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jseah
2011-01-05, 11:16 AM
After watching the thread on characters and whether or not people are psychopathic, I was wondering what that would mean.

Obviously, having characters that cannot navigate their hometown after growing up in it for 10 years while having genius level intelligence is impossible.
Hence, it appears that the skill system of D&D is at fault. In particular, the way you gain skills per level.

It so happens that I'm writing a magic system right now (and slowly branching into a full game system) and could do with some input on the basics.

Is it feasible to take away levelling xp charts or point buys, and simply have characters awarded skills they use?
Like if you use your sword, you level strength, melee skill and sword skill. (and whatever manuevers you used)
Simply walking around town and exploring would give you knowledge about the place. Talking to people and chatting would give social skills. So on.

Of course, point buys remain in play for character creation, with a fixed number allocated by the DM for actions taken in the backstory.

Possible? What are the downsides to such a system?

hamishspence
2011-01-05, 11:18 AM
Is it feasible to take away levelling xp charts or point buys, and simply have characters awarded skills they use?
Like if you use your sword, you level strength, melee skill and sword skill. (and whatever manuevers you used)
Simply walking around town and exploring would give you knowledge about the place. Talking to people and chatting would give social skills. So on.

That's the way a lot of computer games do it.

Problem is- people might try to avoid any activity that doesn't boost the skills they want.

Kurald Galain
2011-01-05, 11:20 AM
Is it feasible to take away levelling xp charts or point buys, and simply have characters awarded skills they use?
Yes. Call Of Cthulhu does that.

The obvious downside is that (certain kinds of) players may be tempted to start asking for all sorts of skill checks for spurious reasons, in order to level those up. This doesn't really unbalance the system much, in practice, but the behavior can be annoying.

Yora
2011-01-05, 11:21 AM
Possible yes. But it involves a huge amount of bookkeeping. Instead of just keeping track how many XP a character gains, you have to keep track of seperate XP-Values for each and every ability the character has.
It works with video games, like Elder Scrolls. But with pnp, you barely get to do anything else but writing down every single action your character takes.

Vladislav
2011-01-05, 11:23 AM
Is it feasible to take away levelling xp charts or point buys, and simply have characters awarded skills they use?
Like if you use your sword, you level strength, melee skill and sword skill. (and whatever manuevers you used)
Simply walking around town and exploring would give you knowledge about the place. Talking to people and chatting would give social skills. So on.

Of course, point buys remaing in play for character creation, with a fixed number allocated by the DM for actions taken in the backstory.

Possible? What are the downsides to such a system?
One downside I can think of is the fighter rushing to attack every rat and every stray dog, hoping to soon enough get his melee skill to ridiculous levels. He will avoid wasting precious time on conversation, because he'd rather slay one more rat. On the opposite end, is the rogue chatting up every single person in the tavern, whether they have anything interesting to say or not. Basically, very focused gameplay, and not particularly interesting.

JBento
2011-01-05, 11:28 AM
Call of Chtulhu (d100) also uses a similar system. If you used a skill at an important point, you get a "tick" in it. After the adventure (assuming you survived with your sanity, that is), you do a 100% roll vs. your skill. If you roll higher than it, you get to add... 1d6?1d10? to it.

EDIT: Kurald'd

SilverLeaf167
2011-01-05, 11:32 AM
Knowledge skills shouldn't be treated as absolute "check-or-ignorance". They're used to determine if a character knows something he would have no actual reason to know, such as "Gorgons have a petrifying breath attack" when they first encounter one. However, even if they failed the Knowledge check, they would know about the breath weapon the next time they encountered a Gorgon (assuming it was used in the first place).
If there's something a character should obviously know because of their race, profession etc. I'll just tell it to them, not ask for a check. Would you ask a Wizard for a Knowledge (arcana) check to recognize his own spellbook?

About the actual question: If you did use this system, you should make clear what grants experience and what doesn't. If the players would still attack everything in sight, picklock every single door etc., you simply shouldn't use the system with them.

jseah
2011-01-05, 11:36 AM
Thanks for the replies. I must admit I did not forsee any of that.

How about awarding skill gain for "significant actions" for non-physical skills?
And having a skill gain cap per week or so from training (which only physical skills can do).
Then random negotiations or using the sword to attack non-threats counts as "training".
EDIT: got ninja'ed. Yes, defining loosely what grants xp to skills would be useful.

Avoiding unwanted skills? Why would anyone do that? It's just by-the-by points anyway.

Bookkeeping I'm not too afraid of. Anyone who even looks at the system is probably willing to crunch insane amounts of math, going by how the magic system is turning out.
Besides, it's mainly for my personal use, as a writing guide, rather than an actual playing system. (although I might actually try one day)

Totally Guy
2011-01-05, 11:41 AM
It works like this in Mouse Guard. You need to use a skill several times, successfully and unsuccessfully.

So to raise your Deceiver skill from 3 to 4 you need to make 3 successful tests and 2 unsuccessful ones.

You can't just pick every lock as your dice rolls are a finite resource and every roll must have an ultimate intent.

Knowledge skills are fantastic. A player needed a Jar to catch some liquid and decided that he knew that another guard, Piggy, had a jar of sweets on his shelf. He tested "Guard-wise" and he totally blew the roll! So he got to Piggy's room and found an Urn of his mother's ashes! Piggy was not pleased, it earned him some real enmity.

Burning Wheel is similar but rather than successes and fails you need Routines, Difficults and Impossibles. But it doesn't matter if you succeeded or not.

Britter
2011-01-05, 11:47 AM
In the BW/MG systems it is important to note that you can't just take a ton of tests for no real reason in order to rack up progress towards advancement. A test is only called for if there is a clearly defined conflict with an interesting potential for success and failure.

Additonally, in situtions where you roll a skill many times in a short period, like a fight where you swing your sword eight times, you do not log eight tests. Instead you log one test, but it is at the highest difficulty of the rolls you took. So if you made 7 routine sword tests and 1 difficult, you would log a difficult for advancement purposes.

Oracle_Hunter
2011-01-05, 11:52 AM
Basic Issues With Skill Systems

(1) What Does a Skill Category Encompass?
Whenever you name a Skill, you need to figure out not just what it does, but what it doesn't do. In a system without a fixed skill list this can be extra difficult - if "Charm" can be used to convince someone to do something for you, how is it different from "Convince?" Naming skills is all-too-easy; think hard about what the boundaries of a skill are before introducing them to a system.

(2) Improving Skills is Part of the Game; Make Sure It's the Fun Part
The essential problem with any "do it to get better at it" system of skill advancement is that repeatedly using skills isn't usually the "fun part" of a game. As has been noted, if simply jumping improves your "Jump" skill, then your PCs will spend most of their time hopping around. Trying to fix this by making it only count for "important" uses of the Skill can actually make things worse: now everyone will be looking for opportunities to use their Skills for "important" things, rather than focusing on whatever the point of the game is supposed to be.

This is why D&D ties skill advancement to leveling, and leveling to "going on adventures." Now, instead of looking for ways to justify tying up every prisoner as being an "important" use of the Use Rope skill, the Players will be focusing on completing the story - which is a lot more fun, for most people.

So, whatever you do, make sure your rewards system is designed to reward "fun" behavior - and not provide incentives for gaming the system.

IMHO, "training systems" of skill advancement aren't fun. At best they turn into a mini-game played between adventures; at worst they distract the party from looking for fun things to do because they need more time to train. D&D isn't the only way to do things, but it's system of character advancement is a classic for a reason.

Kurald Galain
2011-01-05, 12:01 PM
How about awarding skill gain for "significant actions" for non-physical skills?
And having a skill gain cap per week or so from training (which only physical skills can do).

That works.

Also, if you have the kind of player that insists on jumping the entire session to boost his jump skill, then your skill system is still fine, but you need to find another player. There exists no RPG system that does not break down under extreme munchkinry, so that's not what you should be guarding your homebrew against. You should, of course, be guarding against breaking down through normal use.

Simply restricting skill gain to, say, three skills per session (and one gain per skill) should be sufficient.

Thrawn4
2011-01-05, 12:01 PM
That's the way a lot of computer games do it.

Problem is- people might try to avoid any activity that doesn't boost the skills they want.

I did so in Morrowind ^^
On the other hand, not so much at our Cthulhu group.

My suggestion would be to limit the number of skill points you can get during an adventure. If you exhaust yourself training all day, you neglect your other needs, e. g. rest or social life. People need time to aquire certain skills, they have to rest in order to regain strength or to ponder upon some theories before they improve.

Oracle_Hunter
2011-01-05, 12:10 PM
That works.

Also, if you have the kind of player that insists on jumping the entire session to boost his jump skill, then your skill system is still fine, but you need to find another player. There exists no RPG system that does not break down under extreme munchkinry, so that's not what you should be guarding your homebrew against. You should, of course, be guarding against breaking down through normal use.

Simply restricting skill gain to, say, three skills per session (and one gain per skill) should be sufficient.
Well now, "jumping around" is just a silly example. A more serious example is talking to everyone you meet.

Any "social skill" can be trained by having social interactions. It can be very hard to justify to a Player that a given social interaction wasn't important enough to grant skill training without sounding like a jerk.
Player: "OK, I talk to the Bartender and ask him about the Secret Cult"
DM: "He doesn't know anything"
Player: "Ha! Let's see if he does..."
[Lengthy RP Session]
Player: "Huh. I guess he didn't know anything. OK, let me mark my Level Up and we'll go to the next bar."
DM: "What? No, you don't Level Up - the Bartender didn't know anything!"
Player: "So? We're trying to find information about the Secret Cult and I spent a lot of time making sure he didn't know anything. Surely that was important enough for something."
At the end of the day, linking advancement to things the DM feels are important turns the focus of the game from the story to "doing things the DM finds important." Ideally, the focus of the game should be "things the PCs have fun doing" - and it is easier for those two goals to diverge than you might think.

EDIT: To make a point more succinctly. When designing a homebrew, focus on designing a system that encourages the Players to do things that advance the purpose of the game, rather than on trying to stop them from doing things tangental or antithetical to the purpose.

Limiting Skill Advancement to three per session is a fine idea, but know that this means each Player is going to focus on getting in their 3/session advancement rather than something else.

Kurald Galain
2011-01-05, 12:12 PM
Avoiding unwanted skills? Why would anyone do that? It's just by-the-by points anyway.
Two reasons.

First, if you have limited points, then a player may not like being required to spend those on a skill he happened to use but is not interested in.

Second, depending on your setting, some skills are dangerous to know. For example, in COC, your sanity is directly capped by how little you know about Cthulhu Mythos. Likewise, in Paranoia there's the skill Communist Propaganda, which gets you killed in short order once people notice that you have it. Then again, many things in Paranoia get you killed in short order anyway.

Why would this only work on physical skills, though? In practice, you can train mental skills just as well. Also, it's more elegant if your system treats all skills the same.

Kurald Galain
2011-01-05, 12:15 PM
Any "social skill" can be trained by having social interactions. It can be very hard to justify to a Player that a given social interaction wasn't important enough to grant skill training without sounding like a jerk.
Why do you consider having a "[Lengthy RP Session]" a problem in a roleplaying game? I'm perfectly fine with characters (or players) training their social skills through lengthy RP sessions.

If this gets abused, the simple way to stop that is by stating that each skill can only be advanced once per session (COC does that, too) and possibly that you can advance only X skills.

Oh yeah, did I mention how training skills you're already good at gets harder in COC? And, by the looks of it, in Mouseguard as well? Note to self: must play Mouseguard.

Aux-Ash
2011-01-05, 12:21 PM
My favourite game uses is skillbased where each individual skill is raised individually (and it got a lot of them). There difficulty is determined by the size of a dice pool of d6s, only that if you roll a 6 you reroll that die and add another dice to the pool. The point is thus to roll under your score to succeed in it.
Whenever a player rolls a perfect result (3 or more 1s that also beats the skillcheck) or at the GMs discretion (as a reward for good or clever use of the skill) the player may attempt to raise the skill. By rolling over the skillscore with 2 dices (or in special cases 3 dices), thus the higher the skill the less likely an increase.
The game avoids people "farming" skills through three methods:
1. only challenging skillchecks count (meaning you have to jump over chasms and stuff to raise jump for instance).
2. Certain skills and attributes decay if unused
3. It tracks exhaustion and is very lethal.

Oracle_Hunter
2011-01-05, 12:24 PM
Why do you consider having a "[Lengthy RP Session]" a problem in a roleplaying game? I'm perfectly fine with characters (or players) training their social skills through lengthy RP sessions.

If this gets abused, the simple way to stop that is by stating that each skill can only be advanced once per session (COC does that, too) and possibly that you can advance only X skills.

Oh yeah, did I mention how training skills you're already good at gets harder in COC? And, by the looks of it, in Mouseguard as well? Note to self: must play Mouseguard.
Yes, I've played many such games with this flavor of skill advancement. Making it hard to advance a high-level skill just means the Player tries to use it more often. Capping is a better solution, but then you have to ask "when/how do I remove the cap?"

Now, the reason why "lengthy RP session" is a problem.
Mainly, it's because it was between a single Player and an inconsequential Bartender. Aside from the fact that the game was supposed to be about finding this Secret Cult, these sorts of one-on-one RP sessions tend to leave your other Players without anything to do: the DM's attention is focused on the individual Player so he can't really field questions or adjudicate actions for the other Players. If the DM cuts off the chatty Player he'll get upset - he was just trying to improve his skills in the way the DM told him to - and if the DM doesn't cut him off, then the other Players will have the same beef.
Lengthy RP Sessions are all well and good, but if you just wanted to do those then you don't need dice or skill points at all. A good game requires keeping all the elements of the system involved in moderation; if a "good game" for you doesn't require some element of the system, you probably should be using a different system.

jseah
2011-01-05, 12:56 PM
How about this:
The characters does many actions through a session, significant actions are tracked, insignificant actions rack up a training score.
Significant actions add alot to the relevant skill(s), training adds little but still some and is capped per time. These points are not real points yet.

At the end of the session, the GM awards X points to all players or unevenly depending on performance. (analogous to XP)
Then the players can convert X amount of points gained that session into "real" points, which skills they want to increase are up to the players.

Unconverted points add only 1/4 of a point to the skill regardless of how many points were gained, or something small but still measurable. To represent skills gained simply by interacting with the world.
That way, a character who knows nothing about social interactions would actually *need* to be locked up in a tower. But the slow advancement of a character who does not focus in a skill, just represents how the character doesn't pay attention to that skill.

Would that be a good balance between giving the players what they want, and discouraging gaming the system?

Glimbur
2011-01-05, 01:01 PM
A larger-scale problem with a system that isn't level based is that it is somewhat more difficult to write adventures for a general audience. How skilled should the elite knights which guard the necromancer-king be? What if the party swordsman is more of a charming rogue with lots of social skills but less actual stabity-action? A module writer needs to consider both that party and the party made up of barbarians who fight everything including each other and are therefore really good at fighting.

That's probably not a problem for your small-scale homebrew, but you will need to consider how good your PCs are at particular tasks if you put these tasks in adventures.

Kurald Galain
2011-01-05, 01:02 PM
That's probably not a problem for your small-scale homebrew, but you will need to consider how good your PCs are at particular tasks if you put these tasks in adventures.

I'm curious how you expect that to be easier in a system that is level-based?

Oracle_Hunter
2011-01-05, 01:12 PM
How about this:
The characters does many actions through a session, significant actions are tracked, insignificant actions rack up a training score.
Significant actions add alot to the relevant skill(s), training adds little but still some and is capped per time. These points are not real points yet.

At the end of the session, the GM awards X points to all players or unevenly depending on performance. (analogous to XP)
Then the players can convert X amount of points gained that session into "real" points, which skills they want to increase are up to the players.

Unconverted points add only 1/4 of a point to the skill regardless of how many points were gained, or something small but still measurable. To represent skills gained simply by interacting with the world.
That way, a character who knows nothing about social interactions would actually *need* to be locked up in a tower. But the slow advancement of a character who does not focus in a skill, just represents how the character doesn't pay attention to that skill.

Would that be a good balance between giving the players what they want, and discouraging gaming the system?
Um... if you happen to be a computer, sure. How do you expect to be able to run a game while keeping track of all this stuff? :smallconfused:

Oracle_Hunter's First Rule of Game Design
Identify the purpose of your system and then construct all mechanics with that purpose in mind.

For your hypothetical system - what purpose is being served by having a skill advancement system that is so complicated? Is that purpose one you'd consider central to the system as a whole?

N.B. "realism" or "versimilitude" are not good "purposes" for a system. Every system has to abstract something in order to be playable - otherwise you are just living life. Choosing how much to abstract any given feature needs to be made with an eye to what the system is designed to do. Even a game designed to "simulate life" has to specify what kind of life it simulates at some point.

jseah
2011-01-05, 01:16 PM
Measuring character strength... That's indeed a major problem.
I'm really glad I asked this now.

To continue from my above suggestion, characters gain skills over time as they age and gain points, so...

Character strength = Age + total point buy

Wrt to character creation:
A point buy could function exactly like buying skills, except that increasing your character's age would result in having a lower point buy but applying a GM set life skills gain over time. (it's a net positive at the cost of specialization)

Glimbur
2011-01-05, 01:20 PM
I'm curious how you expect that to be easier in a system that is level-based?

In general, you're right. Just because a party is level 10 doesn't tell us much about their ability to Gather Information, Use Rope, or any other skill you can name. It does set an upper limit: a level 20 character who cared to do so could blow a level 5 character out of the water on any particular skill check. Mostly, it just tells us about how good at combat we can expect them to be. The main advantage I see for a level-based system over a point buy system, at least taking D&D 3.5 versus GURPS as an example, is that levels give you an idea of how powerful of an opponent you can throw at the party, while point buy is trickier: a 25 point orc could plausibly kill a 100 point social character/librarian/etc but be blended by a 100 point fighter type.

Levels do tell us how much magical cheatery we can expect from the party, but that is more a problem with the magic system than a merit, honestly.

I'd like to apologize for the rambling and disjointed nature of this post.

lesser_minion
2011-01-05, 04:49 PM
Oracle_Hunter's First Rule of Game Design
Identify the purpose of your system and then construct all mechanics with that purpose in mind.

Spoilered for tangent:
I'm not particularly convinced that this is a good 'first rule', really.

The purpose of every (roleplaying) game system is the same -- to help people to have fun portraying characters in a story set in a fictional world. There are two obvious ways a game system can achieve that:

By helping the players to resolve any conflicts that might come up between them.
By highlighting the most important details of a setting.

Declaring your game to have some particular focus can't help you here -- it can't tell you what is fun, and it can't tell you what setting details are important. Both are matters of style and personal preference, and your own personal preferences are probably too complicated -- and, for that matter, too variable -- to summarize adequately on page one of your design document.

That's not to say you shouldn't try to establish some scope for your game, but the reason to do so is because you run the risk of never finishing if you don't, not because it will help you write a better game.

To the OP:

You don't really need a single number telling you how strong the characters are. Game balance is only essential in so far as it's necessary for verisimilitude.

Overall, linking character advancement to in-game time, and even allowing training to actually work, are perfectly reasonable. The game system itself doesn't need to provide any inducement for the players to send their characters adventuring -- the burden is on the narrator to provide adventures that the players will want their characters to go on.

Oracle_Hunter
2011-01-05, 05:05 PM
Spoilered for tangent:
I'm not particularly convinced that this is a good 'first rule', really.

The purpose of every (roleplaying) game system is the same -- to help people to have fun portraying characters in a story set in a fictional world. There are two obvious ways a game system can achieve that:

By helping the players to resolve any conflicts that might come up between them.
By highlighting the most important details of a setting.

Declaring your game to have some particular focus can't help you here -- it can't tell you what is fun, and it can't tell you what setting details are important. Both are matters of style and personal preference, and your own personal preferences are probably too complicated -- and, for that matter, too variable -- to summarize adequately on page one of your design document.

That's not to say you shouldn't try to establish some scope for your game, but the reason to do so is because you run the risk of never finishing if you don't, not because it will help you write a better game.
Response!
Your definition of purpose for RPGs is too broad to design a RPG system around. When I speak of "game design" I mean "in authoring a gaming system" like D&D, Shadowrun or Burning Wheel; not just a particular campaign.

Focusing on "Resolving Conflicts" does not give guidance on designing a system: all RPG systems exist to resolve conflicts between narratives. The latter - "highlighting the setting" - is tied explictly to the "purpose" of the system. Note, of course, that "setting" need not be a single world or even universe; "setting" here is almost always tied to the thematic concerns. D&D, for example, is a game of Heroic Fantasy; its Purpose is to be a game of Heroic Fantasy and its rules should facilitate this end.

Furthermore, every game system in existence "tells you what is fun" in the way the rules are designed. D&D assumes that fighting monsters is fun; that's why the rules focus so much on fighting monsters. If you found baking bread to be fun then the rules of D&D would do little to aid you in doing so. In part, this is why there are so many different RPG systems - each one is designed to provide "fun" in a particular fashion and people choose to play one over another depending on whether they agree with a particular RPG's approach.

N.B. GURPs is not a game system; it is a "coding language" with which people can construct a game system. The easy test for this is: if someone said "Let's play GURPS" would you have any idea what that meant? Compare with "Let's play Shadowrun" or "Let's Play D&D."

The Big Dice
2011-01-05, 05:31 PM
Response!
Your definition of purpose for RPGs is too broad to design a RPG system around. When I speak of "game design" I mean "in authoring a gaming system" like D&D, Shadowrun or Burning Wheel; not just a particular campaign.

Focusing on "Resolving Conflicts" does not give guidance on designing a system: all RPG systems exist to resolve conflicts between narratives. The latter - "highlighting the setting" - is tied explictly to the "purpose" of the system. Note, of course, that "setting" need not be a single world or even universe; "setting" here is almost always tied to the thematic concerns. D&D, for example, is a game of Heroic Fantasy; its Purpose is to be a game of Heroic Fantasy and its rules should facilitate this end.

Furthermore, every game system in existence "tells you what is fun" in the way the rules are designed. D&D assumes that fighting monsters is fun; that's why the rules focus so much on fighting monsters. If you found baking bread to be fun then the rules of D&D would do little to aid you in doing so. In part, this is why there are so many different RPG systems - each one is designed to provide "fun" in a particular fashion and people choose to play one over another depending on whether they agree with a particular RPG's approach.

N.B. GURPs is not a game system; it is a "coding language" with which people can construct a game system. The easy test for this is: if someone said "Let's play GURPS" would you have any idea what that meant? Compare with "Let's play Shadowrun" or "Let's Play D&D."

Further ruminations!
The purpose of a game system is to resolve "Bang! You're dead!" "How much is that going to hurt?" and "Did I do it?" What is the purpose of D&D, Shadowrun or Burning Wheel? Bearing in mind that setting and mechanics are separate things. (Even if they should work together) I agree with lesser_minion. The prupose is to provide a character sheet and a set of mechanics that everyone can agree to abide by. More or less, anyway.

Anything else is window dressing.

Think about it, D&D isn't Greyhawk or the Forgotten realms, which isn't like Krynn and none of them are Eberron. D&D is what's in the SRD, with a couple of charts from the PHB thrown in. D&D, like the mechanics of any other game, is nothing more than an operating system. In fact, I've described D&D as the "Windows of Roleplaying" more than once.

If someone said to me "Let's play D&D!" I wouldn't know anything other than what dice and number conventions were being used. Anything other than the three core books changes what D&D is in subtle but important ways.

There are really two ways you can approach designing an RPG, and both feed off each other so solutions from one can cause problems for the other.

The first method is to design the system first. What does a character need to interface with your game? What stats, skills, advantages, disadvantages, feats, flaws, vices, virtues, life path events and other things that are going to be found on a character sheet are needed? This is how D&D came about.

The second way is to design the world first. You have a setting with maps, cultures and characters already written about in fluff terms. Now make a game system that will express the society and personality of your world. This is how Legend of the Five Rings came to be.

Asking questions like "Wht is the purpose of this?" is getting ahead of yourself. You should be asking "How do I define a character, and how does that character interact with his environment?" Or you should be asking "What is the place this game is going to be set in like? What is important to the people of the place and how do I show that with a game system?"

But be careful, or you could end up with what Ron Edwards called a Fantasy Heart Breaker (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/articles/9/).

Mark Hall
2011-01-05, 05:45 PM
What you see in some games (such as Ars Magica) is that you a certain number of XP, and can spend it only on skills which you have used. So if you go on an adventure, fight a faerie with your sword, patch up your buddy, and find your way home from wherever the faerie sent you, you could apply your XP to your Sword skill, your Medicine skill, your navigation skill and/or your Faerie Lore skill.

It's hardly "jump your way across Tamriel" (sheepishly raises hand to claim that behavior), but it does mean that if you don't practice, you don't get to increase the skill.

Oracle_Hunter
2011-01-05, 05:56 PM
Ah, Big Dice, leader of the opposing School of Game Design :smallcool:
"What is the purpose of D&D, Shadowrun or Burning Wheel?"
The Purpose of D&D is to be a game of Heroic Fantasy. This is why it uses classes and races that mirror those found in the Heroic Fantasy genre, has a detailed combat system that permits combats which are fierce and typically end in death as opposed to incapacitation-from-wounds, and so on. Taking any edition of D&D and trying to run, say, a cyberpunk game would be difficult at best.

The Purpose of Shadowrun is to be a Cyberpunk game mixed with Fantasy Punk. This is why it has rules for things like the Matrix, lethal combat, cyberware, and so on. Trying to run a "swords and sorcery" game of Shadowrun would be difficult at best.

The Purpose of Burning Wheel is to develop characters (in the literary sense). This is why so much of character creation revolves aroun the character's motivations and backstory, and why the resolution of most challenges is influenced more by those motivations than any conception of "reality." Trying to run a "beer and pretzels" dungeon crawl using the Burning Wheel system would be frustrating to say the least.
As I hope to have illustrated, each system does have a "concept" behind it (what I call a Purpose) and it has rules that follows that Purpose. For the big systems (e.g. D&D and Shadowrun) some editions follow that Purpose better than others; they may have rules which don't really fit with the rest of the system (e.g. SR1-3's Driving Rules) or which were clearly included as an afterthought (D&D3.X's Profession and Craft rules) and don't contribute much to the game-as-such.

Designing a game system is a big task; you need something to focus on. Merely designing a world is not enough - that won't tell you what rules are important enough to require depth nor will it tell you which "rules" don't need to be considered. Likewise, designing a system without a Purpose is going to result in an disorderly system; there are many different ways to abstract parts of reality, and no clear way to choose one over another.

IMHO, most "generic" systems feel that way. Take Tri-Stat BESM for example: while you can have fun games with it, there's nothing about the system which really distinguishes it from others. Sure, it can be twisted to suit any setting, but to what end? Some people enjoy having a single system which can "do everything" but I've found systems that focus on doing a particular thing do it "better" - they have that extra something that makes them memorable. Shadowrun, for example, feels much more true to its Purpose than a Tri-Stat game set in the Shadowrun Universe would.
In short: you have to start somewhere when you're designing a game system, and getting its Purpose in mind requires little work and is immensely clarifying in the long run.

lesser_minion
2011-01-05, 06:15 PM
Response!

Counter-response!


Your definition of purpose for RPGs is too broad to design a RPG system around. When I speak of "game design" I mean "in authoring a gaming system" like D&D, Shadowrun or Burning Wheel; not just a particular campaign.

This being my point. The rules should serve the fundamental purpose of the game -- to be a roleplaying game. A concept shouldn't be dismissed as out-of-scope unless it simply makes no sense to include it in the setting -- even if you want to focus on killing monsters, rules for weapon maintenance are not out-of-scope for a sword-and-sorcery setting. Rules for building a point defence maser in your back garden probably are, even though the maser is arguably more pertinent to killing monsters.

Even then, your system probably has applicability beyond whatever setting you had in mind, so you might want to keep your notes on homemade maser weaponry on hand for when you release a futuristic version of your game in three years time.


The latter - "highlighting the setting" - is tied explictly to the "purpose" of the system.

Perhaps, but they actually imply very different things. Declaring your setting's 'Purpose' to be "be a game of Heroic Fantasy" implies a much narrower scope than "be a game in which a heroic fantasy setting is portrayed".


Furthermore, every game system in existence "tells you what is fun" in the way the rules are designed. D&D assumes that fighting monsters is fun; that's why the rules focus so much on fighting monsters. If you found baking bread to be fun then the rules of D&D would do little to aid you in doing so.

Which is not what I meant. The issue is whether or not some given thing gets in the way of fun, not whether or not you can make broad statements like "fighting monsters is fun" or "baking bread is fun".


N.B. GURPs is not a game system; it is a "coding language" with which people can construct a game system. The easy test for this is: if someone said "Let's play GURPS" would you have any idea what that meant? Compare with "Let's play Shadowrun" or "Let's Play D&D."

I wouldn't expect someone to say "let's play GURPS" any more than I'd expect them to play "Let's play Storyteller System" or "Let's play d20". Of course, it's quite possible that they might say "let's play GURPS: Discworld", "d20 Modern", or "Exalted".

The interesting point here is that these game systems are all distinct from their various settings.

Oracle_Hunter
2011-01-05, 07:21 PM
Counter-response!



This being my point. The rules should serve the fundamental purpose of the game -- to be a roleplaying game. A concept shouldn't be dismissed as out-of-scope unless it simply makes no sense to include it in the setting -- even if you want to focus on killing monsters, rules for weapon maintenance are not out-of-scope for a sword-and-sorcery setting. Rules for building a point defence maser in your back garden probably are, even though the maser is arguably more pertinent to killing monsters.

Even then, your system probably has applicability beyond whatever setting you had in mind, so you might want to keep your notes on homemade maser weaponry on hand for when you release a futuristic version of your game in three years time.



Perhaps, but they actually imply very different things. Declaring your setting's 'Purpose' to be "be a game of Heroic Fantasy" implies a much narrower scope than "be a game in which a heroic fantasy setting is portrayed".



Which is not what I meant. The issue is whether or not some given thing gets in the way of fun, not whether or not you can make broad statements like "fighting monsters is fun" or "baking bread is fun".



I wouldn't expect someone to say "let's play GURPS" any more than I'd expect them to play "Let's play Storyteller System" or "Let's play d20". Of course, it's quite possible that they might say "let's play GURPS: Discworld", "d20 Modern", or "Exalted".

The interesting point here is that these game systems are all distinct from their various settings.
Aw, it sounds like we just have a difference of nomenclature.
I don't know what it means to design rules to "be a roleplaying game." There are countless permutations of rules that create things that can be called roleplaying games - including a freeform collaborative storytelling in which all narrative conflicts are resolved via majority vote. This concern gives me no guidance. When you're designing a game system, you need a starting point; a touchstone to refer to when making other design decisions. What you call "concept" or "setting" I consider an unfocused Purpose.

Additionally, I don't think you got my point in regards to GURPS. My point is that a game system is not merely a set of rules, but a cohesive set of rules. There is no such thing as a default GURPS rule-set; you need to pick and choose which rules you are using to construct a particular game. By comparison, if I say "we're playing 4th Edition Shadowrun" everyone knows what the rules of that game are.

This is not to say that GURPS is a bad idea; just that there is no reason for people to spend time on re-inventing such a thing.

jseah
2011-01-06, 12:10 AM
Wrt "purpose":
The purpose of the thread is to explore the possibilities and downsides of a skill system of the "progress skills you use" variety. As well as propose solutions for said downsides and examine its advantages/disadvantages compared to alternative systems.


The actual game system is something I'll worry about. So far, it's just an extreme trip for my nit-picky mind. I will admit that even if I drew up all the rules, the entire system is likely to be unplayable at the tabletop without writing a program for it and only barely playable over PbP.

Please don't worry about the game system. It's just an abstract discussion.

The Big Dice
2011-01-06, 08:28 AM
The spoiler tags are getting a little silly now. We're on the second, page, I think it's safe to dispense with them :smallcool:


Aw, it sounds like we just have a difference of nomenclature.
I don't know what it means to design rules to "be a roleplaying game." There are countless permutations of rules that create things that can be called roleplaying games - including a freeform collaborative storytelling in which all narrative conflicts are resolved via majority vote. This concern gives me no guidance. When you're designing a game system, you need a starting point; a touchstone to refer to when making other design decisions. What you call "concept" or "setting" I consider an unfocused Purpose.
When John Wick does his game deign seminars, has asks people what their game is about. To sum it up in one word. For example, his edition of L5R was, according to him, about Honour. By that measure, as far as I can tell, D&D is about Resources.

What any RPG needs to be functional as an RPG is:
1: A task resolution system. Some method of determining the outcome of actions taken in-game. This is the skill system that this thread is all about.

2: A character design system. This ties in with needing a character sheet. A form that people can record their character and have a measure of what their physical and mental abilities might be.


Additionally, I don't think you got my point in regards to GURPS. My point is that a game system is not merely a set of rules, but a cohesive set of rules. There is no such thing as a default GURPS rule-set; you need to pick and choose which rules you are using to construct a particular game. By comparison, if I say "we're playing 4th Edition Shadowrun" everyone knows what the rules of that game are.
I wouldn't have a clue about the rules of Shadowrun. To me, it's Disney Cyberpunk. Full of cute Dwarves and ugly Orcs and so on. I prefer my Cyberpunk a little harder edged, with less obvious fantasy imagery jammed in there. I find the marriage of the two uncomfortable. But then, look which game out of Cyberpunk and Shadowrun is still in print...

Anyway, back to my point. There is a default rules set with GURPS. Stats, skills, advantages, disadvanatages an quirks always work in exactly the same way. The lists of what you can pick from might vary. And so might the genre conventions and subsystems like magic, super powers and psi powers. But at it's core, any GURPS character of the appropriate points value can function in any GURPS game. The joining might be awkward and the effectiveness of the character be low because of equipment or culture.

But in GURPS, you really can find out who would win a fight between cave men and astronauts.

This is not to say that GURPS is a bad idea; just that there is no reason for people to spend time on re-inventing such a thing.[/spoiler]
GURPS and RuneQuest are good touch stones because of their attention to detail.

As for re inventing the whell, there were generic systems before GURPS and there have been others since. There's a niche for chameleon games.

Oracle_Hunter
2011-01-06, 10:34 AM
When John Wick does his game deign seminars, has asks people what their game is about. To sum it up in one word. For example, his edition of L5R was, according to him, about Honour. By that measure, as far as I can tell, D&D is about Resources.

What any RPG needs to be functional as an RPG is:
1: A task resolution system. Some method of determining the outcome of actions taken in-game. This is the skill system that this thread is all about.

2: A character design system. This ties in with needing a character sheet. A form that people can record their character and have a measure of what their physical and mental abilities might be.
Knowing nothing else about John Wick, it sounds like we'd get along just fine :smallbiggrin:

Personally, I'd saying D&D is about "resources" has to be wrong; TSR D&D spent little time considering resource management outside of the Wizard and most of its time depicting how to run a Heroic Fantasy game :smallamused:

This is why I suggesting picking a Purpose that deals with Themes rather than Mechanics. Since all RPGs have at least some narrative elements it makes sense to design them with the sort of "stories" they're supposed to tell in mind. Developing a game based on Resources sounds like it's more likely to end up with a Eurogame Board Game than a RPG :smalltongue:

Re: OP
Sadly, there's nothing else to say here. As has been noted, your current choice is unworkable outside of extreme bookkeeping. The reason I presented Oracle Hunter's First Rule of Game Design was to help frame the issue.

The question should never be whether you can use a particular mechanic; the question must be why should you use a particular mechanic. To that end I suggest it is important to consider the Purpose of the game system you have in mind and whether that Purpose would be served better with Mechanic A or Mechanic B.

But, if that's not interesting to you - have fun with your mechanic designing, I guess :smalltongue:

jseah
2011-01-06, 12:04 PM
Oracle Hunter:
If you would like to know the purpose of my system...

In truth, I did not really start with a story type in mind, merely going from asking alot of awkward questions about magic into a full fledged magic system, and from a magic system into a game system.
The magic system was made to be flexible and support many different styles of using magic, and explaining it all from one central system. So no help there.

The magic system *could* be used for a swords and sorcery game by limiting players to the less strange ways to use the magic system.
With alot of difficulty and holding of idiot balls, it could be used for a high fantasy LotR-esque game. (A Sauron-mimic in the magic system would cause a post-singularity game simply by existing, see spoiler)
It can be used for a small-scale tactical wargame more or less as is, although strategies will be unique to the game. And unique to each opponent as well.
It can be used for city building games, although the focus on magic and the power it gives to individual characters makes it difficult to play in the large scale.

Doesn't work for humourous or non-serious games. Too detailed.

So it fits alot of things. If you ask me what I want it to do... well, do slice-of-life type games even work?
The life of an X type games.

However, magic as a science would be a recurring theme in any sort of story or game that sprouted from this system. Due to the incredible amount of detail spent on the magic system.
So much so that the game system feels like it was tacked onto the magic system, not the other way around. And it's true.

It really shows in the way I divided the setting into three "tech levels" depending on which sections of the magic system they had access to.
Pre-Warp is the closest to swords and sorcery, although magic makes things generally easier. Post-warp is edging into science fiction with feasible space elevators, FTL travel and inter-universal travel. Post-Singularity is... unknown as it comes after a Knowledge Singularity.

Perhaps, each tech level would need a different game system to illustrate their style, even though each one arises simply by merely extending the magic system logically with certain key ideas.

Oracle_Hunter
2011-01-06, 12:20 PM
What you have there is a mechanic in search of a game :smalltongue:

But, if you're interested in the role of magic in fiction, listen to this handy and enlightening podcast (http://www.writingexcuses.com/2008/05/12/writing-excuses-episode-14-magic-systems-and-their-rules/) :smallsmile:

jseah
2011-01-06, 12:29 PM
Well, if you insist, then since the idea started out from avoiding encouraging psychopathic behaviour...

A life of an X game. That's what the system will try to do.

Focus is on character interactions, whether PC-PC or PC-NPC interactions. Not a grand story or action, just quiet people living their lives. Idyllic or not, is up to the player.


How would that work? To be frank, I've never actually seen a game like that before.

PS: I'll listen to the podcast. DLing.

Oracle_Hunter
2011-01-06, 12:34 PM
A life of an X game. That's what the system will try to do.

Focus is on character interactions, whether PC-PC or PC-NPC interactions. Not a grand story or action, just quiet people living their lives. Idyllic or not, is up to the player.

How would that work? To be frank, I've never actually seen a game like that before.
Well, it depends a lot on what kind of interactions you're looking for. There are actually plenty of games that focus on personal interactions but they're usually pretty light on rules - you just RP most of it.

Why are you modeling everything with such granuality? You don't need to know how quickly your "coffee making" skill is going up if the game is supposed to be about the lives people are living. What it sounds like you're making is The Sims - which isn't much of a RPG, I'm sad to say.

Now, if you're looking at what sort of world Magic System X creates, then I'd suggest looking at Mage: The Acension (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mage:_The_Ascension) as an example of how such a game might be made.

erikun
2011-01-06, 03:54 PM
Burning Wheel is the only system that I am familiar with which uses a level-through-use skill system. (Mouse Guard uses an experience-point-buy system, like Shadowrun and World of Darkness.) I am not familiar with Call of Cthulhu, and so can't say anything about the system. I can, however, talk about Burning Wheel.

Rolls in Burning Wheel are only made when failure carries a significant consequence. To use the previous example, chatting up the barman to find City Hall would not allow a roll, because even if you fail to get the information, there really isn't any negative consequence. Chatting up the barman to find the local Thieves' Guild would allow a roll, because failure would make the barman suspicious of the character and possibly alert the authorities.

This is a fair bit different than the way rolls work in Dungeons and Dragons, where pretty much anything that has a questionable outcome receives a roll. Problems occuring in a D&D campaign with level-use skills aren't present in Burning Wheel, because jumping your way through town - which would use a roll in D&D - does not use rolls in Burning Wheel. The only time you'd see jumping rolls in Burning Wheel is when jumping between rooftops or across ditches, and where failing would possibly give your character a broken leg. ("Jumping" is a bit too specific of a skill for Burning Wheel anyways.)

There are two major problems I forsee for any level-use skill system. One is attempting to do anything, even out of character, to raise skill levels - which Burning Wheel handles rather well. The other, which hasn't been mentioned yet, is that it can be very difficult to "level up" a specific character type if you never get the chance to use the skills you want. While a high-level Bard or Wizard can get away without singing or spellcasting for awhile in D&D, you cannot generally do so in Burning Wheel and still progress your skills.

Just for a clarification of the problem: What happens with the travelling explorer, who has been wandering the countryside for the last three weeks (downtime) and will spend the next three days in town for an adventure? What about the professional soldier, who has been at war for the last year (downtime) and is engaging in a campaign of social intrigue during some R&R? What about the travelling merchant, who has definitely been keeping track of his stores and making sales (downtime) but needs to kill goblins in a dungeon to save his sister?

It all cases, we have characters who spend most of their time working on their professions, and yet don't get the chance to increase their appropriate skills because the interesting bits (campaign sessions) don't happen to take place during those times. And this is assuming careers that have a reasonable use during downtime. A party with a Barbarian, a Bard, and a Cleric will end up finding some reason to rage, sing, and pray each session... either through DM manipulations or PC randomness.

Just letting you know what you're getting into. A lot of systems I've seen work fine with the experience-for-skill-points method.

The Big Dice
2011-01-06, 06:42 PM
Personally, I'd saying D&D is about "resources" has to be wrong; TSR D&D spent little time considering resource management outside of the Wizard and most of its time depicting how to run a Heroic Fantasy game :smallamused:
First, D&D din't particularly heroic. Large scale and violent yes. Heroism, not so much.

Secondly, anything that is tracked in points is a resource. Anything that is consumable is a resource. That covers just about every aspect of a D&D character other than items that provide static bonuses.

Think about it. Other than spells we have: experience points, hit points, character levels, ammunition, potions, scrolls, charges in wands or staves and that's just the stuff I came up with off the top of my head.

D&D is a game about tracking resources.

Oracle_Hunter
2011-01-07, 12:10 AM
First, D&D din't particularly heroic. Large scale and violent yes. Heroism, not so much.

Secondly, anything that is tracked in points is a resource. Anything that is consumable is a resource. That covers just about every aspect of a D&D character other than items that provide static bonuses.

Think about it. Other than spells we have: experience points, hit points, character levels, ammunition, potions, scrolls, charges in wands or staves and that's just the stuff I came up with off the top of my head.

D&D is a game about tracking resources.
...I guess I'll play my game of Heroic Fantasy and you can play your Resource Tracker then? :smallconfused:

woodenbandman
2011-01-07, 03:27 AM
the clear solution to balancing this is to limit advancement to X tests per session and no more.

EDIT: Also, make sure the tests are relevant to things. picking a lock that you own in your bedroom is not gonna provide you with the same amount of experience as picking a lock under extreme time pressure.

jseah
2011-01-07, 04:27 AM
Hence my proposed solution:
Any skill that gets used, increases at a very small rate, not worth spamming to get it increased.

When XP would normally be awarded, players instead get coversion points to convert the small skill gain rate into one that is significant.

Psyx
2011-01-07, 07:07 AM
Is it feasible to take away levelling xp charts or point buys, and simply have characters awarded skills they use?

The Chaosium games (CoC, Runequest) use a system where skilled are 'ticked' when used, and have a chance of going up at the end of an adventure. Pendragon (another Chaosium game) also does this. Millennium's end also uses the idea. Cyberpunk also recommends GMs dishing out skill-specific Improvement Points when skills are used.

It's really not much extra book-keeping: Ticks in boxes for the Chaosim games, tally marks for M.E. and numbers next to skills for CP (which is the most fiddly of the systems).

It works, but there are a couple of downsides:

1) Players finding any excuse to use their skills. GM's need to keep a rein on things and awarding 'ticks'.

2) It means that characters are developed wholly by their environment in a reactive way. If you spend two adventures on a ship going towards a desert campaign, you won't get a chance to learn much in the way of Ride: Camel. Thus, players also need to be given more generic XP that they can spend where they want to.


How about awarding skill gain for "significant actions" for non-physical skills?
And having a skill gain cap per week or so from training (which only physical skills can do).
Then random negotiations or using the sword to attack non-threats counts as "training".

Yes. This is what needs to be done. Skills must be used in a challenging manner. in order to get 'ticks'.

It should be noted that CoC and Pendragon only award one 'tick' per adventure/year. No matter how much you spam the skill. This stops people picking every lock that they see.

As an alternative to a level-based system, I personally like it.

Another approach that works in skill-based RPGs can be the GM offering 'discounts' based on PC performance and training (It's best to only give them in 'non-combat' areas, in my experience). If a player spends a session at the King's Court and really does well, I'll often -at the end of a session- say 'cool. If you want to buy a dot of etiquette right now, you can have a 1xp discount' or 'You spent 500gp and two weeks taking dance classes, have a 1xp discount on Dance'.

Again, I'll stress that it's best to give these bonuses on 'rounding' skills rather than sword/stealth/notice and other bread-and-butter adventuring skills, so as to encourage players to put more thought into characterful stuff and prevent it merely becoming and exercise in levelling up combat skills faster.


Finally there's the 'no you can't buy that/ yes you can' approach that some GMs use in skill based systems. When it comes to buying skills, they all have to be OKed by the GM. 'Can I buy more pick lock?' 'No because you're already really good at it and you've picked one lock in the last gaming week, and it was so easy that you didn't have to pick a dice up for it'. This can be a good way to encourage PCs to use skills and devote time to their practice.

Britter
2011-01-07, 10:56 AM
[I]Mouse Guard uses an experience-point-buy system, like Shadowrun and World of Darkness.

Sorry, thats not correct. There is NO xp in Mouse Guard, no buying of points, none of that stuff. You advance a skill by using it in X number of sucsessful and X number of unsuccessful tests, with the variable being based on the level of the skill. Higher levels require more passed and failed tests.

Mouse Guard is essentially Burning Wheel Lite, with a lot of the extra moving parts removed and everything boiled down to basic first principles.