Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Class Archetypes and the Sub-Games

Very quickly- I have mentioned last week that D&D is divided into a number of sub-games. And thinking further I would wager that the most famous and effective classes are those that dominate one of these sub-games.

Obviously the Fighting-ManPerson or some variation of it dominates the combat sub-game. Magic-User (or variation thereof dominates the Magic sub-game. The Thief and variations dominate the dungeon exploration sub-game. The ranger would be the logical next for the wilderness exploration sub-game with a possibility of the Druid.

Though there are sub-games for air or sea travel and combat these seem to be rare edge cases that would be filled by very specialized Ranger or Fighter offshoots that few would play unless the campaign centered on it. The Cleric is binary here- depending on edition and build the Cleric is a master or all or none with a default to magical healing. Which highlights the problems of the class in my opinion. But also stands him up as a counterpoint to the Magic-User and the Fighter.

It seems that this would lead t the idea that what classes you have in your game are dependent on if you want an adventuring archetype to dominate a particular sub-game, or do you want that shared? Classes that share archetypes would be interesting. Again a Ranger with a more limited combat ability compared to the Fighter seems like it would be the poster boy for this approach. Also there is the idea of building out the base archetypes to share in the sub-games the other classes dominate.

It seems the Thief was an interesting design accident that could be used as an example for the future game development. What seems to have happened in a subconscious collective sort of way was that players understood that there was a sub-game of dungeon exploration that The Cleric, Fighter, and Magic-User while dominating their own parts of the game were not masters of. Ergo the Thief develops. It seems it would come back to essential spotlight time. Is it shared or not?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Discrete Worlds II or The Tipping 'Scales' of the Game

Ladies and Gentlemen: The Tessellated Point Crawl...
When you look at the primordial history of the game Dungeons & Dragons you see that there is a clear trend to build on it with games that already exist. The obvious example here is "Outdoor Survival" as the rules for overland travel. But when you look at it there were many more - "Braunstein" and "Chainmail," "Don't Give Up the Ship," just to name a few. This makes sense when you think about it - if you need a system to model something, it is more expedient to find one that models that something than spend time crunching the numbers and building a system from whole cloth. And so what you get as time and printing runs distill the systems is really a game of games.

When you study the Hebrew/Christian scriptures in Comparative Religions 101 you quickly discover what the western world calls "The Bible" is really not a book, but rather a library of separate books just printed in one volume. It contains poetry, history, law, letters of instruction, letters of prophecy, history of law, etc. It is a book of books. And I use this to belabor the point above - When you ask someone to read "The Bible" you are really asking them to read many different books. And when you ask someone to play D&D, you are asking them to really play many different games.

While using multiple games tears down barriers in design it may build up barriers to entry. As the modern game stands in the "OSR" or in the "managed properties" you often have a "game" for creating characters, a separate "game" for exploring dungeons, a "game" for wilderness travel -which may include other "games," and a "game" for combat. What I am doing here is taking the "_______ system" of any role playing game and identifying it as a separate "game." Because really it is. The d20 grappling process is a prime example. And each "game" is complicated by the fact that some things in one "game" have to seamlessly work with the other "games" if they affect things in the other "games."

Where do we go from here? Let's talk about scale next. Each "game" operates on some sense of space/time scale which defines its granularity. In modern "managed properties" the space/time scale for combat is 5ft/6s. The OSR seems to hang around the 10ft/10sec paradigm. Combat is easy to keep discrete. Travel on the other hand, to name an example, quickly stops being discrete in some sort of geometric progression related to how far you travel. That's because you might not take the same route back and more "Cartesian" space needs definition the further you go afield.

Multiple games indicate the possibility of multiple scales which introduces complexity as the abilities of the characters have to be able to operate at all scales. A lot of this complexity is part of the assumption of RPGs and because it exists as the way things have always been done, it does not get noticed as a stumbling block to play and entry into the game.

Some might not see this as a problem. Which is fine - the Game - big 'G' - gets along in this way pretty well, and I don't want to discount that. And the first reaction I have is to try to see if there is a way to set up a resolution framework that is "retargetable." That is a framework that can be applied to anything to provide for procedural or dramatic resolution. And what this would do is reduce the number of games you need to learn to one which can be applied to different tasks and time scales and moving around point crawls. At first it sounds like a good idea.

The genesis for this comes from two places- first there was a post from 2010 on a stack exchange board that made the suggestion of 3 round combats using intent for each side and resolving those intents. Each round the sides that were successful in their intents scored points and the ultimate resolution was in favor of the side that scored the most over the three rounds. Then there was part 3, 4 and 5 of Justin Alexander's The Art of Rulings found here, here, and here. and this bit by The Angry DM.

All combined it gave me the idea of a "number of rounds" framework that would allow you to resolve any action with scale and time being applied as needed, but only requiring the players to use one set of steps to resolve their intents. This would be another step, along with the point crawl on making the world more discrete.

The issue with something like this is that it can threaten to make the game bland. You keep moving through the same seven steps, no matter what. Essentially you are taking a suggestion about the procedure for combat and mapping it to the rest of the game. This leads to issues. And its really not what Justin Alexander was talking about in the first place- no matter what madness I am inspired to when I read his posts. He is talking about presentation and response when a game has a particular arbitrator "resolution conventions which GMs habitually fall into."

The real solution is actually hiding in the set design and point crawls mentioned earlier.