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Author Topic: Orbit concerns and comments  (Read 6676 times)
Clinton R. Nixon
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« on: September 23, 2003, 12:52:14 PM »

I've got a quote on the back of Orbit that says "This rocks." It's a strong statement, and one I was a little wary about, only because I hadn't seen the full new game.

After reading it, I can fully agree with my own statement. This game truly rocks.

I do, however, have some comments and questions. All of these questions come from reading and making characters, not actual play.

The critical system is the most fun part of play
(in which case, I should be using it)

After making up several characters, I thought to myself, "Man, these guys are almost cool." Almost because they genuinely suck at task resolution.

The beginning character has 100 points for 5 attributes, averaging 20 per attribute. If you want to really push it, you could have 40 in one attribute and an average of 15 in the other four, or even 60 in one attribute and an average of 10 in the other four, which is pretty pitiful.

Where this hurts isn't in success rate - with a decent skill, characters have a decent chance with these numbers - but in critical success rate. Critical successes are the most interesting part of the system, and their "critical failure for skill advancement" caveat is a great little motor. Let's look at some breakpoints.

With an attribute of 10, your chances of a critical success are:
 - Familiar: 0%
 - Competent: 0%
 - Expert: 0%
 - Master: 0%

With an attribute of 20, your chances of a critical success are:
 - Familiar: 0%
 - Competent: 0%
 - Expert: 0%
 - Master: 10%

Remember, 20 is an average attribute. This one really blows because the critical failure option mentioned above. In this case, there's no advancement-based benefit for doing so, since your skill has to be maximized to each get a critical success.

With an attribute of 30, your chances of a critical success are:
 - Familiar: 0%
 - Competent: 0%
 - Expert: 10%
 - Master: 40%

That's looking a little better. Still, critical failures can't knock a skill up to master level, which means you get robbed of any benefit. My twinkiest character I made (a Pelturian/Ketrin Warg assassin) lies in this range, and still can't get a critical where it will activate an automatic skill increase roll.

With an attribute of 40, your chances of a critical success are:
 - Familiar: 0%
 - Competent: 10%
 - Expert: 30%
 - Master: 70%

This is where characters start to look really interesting to me. For the first time, I could get a critical success, change it to a failure, and use the "automatic roll to increase skill" rule. This is such a great rule that it screams to be used, yet many characters will never have that chance.

Now, the low beginning attributes wouldn't bother me if you could increase attributes, but you don't in Orbit (at least not by the author's preferred advancement system, which I also prefer). As you can't, the average character will eventually get a good chance of critical success with skills under one and only one attribute.

Solution 1: Bigger is Better

Solution the first: beginning characters get more points. I'd set the default to 125, with 100 being a level for a gritty game of Orbit and 150 being a level for a madcap game of Orbit.

Second part of the solution: a roll of 01 is always a critical success. It's simple, easy, somewhat historical, and works.

There's a problem with this solution, though. Suddenly, the idea of a character with a 50 in an attribute isn't so outlandish. It's pretty out-there, but it could happen. This means automatic critical success when that guy gets a master-level skill. I don't want to recommend attribute caps, but this should be noticed.

Solution 2: Little bits

This one's easy. Instead of the 1-10, 11-25, 26-50, 51+ system that exists right now for determining resolution outcome, lower it to 1-10, 11-25, 26-40, 40+. It's simple, easy, and opens up critical success to more characters.

Little corollary solution

In order to let characters advance their skills to Master level by failing, here's a little solution. Skill Level 1 takes one successful %Learn roll to get. SL 2, 2 rolls; SL 3, 3 rolls; and SL 4, 4 rolls. I've never done any in-game training of my character. That's not to say that that's bad, but I can't see "Hey, guys, I'm going to starship school for six weeks" fitting with Orbit's gonzo nature.

Another issue: The Wundershen is the coolest concept in party-building structure
but why's a Guild Merchant on the road?

The Wundershen is my favorite part of Orbit. This mandated travel that all youths must take is a fun idea, puts all the characters on the path to exploring the universe, and explains why the Vangg tech-head and the Rowglin axe-player are hanging out together. Spending some time in youth hostels gives me a neat perspective on this. Reading about the Wundershen, I thought:

"Man, this game is friggin' On the Road and The Electric Acid Kool-Aid Test backed by electric guitars, set in space."

So what's up with the careers, uncle Jeff? They don't mechanically get in the way of making a beat-type wondering young alien, out to see the stars. They do, however, get in the way visually. If my character's already got a career under his belt, why's he got to leave it?

These skill packets called careers could be moved to "vocational training" easily enough, and re-tooled so no one seems too out of place. Characters might be in vo-tech (Engineer), the Academy (adept), battle school (troopers), or just grew up on the wrong side of the planet (thug). (Technophages and Heretics, by the way, are for later in the game as young Adepts figure out what they believe in.)

I dig on the funky Orbit groove, but it seems to me that the fun is figuring out just where your character fits in this crazy universe, and already knowing puts a cramp in that.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
xiombarg
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« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2003, 01:41:05 PM »

I'm 100% with you here, Clinton. I remember reading about Gonzo Failure and saying to myself: "But you practically have to have Expert or Mastery for it to happen, and then the %Learn never comes up".

I also found the careers kinda odd. Felt sorta a bit too much like classes in D&D, but perhaps that's my own prejudices talking.

And I have something to add regarding the Wundershen. Best part of the game, in my opinion, somewhat de-emphasized by some careers -- particularly the Military career, which looked like it came from Traveller. But also: I really like the Arach. Are they exempted from the Wundershen? It seems to heavily imply that to leave the Hive is rare. Yet, if they're League members, they HAVE to go, right? What's up with that?

(Hmmm, perhaps that last bit should be in another thread.)
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: September 23, 2003, 02:05:11 PM »

Hi everyone,

Credit where it's due - I think Skyrealms of Jorune was the first game to include the "youth walkabout" as a feature of the setting, necessitating adventuring parties.

Best,
Ron
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JSDiamond
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« Reply #3 on: September 23, 2003, 04:33:51 PM »

All good questions and concerns.  Forgive me for the length and order of this of this reply, but I do want to address each.  

Quote
Clinton Nixon wrote: "After making up several characters, I thought to myself, "Man, these guys are almost cool." Almost because they genuinely suck at task resolution."

That they have little chance for a critical success --you're right about this.  But I wanted it to be that way so that a critical success would be special.  Also, this observation actually answers two of your concerns about why a character would want to go on Wandershen in the first place.  

Quote
Clinton Nixon wrote: "So what's up with the careers, uncle Jeff? They don't mechanically get in the way of making a beat-type wondering young alien, out to see the stars. They do, however, get in the way visually. If my character's already got a career under his belt, why's he got to leave it?"

Characters really aren't fully trained in their vocation to begin with (hence the 100-point chargen).  So, it isn't that strange that they wouldn't be so successful resolving tasks in the first place.  Which is why the League passed the Wandershen Charter.  Not that they (the characters) would wouldn't want to leave anyway --it's a chance to get away from mom and dad, and have some fun.  Further, my thinking from the League's point of view is that without the Wandershen they would be flooded with millions of undisciplined, drunken, exhuberant teenage 'apprentices' every 16-20 years.

Quote
Clinton Nixon wrote:...but why's a Guild Merchant on the road?"

Again it's not as though a 17-year old guild merchant is (by virtue of his cursory training and having his family paid his membership dues) an established trader.  I imagine that the average guild merchant would be one of the biggest supporters of Wandershen because it is imperative that he (or she) get out there and make contacts (hopefully exclusive ones) that will give that merchant an advantage and maybe even some measure of prestige among their peers for finding the manufacturer of some odd (but useful) item, exotic delicacy, or interesting bric-a-brac.  

I think this answers those concerns. Clinton, thank you for bringing this up --I'll definitely take your comments to heart and make this one of my immediate updates on the site.

Quote
Clinton Nixon wrote: "...the idea of a character with a 50 in an attribute isn't so outlandish. It's pretty out-there, but it could happen. This means automatic critical success when that guy gets a master-level skill. I don't want to recommend attribute caps, but this should be noticed."

This is already happening without an increase in starting points.  Not surprisingly it's my brother's die-hard RIFTs group (featuring a few wizards of min-maxing) that are playing Orbit and loving it.  And guess what?  It isn't (according to my brother) getting 'out of hand'.  Max called me last night to say that "they are having a blast" and the first time the mastery choices were used it really got interesting.    

Quote
Clinton Nixon wrote: "Now, the low beginning attributes wouldn't bother me if you could increase attributes, but you don't in Orbit (at least not by the author's preferred advancement system, which I also prefer). As you can't, the average character will eventually get a good chance of critical success with skills under one and only one attribute."

I know it looks that way, but the Game Ref's option exists to simply grant (as 'exp') the higher skill level and this  effectively makes the stat increases unnecessary.  Because while the critical may still be impossible (from a die-rolling standpoint), the more powerful narrative is now available to the character via their mastery.

Incidentally, this is also why I didn't want the Gonzo Failure to grant mastery of a skill.  Think about it, if you think that a min-maxing group is obnoxious, can you imagine a sudden attack of character spazzing every round to boost skill ability?        

Quote
xiombarg wrote: "I also found the careers kinda odd. Felt sorta a bit too much like classes in D&D, but perhaps that's my own prejudices talking.

I didn't initially want careers, but my business acumen dictated otherwise.  You see, no matter how clever I wanted to be while designing the system, I had to keep gaming's 'middle of the road' within eyesight at least.  With respect, the average RIFTs, or D&D player, is more than that; they are also the average player, period.  And as Ron pointed out in the past, Orbit is different, but not so different that it will "weird you out".  This was intentional.  This is why the system (if you look close) eases players into Orbit's more diceless forms of resolution simply because it's more fun, as opposed to attempting to teach the players a new system with the promise that it will be more fun at some point in the future, once you learn it.

So I included careers, packs of skills, etc., simply because it's both expected (e.g., approved of?) and welcome by so many role-play gamers as a means of jumping right into the setting.

Quote
xiombarg wrote: "I really like the Arach. Are they exempted from the Wundershen? It seems to heavily imply that to leave the Hive is rare. Yet, if they're League members, they HAVE to go, right? What's up with that?"

I'm glad you brought this up.  The Arach are member so of the League, but their planets reside outside of League space proper.  I mentioned something about this in the book, but I wasn't all that clear.  See, if you reside in League Space, you must go on Wandershen.  But on the planets far outside League space (whose governments are also pledged members of the League) the Wandershen doesn't apply.  Wandershen is particular to the League *and* to League space specifically.

I will add this to the errata page as one more thing I didn't explain very well.

If I've missed something, or sounded out of turn, let me know.  That was a lot and I'm not always on target when replying via MB postings.
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JSDiamond
Clinton R. Nixon
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Posts: 2624


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« Reply #4 on: September 23, 2003, 05:09:12 PM »

Jeff,

You got most of my questions, but here's two clarifying ones:

1) If it's impossible (unless your character has a 38 or above in the appropriate attribute) to get a %Learn roll from a Gonzo Failure, why's the rule there?

2) In the preferred advancement system, is there any way to increase an attribute?

--

Oh, and an edit: the military career rules. So many vagabonds come out of the military lifestyle that the option for a burnt-out mid-twenties ex-military guy hanging out with these youngsters is perfectly in character.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
JSDiamond
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« Reply #5 on: September 23, 2003, 08:37:51 PM »

Quote
Clinton Nixon wrote: "If it's impossible (unless your character has a 38 or above in the appropriate attribute) to get a %Learn roll from a Gonzo Failure, why's the rule there?"

You're right, but only if the character is only competent at that skill.

When considering the possibility of a Gonzo Failure (or any critical success choice action) the progression looks like this:
Min stat and corresponding min level of skill required to achieve a critical success:
51 Familiar
38 Competent
26 Expert
17 Master  

As for the Gonzo Failure itself, do you know the saying, "He doesn't know much, but he knows just enough to be dangerous"?  I felt that it just shouldn't be possible for just any character to achieve a critical success, because I wanted skill knowledge to be as important as stats.  You can see in the progression how skill knowledge overtakes a big honkin' stat.

This is a constant as a character becomes (shall we say) 'more experienced' but it's most evident during chargen because that's when you're spending those points.  Think about it, you are generating your character.  Their skill level multiplier jumps by a cumulative 50% through *each* of the first 3 levels and the most you spend is 6-points to get to expert.  Meanwhile their stats are gained at only a 1:1 ratio.  

So, you can see that I treated stats as the raw talent and skill knowledge as the edge.  My other thought was that since a Gonzo Failure is a "spectacular spaz" then the character must be capable of *being* spectacular to begin with.  Even spectacularly awful.  He (or she) must have at least enough knowledge to be dangerous!

Quote
Clinton Nixon wrote: "In the preferred advancement system, is there any way to increase an attribute?"

Technically, no.  At least not in a 'here's some spendable points' sense. Because that hearkens back to the hoary ancient times of experience points.  Which is more-or-less the basic advancement method.  But if using the preferred GT advancement method you said to the Ref that your character is a health nut and is always seeking to improve their Health, that could be the impetus for the Ref to look for or present opportunities for your character to increase their Health (according to your role-playing).  The cost here would be that character could not spend most of their evenings drinking and whoring, even if the other members of the group were doing so.  

Of course, this is where training could come into play as well.  But again, there would be a cost, in time or jeng, or both.  Or maybe the method of their increased Health could provide a plot hook within itself.  E.g., Maybe character is 'boosting' (using some dangerous Rowglin military supplement) and hiding it while dealing with the growing fatigue, or side effects.
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JSDiamond
Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #6 on: September 24, 2003, 03:20:00 AM »

Quote from: JSDiamond
Quote
Clinton Nixon wrote: "If it's impossible (unless your character has a 38 or above in the appropriate attribute) to get a %Learn roll from a Gonzo Failure, why's the rule there?"

You're right, but only if the character is only competent at that skill.

When considering the possibility of a Gonzo Failure (or any critical success choice action) the progression looks like this:
Min stat and corresponding min level of skill required to achieve a critical success:
51 Familiar
38 Competent
26 Expert
17 Master  


Jeff,

I hate to keep harping on this, but part of my original question keeps getting missed.    A player can't get a %Learn roll unless his player's skill is Competent or less. Therefore, getting one for free with a Gonzo Failure can only affect characters with 38 or above in an attribute.

Based off some rough numbers, this benefits approximately as many people as recent tax cuts, which is to say a small number of people who are already very well off. Considering that, what's the point of having the rule there if most characters can't use it?
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
xiombarg
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« Reply #7 on: September 24, 2003, 06:15:21 AM »

Quote
Based off some rough numbers, this benefits approximately as many people as recent tax cuts, which is to say a small number of people who are already very well off. Considering that, what's the point of having the rule there if most characters can't use it?

I have to admit I'm curious about this one as well.

I think part of the answer might be that there are supposed to be "opportunities" (as per the rules) for rolling your %Learn that aren't Gonzo Failures, so it's not like it's gimping your ability to advance.

But that doesn't change the fact that very few people get to use Gonzo Failure, which is a terrible shame.
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
JSDiamond
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« Reply #8 on: September 24, 2003, 09:00:03 AM »

Quote
Clinton Nixon write:A player can't get a %Learn roll unless his player's skill is Competent or less.


I know I'm missing something here.  I don't understand where a character needs less than a competent level of skill to gain access to a Gonzo Failure.

Let me break it down. A Gonzo Failure is one choice offered as the result of a critical success, so it's really a question of how many players benefit from this rule.  Or more precisely, how many players will be able to have their characters achieve a critical success, which is what a character must achieve for the player to gain an opportunity to describe a Gonzo Failure, which in-turn could grant you a level-up in that skill.

Please tell me if I'm on the right track: Is what your're asking more to do with how many players will be able to roll 51+ under their character's TN?
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JSDiamond
Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #9 on: September 24, 2003, 09:11:29 AM »

Quote from: JSDiamond

Please tell me if I'm on the right track: Is what your're asking more to do with how many players will be able to roll 51+ under their character's TN?


Not really. Here's the beef:

- A character must roll 51+ under their TN to get access to a Gonzo Failure.
- A Gonzo Failure has the incredibly cool benefit of giving you an automatic %Learn roll.
- In order to benefit from a %Learn roll, your skill must be at Competent or below. You cannot use a %Learn roll to go from Expert to Master, therefore it doesn't give you any benefit at all at Expert or Master levels.
- Only a very small percentage of characters will be able to get a Gonzo Failure at Competent or below skill level, therefore this incredibly cool benefit of the automatic %Learn roll is not really used except in rare cases.

It's not a case of "I wish my character got Gonzo-whatever all the time." It's a case of "This game has an incredibly neat motivator for taking failure, yet it can rarely be used." My question, as before: why's the rule about getting an automatic %Learn roll there if it can't really be used?
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
JSDiamond
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« Reply #10 on: September 24, 2003, 10:37:25 AM »

Quote
Clinton Nixon wrote: "why's the rule about getting an automatic %Learn roll there if it can't really be used?

I apologize for taking so long --I was hung up on the number 38.  Now I understand.    

The multifaceted 'why':  
It was a judgment call.  For new characters (presumably without a lot of skill) it's a chance at some cool opportunity I wanted to give them.

But Clinton, it *can* be used.  It's just that for more skillful characters, like when a character becomes an expert, ...well, they're an expert and that's another degree of coolness all its own.  It's a milestone --they're one step away from becoming masters.

Beyond that I wanted mastery to be harder to achieve, because to me mastery is special.  I'm all for Orbit's quirky sense of humor, but when I first created this mechanic I just found it to be a bit much that a character could accidentally become a master of something.  Because right up front at chargen a player can simply buy their way there.  

And being an expert, and using the Gonzo Failure, in play it's not just for gaining a level.  It could save your party's life (moreso than a Gonzo Success).  So, it's very usable no matter what your character's level.  And it's cloaked in the veneer of being a spaz move --so it's funny.

And at the mastery level, the player's choice abilities are huge there and more narrative than anywhere else.  Effect is a monster narrative power, succeed or fail.

Did I get it?
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JSDiamond
Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #11 on: September 24, 2003, 10:58:21 AM »

Quote from: JSDiamond
Did I get it?


You got it - I think we just disagree about whether or not it can actually be used. The number 38 keeps coming up because it's a magic number: unless your character has an attribute at 38 or higher, you can never, ever gain a %Learn roll from Gonzo Failure.

That's the part that irks me - it's a cool mechanic, and I wish more characters got to use it, even if it were rare for them. The rarity doesn't bother me - it's the total exclusion for these characters. To me, a mechanic that excludes most characters without a reason seems out of place.

That's why I think even the "Gonzo on 01" rule might help things out.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
JSDiamond
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« Reply #12 on: September 29, 2003, 09:19:42 PM »

I see your point.  In fact, I did have an "01" crit rule exception in there originally.  But it reminded me too much of a D&D house rule, so I took it out.  What I'm thinking (that would work exactly the same way) is that rolling *exactly* your character's TN could substitute as that elusive critical.
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JSDiamond
xiombarg
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« Reply #13 on: September 30, 2003, 07:22:53 PM »

Quote from: JSDiamond
I see your point.  In fact, I did have an "01" crit rule exception in there originally.  But it reminded me too much of a D&D house rule, so I took it out.  What I'm thinking (that would work exactly the same way) is that rolling *exactly* your character's TN could substitute as that elusive critical.
And, you wouldn't have to fix your tables! It could be 1-10 rather than 0-10. ;-D
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
JSDiamond
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« Reply #14 on: October 02, 2003, 04:20:28 PM »

Quote
And, you wouldn't have to fix your tables! It could be 1-10 rather than 0-10. ;-D

I know!  I thought about that right after I posted.  ^_o
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JSDiamond
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