Different core mechanics, game culture, and probability

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Ashtagon
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Different core mechanics, game culture, and probability

Post by Ashtagon » Wed Jan 03, 2018 10:58 am

So one of the problems with the d20 system and its derivatives, as exemplified in D&D 3rd edition, is a focus on character optimisation, min-maxing, and character builds. That's clearly not the focus of this specific website, but one doesn't have to travel far to find sites that cater to this focus. For this reason, I want to get away from the d20 as a core mechanic resolution system. In contrast, GURPS fandom has very little of this kind of focus on maxing out a character's abilities, in part due to a culture in which the norm is that the character is built as a collaboration between player and GM rather than solely by the player. However, I think dumping the core d20 mechanic entirely will give me more creative freedom.

One of the more interesting resolution systems is what I call the "exploding dice poll". A decently-competent character might have a pool of three dice (d6s for this example, but die size could vary). He rolls the three dice. If any of the dice is a 6, roll again and add 5 to that total, and repeat if another six is rolled (more generally roll again if the roll is the highest possible for that die size, and add die size minus one to the running total). The single highest die (plus its roll-agains) is then counted as the score for that check, to be compared against a target number.

Example: Fred has a pool of three d6s, and needs to hit a target number of 9. He rolls a 3, a 5, and a 6. The 6 is rolled again. He rolls a 4, which is added to 5 (6-1), for a total of 9. His totals for the three dice are 3, 5, and 9. The highest score (9) is compared against his target number (9). As this equals or exceeds his target number, he rolled a success.

(Full Disclosure: I first saw this mechanic in ADB's prime directive RPG. Their version adds a few extra complexities which I expect to strip out should I follow through and use this.)

Has anyone experimented with games with very variant core mechanics? How did those systems fare in terms of playability? Did the mechanic affect the culture around character optimisation?
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Re: Different core mechanics, game culture, and probability

Post by Havard » Wed Jan 03, 2018 3:14 pm

I think some of the problems you are adressing are related to culture of various sub sections of gamers and not just the systems themselves. I am not saying that system doesn't matter though. I did find much less focus on maximizing when I switched to 5E, but I should add that I play a stripped down version of 5E with no feats or multiclassing options.

GURPS OTOH can have problems with "shopping for disadvantages", though there are ways to handle that. Overall, I think there are many problems with systems allowing characters to start with a bunch of flaws or disadvantages which gives them bonuses to other abilities.

Exploding dice are interesting, but will often lead to a more cinematic or heroic atmosphere, although this can be capped if you want. Say allow only one added roll instead of unlimited. It can lead to some rather odd probabilities, but it can be fun.

I have mixed feelings about dice pools, but mostly because of how the original storyteller system worked. In that system you could have a huge dice pool, but because 1's removed successes and the number required to gain a success on each die could be quite high resulting in someone with a smaller dice pool not really having too much lesser chances of success. Newer versions did try to adress this in various ways however.

You could also have dice pools, but add the numbers on each die like with the standard D6 system from WEG. This is slower than adding successes, so here it is important not to allow players to have too high dice pools. There are several ways to solve this.

Not sure I answered your question, but at least those were some of my random thoughts on dice mechanics :)

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Re: Different core mechanics, game culture, and probability

Post by agathokles » Wed Jan 03, 2018 3:49 pm

I find that the basic mechanics impact min-maxing pretty little. The problem is usually with the ability to combine many different options, which makes it difficult for the game designers to forecast all possible effects. I also think that the most harmful case is when players are allowed to sacrifice non-combat skills for combat effectiveness, which can easily degenerate in characters that are useless in some scenes, and dominate others. Some modern systems such as GUMSHOE try to address this issue by separating the score pools for the two skill sets.
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Re: Different core mechanics, game culture, and probability

Post by ghendar » Wed Jan 03, 2018 4:07 pm

I've always found min/maxing to be an individual player problem more than a system problem. Of course, some systems encourage or enable min/maxing more than others. It's one reason (not nearly the only one though) why my heart these days lies in versions of D&D that are more rules lite. However, no system is immune to min/maxing, it's just a matter of degrees.
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Re: Different core mechanics, game culture, and probability

Post by Ashtagon » Wed Jan 03, 2018 8:20 pm

With almost any d20-based game mechanic, there is a culture of minmaxing that is widespread in the gaming community, such that d20 is firmly associated with "zero to superhero" character growth paradigms

@Havard: I suspect you're right that the problems are more about the subcultures that play specific game systems than about the game systems themselves. That doesn't make the core problem any less real though. And either way, the best solution for me would seem to be to make a new rules system, one that doesn't come with the psychological baggage. At this point, its more or less learned wisdom that if you want to play the minmax game and/or play the "zero to superhero" character growth arc, then you should play a d20 based system, and any d20 based system that does NOT allow for both of these is somehow badly written (this was apparently one of the biggest criticisms of d20 Traveller and the d20 Babylon 5 RPG). It really doesn't matter if these aspects can be written out of the rules; the player-base expects this of a d20 system.

Similarly, the GURPS player base has similar preconceptions about what should happen in a given character's arc (growth is expected to be far "smoother" than in level-based games). Your main criticism of GURPS, "disadvantage shopping" is in fact countered by the primary split in GURPS gaming groups - whether characters are built by players or by player-GM consultation. Many GURPS GMs build the character after a detailed discussion with the player as to what they want their character to be.

One thing that caps the superheroic potential of exploding dice as a core mechanic is that in the end, beating the target number by 200 is as useful as beating it by 2.

@agathokles I think this is an aspect of having a massive design team for D&D 3e, many of which worked on the assumption that their particular splatbook would probably never be used with more than one other splatbook at most. While I plan on minimising this by having a small design team (me), it's still something I am planning to watch out for.
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Re: Different core mechanics, game culture, and probability

Post by ghendar » Wed Jan 03, 2018 11:00 pm

Ashtagon wrote:With almost any d20-based game mechanic, there is a culture of minmaxing that is widespread in the gaming community, such that d20 is firmly associated with "zero to superhero" character growth paradigms
I'll take your word for it. I'm grateful I never gamed with the munchkins
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Re: Different core mechanics, game culture, and probability

Post by timemrick » Thu Jan 04, 2018 5:06 am

Ashtagon wrote:One thing that caps the superheroic potential of exploding dice as a core mechanic is that in the end, beating the target number by 200 is as useful as beating it by 2.
It very much depends on the system. Earthdawn has exploding dice, with levels of success determined by how much you exceed the target number. An exceptional success on an attack roll, for example, can ignore the target's armor, and may have other effects depending on the nature of the attack.

Earthdawn is further complicated by using different sizes of dice to represent how skilled a character is. An average ability score might be d6 or d8, a good one d10 or d12, and a good stat plus extensive training could give you, say, 2d8 or 2d10. (My mid-level obsidiman warrior rolls 2d12 to hit with melee weapons, and thanks to his high strength and his huge, "reforged" sword, he rolls a somewhat obscene 2d12+d8+d6 for damage.)

Each die can explode on a maximum result, adding all rerolls to the total. That can sometimes produce surprisingly high results (I've seen someone hit the high teens with a single d4), but Earthdawn is a decidedly heroic system, with PCs very literally becoming legends in their own time.
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Re: Different core mechanics, game culture, and probability

Post by Khedrac » Thu Jan 04, 2018 5:46 pm

Ashtagon wrote:Has anyone experimented with games with very variant core mechanics? How did those systems fare in terms of playability? Did the mechanic affect the culture around character optimisation?
I did briefly run Lost Souls (http://hauntedattic.org/lostsouls.html seems to be a newer, free, version) which in addition to an unusual setting had what I found to be a remarkably clever core mechanic: the players got to make all rolls.

Characters' stats and skills had values and there is a table that gives a result value for a player's roll of D% based on the base characteristic. The result of a player's action is one of ten different values descriptively labelled - from 'catastrophic' through 'poor' and 'passable' up to 'superior' and 'awesome'.
For simple skill checks, the result is all one needs, but where the system gets clever is for opposed rolls.
Consider combat: an NPC opponent will have a defence rating (e.g. 'good') and for every column the attacking PC gets that exceeds the defence they do damage (weapons have a multiplier rating, e.g. ×2 for 2 damage per column). Conversely an NPC opponent has an attack rating and the player makes a Defence roll and the monstrer does damage for every column the player fails to beat their attack.

Simple and elegant and worked very well.
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Re: Different core mechanics, game culture, and probability

Post by shesheyan » Thu Jan 04, 2018 11:09 pm

The Ubiquity System (Exile Game Studio) solves some of the problems with dice pool systems in interesting ways. I used to own the League of Adventures book. I read it and found the system more interesting (and lighter) than Savage World. But I never played it sadly.

quote :
Ubiquity is an enhanced dice pool system that emphasizes storytelling and cinematic action. Like other dice pool systems, players roll a number of dice to determine the success or failure of a specific action. Unlike other dice pool systems, which can get bogged down in excessive dice rolling, Ubiquity has several key features that simplify play and encourage players to keep the story moving.

Roll any dice: Ubiquity lets you use the dice you already own. You can roll any dice as long as they have an equal number of even and odd numbers on them. You can even mix and match polyhedral dice!

Roll less often: Ubiquity does away with needless dice rolls. Taking the Average tells you which actions are too easy to bother rolling for. You never have to slow down the action.

Play with style: Ubiquity rewards players for having a good time. You earn Style Points for role playing your character which may be spent for bonus dice later in the game. You not only have more fun, but you’re more effective too.
/quote

The last bit in red is the interesting part, if you want to move away from min/max systems. Rewarding roleplaying with extra dice instead of giving stacking bonuses for «optimized zero-to-superhero feat and skill selection» is a good way to shut down min/maxing in a system.


https://www.exilegames.com/index.php

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Re: Different core mechanics, game culture, and probability

Post by gondar » Thu Jan 04, 2018 11:31 pm

Just to throw my two cents in, I've played a number of different systems the last few years and I think min-maxing is caused primarily with players with that kind of mindset, and secondary on games that revolve mostly around combat- because there are fixed rules for being able to hit and do damage there's usually something optimal regardless of the game system to do that. If you want to avoid that it's really more up to the GM to create more situations where character with non-combat abilities can shine and solve problems without straight fighting. I think the downside of a system that essentially 'nerfs' damage so that each character is more even in strength does have a sort of downside of not feeling as visceral and impactful in some cases- the kind of people too that are interested in min-maxing combat do want to see how a build works in action and it's good to give them some of that too along with things other characters can succeed with.

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