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  1. #1
    Member Noquar's Avatar
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    Lightbulb Hidden game mechanics? = increased realism ?

    I have been gaming off and on now for 20 years. IMO I have noticed a trend in gaming systems over the years from a focus of story telling to munchkin final fantasy style gaming, with powers and feats ect... I am an old school gamer so I like the story telling side better and still think 2nd ed was the strongest in this area. I want more story telling and less game mechanics. I cant seem to get players on this same page and struggle with power hungry players that min max the crap out of the game. But In hindsight when I been a player I have done the same thing. So whats the solution. Well wrap your head around this scenario. You are at a local Pub with some friends and you accidentally spill a drink on a guy that you don't know. He comes at you ready to fight you. He looks big and dangerous. Now in a game you might realize that your stats are high and you have a list of feats to use. Your high level so you unleash hell at him, but this doesn't happen in real life with such certainty ........duh because you don't know what your up against or what your stats are and your attack bonus is. You might win , but you never know for sure. Maybe you have won most fights in the past but you still don't know your AC or your to hit bonus. Maybe your to hit bonus because of STR is high but If you didn't know this maybe you would decide to run instead or throw a beer in his eyes and tackle him. That's what I want in a game from players. Realism. I want players to act how real people do in these situations.....uncertain and stupid. I think the problem is that players get to see to much, and thus act predictable and uncreative. they never develop PC personalities. They should only have access to as much information as you and I do in real life......none. We don't know our "game mechanics" anymore than the next guy, only real hints we get are hunches and what experience teaches us. I propose game mechanics be limited to players. This way they are not distracted by bonuses and feats but instead focus on narrative , interaction and impulse......realism. This should help experienced players remain focused on good gaming habits and new players will be forced to build them. But maybe I'm going overboard or maybe I don't have the DM skills to inspire players to do these things on there own, but it seems no matter how hard you try, every group of players has one bad seed that abuses the rules and sucks what little realism you have developed out of the game.
    The flip side of this is that many players LOVE game mechanics and would be very unsatisfied with a pure (player side) no mechanics campaign. So I was tossing around the idea of a "know they self" loophole for players. The idea being that stats or game mechanic descriptions and relative level could be divulged after a wisdom check or specific life event that would help a character reflect on his/her self. Another aspect I was toying around with is a classless system. I think this might help disgruntled players have more fun with characters and personalize them. I was going to make It more difficult or impossible to self teach certain skills or class powers and make it easier to learn class powers with training. IMO this would encourage players to seek out NPC's and other masters in the campaign for training and this would limit the available class powers that PC's had access to. For instance If a player really cant kick the habit of min / max his PC....fine, but he will have to spend long years training on his own or travel great distances to find a specific master. This would also create a dynamic of NPC's not wanting to teach everyone that came to them specific powerful class traits, in order to keep them with in the worthy or elite groups. Further they might change large sums of money or demand certain years of service or proof of worth and trust. Again my concern is that players would not understand how this would make the game better, even If it seems to be less fun in there eyes initially. I think this gaming style could increase realism and plausibility.


    Any helpful constructive criticism ?

    Any one else think this way?

  2. #2
    Here my 2 copper pieces:
    "Training for level", "training for feats" etc. can work only if all your PC do this. I run once setting with detailed training system, but my "kung-fu monk" player was out of game most of the time. That was because "high sea trader" player seeks information, adventure and profit at every port his PC visits. (I had plenty of time in my university years, so I run this setting for 2 small groups and 3-4 solo players simultaneously.)
    That's realistic, this gives plenty of satisfaction for players with "mundane" PCs, but players with "cloistered" PCs are bored. In-game time runs equal for all the PCs.
    If character stats have some impact on how character looks, your pub encounter can be different. "These biceps suggests at least 16 STR, maybe even 18!"

    Currently I'm devising system of my own (3rd detailed system of my own, tbh), and here some my ideas which you may find useful:
    1. Declare and use some resource out of player's knowledge. For example I'll grant for PC some "passion dice" for good RP or clear emotional outburst on behalf of their PCs. Players can use these dice in next few rounds, but they can't plan for this resource as part of their min/max efforts.
    2. Use contacts and reputation. Contacts are explained very good in Mechwarrior RPG (3rd ed. IIRC). Any time PC did something to help others, not to amass personal power, roll for a chance to obtain contact or some local reputation or even some reputation in powerful organization. "Fifty old ladies means fighter's level-up" , but this means a lot of unwanted reputation and some bounty on fighter's head too.
    3. Get some stats out of player's control. One of my friends used stat "Presence" - derived from size, charisma, level of combat mastery and critical injuries suffered. Some army guys can be really scary. And only DM can improve this stat.

    Birthright setting must be overrun by friends, enemies, relatives, dependants, contacts, rivals, competitors and the like. I will bring some ideas for this on this forum, but only after I finish my system - a few months later, it seems.

    Last, but not least. Read "Design Patterns of Successful Role-Playing Games" from J. Kirk (free pdf) - there are many useful ideas to grab
    Last edited by Gheal; 01-02-2009 at 09:15 AM. Reason: spelling

  3. #3
    Site Moderator AndrewTall's Avatar
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    I played a game ages ago in which we never saw our Pc sheets - we told the DM where we wanted to focus the character (kickass fighter, swashbuckler, etc) and they kept it all secrets. None of the usual 'you take 5 damage', just comments like 'you pick up a few nicks and bruises' to 'the knife snaps in your side and you stagger backwards bleeding heavily'. It made combat far less casual...

    In 3e you get some issues on feats, so the player would need to pick those or trust the DM to tell them what they had, but that's about the scale of the change.

    The min/max players will get a fairly good idea of the underlying stats quite quickly, and know to ask for synergystic upgrades as they level up, but we found the improved RP compensated for the loss of min:max potential.

    In BR all PCs should have 'jobs' outside of adventure, indeed 'adventure' may be the hobby in their lives. So long as some benefit can be gained by each player you can handle things easily enough - joe, your barbarian spends the month wenching and carousing, the merchant may make money with his trades but you spend more and do so far more pleasurably, you meet an old warrior from your clan who carouses with you and agrees to support your challenge for chieftain next midsummer given your clear heroism and generosity.

    That said training tends to be something of a drag - like the old challenge the incumbent rules for druids.

  4. #4
    Member Noquar's Avatar
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    Thumbs up good feed back

    I like the Ideas guys. Good to hear that your group had a good experience trying this out.... AndrewTall. I think you have a good point about the training aspect so I was thinking of only making training a requirement for a few select *powers*. I don't want to totally slow down player progression and make the game to life like and thus boring.......we are playing to get away from reality a little .......I guess balance is the key word. Again thanks for the feed back and keep it coming, along with any other good ideas. I think I will play test this style in my next campaign starting in Dhoesone and If it goes well move it into my plans for a Giant Downs campaign.

  5. #5
    Site Moderator kgauck's Avatar
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    The bar room example presumes normal people. But PC's are often more like a team of the toughest commando team just back from the war zone. They've just infiltrated the terrorist camp, fought their way back out of the hot zone, and now they are in a bar in unspecified location, and they should expect this to be more dangerous?

    Here's another bar scenario. A jedi master and a farm boy enter a bar. One of them tries to avoid trouble, the other is supremely confident that he can handle trouble. Are your characters Luke Skywalker in Mos Eisley, or Obiwan Kenobie?

    Unless you are playing a game system in which characters advance very slowly along a very shallow curve (say Last Unicorn's Star Trek game) PC's who have advanced beyond beginner encounters very probably are the toughest, meanest, most dangerous people in a bar. We can specify that the bar is in a dangerous place, or attracts dangerous people, but that only pushes the wait a little bit.

    One of the conceits of D&D which undermines realism is that encounters should match the PC group in power. On the contrary, nearly all encounters in most places should be with very ordinary people. As I've suggested above, there are places where this is not the case, places where the most powerful people gather, such as court of any domain.

    Say Mhoried collects 53 RP a turn. The Highland/Overland Traders collects, say 52. The courts of Daeric Mhoried and Ghorien Hiriele are roughly equal and would contain roughly the same danger level for PC's who get out of line. These courts are near the maximum in terms of level and numbers of realloy dangerous guys. The court of Fhylie the Sword might be tough, but is probably a bit less dangerous for PC's who don't know their place.

    As you scale down from this theoretical maximum through intermediate points, a normal party of PC's are almost certainly the most dangerous people in most places. And furthermore, can very probably spot other dangerous people. The court of the Mohr doesn't look like Moe's Tavern in terms of who looks dangerous.

    We players of role playing games score power in terms of bonuses and scores, but in fact I think our characters have a better sense of how powerful they are than the players do. The character has direct experience in his contests, knows his preparation, and what challenges he has overcome in the past. He can look about in various venues and ask, how do I compare to these people? The medieval fighter knows who he has defeated, who he fears, how many techniques he has learned, how wounded he is after typical combat, and can rank himself pretty accurately. Since players will bring their own perceptual errors (delusions of grandeur, paranoia, &c) no need to build this into the character. It will be part of how the player plays them. With-holding the character sheet from the players effectively is to deny a great deal of self-knowledge from the character, or at its most generous to ask to the player to think like the character in terms of his preparation, but that presumes he is given a full description of his preperation. A blue belt in judo knows he has learned the techniques and past the test to be a blue belt. If he knows in a general sense the distribution of others holding belts, he knows his prowess in the judo community. The more he spars with others in tournaments, the more he refines this knowledge. If he has experience fighting those with karate, boxing, mixed martial arts, or other training, he has a better idea where he stands. And so on. All we have is grapple +5.

    Acting uncertain and stupid in a combat situation is the hallmark of the totally untrained. Its only realistic if the kind of game you are playing is "a bartender, a shoemaker, and a scribe enter a dark alley." Further they would have to remain blind to their own experience to stay that way for too long.

    A realistic game would involve players knowing their own capacities well, being able to size up opponents and tactical situations, and very probably being more than just a little tougher than random encounters.

  6. #6
    Site Moderator kgauck's Avatar
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    The way to make story central to a game is to have all of the key descriptions and decisions in the game be about the story. Mechanics should be mostly incidental. None of them can be used to advance the story or resolve story issues. They only determine whether you open the door, strike your opponent, and so on. Accomplishing anything should be based on what the players do, not what the characters do.

    In general, the game provides for resolving issues in a single die roll. This is handy when you don't want to bog play down in what is essentially a bit point. It is best used to resolve action that if televised, would occur off screen.

    Next comes the extended test. The players make some choices, and role many dice across several skills, to resolve a test. It involves more descriptions, but its still pretty mechanical. Its good for action that would be on-screen, but is still not the heart of the business at hand.

    Finally, the core of the action. Dice cannot resolve this action. Players must describe what they are doing. And they must do the right things to be successful.

    Take a mystery adventure. There would be very little use of the Gather Information skill as a single roll. Perhaps some diplomacy might be resolved this way. For the most part friends and enemies in this context is known, and shifts won't be very decisive.

    Some Gather Information might involve extended skill tests, but only for back ground canvasing, not for questioning the principles. "Hello footman, what did you see?" yes, but not for any one who is a possible suspect.

    For them, the PC's need to ask the right characters the right questions, and the answers are all pre-scripted.

    If the game is a diplomacy game (get a treaty with domain X) then diplomacy checks are either extended tests or require players to tell you what they are actually doing and saying. The desires and objectives of domain X is established in advance, and you end up at the end of the day with one of three situations, yes, no, and maybe. Yes and no require no dice. Maybe might require an extended test.

    The key to a good story is to know when to demand the players do something, when an extended test is sufficient, and when to use a single skill check to avoid slowing down the action.

    Secondly: if story is important, never let players just use a skill, they need to describe what they are doing. Then the results need to describe how it transpired. The goal is not to deny players the chance to do what they want to to succeed, but rather to interact with the specifics of the environment. Some players just want to use their acrobatic skill to bypass an obstacle. A good storyteller wants to describe the obstacle and see the player make use of the characteristics of the obstacle to get past it.

    Provide incentives to manipulate the situation, rather than just going directly for the dice. The obstacle might be a gate. Can't acrobat past it. Sometimes its a wall of force. Can't acrobat past it. And sometimes it is an upturned table. The goal is to get players asking for details so that they can make good choices.

    Players who like to min-max are just like everyone else. They want to be good at something and are willing to sacrifice something else to get there. That's not a problem. Provide the right incentives and they will participate in good stories, if only to dodge penalties and grab on to bonuses. The problem is the munchkin who won't accept having to give something up to gain something desired. They won't want to accommodate your style of play to get the rewards of a good game. They want to play how they want to play and your desired style is not their problem.

  7. #7
    Site Moderator AndrewTall's Avatar
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    You make a good point Ken, but just because you don't see the sheet doesn't mean you can't guage, or be told, your character fairly accurately - particularly if you know the system well. We knew we were pretty good - the sword freak knew he was one of the best in the kingdom for example - but when it comes to 'the sword scrapes along your side, you got lucky this time' do you have 1 hp left or 50? Similarly we'd try to gauge other people, were they tough, did they just look effective? What was their reputation like? Makes a difference from one attack roll telling you their armour class...

    I'd certainly recommend keeping hp secret as a trial - it makes a huge difference in combat. Going the full monty is a major pain for the DM though.

    One thing I'd always wanted to do was split hitpoints into 'physical' and 'other' - above L1 the hit points presumably don't reflect additional body mass (although con bonus's suggest otherwise). The 'physical' hp would normally only be touched once all others were gone, but if someone had the drop totally then they might be directly attacked (i.e. the knife at the throat, crossbow to the chest sort of thing). Using wounds and vitality points might be as effective though, I haven't tried them.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by AndrewTall View Post
    One thing I'd always wanted to do was split hitpoints into 'physical' and 'other' - above L1 the hit points presumably don't reflect additional body mass (although con bonus's suggest otherwise). The 'physical' hp would normally only be touched once all others were gone, but if someone had the drop totally then they might be directly attacked (i.e. the knife at the throat, crossbow to the chest sort of thing). Using wounds and vitality points might be as effective though, I haven't tried them.
    You just described WP/VP system, with only two minor changes, as it was in Star Wars d20 RPG (Revised Core Rulebook). And I'm big fan of this concept. Critical doesn't do double damage, but rather directly affect WP. Threats with the knife at the throat became real threats (as per critical rules) and must be confirmed by single die roll only.
    Only drawback for this SWd20 concept, IMO, is slight increase in total hp, which must be rebalanced with damage, or combat will lasts a little longer.

  9. #9
    Member Noquar's Avatar
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    Talking playing style differences

    Interesting concepts and ideas kgauck but I just don't agree. I feel what makes a game fun and a bit more realistic is not letting the players be the "commando team from hell". IMO opinion the more interesting stories involve the unlikely Hero tales or the ones involving normal people that become Hero's with wit, courage and a little luck. So I am leaning more in that direction and so as you put it a "very shallow curve" or power progress. I feel BR is a low magic and power setting and this fits best with it. Let me say again I did find your input interesting and quality.......thanks, but not exactly what I was looking for. I think maybe the "pub" example is getting read into a bit too much........it was just to express an idea not be a back bone for a gaming style. It seems reasonable that over time PC's with out character sheets would get an idea what there relative strengths and weaknesses are. But again they will find less "temptation" to start picking and choosing things based on min/max priority and more on style IF sheets are hidden........I hope. That should be enough regardless If they are truly Commando paladins or not. The idea is to change the perception of the game for players , pry there eyes off the paper and put there focus on the "character" of the character. That's what I am hoping for. You have many GREAT IDEAS kgauck, and I Thank you but IMO what your proposing works best in a high power, high magic, traditional Dungeon Crawl game. I think BR is none of these and that's what has kept me such a fan.

    Thanks for letting me express my disagreement.

    can we still be drinking buddies ?

  10. #10
    Site Moderator kgauck's Avatar
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    I don't play high magic, high power, or high anything. But the normal character in my games is between 3rd and 5th levels, and those tend to include a lot of classes, that are not optimized for combat, but optimized for doing something else (administration, scholarship, art, &c) so in terms of raw combat power a Noble 2/Fighter 4 is tougher than all but the legendary type characters (oohs and aahs for 9th level characters). Of course the Noble 2/Fighter 4 is a hapless character if the Expert 5 brings him up on legal charges, challenges him in a debate, or does much of anything not involving physical violence.

    I don't expect to see commandos from hell, but realism does include actual commandos. Since I use wound points I have seen heroic warriors take an unlucky crit early in the fight and have to fall back and use secondary ranged weapons behind a shield wall. But most of the time they look pretty effective (say Noble 4/Fighter 4) amongst a bunch of warrior 3's.

    There certainly is a difference in style between my favorite stories (the knightly Arthurian tales of prowess) and the "unlikely Hero tales or the ones involving normal people that become Hero's with wit." But I tend to define prowess to include an awful lot of court intrigue and political savvy. While there is nothing wrong with the unlikely hero style, I prefer my heroes to be born to their heroism, rather than those upon whom heroism is thrust.

    I have been troubled by the rapid curve of power growth in D&D, and if I thought I could find players for Gurps:Birthright, I'd probably go that route. My favorite game system for slow and shallow character improvement was the ICON system, but that game system was designed for Star Trek and really works best in a world where everyone is a jack of all trades and specialization is something you work a lifetime at. You would play a whole adventure, enough to level up in D&D and get enough experience to take one skill and improve it one increment. So that legendary characters are twice as cool across the board as beginning characters.

    Sure, we can still be drinking buddies. As long as you don't throw a beer in my face and tackle me. ;-)

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