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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Orc in the Playground
     
    OrcBarbarianGuy

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    Default Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems.

    People may nit pick on my terms here, and they'll probably all be right. So please focus on what I'm trying to say not any wrong terminology I accidentally use.

    By mechanics based I mean an RPG system like D&D. Most of what you want to do has to be interpreted through available mechanics like feats and class abilities. Do you want to disarm your opponent with your Sorcerer staff? Too bad, you're not a battle master. Do you want to blast a spell at your enemy to knock him off a bridge? Better hope you're a warlock with repelling blast.
    Pros:
    Tactical mechanic combat
    Some people need structure in their imagination

    Cons:
    Limits to what you can do.
    Able to break the game mechanics
    Players encouraged to optimize a build

    By interpretation based, I mean that anything you want to sensibly do, you tell the DM and roll to see if it can happen. "I use control water to suck the water out of my opponent", "I tackle my enemy and beat him with his own weapon".
    Pros:
    Can do anything you can reasonably think of.
    Free to think outside the box solution, no cookie cutter approach to combat, builds, spells.

    Cons:
    You might suck at imagination, no cookie cutter approach to combat, builds, spells.

    What do you guys think? I'd love to read some discussions on this.

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    My design philosophy is that mechanics are promises and prompts.

    Promises in that if I specify a mechanic for something, you can assume that when you use that thing it will work the way I said, without having to ask me. Notably it's not a promise that it's the only way it could ever work. You or an NPC could both find other ways of obtaining that effect, or could vary things to modify the effect, but in doing so you would sacrifice any guarantees of what will happen and need to work with the GM to figure that out. So if a spell says 'Control Water: This spell lets you manipulate small amounts of water. Can dry objects, draw up to 1L of water per minute from even dry air, and can cause 1 point of damage to organic creatures from dehydration' then those things are guaranteed. But if you said 'I want to specifically dry out their eyes' or 'I want to protect myself from poison spit' or 'I want to stabilize the surface of this lake and walk on water' then it might work, or not.

    Prompts in that often having ideas what to do in a vacuum is difficult and even limiting. By specifying some (but not all) of the things that are possible in the world, a good mechanic can give players ideas for things to try or even things to accomplish. In this sense, its better to have mechanics that say 'by the way, here's this interesting thing you might not have thought of' rather than 'when you want to do X, Y is how we resolve it'

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    Some systems try to play on both sides, like Mutants and Mastermind, which has a mechanical structure but at its core is interpretation-based.
    => Every power has a mechanical effect, like "Damage 10", and a descriptor, like "Fire Bolt", and while most of the time the descriptor is meaningless mechanically, it might come in play when the circumstances are right, like instead of using the fire bolt as an attack, you could argue with the DM that you can use it as a defensive power to counter an enemy power that has the "Darkness" descriptor. And the whole game is like that; it has explicit mechanics on how you can come up with mechanical effects that are not on your character sheet but make sense.

    On your note, I'd like to argue the "Player encouraged to optimize a build" as a clear cons. It's more a game-changer than a cons.

    It's would be like putting "Players encouraged to tank in-character" as a cons for some decision. Some peoples might be annoying when they talk in-character, some peoples might feel bad for being pressured into talking in-character, but on the other side some peoples play RPG in order to be able to RP their character.

    Same here, some peoples are really annoying when they optimize their build, some peoples feel bad for being pressured into optimizing, but on the other side some peoples play RPG in order to be able to optimize their character.
    Last edited by MoiMagnus; 2020-12-28 at 06:42 PM.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Titan in the Playground
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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    They are different games and you should play them differently. People who can play one style well but not the other, will naturally prefer the style in which they excel.

    For each style:
    Pros -- you can have fun doing what this game does well.
    Cons -- you can get frustrated trying to do what this game doesn't do well.

    My preference? I don't care. I will play the game we're actually playing. Sometimes it takes me awhile to learn the right way to approach a specific game. This is the part of the fun of playing it. I expect to earn experience in a specific game system and slowly get better at it, just as my character gains experience and gets better.

    If I play a situation in original D&D the same way I would play the same situation in 3.5e, then I am playing poorly. I need to learn to play the system I'm actually playing. This is no different from saying that I will play checkers differently from chess, or football.

    I enjoy the business of slowly learning, and improving at, a new system. This is the greatest challenge, and therefore the greatest potential fun, of any system -- slowly developing skills in that system.

    My favorite games are Flashing Blades, original D&D, AD&D 1e, D&D 3.5e, TOON, Pendragon, Champions, GURPS, Fantasy Hero, and even Chivalry & Sorcery. As near as I can tell, there is no unifying factor except that I have had excellent GMs in each of these games. I don't want to play any of them with a poor GM.

    And I will play pretty much any game with a good GM who knows the system.

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Orc in the Playground
     
    OrcBarbarianGuy

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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    My design philosophy is that mechanics are promises and prompts.
    Quote Originally Posted by MoiMagnus View Post
    Some systems try to play on both sides, like Mutants and Mastermind, which has a mechanical structure but at its core is interpretation-based.
    Solid answers! Thank you both! Very informative and helping me think through this!

    Quote Originally Posted by MoiMagnus View Post
    On your note, I'd like to argue the "Player encouraged to optimize a build" as a clear cons. It's more a game-changer than a cons.
    I like your take here but I'll clarify what aspect of optimization I see as a con.

    In my 5e Campaign I'm currently playing a Goliath Barbarian with a magic hammer. I wanted a 1 handed hammer like mjolnir, and I did go with that. But I was frustrated I couldn't use the feat "great Weapon Master" with it, which is a mechanic I really enjoy. And I'm saddened that my typical 2d6 with a great sword is now 1d8 with my hammer. The mechanics encourage me to optimize (choose a great sword and great Weapon Master) and forsake the role play.

    When optimization steers you away from RP in a TTRPG, I see it as a negative.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay R View Post
    They are different games and you should play them differently.

    And I will play pretty much any game with a good GM who knows the system.
    I like your take and it seems we are the same. I want to play both styles.

    But this conversation is about discussing the differences between the two, to help decide what my preference could be. If I'm going to run a 5 year Campaign I'm wanting to understand both systems to help decide.
    Last edited by Drache64; 2020-12-28 at 09:09 PM.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    I find the "interpretation" method to be more about the players fast-talking the DM rather than playing by the rules.
    I remember some discussions about the Fate system where one player had "Magic" skill at +4 (maximum skill in Fate). She would use that skill for everything, as magic can do anything, and never used her other, worse, skills.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    Quote Originally Posted by Drache64 View Post
    I like your take here but I'll clarify what aspect of optimization I see as a con.

    In my 5e Campaign I'm currently playing a Goliath Barbarian with a magic hammer. I wanted a 1 handed hammer like mjolnir, and I did go with that. But I was frustrated I couldn't use the feat "great Weapon Master" with it, which is a mechanic I really enjoy. And I'm saddened that my typical 2d6 with a great sword is now 1d8 with my hammer. The mechanics encourage me to optimize (choose a great sword and great Weapon Master) and forsake the role play.

    When optimization steers you away from RP in a TTRPG, I see it as a negative.
    But it would be totally reasonable for a GM to say that all combat styles that only use one hand are far inferior to those that use both hands and that your Character thus has to be less effective with a one handed hammer than he would be with a two handed one

    Optimization can happen in both styles. The only difference is whether you choose options that the book says are strongest or those that your GM thinks are strongest.

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Orc in the Playground
     
    OrcBarbarianGuy

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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    Quote Originally Posted by Satinavian View Post
    But it would be totally reasonable for a GM to say that all combat styles that only use one hand are far inferior to those that use both hands and that your Character thus has to be less effective with a one handed hammer than he would be with a two handed one

    Optimization can happen in both styles. The only difference is whether you choose options that the book says are strongest or those that your GM thinks are strongest.
    I agree, but to an extent it makes sense. Larger weapons deal more damage. The mechanic system limits your ability to compensate for this, as in D&D 5e it is almost impossible to overcome a great Weapon Master and great sword damage gap (2d6+17 vs 1d8+7).

    The interpretive system I'm looking at is "Cogent". In this system, the one handed weapons gain 1d6 bonus whereas large weapons get 2d6, so it's 50% better. But in this interpretive system, the player builds a pool of d6's by utilizing skills. So the player with 1 handed can say he's going to bring one of those other skills to bear in his attack and suddenly he's on even footing.

    It just seems mechanical systems can make a lot of play styles less viable. EG: I had a player who really really wanted to play a Daredevil blind monk in Pathfinder. It's just not doable in the system as the mechanic for blind sight was just too broken to hand out at level 1. Essentially as a DM I wanted to say yes, but the mechanics said no.

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    My design philosophy is that mechanics are promises and prompts.
    I just wanna expand on this a bit: they aren't just *positive* promises, they're *negative* promises, too.

    Include a descriptor for [knockback]? Everything that doesn't have that descriptor doesn't / can't cause knockback. Include a *ranked* descriptor for Fire spells? If rank 3 fire causes standard combustibles to ignite, it's a promise that fire below rank 3 will not do so.

    Without these negative promises, too many GMs will be too tempted to make your spells behave in unpredictable (and generally detrimental) ways, IME. Give me rules any day!

    Now, anything *outside* these rules - like, which of these spells might have an effect on fertility rates - I'm open to negotiation. Or, better yet, I like systems which facilitate the ease with which my character can invent their own spells to manipulate these "out of scope" variables.

    Quote Originally Posted by GeoffWatson View Post
    I find the "interpretation" method to be more about the players fast-talking the DM rather than playing by the rules.
    Yeah, this too. Between unintended consequences and lack of intended consequences, such games are not about the game, or the characters - they're just about the GM.

    Quote Originally Posted by GeoffWatson View Post
    I remember some discussions about the Fate system where one player had "Magic" skill at +4 (maximum skill in Fate). She would use that skill for everything, as magic can do anything, and never used her other, worse, skills.
    And… why would they want to use their worse skills? As one of my characters once said in response to "never play an ace when a duce will do", "never play a duce when you have an unlimited supply of aces".
    Last edited by Quertus; 2020-12-29 at 11:01 AM.

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    I just wanna expand on this a bit: they aren't just *positive* promises, they're *negative* promises, too.

    Include a descriptor for [knockback]? Everything that doesn't have that descriptor doesn't / can't cause knockback. Include a *ranked* descriptor for Fire spells? If rank 3 fire causes standard combustibles to ignite, it's a promise that fire below rank 3 will not do so.

    Without these negative promises, too many GMs will be too tempted to make your spells behave in unpredictable (and generally detrimental) ways, IME. Give me rules any day!

    Now, anything *outside* these rules - like, which of these spells might have an effect on fertility rates - I'm open to negotiation. Or, better yet, I like systems which facilitate the ease with which my character can invent their own spells to manipulate these "out of scope" variables.
    I explicitly avoid having this kind of negative promise on rule systems I write, because I want to encourage people to venture outside of the promise-controlled region as much as possible, and I want games that involve discovery and invention as fundamental themes. So if a rule is being used to say e.g. 'this fruit can't heal wounds, because only Divine Magic can accelerate healing and this detects as non-magical', that's a problem.

    Or to put it another way, I want a 'points of light' type of player knowledge where there are small regions in which the players absolutely know exactly how things work, an infinite dark of possible things that could work arbitrarily differently, and the ability to choose for themselves (but not for that which they encounter) how deep into the dark to push. Some areas may be able to be lit (generate new promises) as a result of character research, while other areas may persistently be unlightable (you can gain abilities in this direction, but at the cost of never being able to guarantee how they work).

    So in my systems, an ability that promises 'Gain [Immunity] to the [Death] condition' would be a distinct, weaker ability than one that says 'With this ability, regardless of the events that befell your character you may choose at any time for them to be alive, able to act, and under your control'. Because out in the dark may be powers that suppress the [Immunity] tag, or disintegrate bodies or directly rip out souls without applying the [Death] condition first, or which just replace a character's mind and soul with a completely different, alien one.

    Against the second promise, you would still have to worry about things that could suppress, remove, or modify abilities, but you could proactively resolve those other issues. That proactive bit is the important one to me - I want players saying 'I can do X' and not 'they can't do Y'
    Last edited by NichG; 2020-12-29 at 11:26 AM.

  11. - Top - End - #11
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    BlackDragon

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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    I fall on the interpretive side. See, I feel like the game system, the GM, and the group of players all have similar levels of impact on how you'd classify a given game session. Most of the interpretive examples in this thread are things that I would expect to fly in a D&D 5e game, even though that was the system you used as your example of a mechanical system. Even when we were playing D&D 3.5, my groups wouldn't rule out those sorts of actions. I'd imagine a blend of approaches is pretty common.

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    My design philosophy is that mechanics are promises and prompts.
    And that's how I feel many players approach mechanics-heavy games. If you want to use a fireball spell to light up a cavern for a moment so you can see how big it is, I'd find the argument that the spell doesn't say it illuminates an area to be quite weak. It'll probably obscure the far side of the room, but the near side will be pretty bright for a moment. Does your sorcerer want to disarm someone with their staff? It'll be a difficult check, probably with consequences for failure (say, you'll leave yourself in a vulnerable position due to your lack of expertise and their next attack on you will get advantage), but it should be possible. That's the advantage of having a live GM—they can make ad-hoc rulings to adjudicate whatever the players are trying to do.

    Mechanics are a promise, a prompt, and a fallback option when nothing more imaginative occurs (which is always fine!). They are a tool prepared to resolve the most common and most likely courses of action, but if they set too hard limits, then the mechanics become detrimental to the role-playing experience.
    My 5e Monster Repository (a modest collection)
    5e Quick, ad-hoc task DCs — Simple: 8 | Normal: 13 | Challenging: 18 | Formidable: 23
    5e Quick, ad-hoc monsters — AC: 12 + level/2 | HP: 10 × level | To-Hit: 2 + level/2 | DPR: 4 × level
    1 monster v. 1 PC; for 4 v. 1 Solos — +2 to AC & To-Hit | HP: 25 × level | DPR: 10 × level
    5e Quick, ad-hoc monster treasure — CR2 × tier gp

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    Quote Originally Posted by GeoffWatson View Post
    I find the "interpretation" method to be more about the players fast-talking the DM rather than playing by the rules.
    I remember some discussions about the Fate system where one player had "Magic" skill at +4 (maximum skill in Fate). She would use that skill for everything, as magic can do anything, and never used her other, worse, skills.
    Interpretation-based game rely much more than mechanical games on players (and DM) aiming at everybody's fun, and having a clear understanding of the impact of the way they play on the fun of others.
    It relies on peoples respecting the spirit of the rules rather than their wording, and in particular you should self-regulate to keep the uses of your powers/skill/... within the range that correspond to their cost.

    Sure, you can fast-talk the DM, but you should only fast-talk the DM when what you want to do is reasonable. Otherwise that's abusing the DM's trust in your words.

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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    My feelings are that the system sets boundaries, for good or ill.

    Good boundries are like saftey railings around cliffs. Bad ones like high voltage electric fences. Hard boundries like walls, soft ones like painted lines on the floor. Inclusive boundries like wifi zones, and exclusive boundaries like locked doors.

    These days I'm gravitating more towards open ended systems that provide a floor of character ability and guidelines to exceed that, with rules that work as guidance and something to build on. I'm falling out of favor with the "hard no" systems like current D&Ds & knockoffs.

    To me the "mechanics vs interpretation" isn't really a thing. A system has mechanics*, they're the written rules. A system is interpreted by players, in play and in discussions like this. Some games have an explicit stunt or "beyond the published rules" mechanic, others don't, and some fig-leaf it by telling the players to try anything and the GM to create mechanics for that on the spot.

    The "fast talk the GM" is present in all systems to a greater or lesser extent. Some systems give the GM mechanics to enable or help, others don't. Most systems have explicit boundaries to what should be allowed. Some systems have more and harder boundaries, others fewer and softer boundaries.

    *A mechanic being something beyond the base task resolution system that's usually something like "GM makes up a number, player rolls dice hoping to roll higher/lower". Even if it's just an explanation the consequences and probabilities of making certain actions harder or easier and options for how to handle those consequences.
    Niven's Laws, #5
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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    Quote Originally Posted by Telok View Post
    To me the "mechanics vs interpretation" isn't really a thing. A system has mechanics*, they're the written rules. A system is interpreted by players, in play and in discussions like this. Some games have an explicit stunt or "beyond the published rules" mechanic, others don't, and some fig-leaf it by telling the players to try anything and the GM to create mechanics for that on the spot.
    In game design, there are two opposite ways to design that are "from the theme" (or top-down) and "from the mechanics" (or bottom-up). This same opposition appears when you are playing a RPG, are you starting from the description of your action (and then the mechanical resolution follows), or are you starting from the mechanics (and the description follows).

    Both approaches can be made in (almost) every system, but some systems will encourage some specific behaviours.
    E.g any system that has an explicit action economy will tend toward the mechanical end, as players will start to think things like "what can I do with my bonus action this turn?" (which is a very boardgamey way of playing a RPG).

    Note that to complexify this discussion, there is also a in-universe mechanics-based VS interpretation-based, which is often presented as hard magic VS soft magic.

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    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    I explicitly avoid having this kind of negative promise on rule systems I write, because I want to encourage people to venture outside of the promise-controlled region as much as possible, and I want games that involve discovery and invention as fundamental themes. So if a rule is being used to say e.g. 'this fruit can't heal wounds, because only Divine Magic can accelerate healing and this detects as non-magical', that's a problem.
    No, that's absolutely horrible, and absolutely not what I meant.

    "Divine magic" (or, more likely, "divine magic x" has the [healing] trait. That says *absolutely nothing* about this fruit… which, perhaps, *also* has the [healing] trait. As does my sword, btw. (EDIT: and "mommy spit", according to most mothers I know)

    Traits - as I described them - are *not* exclusive. Otherwise, I'll take the [intelligent] trait.

    But my point is, if this fruit doesn't have the [fire 3] descriptor, it doesn't set paper on fire by touch (unless, of course, it has some *other* descriptor, like [paper ignitor] or something…).

    Point being, if an effect doesn't deal knockback, you can communicate that by not including a [knockback] descriptor, and not be worried that the horrifically bad GM (like all GMs are) won't randomly have the effect cause knockback.

    These promises are about having a predictable world, with predicable cause and effect, rather than a pants-on-head, "mother may I", "oops, that had these completely random unintended consequences that don't match anything that's happened thus far".

    *That's* what I mean by "negative promises": your effects won't do things that they don't do.
    Last edited by Quertus; 2020-12-29 at 10:17 PM.

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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    Quote Originally Posted by MoiMagnus View Post
    In game design, there are two opposite ways to design that are "from the theme" (or top-down) and "from the mechanics" (or bottom-up). This same opposition appears when you are playing a RPG, are you starting from the description of your action (and then the mechanical resolution follows), or are you starting from the mechanics (and the description follows).

    Both approaches can be made in (almost) every system, but some systems will encourage some specific behaviours.
    E.g any system that has an explicit action economy will tend toward the mechanical end, as players will start to think things like "what can I do with my bonus action this turn?" (which is a very boardgamey way of playing a RPG).

    Note that to complexify this discussion, there is also a in-universe mechanics-based VS interpretation-based, which is often presented as hard magic VS soft magic.
    I must admit that I don't follow as to how this is relevant to the part of my post that you quoted. Would you be willing to clarify?

    I think you're saying that systems can be both designed and played in ways that are driven by the fiction and by the mechanics, with some systems being one way or the other by design or accident. All of which is true, and I've seen (as I'm sure you have too) players use a fiction driven or mechanics driven play styles in games that were designed the other way.

    I mean, I played D&D 4e as a fiction driven beastform druid who was never in a humanoid form. And yes, that system was totally mechanics driven which meant anything that character attempted that wasn't backed up by mechanics (and some things that were) was a complete waste of time and effort no matter what was going on at the fiction/narrative level. So, yeah, agree with you.

    But I'm saying that all games have mechanics and all mechanics are interpreted. Over the years I've become happier with mechanics that lend themselves more to supporting and informing player actions and that are more easily interpreted as doing so. Whether those systems push a more mechanic driven or fiction driven style, and whether the players use the systems that way, is sort of tangential... maybe. Let me think about that.
    Niven's Laws, #5
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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    In case my sig fails to communicate, I elaborate clearly that I'm a "Rules As Physics" type of gamer by my very soul. I learned it in a wild way when I learned of 3.5e's existence after my very first RPG books (the entire 4.Ee set, in Honolulu of all places), quickly abandoning ship despite its amiably notable merits...

    So Mechanics over Interpretation, especially with core interactive rules mechanized as much as it can, I think.
    Below are the things I personally care when rating whether I consider a RPG rule as a favorite or not, in order;

    • Legally guraranteed for free commercial redistribution (OGL, CC-BY-SA, etc.)
    • All game entities (PC, NPC, monsters, etc.) generally follow the same creation structure and gameplay rules (with some obvious exceptions)
    • Martial and Magical character archetypes do not completely overshadow each other in common situations (combat, exploration, socialization, etc.)

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    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    No, that's absolutely horrible, and absolutely not what I meant.

    "Divine magic" (or, more likely, "divine magic x" has the [healing] trait. That says *absolutely nothing* about this fruit… which, perhaps, *also* has the [healing] trait. As does my sword, btw. (EDIT: and "mommy spit", according to most mothers I know)

    Traits - as I described them - are *not* exclusive. Otherwise, I'll take the [intelligent] trait.

    But my point is, if this fruit doesn't have the [fire 3] descriptor, it doesn't set paper on fire by touch (unless, of course, it has some *other* descriptor, like [paper ignitor] or something…).

    Point being, if an effect doesn't deal knockback, you can communicate that by not including a [knockback] descriptor, and not be worried that the horrifically bad GM (like all GMs are) won't randomly have the effect cause knockback.

    These promises are about having a predictable world, with predicable cause and effect, rather than a pants-on-head, "mother may I", "oops, that had these completely random unintended consequences that don't match anything that's happened thus far".

    *That's* what I mean by "negative promises": your effects won't do things that they don't do.
    I still see this as similar to the fruit.

    I make a learned ability called 'Temporal Rush' which has as fluff 'you store a surplus of moments by coiling your timeline and then use them surge forward, moving at three times your normal rate, followed by an attack that is backed up by your momentum for +2 to damage'. I don't give it the [Knockback] tag. A player says 'I want to Rush at the enemy, but instead of using my momentum for damage I want to try to use it to shove the enemy backwards'. This is the desired interaction with the system, and should work following adjudication.

    Promises are selective. I don't want to make a world where all things are predictable, and I certainly don't want all GMs to run things identically to how I would run them. Rather, I want very specific things to be predictable in certain ways, and for that to be a special property of those things rather than the expected norm.

    If you're a Spirit Whisperer, maybe sometimes your fireballs cause flowers to grow, and there's no practical way for you to know that ahead of time. That situation should coexist within the system with an Empiricist Tinkerer who can tell you to the degree centigrade how much their Burn Ray will heat a litre of water. The difference in predictability becomes a tool of game design, to create different feels, prompt exploration, and reward careful experimentation or practice. You could very well have an Monk of Eternal Order with an ability whose function is literally 'ask the GM to write down a rule for this thing that normally would be pure ruling'.
    Last edited by NichG; 2020-12-30 at 01:44 AM.

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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    I feel a sudden urge to quote myself from a different thread entirely:

    Quote Originally Posted by Vahnavoi View Post
    Also, to put some things into perspective:

    Modern tabletop RPGs owe a lot to wargames, and wargames owe a lot to Kriegsspiel.

    Kriegsspiel basically codified the idea of a game master (called umpire in the article) . A word needs to be said about the role of the game master: Kriegsspiel had several versions, some with heavier mechanistic rules and others with lighter rules with more control given to the game master. The rationale for doing away with some of the more obscure rules in favor of on-the-spot rulings by a game master was something that ought to be immediately recognizable: the heavier versions were slow and deemed to take too much time compared to thing they were trying to model.

    However, this increased importance of a game master came with a cave-at: to keep the game grounded in reality, the game master ought to be a superior officer with field experience. This obviously wasn't a position for non-experts.

    As wargames spread outside the military and started to be played as a fun past-time instead of a serious training tool, the thought was somewhat lost along the line. Come D&D and especially AD&D, Gary Gygax, in the books, outright says the game is not meant to simulate anything outside itself and that as a model of reality, it can only be considered a failure. Furthermore, Gygax also noted that creating and running an entire fictional world to high degree of realism is not possible for most individuals. Realism ought to be attempted only where it improves the game and no-one should aim for the impossible.

    Still, it's still clearly laid out in AD&D books that ideally, the game master (called dungeon master since it's D&D) ought to know the rules and the setting best out of everyone at their table, including willingness to look at real history and culture to keep a game relatable. So a game master should have some expertise at least relative to their players. If they don't, it raises the question of what are they doing in that position? It's one thing if experienced players are teaching an inexperienced person how to run a game, but beyond that, the dynamic where one person has an authoritative position over the game requires some backing for that authority. I'd argue one reason why inexperienced game masters sometimes cope poorly with more experienced or knowledgeable players, is because it reminds them their authority is only nominal and they can only do their job with player good faith.

    But, to tie this together: if you want to make puzzles or run games based on detailed real world knowledge, you are then playing by Kriegsspiel rules: if you don't have brass on your collar, you are not qualified. You cannot make good puzzles reliant on skills you don't actually have. Stick to what you know, which in the case of hobby gaming mostly means abstracted game rules.
    In the case the relevant point is not immediately obvious: mechanics and interpretation aren't two mutually exlusive playstyles, a sane game design uses both. Specifically, you use mechanics where they are reasonably quick and accurate and you use interpretation where a living person relying on their own expertise is quicker.

    The best way to avoid "fast-talking the GM" problem is for the GM to be a person with an actual spine and firm knowledge of their rules and subject matter of a game. You don't solve this problem by increasing amount of mechanical rules, because a rules-savvy player can talk circles around a less-savvy player. A persuasive player can convince a spineless GM or other player to ignore the rules alltogether if they want to.

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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    I still see this as similar to the fruit.

    I make a learned ability called 'Temporal Rush' which has as fluff 'you store a surplus of moments by coiling your timeline and then use them surge forward, moving at three times your normal rate, followed by an attack that is backed up by your momentum for +2 to damage'. I don't give it the [Knockback] tag. A player says 'I want to Rush at the enemy, but instead of using my momentum for damage I want to try to use it to shove the enemy backwards'. This is the desired interaction with the system, and should work following adjudication.

    Promises are selective. I don't want to make a world where all things are predictable, and I certainly don't want all GMs to run things identically to how I would run them. Rather, I want very specific things to be predictable in certain ways, and for that to be a special property of those things rather than the expected norm.

    If you're a Spirit Whisperer, maybe sometimes your fireballs cause flowers to grow, and there's no practical way for you to know that ahead of time. That situation should coexist within the system with an Empiricist Tinkerer who can tell you to the degree centigrade how much their Burn Ray will heat a litre of water. The difference in predictability becomes a tool of game design, to create different feels, prompt exploration, and reward careful experimentation or practice. You could very well have an Monk of Eternal Order with an ability whose function is literally 'ask the GM to write down a rule for this thing that normally would be pure ruling'.
    And if you are a Wild Mage, the results of your spells are highly random.

    And that is a property of the rules.

    An Empiricist Tinkerer doesn't have to worry about his Burn Ray spontaneously causing flowers to grow, or freezing the water, or randomly converting its damage to knockback.

    There should be general rules to cover intentionally converting physical damage / momentum into knockback.

    The player of the Monk of Eternal Order should know that they have an ability whose function is literally 'ask the GM to write down a rule for this thing that normally would be pure ruling', to encourage their (lack of) experimentation or practice.

    Characters have presumably used their abilities before session 1, let alone seen their abilities used (by their peers, or those who trained them)… and those who trained them ought to have, you know, trained them.

    Which is why, if I want exploration and experimentation, then I want to be a special snowflake, first and only of their kind inventor of something entirely new, who gets to actually go through the Exploration phase of experimentation and practice, to learn about the underlying bits that any sane practitioner would have taught their students.

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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    And if you are a Wild Mage, the results of your spells are highly random.

    And that is a property of the rules.

    An Empiricist Tinkerer doesn't have to worry about his Burn Ray spontaneously causing flowers to grow, or freezing the water, or randomly converting its damage to knockback.

    There should be general rules to cover intentionally converting physical damage / momentum into knockback.

    The player of the Monk of Eternal Order should know that they have an ability whose function is literally 'ask the GM to write down a rule for this thing that normally would be pure ruling', to encourage their (lack of) experimentation or practice.

    Characters have presumably used their abilities before session 1, let alone seen their abilities used (by their peers, or those who trained them)… and those who trained them ought to have, you know, trained them.

    Which is why, if I want exploration and experimentation, then I want to be a special snowflake, first and only of their kind inventor of something entirely new, who gets to actually go through the Exploration phase of experimentation and practice, to learn about the underlying bits that any sane practitioner would have taught their students.
    So in my design philosophy, and accordingly in the games I design, 'the results of your spells are highly random' is not necessarily a property of the rules, 'there should be general rules to cover intentionally converting physical damage into knockback', and 'characters have presumably used their abilities before session 1, let alone seen their abilities used by their peers or those who trained them' is also generally not going to be true.

    Examples:

    Spoiler: Memoir
    Show
    The game takes place in a plane of existence called (by people outside of it) 'the Unknowing World'. It is a place where amnesia can literally be weaponized, because something you do not know is literally malleable and is yet to be determined. Characters who make it to the Unknowing World all have holes in their memory or understanding of the world, and can consciously fill those holes to rewrite reality. Therefore, this is a sort of battleground between ossified forces in an eternal conflict of potential where they try to exert influence to get those few who end up there to 'decide' in a way that rewrites history so that they were the victors.

    A character who is told too much about the properties of the plane or what is actually going on is ejected from the Unknowing World into the reality their decisions created. However, a character who figures these things out without having certain and sure knowledge of them can stay in the Unknowing World and intentionally manipulate this power to decide what should fill the holes in their memory.

    It's a system that at some level is almost operating on the principle that 'if you know a rule, you can no longer use it', though it's more at the setting level than at the level of things like combat maneuvers. The big uncertainties centered around a decision of what to do when encountering the shards of the shattered souls of the gods: a choice to Absorb, Consume, or Destroy the soul shard. Following that choice, the player would get some vision of their past and at some point during the vision take over the narration (Absorb), would be faced with the idea that their nature or self had components they had not been aware of which could be adopted or rejected (Consume), or would gain brief opportunity to deny or effectively rewrite some small underlying principle of reality in exchange for suffering an accumulating curse for breaking a cosmic taboo (Destroy). However, players weren't told that this is how any of those things work - they had to reason it out based on what happened.

    A very surreal campaign; one character Enlightened out, and another figured out what was going on without hitting their Enlightenment cap and kept trying to sway the party into doing certain things without really explaining why. In the end, they used their rewrite opportunities to change the fundamental character of the gods whose souls had been shattered from jerks who treated the universe as an etch-a-sketch and periodically wiped it so they could have a fresh playground to more helpful, constructive, and thoughtful entities.


    Spoiler: Limit Break
    Show
    Every power set is literally unique, and no one else has those powers. Characters gain their powers during the middle of Session 1. The entire premise of the system is that everyone is basically secretly omnipotent (as long as they don't come into direct contest with another person with that omnipotent flag), and while there's an XP system for progressing those direct contests basically the majority of the progression is the players figuring out what having no limits really and truly implies. There are two rules that sort of cues this and starts it off, but which are intentionally vague and open-ended in order to create the effect: '1) You can create a Lv0 power for free at any time, that does anything within your domain and tags. 2) Regardless of whether you're aware of this in character, you can always choose to start a contest in response to a power or circumstance affecting you so long as you have some way of resisting the power's affects or responding to them with powers of your own; if you win the contest, the power's effects do not occur'.

    The trick is in that 'anything'. My power is Sleep. I could put a person to sleep (but it would be a contest), a computer to sleep, I could make it so that when people sleep their skin falls off (a contest), or that when people sleep it forges a pathway for hostile extradimensional entities to go to that person's location (no contest), or that the act of sleeping - anyone sleeping, anywhere in the universe - empowers the sleeper to selectively overwrite waking reality with the reality of their dreams (whether there's a contest or not is complex).

    The system wouldn't work if the rules explicitly spelled these examples out, because the actual gameplay is about discovering organically that you really only have the limits you impose on yourself. For example I had a player whose character had the power Word. They saw this as manipulating those things written down or spoken, with an emphasis on anchoring the truth of what was written. Their first use of a power was to reaffirm that their character would never speak a lie (and to sort of make people supernaturally aware of that fact). What they discovered soon after (without exactly realizing the extent of this when they first made the power) is that if they forced the issue - e.g. if they had their character say something which they could not know was true like 'it'll be okay, nothing will happen on this trip' then their statement of 'I cannot lie' had a higher precedence than the universe's 'this is how things are'.


    Spoiler: Homestead
    Show
    This is a game about colonizing a new plane of reality simultaneously discovered by a trio of worlds during a planar conjunction. Each of the worlds had fundamentally different laws of physics - a world where high sci-fi stuff like nanobot clouds and teleporters and programmable matter were technologically possible; a world driven by the circulation of energies and humours with a civilization of immortal Xian Xia martial artists whose arts were all about circulating qi, concentrating will, manipulating the flows of Breath and Blood, etc; a world driven by the collective subconscious of societies and belief structures, giving rise to spirits who could be contracted with and negotiated with in order to bring about effects. None of their stuff worked as-is in the new plane, but those things provided angles for adaptation to the properties of that plane. There were new laws of physics that the sci-fi worlders could apply scientific methodology and engineering discipline to in order make new tech (I can use this thing to create materials with 32x the density of normal metals? okay, this is how I can exploit that); there was a concept-bearing fluid that permeated the setting which was similar enough to the Xian Xia worlders' qi that they figured out how to manipulate it, but it did different things and was external to their body rather than internal and had to be drawn from reservoirs; there was an underlying animistic principle associated with the plane and its history, but rather than spirits this had to do with a sort of memetic infection in the heart of the plane, so the spirit-talkers' intuition about spirits wasn't totally off but their rituals and hierarchies didn't work.

    In Homestead, basically you have almost no powers written out for you at the start, but Homestead PCs got something called a 'Schematic point' once per session. Everything a PC can do arises via experimentation, which can happen at any time on the fly as long as you describe what you're actually trying in fine detail. So you can't say 'I want to try to throw a fireball', you have to say 'I am going to draw a portion of Flux from the reservoir, pass it through this flower I found that seems to always be hotter than its environment, then compress that flux into the space just in front of my finger tip, and make a throwing motion'. Maybe that creates a fireball, or a heat ray, or explodes in your hand. If you want to keep the result, you spend a Schematic Point and the GM writes down a named ability for you that is always resolved the same way when you repeat it in the future. If you don't spend the Schematic Point, you could try something similar or even identical again in the future and the outcome could in theory be resolved totally differently based on context, GM's mood, whatever. It doesn't even have to be magic stuff - you could be fighting and say 'I want to take this blow on my shoulder' and use a Schematic Point to make 'taking hits on specified body parts' a codified part of the system.

    That turned 'things which you can have specified rules about' into a limited resource, which you have to choose how to spend.


    So anyhow, I don't think there should be a rule for something unless you are trying to achieve a specific design end by making that specific promise. So for me, you should never make a rule just because 'someone might want to do it and then you'd need a rule'. Start with a blank slate in which literally everything is an on-the-fly resolution and under which there is no assumption even that if you did the same thing twice it would be resolved the same way. Then mark out only those specific things you want to be 'positively' reliable. For realism aesthetics this could be the particular things that are well-studied in the setting, but I think its more valuable to use this for things which the players would tend to avoid without having a guarantee, because the existence of a rule isn't a promise to the character but rather a promise to the player.

    For example, it can shape play quite a lot to have a rule saying 'your character will not be taken away from you or ended permanently against your will unless you declare that you have the Death flag up; however, if you don't choose to have the Death flag up, then there will be some scenes or actions that your character cannot participate in'. That doesn't mean that in character people have death flags, and they understand this property of the universe because of extensive experimentation. It's a rule designed to tell players 'in this game I want lean towards risky, spontaneous play and away from cautious or paranoid self-protective play, so I'm placing a cap on the consequences of your actions - please do whatever'.

    Another example ability that I tend to use which leans on the 'promises' idea is things that tell you before you commit to a course of dialogue exactly how a given NPC will respond. This kind of thing is my preferred way of implementing social mechanics - rather than a roll or ability that forces a certain direction of response, the ability gives the character an absolute guarantee that their line of argumentation is going to work, or tells them before they commit to it that it will fail. Similarly, an ability associated with high intelligence/cleverness/etc that I tend to put into systems is the ability to 1/game voice a hypothesis about something aloud and have the GM respond with 'correct', 'incorrect', 'mixed', or 'you don't have the information to tell'. It's a purely meta thing - the player is encouraged to guess and make leaps of reasoning that they can't 100% defend, because they get to know the GM's truth about whether they were right as long as they can get close enough with their guess. Whereas without an ability like that, you more often get a dynamic between players where someone will intuit the correct thing and then others will end up convincing them that they were wrong.

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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    Quote Originally Posted by GeoffWatson View Post
    I find the "interpretation" method to be more about the players fast-talking the DM rather than playing by the rules.
    I remember some discussions about the Fate system where one player had "Magic" skill at +4 (maximum skill in Fate). She would use that skill for everything, as magic can do anything, and never used her other, worse, skills.
    Amen to that. I have seen multiple interpretation based games turn into extended Mother-May-I games. Where a player asks in nearly every round if X skill applied in Y fashion will accomplish Z action. And when No is stated they ask in a different way. Every player winds up doing this because the lack of structure means they cannot assume X-Y-Z won't work.

    Or a smooth talker using a bit of logic gets away with nearly anything using any skill they want. Granted in your example the action can be detected as any sort of detect magic, and the action would be completed in a very magical way. It would actually expose the skill to multiple methods of detection and countering that had they just used the regular skill it wouldn't have been. You don't pick their pocket you levitate the object out and to your hand, but an alarm goes off, because mind reading is magical and they wanted to detect telepaths.

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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    Interpretation is Mother May I. I want to do something. What's the target number I need to roll? Who determines it? Since there's no mechanical rule it has to be the DM, so I can only ever do what the DM says I can do. It's never my choice, my freedom. Maybe even in interpretation there is a defined target number, such as roll 1d6 and succeed on 4, 5, or 6. DM may raise or lower the number. That's still DM dependent because if he doesn't like what I want to do I need to roll a 7 on a d6, so that particular method doesn't work for me. What if I play two games with different DMs. I want to do something. One DM says I need to roll at least 5. Another says at least 3. My ability to do something depends on who is DM that day. Hmm, this sounds familiar.

    I want mechanics. Mechanics can themselves be bad, see D&D 3E Truenamer or 4E, but I want to know what I can do by my own choices because I want to do it.
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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    Rules put in a book are still decisions made by an external person. If you think they give you any more freedom than decisions made by a game master, oh boy.

    Also, I'm firmly of the opinion that people who use Mother May I as a derogatory description of some playstyles ought to go and play few rounds of Mother May I. And maybe a few other children's games at that. You might learn something about games.

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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by GeoffWatson
    I remember some discussions about the Fate system where one player had "Magic" skill at +4 (maximum skill in Fate). She would use that skill for everything, as magic can do anything, and never used her other, worse, skills.

    And… why would they want to use their worse skills? As one of my characters once said in response to "never play an ace when a duce will do", "never play a duce when you have an unlimited supply of aces".
    One of the usual premises of an RPG is that the PCs are (more or less approximately) peers within the rules. If magic is clearly the "best skill" because it will do everything as well as other skills do their own thing, that premise has failed. Maybe that's part of the premise of this game, but in that case, it's a feature not a bug.
    But for Fate, the GM is responsible for limiting the magic skill - maybe by raising difficulties, maybe by having a price on it's use, maybe by saying magic is too broad a skill and needs to be broken up. The fact that the rules are so vague is a reason Fate does ask a lot of the GM.


    In fact, that's one other difference between Mechanics and Interpretation based games.
    Mechanics comes with a lot more rules to learn, to remember exist, to think of when they're relevant and then to wade through when you need to find them.
    Interpretation requires the GM to do a lot more of the work of deciding what's possible and how hard it is, and then there will be cases where a player feels they should be allowed to do a thing because someone else could ages ago. Either precedent is recorded at the time and can be searched through, there's a discussion about if that example really happened and is indeed relevant or the party accept the possibility the GM worked night shift and is grumpy today might affect how things go.
    Last edited by Duff; 2020-12-30 at 05:43 PM.
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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    Quote Originally Posted by Drache64 View Post
    By mechanics based I mean an RPG system like D&D. Most of what you want to do has to be interpreted through available mechanics like feats and class abilities. Do you want to disarm your opponent with your Sorcerer staff? Too bad, you're not a battle master.
    In the current edition of D&D, anyone can attempt to disarm a target creature. The attacker makes a melee weapon attack opposed by the target's athletics or acrobatics check. Granted, it's an optional rule in the DMG, but it's part of the game. Technically feats are optional rules in 5e.

    Quote Originally Posted by Drache64 View Post
    Do you want to blast a spell at your enemy to knock him off a bridge? Better hope you're a warlock with repelling blast.
    This one's trickier as most ranged attacks don't have that kind of kinetic component. You can't knock someone back with a shot from a bow, but you can't in real life anyway. Hollywood makes us think being shot by a gun can knock the target back, but that doesn't happen. So really it's just that D&D isn't allowing you to do something you couldn't do, but then provides a specific "repulsor" effect with Repelling Blast. I suppose one could homebrew a ranged attack that applies the Shove action...

    Even fireball doesn't blow people back/away.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vahnavoi View Post
    Rules put in a book are still decisions made by an external person. If you think they give you any more freedom than decisions made by a game master, oh boy.

    Also, I'm firmly of the opinion that people who use Mother May I as a derogatory description of some playstyles ought to go and play few rounds of Mother May I. And maybe a few other children's games at that. You might learn something about games.
    I played Mother May I. Mother chose the winner before the game started. We stopped playing because we all figured out how dumb it was. Red Light Green Light was the better system. I optimized playing it. I move as fast as I want but always stop when the person starts counting at 1 and get into a comfortable position so I don't move. I won frequently.
    Quote Originally Posted by OgresAreCute View Post
    "Welcome to Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition, where the DCs are made up and the rules don't matter."

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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    Quote Originally Posted by EggKookoo View Post
    In the current edition of D&D, anyone can attempt to disarm a target creature. The attacker makes a melee weapon attack opposed by the target's athletics or acrobatics check. Granted, it's an optional rule in the DMG, but it's part of the game. Technically feats are optional rules in 5e.
    Sure, anyone can try to disarm anyone else. If the DM remembers an optional rule tucked away in a different book and says you can or if your class/feat abilities say that you can. My D&D 5e DM said "no" to stuff like that.

    That DM also had climbing/swimming always be a roll, didn't use passive scores, and played monsters like MMO mobs. The received wisdom of the interwebs says that's a bad DM, but he was honestly following the book's written advice of deciding DCs for himself and calling for rolls when he thought there were important conseqences.

    I don't think he was a bad DM. He was new to DMing and was trying to use a popular, well advertised system that didn't have the structure and rules he needed to run a game. His interpretation of the rules, from his reading the books (not the internet) was that he should say "no" if the character didn't have a "yes" on the character sheet and that having the players roll dice was "fun".

    He had much more success at running a Starfinder game. Still not perfect, but he had less guess work to do in that system. More to remember, but less work and guessing. I may harp on the restrictive and railroady nature of Starfinder, but they nailed the system math. Some of the adventure writers, not so much. But the system math is nice and tight, doing exactly what it's supposed to when you just follow the rules in the book.

    Well, ok, the Starfinder spaceship rules are a dumpster fire of bad choices and design. But even then they at least got the attack/defense/hit points math right.
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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    Quote Originally Posted by Telok View Post
    Sure, anyone can try to disarm anyone else. If the DM remembers an optional rule tucked away in a different book and says you can or if your class/feat abilities say that you can. My D&D 5e DM said "no" to stuff like that.
    I'm just saying D&D currently is more akin to the "interpretation" model Drache64 is talking about than the "mechanics" one.

    Quote Originally Posted by Telok View Post
    I don't think he was a bad DM. He was new to DMing and was trying to use a popular, well advertised system that didn't have the structure and rules he needed to run a game. His interpretation of the rules, from his reading the books (not the internet) was that he should say "no" if the character didn't have a "yes" on the character sheet and that having the players roll dice was "fun".
    Sure, we can chalk that up to DM inexperience. The 5e DMG says a PC can do anything that is actually possible to do, given enough time. Checks come in if there's some kind of constraint, like a threat or limited time or a significant consequence of failure. This is explained in the book, but I agree it's not explained as clearly as it should be. New DMs likely miss it, especially if they come to the game from other editions or other games entirely.
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    Default Re: Mechanics vs interpretation based RPG systems

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    Spoiler: Memoir
    Show
    The game takes place in a plane of existence called (by people outside of it) 'the Unknowing World'. It is a place where amnesia can literally be weaponized, because something you do not know is literally malleable and is yet to be determined. Characters who make it to the Unknowing World all have holes in their memory or understanding of the world, and can consciously fill those holes to rewrite reality. Therefore, this is a sort of battleground between ossified forces in an eternal conflict of potential where they try to exert influence to get those few who end up there to 'decide' in a way that rewrites history so that they were the victors.

    A character who is told too much about the properties of the plane or what is actually going on is ejected from the Unknowing World into the reality their decisions created. However, a character who figures these things out without having certain and sure knowledge of them can stay in the Unknowing World and intentionally manipulate this power to decide what should fill the holes in their memory.

    It's a system that at some level is almost operating on the principle that 'if you know a rule, you can no longer use it', though it's more at the setting level than at the level of things like combat maneuvers. The big uncertainties centered around a decision of what to do when encountering the shards of the shattered souls of the gods: a choice to Absorb, Consume, or Destroy the soul shard. Following that choice, the player would get some vision of their past and at some point during the vision take over the narration (Absorb), would be faced with the idea that their nature or self had components they had not been aware of which could be adopted or rejected (Consume), or would gain brief opportunity to deny or effectively rewrite some small underlying principle of reality in exchange for suffering an accumulating curse for breaking a cosmic taboo (Destroy). However, players weren't told that this is how any of those things work - they had to reason it out based on what happened.

    A very surreal campaign; one character Enlightened out, and another figured out what was going on without hitting their Enlightenment cap and kept trying to sway the party into doing certain things without really explaining why. In the end, they used their rewrite opportunities to change the fundamental character of the gods whose souls had been shattered from jerks who treated the universe as an etch-a-sketch and periodically wiped it so they could have a fresh playground to more helpful, constructive, and thoughtful entities.


    Spoiler: Limit Break
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    Every power set is literally unique, and no one else has those powers. Characters gain their powers during the middle of Session 1. The entire premise of the system is that everyone is basically secretly omnipotent (as long as they don't come into direct contest with another person with that omnipotent flag), and while there's an XP system for progressing those direct contests basically the majority of the progression is the players figuring out what having no limits really and truly implies. There are two rules that sort of cues this and starts it off, but which are intentionally vague and open-ended in order to create the effect: '1) You can create a Lv0 power for free at any time, that does anything within your domain and tags. 2) Regardless of whether you're aware of this in character, you can always choose to start a contest in response to a power or circumstance affecting you so long as you have some way of resisting the power's affects or responding to them with powers of your own; if you win the contest, the power's effects do not occur'.

    The trick is in that 'anything'. My power is Sleep. I could put a person to sleep (but it would be a contest), a computer to sleep, I could make it so that when people sleep their skin falls off (a contest), or that when people sleep it forges a pathway for hostile extradimensional entities to go to that person's location (no contest), or that the act of sleeping - anyone sleeping, anywhere in the universe - empowers the sleeper to selectively overwrite waking reality with the reality of their dreams (whether there's a contest or not is complex).

    The system wouldn't work if the rules explicitly spelled these examples out, because the actual gameplay is about discovering organically that you really only have the limits you impose on yourself. For example I had a player whose character had the power Word. They saw this as manipulating those things written down or spoken, with an emphasis on anchoring the truth of what was written. Their first use of a power was to reaffirm that their character would never speak a lie (and to sort of make people supernaturally aware of that fact). What they discovered soon after (without exactly realizing the extent of this when they first made the power) is that if they forced the issue - e.g. if they had their character say something which they could not know was true like 'it'll be okay, nothing will happen on this trip' then their statement of 'I cannot lie' had a higher precedence than the universe's 'this is how things are'.


    Spoiler: Homestead
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    This is a game about colonizing a new plane of reality simultaneously discovered by a trio of worlds during a planar conjunction. Each of the worlds had fundamentally different laws of physics - a world where high sci-fi stuff like nanobot clouds and teleporters and programmable matter were technologically possible; a world driven by the circulation of energies and humours with a civilization of immortal Xian Xia martial artists whose arts were all about circulating qi, concentrating will, manipulating the flows of Breath and Blood, etc; a world driven by the collective subconscious of societies and belief structures, giving rise to spirits who could be contracted with and negotiated with in order to bring about effects. None of their stuff worked as-is in the new plane, but those things provided angles for adaptation to the properties of that plane. There were new laws of physics that the sci-fi worlders could apply scientific methodology and engineering discipline to in order make new tech (I can use this thing to create materials with 32x the density of normal metals? okay, this is how I can exploit that); there was a concept-bearing fluid that permeated the setting which was similar enough to the Xian Xia worlders' qi that they figured out how to manipulate it, but it did different things and was external to their body rather than internal and had to be drawn from reservoirs; there was an underlying animistic principle associated with the plane and its history, but rather than spirits this had to do with a sort of memetic infection in the heart of the plane, so the spirit-talkers' intuition about spirits wasn't totally off but their rituals and hierarchies didn't work.

    In Homestead, basically you have almost no powers written out for you at the start, but Homestead PCs got something called a 'Schematic point' once per session. Everything a PC can do arises via experimentation, which can happen at any time on the fly as long as you describe what you're actually trying in fine detail. So you can't say 'I want to try to throw a fireball', you have to say 'I am going to draw a portion of Flux from the reservoir, pass it through this flower I found that seems to always be hotter than its environment, then compress that flux into the space just in front of my finger tip, and make a throwing motion'. Maybe that creates a fireball, or a heat ray, or explodes in your hand. If you want to keep the result, you spend a Schematic Point and the GM writes down a named ability for you that is always resolved the same way when you repeat it in the future. If you don't spend the Schematic Point, you could try something similar or even identical again in the future and the outcome could in theory be resolved totally differently based on context, GM's mood, whatever. It doesn't even have to be magic stuff - you could be fighting and say 'I want to take this blow on my shoulder' and use a Schematic Point to make 'taking hits on specified body parts' a codified part of the system.

    That turned 'things which you can have specified rules about' into a limited resource, which you have to choose how to spend.
    Wow, my weird experimental system is about flying a spaceship. I mean the flying the spaceship is not the experimental part, deciding what the places you go to are like is the experimental part.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pex View Post
    Interpretation is Mother May I.
    Any yet it is the only reason to play a pen-and-paper/table-top role-playing games over a computer game.

    I'm serious, assuming I've got what everyone is talking about you need it. For all the stories about people taking it too far, GM's not being able to be consistent or playing favourites, without some ability to make decisions from fiction to mechanics instead of the other way around, what is the point? Even dialog choices are fixed, A, B or C, there is no "D, because I have a crazy idea" or even "B, but phrased differently because my character doesn't speak like that". You can have too much, but without a little you are just turning pages in a choose-your-own-adventure book.

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