I Don’t Wanna Suck!

This is not what I intended to write about today. This is what happens when you read other blogs before you start writing your own for the day… In particular, I read a post at Gothridge Manor, Just Above Suck.

Now, I don’t know the poster — and I know this was meant in good spirits — but if a DM said that to me, like that when I was a new player — I’d have been a little crushed. That’s not really true, but I would probably have been deflated. But this is a default setting in some games that presents a particular set of challenges and expectations.

Over the years I have realized that I don’t like to start out at “Suck.” Don’t get me wrong, I think that (for example) D&D 4e went way too far towards making me a superhero for my taste. But this has been on my mind because I’ve been struggling a little with this as I’ve been designing my own romantic fantasy game. There are two connected thoughts here and they are also connected to what I meant to write about today so I will not feel as guilty about skipping out on myself…

1. In many stories, the hero/heroes don’t start at suck… they start at “I’ve had a life before what I do now.” And while this could easily be expressed in many of the D&D-style games, it is difficult to completely reconcile in level-based advancement because of the way the curve needs to develop. But the hero, who may not be able to fight well, or cast spells, or whatever they want to do, may still be a smooth talker, a great tracker, or an accomplished archer, or well, whatever — and it is not easily replicable in typical RPG advancement schemes.

My feeling on the “why” of this is that — because most resolution mechanics are effectively just math problems — RPGs reward specialization too much. I might start the game with my “build” tuned towards being a great archer, but the game creates little reason why I’d then choose to broaden my skill set. In fact, since monster defenses/armor values, etc. tend to rise, being a skilled combatant in a variety of weapons pales when compared to being a hyper-specialist in one.

This is also the problem with all the “fiddly-bits” choices in games like Pathfinder. It’s great that I have a base class, feats, skills, traits, and possibly multi-class and even prestige classes (along with my adventuring Gear)… but since I know I have to remain mathematically competitive to be useful to my party, then it’s better for me to follow the path of specialization over general competence. I always want to put my best foot forward and my “best foot” can always be the same foot. There is no reward for generalizing and a lot of rewards for specializing. This is a thought I want to expand on so I’ll come back to it again (and how it interacts with character growth/advancement) but I want to mention another point as well.

(To attempt to be a little more clear on this point: The problem is that players don’t want to have their choices marginalized either. So if I choose to specialize and be a “Super Archer” then the game should not take that away from me. If I occasionally run into a specific encounter where being a Super Archer doesn’t help, well, that’s okay — but most of the time I should be rewarded for my build — not penalized — because I did it “right.” It’s a self-fulfilling trap though because this means that encounters then reward player builds, which further encourages specialized builds. I have an elaborate Shadowrun-based example running through my head right now, but I think I have have beaten this point enough.)

2. In many stories, the “PCs” don’t all start out at the Same Level or built on the same points. This is always a problem. Balance between players is important. You don’t want to feel marginalized by someone else’s PC at the table. That makes sense. I don’t go to my games for it to be, “that other guy’s show.” It’s also a problem based on the “math problem” nature of games… If I have PCs in my game that are level 2, 4, 7, and 9 it is very difficult to challenge them well without simply destroying the poor level 2 guy or making the level 9 god feel like a god. It can be done and I’ve played in and run mixed level D&D groups with varying amounts of success but it is not really the expected mode of play.

But again, those characters in the stories are not all the same level. Look back at the Fellowship. The hobbits might be 0-level at the start. Boromir is a long-accomplished battle captain. Aragorn a slightly mystical ranger. Legolas and Gimli are experienced warriors of their respective races. Heck, at one point Frodo gets handed a couple of pretty awesome pieces of gear (Sting and the mithrail mail) while the other three hobbits still have somebody’s old daggers. In a point-buy system, that’s suddenly problematic because one PC just received a large influx of points that no one else did.

And yes, you could always say that the Hobbits are the PCs and everyone else is an NPC — but — that’s a pretty heavy hand by the DM then. Ultimately, the problem is still that the PC group (in stories) is not usually so homogenous a group of “we suck” newbs.

Ultimately, these are challenges that I don’t see getting much traction on. Resolution mechanics use math. Players like to have balance between them in the party (just look at god-wizard and striker envy). But I don’t want to suck. I want to be awesome. And even if I’m not the best right out of the gate (that would be boring I think) I still want to feel like a person with a past, with skills, who can do Stuff well — even if it’s not the focus of the game.

Thanks for reading… next, a (hopefully) more polished post about what I MEANT to write about today.

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34 responses

  1. Once again, a post I agree on – except the conclusion. I think there is hope – in spite of the math. Two things can help – one is class design that encourages a bit of generalization, with only a small penalty when compared to specialization. Certain class can be a little less “accurate” (lower to hit by 5-10%) but with a wider spread of abilities that will be still decent.

    The other is to DM in a way as to make too much specialization dangerous (certain skills or abilities would make encounters much easier).

    4e actually does a fairly good job of this. Although there would be some who would still argue with the math, I would counter with the fact that at the end of the day, it is about participation and face time. If my character can do something that makes sense almost every round, I don’t mind paying a 5-10% penalty on success, vs. being only able to do one thing really well, but that may well not be an option some portion of the time – and the portion would be circumstantial and largely out of my control.

    And I agree that 4e gives perhaps a little too much awesome out of the gate for my tastes. However, my gaming group (as a whole) hated starting at first level – in fact they liked to start at 4th level – which I find is about the power level of starting 4e characters. So there are plenty who do like starting with at least a bit of awesome.

    1. Well, you know we agree to disagree about 4E. I find it to actually be more restrictive — despite having powers with fancy names. I know you’re on the other side of that.

      But it is ultimately about the way the game is played, I agree with you. I mean, why was a +2 Strength so much more valuable than a +2 Intelligence in the balance of 3.5? Because the mechanics represented and impacted by that +2 are more “significant” than the other one.

      In a game where the players aren’t focused on combat, the “combat balance” becomes less vital.

      I suppose the one place where I get a little sideways with your POV comes in the fact that I don’t care if my character has something useful to do in every round of combat… I care if I’m a useful contributor the party period. I think what 4E encourages way too much is the action of the “round” and lets the rest of the game stumble along in its wake.

      Again, you could argue that such decisions are on the group/DM… but it is the focus of the system.

  2. I agree.

    I think way too much of “The Hero’s Journey” has combined with the “Farmer to Hero” recipe has infiltrated our gaming group-think and results in novice == suck (or at least one step just above suck.)

    RPGs need to break away from the nuclear arms race of leveling and (if we can’t eliminate leveling altogether) get off the treadmill. Players want to play heroes, and heroes are awesome.

    Ipso facto each level should give the players characters with the opportunity to be awesome.

    I know we’re somewhat rehashing discussions of the past, but because the leveling treadmill requires players to be on the same page vis-a-vis the escalation equations with the challenges, generalization is seen as a lesser path to a weaker concept.

    I wonder what a game would look like where the rewards were specifically tied to evolving your character concept in relation to the challenges overcome within the game environment?

    So, for instance, suppose the following:

    A couple of adventurers spends sufficient time in the deep dungeons of a forgotten dwarven stronghold seeking an ancient relic rumored lost to time. The combat challenges of the locale are minimal, but the dungeons are a chaotic maze of traps and tricks.

    After a given amount of time the characters advance the storyline and are given the opportunity of increasing their character prowess.

    One player decides to use his increases to improve his prowess with a sword even through no actual combat challenges have been encountered in the past few weeks of game time.

    However, another declares that this immersion in the environment had led to her character being more capable at spotting the possibility of traps and tricked corridors and further states that her character can now better determine depth and direction while underground.

    The GM considers both improvements, does not say no to either, but gives 1 point to the combat-focused improvement and 3 to the more “in-game” response improvements.

    That’s the way it should work in my mind.

    In fact, if we as GMs did that more often, players would learn to look for ways to use in-game interactions to both guide their immersion and character advancement.

    Anyway, I think I got off on a bit of a tangent there. Sorry, but this issue really seems to bug me a lot.

  3. I actually completely agree. It’s one of the reasons I’ve written so much about my love for the Call of Cthulhu/BRP advancement method. I love the fact that you improve what you use — the weird abuses some players have put that system to seem wild to me — and that appropriate training/skills can be dropped into the campaign “as needed.”

    Your example is awesome but leads us back to the questions of “who has the power” and “do I trust my GM?” My answer to that is, “if you don’t trust your GM why are you playing in that game” but I know that really doesn’t work for everyone.

    I think the fiddly-bit nature of a lot of RPGs evolved as player-shields to insure that your concept worked the way you wanted it to but these seem to have mutated into other forms that are less positive in nature.

    Tangent away — this issue bugs me a lot too.

  4. I think there’s a certain magic to going from folk hero to savior of the land. However, I don’t think that should be the standard for any RPG. Ideally you would have set strata of play and you would choose where to start at. I think this was the idea behind was 4e wanted to do with tiers but ended up boiling down to “bigger, better” at each subsequent tier.

    The idea would be that if you wanted to play your gritty, almost suck type characters you can start in that strata. If you want to play as a character with a life before that then play in the next tier for experienced or worldly characters. I’ve seen other systems try to do this by fiddling with your starting stats but I feel that completely misses the scope of the problem.

    “There is no reward for generalizing and a lot of rewards for specializing. This is a thought I want to expand on so I’ll come back to it again (and how it interacts with character growth/advancement) ”

    Please do! This is a problem I’ve wrestled with both conceptually and at the game table for modern, 3.X and forward, D&D and it’s derivatives. Hopefully you’ve had more success with the problem than I have.

    1. I think you are right about 4E and trying to map the tiers of play to that type of dynamic… but then in practice it never really panned out.

      I will try to write more about the generalist/specialist thing soon… I have another topic for tomorrow but maybe I can find a way to combine the two? I’m still struggling with this problem too and it drives me crazy sometimes.

  5. I appreciate the reference to my blog. The system I’m using for them is 1st edition AD&D at 1st level. I considered starting them out at higher levels, but want them to develop their characters on their own. This is a group of newbs, but I’ve known them all for a while so they know we are going to have a good time. They will suck in terms of magic-users won’t have world shattering spells, fighter will not be able to take on orc armies with a smile and so on. But by god, they have a cracking good chance against a handful of drunk goblins. And at the end of the night they will have a blast telling the story about how they beat the goblins as much as they would have conquering Mordor.

  6. Oh, yeah, I know where you were going with that. I really didn’t mean anything by it — I’ve played a lot of early edition games (still love my old Basic/Expert books) and done my share of the “you have leather armor and a spear — get ‘em” type of games. It can be a lot of fun and it can be a great way to start a game. I actually sometimes get a little wistful about playing that way again someday…

    But I think what bothered me the most (not about your post but about those early days) was that I was that guy who always wanted to ask — but what happened before that? I wanted to know that before becoming a 1st level thief, I was also the town’s best fisherman… and then I wanted it to be one of those things I talked about when we got to “the big city” and no one cared…

    It’s just one of those things. I don’t wanna shake the world right away (well, sometimes) but I don’t wanna “suck.” Of course — in 1st ed AD&D, if you can cast Sleep and have a couple friends with daggers… you actually are a lot better than most “normal folk.”

    Thanks.

    1. Ha, exactly. I really do appreciate the post and I wrote a response to it. If I stated anything incorrectly please let me know. I like the discussion and like your posts. Added you to my blog roll. I don’t want you to think I was angry, on the contrary. I like the game and like the different

  7. Surviving the ‘sucky’ levels, and becoming a hero, is a lot of fun for some people. I thing Gygax once commented that a character’s “background” is what happens form level 1-6. My favorite, and most memeorable characters started out just above suck and climbed tooth and nail to ‘hero’ status…even if they was only 3rd or 4th level. Playing characters who start higher levels (or in games with more a more powerful starting point) always feels much more hollow to me and I have less investment in the character, because I never had to shepherd him through the “crap, it’s a dozen orcs, run!!!” stage.

    But I think you have to separate games and books. Most books have one or two main characters, and they need to be able to do ‘everything’ to get through the plot. I guess if you are trying to re-create a book in your game, starting out as a hero makes more sense. Doesn’t sound as fun to me but different strokes for different folks, eh?

    1. That’s weird, my comment got left as a reply to a comment that wasn’t there when I started writing it…and which actually covered the first point anyway.

      1. No worries… I’ve had that happen to me a few times too… and it does always seem weird.

  8. I think there’s a difference between suck and novice that seems to be getting hand-waved away.

    The assumed fact that hero doesn’t equal suck but novice is necessarily close to suck is very telling I think.

    Personally I disagree. For reference, I cite this:
    http://justinachilli.com/2011/09/20/first-level-deserves-to-be-cool/

    1. Thanks for the link. That was awesome.

  9. In older D&D the solution is simple if you want to start with a character entering the prime of his adventuring career. Start the campaign with the characters at 5th level.

    1. Robert,

      I’m going to push back a bit and ask:

      Why isn’t the solution making 1st level as relatively amazing as 5th NOT a solution most GMs look to?

      What is it about us all that leads us to the assumption that low level is (just above) suck?

      1. The consequence of making 1st level awesome is that you lose the ability to make less awesome characters using the character creation process.

        When you look at skill based RPGs you can see that you can easily make character that suck using the character creation process. Simply don’t give them a lot of skills or abilities. By making first level suck, a referee of a class and level system has a similar option.

        In a skill based RPGs it easy to make characters of X power level. Just give them right amount of “points” at character creation. The same with class and level, give the character the level you want the campaign to start at.

        However setting 1st level to awesome eliminates the ability for the referee to start characters at a lower power level. The RPG is oriented to a higher level of play right out of the box and it would take a lot of work by the referee to run a lower power level campaign, (by making new classes, etc). Also your definition of awesome is not the same as my definition of awesome. For some the capabilities of a older 5th level character is awesome. To other they only say a older character is awesome when they reach name level (9th to 11th). The publisher now has the headache of trying to figure out how awesome 1st level should be.

        For D&D it has the added disadvantage of making translating older product more difficult. Because the history of D&D prior to that edition is about a game where a 4th level character is four times as effective as a 1st level character. A concept that had it’s original in D&D’s progenitor; Chainmail. And it makes the new edition that much harder to learn for returning players.

        These reasons add up to a lot of downsides compared to simply advising the referee to start their campaign at a higher level than 1st. Instead of making trying to make 1st level awesome, we should say whatever the referee want to start the campaign at is awesome.

  10. But the assumption that 1st level = not awesome (or just above suck) where 5th doesn’t isn’t one of character creation, it’s one of scope of gameplay.

    I have vague recollections from a very, very long time ago when I set down to play D&D for the first time and assumed that:

    1. As the hero of the game I was awesome
    2. And unlike boardgames the rules specifically set the limitations in my hands so that I could potentially do anything.

    Now you could argue that levels 1-4 may indeed be less capable (from a strictly mathematical view of the game) in comparison to levels 5+, but moving the expectation from “I’m the hero and therefore awesome” to “I’m level 1 and therefore just above suck” is short-sighted in my view.

    Setting the gameplay expectation of 5=cool and 1=suck may be good for dealing with seasoned players, but it does a disservice to novices who are probably less enamored with playing roles just above suck.

    1. The OP focus on the capabilities of the characters. Specifically starting out with a larger number of abilities than what is traditional done with older D&D at 1st level. As the OP mentioned there are a variety of reasons to start a campaign this way. The simple way to address is to simply start the campaign at a higher level.

      The points in your followup are about a different issue altogether. I have a story about the point you bring up. One day a friend was teaching GURPS to a kid he was mentoring. The kid had dreams of being THE HERO wielding awesome powers and wanted to do everything right away. My friend said “Fine, you rule the world.” The kid frowned and said “Well that not very fun.”. My friend replied that “But you rule the world. Do what you want.” The kid said “Yeah but there no challenge in that.”. My friend replied “Exactly.” The kid went on to create a more down to earth character and had a great time playing GURPS.

      What people forget that 1st level characters in older D&D are more capable than the average human, and on par with the average experienced solider. And just as in real life people survive dangerous situations by working together and older D&D rewards that. And older D&D provides challenges that 1st level characters can overcome. It is up the referee to make sure that players have the information needed to seek out the challenges they can face.

      You mentioned that one of the things you like about D&D was the fact that As the hero of the game you were awesome. In my experience, I find for novice roleplayer it more about them be the focus of what happening rather than be a passive observer like with books and movies. Awesome powers not so much. Because I seen referees run campaign where characters have awesome powers and abilities and make them feel like crap. One common way this happens is to have a GM Pet NPC running around.

      Feeling like a hero is more about the characters being the focus of the campaign is than the exact abilities they possess.

      1. I’m not arguing that in games, the journey is the goal, not the destination.

        I’m arguing that the standard of play should be awesome at every level. Somewhere I think roleplayers have lost sight of that fact and instead hold to tired and false concepts that low level play is necessarily one step above “suck.”

        Now before anyone accuses me of having an issue with how they play, let me clear that up right now.

        I’m really just challenging the seemingly universally accepted concept that low level means weak or un-heroic.

    2. Wait a minute, are you talking about what GMs do or about how the game is designed, out of the box/by the book. It sounds like you asked: Why don’t GMs awesome-up 1st level PCs and now you are saying: The game needs to awesome-up 1st level so new players will enjoy it more.

      Also, I am not sure all new players are exactly like you, Kevin, or have exactly your expectations, and even if they were & did, you seem to now be advocating changing the game so that the ‘older’ players can’t have the masochistic ‘level 1 sucker’ experience even if they wanted to.

      I must be misreading you.

      I think “awesome” might need a definition before any productive discussion about what is and isn’t awesome gets anywhere.

      1. Ok, try this: 1st level out of the box/by the book should be just as awesome/cool as 5th level.

        Generically speaking, the rules should be written in such a fashion as to facilitate such a gaming style and GMs should run to support/facilitate that goal.

        Knowing I’m likely to find myself firmly in the middle of another edition war, I’ll state that the focus should be on creating, and running, a game where the standard of play for new entrants is skewed to awesome at every level. Especially if you’re D&D.

        That’s one thing 4E did right – and I’m not one who is known to praise much in 4E.

  11. Okay… I stepped away for a bit and totally got behind on this one… Great discussion.

    My two cents (or three…)

    I have two little stories of my own that impact my thinking on this.

    When I first started reading the D&D Basic set and making my first character, Sir Greyhawk (seriously, that’s what I named him), I was really caught up in the idea of being a knight, like Gawain (at the time my favorite member of the Round Table). My first experience quickly went off the rails though as I realized that “1st level characters are not knights.” Ugh. I didn’t have to be Lancelot, but I didn’t want to be a squire either. I wanted to be a Knight. I never played that character…

    Another example. When I was trying to explain my Amber game to one of the people I used to game with, they refused to wrap their head around whole concept. They kept getting stuck on that whole, everything is Shadow except for a few things that are truly Real. You’re one of them…” They just assumed that meant they were an all-powerful god and couldn’t understand the rest of the setting and ideas involved.

    It wasn’t until much later that I realized — 1st level characters CAN be Knights. But the game doesn’t really help them out much in that.

    And Amber, a game that lets the PCs start off AWESOME (seriously, you need caps for how awesome Amber lets you be) still has a lot of checks and balances on their power and actions to keep the game fun. But starting characters fresh on the page come complete with the power to MAKE WHOLE UNIVERSES. Holy. Crap. Right?

    But the point is, for me, it’s not about the “power level” so much. It’s about feeling like my character isn’t the bottom of the heap. It’s about feeling like, the moment I start the game, I’m a complete person with skills and abilities stemming from life lived so far, not just a small sampling of “class-specific +1′s.”

    Can D&D support that style of play? Certainly. Is there anything wrong with not doing it that way? I don’t think so. But I do tend to agree with Kevin on the point that sometimes (not always) but sometimes, those early levels don’t feel like “paying your dues.” They feel like Hazing. And I can see that being a detriment for some potential players. Not everyone, certainly. But some.

  12. Kevin :
    Ok, try this: 1st level out of the box/by the book should be just as awesome/cool as 5th level.

    I agree with this except for the part about the rules determining this. It’s the GM’s and players’ jobs to make the game cool/awesome. Back in high school, we played Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and had a great time, doing awesome/cool stuff, and the fact that our characters were barely above ‘suck’ (weapon skill 23? as in a 23% chance to hit?!) did not impede us. We had a good GM and played the hell out of our characters.

    Generically speaking, the rules should be written in such a fashion as to facilitate such a gaming style and GMs should run to support/facilitate that goal.
    Knowing I’m likely to find myself firmly in the middle of another edition war, I’ll state that the focus should be on creating, and running, a game where the standard of play for new entrants is skewed to awesome at every level. Especially if you’re D&D.
    That’s one thing 4E did right – and I’m not one who is known to praise much in 4E.

    See, this is why I am wondering how you define ‘awesome’ and ‘cool,’ and why it is necessarily a function of how the rules are written rather than what people do with them.

    But honestly it is not so important to me that you come to see things my way; only I’m not clear on what if anything we’re disagreeing about.

  13. This sparked off a question in my head about entitlement. I know a lot of players who really don’t like the idea that they aren’t ‘awesome’ all, or most, of the time. I get the impression that this is a core part of 4th Edition D&D. I can get behind the idea that gaming shouldn’t be a second job, but isn’t there a distinct place for delayed gratification and putting in work, even a little bit, to earn awesome? To my experience, working within the low limits is a creative exercise and getting to develop the character is good, rather than just being able to slush ‘awesome’ around at every step. I’m I off in how I’m reading the discussion?

    1. Generally speaking, I’d define “awesome” and “cool” as this: every level should put the characters on a pedestal above the norm. The height of that pedestal should be variable of course and that shouldn’t be used as a means to circumvent challenges.

      But the fact remains that, even at 1st level, the characters being portrayed shouldn’t ever by default be considered to be simply “just above suckage” merely because it’s Old School D&D.

      Does that mean “just above suckage” can’t be played and enjoyed? Of course not. But to assume a defacto novice=suck because system=Old School D&D is really wrong in my view.

  14. I think I’m beginning to understand Kevin’s main point. It’s about shared assumptions, and in certain editions that shared assumption is that level 1 = not quite just barely above a certain threshold of suckage.

    I think what he’s trying to get across, and what Mikemonaco is suggesting is that we should be careful not to immediately assume that a first level character is no different than your average soldier and should have some reasonable expectation of being able to do thing that no ordinary man can. I guess in a general sense you would call that Heroics.

    The difference in opinion is that Kevin thinks this should be ingrained in the system whereas Mikemonaco and perhaps others things it falls upon the GM’s shoulders to modify or present things in such a way that the your 1st level Novice players does not get burned by a certain preconception. That as level 1 grunts they have to crawl their way through the muck to reach a level where they are respectable. What Morrisonmp, I think astutely, described as hazing.

    Essentially, be careful you don’t let preconceived notions dictate how you run all 1st level games now and forever is the main takeaway.

    Let me know if I misinterpreted anything. This is a very interesting discussion and Sg just brought the player’s subconscious mindset into the mix.

    1. Yep, that’s a spot on analysis of my point of view. Level 1 shouldn’t automatically mean “virtually indistinguishable from commoner.” Instead it should by default mean “potentially heroic and awesome.”

      Currently (at least from my experience) the hobby mentality is the former and I think that’s wrong.

      Instead characters should generally be viewed as blank slates of heroic potential by default. If the GM wants to downplay that potential, then that should be the optional stance, not the other way around.

      1. I should add that the simple reason for the standard stance being “potentially heroic” vs. “common until you pay your dues” is based on what I’ve experienced as the default expectation from new players; namely that they come wanting to play the hero, not the commoner.

    2. Yes, I think you have accurately restated my point. I think I’m arguing with Kevin because I just don’t have the experience of level 1 being ‘virtually indistinguishable from a commoner’.
      Lords of light! Class abilities are awesome! A level one MU can cast spells! A level one cleric can cast and turn the undead! A level one thief can hide in plain sight if there is a bit of shadow!
      To me, being a “potential hero” means being “not yet a hero”. YMMV.

      In the context of the comments by others, who mention “I expected to be able to play a knight of the round table” etc., I now see the ‘preconception’ angle. There are several routes you can go. You can change the game to meet those expectations (start at level 5, or make level one the new level 5 or whatever); you can educate the players about the game as one exploration and treasure-hunting (and starting out at level one makes more sense– i.e. admit D&D is not Pendragon –); you can persuade them that the rise from squire to knight is interesting; etc.

      The talk of “hazing” is interesting. Never encountered that kind of player, but I can imagine it, and it helps explain to me why some people were so excited about ‘balance’ and ‘tyrant DMs’ etc. It is always enlightening to be reminded how different other people’s experiences may be.

      Another example — Kevin’s concern about which stance is “default” versus “optional” is just, like, he’s speaking another language. What in an RPG is NOT optional?

      I guess I see “one shot” games as more conducive to the “I wanna be the hero” expectation, as then there is no need for improvement/development/etc. and you get right to the part you like, i.e. the cinema simulation. I forget some people think that’s what RPGs are about.

      1. “Another example — Kevin’s concern about which stance is “default” versus “optional” is just, like, he’s speaking another language.”

        Oh man! That’s got to be on of the most perfect summations of me I’ve heard yet. Consider it stolen.

        As for “what’s not optional?” exactly nothing… except those preconceptions the players bring regardless of the rules.

        I suppose it’s probably fair to say I’d prefer to see the rules more closely align with the average new player’s expectations. In my opinion that’s one way to grow the hobby.

  15. Kevin :
    I suppose it’s probably fair to say I’d prefer to see the rules more closely align with the average new player’s expectations. In my opinion that’s one way to grow the hobby.

    Hmm! I wonder if TSR, WotC, etc. ever attempted to determine the ‘average new player’s expectations’ by means of polls, surveys, etc. I mean, how do you (meaning anyone) know what that is really?

    1. All I have is the anecdotal evidence of personal experience. My luck would be that WotC did just that with 4E… and I’m so very much on the record of disliking it.

    2. I don’t know about polls but I remember reading the build up to 4th edition on ENWorld very closely and a lot of the issues they were attempting to address in their core game design were the same ones that were tossed back forth on the Wizards forums. Things like the one encounter per day adventuring party which WotC tried to solve with milestones or that PC’s should not be a Christmas Tree of magical items. Then of course there was the inherent imbalances between classes most notably between spellcasters and non, which led to cookie-cutter classes with marginal differences (there’s actually an interesting article over at the Alexandrian refuting the mindest of balance-first located here: http://www.thealexandrian.net/creations/misc/fetishizing-balance.html).

      I remember nodding along as I understood what they were referencing and more often than not in approval when they were first talking about their design paradigms both in the snippets they released online and in the preview books they released. At the time it seemed like they had a very good grasp of what the player’s thought was wrong with the game. The problem of course was that a lot of these were conceptual problems raised by a vocal minority and while these things could happen in play (which is a glaring flaw) they did not happen frequently or universally as it was often claimed. The solutions proposed sounded nice on paper but after playing in a number of games they seemed to have either missed the mark or made a mountain out of a molehill and obliterated it all the same.

      I guess the point of this tangent is that this player mindset became very pervasive in the online community surrounding wizards and that crept into their game design. The important take away is recognizing how preconceptions from both the players and the designers will drastically influence what we play and how we play it and it’s something we should keep in mind when running games for new players or if we take the leap and build games of our own.

      Oh I just remembered. There was a major survey conducted by WotC just prior to the release of 3rd edition. Sean K. Reynolds has a copy of the results hosted. It’s not specifically geared towards player expectations but the information is useful nonetheless.
      http://www.seankreynolds.com/rpgfiles/gaming/BreakdownOfRPGPlayers.html
      http://www.seankreynolds.com/rpgfiles/gaming/WotCMarketResearchSummary.html

      Sorry for filling your comments section with these wall’s of text Morrisonmp!

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