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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default The one PC who…

    So, I've got this half-formed idea in my head. Not "I don't know if I can explain it", but "I don't even know if it makes sense":

    Numbers.

    How important are numbers to how good a game feels, how great the stories told afterwards are?

    Not numbers like "+7 to hit", but numbers like "the one PC who can…" or "the only way to…"?

    The thing that first got me asking this question was the realization that some of the best parties were the ones with the one evil character, who would do the things that the others wouldn't, take care of the problems that they couldn't.

    I happened to think about that at the same time as I was thinking about how many of my old parties looked like they came straight from Tolkien: 1 Wizard, 1 Thief, and double-digit Fighters.

    But even those parties usually had 1 Face, 1 leader, 1 packrat, 1 pyromaniac, 1 noble, 1…

    Or, put another way, there's lots of talk about "stepping on other people's toes" - is this singularity of niche really important to fun, memorable games?

    Now, let's flip that.

    Modern thought is to use the "Rule of Three" - to make sure that there is never a "single point of failure" in a module, to make sure that the adventure won't fail from a single failed check.

    And that's really good advice. But… weren't some of the tensest, best moments when the party's/adventure's fate really did hang on a single roll?

    What about things like, "the only way across this chasm is to cross this bridge"? Should that really be the only way? What about a hot-air balloon? Or riding Flumph? Or "the only way to make ice cream is with a gnomish freezer". Is it? Or could the PCs invent custom spells, or get Sven to haul some ice to the city?

    How important are these numbers to good games, really? Do you need to be the one PC who can shapeshift, guarding the only NPC who knows how to make chocolate, on the only road to the only gnomes who are the only ones who know how to make ice cream, getting together to produce the McGuffin chocolate ice cream, the only thing that will give the party leader - the only one the BBEG cares about - enough of a diplomacy bonus to convince her to go out with him?

    Which parts make the game more fun, which parts make that tale more epic, and which parts would be better generalized?

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: The one PC who…

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    Or, put another way, there's lots of talk about "stepping on other people's toes" - is this singularity of niche really important to fun, memorable games?
    Way I see it, establishing niches is both important and very difficult to balance. Players want their characters to feel unique and useful, so the existence of areas of expertise where they can shine is an important tool in creating fun and engagement - but there should never be entire sessions hinging on a single character. Even when out of their niche, the other players should be engaged and able to contribute.

    Thinking of The Hobbit and LotR: the hobbits in those books are constantly blown out of the water and forced to face challenges greater than them, yet they manage to adapt their skills and abilities to those events and survive. Then there are moments when the hobbits are actually the best-suited ones to take on a great challenge (stealing from Smaug, the entire Ring-Quest, talking with ents...), and other moments when they know when to stay back and let the others face the challenge (basically most fight scenes).

    Ideally, this is pretty close to how an RPG session should look like. Characters can have a niche of extreme competency, but that doesn't mean they should be extremely incompetent or even auto-fail at tasks outside of their niche. By the end of the session, everyone should feel like they've contributed some and feel like the contributions of the other players were important as well.

    Modern thought is to use the "Rule of Three" - to make sure that there is never a "single point of failure" in a module, to make sure that the adventure won't fail from a single failed check.

    And that's really good advice. But… weren't some of the tensest, best moments when the party's/adventure's fate really did hang on a single roll?

    What about things like, "the only way across this chasm is to cross this bridge"? Should that really be the only way? What about a hot-air balloon? Or riding Flumph? Or "the only way to make ice cream is with a gnomish freezer". Is it? Or could the PCs invent custom spells, or get Sven to haul some ice to the city?
    My solution to this problem is twofold:

    First: provide problems, not locks. What I mean by this is that a "lock" requires a specific "key" to get past it, and you either have the key or you don't (let's ignore lockpicks). So the way I'd describe that scenario would be along the lines of "You come across a large, deep chasm. At the bottom runs a fast and roaring river, and the two cliffs are connected by an old rickety wooden bridge, swinging in the wind. What do you do?"

    The last question is my favourite when GM'ing: what do you do? means I'm giving the players full control and let them make plans and attempts. There's no "key" here, the PCs are free to try whatever means of crossing the chasm they like, and my role is simply to adjudicate what happens as a result. I never think "the bridge is the only way", but rather "the bridge is the obvious way, but it looks unsafe. Will they risk it, or try to find another way?". The players may try to fly over the chasm, or find another route, or a way to make the bridge safer, or whatever else they may think up.

    The PCs in this hypothetic scenario have a goal of retrieving ice to make ice cream. All I do is provide possible ways to get it, but they don't have to be the only ways, nor the correct ones. What matters is that they end with some ice cream, however they decide to go around it.

    Second: simply because I agree that making the adventure depend on a single roll is bad design (hello Tomb of Horrors), doesn't mean the players have to know that the next roll doesn't determine their destiny. There can be so much associated with the success of that roll that, even though failure doesn't end the adventure, it is a potent climactic moment.

    For example, let's assume a PC is hanging off a cliff and needs to climb up to avoid falling to his death (and the rest of the party can't help): failure means that PC's death, but doesn't end the whole adventure. In other words, Indiana Jones has a lot of close brushes with death, but if it were a tabletop RPG the other players could go on with the adventure in spite of Indy's death: it still hurts them, but it's not an automatic bad end for the adventure if Indy or any other single character dies.

    Yet it will be a tense moment for everyone in the party. There will be dire consequences for failure for sure, so there's emotional investment around the table. Again, I think this is a matter of good scenario design: high risk-high reward situations, the right flow and amount of information, pivotal scenes and a healthy dose of tension and stress.

    The best inspiration, then, would be movies not centered on a single protagonist: James Bond and Indiana Jones don't work, we need to look at stuff like LotR and Reservoir Dogs, where multiple characters each have a role to play. Heist movies are a pretty good inspiration, actually, since they tend to feature a cast of specialists working together towards a single goal, with the team often having to adapt to loss of a member and/or situations they hadn't planned for.
    Last edited by Silly Name; 2021-01-13 at 04:58 AM.

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    RedWizardGuy

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    Default Re: The one PC who…

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    So, I've got this half-formed idea in my head. Not "I don't know if I can explain it", but "I don't even know if it makes sense":

    Numbers.

    How important are numbers to how good a game feels, how great the stories told afterwards are?


    Not numbers like "+7 to hit", but numbers like "the one PC who can…" or "the only way to…"?
    I see what you are saying, and the question makes sense. I believe I would come down on the side of those numbers not being important in the terms you are thinking of (in either direction). I have stories that rely on the one character doing something that causes the story to be set in motion, I have stories that revolve around everyone needing to add their own piece to come up with a plan that becomes epic, and I have stories about how the "one" way to do something was completely ignored and a different way came together and was awesome.

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    The thing that first got me asking this question was the realization that some of the best parties were the ones with the one evil character, who would do the things that the others wouldn't, take care of the problems that they couldn't.

    I happened to think about that at the same time as I was thinking about how many of my old parties looked like they came straight from Tolkien: 1 Wizard, 1 Thief, and double-digit Fighters.

    But even those parties usually had 1 Face, 1 leader, 1 packrat, 1 pyromaniac, 1 noble, 1…

    Or, put another way, there's lots of talk about "stepping on other people's toes" - is this singularity of niche really important to fun, memorable games?
    This seems to depend more on the players. I know some players who absolutely worry about stepping on each others' toes (although more about their own being stepped on), and some who don't care a whit. Those that care would hate it if they ended up a fighter in a party of fighters, and they tend to talk to the other players beforehand to make sure their concept will give them a niche. The other ones make their characters and just play them. Both have their selling points - my take is that the latter leads to more humor and comaraderie, while the former leads to better optimized parties and taking down tougher challenges.

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    Now, let's flip that.

    Modern thought is to use the "Rule of Three" - to make sure that there is never a "single point of failure" in a module, to make sure that the adventure won't fail from a single failed check.

    And that's really good advice. But… weren't some of the tensest, best moments when the party's/adventure's fate really did hang on a single roll?
    Yes, and when the roll goes the players' way, it is remembered for a long time as the group overcoming the odds and winning. But IME, when the roll doesn't go the players' way, the adventure or campaign is likely to be remembered as that load of crap where one bad roll ended everything. That includes adventures where it really wasn't just one roll, but rather one roll that would have never come up if a series of things didn't get them there.

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    What about things like, "the only way across this chasm is to cross this bridge"? Should that really be the only way? What about a hot-air balloon? Or riding Flumph? Or "the only way to make ice cream is with a gnomish freezer". Is it? Or could the PCs invent custom spells, or get Sven to haul some ice to the city?

    How important are these numbers to good games, really? Do you need to be the one PC who can shapeshift, guarding the only NPC who knows how to make chocolate, on the only road to the only gnomes who are the only ones who know how to make ice cream, getting together to produce the McGuffin chocolate ice cream, the only thing that will give the party leader - the only one the BBEG cares about - enough of a diplomacy bonus to convince her to go out with him?

    Which parts make the game more fun, which parts make that tale more epic, and which parts would be better generalized?
    For the final question my answer is that it is probably too player dependent to make a general call her, but I'll give my best shot anyway. The most fun for me comes when everyone is working together well, coming up with plans that requires everyone's skills to succeed, even if that just means that you need the entire party of fighters in the fight in order to win. Epic comes from singular things that couldn't have been done without the particular skills/knowledge/magic/whatever of a single character. That kind of validation of a player's choices in character building makes it really worthwhile for a lot of people, and if the DM can drop in moments like that for all of the players, they will remember it for a long time. Generalized stuff I'd say is best for moments that either are just interludes not advancing the plot, or stuff that advances the plot but aren't critical junctures. If a random encounter comes along, it should be pretty general and able to be tackled by any method the group wants.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Chimera

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    Default Re: The one PC who…

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    Modern thought is to use the "Rule of Three" - to make sure that there is never a "single point of failure" in a module, to make sure that the adventure won't fail from a single failed check.
    And that's really good advice. But… weren't some of the tensest, best moments when the party's/adventure's fate really did hang on a single roll?
    What about things like, "the only way across this chasm is to cross this bridge"? Should that really be the only way? What about a hot-air balloon? Or riding Flumph? Or "the only way to make ice cream is with a gnomish freezer". Is it? Or could the PCs invent custom spells, or get Sven to haul some ice to the city?
    How important are these numbers to good games, really? Do you need to be the one PC who can shapeshift, guarding the only NPC who knows how to make chocolate, on the only road to the only gnomes who are the only ones who know how to make ice cream, getting together to produce the McGuffin chocolate ice cream, the only thing that will give the party leader - the only one the BBEG cares about - enough of a diplomacy bonus to convince her to go out with him?
    I think it depends on how much of the campaign's proverbial eggs are in a basket. It is perfectly fine to have a single roll gate a specific avenue... if the closing of the avenue does not (genuinely or effectively) end the campaign. You don't even need two ways across the chasm, so long as the PCs do not need to get across it.

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: The one PC who…

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    Or, put another way, there's lots of talk about "stepping on other people's toes" - is this singularity of niche really important to fun, memorable games?
    What a DM is trying to do is to give every player a moment to shine. This can be done in many ways, but here's the thing - a PC should be able to shine in every large chunk of what your game is about. If you have a game that is about fighting and politics, you need a PC to be able to have their time in the sun in both. If it's about going to high school and piloting a mech, you need to have some thing to shine at in both of those areas.

    This only applies to really broad categories, though - areas you would spend more than a fourth of your session doing.

    With that in mind, ask yourself, how does a given system support that giving of a cool moment mechanically? Because sure, you can do it without mechanical support, but it's gonna be harder.

    For DnD and many more, it's a combat game. Most rules are centered around combat, and with DnD specifically, I'd say there is no other broad area that is really supported mechanically - skills are more of an afterthought. So, not only will the vast majority of a DnD session played as the rules assume be spent in combat, but you have no other areas with your moments to shine.

    What's worse, you shouldn't be too obvious and shoehorny about when those moments happen, a DM just sets up the situation, so you do your best and set up a situation where there are multiple opportunities for multiple people to shine.

    If you have more than one eprson per niche, well... you can handle it, but those moments you set up are now for two people, and odds are the more assertive/impulsive player will go for them. And then you have no tools in the mechanics to help you give the shy guy a chance.

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    Modern thought is to use the "Rule of Three" - to make sure that there is never a "single point of failure" in a module, to make sure that the adventure won't fail from a single failed check.
    That's not what that rule of thumb is about. It's about you making an adventure that goes something like "and then they follow this guy and interrupt the McGuffin being loaded onto a ship and getting out of their reach", because if you do that and don't realize it's a problem, PCs will inevitably fail and you will be left there, having no backup plan, no prepared stats and no idea what to do. A very experienced DM will be able to salvage it, but it's something you need to be aware of.

    In our example case, it can be as simple as "if they fail here, have them get on a ship and chase them down, here are stats".

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    And that's really good advice. But… weren't some of the tensest, best moments when the party's/adventure's fate really did hang on a single roll?
    When this happens at the climax, it's awesome. When it happens five minutes into the game because someone botched a Diplomacy roll and now the questgiver refuses to give you a quest, not so much.

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    How important are these numbers to good games, really? Do you need to be the one PC who can shapeshift, guarding the only NPC who knows how to make chocolate, on the only road to the only gnomes who are the only ones who know how to make ice cream, getting together to produce the McGuffin chocolate ice cream, the only thing that will give the party leader - the only one the BBEG cares about - enough of a diplomacy bonus to convince her to go out with him?
    Bottom line, it's about creating cool moments for PCs, no matter how you do it. Problem is, most DM guidebooks are absolute pants at explaining how to construct a good narrative (only two that come close are FATE and Planet Mercenary), so they are only left with the mechanics - and those do need numbers.
    That which does not kill you made a tactical error.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Planetar

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    Default Re: The one PC who…

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    The thing that first got me asking this question was the realization that some of the best parties were the ones with the one evil character, who would do the things that the others wouldn't, take care of the problems that they couldn't.

    I happened to think about that at the same time as I was thinking about how many of my old parties looked like they came straight from Tolkien: 1 Wizard, 1 Thief, and double-digit Fighters.

    But even those parties usually had 1 Face, 1 leader, 1 packrat, 1 pyromaniac, 1 noble, 1…

    Or, put another way, there's lots of talk about "stepping on other people's toes" - is this singularity of niche really important to fun, memorable games?
    Yes and no. There is no need for a technical singularity or niche. Players could all have the exact same character sheet and still have fun and memorable games.

    However, in D&D (and most other RPGs), player behaviour is heavily guided by the character they have. Which mean that absence of singularity or niche in the technical side will tend to create an absence of singularity or niche on the actual gameplay and roleplay. And this can be detrimental to having fun and memorable games.

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    Now, let's flip that.

    Modern thought is to use the "Rule of Three" - to make sure that there is never a "single point of failure" in a module, to make sure that the adventure won't fail from a single failed check.

    And that's really good advice. But… weren't some of the tensest, best moments when the party's/adventure's fate really did hang on a single roll?
    Even with the rule of Three, after failing twice, the party's fate hang on the single roll of the third solution.
    This is the "rule of Three", not the rule of "you get as many tries as needed to succeed". The rule of three is a good approximation of how to correctly balance the frequency of moments where the game hang on a single roll.

    And even without failing twice first, just because there is other solutions available does not mean the players will realise it before failing the "obvious path". So you get the illusion of the adventure hanging to a single roll, and in case of failure the players can realise by themselves that they are some other ways around (possibly not reaching a victory as perfect as what the direct path would have offered).


    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    What about things like, "the only way across this chasm is to cross this bridge"? Should that really be the only way? What about a hot-air balloon? Or riding Flumph? Or "the only way to make ice cream is with a gnomish freezer". Is it? Or could the PCs invent custom spells, or get Sven to haul some ice to the city?
    This is the "close puzzle" (where there exists a unique solution, and every other attempt will fail, potentially in arbitrary way if the puzzle is ill-designed) VS "open puzzle" (where you are given a set of rules and an objective, and any solution that work is fair game).

    Both are very different kind of puzzle, as the first is an exercise of understanding what the person created the puzzle wants you to do and discovering bit after bit of the solution, and the second is an exercise of understanding the rules given to you and creating bit after bit.

    IMO, RPG should lean toward the later. Both because it's more in the spirit of RPGs to build your own solutions, and because I do not trust the average DM or module writer to build puzzles as interesting as the ones I can find in my computer games.

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    How important are these numbers to good games, really? Do you need to be the one PC who can shapeshift, guarding the only NPC who knows how to make chocolate, on the only road to the only gnomes who are the only ones who know how to make ice cream, getting together to produce the McGuffin chocolate ice cream, the only thing that will give the party leader - the only one the BBEG cares about - enough of a diplomacy bonus to convince her to go out with him?
    Fun fact: My group actually defeated a BBEG because my (gnome) character had in his written background that he liked to cook strawberry tarts. I would not say that it was "the only way to win", but the "Wait, what??" from the DM was certainly memorable.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: The one PC who…

    Quote Originally Posted by Martin Greywolf View Post
    What a DM is trying to do is to give every player a moment to shine. This can be done in many ways, but here's the thing - a PC should be able to shine in every large chunk of what your game is about.
    Not just contribute, but shine?

    Quote Originally Posted by Martin Greywolf View Post
    When this happens at the climax, it's awesome. When it happens five minutes into the game because someone botched a Diplomacy roll and now the questgiver refuses to give you a quest, not so much.
    I mean, Quertus, my signature academia mage for whom this account is named, did just that. Granted, there were no dice, and it wasn't so much "tense" as "out of left field", as nobody in the party / group expected this until it happened (although we'd already been clued in that some of the *other* NPCs were… special). But it was definitely a memorable scene.

    Quote Originally Posted by Martin Greywolf View Post
    Bottom line, it's about creating cool moments for PCs, no matter how you do it. Problem is, most DM guidebooks are absolute pants at explaining how to construct a good narrative (only two that come close are FATE and Planet Mercenary), so they are only left with the mechanics - and those do need numbers.
    … can you explain that? I feel that this might be important to my question.

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default Re: The one PC who…

    I am going to rephrase your question into a scenario that has actually happened to me.

    The entire plan came down to a single stealth roll by our best stealth character.
    If he makes this roll, the game continues, we pass the challenge, we talk about how awesome it is when a plan comes together.
    If he fails, the game screeches to a halt. We cannot get the mcguffin, all the enemies are alerted and we get into a TPK scenario. We complain about how stupid it is for games to hinge on a single roll like this.

    As you stated. This was the tensest moment of the game. And I remember it. I remember that it sucked...

    He rolled a natural 1. We lost 2 of 5 party members, failed the mission, and the big bad got clean away. All because of one bad roll. We complain of that moment, it isn't a good memory. The entire group of players avoid this scenario if at all possible.

    When there is only one of X, and it is a blocking check of some kind, it is bad game design. You can only continue the adventure if you roll 12+ is a stupid check. As players we want to play, as DM I want the players to experience my game.

    We talk about that time Bob made a DC 17 check right when we needed. We don't talk about that time Joe ruined the entire campaign/game/adventure because he wasn't skilled enough to make the DC 25 check even though he had 3 tries but was the only one who could make the check and we had a TPK.

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: The one PC who…

    Quote Originally Posted by gijoemike View Post
    The entire plan came down to a single stealth roll
    If he fails, the game screeches to a halt. We cannot get the mcguffin, all the enemies are alerted and we get into a TPK scenario. We complain about how stupid it is for games to hinge on a single roll like this.

    As you stated. This was the tensest moment of the game. And I remember it. I remember that it sucked...

    When there is only one of X, and it is a blocking check of some kind, it is bad game design. You can only continue the adventure if you roll 12+ is a stupid check. As players we want to play, as DM I want the players to experience my game.

    We talk about that time Bob made a DC 17 check right when we needed. We don't talk about that time Joe ruined the entire campaign/game/adventure because he wasn't skilled enough to make the DC 25 check even though he had 3 tries but was the only one who could make the check and we had a TPK.
    Quote Originally Posted by Willie the Duck View Post
    I think it depends on how much of the campaign's proverbial eggs are in a basket. It is perfectly fine to have a single roll gate a specific avenue... if the closing of the avenue does not (genuinely or effectively) end the campaign. You don't even need two ways across the chasm, so long as the PCs do not need to get across it.
    Quote Originally Posted by Darth Credence View Post
    Yes, and when the roll goes the players' way, it is remembered for a long time as the group overcoming the odds and winning. But IME, when the roll doesn't go the players' way, the adventure or campaign is likely to be remembered as that load of crap where one bad roll ended everything. That includes adventures where it really wasn't just one roll, but rather one roll that would have never come up if a series of things didn't get them there.
    Well, they're certainly seems to be a lot of support for this PoV. And I can certainly see how a single prescripted + bad/dumb "roll to continue the adventure" can be bad. However,

    Quote Originally Posted by MoiMagnus View Post
    And even without failing twice first, just because there is other solutions available does not mean the players will realise it before failing the "obvious path". So you get the illusion of the adventure hanging to a single roll, and in case of failure the players can realise by themselves that they are some other ways around (possibly not reaching a victory as perfect as what the direct path would have offered).

    Just because both parties failed to rescue Han at Cloud City needn't mean that he's lost for good; just because Luke lost to Vader doesn't mean it's the end of the rebellion. There were consequences of those failures, like the loss of a hand, or plenty of fanfic head canon that left the viewer in for quite a surprise come episode 6, but it wasn't game over.

    So now I'm left thinking back to the times that the adventure has seemingly hinged on a single roll or action, and trying to remember all the times it's come up "failure", and judge how epic those felt, vs whether they were actually game over.

    … shrug. I like failure. As long as the character / party survives, you can keep telling their story. Sometimes, they find a way to continue that particular path (like when the quest-giver kicked Quertus out); other times, they have to tell a different story. And I'm fine with both.

    So I guess… I value the players and the GM having the skills to roll with the events, and find another way - either another way to accomplish those goals ("what if we give you a robotic hand, train up, and try to steal Han back from the hutts?"), or choosing new goals ("well, we blew up the portal… maybe we can try Diplomacy? We failed at Diplomacy, maybe we can run away? We failed at running away, maybe we can kill them all?")

    But, IMO, a well-earned TPK - even one where it's all down to a single roll, so long as that chokepoint was the obvious result of the players actions ("will Hastur wait for me to finish singing the national anthem before killing me?") - is a good ending.

    So I don't think that there's necessarily a problem inherent to a *challenge* coming down to a single roll, merely with whether the PCs were railroaded into putting all their eggs into one basket *and* their lives on the line, with no story to tell afterwards should the roll fail.

    Quote Originally Posted by MoiMagnus View Post
    Fun fact: My group actually defeated a BBEG because my (gnome) character had in his written background that he liked to cook strawberry tarts. I would not say that it was "the only way to win", but the "Wait, what??" from the DM was certainly memorable.
    Story?

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Titan in the Playground
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    Default Re: The one PC who…

    I'm bypassing your main theme, because I'm not convinced it makes much difference to the quality of the game. The number one requirement for a good game is a competent GM with good judgment.

    But I do want to comment on this subsidiary issue.

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    Or, put another way, there's lots of talk about "stepping on other people's toes" - is this singularity of niche really important to fun, memorable games?
    That depends on the niche. If your fighter hits an orc with a sword, that doesn't take away from my ranger's ability to hit an orc with a sword. When your wizard casts a spell, my sorcerer can also cast a spell.

    But if your rogue detects the trap, or picks the lock, then my rogue can't also detect it or pick it.

    I consider extra martials, arcane casters, and divine casters to be fine in a party. But more than one rogue is often (not always) a recipe for frustration.

  11. - Top - End - #11
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: The one PC who…

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay R View Post
    if your rogue detects the trap, or picks the lock, then my rogue can't also detect it or pick it.

    I consider extra martials, arcane casters, and divine casters to be fine in a party. But more than one rogue is often (not always) a recipe for frustration.
    Now that's an opinion I've not heard before. Hmmm that sounds reasonable, and mostly matches my experience - anyone care to comment on how that jives with their perception of the world?

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    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: The one PC who…

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    Now that's an opinion I've not heard before. Hmmm that sounds reasonable, and mostly matches my experience - anyone care to comment on how that jives with their perception of the world?
    It does track with D&D pretty accurately, I think: combat is a large part of the game, and everyone gets to act multiple times within a single combat. A good group also knows how to sinergise and strategise, which means encounters tend to be fun and involve everyone (assuming good encounter design, of course).

    D&D's decision to resolve skills with a single roll means that if a party has two people focused on the same skill, they don't really get to cooperate at solving tasks. Rolling to lockpick a door isn't something two rogues do in tandem in the same way two martials act together to defeat an enemy - sure, there's the Aid action, but I don't need to explain the difference between giving another player a bonus and actually acting yourself.

    3.X was slightly better because its skill system meant you could have skillmonkeys focusing on different areas: infiltration, socialising, scouting, etc., but that requires a greater coordination between players when making characters.

    I will forever insist that 5e's biggest weakness is its skill system, and even 3.X's wasn't as good as it could have been.

    EDIT: Basically, the more complex/detailed a part of the game is, the easier it is for multiple characters to be good at it without overshadowing each other. If lockpicking in d&d was as involved as combat, you'd have parties were everyone could contribute in that area.
    Last edited by Silly Name; 2021-01-17 at 10:43 AM.

  13. - Top - End - #13
    Orc in the Playground
     
    BardGuy

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    Default Re: The one PC who…

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    The thing that first got me asking this question was the realization that some of the best parties were the ones with the one evil character, who would do the things that the others wouldn't, take care of the problems that they couldn't.
    That one evil character can be great. But also, 2 evil characters in an otherwise good party casually discussing whether it's time to do the unthinkable in front of the other PCs can be great roleplaying.
    Or dicussing it in front of relevent NPCs...

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    I happened to think about that at the same time as I was thinking about how many of my old parties looked like they came straight from Tolkien: 1 Wizard, 1 Thief, and double-digit Fighters.

    But even those parties usually had 1 Face, 1 leader, 1 packrat, 1 pyromaniac, 1 noble, 1…

    Or, put another way, there's lots of talk about "stepping on other people's toes" - is this singularity of niche really important to fun, memorable games?
    I'm going to go with "maybe" on this one as well
    When 2 (or more) characters are similar, their interaction is important and that will depend on how the players manage that.
    I'll give as an example, my D&D 4th ed game. We had the official party leader, a bard. My character was a Cha based Paladin/warlock. Changling race.
    Mostly, she was the official "face" of the party and I was the 2nd face (pun intended) and we were able to riff off each other quite happily and her player was quite happy to share the burden of deciding the party's position in social scenes. This worked partly because the official leader was not a player who normally seeks leadership roles, and partly because my character worded things as questions and suggestions. "Should we accept this offer boss, or should we see what the other side will offer us?" Rather than "That's not a good enough offer, come up with something better or we'll talk to the other side"
    OTOH, our scout's player was annoyed when a PC died and the replacement character had higher stealth and perception

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    Modern thought is to use the "Rule of Three" - to make sure that there is never a "single point of failure" in a module, to make sure that the adventure won't fail from a single failed check.
    Epic failure in a climactic scene is fine. Ending the adventure with a whimper is disappointing.
    So...
    The enemy has stolen the Maguffin. The party are in hot pursuit. Then after a well crafted fun chase scene, with several rolls for things to help them catch the agent, the enemy agent leaps across a chasm in a single bound and heads off into the distance. It'll take the party days to get down and back up and even longer to go around and they know the enemy agent will have delivered the Macguffin to his boss long before then.

    If the chase happened as the climax to a good adventure, the party failed. But that risk of failure is what gives the chase it's tension. The party failed the mission, but the adventure did not fail. The enemy will have the Macguffin when they face it at the climax of this story arc or the party will have to do another adventure to get it back.

    OTOH, If this pursuit happens at the start of the adventure and the macguffin is the information the party needs to continue this plot, then this failed chase had too much at stake too early in the story and it's a bad single point of failure.
    Worse if there's no good chase scene before a single roll decides that the agent gets away.


    Note - If you're designing the adventure yourself for your party, this is less of a problem. You just add another option to get the info or smoothly roll on lto the next plot and accept that that adventure didn't happen this time. Maybe you'll do it later, maybe you'll do that in a different campaign.
    But if it's an adventure you paid for, you'll be pretty disappointed that you're having to do the work of re-connecting the party with the adventure - that's work ou paid for someone else to have done for you
    Last edited by Duff; 2021-01-17 at 09:07 PM.
    I love playing in a party with a couple of power-gamers, it frees me up to be Elan!


  14. - Top - End - #14
    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default Re: The one PC who…

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    But… weren't some of the tensest, best moments when the party's/adventure's fate really did hang on a single roll?
    I can confidently say: no. Random chance doesn't hold any inherent excitement to me, either as a player or as a GM. What's interesting to see is how characters react to situations and how the story changes and develops due to the plans and decisions people make. Dice rolls will certainly decide whether something succeeds or fails, but the exciting part is to see how the players try to salvage their plans if they go awry. I find it far more satisfying to succeed because your plan was good or because you could think quickly on your feet than because you managed to roll well. In other words, I don't go "you failed, adventure over" but "you failed, what's your plan B."

    This also affects the matter of niches. I certainly try to give every character the option to shine mechanically, but my players will also try and find solutions that fit with what their characters are good at, so this is not all that difficult. More importantly, each character should find their position in the story, depending not on what the character can do, but who they are.
    For example, two warrior-types can be very different if one of them is a cavalry officer from a country similar to renaissance-era Spain, while the other is a member of the military arm of the church of the god of death (actual party composition I've played in). Mechanically they do very similar things, at least on the battlefield, but they're completely different in attitude and approach to solving problems.

    The last group I GM'd had three characters: the young college football star; the aging Grunge musician fallen on hard times; and the disfigured recluse. This is W:tA, which is the WoD setting that most easily lets you describe characters in terms similar to D&D's races and classes (homid Fianna Ahroun, homid Bone Gnawer Ragabash, metis Child of Gaia Theurge for the above, if you want to know). But how I think of them is the first description, not the second. The way they fit into the story is through who they are and thus how they interact with the setting and each other. Mechanics are secondary to that.
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  15. - Top - End - #15
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: The one PC who…

    Quote Originally Posted by Morgaln View Post
    I can confidently say: no. Random chance doesn't hold any inherent excitement to me, either as a player or as a GM.
    Really? So, when the Thief gets delayed / mistimes their heist, and a guard walks in on them, you don't feel the tension waiting on the result of the opposed stealth / perception check (or the result of the bluff / bribery / combat / seduction / whatever check they choose to make)?

    Quote Originally Posted by Morgaln View Post
    What's interesting to see is how characters react to situations and how the story changes and develops due to the plans and decisions people make.
    Agreed.

    Quote Originally Posted by Morgaln View Post
    Dice rolls will certainly decide whether something succeeds or fails, but the exciting part is to see how the players try to salvage their plans if they go awry.
    I would certainly agree that that is the more *interesting* part. Perhaps we are defining *exciting* (and "tension") differently?

    Quote Originally Posted by Morgaln View Post
    I find it far more satisfying to succeed because your plan was good or because you could think quickly on your feet than because you managed to roll well.
    Sure.

    Quote Originally Posted by Morgaln View Post
    In other words, I don't go "you failed, adventure over" but "you failed, what's your plan B."
    This… probably deserves its own thread, but… what does that mean, to you?

    Quote Originally Posted by Morgaln View Post
    The way they fit into the story is through who they are and thus how they interact with the setting and each other. Mechanics are secondary to that.
    Let's pretend that we changed the mechanics of reality into a true "world of failure".

    I'm a genius. Now, that means that I'm the only one for miles around that can figure out how to get people's cars started, or remember much for more than a few minutes.

    But I rely on the Agile guy to tie my shoes laces, just like everyone else in town does.

    So, while, from a certain PoV, mechanics may be secondary to "who you are", I think that "who you are" is also informed by mechanics, and that the world is nonsensical unless the two are in sync.

  16. - Top - End - #16
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: The one PC who…

    I feel that failure should always be an option. Even total failure.

    Our parties have stories of that clutch moment when everything hinged on a single roll.

    Some of them were tales of victory and some of complete defeat. All of them are epic and considered a great time at the table.

  17. - Top - End - #17
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    Beholder

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    Default Re: The one PC who…

    Quote Originally Posted by gijoemike View Post
    I am going to rephrase your question into a scenario that has actually happened to me.

    The entire plan came down to a single stealth roll by our best stealth character.
    If he makes this roll, the game continues, we pass the challenge, we talk about how awesome it is when a plan comes together.
    If he fails, the game screeches to a halt. We cannot get the mcguffin, all the enemies are alerted and we get into a TPK scenario. We complain about how stupid it is for games to hinge on a single roll like this.

    As you stated. This was the tensest moment of the game. And I remember it. I remember that it sucked...

    He rolled a natural 1. We lost 2 of 5 party members, failed the mission, and the big bad got clean away. All because of one bad roll. We complain of that moment, it isn't a good memory. The entire group of players avoid this scenario if at all possible.

    When there is only one of X, and it is a blocking check of some kind, it is bad game design. You can only continue the adventure if you roll 12+ is a stupid check. As players we want to play, as DM I want the players to experience my game.

    We talk about that time Bob made a DC 17 check right when we needed. We don't talk about that time Joe ruined the entire campaign/game/adventure because he wasn't skilled enough to make the DC 25 check even though he had 3 tries but was the only one who could make the check and we had a TPK.
    This strikes me as a bad argument. You lost 2 out of 5 party members when fighting the big bad, and the worst he did was "get away?" Sounds like a fair gamble to me. And if, as you seem to be implying, the Stealth check was made voluntarily as part of a plan cooked up by the party, and everyone knew the risk going in, then complaining about failing just strikes me as sore losing.

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    Just because both parties failed to rescue Han at Cloud City needn't mean that he's lost for good; just because Luke lost to Vader doesn't mean it's the end of the rebellion. There were consequences of those failures, like the loss of a hand, or plenty of fanfic head canon that left the viewer in for quite a surprise come episode 6, but it wasn't game over.

    So now I'm left thinking back to the times that the adventure has seemingly hinged on a single roll or action, and trying to remember all the times it's come up "failure", and judge how epic those felt, vs whether they were actually game over.

    … shrug. I like failure. As long as the character / party survives, you can keep telling their story. Sometimes, they find a way to continue that particular path (like when the quest-giver kicked Quertus out); other times, they have to tell a different story. And I'm fine with both.

    So I guess… I value the players and the GM having the skills to roll with the events, and find another way - either another way to accomplish those goals ("what if we give you a robotic hand, train up, and try to steal Han back from the hutts?"), or choosing new goals ("well, we blew up the portal… maybe we can try Diplomacy? We failed at Diplomacy, maybe we can run away? We failed at running away, maybe we can kill them all?")

    But, IMO, a well-earned TPK - even one where it's all down to a single roll, so long as that chokepoint was the obvious result of the players actions ("will Hastur wait for me to finish singing the national anthem before killing me?") - is a good ending.

    So I don't think that there's necessarily a problem inherent to a *challenge* coming down to a single roll, merely with whether the PCs were railroaded into putting all their eggs into one basket *and* their lives on the line, with no story to tell afterwards should the roll fail.
    This pretty clearly sums up my thoughts on the issue. If you fail to stop the BBEG from getting on the boat with the MacGuffin that ends the world, and he uses it to end the world, that's not very compelling design. But if you fail to stop him from getting on the boat that holds one of five MacGuffins that allow him to perform a ritual to end the world, that just serves as motivation to stop him next time - as well to try to outmaneuver him. However, if the whole point of the adventure has been learning about the MacGuffin, learning which boat it's on, and learning the BBEG wants it, and you've had opportunities to try to stop the BBEG before he gets to the boat, then failing to stop him from getting on the boat feels like an earned failure; it's all about context.

    The truth is, in most situations where everything hangs on one roll, that roll isn't the first attempt to fix something, it's just the latest - and potentially last - in a long string of attempts that have all failed previously. But it's also, by virtue of it being so crucial, usually the closest you've ever come to victory, which I can understand getting upset over; I'm definitely more angry when a boss kills me with a sliver of health left than when I've only been able to get two hits in.

    Honestly, I think a lot of this is a consequence of how game design has changed over the generations (I say this as someone who started playing TTRPGs in 2014). The problem is that in most popular games these days, the most common point of potential failure is a fight, and if you lose a fight, you die. And games now are such that people get really upset when their characters die. So the designers decide that losing should be very difficult, rather than considering that maybe you could instead just make it so the consequences of losing are less severe. And when you play in a system where the default philosophy is, "totally losing should be incredibly difficult, but the consequences of losing are devastating," then you're going to be more prone to creating adventures where, say, one failure to stop the BBEG from getting on a boat means the world has ended.
    Last edited by jinjitsu; 2021-01-24 at 06:32 PM.

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