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Author Topic: Conflict of design goals or: THACO - To Hit Adesign Class 0  (Read 12343 times)
Dan Maruschak
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« Reply #15 on: June 08, 2007, 06:57:49 AM »

Quote
I don't understand what you mean by puzzles being light on strategy - strategy is just one big puzzle that encapsulates smaller puzzles.
A decision that requires strategy is one in which you must pick between several reasonable alternatives.  If you compare the choices, and the reaction is "duh, pick that one" then that isn't a strategic choice.  I'll give an example from the business world:  "Make a lot of money" isn't a strategy, because the alternative, "Don't make a lot of money" is stupid in comparison.  Presented with those choices, the choice is obvious, so there's no meaningful choice.  However, "high price low volume" is a strategy, because the alternative, "low price high volume", is one that also makes sense.  Picking one over the other because you perceive you can get better results is a strategic business decision.  Similarly, in D&D character generation, if your goal is to create a melee combat character, then "highly armored heavy hitter" vs. "lightly armored fast swashbuckler guy" is a strategic choice, because both of those decisions can work.  However, "is my guy blind or not" isn't, because one of those choices is obviously better.  Now, consider a jigsaw puzzle.  Each piece can go in one and only one place.  Are there choices there?  Not really.  So it is not very strategic gameplay.

As to the rest of your post, I must say I'm completely lost.  Is the problem that you're trying to solve that you play with people who try to weasel out of having negative consequences happen to them?  Would the same problem exist in a card or board game?  As to "enforcing drawbacks" as a GM, I haven't personally (I'm not a big tabletop roleplayer -- my focus is computer RPGs), but it's done all the time -- any character system that has "opportunity costs" effectively has drawbacks, since the lack of some power or ability or level of stats is effectively a "drawback".  Have you ever GMed for a player who was bad at melee combat because he focused on magic, or vice versa?  Did you have trouble enforcing those drawbacks?  My guess is that you wouldn't, because those are reasonable strategic choices, and the player accepts the downside as the logical consequence of the upside that they wanted.  Now, if having the "drawback" is not a strategic decision, but an arbitrary one, then I imagine that it could easily be a source of tension.  People are unlikely to say, "hey, I had an idea -- my guy is super vulnerable to cold!".  They're more likely to say "hey, I had an idea, my guy has awesome fire powers, plus this stupid cold vulnerability that I have to take to balance that out.  Flame on!".

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Callan S.
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« Reply #16 on: June 08, 2007, 03:02:52 PM »

Hi Dan,

Ah, I see where were dividing
Quote
A decision that requires strategy is one in which you must pick between several reasonable alternatives.
The way I'm using strategy, this isn't an example of it. For example, if all of those reasonable alternatives result in success, it wasn't a choice either, just as much as "make money" vs "don't make money" isn't a choice. If it all ends in success, there's no choice - your headed for success regardless of what you do.

Quote
However, "high price low volume" is a strategy, because the alternative, "low price high volume", is one that also makes sense.  Picking one over the other because you perceive you can get better results is a strategic business decision.
Basically saying the same as above - but if both options lead to success, it wasn't a strategic choice (in how I use the word).

I think your jigsaw example is the clincher. Yep, that's strategy or tactics or a puzzle, in terms of how I use those words. What's at risk is time and effort and a little 'dammit, I know I can do this'.

So clearly we both have very different ideas of gamism. I'd appreciate it if you didn't phrase it in a 'are you sure you want to design a gamist game' as if out of the two of us, by default I'm the one outside of the idea. I've seen accounts of play where people face apparent strategic choices and choose 'what they think is best' when really any choice would do - in fact that empowers their simulationist right to dream, cause whatever they say can't be wrong, thus system supports their words.

I think if our mutual foundations are quite so different, were probably just going to argue over what a word means, when in the end it's clear I like jigsaw puzzles and such, whatever word you use. Perhaps you could give some actual play accounts in the AP forum, as a continuation of your thoughts on the subject?
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Rafu
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Raffaele, from Italy


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« Reply #17 on: June 09, 2007, 02:37:36 PM »

I'm new around here, but I'd like to step in... Hoping you'll pardon my pitiful English.

Since DnD 3.x was mentioned in examples, do you know that original 3rd edition designers (as Mr. Monte Cook and others admitted) chose to make some options better (more rewarding) than others, but to avoid thus labeling them? This is sometimes spoken of as related to "gaining mastery of the game". This strongly relates to the above "strategy" debate, IMO.
Most DnD players either believe the game to be "balanced" or they believe "unbalanced" options to exist as the result of design mistakes - mistakes to be either rectified (via "house-rules" etc.) or exploited to break the game, depending on one's attitude (or role: DM vs player).
In appearance, it's a game of equal opportunities: be a heavy-armored "tank" fighter, or be a fast "swashbuckler" type, or be a magic-user, for all such options have merits of their own, right? Wrong. Assuming a "typical" game, with advancement up to 20th level expected, a Wizard class PC is utterly superior to a Fighter class PC, except things are easier for the Fighter at very low levels (which is marginal, since the Wizard's superiority kicks in at 3rd); a Cleric or Druid trumps them all, being greater than or equal to any other class option at just each and every experience level, 1st-20th. All of the above is not, however, readily apparent: thus the game has "strategy".
(*And, to address the most frequent concern: "better" is defined as "providing a stronger and more varied contribution to their respective team's collective effectiveness", including that Druid can replace Fighter but Fighter can't replace Druid)


On a different note, about willingfully accepting penalties in a "gamist" environment:

I believe players would gladly accept character effectiveness penalties if they were competing for a victory score, and accepting penalties yielded a score increase. Think "score" as in old arcade games.
Think old school DnD... Is the Ogre "worth" 50 XPs? Yawn... Then, what if:
o- Single handedly slaying the Ogre with your right arm tied behind your back ---> x2 XPs
o- Doing the above with just a rusty nonmagical dagger as your only weapon ---> x3 XPs
o- All of the above, but wearing no armor or protective gear whatsoever ---> x4 XPs

More to the point, drop the big thing about "XPs", that they ultimately yield an effectiveness increase in the long run: it's just "score" now. Once we get to endgame best score wins.
Crippling your own "guy" with a permanent penalty is now "rewarded" with a permanent "score mutiplier increase". To make things more interisting, start with a x0 multiplier: fully effective characters can't score. So, what about taking that cold vulnerability now? This grants me a +(x1). Way to go... I'll forget how to wield a sword, resort to dagger and be up to x2. But, wait, what? That other guy's got a pegleg?! Time to strip naked of my armor, and tie my right arm behind my butt... Oh, yeah! I'm such a risk-taker! Eat my x4 multiplier, Mr. Pegleg!

...Well, just my 2 cents.

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Raffaele Manzo, "Rafu" for short
(...And yes, I know my English sorta sucks, so please be easy on me...)
Callan S.
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« Reply #18 on: June 10, 2007, 01:00:03 AM »

Hi Rafu,

There was a scoring system - for example, if you bid your 50 fatigue points and only lost 25, that's pretty good. If you bid it and only lost 10, that's even better, and so on. The less you lose, the better you've done.

When I wrote that post I didn't have in mind any scoring over a series of bids - each was supposed to be judged by itself Like if you played five games of chess, you judge the outcome of each by itself. You can look at how many you won out of five if you decide to, but as chess is set out normally, you look at the result of each game in issolation to the next or previous game.

Also, when players bid their resources, it wasn't permanent. In one fight they might bid fatigue, in anther they might decide to bid nothing (making that fight just alot of pleasant imaginative talk). It was up to the player each time.

But I'm being pedantic - as much as I understand your idea, its expectations match my own! Smiley I like your bidding system - are you going to write a game so I can play? Smiley

I'm serious about that!
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Rafu
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Raffaele, from Italy


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« Reply #19 on: June 10, 2007, 02:14:42 AM »

Well, since just after writing that post I've been sort of writing a game inside of my head... So, yeah, maybe I'm actually going to write a (very simple) game in a week or so.
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Raffaele Manzo, "Rafu" for short
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Simon C
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« Reply #20 on: June 10, 2007, 04:08:58 PM »

Let's imagine a game.  We'll call it "Choice Master".  It might be quite similar to your "Rocks Fall" game.  In Choice Master, the players face scenes, in which they are presented with three choices.  For example:

"You come to a great chasm in the cave.   A flimsy rope bridge spans the chasm.  You may: Cross the rope bridge, try to jump the chasm, or try to climb down the chasm and up the other side."

In Choice Master 1st edition, all choices are successful.  Whichever one you choose, you get to the other side.  The description changes, but the result is the same.  I think we can agree that Choice Master First Edition isn't a good gamist design.  There are choices, but no strategy.  It doesn't really support any agenda very well.

After massive complaints from fans, the authors release Choice Master 2nd Edition.  In this edition, there's a chance of failure.  You roll a d6.  On a 1-2, the first choice will kill the character, the second choice will injure the character, and the third choice will be successful.  On a 3-4, it's the first choice that's the successful one, the second choice leads to instant death, and the third choice injures the character.  And so on.  So for our example scene, you roll a d6, and get a 2.  Players who chose to have their character cross the chasm will lose their character - the bridge breaks while the character is in the middle, and they plummet to their deaths.  Players who chose to jump the chasm will take damage to their character.  The character makes the jump, but slamming into the far wall injures them.  Characters who climb down the chasm and up the far side escape unharmed.

Choice Master 2nd Edition is still a poor gamist design.  There are choices, but all the choices are equal.  The players don't have any information with which to make a decision, so it's the same game as first edition, with the annoying addition of having to start over sometimes, and keep track of hit points.

Faced with poor sales, the authors release Choice Master 3rd Edition, in a shiny hardback.  It introduces the revolutionary concept of "progress points".  No longer will every character proceed through the choices together.  "Progress Points" will mark the relative amount of progress through the line of choices.  Now, each choice is presented with some additional statistical information:

Cross the rope bridge: 5 progress points, 1 in 6 chance of instant death.
Jump the Chasm: 4 progress points, 5 in 6 chance of losing 5 hit points.
Climb down the chasm: 1 progress point, 2 in six chance of losing 5 hit points.

Now this is a functional gamist design.  There is an element of competition (seeing who can accrue the most progress points), there are meaningful choices (gamble for high stakes, or take the safe option) and there are strategies for success (when you're behind, it makes more sense to gamble to catch up.  Losing is the same as dying.  When you're ahead, you can afford to take the safer option.  When you have lots of hit points, you can gamble with them, but later in the game, the risks become bigger). By constantly mixing up the options, the game ensures there's no obvious optimum strategy.  I think Choice Master 3rd Edition would be a hit with the fans.  (3.5 Edition would introduce character options, such as more hit points, progress point multipliers, and re-rolls, for another layer of strategy.).

Does this fit with your understaning of gamist design? Is Choice Master 3rd Edition the kind of game you're thinking of? I can see this being a functional design for 10 minutes of fun at a convention. 


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Aaron Blain
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« Reply #21 on: June 11, 2007, 09:52:02 AM »

Hi Dan,

Ah, I see where were dividing
Quote
A decision that requires strategy is one in which you must pick between several reasonable alternatives.
The way I'm using strategy, this isn't an example of it. For example, if all of those reasonable alternatives result in success, it wasn't a choice either, just as much as "make money" vs "don't make money" isn't a choice. If it all ends in success, there's no choice - your headed for success regardless of what you do.


If "Success" and "Reasonable" are both totally binary, then yes.

I'm about to head into a dungeon full of skeletons. Should I spend my gold on an awesome holy mace of skeleton bashing or hire a priest good at turning? Both look good, and both have their own advantages and risks. Each has a different definition of success (for example, I'd have to split the XP with the priest).

In this case, both "Success" and "Reasonable" are very holistic. Even with all the pertinent data in front of me, even with a map of the dungeon and stats of all the monsters, there might not be a final "best answer". Furthermore, the player's definition of success is flexible. The stakes are usually more complex than, "You Win!"

I think you may have pointed out a basic ambiguity in game design philosophy. Most of the treatises I have read talk about "Jigsaw Gamism" rather than "Go Gamism". I personally would hate to devote myself to creating something that would become a notch in someone's belt. At the same time, I understand the satisfaction people feel when they've glued and framed a 5,000 piece puzzle. A pretty important distinction in my opinion.

(Perhaps I'm splitting hairs here, but there's strategy even in assembling puzzles. Do you start with the edge pieces? Sort by color? "Success" is not only getting the puzzle together, but how quickly and easily you do so.)

Oh, and why stop with throwing the die? I haven't gotten this far yet, but when people get the hang of my mostly-karmic game, they can resolve ties any which way they want to. Usually, it's just a coin toss. But it can be paper football, hula-hooping, tic-tac-toe, etc., etc., and all the better if it's symbolic of the task being resolved. Make a shot in the trashcan to successfully shoot the guard. Win a staring contest to resolve the psychic battle. Eventually I'd like to get Fortune totally out of the picture.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #22 on: June 11, 2007, 10:48:02 PM »

Hi Simon,

I like your developmental example. But I think a fourth ed may be around the corner. Your example seems to basicly balance out - it's kind of like having accurate but weak guy who hits for 20 but has 80% accuracy and strong but inaccurate guy, who hits for 40 but has 40% accuracy. There's no point to it, because both have an average damage of 16 - there no real choice between them. The options in your example seem to balance out too, essentially equivalents of each other. What might make them unbalance is if there is a definate optimum choice before hand, and one of these choices strengthens it. But that's where the real issue is, back at that choice - how do we have an optimum choice and yet its obscured enough for some amount of play to happen (and I mean obscured from the GM as well, so he can be surprised too).

However, if all the previous choices mathematically pan out to be roughly equal, then there are no choices. This isn't terrible - I've noted, snakes and ladders is fun, and the only choice there is whether you play or not (anyone scoffing right now can prove their designer cred and go play a damn game of it). Having a bunch of balanced options (and low handling time) makes a sort of sexy, more imaginative version of snakes and ladders. Frankly I'd settle for that if A: it wasn't an effort to write up and B: The SIS comes into it somewhere, if only lightly.

You were gunning to obscure the right answer, but I think that removed a right answer as well. Are there any other methods of obscurement out there? To everyone including the GM, I mean.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #23 on: June 11, 2007, 11:05:54 PM »

Hi Aaron,

In this case, both "Success" and "Reasonable" are very holistic. Even with all the pertinent data in front of me, even with a map of the dungeon and stats of all the monsters, there might not be a final "best answer". Furthermore, the player's definition of success is flexible. The stakes are usually more complex than, "You Win!"
I think your using an example where no ones actually challenged you to do anything. For example, if someone, another real person, challenged you to get the blood diamond, if you don't get it, you've failed his challenge. If your not interested in his challenge, that's fine. But there's no real getting around it by saying you have a flexible defintion of success - that's just using a complicated excuse to ignore the challenge given by the person.

Quote
I think you may have pointed out a basic ambiguity in game design philosophy. Most of the treatises I have read talk about "Jigsaw Gamism" rather than "Go Gamism". I personally would hate to devote myself to creating something that would become a notch in someone's belt. At the same time, I understand the satisfaction people feel when they've glued and framed a 5,000 piece puzzle. A pretty important distinction in my opinion.
I would say the same with an additon 'I would have to devote myself to creating something that would become a notch in someone's belt, that I knew the answer to'

Quote
(Perhaps I'm splitting hairs here, but there's strategy even in assembling puzzles. Do you start with the edge pieces? Sort by color? "Success" is not only getting the puzzle together, but how quickly and easily you do so.)
I agree, as I noted in an above post. Strategy, tactics, puzzles - they are all just layers on the same damn onion to me. Some onions are big, some are small, but they're all onions.

Quote
Oh, and why stop with throwing the die? I haven't gotten this far yet, but when people get the hang of my mostly-karmic game, they can resolve ties any which way they want to. Usually, it's just a coin toss. But it can be paper football, hula-hooping, tic-tac-toe, etc., etc., and all the better if it's symbolic of the task being resolved. Make a shot in the trashcan to successfully shoot the guard. Win a staring contest to resolve the psychic battle. Eventually I'd like to get Fortune totally out of the picture.
Sounds great! When can I see more? Smiley Seriously, this could be a really penetrating advancement in gamist RPG's.
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Simon C
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« Reply #24 on: June 12, 2007, 04:50:43 PM »

I like this thread.  I feel like we're homing in on some essentials of Gamism. 

Callan, I see your point about Choice Master third edition.  I think it's overstated to some extent, though.  Yes, all the choices are ostensibly equal, but only assuming perfect knowledge of future choices.  If this is the only challenge that damages hit points, and you have six of them, risking losing 5 is by far the best choice.  There are correct choices, and an astute player will be able to pick up trends (there are three challenges left, hit point damage is uncommon, I'll take lots of it now, since I won't need those hit points later).  That's strategy.  To a large extent though, it's a crapshoot.  You might be wrong, and there's not much information on which to base your decision.  I think there's enough to make Choice Master third ed and ok game, but I think we can do better.

What I keep coming back to is the idea that Gamism is essentially about making the right choices.  In D&D it's about choosing the right feats and equipment, in Chess it's about choosing the right move for your turn. For those choices to be meaningful, they need to draw on a body of information.  For the game to be satisfying long term, that information needs to be complex enough to be difficult (or ideally impossible) to master.  There needs to be a difference in the amount of information the players have mastery of.  D&D is ok for this.  The rules are sufficiently complex that it takes some time to master.  Making the right choices requires drawing on your knowledge of all the different powers in the books, and how those interact with the challenges likely to be faced.  It's not perfect though, because it's relatively easy to master the entirety of the rules, and then making the right choice is no longer a challenge.  Then the game becomes snakes and ladders - which as you've noted can be a fun game, but I think it's not satisfying for very long.  Chess is a fantastic Gamist design, because the information the players have to draw on (possible future moves of their opponent) is practically infinite, and impossible to master.  It's satisfying long term because, given a sufficiently skilled opponent, making the right choice is always a challenge.

Worth noting as a dead end for Gamist design in RPGs is the idea of drawing on knowledge of the real world as it applies to the imagined situation as a way to make the right choice.  A game where the GM decides what the "realistic" outcome of your actions would be, and you attempt to make the right tactical choices by deciding what would "realistically" work, is a poor gamist design.  The challenge is intuiting the GM's perception of realitiy, which, unless you're gaming with God, is different from actual reality, and is always going to be different from your own perception of reality.  There is no "right" choice, just choices which appeal to the GM, and choices which don't.  Good gamist design requires drawing on objective, rather than subjective, information.

"Battle Ships" is another example of great Gamist design.  Given a certain amount of information, the players make choices about which square to fire on.  There are definite "right" and "wrong" choices, and the right choices are not obvious.  The players draw on their knowledge of remaining ships, definite hits, and definite misses, to postulate possible correct choices.  There are a range of acceptable choices, and it takes a long time to develop mastery of the information available.

So it seems to me that the ideal Gamist RPG is one in which there is large amounts of objective information, some of which is clearly stated, and some of which must be produced from the stated information by drawing on experience with the game, logic, and prediction of opponent's actions.  D&D fulfills this.  There are large numbers of feats, skills and weapons.  Working out which is the best choice requires remembering what has worked in the past, crunching the numbers to work out optimal bonuses, and knowing what the GM is likely to throw at you.  A wide range of choices also seems to be desirable, as a way of increasing the range of information required to make a decision. 

So what does this mean for Advanced Choice Master? I would say that the fundamental basis of the game is sound.  Look at the options, assess the information available to you, make a decision.  To increase the long-term satisfaction of the game, the designers need to increase the amount of information available to the players, and increase the range of choices.  Here are some ways of doing this:
Powers.  In Advanced Choice Master, each character has a power.  There's a list of these, and they include things like bonus hit points, regaining more hit points when resting, gaining extra progress points in certain situations, modifiers to some kinds of roll, and so on. Not only does this increase the number of choices the players have to make, it increases the information they have to draw on when making a decision.  The powers of other characters will influence their decisions.

Resting.  Sometimes the choice is between resting (and regaining hit points) and pressing on (gaining progress points).  This requires drawing on different information than other decisions, and increases the number of choices in the game.

Opportunities.  Sometimes, an opportuntiy becomes available to the character with the most progress points.  This usually carries special risks and special rewards.  If the opportunity is passed up, it's handed on to the player with the next highest progress points.  This makes every decision in the game harder, because now having more progress points is more valuable than being in the best position overall (the best combination of Progress Points and Hit Points).  Players can make a calculated gambe to expend Hit Points on sub-optimal choices, in order to gain the lead and have a chance at an opportunity.  Players faced with opportunities must weigh the risk of the choice against passing the opportunity on to their opposition.

Helping.  Characters with the same number of progress points can opt to help each other, gaining a bonus to their dice rolls.  Is this a good choice? Does helping a weaker character benefit you? How about helping a stronger one?

Initiative.  Players make decisions in order of who has the most progress points.  This means that players at the back have more information with which to make a decision.

I think Advanced Choice Master has enough complexity of information, enough information that can be drawn from the stated information, and enough choices, to be a functional gamist design, long term.  I'd play this.
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contracycle
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« Reply #25 on: June 13, 2007, 09:57:52 AM »

Quote

What I keep coming back to is the idea that Gamism is essentially about making the right choices.  In D&D it's about choosing the right feats and equipment, in Chess it's about choosing the right move for your turn. For those choices to be meaningful, they need to draw on a body of information.  For the game to be satisfying long term, that information needs to be complex enough to be difficult (or ideally impossible) to master.

I agree in general terms, but it seems to me this presents a serious contradiction for RPG purposes, namely that satisfying strategy requires sufficient that it be "impossible to master" but has to be executed at the table with very limited means by one person who requires full mastery.

I think instead that most RPG have relied on a kind of faux-complexity, unlike the Computer RPG's that Dan mentioned.  They can be really mechanically complex because the computer can handle the numbers, but for practical purposes there is no way we can call on that kind of computational power at the table.  The flagship example is that computer RPG's handle encumbrance well, and tabletop games invariably handle it poorly.  I suspect that this applies to D&D as well, in that theres no guarantee that the person applying the rules is in fact fully and sufficiently aware of every last rule in every minor paragraph as to be able to claim that D&D's full complexity really exists; more likely like a functional subset is in operation.

I don't think we can achieve real complexity of this scale at the table; what we can create is instead a kind of indeterminacy in which actual relationships are obscure or unpredictable.  I question how much strategy exists in the most homebrew campaigns, because characters are relatively fixed, and the presented adventure or scenario is an artefact of the GM, constructed with a high degree of knowledge of the characters.  It doesn't really seem to me that a given character design or development choice is truly strategic, because the GM of a game comprising three monks is likely to present very different problems and scenarios than a GM presented with a warrior, a magician and a rogue.  Sure all my character design choices are complex, but the GM is not really playing the same game as I am, and in many respects is not playing a game at all, given that the GM has no limits on their resources whatsoever.

The earlier model of the GM acting as executor of a externally written and predetermined module is a better model for real strategising, because then the point buy or whatever decisions in character expression are matched up against a world that is specifically uncaring and merciless and exists without reference to them or their decisions.  But this idea has its own issues around character death and the kinds of topics it can address and so forth.  This is essentially the way that CRPG's still work.

I don't think it is sufficient to rely on weight of system and the multitudinous ways things can be linked together to provide a properly strategic game.  Even if the pseudo-complexity of a world, hidden by fog of war from the players, was such that they were fearful of the match-up between their tasks and their abilities, what then of the GM who is cursed with an allseeing eye and to whom the strategic illusion is all too apparent?  Where's the fun in that.
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Dan Maruschak
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« Reply #26 on: June 13, 2007, 11:24:28 AM »

Quote
What I keep coming back to is the idea that Gamism is essentially about making the right choices.
Maybe it's pedantic, but let me disagree with your terminology a bit, "right choices" implies there is an objective best choice.  I would think more in terms of "good" choices, or maybe even "difficult" choices.  Usually, there is no "right" move in chess.

On your point about the real world invading a gamist design, I think I agree with you to some extent, but I'd note that many strategic thinkers (such as myself) use inductive thinking and pattern matching to figure out what to do.  If your game system operates in a way that is counter to the intuition that people bring to the table then it is likely to be frustrating for many players.  Personally, this is why I don't enjoy chess -- it's too abstract for me.

Quote
I think instead that most RPG have relied on a kind of faux-complexity, unlike the Computer RPG's that Dan mentioned.  They can be really mechanically complex because the computer can handle the numbers, but for practical purposes there is no way we can call on that kind of computational power at the table.
It's my personal experience that computer RPG's that rely on systems that are too complicated for the player to understand are frustrating and unfun.  Remember, the player is the person that needs to be catered to in computer RPG design -- if the player can't understand the systems he's interacting with, he's not able to really employ strategy, and he's probably not having fun.  In my opinion, the complexity limiter is the human player, not the hardware or software.

Quote
I don't think we can achieve real complexity of this scale at the table; what we can create is instead a kind of indeterminacy in which actual relationships are obscure or unpredictable.  I question how much strategy exists in the most homebrew campaigns, because characters are relatively fixed, and the presented adventure or scenario is an artefact of the GM, constructed with a high degree of knowledge of the characters.  It doesn't really seem to me that a given character design or development choice is truly strategic, because the GM of a game comprising three monks is likely to present very different problems and scenarios than a GM presented with a warrior, a magician and a rogue.  Sure all my character design choices are complex, but the GM is not really playing the same game as I am, and in many respects is not playing a game at all, given that the GM has no limits on their resources whatsoever.
My suspicion is that a gamist GM in this scenario is stepping up to a challenge, too -- creating a scenario that's right on the hairy edge of beatability.  If the players find it too easy or too hard, they'll likely perceive the GM as failing.  So I don't think it's right to say that they have no limits on their resources -- the limits may exist only in a social context in D&D, though.  Maybe a "cleaner" gamist design would give the GM more explicit limits?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #27 on: June 13, 2007, 08:12:57 PM »

Callan, I see your point about Choice Master third edition.  I think it's overstated to some extent, though.  Yes, all the choices are ostensibly equal, but only assuming perfect knowledge of future choices.  If this is the only challenge that damages hit points, and you have six of them, risking losing 5 is by far the best choice.  There are correct choices, and an astute player will be able to pick up trends (there are three challenges left, hit point damage is uncommon, I'll take lots of it now, since I won't need those hit points later).  That's strategy.
I think your describing one method of obscurement - where all clear current choices are roughly equal, but in relation to latter choices, one of them is actually part of the foundation of a game win.
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To a large extent though, it's a crapshoot.  You might be wrong, and there's not much information on which to base your decision.  I think there's enough to make Choice Master third ed and ok game, but I think we can do better.
Do you think that perhaps going against roleplay tradition and being able to play the same scenario as many times as you feel like stepping up, resolves the crap shoot to a fair extent? I mean, if you go through once, yeah, it might be a crap shoot. But if you try going through again, you might see trends, as well as being able to bank on certain choices.

Just probing the crap shoot there.


In regards to chess, I think we should really look at the design.
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Chess is a fantastic Gamist design, because the information the players have to draw on (possible future moves of their opponent) is practically infinite, and impossible to master.
I don't think that's true - you can't and don't master chess - you master the other person. The thing that gives it extreme longevity is that the other person changes in their strategies. That's the big thing - it has changing 'content' because the other person changes (in their bid to win). System matters in regards to this by giving such a large amount of room for strategic change.

That's one breed. You might remember the old adventure quest games on the PC (kings quest, space quest, etc). In those you wandered around a world trying to work out the puzzles in it. Clearly this breed is static.

I'll just note the next bit to further clarify my goals.

The thing that matters to me is - in chess the other player changes aren't along any sort of real world paradigm. I'll just quickly say, I compare my own gamist drives to be much like two kittens or cubs play fighting - it's fun, but its actually about advance training for latter hunting in their life. Now, if you want to engage real world physical problems and gain some sort of mastery over them (like the cubs play fighting), the chess model doesn't meet that goal - because the opposing players mind is running off an entirely alien, non world paradigm in what they do. Often they revolve around the mechanics of the game, making them even more alien and non worldly. It's like trying to learn how to climb a tree - but it's Esher's version of a tree, that artist who did all those wierd pictures where dimension and direction are very warped.

Anyway, that means the chess breed of game is out. Which is why I accept that my game has to have a finite lifespan, as opposed to chess's apparently infinite lifespan.

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Worth noting as a dead end for Gamist design in RPGs is the idea of drawing on knowledge of the real world as it applies to the imagined situation as a way to make the right choice.  A game where the GM decides what the "realistic" outcome of your actions would be, and you attempt to make the right tactical choices by deciding what would "realistically" work, is a poor gamist design.  The challenge is intuiting the GM's perception of realitiy, which, unless you're gaming with God, is different from actual reality, and is always going to be different from your own perception of reality.  There is no "right" choice, just choices which appeal to the GM, and choices which don't.  Good gamist design requires drawing on objective, rather than subjective, information.
I think this needs more discussion. Yes, your own perception of reality and the GM's may not converge. But that's more an issue of 'well, that problem solving method failed, what else do I have'. If you have no other problem solving options, if you just sit around awkwardly for some time, it's a failure of design.

I think it's perfectly fine to say how you think reality works and BAM, fail and get slapped with a painful penalty or even just finish play having lost. Part of me wants to get all upset at that, perhaps all deprotagonised as a simulationist upset. But the thing is, if the game moves on then it shows the point of play isn't for the GM to talk over my idea of reality with his own. However, bad gamist design doesn't move the game on once you fail at having matching notions of reality. This leaves the distinct impression that since this moment is drawn out rather than resolved, play is about awkwardly sitting there while the GM gets to do a simo prima donna, while your idea of reality gets talked over. Which will rankle your inner simulationist - it would mine. But if the design of the game makes it that this isn't the point of play, that the point isn't for him to talk over your sense of reality, then it's just not about that stuff.

How do we ensure gamist activity continues after a non match of reality perception, so as to prove the game isn't a simo primadona fest? That's a question to get into. And a really long sentence...how am I going, clarity wise? I don't want to be writing a really odd post like I sometimes do Smiley
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contracycle
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« Reply #28 on: June 14, 2007, 03:13:47 AM »

It's my personal experience that computer RPG's that rely on systems that are too complicated for the player to understand are frustrating and unfun.  Remember, the player is the person that needs to be catered to in computer RPG design -- if the player can't understand the systems he's interacting with, he's not able to really employ strategy, and he's probably not having fun.  In my opinion, the complexity limiter is the human player, not the hardware or software.

Agreed, but in the computing context we need to distinguish between the interface and the system; the interface has to comprehensible, the system does not.  They can do tremendous amounts of calculation that are never visible to the player until they reach a trigger condition and actually draw something on screen.  Consider something like Oblivion, in which you can train your stamina by simply running around; the system must, in the background, be counting how much distance or time you spend in this activity, but it would be both a bore and a chore to do this kind of accounting at the tabletop.

There are some kinds of complexity we can do better because of the presence of human judgement and practical experience; you are rather less likely to be totally blocked by a closed door in tabletop, for example, whereas it remains a stock device in CRPG's.

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My suspicion is that a gamist GM in this scenario is stepping up to a challenge, too -- creating a scenario that's right on the hairy edge of beatability.  If the players find it too easy or too hard, they'll likely perceive the GM as failing.  So I don't think it's right to say that they have no limits on their resources -- the limits may exist only in a social context in D&D, though.  Maybe a "cleaner" gamist design would give the GM more explicit limits?

I sort of agree, and you might be interested in Rune, which is itself, interestingly, the RPG of the CRPG.  This sets a point budget for the GM in designing a dungeon, and GM-ship is taken to rotate pretty strictly between the players.  I agree that is a much cleaner design, but I still find the idea fairly dubious.

Certainly the idea of the GM setting a challenge that is only just beatable appears fairly frequently in historical play texts but presents a number of its own problems.  First and foremost, playing that close to the players resources risks that you will guesstimate wrong and wipe them out.  What then?  Unlike CRPG's you can't just reload and try again.  Secondly the continuing escalation of opposition to match character development can feel pointless - what was the point of earning some mighty power if the opposition you now encounter is largely immune?  I have had players complain that they never really got to enjoy their hard won powers.  But then is my job as GM to throw weak opponents at the players so they can relish their own might?

I largely agree that the gamist GM should be designing a real challenge, in some way, but I'm not sure how it is that this should be done.  I think the mentality of gamist players is much less thorny than the question of what the gamist GM is doing, and why.
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Aaron Blain
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« Reply #29 on: June 14, 2007, 09:32:03 AM »

This thread is getting pretty abstract. I'm not sure what sort of game you want to make, Callan. For a page there I thought you were going for full-on board-game level of abstraction, the sort of thing "real people" play. Now you seem to be saying that gamism doesn't have darwinian value without an element of simulationism. Having progressed this far, do you think you could very briefly refocus and restate your goal/problem for me? I want to contribute, but not to ramble.

Your bear cub illustration (I wouldn't even call it an analogy -- it really is the same thing in my opinion) is something I have thought a great deal about. I've been pondering this framework, a sort of "Maslow's Hierarchy of Gaming". I've been reading the forge for a couple of years now and have always been baffled by this talk of "finding meaning" or what-have-you in the allegedly supreme narrativist genre. Recently, however, I've found that some of my gaming friendships have elevated to the point that such things might be quite enjoyable. With people I consider less  "Self-Actualized" but still cool, I can indulge in a communal enjoyment of a shared subject matter (Let's say Indiana Jones) and its accompanying emotions, etc.

Furthermore, I have found that, even with people I don't really like, I can still enjoy playing out those basic skills which constitute my evolutionary fitness : spatial judgement, reflexes, arithmetic, etc. If I'm playing Final Fight next to a total stranger I can still enjoy myself, even if he decides to be a douche and take all the cheeseburgers. Gamism "really GETS you, right here" . . . way down in the "root chakra".

I don't agree at all that more abstract games are worse for this purpose. All games are abstractions. Even an exhaustive training simulator will sometimes teach you to rely on its unavoidable abstractions, causing you to fail in the real world. Games like chess hone very basic skills which can be generalized to a variety of life's challenges. And furthermore I'm still not convinced that your game HAS to have a finite lifespan, although I still think your ten-minute goal is totally valid.

Tell me if you posed this hypothesis : The players' captivity to the GM's conception of reality is not necessarily a design flaw if it is not central to their success. Yes/No/Sorta? Quite interesting, and perhaps crucial the discussion.

Oh, and what you pointed out as a method of extended obscurement of correct choices does introduce a degree of indeterminacy which, at a critical mass, produces a replayable game. The correct choice is always changing, and always obscured differently. Repeatedly finding it constitutes strategy. Furthermore, since the correct choice is determined by future events, it is un-knowable at the time of choosing. Yes, we can crunch numbers, find the optimal probabilities, and wear down the casino over time, but a daring gambler can win big in the short term. To me, this makes your premise of short, finite game all the more exciting.

God, this is getting abstract. Tell me, Callan, do I get to stab people?
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