Water finds a crack


  • Admin

    I quite enjoyed this read. Perhaps you will find it interesting, and if so, discuss how it affects roleplaying on MU*.

    Water finds a crack.



  • Given the opportunity, players will optimize the fun out of a game.

    Oh hey, that's where this quote came from! The Game Maker's Toolkit YouTube channel uses it a lot.

    I think this is absolutely true, and one of the reasons I find myself drawn lately to games running on newer, less number-y code, like Ares. There's just not that much to optimize! There's no real advantage to min-maxing your character into absurdity, and XP is usually given to active players on a time schedule rather than as a reward for doing any specific tasks. The default code even throws you free points to put into Background skills that will rarely, if ever, get rolled. They're just flavor, there to round out a character and show a glimpse of their backstory.

    I don't have the same kind of time to roleplay that I used to, and it's freeing to play a game where there's no optimization rabbit hole to fall down. There are no daily tasks to hit, nothing to grind, and I can just log in and play when I want to play. I don't worry that I'm missing out on code rewards for stuff I don't actually want to do.


  • Pitcrew

    I'm not hugely susceptible to the need to exploit, but this definitely matches my observations over time. Especially if players can 'grind' for XP or other resources, they have a tendency to do it obsessively, no matter how UNFUN the actions required are.

    At least part of it seems to be a need to 'keep up with the Joneses', and one of the things I think Ares does (in addition to the things @Clarion has mentioned) is institute caps on the 'main' skills and character attributes. You can still expand Background Skills, to continue that sense of progression, but I'm really starting to become a fan of slow XP progression, and upper level caps on any resource that can be gained, both in a single time period, and overall.

    So, like, if you have a mechanism where someone can Do Something to earn XP, or Arx-like resources, or Luck Points, you can only gain so many in a single time period, and once you hit that limit, there is NO NEED to grind any further, and you can be assured that no one else is somehow getting 'more' by doing more. Likewise, you will eventually hit a ceiling where you just can't hold anymore of that resource, or spend anymore of that resource, and so you no longer have to worry about it.



  • @Clarion said in Water finds a crack:

    I don't have the same kind of time to roleplay that I used to, and it's freeing to play a game where there's no optimization rabbit hole to fall down. There are no daily tasks to hit, nothing to grind, and I can just log in and play when I want to play. I don't worry that I'm missing out on code rewards for stuff I don't actually want to do.

    This is why I like Ares.


    @Pyrephox said in Water finds a crack:

    So, like, if you have a mechanism where someone can Do Something to earn XP, or Arx-like resources, or Luck Points, you can only gain so many in a single time period, and once you hit that limit, there is NO NEED to grind any further, and you can be assured that no one else is somehow getting 'more' by doing more.

    This is why I like Arx.

    My opinion: I like something to do that is productive but does not require engagement with others, and Arx provides that in spades. When I do engage, I like having a tangible reward too, so long as it is available to all, up to a limit.



  • At the risk of being nitpicky, y'all are referring to FS3, not Ares. FS3 is a skill system with the free background skills, slow XP burn, etc. Ares can use any skill system - I've built Cortex, FFG and Fate for Ares, and there's somebody making Pathfinder and WoD games. Ares != FS3.

    But yes, the FS3 XP and luck systems were consciously designed to eliminate some common grinds and make FS3 games more palatable for casual players.

    However, this point from the article is one of the reasons why some folks hate FS3:

    a single, dominant strategy actually takes away choice from a game because all other options are provably sub-optimal

    If you want to optimize your character in FS3, you start off with the "important" skills maxxed and don't bother with anything else you can raise later more cheaply. It comes up so often I made a whole article about it.

    Personally I don't really care if you want to start out with expert in piloting and gunnery, as long as you have minimal points spread around the other skills your character should have according to the theme. (for instance, my BSG games required all military personnel to have minimal dots in things like first aid and athletics because that's part of basic training).

    But some players do mind. Some players hate that they feel like they have to bend the system to be competitive. Some players feel cheated if they try to make a more balanced character while someone else min-maxxed. Or "messed up" their point/xp spends in a sub-optimal way.

    So even numbers-light, co-op PVE games are still subject to the issues described in the article.



  • @faraday said in Water finds a crack:

    At the risk of being nitpicky, y'all are referring to FS3, not Ares.

    Whoops, sorry Faraday! Every Ares game I've explored has used FS3, so I guess I conflate the two.

    To take a step back, I think a code base like Ares that can slot in different number-crunching systems (like FS3 or the others) still promotes less optimization-oriented gameplay. The essential tools you're starting with are the scene system, expandable character profiles, a wiki documentation system, etc. The core emphasis of the code is on communication/posing rather than stats, and the communication is baked in.

    If you enable the Ares text messaging system, for example, no one has to dump skill points or XP into Texting Mastery to reliably use it. Having been on a game where the telepathy system everyone used all day ran off a stat that started at zero, and overusing telepathy with a low stat would quickly knock you unconscious and leave you vulnerable for PvP... yeah, having that just baked into the platform is a nice difference. There's no FOMO around someone having a better experience with the fundamental mechanics of gameplay just because you didn't optimize your character to have the best telepathy skills or the most convenient messengers.

    I didn't mean to make this an Ares thread, and I know less-numbery games aren't what everyone is after. I do like that approach to game design, though - focusing on a few particular mechanics (communication and documentation, in this case) and either leaving out other systems or making them optional. It bypasses a lot of optimization traps, although it can come at the loss of systems a lot of players love, like in-depth economies. And water will of course still find the cracks anyway.


  • Pitcrew

    @faraday said in Water finds a crack:

    Personally I don't really care if you want to start out with expert in piloting and gunnery, as long as you have minimal points spread around the other skills your character should have according to the theme. (for instance, my BSG games required all military personnel to have minimal dots in things like first aid and athletics because that's part of basic training).
    But some players do mind. Some players hate that they feel like they have to bend the system to be competitive. Some players feel gipped if they try to make a more balanced character while someone else min-maxxed. Or "messed up" their point/xp spends in a sub-optimal way.
    So even numbers-light, co-op PVE games are still subject to the issues described in the article.

    I've said before in other threads, and it keeps being true so I'll keep saying it: "good" is only "good" relative to something else. If my sheet says "good" but I'm in a six-player scene with three "great" and two "peerless," "good" sucks.

    Even if the great unwashed masses of nameless, faceless NPCs in my position have it ranked as only "average," that doesn't carry a lot of weight to play experience unless they're present in scenes to be compared to.

    I do think the point made above is generally on point. Here are two of my "favorite" "optimize the fun away" traps:

    *Flat CG costs, multiplicative XP purchases!

    Hm, I want to play a learned socialite who's a peerless swordfighter, but I don't have the build points. I'll make a bookish conversationalist who's a competent swordfighter and build up from there.

    You know, if you make an illiterate with the social appeal of peat moss who's a peerless swordfighter, you can knock off a third of the XP cost and get where you want to be so much faster.

    ...you are objectively correct and I hate it.

    *Background/fluff skills drawing from the same pool as relevant character stats!
    Shadowrun was doing this at least thirty years ago, guys. Fun background skills being suboptimal compared to making my PC with no hobbies outside of Learning the Way of the Sword/Gun isn't cool. (There's also the emergent issue where scenes always lead to a fight, so the people who put their points in social or clever stuff always wind up being stuck trying to survive while the combat wombats get to shine.)



  • @insomniac7809 said in Water finds a crack:

    If my sheet says "good" but I'm in a six-player scene with three "great" and two "peerless," "good" sucks.

    I disagree, honestly. If you're still hitting the bad guys 90% of the time, and you're able to contribute meaningfully to the story, then you're still in fact "good" by any objective measure. It may not be fun for you personally - some people want to play a complete badass and that's okay. I've done that too on some games depending on what type of character I was making. I have also played the clueless newbie who objectively does suck compared to everyone else, and the support character who is good at medic-ing but no use in combat. It all comes down to your personal priorities and likes. No system is right for everyone.


  • Pitcrew

    @insomniac7809 This has been one of my major irrational peeves in WoD. I have this THING where I HATE when people do it and I WANT to make rules preventing it. Like 'You basic sheet must be a functional person before spending XP.'

    But I also realize that that would probably maybe be a little over reaching? I dunno, but its def one of those that gets my hackles up.


  • Pitcrew

    I think there is often expectation inflation if people spent a lot of time on high XP/lots of maxed out skills on a sheet games. People won't do ANYTHING that they don't know that they will almost always succeed at, they aren't satisfied without mega dice and anything else than the huge ass rolls they got used to on high XP WoD games makes them feel like they "aren't good at anything so why even bother".

    Sometimes it takes awhile for people to realize that yes, they still get to take down the baddie along with everyone else even if they're not the top of the pack skill wise (and maybe it's kind of nice to not have people one shot everything), they can still do most of what they want (unless it's beat every other pc in the scene even if it's not PVP). Sometimes it also means when they do they're more willing to take other risks as well (thinking outside of the box/trying something creative rather than throwing up their hands and oocly saying that they can't contribute at all because none of the scene revolves around their two highest skills).

    I do think there are def. people who always like to be on either side of the spectrum. And there's always some very naturally competitive people who can't help wanting to be "better than" everyone else in a scene.

    I do think there's very often a great hunger for "specialness" on any game. I can only think of a few people I know out of years of gaming who don't crave that at least to SOME degree. I also think that's often the most lacking thing on most MUSHes, so people will go to the numbers because at least that can provide some of the feelings and it's within more of the player's control than waiting for someone to really notice them and incorporate them into story beyond what that player does themselves. So I don't think you can really blame people for seeking that avenue either, really.


  • Admin

    There's another factor here - an imbalanced demographic.

    If the power range of characters in a game is wide enough then optimization can feel - or even become - mandatory.

    For example The Reach had crazy XP inflation near its tail end. There were many people around whose dice pools were rather massive and who had mix-maxed their characters very carefully. If you were a ST running a plot including them then you had a dilemma; do you challenge them (but one-shot anyone who's not their near equal) or do you let them blast their way through?

    In an unofficial arms race you keep up or you fall behind.


  • Pitcrew

    @Arkandel yes, but I'm speaking of the aftereffect on other mushes that those folks play on later, where there isn't an arms race.

    The fear/obsession that not being The Best means you are Worthless in any kind of rolled scene is something that dies really hard, in my observation.



  • @mietze said in Water finds a crack:

    The fear/obsession that not being The Best means you are Worthless in any kind of rolled scene is something that dies really hard, in my observation.

    Yes. On numerous BSG games, numerous times, I've seen dogfights where someone walks away from the scene saying things like: "This was a waste of time / I was useless / etc." just because their character didn't get a "kill". Even if they did damage. Even if they helped to take down one of the enemy planes. Even if they had banter with the other pilots. It's like if no glory was had, if they didn't get to be a big darn hero, then the scene was worthless.

    I've never understood that, myself. But if that's the reason someone plays, then being "good" isn't enough. They have to also be better than everyone else.


  • Pitcrew

    @faraday said in Water finds a crack:

    I've never understood that, myself. But if that's the reason someone plays, then being "good" isn't enough. They have to also be better than everyone else.

    We're talking about Mages here right?

    /jk ... >_>



  • @faraday

    I didn't understand it either.

    Erin was never the best shooter or fighter. She wasn't the most stealthy or the most clever. It was her spread of abilities that made her useful, and gave her the occasional moment to shine.

    Well, that and getting repeatedly injured in the groin.


  • Pitcrew

    @Wretched XP-based creation or flat XP costs both help with that; that is one of my favorite little changes in ChroD.

    Put simply, if you don't want people to minmax at chargen, don't make a system that punishes people for not minmaxing at chargen.



  • Flat XP costs lead to the dino effect. That's fine in a TTRPG with a small group, but can lead to big issues on an open MU with characters rolling in all the time.

    XP or tiered-cost chargen is complicated, and for many entails even more min-maxing and optimization dilemmas. It also charges people a disproportionate amount for wanting to start out good.

    Every system has its pros and cons. There is no universal "one true system" that's best for everyone.

    Flat-Chargen/Exponential XP (like FS3 with the default config... which is btw configurable) is really no different than running a D20 game where you can choose whether you start at level 1 or 10. There's nothing inherently bad about starting out at a lower level. You get the rookie and mentor stories, you get to advance faster while the higher level chars become stagnant and hit the level cap. You'd never want to use a system like this on a PVP game, but on a PVE one? It's perfectly workable.


  • Admin

    @faraday said in Water finds a crack:

    Every system has its pros and cons. There is no universal "one true system" that's best for everyone.

    Absolutely, otherwise we would all be using that one perfect system.

    It comes down to preference. For example I like systems which reward "doing the right things" through modest XP caps on a weekly basis but then feature a catch-up mechanism for others.

    So for example if "the right thing" for my game is to participate in PrPs then the game can reward up to <X> experience a week for doing that to players in the 10% highest experience bracket. However it will reward up to 2*<X> to those not in that bracket. This way they still need to play the game, but they can absolutely catch up to the dinos.

    Is that the 'perfect' approach? Hell no, it's just what fits the kinds of games I like to play.



  • Optimization definitely felt mandatory when I was on CoH. Playing in the Sabbat, having 5 in Fort, Celerity, Potence, maxed Virtues and Willpower, etc. wasn't even seen as exceptional, it was seen as the starter package, to be as prepared as possible against getting PKed by overzealous members of other factions. Add to that the XP-bottomless-pit of playing anyone who does blood magic, and often it felt like a vampire wasn't "optimized" for the CoH environment, prepared against all the possible ways another PC could try to ratfuck you for Good Guy Points, at less than like 2000 XP.

    Which, yes, I'm aware, is completely insane.


  • Pitcrew

    Unfortunately, tabletop systems really are not meant for a long-term, persistent environment with a lot of PCs who may come into conflict with each other. WoD/CoD particularly aren't meant for it, considering just how terrible both White Wolf and Onyx Path are with balancing powers vs. costs even WITHIN splats, much less between splats.

    The tabletop philosophy of 'keep getting XP indefinitely or until campaign ends' doesn't, IMO, work for MU*s for a number of reasons.


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