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Theory of X
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« on: August 08, 2001, 08:54:00 PM »

k

[ This Message was edited by: Theory of X on 2001-08-26 01:58 ]
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: August 09, 2001, 05:31:00 AM »

Hello, and welcome to the Forge.

You will probably be interested in the thread called "Character Currency" on this forum, which is all about the parts and points of player-characters. Another one concerns skills vs. attributes, on one of the earlier pages of this forum.

PART ONE
I suggest that any mathematical conversions, and most particularly those involving ratios, are by definition going to cause the min-max problem.

In many games, there is a chart of "effectiveness" numbers that correspond to ranges of (say) attribute scores. If your strength is 9-12, no damage bonus; if it's 13-16, damage bonus is d4; 17-20, d6. A lot of people seem not to realize that this is a matter of ratios - dividing one's attribute by 4, in this case, to get "units" of functional alterations in the character's ability to do things.

So one of my first calls in the numbers of RPG design is to remove such conversions, and have the numbers we see be the numbers we use during play.

I think we still have a lot to discuss about the topic, so it's good that you've brought it up.

PART TWO
I'm a little puzzled about the D&D reference, but it may be due to my long estrangement from this game. Last I knew, attributes were generated with dice and only a small portion of their range affected character creation anyway. Min-maxing in AD&D, at the start of play, was mainly a matter of armor and weapons (thus the uniformity of chainmail + longsword), and that got washed out with the first windfall of gold and experience points.

But all that may have changed. I know that AD&D2 was pretty different, although I never played it, and D&D3 seems much more rooted in 80s-style maximizing of feats and combinations of feats with other things. So maybe I need the point about "D&D-ish character creation" explained to me a little better.

(Before Pete Seckler comes after me with a hatchet, I'm not criticizing! In fact, I'd appreciate his insight into whether D&D3E is prone to the min-max issue to any degree. A game can be pretty damn good and still have issues.)

Best,
Ron
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #2 on: August 09, 2001, 05:51:00 AM »

Quote
Theory of X wrote:
My slant is that games in which min-maxing is a natural evolution share one common characteristic:

The future and strength of your character are determined at creation time by your distribution of numbers. Start with non-optimal numbers, and you cannot reach your true peak.Quote
Now, how to avoid this insanity? I'm sure we all have good, concrete ideas. I do. I'm curious as to your thoughts?Quote
Have you considered this when creating your character creation process?Quote
Make it so a fighter (of any genre) relies on strength/coordination, etc to thrive, and he will min-max. For this reason I prefer characters with skills/traits, and have physical descriptions as an afterthought. This works for most genres, but not all.

I am not sure what this means, but if anything, it sounds like you are dictating the approach to character creation in your design.  I personally like the effects-based system we have created; you figure out what you think the character can do, look it up, and write it down, be it skills, stats, traits, powers, measurements, or whatever.

I like to make it so that players who want to start with physical descriptions are able to, and that our system lets them translate it into game mechanics without much hassle.  Since we limit neither the scope nor the advancement of the character through mechanics<
Quote
What do you think?

I think you have brought up an interesting topic, and I look forward to all the other responses.

Fang Langford

[ This Message was edited by: Le Joueur on 2001-08-09 11:23 ]
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #3 on: August 09, 2001, 06:55:00 AM »

Actually, this whole thing is an effect the rules have on play that seems to be the basis for most of our discussion.  As in, how do the rules effect how you play?

I keep bringing up Kubasik's Interactive Toolkit and how he mentions that traditional RPG mechanics encourage more conservative actions.  I remember my GM talking about one PC in a Mekton campaign who leaped from speeding hovercar to speeding hovercar.  We all know that in traditional mechanics, even with sufficiently mini-maxed stats but probably not without GM fudging, such an action actually constitues attempted suicide.  

An more on-topic example:
GURPS quirks.  They're free and it's only five points.  My GM let us just take the five points and define the quirks later.  It didn't matter.  They were only five points. But 1-5 extra points could mean the difference between getting that special skill or buying up a stat to the level you wanted.

Personally I always tried to define my quirks but they rarely came into play.  My wife took the quirk Odious Personal Habit: constantly humming, but she'd actually hum and the GM found it annoying (duh) and told her to stop.

Basically all games reinforce doing certain things because it helps you do better and it would be stupid to not do so.

I once tried to get by with an "average" sword skill but the combat-heavy campaign made it obvious that if I wanted to keep this character, I should raise the combat abilities.

I once tried to play a pure non-combatant, but the character eventually had to do something in a combat situation besides hide under the table.

This obviously varies from game/campaign/GM/etc. but it's an interesting way of looking at RPGs of which mini-maxing is but one part.
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contracycle
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« Reply #4 on: August 09, 2001, 07:15:00 AM »

Hey, hiding under a table is a perfectly valid combat strategy :smile:  People do it all the time.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #5 on: August 09, 2001, 08:09:00 AM »

Quote

On 2001-08-09 09:31, Ron Edwards wrote:
(Before Pete Seckler comes after me with a hatchet, I'm not criticizing! In fact, I'd appreciate his insight into whether D&D3E is prone to the min-max issue to any degree. A game can be pretty damn good and still have issues.)


It's totally prone to the min-max issue. (I've an example below you can skip if not interested.) However - and I think this should be noted - min-maxing is not implicitly a bad thing. In Sorcerer, well, I can't min-max. In Dying Earth, why would I want to?

In D&D or Rune, of course I want to. The mechanics as written are about strategy, tactics, and winning.

The idea of min-maxing being bad comes from games like GURPS, Champions, and Vampire, where min-maxing is easily accomplished, but runs contrary to the goal of the game. (All these games have mixed goals, in my opinion, anyway.) When a game states one goal and encourages another with system - that's where the frustration comes in. D&D doesn't hide the fact that it's about being a dungeon-punk bad-ass (in the new edition), and so min-maxing is an enjoyable part of the game.

-----BEGIN MIN-MAX D&D3E EXAMPLE----------

D&D min-max example:

Make a halfling fighter. Halflings, being small, get +1 to hit and +1 to their Armor Class, so you're already set. They also get +2 to Dexterity, which is important later, and a +1 to thrown weapons. Then take, at first level, the feats Point Blank Shot, and Weapon Focus (hand axe).

Assuming you rolled average scores, and put your highest in Dexterity (let's assume a 16), and then you add the +2 to Dex, you have an 18. At first level, you should be able to throw hand-axes with a bonus of:
+1 (fighter) +1 (halfling thrown weapon bizness) +3 (Dex) +1 (Weapon Focus) +1 (Point Blank Shot) = +7

In addition, you have an extra +1 to damage because of the Point-Blank Shot. Madness. By fourth level, you've taken Weapon Specialization in the hand axe and attack with a +11 bonus for 1d6+3 damage each round. If you've managed to pick up Rapid Shot - which you probably have - you can alternately throw two hand axes at +9 each for the same damage each round.

-----END MIN-MAX D&D3E EXAMPLE----------
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Clinton R. Nixon
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Theory of X
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« Reply #6 on: August 09, 2001, 08:22:00 AM »

Le Joueur:

Actually the Fighter reference comes from many games. Almost any cookie-cutter fantasy game (either pen and paper or CRPG) allows for you to 'tweek' starting stats to a level in which you can min/max.

I'm somewhat new to the RPG community, and have pulled alot of personal references. I tend to collect the homebrews from the web, just for the sake of dissection. On top of these, I have played CRPGs for quite some time.

I'll catch up to spees with you guys :wink:
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: August 09, 2001, 08:54:00 AM »

X o'Theory,

I'll back up your basic observation about fantasy games. As a bit of research, I just made up characters for the following relatively-obscure games: Pelicar, Legendary Lives, Hahlmabrea, Of Gods and Men, and Darkurthe Legends. Plus SF games too, like Reichstar and Manhunter.

(Life? What life? This is my first vacation in over a year, sue me, I'm having fun.)

Anyway, regarding the fantasy games above, the min-max potential is UNBELIEVABLE. After focusing mainly on horror-surreal stuff, as well as hard-core-Narrativist recent fantasy games, going back and looking at this material is like an acid flashback to the middle 80s. All of them combine racial modifiers to attributes with highly derived secondary attributes, thus permitting the player to identify and exploit the bottom limit of the primary attribute range in order to optimize the secondary attribute.

What am I talking about? I mean, you choose a race whose attribute mods pop your rolled scores into the most effective secondary scores for the least points. This tactic is so crucial in terms of game-effectiveness that it instantly washes out all concerns for "personal vision" or any aesthetic input into what you might want to play. Why is it so crucial? Because the secondary attribute mods for both combat and spell-casting are tremendously significant - an "average" swordsman or spellcaster is hopelessly inept compared to the guy with the right breakpoints in his attributes.

As far as I can tell, all of these fantasy games I've mentioned represent very minor numerical tweaks of AD&D2, RuneQuest, Fantasy Hero, and RoleMaster - just like Earthdawn, Warhammer, and the other better-known fantasy RPGs. Oh, some include one or two interesting notions about the concept of the game, but the focus on combat mechanics and optimization takes over immediately.

So, T o'X, I fully agree with your observation.

Best,
Ron
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Theory of X
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« Reply #8 on: August 09, 2001, 08:55:00 AM »

Ron:

Thanks for the welcome, as I am glad to be here.
When I found the site last night I digested the boards from top to bottom, and couldn't get enough of the discussions.

On vacation myself.

Definately good stuff!
--Steve

[ This Message was edited by: Theory of X on 2001-08-09 12:57 ]
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Theory of X
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« Reply #9 on: August 09, 2001, 09:30:00 AM »

How about a 'non-classical fantasy' reference:

Tribe 8

For those unfamiliar with Tribe 8, you begin with 10 attributes, all starting at -1 effectiveness. You are given 30 points to raise your attributes at creation. You can also lower some attributes, which in effect allows you to buy more creation points at the expense of attributes you will rarely use (a bright player catches on to this immediately).  The following is the Tribe 8 chart for attribute costs:

Attribute Rating.....Point Cost
+4.........................25
+3.........................16
+2..........................9
+1..........................4
0...........................1
-1..........................0
-2.........................+1(buy a point)    
-3.........................+4
-4.........................+9

Now, after attributes are determined, Tribe 8 players jump over to skill selection. They buy skills in a similiar manner. A skill cannot be anymore than 2 points higher than the attribute it depends on (at creation), so the system begins to reward min/max templates.

Tribe 8 has a very narrow range for character growth in skill categories, and it becomes very difficult very quickly to raise a skill above a 4, with a skill of a 6-7 being darn near impossible to achieve without proper min/maxing of attributes. Here is their skill cost chart:

Skill Level.....Simple skill cost.....Complex skill cost
1..........1..........2  
2..........4..........8
3..........9.........18  
4.........16.........32
5.........25.........30
6.........36.........72
7.........49.........98

While these numbers are meaningless to non-Tribe 8 players, it is not easy to come by skill points.

As you can see, it becomes obvious to the player that reaching the upper tiers for their skill depends on their starting attributes. If you 'max-out' an attribute such as agility, you can then make it that much easier to become a superstar in agility related skills (i.e. hand-to-hand, archery, firearms, sneaking, etc).

In summary, the Tribe 8 system is one of the best examples I could find of a system that leads players down the min/max path. It basically takes your hand and gives you a shove. Attributes become an afterthought to skills, even in most(if not all) of the gamebook's examples. Now, you could say it's up to a good GM (Weaver in Tribe 8 lingo) to design adventures that tap all of a players attributes/skills. Well, with 10 attributes, and 50+ skills this becomes a painful task for GMs, and adventures don't flow as well when you put in too many silly excursions.
A good group of PCs (with a good mix of skills) could overcome most any GM's wasted effort.

This is bad design, IMHO. If you choose the wrong attributes, if becomes hard to advance in your skills. Once you start min/maxing, you become extremely efficient at your key skills. You are tied to the character creation process for a good portion of your future success...and it all comes back to creating attibute numbers first, attributes that become a big afterthought early on.

I've actually had a group of players that decided they would each lower all but 3 attributes to -4, buy more points, and individually min/max the hell out of their templates, with each having an area of specialization. While most Tribe 8 players won't do this to this grand extreme, they all begin to roll down the path in one way or another.

Too many unneeded attributes.

[ This Message was edited by: Theory of X on 2001-08-09 13:35 ]

[ This Message was edited by: Theory of X on 2001-08-09 13:44 ]
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: August 09, 2001, 09:54:00 AM »

TofX (Toffix? Tofsk?),

I agree with you more and more with each post. You're talking to a Champions veteran, and what we are dealing with here is the basis for my inquiry into game design in the first place, beginning 15 years ago.

See, when The Fantasy Trip came out in 1978-80, it was a revelation. What, no rolling to make up your PC? Wow! All the numerical combinations are functional, so knock yourself out? Double wow!

Of course, TFT bogged down quickly once you progressed away from the starting combination of points, but it sure was mind-blowing. Then Champions came along in 80-81, the second game to use point-based PC design, and again, Wow! Negative points? Design your own story elements into the game to be played? Wow! Actually hose your character in anticipation of the drama to come, and get more starting points for it? Double wow!

Cue TFT's extreme revision into GURPS, which may best be conceived as HIGHLY Simulationist Champions, and its supplement GURPS Supers. Cue, then, 4th edition Champions, which is essentially GURPS Supers (and with all the comics-specific Narrativism in the early Champs whittled out of it).

As a result of this Hero/GURPS do-si-do, we now have the template upon which nearly all point-based systems are built: points for attributes, points for skills, points for disadvantages, reductions in costs due to local limitations, negative points for disadvantages, and highly derived secondary attributes and scores of all sorts. Also, we have the grafting of point-based skill systems onto the randomized attribute-generation model from early RuneQuest and D&D, seen in RoleMaster, latter-day RuneQuest and related games, and others.

Tribe 8, Vampire, L5R, and many others are the 90s versions of the wholly point-based approach, and in all of them, to varying degrees, I think the min-max problem is inherent in exactly the way you describe. (In L5R, I think it's least prevalent; in Tribe 8, I think it's most.)

Best,
Ron

[ This Message was edited by: Ron Edwards on 2001-08-09 14:07 ]
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joshua neff
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« Reply #11 on: August 09, 2001, 10:08:00 AM »

This also seems to tie in with a discussion Jared & I had at GenCon, that in a lot of RPGs, if you don't get the right numbers in the right skills & attributes, later during gameplay you feel like you "lost", because you chose poorly & now your character sucks, mechanics-wise, &/or can't do the right things.

Going with a system I know: White Wolf's "Storyteller". In the last Mage chronicle I played in, I made a character who was a punk/goth-wannabe & an annoying teenager. I put no points into Strength, giving him a Strength of 1, & 1 point into Dexterity, for Dexterity 2. I put 2 dots in Dodge & 1 dot into Melee. The only weapon he had was a kitchen knife. (Keep in mind, White Wolf constantly pushes the "story over combat" mantra, yet the system has all these stats that come into play only during combat, plus lots of weapons lists.) The first fight the character & the other PCs got into, with a small gang of vampires, my character successfully rolled Dex+Melee & stabbed a Vampire in the back of the neck with his knife. With a Strength of 1 however, one sucky roll meant my character did NO DAMAGE, basically making him the big pussy in combat. Which is fine, except I, like many RPGers, have been conditioned through years of this kind of play, that when a fight scene erupts & the GM looks at you & asks "What do you do", you do SOMETHING, regardless of character type. Answering "I watch as my more combat-capable allies make toast of the vamps" seems absurd. Also, some of the necessary qualities a Mage would have (like Avatar) are optional Backgrounds--you don't have to put any points into them, but if you ignore them, your character is severely hamstringed during play.
(This also calls to mind Clinton's RPGA experience, with his Magic Missle-less wizard.)
So, if you don't min-max (or at least start taking advantage of the system, paying little heed to any sort of character or story development), you feel like you failed the test.
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Theory of X
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« Reply #12 on: August 09, 2001, 10:38:00 AM »

Thanks for all the good replies.

This pretty much sums it up:

"This also seems to tie in with a discussion Jared & I had at GenCon, that in a lot of RPGs, if you don't get the right numbers in the right skills & attributes, later during gameplay you feel like you "lost", because you chose poorly & now your character sucks, mechanics-wise, &/or can't do the right things."

I'll leave it at that. :smile:
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Cameron
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« Reply #13 on: August 09, 2001, 11:05:00 AM »

I would point out that the Storyteller system wasn't always dripping with weapon lists. The 1st edition Vampire, which I played lovingly for many years had the vaguest weapon descriptions of any modern game I'd played (i.e. pistol, shotgun, rifle rather than listing off a huge bunch of brand names and models). I miss that very much.

This thread got me thinking about my gestating rpg, which was playtested for the first time fairly recently. In my game, the attributes are: Intellectual, Social, Intuitive, Physical, Technical, Observational, Willful. Each one has several skills linked to it. There is a basic skill + attribute mechanic.

What makes it different is that there are only three levels of an attribute, basically Exceptional, Average and Totally Sucky.  All characters start with everything at Average.  Average covers a lot of ground from mildly good to mediocre or nothing special. If you want to be Exceptional at something, you have to be Totally Sucky at something else. It's Min-Max in the open, totally on display for the whole world to see.  However, there is no mechanic for ever raising an attribute at a later date, so being Sucky at something plays out more like a tragic flaw and all the attributes are used regularly.

In my first playtest, one player went for across-the-board average stats, indicating that they had no obvious gifts or handicaps. The other player tweaked the system a little bit (he's a gamer, he was trying to feel out the weak points) and created a specialist character. It worked both ways, but the second player realized that his character was going to be shouldered with special needs for the rest of his existence.

The reason I did this was to cut away some of the fat of game systems while still retaining something that was true to my simulationist roots. I've always hated players looking at their stats between X and Y and comparing them to each other. I hated that it was quantifiable that one character was "1 point" stronger than another one, but with very little difference in actual play. I thought that if I reduced things down to the most basic components, people could focus more on the character's personality, background and anima.

I think the bigger problem with min-maxing is trying to get that one small edge, rather than looking at the big picture.

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: August 09, 2001, 11:25:00 AM »

Hi Cameron,

Yes, I see what you're doing, and it's valid. If the balancing and trade-offs are part of your vision for the game, that's a good thing.

The key is to avoid ratios and other skewed transformations. To use my Currency jargon, make sure there are no rates of exchange involved. I tried to do that with Sorcerer attributes: a die = a score unit = a modifier.

Another, related issue, is what I call "paying to suck." We all know this one, in which you have to pay X points to be (say) a supernatural thing, but now you have to pay X points MORE in order to have any of the necessary attributes of the supernatural thing. Or you have to buy "you're terrible" levels of expertise preparatory to buying those levels at even barely-competent levels.

Avoiding these problems brings point/allocation character creation back into the realm of coherence, playability, and enjoyment.

Best,
Ron
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