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Boci
2011-08-23, 08:42 AM
I see this mentioned a lot when RPGs are being discussed, and I have to wonder: doesnít it sort of go without saying? After all, the way I see it, the phrase means the more you know about the system the better you are at it, which applies to pretty much everything. Now I understand some games reward system mastery more than others, such as 3.5 which over a hundred source books and a wide range of power levels between the numerous options. But Iím curious, is there an RPG with 15 or more mechanical sourcebooks that doesnít reward system mastery?

Oracle_Hunter
2011-08-23, 09:48 AM
But Iím curious, is there an RPG with 15 or more mechanical sourcebooks that doesnít reward system mastery?
No.

That's like asking "is there a game with 100 pages of rules that takes less than an hour to play" -- if you are going to make a game that includes a dozen books worth of extra mechanics, then you're going to make the game reward players who take the time to learn them.

That said, not all games reward system mastery as much as they punish Players for not knowing the rules. When you play a game without knowing the rules, you will make decisions based on incorrect assumptions. This causes you to accidentally do "dumb things." But there is a world of difference between learning the rules to play the game and learning the rules to win the game.

Another analogy: learning the rules to Go allow you to play the game non-randomly, but merely knowing the rules won't make you a master of the game. Go is therefore not a game of system mastery.

Vladislav
2011-08-23, 10:26 AM
But Iím curious, is there an RPG with 15 or more mechanical sourcebooks that doesnít reward system mastery?I don't think an RPG that doesn't reward system mastery can possibly survive long enough to print 15 mechanical sourcebooks.

Oracle_Hunter
2011-08-23, 10:47 AM
I don't think an RPG that doesn't reward system mastery can possibly survive long enough to print 15 mechanical sourcebooks.
I dunno, Burning Wheel has been around since 2002 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Burning_Wheel) and doesn't have close to 15 sourcebooks -- even counting the games that share elements of the base system :smallamused:

Emmerask
2011-08-23, 11:08 AM
I donīt think there is any such game.

In fact I donīt think there is any game in existence, however light the rules are, that does not reward system mastery.
Even a game like tic tac toe which is very light on rules rewards system mastery (ie you can always make the optimal choice which either leads to a draw or victory, never a loss).
Even games that appear random paper scissors rock award system mastery though the mastery is the metagame not in the actual rules.

As for complex rpgs, I donīt think a game that does not reward system mastery can even be achieved, maybe if you make a completely random game, but then again you could never fill so many different source books that all describe that everything you do solely depends on the roll of a dice (and nothing else).

Totally Guy
2011-08-23, 11:26 AM
Even freeform will penalise some player behaviours whilst rewarding others.

I think that system mastery as a concept is a good thing. Game rules will encourage and discourage different behaviours, even if those behaviors aren't intended. A skilful game designer can manipulate this to give skilful players the best experience of the particular game paradigm.

Oracle_Hunter
2011-08-23, 11:54 AM
I think that system mastery as a concept is a good thing. Game rules will encourage and discourage different behaviours, even if those behaviors aren't intended. A skilful game designer can manipulate this to give skilful players the best experience of the particular game paradigm.
Man, now we have to have a definitional debate :smallfrown:
"System Mastery" isn't the same thing as strategy. It isn't about knowing the rules of a game and making intelligent decisions based off of those base rules. It isn't even about meta-analysis of the rules. If it is, then every system with rules rewards system mastery since knowing how to play a game should give better results than not knowing how to do so.

I hold that "System Mastery" stands for the ability of a Player to benefit from having an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure rules. Yes, I now need to define "obscure." For this discussion, "obscure" is going to consist of rules that should not be required to play a game; for example, the average epee fencer does not need to know that his hits need to provide at least 7.4 Newtons of force (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89p%C3%A9e) to count as valid in order to fence a bout. An epeeist who used that knowledge to somehow get a competitive advantage would be using System Mastery to do so.
On this note, I do not think System Mastery is beneficial for a roleplaying game, nor something that should be encouraged in game design period.

For one, it encourages Players to spend more time looking for loopholes rather than contemplating their character or the story. Secondly, it provides an extra burden for the DM interested in dealing with characters and stories since he needs to spend time accounting for the loopholes his Players are looking for, either by altering things in-game or establishing an elaborate list of allowed/banned material. Thirdly -- and finally for the time being -- System Mastery isn't fun when it is being used against you. No DM likes to see their clever trap dungeon bypassed by an unusual definition of a term in the RAW and no PC likes to hear that their awesome plan is thwarted due to the same.

In any case, it involves more of the DM saying "no" to his Players which wastes time and good feeling.

IMHO, of course :smallbiggrin:

sdream
2011-08-23, 11:55 AM
Even freeform will penalise some player behaviours whilst rewarding others.

I think that system mastery as a concept is a good thing. Game rules will encourage and discourage different behaviours, even if those behaviors aren't intended. A skilful game designer can manipulate this to give skilful players the best experience of the particular game paradigm.

I prefer when game designers manipulate this to reward behaviors that enhance the game experience.

Examples:
- games that encourage fast play
- games that encourage inventive solutions
- games that encourage cooperative play
- games that encourage graceful losing

Tyndmyr
2011-08-23, 11:56 AM
System mastery must exist unless no decision provides even a temporary advantage in any situation.

And, if that's the case, you effectively have no decisions. This sounds like a terrible game. So, any published game is going to reward system mastery. There are always better and worse options. The range and number of options may vary, but there will always be punishments and rewards.

Totally Guy
2011-08-23, 12:04 PM
"System Mastery" isn't the same thing as strategy. It isn't about knowing the rules of a game and making intelligent decisions based off of those base rules. It isn't even about meta-analysis of the rules. If it is, then every system with rules rewards system mastery since knowing how to play a game should give better results than not knowing how to do so.

I thought it was...:smallredface:


I prefer when game designers manipulate this to reward behaviors that enhance the game experience.

Examples:
- games that encourage fast play
- games that encourage inventive solutions
- games that encourage cooperative play
- games that encourage graceful losing

That's what I mean by game paradigm. What is your game about? People that play well will end up being fast, creative or cooperative.

Oracle_Hunter
2011-08-23, 12:09 PM
I thought it was...:smallredface:
Well, AFAIK, there is no dictionary definition of System Mastery. However, the way it is mostly used on this board suggests (to me) that it cannot be simple strategy -- if it was, it'd be called "strategy" not System Mastery.

I proposed my definition and my reasons for using it. It is by no means definitive, regardless of the tone I adopt in my posts :smalltongue:

Tyndmyr
2011-08-23, 12:42 PM
Here's the thing...what constitutes obscure loopholes is HIGHLY subjective.

In my group, positive energy plane (ab)use for healing is a standard tactic, and quickly though of by anyone at the table. It isn't the slightest bit obscure, it's a well known planar trait.

In group #2, planehopping to save spells on healing might be considered obscure and/or abusing. Hell, I've been called a munchkin for adding a level of fighter to a barbarian build.

Oracle_Hunter
2011-08-23, 12:59 PM
Here's the thing...what constitutes obscure loopholes is HIGHLY subjective.
Which is why I defined it in my post.

Obviously in a group with high System Mastery, the abuse of rules not necessary for normal play will be common; those rules will not be obscure to those Players.

If I could think of a better term than "obscure" I'd use it. Peripheral, maybe?

Anyhow, my earlier example:

I hold that "System Mastery" stands for the ability of a Player to benefit from having an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure rules. Yes, I now need to define "obscure." For this discussion, "obscure" is going to consist of rules that should not be required to play a game; for example, the average epee fencer does not need to know that his hits need to provide at least 7.4 Newtons of force (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89p%C3%A9e) to count as valid in order to fence a bout. An epeeist who used that knowledge to somehow get a competitive advantage would be using System Mastery to do so.

NichG
2011-08-23, 01:30 PM
So to pin this down, I'll try to give examples of the two extreme ends in trivial form.

A game that only rewards system mastery (in a trivial way):

This game consists of a list of two choices. The game is played by comparing the choices and looking up the result in a table that is present in the rulebook. For the game to only reward system mastery (e.g. have no strategy), one of the choices will better regardless of what the other player picks. So an example table would be:

A vs A: tie
B vs B: tie
A vs B: A wins

A game that only rewards strategy, and not system mastery:

Rock, paper, scissors. All choices are equivalent except for factors distinct to the players (e.g. you know the other guy always plays rock first).

Thats the difference between system mastery and strategy. Most games will have some element of both.

Edit: This suggests to me that we could quantify system mastery versus strategy in a given game.

Make an index of all games played. Now, over sets of standardizable choices in the game (e.g. repeated situations), compare the best (on average) choice (probability of winning p1) with the mean success rate p0 (which is 50% in strictly zero-sum games, but in something like D&D might be 80% if you say, e.g., that a success is a fight without character death. PVP situations might give better metrics for this).

The system mastery factor is then something like (p1-p0)/p0 if p0<0.5, or (p1-p0)/(1-p0) if p0>0.5

Why this weird form? If I have a game that on average is won 99.5% of the time, and you can make the 0.5% loss rate go down to 0.1%, thats a factor of 5 improvement. If I have a game on average that is won 0.5% of the time, and I can make that go up to 2.5%, thats a factor of 5 improvement. So I need to always compare with the least likely case.

So something like Go has a system mastery factor of maybe 0.2 amongst professionals based on the success rate of different openings. If you look at amateur play, its much much higher since there are a number of well-known shapes and 'stupid mistakes' that amateurs tend to make. Amongst professionals, these are all frozen out (similar to the way that at an entirely high-op table, relative system mastery may become significantly less important than a high-op table with one newbie player).

Oracle_Hunter
2011-08-23, 01:35 PM
So to pin this down, I'll try to give examples of the two extreme ends in trivial form.

A game that only rewards system mastery (in a trivial way):

This game consists of a list of two choices. The game is played by comparing the choices and looking up the result in a table that is present in the rulebook. For the game to only reward system mastery (e.g. have no strategy), one of the choices will better regardless of what the other player picks. So an example table would be:

A vs A: tie
B vs B: tie
A vs B: A wins

A game that only rewards strategy, and not system mastery:

Rock, paper, scissors. All choices are equivalent except for factors distinct to the players (e.g. you know the other guy always plays rock first).

Thats the difference between system mastery and strategy. Most games will have some element of both.
Hmm... I do like the element of "separating wheat from chaff" that this definition provides.

The idea is that System Mastery requires the system to provide some optimal choices and then "fill out" the system with additional choices that look similar to the optimal ones, but are strictly worse. Comparative advantage then arises when one person knows the optimal choices and the other ones fall into "traps" deliberately or inadvertently laid out by the design team.

Plus, it avoids the systemic difficulties that come from writing definitions that use subjective terms.

I like it :smallcool:

Xyk
2011-08-23, 05:39 PM
System Mastery can indeed be the deciding factor in Rock, Paper, Scissors. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gekp_Eh3QyU) :smallbiggrin:

Drachasor
2011-08-23, 07:48 PM
System Mastery can indeed be the deciding factor in Rock, Paper, Scissors. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gekp_Eh3QyU) :smallbiggrin:

That's a bad tactical decision, not system mastery.

Emmerask
2011-08-23, 08:09 PM
Well rock paper scissor has no real rule mastery because every choice is equally valid, however it has metagame mastery, this knowledge could be interpreted (abstracted) as obscure system knowledge ^^
For example people unknowingly use patterns and with some its clear as day what they will be going to play just with their body language or the way they shake the hand.

Anyway the point is that even simple games have some form or another of system mastery, the more complex the game the more system mastery pays of.
RPGS being fairly complex will always and to my knowledge always have rewarded system mastery.

stainboy
2011-08-23, 08:26 PM
I dunno, Burning Wheel has been around since 2002 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Burning_Wheel) and doesn't have close to 15 sourcebooks -- even counting the games that share elements of the base system :smallamused:

That's just about the size of their market. Small print runs cost more per book than large ones and larger companies absorb losses better. So the big names can afford to gamble on a Magic of Incarnum or a Werewolf: the Wild West, but Burning Wheel has to be more careful.

As far as rewarding system mastery, Burning Wheel has a very gamable advancement system (players who can predict what types of tests they'll encounter will advance faster than others) and multiple plot point resources that can enhance the same rolls in different ways. There's a lot of room for system gearheads to be better at Burning Wheel. And there's nothing wrong with that. If you make a game with enough rules to be worth caring about, people who learn the rules and crunch the numbers will be better at it.

NichG
2011-08-23, 09:00 PM
Well rock paper scissor has no real rule mastery because every choice is equally valid, however it has metagame mastery, this knowledge could be interpreted (abstracted) as obscure system knowledge ^^
For example people unknowingly use patterns and with some its clear as day what they will be going to play just with their body language or the way they shake the hand.

Anyway the point is that even simple games have some form or another of system mastery, the more complex the game the more system mastery pays of.
RPGS being fairly complex will always and to my knowledge always have rewarded system mastery.

I'd consider that strategic skill rather than system mastery. System mastery is advantage that is inherent in the rules of the game, whereas strategy, tactics, etc are advantage gained through decision making relative to situation and opponent and other non-inherent factors.

That is to say, system mastery is the subset of general game mastery with which you can sit down and figure out something using only the game rules, and then you have advantage from that in actual play.

Telok
2011-08-24, 05:57 AM
I'd have to say that games like Paranoia, Traveller, and Call of Cthulhu trend towards minimizing the utility of system mastery. Partly because I think that they emphasize DM/player interaction over slavish rules-lawyering, and partly because the goals within the game systems are less individual win/lose than they are group win/lose.

Paranoia has two points in this. First: The DM is explicitly empowered by the rules themselves to mercilessly, humiliatingly, and humorously slaughter the current clone of any player who displays knowledge of the game rules. Second: The game is about having fun and has direct in-game rewards for being entertaining and making the other players laugh. This means that system mastery for Paranoia involves not demonstrating any knowledge of the rules and trying to have fun.

Call of Cthulhu system mastery is less about rules and more about memorizing the bestiary. Then you just have to hope the DM isn't running a scenario with home brewed were-panthers or doing something with cultists. There are things like an optional rule in one of the books where a character could "get used to" monsters by making a number of successful SAN checks (over an extended period of time) equal to the maximum sanity loss inflicted by the monster. This would allow the character to suffer only the minimum SAN loss in future encounters. This sort of system mastery works if you're running through an extended version of Shadows Over Innsmouth, but trying to get to that point with Hounds of Tinaldos or Cthonians just isn't going to work. The general CoC rules of thumb (run first, run fast, one person for the books, one person for the escape car, one person with the gasoline and TNT) are probably going to work better than any number of obscure rules.

Traveller, aside from the famed and misquoted character creation rules and the use of FTL and/or psi-powers, is not only based on and in reality but was written by the type of people who enjoy using high end graphing calculators. System mastery is less of an issue here than the fact that one of your players may well be an engineer or chemist and can use that knowledge in the game. Seriously, the closest I ever came to figuring out how to game the system (and since I was DM it didn't matter) was rolling a character with JoAT 5 skill. Since the Jack of All Trades could emulate any other skill this could be read as a character having skill 5 in every skill on the books. But the skill description doesn't say anything about having more than one level in JoAT, simply leaving everything up to the DM.

So I think that there are a number of games where system mastery simply isn't going to be a big deal. It's just that those sorts of systems usually lack one thing that the system mastery rewards games do have, well funded marketing campaigns.

dsmiles
2011-08-24, 06:34 AM
Hell, I've been called a munchkin for adding a level of fighter to a barbarian build.I need to know the story behind this one. :smallconfused:

Coidzor
2011-08-24, 07:11 AM
- games that encourage graceful losing

:smallconfused: What?

Tyndmyr
2011-08-24, 07:45 AM
I need to know the story behind this one. :smallconfused:

Not much of a story to tell. I was in a pathfinder game a while back(Rise of the Runelords), and in after-game chat, I mentioned I was considering taking a level of fighter for the feat(would be my third level, other two were barb). People reacted as if I just suggested that fried babies would make a delicious snack.

Considering one of the other characters was a bard/wizard, I didn't think that multiclassing would be considered evil...perhaps it was because of the fighter bonus feat? Meh. It was a ridiculously low op group. I racked up roughly half the kills in a nine person party simply by walking up to things and hitting them with a sword. No power attack, no splatbook use, nothing even a little bit crazy. It was extremely odd. I deliberately avoided ever touching casting in that group since I would have instantly broken the game in half by accident.

Drachasor
2011-08-25, 01:42 PM
Not much of a story to tell. I was in a pathfinder game a while back(Rise of the Runelords), and in after-game chat, I mentioned I was considering taking a level of fighter for the feat(would be my third level, other two were barb). People reacted as if I just suggested that fried babies would make a delicious snack.

Considering one of the other characters was a bard/wizard, I didn't think that multiclassing would be considered evil...perhaps it was because of the fighter bonus feat? Meh. It was a ridiculously low op group. I racked up roughly half the kills in a nine person party simply by walking up to things and hitting them with a sword. No power attack, no splatbook use, nothing even a little bit crazy. It was extremely odd. I deliberately avoided ever touching casting in that group since I would have instantly broken the game in half by accident.

This is inadvertently why I hate system mastery. I think games that have a lot of system mastery potential are deeply flawed. The gains you get for optimizing a character build due to mastery should be pretty small, and the real returns should come from making good decisions while you are playing. I think that takes the game to a better place.