the rating, and it produces X amount of game effect. Just like any skill, or relationship, or whatever. Actually, Magic is slightly more complicated. But looking at a game like Story Engine, magic is rated just like everything else, and has the exact same simple mechanical effect. Did I succeed in my goal for the scene, or did my opposition?

Mike
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #13 on: October 15, 2002, 12:37:03 PM »

Let's see if I can help see the forest through the trees here, so to speak...

I went back to the thread where I originally suggested the forest example, to see if there was some useful context there that this discussion has gotten away from. Two things stand out:

1. The thread was about how mechanism could help (or at least, not hinder) the creation of a sense of wonder in play. Simulationist issues were assumed to be set aside for that purpose.

2. The paragraph the quote was taken from began with a very important sentence:

Quote
What I'm imagining, in a vague way so far, is a system of metagame rules akin to a complete narrativist game system that is executed in secret and entirely by the gamemaster.


Now, I did fully intend for there to be hard numbers accompanying the description of the Old Forest. These numbers would ultimately be compared against player stats using the resolution mechanisms of the game. For example, a player might roll for a navigation skill vs. the forest's "pathless" quality, with the usual range of possible results: success, failure, concessions, situational advantages or setbacks to one side or the other.

I didn't specify how the numbers would relate to the descriptors. What I had in mind at the time was not individual effectiveness ratings for each descriptor, but a single overall pool of power that the forest would expend with use. This makes the power number relate directly to how important in the story the forest is, rather than how "powerful" it is in the sense of specific capabilities. With a small to moderate pool, the forest could harass the player-characters in minor ways for a while, or attempt to cause them one or two harmful setbacks, but in either case its power would then be expended and the story would move on. (Which doesn't mean the forest is now drained of whatever magical qualities it originally had. It only means that it's time for the story to move on. In other words, the power is an entirely metagame quality.)

It's also quite conceivable to have specific stats for the forest's descriptors that would be used in rolls against the player-characters. As Mike said, characters throughout the game could just as easily work that way too.

In either case, clearly, there's a lot of GM interpretation involved. Which brings me to the key point:

Yes, there's always GM interpretation involved in the process of turning descriptions into actions that are within the game's mechanical framework. But that's not always a good thing. For example, when a systems suddenly offers the GM a wide latitude for interpretation, in the midst of otherwise strictly causal resolution rules, the result can be drift or worse. Say a player-character uses a summoning spell. The game mechanics of the spell specifies in great detail exactly the stats of the creature summoned, but leaves it entirely up to the GM to interpret and role-play the much more important factor of how the summoned creature reacts and behaves. The summoned being could be extremely helpful, or could be uncooperative to the point of being a liability, so in essence the GM is left to decide on an arbitrary basis whether the spell, in the end, was effective or ineffective for the purpose for which it was cast. Expectations are on the line and can easily get trampled on. For example, a GM with gamist priorities, who generally feels hampered in his ability to challenge the players by a mainly impartial simulationist cause and effects rules system, might seize on such an open-ended interpreted situation as a golden opportunity to hose the player every time.

The key question is not, what interpretive decisions with what constraints is the GM making, but rather, on what basis is the GM making those decisions? As in, what's the GM prioritizing? This is important because you need different types and degrees of constraints and guidelines for different priorities.

I described the possible "wonderment" mechanism as I did, as an illusionistic metagame mechanism used by the GM, because I saw the prioritization of creating wonderment as Narrativist -- more specifically, as vanilla Narrativist. Vanilla Narrativism is currently understood primarily in terms of drift. Systematizing functional vanilla Narrativism, I believe, would require the GM to be using different rules than the players because it appears the GM has different priorities than the players.

So, is the key here simulation or story? That is, do you want the flexibility of choose-any-descriptor mechanisms because it allows more freedom for player exploration, or you do you want it because it allows more story-context-sensitive decision making? If it's the latter, causal constraints become secondary to metagame concerns and you could end up happily with a coherenly Narrativist system. If it's the former, you do need a procedure for turning the descriptors into mechanical descriptions during play. It only the GM is ever responsible for doing this, then that procedure could involve a lot of interpretation and translation on the fly. But what ultimately comes out of the GM's mouth must be perceived by the players as objective in-game-world information that they can base their own decisions on. That could perhaps facilitiate play within the gray area between sim exploration of setting/situation with high genre-convention expectations, and vanilla Narrativism.

- Walt
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #14 on: October 15, 2002, 01:52:31 PM »

Oops, cross-posted. I'm talking about what would be useful to achieve, but Christoffer is asking how exactly to achieve it.

I'm a big fan of extra input variables in a resolution mechanism, when they're there for a good reason. With open descriptors, the complication always seems to revolve around how well the descriptor fits what the character is trying to do. So here's what the input variables should be (let's assume an all-opposed system):

- The descriptor level
- The degree of fit between the descriptor and the task being attempted
- The opposing descriptor level
- The degree of fit between the opposing descriptor and the task being attempted

The descriptor levels are the familiar stats. The unfamiliar elements are the degrees of fit. Degree of fit represents how well and how specifically the skill or attribute being applied fits the task to which it is being applied. There should be, I believe, no more than three or four discrete levels of degree of fit.

All these variables will boil down to one (chance of success) or two (center and variance of the outcome distribution) degrees of freedom in the end. But applying them separately creates at least the illusion, if not the reality, of a more careful and objective analysis of the situation. (This is something that others often seem to disagree with. The prevailing attitude seems to be, if you're making judgment calls, it's better to make one big one instead of a lot of little ones. In rebuttal, I can point out that the entire statistical science of risk assessment is based on doing exactly the opposite.)

Interestingly, Christoffer's already proposed a resolution roll mechanism that has an extra variable that represents a combination of increase in difficulty and increase in the variance of the outcome... exactly what one would want in cases of lesser degree of fit.

So, here's a possible mechanism: roll a d12 for each descriptor level on both sides. Interpret each d12 as a hit or non-hit based on the degree of fit for that side, as follows:

degree of fit "exact": 3+ hits
degree of fit "good": 5+ hits
degree of fit "partial": 7+ hits
degree of fit "poor": 9+ hits

The side with the most hits succeeds.

Example: I have "Friends with Birds 3" and I'm in a forest that's "Trackless 4." I attempt to call a European Swallow (the migratory variety) to come to me to aid me with its navigational senses.

"Friends with Birds" is a pretty good fit to attempting to summon a particular bird, but it's not perfect (it's not a "summon birds" skill). So my degree of fit is "good." I roll 3 dice, getting 4, 5, 11. The 5 and 11 give me 2 hits. The forest's "trackless" quality opposes my attempt. My summoning could fail to reach any friendly birds, or they could fail to find their way to me to answer the summons, due to the tracklessness. However, birds don't have to rely on paths or landmarks to find their way. So the degree of fit on the forest's side is only "partial." The opposing roll is 4 dice, but only rolls of 7+ are hits. The roll is 2, 5, 6, 11. Only one hit. So a European Swallow arrives in answer to my call.

I can certainly foresee arguments about degrees of fit. (Having only three degrees of fit might be preferable.) But the silver lining is that a disagreement about a degree of fit need not be destructive to play, since it must be discussed in purely situational terms. "How can my jumping skill not be a 'perfect' fit for this jump?" "Because you're trying to jump 20 feet straight down without injury; that's more falling than jumping." "Yeah, but part of all kinds of jumping is knowing how to land properly." "That's right, 'part of,' so I'm ruling it's a 'partial' fit."

Degree of fit should work just as well for descriptor-based magic. If the magic descriptor is "demon fire" and someone wants to use it to send a message to someone ten miles away using flying letters of demonic fire, you don't have to argue about whether or not it's possible. Just give it a fit of 'poor' because it's so dissimilar to the way demonic fire usually behaves, and resolve in the usual way.

- Walt
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