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    Halfling in the Playground
     
    DrowGirl

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    Default How do I become more mechanics-minded?

    I haven't been playing rpgs for all that long in the grand scheme of things- 5-ish years, I think. But I've noticed that a lot of people seem to have a way better head for the mechanics and numbers of things. I play RPGs for the stories, the characters, but all the number stuff is lost on me.

    Not saying that I don't understand how basic rules work, in fact, I like to think I have a pretty good grasp of the rules for games I play regularly. I can create functional characters with no trouble, do normal things within the system without asking my GM for help every few seconds, etc. But I often can't figure out what makes a character powerful or not. Or whether something is balanced or not. Or even estimate the power level of something compared to something else.

    I don't nessessarily want to become an ultra-competent minmaxer or anything, but I would like to get better at the numbers side of gaming. Even if I don't regularly build characters for power, I want to be able to choose to do so or not, and I feel like it would really help my ability to run games as well. But... how? Does anyone have any suggestions?

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    SamuraiGuy

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    Default Re: How do I become more mechanics-minded?

    You don't really have to become more mechanis minded.

    Having a good head for mechanics is a great advantage to have if you run games, but as a player isn't as important. Half my group doesn't care much for mechanics other than it helps them portray the character they want to. So I just help them by giving them suggestions to achieve that goal. It doesn't detract from the game at all as the game I run is not about set piece encounters but is more focused on narrative.

    To become more mechanics minded you need to have interest in the mechanics of the game. From my wargaming past I have always been focused on the rules as knowing the rules gives me better understanding how to win. Even when I play computer games I study the underlying mechanics because in understanding the mechanics gives me a great deal of advantage and allows me to make much more informed strategic decisions.

    Knowing the rules in and out also means I don't need to spend valuable gaming time on finding out about the rules and also makes it easier for me to make a ruling that is fair and in tone with the rest of the system. My players also have more trust in my decisions and rulings when they know I am a walking rules encyclopedia.

    So what does interest you about the rules and the mechanics of the game?

    Like everything else, if you want to get better at it then you have to study or train.
    Last edited by RazorChain; 2018-11-03 at 04:05 PM.
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    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: How do I become more mechanics-minded?

    Instead, why not just play RPGs that don't have complicated mechanics?

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    Default Re: How do I become more mechanics-minded?

    It's a tricky question. Part of it is experience. The more you roleplay (even in different systems), the more you will get a feel for the mechanics. Another part in my opinion is to read the books and maybe create a few different characters, with different choices and then work out what these choices mean for the character. It takes a bit of work, but it can also be quite a lot of fun. A third thing is to look ahead to the choices you want to make in the future. Know where you want to go with your character and pick those options to get you there. Also look at the niche your character is supposed to fill, as that will also influence your choices.
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    DruidGuy

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    Default Re: How do I become more mechanics-minded?

    Reading what people say on forums and guides is also useful.

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    Default Re: How do I become more mechanics-minded?

    Quote Originally Posted by MrSandman View Post
    Reading what people say on forums and guides is also useful.
    With the addendum that the people you listen to are able to present mechanical justification for their opinions.

    Forums have no shortage of mechanically illiterate opinions.

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    Default Re: How do I become more mechanics-minded?

    Ask other people, for starters. They'll often be able to explain things. And there's a lot to take in, when it comes to higher-level concepts.

    But yeah, a lot of it is practice and familiarity. Every high-level concept is built on a few concepts below it, and each of those concepts are built on other concepts, etc, until you get down to the raw mechanics. The more familiar you are with raw mechanics, the easier it is to hold them in your head as you think about how they relate.
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    DrowGirl

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    Default Re: How do I become more mechanics-minded?

    Quote Originally Posted by RazorChain View Post

    So what does interest you about the rules and the mechanics of the game?
    Well, first off, I would like to eventually run some games, and on my past attempts, I think one of the things that held me back was the fact that I struggled a lot with balancing and tactical play. I would create something that was supposed to be a challenging fight and the players would breeze through it, or vice versa. Or I would get some kind of encounter or scene set up and have no idea how to build in complications beyond stacking more stats on stuff.

    Additionally, I really love when I'm looking at people's stuff, a build I find online or something my GM has helped me come up with, and seeing all the pieces slide into place, how all the moving parts connect to each other to create something more than the sum of its parts, so to speak.

    It's not so much that I have trouble remembering specific rules, like I said, it's fitting mechanics, stats, and options together and figuring out "oh, this is powerful because X" or "this doesn't work because Y".

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    Default Re: How do I become more mechanics-minded?

    Quote Originally Posted by AshfireMage View Post
    Well, first off, I would like to eventually run some games, and on my past attempts, I think one of the things that held me back was the fact that I struggled a lot with balancing and tactical play. I would create something that was supposed to be a challenging fight and the players would breeze through it, or vice versa. Or I would get some kind of encounter or scene set up and have no idea how to build in complications beyond stacking more stats on stuff.

    Additionally, I really love when I'm looking at people's stuff, a build I find online or something my GM has helped me come up with, and seeing all the pieces slide into place, how all the moving parts connect to each other to create something more than the sum of its parts, so to speak.

    It's not so much that I have trouble remembering specific rules, like I said, it's fitting mechanics, stats, and options together and figuring out "oh, this is powerful because X" or "this doesn't work because Y".
    Balance and interesting complications are largely a function of experience.

    Itís not really possible to build a balanced encounter in a vacuum, unless thereís no variation in party composition or character build from one group to another. And even then, player tactics might mean that one group finds an encounter a breeze and another gets TPKíd. You can only really balance for your table. You can get somewhere in the general ballpark based on the systemís advice (e.g., Challenge-and-XP-Budget in 5e), which is how modules are written (usually), but that can go sideways with an unusual party composition or clever tactics (or bad tactics) or the luck of the dice or even just the right (or wrong) equipment/items.

    And sometimes players just trounce an encounter. The dice were on their side, or they used abilities and tactics cleverly, or something. It just happens. And so does the reverseósometimes a random monster just rolls really well, or the playersí tactics are harebrained, or the players canít roll worth a dang, or what-have-you. The players trouncing the Big Bad in their first meeting, only to nearly TPK to a pack of low-level mooks later, is the stuff of running gags because itís relatable to so many players and DMs.

    Youíll get better at fine-tuning balance the more you DM. And donít worry about not being great at it, or any other aspect of DMing, when youíre starting out; good DMing requires practical experience, and the only way to get that experience is to do it, and be willing to make mistakes so you can learn from them. Thatís a normal part of the process.

    For complications, try thinking outside of the statblocks. Think about terrain, time pressures, the need for stealth, additional groups of enemies, etc. A bunch of kobolds rushing in as a mob in a large room is a very different encounter from the same number of kobolds with some attacking from range behind cover, while the rest are dropping boulders and boiling oil from above, while the party tries to cross a 5ft wide bridge across a deep chasm (the boulders might knock PCs off the bridge or slow progress in addition to damage, and the oil can make the bridge slippery in addition to damage). Even getting past a couple of sentries can be interesting if the party needs to be quiet doing so or risk alerting an entire complex. Also think of how monsters/enemies might combine abilitiesófor instance, an enemy spellcaster might drop Darkness on the party so a group of melee enemies with Pack Tactics can have the Advantage from Pack Tactics cancel out the Disadvantage from Darkness so they attack with normal rolls, while the partyís attacks against the melee enemies are at Disadvantage and the partyís spellcasters canít see to cast. That sort of thing.

    One style of encounter is not better than the otheróthereís a time and place for both; making every encounter a complex tactical nightmare can wear thin just the same as making every encounter really straightforward.

    As for figuring out how abilities work (or donít work) together, Iím not sure I know a way to explain how to look at things in that light. Oftentimes itís just looking at things and an interaction becoming apparent from the wording. The Polearm Master feat gives me an opportunity attack when an enemy enters reach, and the Sentinel feat stops an enemyís movement when I hit the enemy with an opportunity attack, so that means if I take both feats, I can stop an enemyís movement when it enters my reach, not just when it leaves. Youíre not just thinking about the specific ability, youíre thinking about how things interact. The more you do it, the easier itíll be to do, but Iím not sure how to explain from scratch. Some of itís just trial-and-error, too.

    Maybe for practice try starting with seeing if a pair of feats interacts well or interacts badly, or seeing if two classes might multiclass well with each other or not. Go through the feats line by line, or go through the classes step by step, level by level, ability by ability, and see what youíd gain or lose each way and how each thing interacts with each other thing.

    (Examples in this post are D&D 5e-specific since thatís what Iíve played/run the most recently, but the general principle applies anywhere.)
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    Ettin in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: How do I become more mechanics-minded?

    Quote Originally Posted by AshfireMage View Post
    Well, first off, I would like to eventually run some games, and on my past attempts, I think one of the things that held me back was the fact that I struggled a lot with balancing and tactical play.
    This is why I think zombie campaigns are great campaigns for beginners, because they can focus on one bit at a time and have a limited pool of NPCs to worry about. As the great and wise JAL_1138 said, experience is a great teacher. Are there people in your group who will be open to helping you learn mechanics? If so, I recommend grabbing 3-4 of them (depending on your system, but small is better. Too small and you run the risk of killing them.) and start up a simple campaign that is intended to run through a scenario, but isn't meant to be a sweeping campaign that runs for years.
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    Default Re: How do I become more mechanics-minded?

    Quote Originally Posted by AshfireMage View Post
    Well, first off, I would like to eventually run some games, and on my past attempts, I think one of the things that held me back was the fact that I struggled a lot with balancing and tactical play. I would create something that was supposed to be a challenging fight and the players would breeze through it, or vice versa. Or I would get some kind of encounter or scene set up and have no idea how to build in complications beyond stacking more stats on stuff.
    You could just run something mechanically simpler. That said if you find complex mechanics interesting in themselves but just don't have a good handle on it there are ways to get better, most of which are mental habits. For instance, there's reflexive contrarianism to mechanical models applied as a way to look at where they work well - I do this a lot with actual scientific equations, shoving variables towards extremes to look at behavior and thus often seeing where the model breaks down, while also getting better understanding of how it works for when it works, and the habit transfers extremely well to game mechanics.

    Beyond that there's just doing the math. Practice probability, get an intuitive sense as best you can (the whole field of probability is remarkably good at resisting intuition, but the sort of subtle weirdness that holds out even on people who know the field well generally doesn't show up in simple models used in RPGs).
    I would really like to see a game made by Obryn, Kurald Galain, and Knaight from these forums.

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    RangerGuy

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    Default Re: How do I become more mechanics-minded?

    Quote Originally Posted by AshfireMage View Post
    Well, first off, I would like to eventually run some games, and on my past attempts, I think one of the things that held me back was the fact that I struggled a lot with balancing and tactical play. I would create something that was supposed to be a challenging fight and the players would breeze through it, or vice versa.
    Don't worry about this. Perfectly balanced encounters are overrated. Just make it clear to the players that you don't necessarily present 'fair' encounters, and give them enough intel and clues so that they can make their own decision of whether they should fight or not. Make them responsible for how to approach challenges.

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    Planetar

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    Default Re: How do I become more mechanics-minded?

    The advice here is fairly heavily rules and system dependent, it has to be noted. If you're running a system that's close to or identical to D&D 3.5, though, then in terms of getting better at tactical play as a DM there's a couple of things to bear in mind:

    (1) Above all, the action economy. Which in essence gets down to asking yourself one question: how many things can the players can do in one round, and how many things can my monsters do in one round?

    For example: a four-man adventuring party can, in essence, do eight things in one round: they each have a move action and a standard action. One of the big reasons solo monsters tend to fail badly at D&D combat is that simple fact, the party can do eight things in a round and the monster can only do two at maximum. And typically those eight things the party can do can be combined to make their effect larger than the sum of their parts: the mage casts Grease, the cleric casts Bull's Strength on the fighter, the fighter moves in and trips the monster, the rogue moves to the opposite side of the fighter and hits for sneak attack damage. The monster by this is pretty much down to two actions: stand up and hit someone near him. And in doing that, he'll give the fighter and the rogue even more to do in the round since standing up attracts Attacks of Opportunity.

    Add three more monsters in, though, and it suddenly becomes a more even match, if only because those four monsters can now invalidate or hinder some of the party's actions, or can force the party to defend itself individually rather than cooperate. Send the monsters charging in to engage each opponent one on one, and the mage and cleric can't cast (or have to eat AoOs if they do.) The fighter might kill off his opponent, sure, but it's a slower fight, more risk of death.

    And if you choose the typical wise saw of focusing your attack on one caster opponent at a time, you ratchet up the monsters' effectiveness. Because most caster characters aren't built to handle melee by themselves; the party then has to move to defend the caster and can't engage in attack as effectively.

    In short, while solo monsters are handy for a bit of variety, they're not that exciting. The tension in encountering them comes down to how long and how many strikes it takes before the party brings its hitpoints to 0. As a rule of thumb, at least match your party's numbers one for one - just use different creatures working together.

    (2) Don't be afraid to design your encounters and think out how your monsters will handle it if they're attacked or have to attack. Trick I learned from the Angry GM: dry-run your combats against a phantom, standard party (what he calls the Platonic Party). Don't simulate an encounter against your party, simulate it against a theoretical party of fighter + thief + cleric + mage. This will make you think about what the party's primary strategy is: the fighter knocks heads, the thief positions, the cleric buffs, the mage casts offensively. Go ahead and ask yourself: if I throw this group of monsters at the party, what strategies will they use? The fighter will probably charge, the thief will probably jump for the rafters to get behind everyone, the cleric will cast Spiritual Weapon ... and so on. These are their first order strategies. Then rerun the encounter with the intent to spoil, deny, or complicate that strategy. The fighter's going to charge in? Okay, difficult terrain, which stops a charge. The thief will jump for the rafters? Not if I have a couple of venomous spiders up there.

    The idea is to force the party to use its brains and not just go to its primary tactic every time. One of the best moments I ever had as a DM was to scare the hell out of my uber'ed party by having a wave of hobgoblin duskblades charge in screaming at them, cast True Strike on all the weapons they held, and then hurl a combination of harpoons and tanglefoot bags at them. The ubercharger was shut down, the flying mage was raining blood from two harpoons stuck in him and I could now pull him around on the trailing ropes. It forced them to change their default strategy. The ubercharger didn't charge, he dropped in and started full attacking around him, which he really enjoyed because he hadn't had a good bloody melee for ages.

    And for those very reasons, you only ever do simulation runs against the Platonic Party. It's too easy to optimise it so you utterly wreck the party otherwise. You have to leave it to the whims of fate to some extent.

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    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: How do I become more mechanics-minded?

    Quote Originally Posted by AshfireMage View Post
    But... how?
    You start by dissecting the system you use and try to find patterns.
    Next step, and nearly more important, is trying to figure out the probabilities that are inherent to any system that uses some form of dice as a random number generator.

    Two examples:

    L5R 4th uses a "Roll and Keep" system, meaning you roll X dice and you may "keep" (which means sum up the value schon on the dice) Y, where, discarding special abilities, Y always equals your "Rings" (Thatīs how attributes are called in this system). 4k2 then means "roll 4 d10, sum up the result of the highest 2". Attacking with a Katana would be, for example, 6k3, because my character has an even mix of 3 rings and 3 skill. Now let's shuffle the mix around a bit, from 5 ring and 1 skill (k5) to 1 ring and 5 skills (k1) and do the math a bit, to find a massiv difference in average and peak result in favor to the high "keep" value of rŪngs.

    Letīs use Savage Worlds as another example. Here getting better at a skill means increasing the die size by one step, meaning you start with a d4, upgrade to a d6, then d8 and so on. Roughly speaking, the default target number for anything is 4 and you generate additional effects by beating the basic target number by further 4s (so 8, 12...). As part of the system, you can by some advantages that will give a flat +1 or +2 on a roll.
    First thing to do the math on is the base chance of each die type against TN4/8 and how this is affected by an +1 and progressively +2.
    Next thing is the topic of "exploding dice", meaning that when you roll max, you can roll that die again and add the second result to the already rolled max result.
    Long story short, well find a number of things here:
    - When it comes to the average result, each numerical "+" is equal to one die increase. (1d4+2 has the same average of 4,5 as 1d8)
    - Lower die values have a higher chance to "explode" (starts with 1 in 4 and drops to 1 in 12.)
    - Combine those factors and you'll find that there's this ugly middle ground between "lucky" and "skilled" (d4 and d12) that should be avoided like the plague.

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    NecromancerGirl

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    Default Re: How do I become more mechanics-minded?

    I feel like I'm the complete opposite of the OP. When I started DMing, I feel like I was constantly thinking in terms of game mechanics. I was treating the mechanics as the games physics engine.

    As a DM, its important to get the basic rules right. You want to know the meta builds that players use. But its easier these days, just google search each class guide and they will tell you what is good and what is not. Even I don't bother with the DPR stuff, since people already done the math for you. Battlemaster vs Champion? Wonder no more. There's a tier list for everything in 5e, from races to feats, to spells.

    But there's always room for personal opinion, because balance is still subjective. To help form your opinion though, there are a few ways:

    1. Compare and contrast. Compare similar abilities or features to see the difference in power. For example, spells can easily be compared in terms of damage, range, targets, concentration requirement and spell level.

    2. Watch videos. There are plenty of videos out there talking about game balance. I would recommend Matt Colville's for his insight in DMing and some tips of how to deal with the more problematic builds.

    3. Chat with other DMs/players. You know what they say about opinions, and everyone's got one. Just keep an open mind when you do. But dont be afraid to do some fact checking when in doubt. People do make mistakes, and don't listen to the guy who says stuff like, 'Champion Fighter is awesome, I rolled 3 19s and 2 20s in 6 attacks!'

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    SamuraiGuy

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    Default Re: How do I become more mechanics-minded?

    Quote Originally Posted by AshfireMage View Post
    Well, first off, I would like to eventually run some games, and on my past attempts, I think one of the things that held me back was the fact that I struggled a lot with balancing and tactical play. I would create something that was supposed to be a challenging fight and the players would breeze through it, or vice versa. Or I would get some kind of encounter or scene set up and have no idea how to build in complications beyond stacking more stats on stuff.
    Getting the feel for encounters takes practice and experience. If you don't mind you could adjust encounters on the fly and prepare for that at the start. Add in reinforcements if the encounter is too easy or buff HP slightly for couple of foes making them tougher.

    If it's too hard then you could detract from stats.

    Making encounters harder is also dependent on terrain or maybe the foe is prepared and has laid traps

    Just think of a choke points and then the enemy uses alchemical fire or stinking cloud on the PC's back rows. Or the enemy can see in the dark and the PC's can't and utilise that.
    Optimizing vs Roleplay
    If the worlds greatest optimizer makes a character and hands it to the worlds greatest roleplayer who roleplays the character. What will happen? Will the Universe implode?

    Roleplaying vs Fun
    If roleplaying is no fun then stop doing it. Unless of course you are roleplaying at gunpoint then you should roleplay like your life depended on it.

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    WolfInSheepsClothing

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    Default Re: How do I become more mechanics-minded?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pelle View Post
    Don't worry about this. Perfectly balanced encounters are overrated. Just make it clear to the players that you don't necessarily present 'fair' encounters, and give them enough intel and clues so that they can make their own decision of whether they should fight or not. Make them responsible for how to approach challenges.
    I agree, balance isn't really necessary. It's more important to present interesting and flavorful encounters.
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    Default Re: How do I become more mechanics-minded?

    Quote Originally Posted by AshfireMage View Post
    But I often can't figure out what makes a character powerful or not. Or whether something is balanced or not. Or even estimate the power level of something compared to something else.
    This is more focused than the thread title. You don't need to develop an intrinsic love of mechanics (how I interpret mechanics-minded) but it certainly does help addressing your issue here which can be done so with; Math and Experience.

    Number crunching is a pure meta analysis and some statistical knowledge is basically required before the RPG math becomes clear. For those that "want to know" working out these math problems can be fun by themselves. Without that motivation, this is a boring process that only becomes fast about doing it a lot.

    You need the numbers but they do not mean anything without experience or an understanding of tactics and strategy. See how both of those are combat related terms even though strategy covers all non-combat activities as well? Thinking in that way can come about through experiencing what works and what doesn't and the rest is then extrapolated from that by viewing RPGs through a conquest mindset, if you do not want to get into that mindset, then learning this takes awhile because you aren't extrapolating and only learn from actually experiencing situations.

    So if loving statistical problems and desiring to think about RPGs as a conquest/conflict is beyond what you want, then I recommend working some basic stats problems as you play your character, for example "If X % is my chance to hit then what is the average damage of this attack", "If my single target spell has a Y% chance to work but my AOE spell has a Z% chance to work on P people, then which spell has the greater average effect?"
    You can start just by learning to value your options against each other and then build off of that. Your character probably wants to use the best tool for the job so they have a reason to think like this so this analysis can more easily feel like a part of playing the game.

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