PDA

View Full Version : Game design: All play and no build



NichG
2014-11-27, 07:04 PM
One thing that tends to bother me a lot in tabletop games is when the most important choices have been made before the players even get to the table - e.g. when 'build choices' matter more for a character's abilities than what they choose to do in the heat of the moment. Systems suffer from this to varying degree (3.5ed D&D, I'm looking at you). So, I thought - could one make a system in which there is no concept whatsoever of a 'character build', but which would still be interesting and evocative to play for a group of people?

Note, I'm not specifically asking for rules-lite here. You could have something with very complex and thorny rules, but which are rules that apply equally to all characters. For example, the various tricks you can learn and deploy as a player in Nethack would be a rules-heavy but build-lite system - any character from a Tourist to a Wizard can 'engrave Elbereth' to protect an area from monsters.

The immediate problem seems to me to be, how do you make sure that characters end up being differentiated from each-other? If you have a set of four experienced players who know the system well, what's to stop them from each just using all the tricks built into the rules?

The weak form of this challenge would be that the character sheet has to begin the game blank.
The strong form is that the character sheet has to remain blank, aside from purely temporary notations (such as 'I am carrying a rock' or 'I am wounded').

In either case, the state of the world can remain complex - e.g. this doesn't mean that NPCs cannot form long-lasting opinions about characters or whatever. But the 'state of the world' should not be taken as an excuse to say 'well, the DM records the character's class, hitpoints, ...' - e.g. no proxy character sheets.

Extra Anchovies
2014-11-28, 12:01 AM
I'd recommend something akin to Traveler's procedural character generation system. How it works is as follows:

1. Choose your background (what species you are and what planet you're from).
2. Roll 2d6 for each of your six ability scores.
3. Chooses a career (army, navy, marines, merchant, pirate, scout [basically the catchall])
4. Roll to see if you survived your first four-year term of service (if you don't, you restart; alternately, you receive a major injury and proceed to step 9)
5. Roll for random events during your first four-year term of service (random events result in things like gaining a bonus to one skill, or gaining a contact/ally, or losing a limb, or gaining an enemy, etc)
6. Roll to see what skill or ability increased by one point during that term (here's where there's some player input, since you can choose what table to roll on)
7. Decide whether to stay another term
8. If yes to 7, repeat 4-7 until you decide to leave the service or you die
9. Determine what benefits you get from leaving the service (usually money, items, or sometimes a spaceship)

There's also rules for promotion within the service, but those are complex enough that I don't remember them off the top of my head. This method of character generation not only removes the ability to plan ahead, but it gives characters instant backstories (via the random events, along with choice of species/homeworld/career) and is a lot of fun. I had more fun sitting around with my friends rolling up a Traveler party than I do planning 3.5 builds I'll never play. Much more fun. I highly recommend it.

So yeah. Give Traveler a look, and adapt some stuff from there if you like what you see. It's also not a very rules-heavy system, and despite its space theme could easily be adapted for much lower tech levels. There are rules/stats for fantasy-tech-level weapons/armor, and psionics could easily just be renamed magic, since it can be taught or developed naturally.

Kamai
2014-11-28, 01:21 PM
Have you played Dogs in the Vineyard? Essentially, besides the stats, each thing you have on a character sheet is either an item you have in your possession, or an element that you are looking to find a way to incorporate. You can only incorporate each element once in a conflict, and I think it'd be reasonable to have elements that require different setups first, though unfortunately, running it as is, the element's power is based on the character sheet.

NichG
2014-11-28, 06:15 PM
Dogs in the Vineyard sounds like it goes in this direction the way you describe it, but I'm not familiar with it. The idea of 'requiring setup' is interesting in particular.

What if you had a system which is based almost entirely on 'setups'? So, here's a somewhat nebulous/abstract example of what I'm thinking of.

- Whenever a character enters a scenario, the player makes a wager with the DM as to the long-term consequences of the scenario's outcome. When the scenario is resolved, either the player or DM has 'won the wager', and that long-term consequence now exists as a floating piece of a 'setup'. The types of consequences that can exist and their corresponding attributes is built into the game system to some degree, but there's leeway to make them appropriate to the specific situation which created them (so one type of consequence might be a 'reputation' consequence, but you could have criminal reputations, reputations for fairness, etc)
- Consequences can be attached to each-other in order to 'modify' a consequence. Chained consequences of this sort become more effective but more restrictive/specific as you add on more and more.
- These consequences can be called in at any time by the character (or by the DM) later on. Generally, consequences can be used multiple times, but once used a timer is set. The consequence must be altered within that time (e.g. by chaining), or it expires. Maybe the more a consequence has been chained, the longer the timer lasts.

This last thing is basically a sort of 'use it or lose it' mechanic for very broad things, encouraging players to specialize but also to focus on a couple core consequences rather than trying to do everything with their character. Also, since everything must either change or expire, it's hard to pin down a fixed 'build' in this system even if consequences are very mechanically specific. That build might exist for 4 sessions, but then things about it are going to start shifting around as the player is forced to chain.

The big problem I can see is, this works for a somewhat competitive setup where each player is responsible for pushing the growth of their abilities. However, in a cooperative setup, how do you create sufficient opportunities for each player to gain new consequences each game? It seems like for this system to work, each player should have a shot at gaining at least one consequence per session. Maybe rather than consequences being based on the resolution of the whole scenario, consequence wagers can be attached to smaller parts of the scenario, so each character's contribution to a situation garners them a distinct consequence.

So, to give a concrete example, lets say one class of basic consequence is something like 'Shady Character', which can be attached to any illegal activity that a character tries to perform. The negative form (DM wins the wager) could be that the character gets a reputation as a criminal, which could be chained with future consequences into the character actually being wanted for specific crimes. The DM could invoke the negative consequence to, e.g., have someone recognize the character, have someone with a better reputation be treated preferentially to the character, etc. The positive form of the consequence would be that the character can now invoke it to deal with the underworld or in general to do illegal things more easily. It could be chained into more specific sorts of things, such as 'Underworld Socialite', 'Skeleton Key', 'Man on the Outside', etc which would each help the character do specific illegal activities very well. The way in which consequences work could be anything from dramatic editing style abilities to very specific in-world things such as 'oh, he went and got a lockpicking set after the third time the party asked him to break into a place'.

Reality Glitch
2014-11-30, 10:42 AM
Fate Core. (http://www.evilhat.com/home/fate-core/)

NichG
2014-11-30, 06:41 PM
Fate still has a build-based component. You decide your aspects, skills, and stunts before the game begins. Those determine what distinctive mechanical advantages you come in with. Stunts in particular are, as far as I know, the only way to get built-in mechanical effects that go beyond the core mechanic.

Reality Glitch
2014-11-30, 07:55 PM
Fate still has a build-based component. You decide your aspects, skills, and stunts before the game begins. Those determine what distinctive mechanical advantages you come in with. Stunts in particular are, as far as I know, the only way to get built-in mechanical effects that go beyond the core mechanic.Not true. You're supposed to make characters together as a group, and because it is a cooperative process it's considered part of the game play. You'll still have differentiated character, but everyone agrees on which characters do what. The only problem is you can't really do that in a post-by-post game.

Extra Anchovies
2014-11-30, 08:05 PM
Not true. You're supposed to make characters together as a group, and because it is a cooperative process it's considered part of the game play. You'll still have differentiated character, but everyone agrees on which characters do what. The only problem is you can't really do that in a post-by-post game.

Indeed. Improv-heavy cooperative-storytelling games like many of the FATE-based games out there tend to involve a lot of back-and-forth between players and GM (at least from what I've seen).

As an aside, I appreciate what you're saying about how characters aren't as differentiated as in most games. The (admittedly quite frustrating, to me at least) Houses of the Blooded game I tried out once makes a lot more sense when I relinquish the concept of "my character".

Yeah, FATE is weird.

Reality Glitch
2014-11-30, 08:16 PM
Indeed. Improv-heavy cooperative-storytelling games like many of the FATE-based games out there tend to involve a lot of back-and-forth between players and GM (at least from what I've seen).

As an aside, I appreciate what you're saying about how characters aren't as differentiated as in most games. The (admittedly quite frustrating, to me at least) Houses of the Blooded game I tried out once makes a lot more sense when I relinquish the concept of "my character".

Yeah, FATE is weird.You still have "your character" but you're going to have a better time tweaking the nuances to fit the group and campaign as wholes.

I wouldn't call it weird. I think innovative is a better word; possibly revolutionary, but that seems a bit pompous to me.

NichG
2014-12-01, 12:11 AM
Not true. You're supposed to make characters together as a group, and because it is a cooperative process it's considered part of the game play. You'll still have differentiated character, but everyone agrees on which characters do what. The only problem is you can't really do that in a post-by-post game.

Cooperative character building can be done in D&D or other games which I think are pretty clearly build-heavy, so I still consider this a 'build' dynamic rather than a 'play' dynamic. It's asking the question 'who are you?' rather than the question 'what do you do now?'.

To get closer to what I'm talking about but still using Fate, imagine a version of the system where each character is a ghost who possesses people in a given scenario, and must make use of their skills, aspects, and stunts; jumping hosts mid-scenario is also permitted, but not into a host that has already been claimed by another PC or by a DM-controlled ghost. Each session is a new scenario, and thus involves a new set of hosts and abilities. The gameplay is then choosing which hosts best suit the scenario.

This is still only a half-answer, because it's still violating the spirit of the challenge - namely, the main question being asked is still "Who are you?" rather than "What do you do now?", it just happens that it is being asked much more frequently to the extent where it becomes a valid 'move' to toggle characters.

Maybe though there's a way to extract something usable from the example though. For instance, what if certain actions categorically interfered with other actions as followups? Then, each action decided by each player prevents the other players from saying 'I do the same thing' and getting the same result. The end effect might be a kind of automatic tendency for characters to differentiate.

SiuiS
2014-12-01, 12:21 AM
FATE seems to fit the bill actually.

Games like D&D are supposed to allow growth but they tend not to, huh?

Reality Glitch
2014-12-01, 12:28 AM
The aspects a character has are meant to be "Who are you?" answers. Yes, they can relate to "do" rather than "who", but the "who" is the more common type. Aside from that, based on what I think you mean by "play, not build" that I' dicerned from this altercation. You want less of a "Game" traditional sense and more of a collaborative authoring experience (regardless of whether or not it actually turns out reproducible texts).

SiuiS
2014-12-01, 12:32 AM
The aspects a character has are meant to be "Who are you?" answers. Yes, they can relate to "do" rather than "who", but the "who" is the more common type. Aside from that, based on what I think you mean by "play, not build" that I' dicerned from this altercation. You want less of a "Game" traditional sense and more of a collaborative authoring experience (regardless of whether or not it actually turns out reproducible texts).

Oh. That sounds like either microscope or apocalypse world, actually. Microscope has everyone decide on the narrative beforehand and then play around within it when you zoom in, and apocalypse world is a misery engine driven completely by players it's said a good game has the DM basically step out for the last half of the game as the players just drive things forward with their choices and actions.

NichG
2014-12-01, 02:46 AM
The aspects a character has are meant to be "Who are you?" answers. Yes, they can relate to "do" rather than "who", but the "who" is the more common type. Aside from that, based on what I think you mean by "play, not build" that I' dicerned from this altercation. You want less of a "Game" traditional sense and more of a collaborative authoring experience (regardless of whether or not it actually turns out reproducible texts).

No, I actually don't want that at all. Which may be why we're disagreeing so strongly on Fate.

Look at something like a chess tournament. Imagine that each separate chess game is a session of a tabletop campaign. Clearly chess is a game in the traditional sense. However, it is not a game which is strongly determined by choices made prior to a particular match (aside from opening theory, but then take Fischer chess as the example). Even if each player is building up towards some sort of board state that lets them win, they can't really do things like say 'I'd like to start with three bishops and one knight, because that's the best build for my strategy'.

To put it another way, you can think of the question of how much it would harm a player's benefit if they were forced to make categorical decisions in advance of the game (or if you took certain pre-game decisions and allowed players to make them mid-game instead). This is sort of a measure of how much strategy is influenced by the flow of the game. In D&D, if I make a Wizard rather than a Fighter or a Rogue, I can fairly accurately figure out how that will play out over the course of the campaign in broad strokes - by making those decisions immediately rather than later, I don't lose very much benefit. If I'm playing a Fighter and I commit to the strategy of 'charge the enemy and hit them as hard as I can', there may be situations in which that pre-choice is harmful, but most of my tactics are going to be some variation of that. If I'm playing a Wizard and have to pre-select my memorized spells, it's a bit of a constraint but again I can usually find a set of spells that will let me handle most situations. So from this I conclude that D&D is very build-heavy - the choices that matter most can be (and therefore effectively are, when the game has been studied for an extended period) made before actual play begins.

On the other hand, if I had to e.g. commit to a particular strategy in a game of Chess in advance (I will use my Knight and Bishop for the checkmate), that would be a very significant penalty. Even in chess there is still some front-loading, e.g. in the form of opening theory, which is what led to the invention of Fischer chess as a way to de-emphasize the memorization of openings in favor of situational evaluation.

So I very much do mean a 'traditional game'. As I said, I'm not looking for rules-lite or narrativism or anything like that in particular. What I'm looking for is a theory of design to help emphasize in-game decisions over pre-game decisions, and I'm using an extreme challenge (zero pre-game decisions permitted) to try to focus on that particular idea and see if something general can be extracted from it that can then be used in a less extreme way in other game design situations.

Reality Glitch
2014-12-01, 10:35 AM
Aside from the random generation in the G.U.R.P.S. example or the more story-heavy stems like Fate, Microscope, and Apocalypse World/Monster Hearts or games where everyone starts with the same pieces (Chess and your body-hoping ghost example); I'm not sure what exactly you mean, could you give an example of a system that does this?

Milodiah
2014-12-01, 11:16 AM
Obviously one of the things that engenders this in D&D and similar is the class and level system. A Wizard is a Wizard, Wizards do Wizardy things. I find that classless systems don't have this limitation. In fact, one thing I found odd when I started playing D&D is the idea of the "skill monkey"...in games like Call of Cthulhu, skills are the game. Everything works under the skill mechanics, including combat, unlike D&D where combat is a completely separate entity that only occasionally is aided by the skills on the right side of the sheet.

Seems like it's because D&D characters are like prefabricated structures...you get to pick out the modules, set the price range, decorate it, and make a lot of other decisions, but at the end of the day, it's using the exact same framework as all the others of that design. You have BAB X at Level Y, just like literally every other person sharing your class unless you went for complex multiclassing. You have generally the same number of skill points as everyone in your class, and are probably good at the exact same other skills as them because major cross-classing is undesirable. Even the number of times you can be stabbed in the gut is determined by your class. 3e did a good bit to allow customization with feats and stuff, but at the end of the day it's a simple matter of comparative and absolute advantages to speak in economics terms. The most beautifully optimized Druid will not be as good at shooting arrows at stuff as a decently optimized Ranger. Cue immediate thread derailment and impromptu Iron Cheffing as people line up to prove me wrong...

Anyway, what I'm saying is that while you take classes because you like certain aspects of, or even most of, the floorplan you see, you get stuck with all of it, even the parts you don't like. Wanna be a fast-talking Fighter who can weasel his way out of any situation but kick ass when he needs to? Sorry, but with those skill points and that class-skill list, it ain't happening. Maybe Bard would be a better fit for what you want. What? You don't want the spellcasting elements or the musical theme? Too bad, you gotta take a class mate.

This is why there's so much homebrewing with D&D when it comes to classes. People wanna play these specific characters, but the public classes either can't fit the character they want, or the ways they find are so convoluted and scatttershot that some DMs cringe just from having to look through all the books and stuff. In Call of Cthulhu or World of Darkness, you don't have to worry about this stuff. Just put points in the type of guns you like (WoD actually just as "Firearms" as the end-point FOR this investment) or the ability to lie to folks and then move on.

Extra Anchovies
2014-12-01, 11:36 AM
Oh. That sounds like either microscope or apocalypse world, actually. Microscope has everyone decide on the narrative beforehand and then play around within it when you zoom in, and apocalypse world is a misery engine driven completely by players it's said a good game has the DM basically step out for the last half of the game as the players just drive things forward with their choices and actions.

Oh yes, Microscope. I haven't played it myself, but some of my friends have and they say it's quite fun.

Also, thank you for directing me to Apocalypse World. I'm looking at the sample pdfs and am liking what I see.

NichG
2014-12-01, 11:41 AM
Aside from the random generation in the G.U.R.P.S. example or the more story-heavy stems like Fate, Microscope, and Apocalypse World/Monster Hearts or games where everyone starts with the same pieces (Chess and your body-hoping ghost example); I'm not sure what exactly you mean, could you give an example of a system that does this?

Well, aside from all those examples I gave, not really :smallsmile: That's kind of the point of the thread - it seems like it should be possible to do, but the vast majority of tabletop games don't do it, so I want to try (or at least discuss how one would go about trying).

I think the important thing really has to do with 'everyone starts with the same pieces'. This is really central to the idea. Everyone should start with the same pieces, and then through the details of play find themselves developing a differentiated playstyle.

One way that this can happen in other games is due to the effects of player skill and experience. Imagine for a silly example if we had a game where you could essentially bid at a metagame level on what sub-game was used to resolve a conflict. So e.g. you could try to resolve conflicts by playing poker or by playing chess or by playing Go or by playing a round of Super Smash Bros or whatever. Different players would innately have different preferences, and the metagame bidding war would reflect that, meaning that their characters would end up being mechanically distinguished because the players themselves are different people.

That's a very silly example, but you could do the same sort of differentiation by using players' sense of aesthetics as a distinguishing factor. For example, imagine a game where the rulebook has 1000 different spells, but anyone can use any spell so long as they know about it and the way to invoke it. However, different spells have very different aesthetics and styles in how they make the player think about the game in order to use them well. One spell 'causes materials to expand or contract without harm', while another spell 'summons someone for you to negotiate with for information', while another spell allows you to set up effects ahead of time that are fixed to location, and then trigger them at need.

Any player/character could use any combination of spells, but because the thought processes needed for different spells are so different, players would naturally gravitate to a subset. Everyone can't do everything because it is too mentally taxing for them to do so and still make good choices. The potion guy is spending all his mental effort trying to figure out what would be good ingredients, and doesn't have time to also lay spell-traps or scribe rune-contingencies.

Abilities gained through hidden-information investigation and player-driven secrecy might also solve the weak version of the challenge. E.g. there are those 1000 spells, but each spell takes some time to discover in-game (no one knows any in advance). You can always tell other characters the spells you've researched, but if there's a PvP element then there's good reason to not share everything. Thus you end up with differentiation through voluntarily hidden knowledge.


Obviously one of the things that engenders this in D&D and similar is the class and level system. A Wizard is a Wizard, Wizards do Wizardy things. I find that classless systems don't have this limitation. In fact, one thing I found odd when I started playing D&D is the idea of the "skill monkey"...in games like Call of Cthulhu, skills are the game. Everything works under the skill mechanics, including combat, unlike D&D where combat is a completely separate entity that only occasionally is aided by the skills on the right side of the sheet.

Seems like it's because D&D characters are like prefabricated structures...you get to pick out the modules, set the price range, decorate it, and make a lot of other decisions, but at the end of the day, it's using the exact same framework as all the others of that design. You have BAB X at Level Y, just like literally every other person sharing your class unless you went for complex multiclassing. You have generally the same number of skill points as everyone in your class, and are probably good at the exact same other skills as them because major cross-classing is undesirable. Even the number of times you can be stabbed in the gut is determined by your class. 3e did a good bit to allow customization with feats and stuff, but at the end of the day it's a simple matter of comparative and absolute advantages to speak in economics terms. The most beautifully optimized Druid will not be as good at shooting arrows at stuff as a decently optimized Ranger. Cue immediate thread derailment and impromptu Iron Cheffing as people line up to prove me wrong...

Anyway, what I'm saying is that while you take classes because you like certain aspects of, or even most of, the floorplan you see, you get stuck with all of it, even the parts you don't like. Wanna be a fast-talking Fighter who can weasel his way out of any situation but kick ass when he needs to? Sorry, but with those skill points and that class-skill list, it ain't happening. Maybe Bard would be a better fit for what you want. What? You don't want the spellcasting elements or the musical theme? Too bad, you gotta take a class mate.

This is why there's so much homebrewing with D&D when it comes to classes. People wanna play these specific characters, but the public classes either can't fit the character they want, or the ways they find are so convoluted and scatttershot that some DMs cringe just from having to look through all the books and stuff. In Call of Cthulhu or World of Darkness, you don't have to worry about this stuff. Just put points in the type of guns you like (WoD actually just as "Firearms" as the end-point FOR this investment) or the ability to lie to folks and then move on.

D&D clearly has this far more than most other systems, but I think it's more about how choices in D&D are contingent on each-other. If I want to PrC at Lv6, I need to choose X feat, Y class, Z race so I can qualify. Oh, and if I also want to PrC at Lv11 I have to also manage to squeeze in these other things too.

The other thing that enables this in D&D is that there's almost an iron clad hidden rule that 'in-game events shall not change the power of characters relative to their level'. In something like a Vampire game, if I wanted a powerful character I might have to plot and scheme and figure out how to keep my persona while still managing to diablerize an elder, etc. A lot of the potential for growth is dependent on in-game opportunity. In D&D, you have WBL and CR and other things, which means that DMs are discouraged from e.g. throwing around effects that grant permanent alterations to a player's character in either the positive or negative direction. Similarly, things which allow players to make in-game choices that create power disparities are discouraged (don't have PCs of different levels in the same party is another sort of iron-clad rule).

So the take-away message is 'lots of in-game opportunities for advancement, growth, and permanent or long-term changes in circumstance and power, but everyone starts at the same point'. I think that lets us solve the weak version of the challenge (character sheets are blank to start), but not so much the strong version (eternally blank character sheets). Still, it's a good thing to be aware of!

Reality Glitch
2014-12-01, 01:00 PM
Well, aside from all those examples I gave, not really :smallsmile: That's kind of the point of the thread - it seems like it should be possible to do, but the vast majority of tabletop games don't do it, so I want to try (or at least discuss how one would go about trying).Why don't we just use this thread to create a system you feel fits the parameters?
I think the important thing really has to do with 'everyone starts with the same pieces'. This is really central to the idea. Everyone should start with the same pieces, and then through the details of play find themselves developing a differentiated playstyle.So level zero in a classes system?
One way that this can happen in other games is due to the effects of player skill and experience. Imagine for a silly example if we had a game where you could essentially bid at a metagame level on what sub-game was used to resolve a conflict. So e.g. you could try to resolve conflicts by playing poker or by playing chess or by playing Go or by playing a round of Super Smash Bros or whatever. Different players would innately have different preferences, and the metagame bidding war would reflect that, meaning that their characters would end up being mechanically distinguished because the players themselves are different people.That is a bit silly. :smalltongue: Probably a bit too silly for serious game play; if every combat used a different resolution mechanic every time, you'd get Calvinball the R.P.G., which really isn't that appealing when you're not trying to be over-the-top ridiculous.
That's a very silly example, but you could do the same sort of differentiation by using players' sense of aesthetics as a distinguishing factor. For example, imagine a game where the rulebook has 1000 different spells, but anyone can use any spell so long as they know about it and the way to invoke it. However, different spells have very different aesthetics and styles in how they make the player think about the game in order to use them well. One spell 'causes materials to expand or contract without harm', while another spell 'summons someone for you to negotiate with for information', while another spell allows you to set up effects ahead of time that are fixed to location, and then trigger them at need.

Any player/character could use any combination of spells, but because the thought processes needed for different spells are so different, players would naturally gravitate to a subset. Everyone can't do everything because it is too mentally taxing for them to do so and still make good choices. The potion guy is spending all his mental effort trying to figure out what would be good ingredients, and doesn't have time to also lay spell-traps or scribe rune-contingencies.Interesting. Some systems (like the Dresden Files R.P.G. using the fate system) have options you can take that gives you access to the "1,000 spells" but it cost metagame resources so it still fits your definition of a "build".
Abilities gained through hidden-information investigation and player-driven secrecy might also solve the weak version of the challenge. E.g. there are those 1000 spells, but each spell takes some time to discover in-game (no one knows any in advance). You can always tell other characters the spells you've researched, but if there's a PvP element then there's good reason to not share everything. Thus you end up with differentiation through voluntarily hidden knowledge.I guess, but that doesn't sound very fun; and players reading the entire source book cover-to-cover wrecks that kind of system.
D&D clearly has this far more than most other systems, but I think it's more about how choices in D&D are contingent on each-other. If I want to PrC at Lv6, I need to choose X feat, Y class, Z race so I can qualify. Oh, and if I also want to PrC at Lv11 I have to also manage to squeeze in these other things too.I agree with that statement.
The other thing that enables this in D&D is that there's almost an iron clad hidden rule that 'in-game events shall not change the power of characters relative to their level'. In something like a Vampire game, if I wanted a powerful character I might have to plot and scheme and figure out how to keep my persona while still managing to diablerize an elder, etc. A lot of the potential for growth is dependent on in-game opportunity. In D&D, you have WBL and CR and other things, which means that DMs are discouraged from e.g. throwing around effects that grant permanent alterations to a player's character in either the positive or negative direction. Similarly, things which allow players to make in-game choices that create power disparities are discouraged (don't have PCs of different levels in the same party is another sort of iron-clad rule).That's the point, if you had characters of different power levels the stronger ones would overshadow the weaker ones and you'd end up with an unfun experience.
So the take-away message is 'lots of in-game opportunities for advancement, growth, and permanent or long-term changes in circumstance and power, but everyone starts at the same point'. I think that lets us solve the weak version of the challenge (character sheets are blank to start), but not so much the strong version (eternally blank character sheets). Still, it's a good thing to be aware of!Again, I suggest we make our own system to the tastes you have specified, but be warned, what you have in mind is the process of character creation that happens pre-game in other systems be part major, if not the primary, part of the play experience, which some may not find fun. (Especially if it means no interaction between characters until late in the campaign.)

NichG
2014-12-01, 07:18 PM
Why don't we just use this thread to create a system you feel fits the parameters?

Sure! However, I want to be honest about this - I put the bar at such an extreme point because I want to explore the 'how' more than I want to actually make something this extreme to use in play. Essentially, I want to see how far it can be pushed so then I can understand how this idea breaks down when doing less extreme versions of it in other games. It's sort of a 'by understanding what happens in D&D and what happens in Fate, we can also better understand everything in between them' approach.



Interesting. Some systems (like the Dresden Files R.P.G. using the fate system) have options you can take that gives you access to the "1,000 spells" but it cost metagame resources so it still fits your definition of a "build".

Yeah, that would still be a build. Maybe a better example than spells would be something like special attack sequences in a 2d fighting game. In principle anyone can go look up every characters' special moves, but each character requires practice to get the timing and execution right so you don't get interrupted, not to mention having fast enough access to what the move sequence is that you can just do it in a split second without thinking. The result being that people usually start to improve when they focus on mastering one or two characters, rather than just playing a random character each time.


I guess, but that doesn't sound very fun; and players reading the entire source book cover-to-cover wrecks that kind of system.

The idea would be that the hidden information would either not be in the source-book at all, or generating it would be part of the setup of the system. For example, lets say we have the 1000 spells thing, but now at the start of the campaign a computer is used to shuffle their order to assign them each a unique number from 1 to 1000, and on top of that to roll a die for each spell and determine whether it is included in the game this time or not. Lets say also that each character can 'research' a new spell once per session - they can say 'I am casting spell #73' rather than 'I am using mandrake root and the widdershins unbinding variation' or whatever the in-character details would be. Once they successfully cast a spell, they get the 'shortcut' that lets them teach others how to cast it. And of course, delving into ancient libraries or talking with other mages can be used to exchange spells through the 'shortcut'.

So you can read the sourcebook cover to cover, but that doesn't tell you what spells will actually exist this time.

You could make the system more interesting than random guessing by making it so that each spell is linked to a number of other thematically associated spells in the list, and you can explore down links more easily than you can random-guess (for example, maybe only 10% of all the spells are included each campaign, but when exploring along links you get to know in advance if a valid spell lies down that direction, and so staying within the set of related spells speeds your spell research by a factor of 10).


That's the point, if you had characters of different power levels the stronger ones would overshadow the weaker ones and you'd end up with an unfun experience.

There's a lot of reasons why this is strongly believed to be true in D&D 3.5, but its certainly not universal across all systems (and, in practice, even in D&D 3.5 you can do this and the sky doesn't fall, but it does require the DM be careful).

For D&D 3.5, the main reason is that the system is built on an exponential curve - a Lv20 character is a god, a Lv1 character is a peasant, and its very easy to move between the two just using the built-in XP gain mechanics. So this creates a strong expectation in the players that 'level' must be the most important thing, because if you get the level wrong you make an exponentially-amplified error. Advancement in directions that are not 'level' feel like they take the game into unknown directions, and then there's the fear that it will not be clear how to balance things when going in that unknown direction. Since the core system is exponential, it feels like any imbalance risks very extreme results (TPK, etc), even if the direction of imbalance isn't one in which that would be true.

The other part of why this is particularly believed in D&D 3.5 is that the system is forced very strongly through the bottleneck of combat. So the consequence of imbalance in one direction at least is 'TPK'. But also it means that the abilities of various characters are directly comparable based on how they perform in that bottleneck. It leads to a way of thinking that the right way to compare characters is to stick them in an arena and have them try to kill each-other, which can only really have the outcome of 'A wins more often' or 'B wins more often', either of which indicates imbalance. So D&D is a system where people are constantly terrified of imbalance, because there are so many ways in which imbalance becomes amplified or presented strongly.

On the other hand, if you were to compare this to Fate, imagine that you gave one player the ability to have an extra Aspect, and another player got a free extra +1 to a skill of their choice, and another player got an extra +2 Fate points per session refresh. Yes, there would be differences in 'power', but they would matter a lot less than they'd (appear to) matter in D&D. Part of the reason for that is that the one guy having more Fate points doesn't detract from the Resources 5 guy being able to flash around his wealth, or the 'I shoot mind lasers with my groin' Aspect guy from getting everyone at the table to face-palm every 20 minutes. There isn't a 'combat bottleneck' which forces those characters to compare themselves in a single axis.



Again, I suggest we make our own system to the tastes you have specified, but be warned, what you have in mind is the process of character creation that happens pre-game in other systems be part major, if not the primary, part of the play experience, which some may not find fun.

I fully expect that to be a part of the challenge of this. If the result seems like sludge, it sort of fails, even if its not something I was intending to run in pure form either way. But yes, even if we do it perfectly, people whose major interest is the character-building game will simply not like this as much as something like D&D, because it doesn't address their interests. Though I'm curious if we can pick apart that enjoyment and actually import the underlying reasons people like the character-building game into a game without pre-building. That would IMO be the optimal outcome - understand that its not just 'the thing itself' of character building that that group of people enjoys, but something underlying it which is more universal - e.g., is it the pacing and ability to work on the problem over long periods of time, the crunchiness, the scholarly aspect of delving into rule books to discover new things, searching for combos, or even discussing 'build theory' that draws people to a pre-game-heavy game? If we understand that at a deep level, it should be possible to try to give the during-game decisions the same kind of character.

Anyhow, yes, lets make a system here. However, this post of mine is long-winded enough so I'll either leave it to you to start, or do a separate post later today.


(Especially if it means no interaction between characters until late in the campaign.)

I don't know why it would mean the latter bit? Do you mean no interaction between character abilities?

Reality Glitch
2014-12-01, 07:44 PM
Sure! However, I want to be honest about this - I put the bar at such an extreme point because I want to explore the 'how' more than I want to actually make something this extreme to use in play. Essentially, I want to see how far it can be pushed so then I can understand how this idea breaks down when doing less extreme versions of it in other games. It's sort of a 'by understanding what happens in D&D and what happens in Fate, we can also better understand everything in between them' approach.

~snip~

I fully expect that to be a part of the challenge of this. If the result seems like sludge, it sort of fails, even if its not something I was intending to run in pure form either way. But yes, even if we do it perfectly, people whose major interest is the character-building game will simply not like this as much as something like D&D, because it doesn't address their interests. Though I'm curious if we can pick apart that enjoyment and actually import the underlying reasons people like the character-building game into a game without pre-building. That would IMO be the optimal outcome - understand that its not just 'the thing itself' of character building that that group of people enjoys, but something underlying it which is more universal - e.g., is it the pacing and ability to work on the problem over long periods of time, the crunchiness, the scholarly aspect of delving into rule books to discover new things, searching for combos, or even discussing 'build theory' that draws people to a pre-game-heavy game? If we understand that at a deep level, it should be possible to try to give the during-game decisions the same kind of character.

Anyhow, yes, lets make a system here. However, this post of mine is long-winded enough so I'll either leave it to you to start, or do a separate post later today.



I don't know why it would mean the latter bit? Do you mean no interaction between character abilities?Actually, Eclipse Phase (http://eclipsephase.com/) fits the ghost-swaping example to a T. You can create a back-up of your mind so that when you die (or feel like it) you can be uploaded into a new body which may be similar or different to the old one.

Amechra
2014-12-01, 08:15 PM
You know, this really isn't as difficult as you guys are making it.

You just need to tie character advancement to in-character actions, rather than the metacurrency of XP.

For example, I'll come up with a random game called "Tombs & Tardigrades". In this game, everyone starts off mechanically identical - you can pick your character's name, gender, and appearance, but that's it.

Then, every advancement is as a reward for in-character action. You save the Mayor's daughter? Your Approval with the towns-folk has just gone up, meaning that social actions you take in that town gain a bonus. You rescue the fabled Sorcerer of Osh from his meddling with space and time? He rewards you by teaching you the six secret words that can splinter bone and stone. You find a chunk of fabled starmetal? Find a suitably legendary blacksmith, and she'll forge it into a maul suitable for a hero!

Ideally, each listed NPC or adventure would have some benefit attached to it, but it wouldn't be necessaryA. All that's important is that ethos of "you all start the same, and evolve from there."

A: I'm reminded of The Mushroom Palace from Costume Fairy Adventures*; if you manage to befriend the distrustful and xenophobic Mushroom people, you can give the entire forest around you a tag of your choice. This might not sound too powerful, but this could end up with everything everywhere on fire.
*: Great, now none of you will be able to take me seriously.

Reality Glitch
2014-12-01, 08:34 PM
You know, this really isn't as difficult as you guys are making it.

You just need to tie character advancement to in-character actions, rather than the metacurrency of XP.

For example, I'll come up with a random game called "Tombs & Tardigrades". In this game, everyone starts off mechanically identical - you can pick your character's name, gender, and appearance, but that's it.

Then, every advancement is as a reward for in-character action. You save the Mayor's daughter? Your Approval with the towns-folk has just gone up, meaning that social actions you take in that town gain a bonus. You rescue the fabled Sorcerer of Osh from his meddling with space and time? He rewards you by teaching you the six secret words that can splinter bone and stone. You find a chunk of fabled starmetal? Find a suitably legendary blacksmith, and she'll forge it into a maul suitable for a hero!

Ideally, each listed NPC or adventure would have some benefit attached to it, but it wouldn't be necessaryA. All that's important is that ethos of "you all start the same, and evolve from there."

A: I'm reminded of The Mushroom Palace from Costume Fairy Adventures*; if you manage to befriend the distrustful and xenophobic Mushroom people, you can give the entire forest around you a tag of your choice. This might not sound too powerful, but this could end up with everything everywhere on fire.
*: Great, now none of you will be able to take me seriously.But that falls under the "Less of a "Game" traditional sense and more of a collaborative authoring experience (regardless of whether or not it actually turns out reproducible texts)." that Mentioned earlier; an idea, may I remind this thread, got shot down.

There's also the problem of: This is great if everyone is playing a human, or at least all belong to the same species, how do player play characters that have intrinsically different properties that can only be gained by just having them and can't be acquired later? Seeing as that the potential to result in exponential power imbalance.

Amechra
2014-12-01, 09:45 PM
How is that not "traditionally a game"? It's literally how me and my friends played D&D when we first started. There's no collaborative authoring going on (unless you want it to); it's just basing everything on in-game rewards.

And not every game has to give the option to play as different races/have drastically different qualities; in fact, a lot of them don't. Also, given how the OP doesn't want "build" to be a factor, that actually appears to be something they don't want (please, correct me if I'm wrong.)



As a side note, OP: you could also check out Risus with the Blank Slate (http://www.risusiverse.com/home/optional-rules/the-blank-slate) optional rule. It's an example of what you appear to be asking for.

Reality Glitch
2014-12-01, 11:11 PM
How is that not "traditionally a game"? It's literally how me and my friends played D&D when we first started. There's no collaborative authoring going on (unless you want it to); it's just basing everything on in-game rewards.The way you wrote it made it seem like that one post was supposed to be the entire (or almost the entire) encompass of the rules used. My apologies for misinterpreting.
And not every game has to give the option to play as different races/have drastically different qualities; in fact, a lot of them don't. Also, given how the OP doesn't want "build" to be a factor, that actually appears to be something they don't want (please, correct me if I'm wrong.)True, but what happens when you want to? Though you's probably either say, "They aren't mechanically different", restrict access to the racial qualities until later, or allow the game to fall within the middle of the spectrum like NichG was saying.

NichG
2014-12-02, 03:36 AM
True, but what happens when you want to?

For this challenge, you simply don't. Not every game has to handle every circumstance. It's perfectly fine to design around a very narrow premise.

NichG
2014-12-02, 03:41 AM
You know, this really isn't as difficult as you guys are making it.

You just need to tie character advancement to in-character actions, rather than the metacurrency of XP.

For example, I'll come up with a random game called "Tombs & Tardigrades". In this game, everyone starts off mechanically identical - you can pick your character's name, gender, and appearance, but that's it.

Then, every advancement is as a reward for in-character action. You save the Mayor's daughter? Your Approval with the towns-folk has just gone up, meaning that social actions you take in that town gain a bonus. You rescue the fabled Sorcerer of Osh from his meddling with space and time? He rewards you by teaching you the six secret words that can splinter bone and stone. You find a chunk of fabled starmetal? Find a suitably legendary blacksmith, and she'll forge it into a maul suitable for a hero!

Ideally, each listed NPC or adventure would have some benefit attached to it, but it wouldn't be necessaryA. All that's important is that ethos of "you all start the same, and evolve from there."

A: I'm reminded of The Mushroom Palace from Costume Fairy Adventures*; if you manage to befriend the distrustful and xenophobic Mushroom people, you can give the entire forest around you a tag of your choice. This might not sound too powerful, but this could end up with everything everywhere on fire.
*: Great, now none of you will be able to take me seriously.

Yes, I believe this approach does satisfy the version of the challenge in which the character sheets begin blank. Incidentally, this is not just a 'collaborative authoring exercise' or whatever if the specific ways in which you can advance in game have some sort of concrete mechanics associated with them. The remaining trick may be to make sure that this stays build-less, as opposed to 'hey, you managed to pick up Echo-Action last quest, so we should try to get you Deep-Strike because it combos really well! Lets see if there are any quests that grant it'. But you can probably do that by keeping the space of abilities much much larger than the space of opportunities to gain abilities, so you can't just cherry pick to re-create a known build.

That's a matter of scaling mostly. So I guess lets consider the weak version solved. Is the strong version doable in an interesting way - character sheets stay blank modulo temporary 'state' notations?

Milodiah
2014-12-04, 03:28 AM
Is the strong version doable in an interesting way - character sheets stay blank modulo temporary 'state' notations?

First thing that comes to mind would be some kind of mecha game where pretty much the only skill is "using your mech"...the mechs themselves would be highly modular, though, so parts, instruments, equipment, etc. could be slapped on and swapped out to temporarily create whatever build was needed for the moment without permanently altering the characters themselves.