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Backing plays

Started by jdrakeh, August 18, 2001, 08:13:00 PM

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Joshua Marquart wrote:

abuse is actually a problem with the GameMASTER, not the game itself. It's the GM's job to reign in his abusers, not the systems. A system should be limitless.

I figured that I might be able to gain some insight on this from the Forge crew...

Is system abuse the sole province of the GM?

I look at it this way:

To quote Harvey Kietel "I make the plays, and you back the plays I make!". Simply put, I think a system should back up the GM when he/she makes a ruling.

It seems that making a system full of design loopholes that allow for the unintentional creation of uber characters, and then saying "It's the GMs responsibility", is a way of sloughing off some oversight on the part of the design team.

I mean, shouldn't a game system have *some* limits (optional or otherwise) that help a GM maintain balance? I know that many a rules-lawyer or min/maxer will bend every vague rule to suit their own needs, and unless the GM has something tangible to back up a judgement call on the issue, mighty arguments often ensue.

So, what's the deal? Should a system back the plays a GM makes, or should it leave the GM with only their own wits and house rules to deal with potential system abuse?

James Hargrove
James D. Hargrove

Ron Edwards


Well, here's the thing. This is a good inquiry, but it is about five or six steps "downstream" in the design process - and I think that if previous steps were well-handled, then this question doesn't even have to arise.

Here's what I mean.

1) The most common form of "abuse" arises when a game's Currency is incoherent. That is, numbers get so transformed from one part of the sheet to another, that break-points appear. The player swiftly realizes, in Champions, that most score values that end in 4 to 7 are worthless, as most "derived" values (which are used in play) rely on dividing by 5 and rounding up. So every score ends in 3 or 8, for maximal point-spending efficiency.

Therefore, if the game design doesn't use ratio-based derivations at all, then this form of abuse is not possible. I've heard a lot of people boast that they can break any game - and I like watching their faces fall when they look over Sorcerer. Same with The Dying Earth, or Hero Wars, or Orkworld - a point is a point, not a fifth or a third or a half of an effective value.

2) Another issue of abuse involves disadvantages which gain the PC more points, in exchange for some metagame-based problem (hunted by someone, e.g.). Many players are famous for spotting the non-disadvantageous or easily-ignored limitations, and racking up huge numbers of points that way. But again, game design that simply does not use positive and negative points at all (at least not in terms of "balancing" them in any way) sidesteps the whole problem.

I especially liked Robin Laws' solution in Feng Shui - it is perfectly legal to start a character with lower scores than are given, but there is no advantage to doing so.

3) But I'd really like to address, most of all, the conditions under which "abuse" of the above types seems necessary to the player at all. In the post which begins this thread, there is an implicit notion that the GM and system are allied against various negative player behaviors.

I am not so poofy-sweet as to believe that all of us, players and GMs, should link arms and dance in the positive light, and never "want" to abuse a system again. No. I am suggesting, however, that the reward system, or positive reinforcement mechanism of the game, can be highly focused to encourage certain behaviors.

In Orkworld, for instance, the player has a choice whether to play it safe and not attract Trouble, in which case the character's improvement process is slow, or to boast and crank and act big, in which case Trouble descends upon the character like a Mack truck, and that character (IF they live) improves much more quickly. In this game, either behavior is OK - what matters is that the player is emotionally engaged in how the ork character deals with Trouble, and that behavior is not abusable - either way, they DO have to deal with it, and its consequences do occur.

Well, I hope some of this made some sense.



I have some questionas to what you mean by abuse.

In many games (hell, any game), there are usually benefits and penalties associated with "over-specializing" in any given area of gameplay.  

In such cases, I agreem it is indeed the province of the GM to put rein to this by introducing a conflict that provides some degree of challenge to the character.  After all, conflict, and the degree of challenge inherent in that conflict and resolution is the very nature of role-playing (yeah, yeah, I'll say it: screw explorationism).

However, there are games wherein it is possible to create characters that have no specific points where a meaningful conflict can be introduced.  Sometimes, this is due to the player creating a flat, boring character ("I'm a fighter... I fight").  Sometimes it really is a function of a problem with the system (Tri-Stat: load all you can into Soul, then balance the other two stats.  Soul is used for EVERYTHING!).

That type of loophole is not, to my mind, the problem with player and GM, that is a problem with the system (or, to be specific, as Ron states above, the Currency).  


Laura Bishop

Just to add to Ron's post, from a more 'pay no attention to the man behind that curtain' angle...

Sometimes, when you're introducing a new element/new power/new ability into a game, you inadvertently create a loop hole.  It's hard to think of all the permutation something New is going to add to a game, and we each bring different life experiences to our roleplaying.  We're going to look at the elements presented to us in different lights.  A writer is hard pressed to crawl into EACH and EVERY one of our minds.

An example might be in 7th Sea (I happen to be in two different games, so forgive me if I've used 7th Sea over abundantly as of late.  I swear, I play other games! ; ).

In my second 7th Sea game, our GM has given us 175pt Characters; this is a HIGHLY cinematic campaign.  We're all members of the Rose and Cross -- the Swinging Knack has become second nature.  Our resident number cruncher though, came up with this little ditty: if you play a Montaignen (+1 to Panache) with the Legendary Trait advantage (+1 to any Trait - Panache), membership in the Rose and Cross (+1 to any Trait once you learn the Secret - Panache) and a masters understanding of the Valroux (+1 to Panache), you can have a 8 Panache.  If you're unfamiliar with 7th Sea, among other things, you Panache works as your Init in combat.  This character would have 8 actions in a 10 Phase Round.  That's a whole mess of Panache right there, baybee.

But it's doubtful that when the writers of 7th Sea sat down to Do Their Thing, they thought of this.  It took a warped and twisted mind to develop this particular concoction (And no, he isn't playing that character.  No, no, no).  Sometimes those kinds of things happen.

In my experience as both a GM and a Player, I've found the responsibility to avoid such Power Gaming lays on both sets of shoulders.  Sure, you want to get the most bang for your buck, but you don't want to march on people's heads, either.  Nor do you want your GM marching on your own head in retaliation.  (As a side note, I think one of the funnier examples of this was an article I read by John Wick>here.  Skim down to Berserk.  I haven't always seen eye to eye with John, but - damn!  All with the funny.)

Now given, I'm a pretty straight forward Narritivist, and play with equally as Narrate-y individuals.  If the goal of your game is to monkey stomp people, you want to design a character who can monkey stomp.  You're probably going to be Loop Hole Detective too, but then, it's probably going to be expected of you.  It's going to depend on what kind of Social Contract the GM has created with her players.

I think before the question is asked 'Is system abuse the sole province of the GM?', you need to ask 'What exactly is "abuse" in relation to me, my game, my players and our Contract?'.

Laura Bishop

On 2001-08-19 01:56, Dav wrote:
I have some questionas to what you mean by abuse.

*Grin* See?  Great minds. ; )


As to what I mean by "abuse", Ron nailed it down pretty quickly...

When I said "abuse", I was referring to the bending or breaking of rules for the purpose of intentionally creating/maintaining an uber character which defies the spirit of the game at hand.

I guess I should have been a bit more clear - I really hadn't given much thought to how many different ways the word "abuse" could be interpreted. My bad, guys (and gals).

Ron is right - such pitfalls can be avoided by structuring rules in a certain manner and clearly specifying their intention. I guess that was my question in a nutshell...

Should a rules system be designed with such unsporting exploitation in mind, and should it attempt to diffuse such exploitation by design?

In other words... should it back the calls that a GM makes on such matters? Should a system be designed to assist the GM in curtailing rules exploitation, or should it leave that burden on the GM alone?

James Hargrove

PS - Thanks for the great answers so far!

James D. Hargrove


A great example just sprang to mind... our resident rocket scientist (yes, he's actually a rocket scientist) has discovered how to build a character in AD&D that is capable of delivering more than 100,000 attacks in a round!

While it is *possible* to create such a character without breaking any rules (there were some bends, though), it certainly isn't a very sporting character.

Luckily, the rocket scientist has enough decency never to actually build the thing and request to play it :smile:

James Hargrove

PS - As Laura said, sometimes loopholes are overlooked in design. I am *sure* that this was one of those loopholes. In any event, now that I've mentioned it, I'll have to get the document from my friend to share it with you all.
James D. Hargrove


On a strange side-note:

So I made this homosexual minotaur pirate (long story) in D&D one time.  I got him to the point where, according to the time of a Round, versus his movement, he broke the sound barrier.

I tried and tried to get my GM to tell me how much pain I could induce by piercing the sound barrier next to an enemy, but no go.  I had great images of rnning circles around a castle wall and blowing the shit out of the structure after a while.

Anyway, here is another one:
 Say you have this Samurai in 3rd edition.  This guy has that Supreme Super Badass Gonna-Kill-You Cleave (or whatever it is, you get a 5-foot step between choppin's).  There is this line (and I mean line) of these army ants beasties from one town to another.  I'm in this one town in the south.  The army ants, who are pathetically weak (think goblin) are lined from town A (mine) to town B.  I need to be in town B IMMEDIATELY to save this town ruler guy.  Big drama, cuz I got like two minutes to travel 45 miles.  The ant guys are doing this daisy chain (as ants are wont to do).  Using my super cleave, I start at town A, ripping into these bastards.  Take my step, rip into the next one.  And so on.  Long story short: 1 Round, 45 miles, huge train of dead little ant bastards.

You want to see a GM shit himself, have him try to figure out how many toddler-size ants fit in a 45-mile line, and multiply that shit out for each one to give XP.  

My samurai basically teleports 45 miles, cleans out the town, all in 1 round.  Yeah, D&D is broken.  Bad broken.


joshua neff

"So I made this homosexual minotaur pirate"

I'm going to write a novel & THAT is going to be the first line.

Sorry, you can all go back to your discussion now.

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes


As promised...

Constructing the AD&D 2e uber nasty:

First, you must be a 13th Level Fighter (which gives you five attacks every two rounds - we'll stick with the two attacks taken during the first round to make this dramatic)

Second, you must be at least a 16th Level Psionicist (the reason for this will become apparent shortly).

Third, you must take two-weapon fighting style. This doubles the number of attacks allowed per round.

Fourth, you buy two scimitars of speed - each of which adds an extra attack per round (1 extra attack per hand).

Fifth, you buy two bracers of blinding strike, which doubles the number of attacks allowed per round.

Sixth, you cast Haste on your character (or have someone else cast it on them, drink a haste potion, etc) which doubles the amount of attacks you can make per round.

Seventh, you invoke the Psionic ability "Split Personality" which doubles the number of attacks allowed per round.

Eighth, you invoke the Psionic ability "Magnify" which quadruples the number of attacks allowed per round.

Ninth, you invoke the Psionic ability "Accelerate" which doubles the number of attacks allowed per round.

Tenth, you invoke the Psionic ability "Magnify" again (through the split personality this time) which again quadruples the number of attacks allowed per round.

Eleventh, you invoke the Psionic ability "Time Dilation" which quadruples the number of attacks allowed per round.

Twelfth, you invoke the Psionic ability "Magnify" (yes - again) for yet another quadrupling of attacks allowed per round.

24576 - That's how many attacks that you may make in the first frickin' round... but that's not all...

If you happen to critically succeed while invoking all of those Psionic powers, you may make 135,000 attacks in the first round.

But wait - there's more... if you're in Darksun and choose Thrikreen as your race (and critically succeed while invoking those psionic powers), the total climbs to a massive 270,000 attacks possible in the first round!

This is *obviously* oversight on the design team's part... granted, it requires a lot of spells/abilities to go off just right (or be cast prior to combat) and a huge amount experience, but the point is... this should NEVER be possible under ANY circumstances.

But it is. A few little loopholes can create a big problem :smile:

James Hargrove

PS - Credit goes to the supreme munchkin genius of Tom Puett for this monstrosity. May he never be foolish enough to play the thing :wink:

James D. Hargrove


My god, I almost posted a lengthy message defending D&D from charges that it's "broken!" Thank god I had the self-respect to delete it. Let me say only:

Read Monkey, the sixteenth century "romance" also known by its Chinese title,">Journey to the West. Monkey achieves spiritual enlightenment and uses it to bug the gods and Dragons by whomping on 'em. So they drop a mountain on his sorry ass. Hijinx ensue.

The Waltzing Samurai, even if not a willfully perverse interpretation of the rules, would fit right in. I am seriously impressed that D&D would let me play that style if I wanted to. I am comforted to know that I can avoid that precise combination of double-digit, double-class levels and nine power-ups if I don't.


Unqualified Offerings - Looking Sideways at Your World
20' x 20' Room - Because Roleplaying Games Are Interesting


So, this quarter-million attacks and so on...
what if your opponents are all 0 level?
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci


On 2001-08-21 07:58, contracycle wrote:
So, this quarter-million attacks and so on...
what if your opponents are all 0 level?

Well, then... I guess they're all screwed :smile:

James Hargrove
James D. Hargrove

Ron Edwards

Before all the weirdness ensued, James wrote,

"Should a rules system be designed with such unsporting exploitation in mind, and should it attempt to diffuse such exploitation by design?"

The "should" in this question is a problem. There is no over-riding "should" in game design (who could enforce it?).

However, in my opinion, consistently more enjoyable games for many players do include such goals in their designs.

[Side issue: Many do love point-strategy competition and hate RPGs that don't let them do it. We'll nod in that direction, with respect, and move on to James' issue, which specifies an ABUSIVE context, meaning that something about play is not being fun.]

These design goals may be deliberate (it certainly was in the case of Sorcerer). Or it may be a matter of elegance - some designers see no point to highly-derived variables, and thus their games lack them, and thus the abusable elements are removed as a side-effect. Or who knows, it may be something else entirely.

Here is the principle feature of such non-abusable designs: they are accomplished by SIMPLIFYING system, and focusing its elements toward particular goals of play, NOT by complicating and elaborating system to "cut off" certain avenues through extra restrictions.

This may seem counter-intuitive - after all, aren't "light" systems by definition more abusable? Aren't they "too loose" in permitting players to do stuff or to define characters?

Well, first, I'm not talking about "light" in the sense of, say, The Window. I'm talking about focused and direct, with non-muddled Currency. Such a game tends to be simpler than, say, Rifts, in making a character - but as a secondary outcome, not as a primary, "make it lighter" outcome.

Second, all aspects of the game have to be consistent with one another in terms of goals and Currency - reward systems, conflict systems, effectiveness of all kinds, resources, and more. This could conceivably be quite complex, but my claim is that it is not a LAYERED complexity, with fixes for certain holes and then fixes for the fixes' holes. Check out Nobilis for a good example, I think (haven't played yet).

James also wrote,
"In other words... should it back the calls that a GM makes on such matters? Should a system be designed to assist the GM in curtailing rules exploitation, or should it leave that burden on the GM alone?"

This paragraph revealed something interesting. It assumes that exploitation (of the negative sort James defined) is strictly a player issue. We have no word for "live people" in role-playing, which would include GM and players or hybrids thereof, but it seems to me that exploitation and abuse can be brought into role-playing by ANY of them. I prefer system design in which exploitation/abuse is minimized for ANY user of the game, GM or player or anyone.

In my experience, if point-strategizing IS possible and it IS NOT a specific goal and desire in the whole role-playing group, then it tends to take over and become abusive and disruptive. (If it IS such a specific goal/desire, then fine - and I'm pretty sure that's what Rifts and certain brands of D&D3E are about, for instance.)



Ron, thank you again. You touch base on many issues which I have had questions about, but the most helpful thing you offered was actually another question:

"This may seem counter-intuitive - after all, aren't 'light' systems by definition more abusable?"

In my experience I find that they are actually *not* more abuseable. I also know that many designers choose to simplify their game to discourage elements of abuse inherent to certain more complex design styles.

And this, Ron, is a fine example of what I meant by active discouraging of abuse in a system :smile:

Thanks again,
James Hargrove

James D. Hargrove