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Author Topic: Let's Talk Mechanics  (Read 10361 times)
Wolverine
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« Reply #30 on: March 28, 2011, 04:38:09 AM »

IMHO, many of Fantasy Flight's board games are also pretty poorly written.

We have a saying here that every FF game has two rule books. One that comes in the box, and another that you download a couple of weeks later (the errata). In fact, we were playing BSG on the weekend and had a rules question. We couldn't find an answer in the rulebook, so I suggest checking the errata... and there was the answer.

To be fair to FFG, they're always pretty prompt with getting FAQs and errata out there.
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« Reply #31 on: March 28, 2011, 05:34:03 AM »

IMHO, many of Fantasy Flight's board games are also pretty poorly written.

We have a saying here that every FF game has two rule books. One that comes in the box, and another that you download a couple of weeks later (the errata). In fact, we were playing BSG on the weekend and had a rules question. We couldn't find an answer in the rulebook, so I suggest checking the errata... and there was the answer.

To be fair to FFG, they're always pretty prompt with getting FAQs and errata out there.

That is so true! It begs the question though, why didn't they playtest their games more? Thankfully, I don't really like their games, overall.

Anyway, back on the rails:

I think my favourite game mechanic ever has to be roll-under systems, as there are less abstract numbers being flung around the table which can slightly detract from the story.

Cheers! Cheesy
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« Reply #32 on: March 28, 2011, 09:00:56 AM »

IMHO, many of Fantasy Flight's board games are also pretty poorly written.

QFT. They could seriously benefit from a Rules Lawyer. Twilight Imperium (3rd) generated lots of questions that could have been avoided with precise, well-defined language.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled thread.
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« Reply #33 on: March 28, 2011, 02:36:11 PM »

IMHO, many of Fantasy Flight's board games are also pretty poorly written.

We have a saying here that every FF game has two rule books. One that comes in the box, and another that you download a couple of weeks later (the errata). In fact, we were playing BSG on the weekend and had a rules question. We couldn't find an answer in the rulebook, so I suggest checking the errata... and there was the answer.

To be fair to FFG, they're always pretty prompt with getting FAQs and errata out there.

That is so true! It begs the question though, why didn't they playtest their games more? Thankfully, I don't really like their games, overall.

Anyway, back on the rails:

I think my favourite game mechanic ever has to be roll-under systems, as there are less abstract numbers being flung around the table which can slightly detract from the story.

Cheers! Cheesy

Roll under systems have one issue if you are playing with non-humans: they are tightly bounded. The clumsy way the strength of really big giants and tiny pixies are handled in GURPS 3rd is a classic example of this issue.
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« Reply #34 on: March 28, 2011, 03:00:15 PM »

IMHO, many of Fantasy Flight's board games are also pretty poorly written.

We have a saying here that every FF game has two rule books. One that comes in the box, and another that you download a couple of weeks later (the errata). In fact, we were playing BSG on the weekend and had a rules question. We couldn't find an answer in the rulebook, so I suggest checking the errata... and there was the answer.

To be fair to FFG, they're always pretty prompt with getting FAQs and errata out there.

That is so true! It begs the question though, why didn't they playtest their games more? Thankfully, I don't really like their games, overall.

Anyway, back on the rails:

I think my favourite game mechanic ever has to be roll-under systems, as there are less abstract numbers being flung around the table which can slightly detract from the story.

Cheers! Cheesy

Roll under systems have one issue if you are playing with non-humans: they are tightly bounded. The clumsy way the strength of really big giants and tiny pixies are handled in GURPS 3rd is a classic example of this issue.

Fading Suns had a simple "roll under" system that I rather enjoyed. It was like a marriage of the Storyteller and D20 systems. Basically, you added an Attribute to a Skill (both rated from 1-10) and this gave you a goal number. Then you had to roll under that number. 1 was always a success and 19 always a failure. If you got the number exactly then you got a Critical Success and if you rolled a 20 it was a Critical Failure.

Example: Perception + Observe is a common roll. Lets say Perception is a 3 and Observe is a 5. You then have to roll an 8 or less on a d20. Things got awkward when you got Goal Numbers that were 19 or 20, it made the number default to 18, but there were some systems in the Second Edition that delt with Goal Numbers above 18, usually in the form of extra Bonus Point/Dice, on top of your roll result.
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« Reply #35 on: March 28, 2011, 03:36:09 PM »

I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I heard a lot of good things regarding Burning Wheel and Burning Empires. Apparently, there are many good mechanisms for narrative play and constructive complications in there.
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« Reply #36 on: March 28, 2011, 05:45:48 PM »

The box set rules (the only version I've played with so far) could use some serious reorganization and clarification, no doubt. When I ran two sessions with the introductory adventure for my regular group, I found it better to use them as a guide rather than a strict structure, something that could drive many people up the wall, especially when you consider its price point. I believe they came out with a new player's guide and gamemaster's book to try and get it together, but its still definitely not for everyone. 

In my experience this boils down to whether a particular game is mapped out to align with the way your brain processes information. Thus, no game is organized poorly and none are organized well* - it's just a matter of whether those statements are true for a particular game and you.

* Barring truly stupid organizations that map up to no human brain function, of course, but that's not the point I'm making here.

IMHO, many of Fantasy Flight's board games are also pretty poorly written.

Would you say there is a best 'all round' order to present RPG rules? And if so, what would it be?

Cheers! Cheesy

If such a presentation exists (and I don't personally believe one does, for the reasons I mention above), we clearly haven't stumbled onto it - at least not according to the folks who criticize the organization of our books.  Tongue

It begs the question though, why didn't they playtest their games more? Thankfully, I don't really like their games, overall.

This is IMHASIO (In My Humble and Somewhat Informed Opinion) another one of those fallacies leveled on the process of game design. I speak from over 10 years of personal experience doing this: you can playtest until the cows come home, leave again to travel the stars and jump over the moon, and past the point of the most elderly of them kicking off this mortal coil, and you'd still have errata. It's just the nature of any evolving design.

Designers and playtesters "miss" things for different reasons. Sometimes (again) your brain isn't wired to see the problem. You may be focused on other issues. You might initially accept an issue as the necessary byproduct of something that really needs to go into the game, or something you're leveraging as a core facet of the system, or for dozens of other reasons, only to find that the broader audience aren't willing to make the same concession.

It's an imperfect science, and one that pretty much demands post-release revision (and even then only as needed - constant or voluminous errata works against you). Yes, some companies are better at it than others, but there's no perfect solution. Fortunately, we work in a medium that benefits from somewhat malleable rules.

IMHO, many of Fantasy Flight's board games are also pretty poorly written.

QFT. They could seriously benefit from a Rules Lawyer. Twilight Imperium (3rd) generated lots of questions that could have been avoided with precise, well-defined language.

There's a time and a place for precise language, yes, but it's not a cure-all. Past a certain volume, clearly defined language gets extremely cumbersome, potentially rendering a project less accessible or even unplayable. Oftentimes the deciding factor is whether you believe the majority of the audience will grok the intended interpretation, or an interpretation that doesn't break the game, rather than carefully locking down one specific meaning that leaves a chunk of the audience with question marks over their heads.
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« Reply #37 on: March 28, 2011, 06:10:12 PM »

Roll under systems have one issue if you are playing with non-humans: they are tightly bounded. The clumsy way the strength of really big giants and tiny pixies are handled in GURPS 3rd is a classic example of this issue.

Agreed. Generic roll unders can break easily. The values and system need to be tailored to suit the setting and feel of what is trying to be accomplished.

Fading Suns had a simple "roll under" system that I rather enjoyed. It was like a marriage of the Storyteller and D20 systems. Basically, you added an Attribute to a Skill (both rated from 1-10) and this gave you a goal number. Then you had to roll under that number. 1 was always a success and 19 always a failure. If you got the number exactly then you got a Critical Success and if you rolled a 20 it was a Critical Failure.

Example: Perception + Observe is a common roll. Lets say Perception is a 3 and Observe is a 5. You then have to roll an 8 or less on a d20. Things got awkward when you got Goal Numbers that were 19 or 20, it made the number default to 18, but there were some systems in the Second Edition that delt with Goal Numbers above 18, usually in the form of extra Bonus Point/Dice, on top of your roll result.

Damn. I wrote something like that a little while back. Oh, well. Nothing's new these days.

I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I heard a lot of good things regarding Burning Wheel and Burning Empires. Apparently, there are many good mechanisms for narrative play and constructive complications in there.

It's interesting and has some really nice ideas in there. However, (correct me if I'm wrong) I can tell just by reading it the GM really needs to know what (s)he is doing or the game can grind to a halt. It can get rather complex, unless you enjoy rolling for weapon reach and writing down combat actions before a volley...

This is IMHASIO (In My Humble and Somewhat Informed Opinion) another one of those fallacies leveled on the process of game design. I speak from over 10 years of personal experience doing this: you can playtest until the cows come home, leave again to travel the stars and jump over the moon, and past the point of the most elderly of them kicking off this mortal coil, and you'd still have errata. It's just the nature of any evolving design.

Designers and playtesters "miss" things for different reasons. Sometimes (again) your brain isn't wired to see the problem. You may be focused on other issues. You might initially accept an issue as the necessary byproduct of something that really needs to go into the game, or something you're leveraging as a core facet of the system, or for dozens of other reasons, only to find that the broader audience aren't willing to make the same concession.

It's an imperfect science, and one that pretty much demands post-release revision (and even then only as needed - constant or voluminous errata works against you). Yes, some companies are better at it than others, but there's no perfect solution. Fortunately, we work in a medium that benefits from somewhat malleable rules.

RPGs are great in this regard as a rule can change easily and nothing happens - it is a collaborative story game after all.

I don't know why, but I feel that board games (especially the Euro kind) are a different kettle of trout and their rules should not be up for interpretation. To me, board games are like logic or jigsaw puzzles. I have had it in the past where, due to the rules being poorly written (or indeed explained badly), I had the equivalent of only two-thirds of the puzzle pieces (and/or some of the wrong shape), thus breaking the game far more than with an RPG (where you can easily hand-waive and move on).

But this is just IMHO, of course! Wink

Cheers! Cheesy
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« Reply #38 on: March 28, 2011, 06:22:25 PM »

I don't know why, but I feel that board games (especially the Euro kind) are a different kettle of trout and their rules should not be up for interpretation.

No argument. My points about design, playtesting, and errata stand, though it's of course somewhat easier to balance mechanics in a "closed" system like a board game (that is to say, a system that doesn't require human interaction to function, as an RPG does). Even so, I think it's rare that you find that perfect design that requires no errata even after playtesting, and nigh-impossible to deliver one that speaks directly to every member of the audience on their personal terms. You're pretty much guaranteed to wind up with someone looking like an MMO quest giver, even if the rules are 100% air-tight.
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« Reply #39 on: March 31, 2011, 09:12:17 PM »

When I was playing Star Wars Saga Edition I actually became a fan of the talent tree system. In a d20 based game it allowed me to feel like I was able to better customize my character (something I feel is a problem in most d20 games). And it helped to add uniqueness to the same base class so that it was easier to make two people playing the same basic school different with out to much trouble.
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« Reply #40 on: April 03, 2011, 05:36:59 PM »

I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I heard a lot of good things regarding Burning Wheel and Burning Empires. Apparently, there are many good mechanisms for narrative play and constructive complications in there.

It's interesting and has some really nice ideas in there. However, (correct me if I'm wrong) I can tell just by reading it the GM really needs to know what (s)he is doing or the game can grind to a halt. It can get rather complex, unless you enjoy rolling for weapon reach and writing down combat actions before a volley...

Agreed! I bought the PDF for Burning Empires and was sort of staggered. There are pages upon pages upon pages of involved mechanics going on behind the world building and narrative focus. There's a level of commitment required from the GM and players that will not play with every group. I also was a little weirded out by how structured it was around telling very, very setting specific kinds of stories. I imagine it does that narrow focus extremely well once you get into the right mindset, but its not for me.
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« Reply #41 on: April 17, 2011, 01:23:13 PM »

REIGN is flat-out awesome.  The company rules are the perfect balance of simple and powerful that compel me to play a given RPG.  I've only played a few sessions, but it seems perfectly suited for Game of Thrones-style madness. 
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« Reply #42 on: May 07, 2011, 05:02:55 PM »

The FATE system, as a modification of Fudge. I believe it was first published in a product as Spirit of the Century's system, but before that I coded it for use in a Star Trek online game (PennMush, if anyone's interested). It was an absolute blast. I got to play an El Aurian, so, there's that. Smiley The ability to focus on the story and use that for narrative control is maybe not as revolutionary as it once was, but is still a powerful tool for player involvement and steering dramatic scenes in directions satisfying to all involved.

When it comes to mechanics and the statistics thereof, I still find L5R's roll and keep system fascinating. I haven't been able to pin down why I love the mechanics of that game, despite many hours of dissecting it. I have not had a chance to examine 4th edition, only 3rd.

Exalted 2nd ed. I love that game. Seriously. It's mostly the setting because the mechanics are frustrating -- a tactical RPG where the authors of books beyond the core did not have as strong a grasp on tactical design as the original. The setting is what drew me in -- that and heaps of dice. I can go into more detail, but if you're not familiar with Exalted it'd be just me rambling. Even with all that, it does tactical superpowered fantasy combat very well. Quite a lot of work on the GM's part to create challenging enemies that don't steamroll the party or get ganked in 5 ticks by a team of well-coordinated Exalts. It's still the Storyteller system, though the numbers are tweaked a bit.

And finally: Star Wars Saga Edition. What D&D 4th ed should have been. As mathey mentions, Talent tree system snagged from d20 Modern truly comes into its own here. Chargen is actually fun, doesn't take long, and there are infinite options. Multiclassing is recommended, and it's almost impossible to make a bad character. The mechanics are well done, even though the authors would like to go back and change a few elements knowing what they know now. The Force point and Destiny point systems are central to making the heroes feel like they're roleplaying in the Star Wars universe -- but FATE can do that just as easily.
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« Reply #43 on: May 08, 2011, 02:39:29 AM »

No, the WotC implementation of narrative control has always been utter crap. A fixed number of points per level is ludicrous, as it encourages hoarding until the very end of a given level.

One thing that's struck me: the prudence tax should generally cover maintaining a single standard ammo loadout for ranged weapons
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« Reply #44 on: May 08, 2011, 03:27:38 AM »

And finally: Star Wars Saga Edition. What D&D 4th ed should have been. As mathey mentions, Talent tree system snagged from d20 Modern truly comes into its own here. Chargen is actually fun, doesn't take long, and there are infinite options. Multiclassing is recommended, and it's almost impossible to make a bad character. The mechanics are well done, even though the authors would like to go back and change a few elements knowing what they know now. The Force point and Destiny point systems are central to making the heroes feel like they're roleplaying in the Star Wars universe -- but FATE can do that just as easily.

I really like Saga, like, a lot a lot. The defenses, talents, vehicles, classes. I only had two quibbles with it. The first was that having Jedi in a party of mundane characters felt like having a Exalted character playing along side a party of WoD characters. We ended up figuring out that it was an either or thing. Either its all Jedi in the party or its a mundane group. The other was the way the condition track worked, the whole thing ended up being this death spiral that became harder and harder to escape. Worked well with the Vehicle rules tho.

I liked how Force points were altering fate in a minor way, and Destiny Points were doing it in a big way. I also liked how after you had completed your destiny you got a big power boost to your char in some way, but you couldn't earn more destiny points until, well, you got a new destiny

No, the WotC implementation of narrative control has always been utter crap. A fixed number of points per level is ludicrous, as it encourages hoarding until the very end of a given level.

This was a problem in our Saga games, Eberron games, and 4e games. Never been a problem in our FC games. You nailed it on the head IMO. Can I just say too that having the Eberron Artificer's spellcasting be linked to the Action Point system was just mean... super super mean.
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