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Author Topic: Decay RPG - Experience Levels  (Read 11167 times)
Sentience
Member

Posts: 43

Sentient Games - Living Breathing Thinking Games


« Reply #30 on: April 05, 2007, 05:22:14 AM »

Well, then I guess my avowed goal of "exploring the wastes" should be changed to "exploring the harsh, brutal, challenging wastes".

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Essentially my best answer is, not everyone enjoys the same thing.  Some people enjoy winning more than challenge, and will happily cheat.  Others are un-interested in slogging through the challenges just to test powerful gadgets and would rather start straight out with them.  It's impossible to produce a game that's always fun for everyone.  It's more likely you'll produce a game that's simply rarely fun for anyone.  The worry here is that you'll get a group that enjoys different aspects of the game.  If only one person enjoys combat, then any time they spend in combat is an example of that one person wasting everyone else's time.  During combat all but one of the players would be having a better time if they were doing something other than playing your game. 

Let's face it. Living in a post-apoc world isn't a walk in the park. The characters in the story realistically have to worry about surviving in inhospitable places, which means finding food, water, shelter, and things like that while dodging nasties that they can't just blow away without breaking a sweat. I'm not going to sacrafice some form of realism and throw the idea of challenges out the window just so the players can pwn the setting and do whatever they want with it. Sure, they can have very significant affect on it, but I'm not creating a game where the players are overlords who bend the world to their wims.

I'm creating an adventure game, along the same lines as D&D. It's supposed to set challenges for the players, so when they overcome these challenges they get a sense of accomplishment. It's not going to be set up as a game for 'cheaters' and people who want WIN (not just succeed, but WIN) every single time. I'm prepared to eliminate people from the audience who want a game where their characters are ultrapowerful world-changing ass kickers always and forever. That's not the game we've producing. Simply put, it's impossible to create anything (not just a game) that everyone is interested in. From the get go, it's established that I'm not making a game for the masses.

I'm not sure it's fair to say that Decay will rarely be fun for anyone because it's not set up to be easy and unchallenging. Sure, it's not going to be fun everyone all the time, but then what RPG is? But I think it will appeal to people who enjoy post-apoc and cyberpunk settings, people who enjoy setting up challenges and overcoming them, and people who enjoy working with each other to create the game together. I don't think it will appeal to people who are uninterested in science fiction, who don't like games that aren't easy for their characters to be powerful, and people who want either the players and the GM to run the show.

The game isn't centered around combat. There are basically three styles of play: Tactical (lots of combat and challenges), Social (not alot of combat, lots of role-playing), and Balanced (mix of Tactical and Social).
If the group unanimously decides that Tactical or Social is the way for them, then hurray, problem solved. If not, the Balanced style will usually make everyone happy. But again, it's impossible to create anything that everyone loves.

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What do power levels do?  If the goal is: We want players to explore the world.  Then powerlevels just dictate the order in which they must explore it (from lowest challenge to highest).  If the goal is for players to compete, either with each other or the world, then the power levels are the score.


The goal is: We want players to explore the world, but not without facing some difficult challenges along the way. It could be said that they're competing against the world, but I think it's better said that they're being 'challenged' by the world. The GM (the world) isn't trying to kill them, he's trying to challenge them so exploring the world isn't a walk in the park. If you want a walk in the park, then don't buy Decay.

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To me, this is a problem.  Remeber the GM is just a player with a funny screen in front of him.  Imagine if the rules of chess said "The player of white decides the winner." All other rules seem sort of trivial don't they?  Apportioning this much power to the GM is likely to produce conflict between the have and the have nots.  I'd sort of hoped that the power mechanics would provide the players not the GM with a way to create their own story, not just follow his.


I understand what you're saying, but I think chess is a bad example. Chess is inherantly a competition. Decay is not a competition. It's an exercise in story telling where everyone should play an equal role. I wasn't trying to say that the rules support this:

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If the GM wants to let the Green characters have impact on the setting, he'll do so. If he doesn't want the Legendary characters to have an impact, he'll prevent it.

All I'm saying is that if the GM wants to run an Illusionism game, that's what he's going to run and the book isn't there to stop him, just discourage him from doing so.

But ultimately, the GM has the final word. He's not just a player behind a funny screen. His role is much different then a Player, hence why he's called the GM, not a Player. Other games might blur the line between GM and Player, but this one sits with the traditional idea that the GM A) Provides the story (while working with the Players), B) Governs the use of the rules, and C) Decides the outcome of dice rolls and certain events.

The Power Levels provide a way to prevent players from maxing out their skills. They serve as a benchmark to determine the relative power of new or evolving characters. They allow the GM and the Players to create a campaign based around inexperienced characters, or elite ones. They don't prevent the Players from creating stories along with the GM or having affect on the world, no matter what Experience Level the characters are. The only thing that can prevent the players from having affect on the world is the GM's own stubborn selfishness. However, it isn't our job to stop him from being stubborn and selfish. The best we can do is express that stubborn selfishness in GMing is a sure-fire way to prevent the players from having fun and truly feeling that the world is as much theirs as it is the GMs.

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I think this is a hybrid of participationism and bass playing, but I think that depending on the choices of the players the game will be one or the other.  Essentially, if they go after the chip, the players are doing participationism, or maybe module play, following the trail of bread crumbs the GM is leaving.  They cannot produce a story that is not in accord with the basics of what the GM has laid down.  They only alter the how the preset events happen.  The details change, but not the substance. If the players decide to ignore the chip and explore the world on their own, then it's bass playing.  They create their own motivation and story for exploring the waste and the water chip was just their long forgotten starting point.  Sure it may bob back up, but they can just move on, there's no game over screen.  So, Either the players are participating in the GM's pre-planned story, or they're writting their own story about the waste, but not both. 

I believe that saying "depending on the choices of the players, the game will be one or the other" firmly expresses that the players have a choice in the matter, so they've succeeded in writing the story. Just because one of their choices involves "scripted" events, doesn't mean they aren't writing their own story. Some scripted events may never take place, or may take on a different form, or maybe the Players will create new events. They've chosen to follow the trail of bread crumbs, which is just as good as if they went off on their own. The only difference is the GM already knows the bread crumbs are all about, but he'd be making stuff up off the top of his head otherwise. As long as those bread crumbs can be morphed and twisted to meet the choices of the players, then I don't see a problem with this.
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Sentience
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Sentient Games - Living Breathing Thinking Games


« Reply #31 on: April 05, 2007, 05:28:27 AM »

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I understand what you're saying, but I think chess is a bad example. Chess is inherantly a competition. Decay is not a competition. It's an exercise in story telling where everyone should play an equal role. I wasn't trying to say that the rules support this:

I'm sorry, I fudged the words up there. It should read:

"It's an exercise is story telling where everyone creates the story together."

Obviously, the GM plays a bigger role is decision making, but thats neither here nor there.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #32 on: April 05, 2007, 03:28:18 PM »

Hi Zack,

I'm not sure I like where were going with the tone of speach ("but I'll humor you"). In the end it's not so much about a reason, you just don't want to force the seesaw? That's cool, I respect your choice - I'm hoping the tone is because on other boards theirs often a lack of respect for personal.

However, here's something to consider about 'forcing'
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You've brought up a great point. As a designer, I can't truly "force" anyone to play the game a certain way, just like I can't "force" them to play it at all. I'm not holding a gun to their head, which means they can change anything about the setting, the rules, or the way the it's set up to be played. But when I hear "we want to ensure blah blah happens", it makes me think that we're looking to design the game to make it impossible (so long as they follow the rules to some degree) for a GM to run a game sans 'blah blah'. So when we talk about "ensuring the players get their turn", we're therefore making sure the seesaw effect takes place, meaning we're 'forcing' the seesaw on them.
I think your seeing 'force' rather than actual fact. If you pull out your chess set but play with some really different movement rules for the queen, you are not playing chess. It's a variant, but the actual fact is, you are not playing chess.

Another example - if there is a mountain in front of you, your not being forced to see it - it's just a fact. There is no force involved - it's just reality.

Here when I talked about making it impossible to run a game sans X, it's making it impossible to play without X - if you do, its just a variant of the game. That isn't forcing anyone - it's just a stone cold reality, just like the mountain in front of you.

HOWEVER, roleplay actually has a long history of 'creative denial' - there's a thread where Ron talks about creative denial better than I can (search is broken right now, it seems). It's essentially a conceit - say a group is playing star trek - they are adamant that the way they play is by the book. But you'll also find a second group who SWEARS the same, but neither group is compatable with each other and would even get catty with each other. Both are playing variants of the one game, but the creative denial is that the changes they added are cannon and real and concrete, because they don't see themselves as having made any changes. That's what makes the game world so concrete for them (the idea they didn't add changes), yet so close to the heart as well (the fact that they did make the changes they dearly wanted). NOTE: The word 'denial' often connotates a negative context - I'm not suggesting creative denial is negative here, I'm just describing the procress.

However, I'm drifting here - I should really write up an article with these concepts.

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However, I don't see how the Experience Levels encourage illusionism. By not forcing them to play bass, I leave the option of a participationism game as well.
Well, a player who wants participationism doesn't want power - these levels start giving him power. He's going to be "What, what am I supposed to do with what I've been given? If I roll a skill, I'll be wielding in game power and I said I didn't want that"

Perhaps there could be some notes on how to correctly use the skills in a participationist game - like the gun skill isn't used so much to shoot, but roll it and if you pass you describe how cooly your character holds it and how graceful he is in its use? How would GM/player advice for a participationist game sound to you?

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An illusionist GM is going to run an illusionist game no matter how the game is set up. If he wants to prevent the players from having power, he'll ditch any rules, or twist the story around, or otherwise make sure that no matter what the players do, the story that he's decided upon will enevitably happen. Such is the nature of a selfish GM.
I agree. But in a horrible validation of system matters, a game system can be designed to help ensure he doesn't have to twist as much story, or ditch as many rules or whatever to get illusionism.

Look, I'm probably a bit of a burned out player. But if your customers are a 'flock' I think your building in more room for 'wolves' to sneak in than you'd want. You were interested if there were any probs with the level system, so I thought I'd say that.

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Normally, when a player is using a skill, they roll the die and their skill adjustment to the die, trying to meet or exceed the target number. Occasionally, failure is not an option. The hero absolutely must shoot the rope that's going to hang the sheriff of the town, who is the only person who can prove that the heroes are innocent and didn't kill that girl. So the player decides to use a Focus Point. Instead of just rolling the Control Die plus his Fire Arms Skill Adjustment, he now gets to add an additional D8 to his roll. He rolls the die, and gets 15, plus 6 for his Skill, making the total 21. He then rolls his D8 Focus die and gets a 7, making his total now 28! He fires his revolved and the bullet splits the rope, saving the sheriff!

What happen, was the play's Fire Arms Skill essentially became legendary for that one, single roll. Instead of just having a 6 in Fire Arms, he got to add a D8 to his Skill Adjustment, so his Fire Arms Skill became 13 for that one shot. In this fashion, we've achieved what you were suggesting, just on a smaller, more controlled scale. Am I wrong?
Sorry. Imagine that a NPC had to prove his innocence to the PC's by shooting the rope to save the sheriff, and the reason he's proving himself is because of the players 'hunt men down' skill is at legendary - there's no escape, he must save the sheriff! That's the players at the high end of the seesaw.

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The more I think about it, the more I begin to believe that the seesaw is a bad thing. If you look at it like that, then in each extreme (either the GM in command, or the players in control) one side or the other is playing a background role. If the seesaw exists at all, why shouldn't it be always at an equal level
When I mentioned the seesaw, it wasn't my recommendation, just seemed to fit what you were doing. I wasn't interested in pushing you away from the seesaw idea, even if I don't favour it. There are other options - would you like to discuss them? If so, start off a new thread (I think that fits the forum policy - it helps keep threads neat and focused. You can link to this thread from the new one anyway Smiley ). I'd love to talk about the two paragraphs before the quote Smiley
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Philosopher Gamer
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Sentience
Member

Posts: 43

Sentient Games - Living Breathing Thinking Games


« Reply #33 on: April 05, 2007, 06:37:27 PM »

Hi Callan,

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I'm not sure I like where were going with the tone of speach ("but I'll humor you"). In the end it's not so much about a reason, you just don't want to force the seesaw? That's cool, I respect your choice - I'm hoping the tone is because on other boards theirs often a lack of respect for personal.

Looking back, I see the disrespect in the tone, and I apologize. I meant no offence. To be quite honest, I felt that was a technicality, and technicalities are a tremendous pet peeve of mine. I know you didn't mean any harm, and I think you know I didn't mean any either.

I think in some respects, we've reached an impass, since you've demonstrated your concern that, if the seesaw exists, there needs to be a way to make the players have their turn. My opinion is that it should be up to the group to make sure there's transfer of power, or, in an ideal situation, the seesaw is at a constant equilibrium. I'm not sure there's much more to dicuss about that, though I respect your comments and have given them much thought.

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Another example - if there is a mountain in front of you, your not being forced to see it - it's just a fact. There is no force involved - it's just reality

(Sorry for the one-line-quote, but that's a one line comment)

To me, reality is essentially forced on us. I have no choice but to see the mountain because that's how reality is set up. Unless I close my eyes and pretend it's not there, I'm forced to see it.

In the same sense, if we set the book up to make the transfer of power a reality, the group has no choice but use it, less they close their eyes and pretend it's not there.

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Well, a player who wants participationism doesn't want power - these levels start giving him power. He's going to be "What, what am I supposed to do with what I've been given? If I roll a skill, I'll be wielding in game power and I said I didn't want that"

Perhaps there could be some notes on how to correctly use the skills in a participationist game - like the gun skill isn't used so much to shoot, but roll it and if you pass you describe how cooly your character holds it and how graceful he is in its use? How would GM/player advice for a participationist game sound to you?

Now I think we've reached the same page again. Assuming the ideas of Illusionist/Participationist/Bass Playing aren't copy written and are able to be talked about in the book (are they?), I think I would start by explaining the theory behind those three principles. Following the descriptions of each type of game, I would give suggestions on how different aspects of the game would function (being sure to discourage the Illusionist game, since you're basically lying to the other people playing the game).

In the case of how to interpret skill rolls and the task/resolution system in a Participationist game, I think there can be varying degrees of how much the outcomes of roles take affect on the game.

For example, the GM may already know that the players are going to successfully defeat the mutant horde attacking the city of New Atlanta. However, he can still allow the dice rolls to dictate the course of combat, fudging outcomes here and there to ensure that the players are victorious. Alternatively, he can do as you said and allow the dice rolls to determine the particular amount of cinimatic drama that occurs with each action, while the outcomes are completely controlled by the ideals of the GM.

I think it would be wise to explain the types of games to the Players as well, to educate them on the existance of Illusionist GMs, so that the group can establish what kind of game their playing, and it's not a secret. This alone might allow peer pressure to drive GM's away from Illusionist styles of running the game, to narrow the scope to Participationism and Bass Playing, thereby giving the group the ability to choose how the game should be ran, without us forcing a particular style on them

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I agree. But in a horrible validation of system matters, a game system can be designed to help ensure he doesn't have to twist as much story, or ditch as many rules or whatever to get illusionism.

I believe educating the players on the types of games can help ensure that they won't suffer from a selfish GM. Is there a specific element of the Experience Level system that supports Illusionism? From what I can see, the existance of a task/resolution system to decide the outcome of certain situations helps to drive groups towards Bass Playing as it is.

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Look, I'm probably a bit of a burned out player. But if your customers are a 'flock' I think your building in more room for 'wolves' to sneak in than you'd want. You were interested if there were any probs with the level system, so I thought I'd say that.

I was getting the feeling that you've suffered from having a selfish GM in the past. I suppose it's difficult for me to understand some of the concerns you have since I've almost always been a GM, whose almost always had a group of Players whose biggest pleasure in playing was getting me frustrated and playing their characters in such a way that the session turned into one big joke. I learned to deal with that, eliminating players who didn't really want to cooperate, instead playing with people who were interested in group-story telling, and not group-makezackfrustrated.

Care to explain how I'm building room for wolves to prey on my flock?

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Sorry. Imagine that a NPC had to prove his innocence to the PC's by shooting the rope to save the sheriff, and the reason he's proving himself is because of the players 'hunt men down' skill is at legendary - there's no escape, he must save the sheriff! That's the players at the high end of the seesaw.

Why must the 'hunt men down' skill be at a legendary level in order for this to take place?

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When I mentioned the seesaw, it wasn't my recommendation, just seemed to fit what you were doing. I wasn't interested in pushing you away from the seesaw idea, even if I don't favour it. There are other options - would you like to discuss them? If so, start off a new thread (I think that fits the forum policy - it helps keep threads neat and focused. You can link to this thread from the new one anyway Smiley ). I'd love to talk about the two paragraphs before the quote Smiley

I too would like to discuss it, though I'm not sure where I'd begin. Any suggestions my friend? Smiley

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Majidah
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Posts: 17


« Reply #34 on: April 06, 2007, 07:39:22 AM »

That was good discussion, I think we've sort of split into two parallel discussions, one is about power levels which are an "ephemera" a tiny aspect of the game that serves to implement the designers vision, the other is about player empowerment which is a choice at the level of the shared imaginary space.  Maybe Callan's right and we should start a second thread about player empowerment in Decay, so for now I'll just stick to discussing the ephemera.  It's a little difficult since the player empowerment decision is sort of above the ephemera, choices you make there will basically decide for you what technical rules you should put in the game.

One of the things Callan brought up was the old forge saying "system does matter."  A lot of roleplayers claim the system doesn't matter and that people will just change the rules to match what they want to play.  There's a little mistake in that line, system refers to how the players actually play, rules just refers to what the designer writes down.  If the players modify the game they are now playing with a variant of the desingers intended system.  A worthy design goal is to forsee the ways people might want to play the game and write the rules so they don't have to change them.  The other common meme is to think that players changing rules means something like, "this group rolls 4d6 drop the lowest instead of 3d6 for attributes."  This is certainly a rules change, but so is "once, just once, the GM fudged a roll to save my character," and "the rules don't say whether your supposed to share in character observations, but our group has decided it's not fair," or even "we use in character and out of character voices." A good set of rules is very self-aware, it was written with experience as to what happens during a game, and covers the eventualities. 

So lets talk about powerlevels.

1. Power levels empower players--
First the GM writes a couple of adventures that the players participate in.  Then the GM writes no more adventures, the players now have enough power and knowledge to decide what they want to do in the setting on their own.  They choose where to go, and the GM just rolls for the setting, he doesn't plan a story, the other players are already writting a story about their characters that needs no input from him.  The GM just uses the detailed setting to react to what they are doing.

Things to think about:
How many hours of play before the switch and how much advancement?
Will new characters start at the bottom, or at the previous level (ie. if you start a new set of characters will they have to work their way up seeing the parts of the game they've already explored)?
How will players learn about the setting? Will the GM just hand them the book to represent the players in game knowledge?

2.  Power levels divide the world into zones--
Certain areas are more confusing for players who haven't learned enough about the game.  Since the setting is shared among many groups, it is also important that certain areas be resistant to change.  Power levels are used to divide the world into certain areas with similar statistical challenges.

Things to think about:
Are there better ways to divide the world into zones? eg. lack of vehicals, radiation storms etc.
What will be the consequences of high level characters in low level zones, what will be the consequences of low level characters in high level zones?
What will be the consequences of players choosing to play high level characters from the outset?

3.  Power levels allow the players to impact the GM's story--
Not to be confused with 1, in this case players can rewrite the planned adventure if their power level is high enough to ignore obstacles the GM might deploy.  This may either arise from excessive player power or low GM power.

Things to think about:
Will this cause conflict?
If the players leave the GM's planned adventure, what will they do?
Why must the GM generate an adventure?

4.  Power levels are inheriently enjoyable--
Players gain a sense of accomplishment by becoming more powerful, even in cases where statistically, challenges remains the same.  In essence, higher numbers are preferable to lower numbers, and growing numbers are best.

Things to think about:
Does this hold true for everyone?  What about players who just want to explore?
Will this encourage competition between players?
Will the game be able to focus on other modes of fun if the players are constatnly striving for advancement?
http://www.progressquest.com/

5.  Power levels are realistic--
Observations of our world tell us that certain skills are not evenly distributed and that skills can be improved with time and effort.  The imaginary space of the game should reflect this.

Things to think about:
How does realism make the game more fun?
Can this be implemented without power benchmarks, just different starting points?

6.  Power levels are in most RPGs.
Power levels are extremely common in RPGs, therefore must be valuable to a game.

TtTA:
Why should something that worked elsewhere work in your game since your game is different in other respects?
Do powerlevels work in other games, or are they only doing it because of number 6 as well?
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John Adams
Member

Posts: 90


« Reply #35 on: April 06, 2007, 12:20:40 PM »

Fantastic post Majidah, I hope you don't mind if link to and re-post it often. You summed up the "loot and level" issue thoroughly. (I'm playing ProgressQuest for the first time as I type this and laughing my ass off. Sweet parody.)

Zack:

Straight, simple answer to your original question: Yes, using power-levels as a cap to force PCs to diversify sounds like a good idea. However ...


Honestly, I have a big chip on my shoulder right now. I've spent many an hour in MMOs frustrated because they offer little but "loot and level". The designer part of my brain can't get around the idea that the *last* thing one should do as a designer of an MMO is partition players into little boxes. I know you're not building an MMO, just letting you know to take what I write with a big grain of salt.

As a tabletop (or chat-based) RPG designer, you will provide a large chunk of the content players and GMs will use in their adventures. Level-based systems should be careful to avoid a common pitfall: PC's should never out-level content. You're just shooting yourself in the foot. If you have the resources to create, say, 100 monsters, why would you divide them into 5 sets so that players can only choose from 20 at a time? Won't your game be less rich?

Further, one of the reasons for using power-levels is "the sense of advancement," last week I could only defeat X ... now I can defeat X+1. Yay me! I rock! Except that implies I'm still fighting X today (so I can see how easy it has become) and that last week I at least got a taste of X+1 such that I knew it was out-of-my-league. In my book, this requires having all of the content available all of the time, else you lose the sense of empowerment and it just becomes a grind. Caveat emptor.

The solution of course is to make sure that for Green PCs fighting a Green rad-scorp hatchling is a "hard" challenge and for Legendary PCs fighting 10 rad-scorp hatchlings is an "easy" challenge. All content is available, all the time. This implies a fairly shallow power-curve. Easier said than done, and the more complex your combat system, the more difficult it will be. Are power-levels worth the effort for your game? What are you giving up by devoting dev-cycles to make all this work?

Also consider: You want exciting challenges for your players. You also want variety, with some "easy" challenges, some "moderate" and some "hard". All of this takes a lot of planning and play-testing, hopefully with real players bent on "breaking" your system and exposing any flaws or loopholes. As soon as you introduce power levels, you *multiply* the effort needed to create all of this content. Please, please don't assume it will all just "scale". In practice, it very seldom does. (And the very options and tweaks that make a game interesting are the ones which scale poorly.) Again, is it worth it? what are you gaining and what are you giving up?

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Sentience
Member

Posts: 43

Sentient Games - Living Breathing Thinking Games


« Reply #36 on: April 06, 2007, 01:06:07 PM »

I really like the direction the discussion has turned. I've been thinking about how to start a thread for the idea of player empowerment, and I'm getting there.

On the topic of power levels:

I'm going to answer your TtTA with my own ideas and opinions. I would really like to hear everyone elses opinions as well, if only to see where we agree and where we disagree.

I'll start with the first three, since my time is kind of limited at the moment.


1. Power Levels Empower the Players:

How many hours of play before the switch and how much advancement?


Answer: At the current design juncture, characters recieve about 12-16 XP per middle length (about two hours) moderately difficult (involved a significant amount of challenges) adventure in which the Crew was largely successful. If the Crew failed in their goals, the XP award will be more along the lines of 6-8. If they achieved extraordinary success, 17-20. Assuming they always achieve modest success, that means they'll reach the next Experience Level (each EL takes 100 XP to level up) after approximately 12 hours of play. The Arbiter (GM) can speed up, or slow down this process by awarding more or less XP respectively.

From our point of view, statistical advancement has no concrete influence on when the Arbiter can hand the reigns to the Players and let them begin controlling the path of the story.

Question: Do you feel that the standard amount of time is too short, or too long to make a significant jump?

Personal Note: Most of the games I've GMed, the session lasted anywhere from 2-4 hours, making ascending an EL possible within three sessions. Originally, the intent of each EL was to represent a very significant jump in power, possibly the equivilent of 4-5 levels in D&D. 


Will new characters start at the bottom, or at the previous level (ie. if you start a new set of characters will they have to work their way up seeing the parts of the game they've already explored)?

Answer: In some cases, groups who start with Elite characters, played for a while, then decided to create new characters, they may choose to start the new characters off at the Green EL. In other cases, people who started with Regular character, played for a while, then decided to create new characters may start at the Elite EL. The choice is up to them. They may create less experienced, more experienced, or equally experienced new characters.

As far as how the exploration of the world will play out, ideally they'll be inclined to explore completely new areas, never explored by their previous characters. Alternatively, they may choose to create a Crew that centers around a different aspect of the game, such as going from a Crew who was based in the Outlands to a Crew who lives in the Megaplex, or going from street thugs to corporate special forces, or other changes along those lines. They might create a group of psionic characters as opposed to mundane characters, or perhaps they make evil characters instead of do-gooders.

The 'zones' that I described above are enormous. It's impossible for a Crew to explore every inch of every zone. Therefore, a group of new characters exploring the Western Badlands will have just as much to discover, even if this is their second set of characters exploring this zone. At least, thats the way we're trying to design it.


How will players learn about the setting? Will the GM just hand them the book to represent the players in game knowledge?

Answer: Handing them the book is one option to get the acquainted with the setting, though probably not the most enjoyable. One possible way to introduce new players to the setting is to create the first adventure around the "new guy" or "amnesia" principle. This is, the characters that they are playing are just as clueless about where they are as the Players themselves. This gives the Arbiter a good reason to explain things, in game, to the characters that will educate the players about the setting.

Question: In what other ways could the Players learn about the setting?


2.  Power levels divide the world into zones

Are there better ways to divide the world into zones? eg. lack of vehicals, radiation storms etc.


Answer: The regions of the setting aren't completely designed to force the players to level up before they're able to explore there. The biggest thing that's stopping them is the difficulty of their Survival Skill checks. Naturally, some areas are just more difficult to survive in than others, and this is illustrated by preset Target Numbers designated for each region. This can worked around by supplying the Crew with the things they need to negate the difficulties, or at least help them deal with them. For example, transversing an Emission Zone is extremely difficult, what with all the radiation, lack of clean water and food, and the mutated creatures that don't take kindly to strangers. If the Arbiter's story supplies the Crew with a dune buggy, RadSuits, some decent weaponry, and a trunk full of pure water and uncontimated food, the players can explore this area with relatively little difficulty.

Question: How would you suggest seperating the zones better?


What will be the consequences of high level characters in low level zones, what will be the consequences of low level characters in high level zones?

Answer: I'm not exactly sure what kind of adverse effects can happen.

Question: Have you thought of any?


What will be the consequences of players choosing to play high level characters from the outset?

Answer: The only forseen side effect of players starting with high level characters is the idea that they won't have as much room to advance, but on the other hand, they'll be able to experience more of the high level content right away, sort of balancing out the equation. Other than that, there's the risk that the players will become "spoiled" and only want to play high level characters from then on, never taking the opportunity to experience being the low-man on the totem pole.

3. Power levels allow the players to impact the GM's story

Will this cause conflict?

Answer: In most cases, the GM will have designed the challenges within the adventure to reflect the character's high level of power. If for some reason this isn't the case, and the Crew breezes by all the obstacles in their way, the only conflict is perhaps that they'll reach the end of the GM's planned adventure far too quickly and easily, in which case the GM will need to either elaborate, or the session might be cut short. If the adventure is too easy, this will award the players less XP, who might feel they're getting jipped out of "advancement juice".

Question: Is this the type conflict you're referring to?


If the players leave the GM's planned adventure, what will they do?

Answer: If they leave the preset scenarios, the GM's goal is to either subtley nudge them back on track, or to "play bass" and let the players decide where to go and what to do.

Why must the GM generate an adventure?

Answer: In the case of very independant players, creating an adventure may not be neccesary. Simply giving them a starting point is enough for them to get their footing and starting creating their own adventure, with the GM just reacting to what they do. On the other hand, some players rely on the GM to supply the story, preferring to follow along with something that seems more tailored and 'scripted', rather then random and off the top of the group's head.

Question: What are your thoughts on this question?


While I'd like to continue, I've got some friends coming over and my time is short. I'll try to finish some time tonight though. Thanks for the insight Majidah!
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Sentience
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Posts: 43

Sentient Games - Living Breathing Thinking Games


« Reply #37 on: April 09, 2007, 07:05:47 AM »

Whew! Finally, I have some time to finish what I'd started.

4.  Power levels are inheriently enjoyable

Does this hold true for everyone?  What about players who just want to explore?

Answer: In the case of players who don't enjoy advancing, and would rather simply explore the setting without having to worry about being challenged and overcoming obstacles, the best way to supply them with the experience they're looking for is to explain to the GM that he should be sensitive to what the Players are looking for in a game and design the adventures in the campaign with this idea in mind. The GM can then spend the majority of his preparation time worrying about what sort of places and people the Players can discover, rather then having to think about obstacles and enemies for them to defeat.

Question: Does anyone have a better suggestion on how to do this?


Will this encourage competition between players?

Answer: In most cases no. One of the established ideas is that each character in the group should specialize in a different area then the other characters in the group, to encourage team work and diversity, rather then having six guys walking around with identicle skill sets. Having a diverse group allows them to overcome more diverse obstacles, and also allows the GM to plan adventures that will challenge the players in a variety of ways. Of course, some people are more competitive then others, and competition is unavoidable in some cases, regardless of the existance of Experience Levels. Any game that use statistics at all runs the risk of having competition between players. Even games that lack character statistics can host competition, when one player wants to have better equipment, or a more famous character, or wants to accomplish more or discover more.

Will the game be able to focus on other modes of fun if the players are constatnly striving for advancement?


Answer: Of course! The are no limits on where the fun starts and where it ends. One set of Players might be a group of superstar musicians, where the game focuses on the toils and tribulations of being super famous in the materialistic, consumer world of the megaplex. Their adventures may be the experiences they have on tour, while never having to worry about XP or Experience Levels. The existance of Experience Levels doesn't produce the need to 'strive' for advancement.The Players can't really try harder to advance quicker. The rate of advancement is up to the GM, and it could be a slow, or a fast road.

Question: If there were no experience levels and just statistics ungoverned by a system that limits how high a particular skill can be raised to based on relative experience, would urge to advance not be there still?


5.  Power levels are realistic

How does realism make the game more fun?


Answer: Decay isn't hard set in realism, as the setting and the content of the setting illustrates. However, providing a sense of realism gives the players and the GM a feeling that the world they're dedicating themselves to for a few hours every weekend is living and breathing place, not a cartoon or a fairy tail. Realism adds to the tone of dark, gritty, opressive horror, because what's scarier then the feeling that your character is vulnerable? Does it make it more fun? Well, we hope. It's hard to say. On one hand, some players may not like the sense of realism, wishing their characters were a little more larger then life, and not so vulnerable. However, we feel that those players may enjoy playing a different game then Decay. On the other hand, some players may be intrigued by the idea that their characters are more along the lines of batman then superman (this is a very loose analogy). Of course, the element of realism can be tweaked easily by nudging the difficulty of certain obstables up or down (down being less realistic, and up being more realistic).

Question: How do you make a game both realistic and unrealistic at the same time, to appeal to both types of players?


Can this be implemented without power benchmarks, just different starting points?

Answer: Sure, but Power Levels serve other functions than adding to the sense of realism. I'll talk about this in a moment.

6.  Power levels are in most RPGs.

Why should something that worked elsewhere work in your game since your game is different in other respects?


Answer: While there are a plethora of new-age RPGs out there that explore alternate ways to handle the issues brought about by a role-playing environment, Decay is fundamentally a traditional adventure game. The question of why do Power Levels have a place in Decay is almost the same as why do dice have a place in Decay. They serve a purpose that's common in RPGs. Dice serve the purpose of creating random numbers that represent the natural idea of chance. While there are other ways to come up with random numbers, none are as familiar or effective. So too, there are other ways to judge a character's power relative to the setting and other characters in the setting, but none are as simple and effective.

Do powerlevels work in other games, or are they only doing it because of number 6 as well?


Answer: From my experiences with P&P RPGs and Videogame RPGs, achievement and leveling has always given me a personal sense of accomplishment. Take Oblivion and the new computer game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Both have similar modes of play: You start out a novice in a big giant world where you explore and take jobs, gaining reputation as a hero and so on. While Stalker's atmosphere is far superior to Oblivion, the only sense of accomplishment I get from it is attaining a new gun, artifact, or suit of armor. There is no advancement what-so-ever. On the hand, while Oblivion isn't as 'cool' (IMO) as Stalker, I do get a feeling of accomplishment when my Blades Skill reaches the next level, and now I can do a cool new move.

Perhaps some games are doing it 'because everybody else is too'. However, we're doing it because it serves a function that we feel needs to be served.


Okay, so here's something else to think about.

As of right now, Experience Levels serve these functions:
1) Set a limit on how high a character's skill can be, to prevent 'maxing out' and allow for a sense of accomplishment when you level up and the cap is raised.
2) Give Players and the GM starting benchmarks or packages, to provide a simple way to make very experienced and well equipped characters right off the bat without 'leveling' them manually.
3) Provide a discription has to how powerful the characters are, so Official Prewritten adventures can be tailored to varying degrees of character expertise (ie, "This Adventure is Best Suited to Character of the Veteran Experience Level").
4) Offer a relative benchmark for online characters, so GMs can run adventures for "Green" or "Elite" Crews and keep track of the relative power of their online players.

If we were to eliminate Function 1, how would that effect the game?


To John

I'm glade to see some one new join the discussion. I was beginning to think that the thread was too voluminous for people to bother reading and posting their opinions.

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Honestly, I have a big chip on my shoulder right now. I've spent many an hour in MMOs frustrated because they offer little but "loot and level". The designer part of my brain can't get around the idea that the *last* thing one should do as a designer of an MMO is partition players into little boxes. I know you're not building an MMO, just letting you know to take what I write with a big grain of salt.

I hear you. I played World of Warcraft for loooong time before I realised how much of a waste of time it was for me. Leveling up and getting new gear was fun for a while, but in the end, it left me feeling kind of empty.

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As a tabletop (or chat-based) RPG designer, you will provide a large chunk of the content players and GMs will use in their adventures. Level-based systems should be careful to avoid a common pitfall: PC's should never out-level content. You're just shooting yourself in the foot. If you have the resources to create, say, 100 monsters, why would you divide them into 5 sets so that players can only choose from 20 at a time? Won't your game be less rich?


I see what you mean, but take for example a monster called the Steam Drake. A Steam Drake is a particularly brutish, hulking lizard that can spew searing hot steam from a gland in it's mouth. This monster is a particularly deady enemy, something that shouldn't be conquered by "Green" characters. A group of four "Veteran" characters, however, would find this to be challenging, but able to be accomplished. How can I realistically say that this monster is as much a challenge for Green characters as it is for Veteran characters? Likewise, take the Siltling. Siltlings are small, goblinish creatures that are more suited for Green and Regular Level characters. How can a Siltling then pose the same level of threat to an Elite character?

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Further, one of the reasons for using power-levels is "the sense of advancement," last week I could only defeat X ... now I can defeat X+1. Yay me! I rock! Except that implies I'm still fighting X today (so I can see how easy it has become) and that last week I at least got a taste of X+1 such that I knew it was out-of-my-league. In my book, this requires having all of the content available all of the time, else you lose the sense of empowerment and it just becomes a grind. Caveat emptor.

Some creatures are simply incapable of posing a serious threat to high level characters. However, many enemies are scaleable, especially human enemies.

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The solution of course is to make sure that for Green PCs fighting a Green rad-scorp hatchling is a "hard" challenge and for Legendary PCs fighting 10 rad-scorp hatchlings is an "easy" challenge. All content is available, all the time. This implies a fairly shallow power-curve. Easier said than done, and the more complex your combat system, the more difficult it will be. Are power-levels worth the effort for your game? What are you giving up by devoting dev-cycles to make all this work?

Also consider: You want exciting challenges for your players. You also want variety, with some "easy" challenges, some "moderate" and some "hard". All of this takes a lot of planning and play-testing, hopefully with real players bent on "breaking" your system and exposing any flaws or loopholes. As soon as you introduce power levels, you *multiply* the effort needed to create all of this content. Please, please don't assume it will all just "scale". In practice, it very seldom does. (And the very options and tweaks that make a game interesting are the ones which scale poorly.) Again, is it worth it? what are you gaining and what are you giving up?

This is an interesting series of questions. Luckily, the combat system is decidedly simple. Designing challenges and enemies is sort of a daunting task, but fortunately I have a group of playtesters on hand who LOVE to try to break the system. How would doing away with power levels make thet ask any easier?
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Majidah
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Posts: 17


« Reply #38 on: April 09, 2007, 12:49:29 PM »

Time for a mighty answering.   I think we're both pretty much on the same page, and it's a good page, but I'll itemize before I discuss big stuff.

1. Power Levels Empower the Players:

How many hours of play before the switch and how much advancement?



From our point of view, statistical advancement has no concrete influence on when the Arbiter can hand the reigns to the Players and let them begin controlling the path of the story.


Question: Do you feel that the standard amount of time is too short, or too long to make a significant jump?

I agree, statistical advancement does not, in itself provide a rubric for handing over the reins.  However, every time they play, your players are learning to run the game independantly.  I don't think it would take 12 hours of gaming for them to have a pretty good handle on what they should be doing, and where they should be going, 4-6 should be plenty, especially if you allow them to read the game books(what's your position on that by the way?).  As you've said, this need not have any bearing on advancement, but you could decide to link the two if you wished.

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How will players learn about the setting? Will the GM just hand them the book to represent the players in game knowledge?

Answer: Handing them the book is one option to get the acquainted with the setting, though probably not the most enjoyable. One possible way to introduce new players to the setting is to create the first adventure around the "new guy" or "amnesia" principle. This is, the characters that they are playing are just as clueless about where they are as the Players themselves. This gives the Arbiter a good reason to explain things, in game, to the characters that will educate the players about the setting.

Question: In what other ways could the Players learn about the setting?

Reading, playing and discussing pretty much some it up.  What I'm really driving at here is where you draw the player/character distinction.  Lots of people get huffy if a player reads the GM's manual, although both are just players.  Sometimes it bothers people if someone explains things that "your character wouldn't know." I'm not a big fan of this, I think that one of the main reason people are playing is to learn new things about the game world, and putting up these imaginary boundries to knowledge sort of inhibits that.

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2.  Power levels divide the world into zones

Are there better ways to divide the world into zones? eg. lack of vehicals, radiation storms etc.


Question: How would you suggest seperating the zones better?[/i][/color]


This is what I was going for with my depth/width thing.  The goal is to make it interesting to play in every zone at every level.  Think of zone specific and mobile challenges.  The mobile challenges can be stasticially graded because they can move between zones, like big monsters and such.  The Zone specific challenges just require a certiain piece of equipment or skill, like radiation protection.  This gives people more freedom to choose where they will go exploring instead of just moving from one set of statistically difficult challenges to the next.  Instead, the statistical challenges follow the players while they explore the scenery, which they can plan for.

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What will be the consequences of high level characters in low level zones, what will be the consequences of low level characters in high level zones?

Question: Have you thought of any?[/color][/i]

My example is from a deadlands game I played a while back.  The GM planned an elaborate adventure with trials and tribulations for us to face that ranged all over the weird west.  It started in a sleepy little town in the wilderness.  After 8 sessions, we were still in that town, my character had successfully run for sheriff, our mad scientist had set up shop building defenses, and our group just patrolled the area keeping it safe.  People there loved us since the old power brokers in the town were real jerks.  The GM eventually just sent overwhelming forces to force us to abandon the town, and we died fighting there rather than leave.  The point here is, if powerful characters to decide to run low level zones, they need not explore new zones.  If they decide to explore new zones they won't be able to explore what it would be like to run a low level zone.  As long as everyone is on the same page, fine, but if you don't point out which kind of game this will be, some players might have thought it was the other kind of exploration and get angry.

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3. Power levels allow the players to impact the GM's story

Will this cause conflict?

Answer: In most cases, the GM will have designed the challenges within the adventure to reflect the character's high level of power. If for some reason this isn't the case, and the Crew breezes by all the obstacles in their way, the only conflict is perhaps that they'll reach the end of the GM's planned adventure far too quickly and easily, in which case the GM will need to either elaborate, or the session might be cut short. If the adventure is too easy, this will award the players less XP, who might feel they're getting jipped out of "advancement juice".

Question: Is this the type conflict you're referring to?


actually, I think I covered this in the last question.  That's the kind of conflict I'm refering too, where people have different ideas of what the game is about because of their different characters.
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Why must the GM generate an adventure?

Answer: In the case of very independant players, creating an adventure may not be neccesary. Simply giving them a starting point is enough for them to get their footing and starting creating their own adventure, with the GM just reacting to what they do. On the other hand, some players rely on the GM to supply the story, preferring to follow along with something that seems more tailored and 'scripted', rather then random and off the top of the group's head.

Question: What are your thoughts on this question?

I think this may be the place for a choice. Many, many, many RPGs put tremendous strain on the GM for content creation.  The game essentially runs only as fast or as often as the GM can create a story, and if the story is to be any good it's going to take more work than if the story is poor.  Most games end not because they aren't fun but because the GM simply gets tired of doing so much work so they can enjoy themselves.  I think a good design decision is to seperate the idea in your mind of "GM-referee" and "GM-storyteller."   A GM's not necessarily a bad idea to watch for mistakes and settle disputes, but it's a lot to ask of one player to do that AND make up a story for everyone every week.  By seperating the rolls, the GM becomes the player who exchanges a character for executive decisions, but is simply a particpant in the same fiction creation as everyone else.  The adversarial nature of the relationship is gone, which is a good thing. 


So to sum it all up from post #1


Make sure you explain how the players are supposed to learn about the world.

I reccomend "any means possible."  The more they learn, the easier it will be for them to bear some of the storytelling load.  This also avoids the unnecessary disagreements over whether its "fair" to read the GM's manual. 

Make sure you explain who writes the story

I reccomend you tell the GM to write a 2-3 adventure story and let the players take it from there.  If one of them gets a really good idea, let him write another 2-3 adventure module involving the characters.  This is sort of the method used to write a comic book, conserve the characters, rotate the authors. 

Have the players decide what kind of game they are playing before they start to play

I reccomend the above story telling method, but whatever you decide is optimum be good and sure everyone knows what is going on.  Write it in bold font on the first page and tell the GM that if he does not explain the premise of the game before hand, the players may not play that game and a good time will be difficult to have do to internal struggles for control.

This last item is actually bigger than just this.  Put your intent in the manual.  Lots of game disputes consist of "how is this mechanic supposed to work?"  If you don't explain your intent, there's only the letter of the law and none of the spirit.  The letter can be derived from the spirit but not the other way around.
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Sentience
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Posts: 43

Sentient Games - Living Breathing Thinking Games


« Reply #39 on: April 10, 2007, 04:49:00 AM »

Thanks for the advice Pat! I appreciate it.

I've started a new thread focusing on the seesaw, shown here: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=23685.0.

Please post your comments!
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