213: Roleplaying: Evolved

wildwind1290

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psamathos said:
I do think that the distinction between competitive games and RPGs is apt, although it seems that you're forgetting about adventure games. Stats like level and strength are there to summarize your player's progress and development. I would say this is what RPGs are all about: character development, which needs to be quantified in some way. You can do this with methods besides raw numbers, but often this is the most easily understandable way to track and express your character's growth. But if you're not interested in that and would rather have narrative, play an adventure game.

I'm beginning to think you just wrote this entire article as an excuse to use the word verisimilitude.
Unless, of course, you factor in the White Wolf games (Exalted, Scion, etc.) into this. They prefer to be the RPG that focus on the adventure itself and actually gives the people who would rather play as the group's happy-go-lucky version of Brad Pitt who prefers to smooth-talk his way through trouble like Remus Keido.
 

Enos Shenk

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DataShade said:
they present (if you're familiar with the Bartle Test) A-type personality gratification,
Exactly one of the two points I was muttering grumpily at my screen as I read the article. Just look at the phenomenon of people shouting "DING!" on an MMO when they level up. Its an achievment and a reward, and its also a mechanism to keep the player engaged and sitting there playing the game. Because theres always another level, and another, and another.

Secondly, levels and skillpoints etc serve a very useful purpose from a programming standpoint. How do you write an algorithm to determine success or failure in ANY task the player interacts with in the game without some kind of stat points? Obviously in a shooter or action game, player skill quantifies it, but action games arent the whole enchilada. Computers crunch hard numbers, not gray areas, and youre never going to make game logic work without some bedrock of a statistic or a behind-the-scenes roll of the dice.

Thirdly, if Im playing an RPG game, how do I customize my character as I progress through the game without levels and skillpoints? By a base character class? Sounds as shallow as Dungeon Siege.

Dont get me wrong, a few good points in the article. And its always good to look ahead to the future. But levels and skillpoints DO serve a good use other than just tradition, as the article flat-out states.
 

BishopRook

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It seems to me the author's point was this: the numerical systems used in tabletop roleplaying games are the way they are because there's no other way to actually play the game. The system has to have very little complexity so that we can do the math in a reasonable amount of time, and players generally need to know their scores because they're required to do some of that math themselves.

In a computer RPG, MMO or otherwise, those rules don't necessarily apply. A computer can crunch some seriously beefy formulas without breaking a sweat, so the numerical system doesn't have to be simple, it can be arbitrarily complex. And because the computer is mediating every interaction the player has with the world, the player doesn't need to do any of the math him or herself.

In this article, I never saw the suggestion that there be no numbers ANYWHERE; just that there may not be a reason to shove those numbers in the player's face. The mathematical system behind the gameplay could simply be hidden complexity, just as damage scores and hitpoints and such are hidden complexity in a fighting game or a FPS. There are myriad ways to judge and customize your character's specializations and abilities without resorting to "yeah I have 19 dexterity and 60 ranks in marksman..."

The reason we still have a constant barrage of numbers, numbers, numbers in the RPG genre is because we've been conditioned to expect them. The numbers themselves, and watching them increase, become their own reward. I think that's a sad state of affairs, myself, because the rewards should be coming from the story or the gameplay, not from the conditioned stimulus-response of a "DING!" when someone gains a level. Getting the players addicted to seeing numbers as their own reward allows the developer to ignore their responsibility to make the story and the gameplay acceptably compelling in their own right.
 

gamero1

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Sorry to inform you, but Fallout is "NOT" a RPG. It's an Action/Adventure game that has been "Tagged" with the RPG acronym. If you stop and think about it; a person playing a game can call it "Role Playing" because they are performing some Role, ergo Role Playing. True Role Playing Games are very Story Driven, Do have the essential attributes, such as; Level, Health, Agility, etc., and a "whole lot more" (to much to mention in this post). Some of you may have taken notice that the Gaming Industry has slowly begun tagging games as "RPG", to get RPGers to buy them, but for the most part they only have a few subtle elements of a real RPG. Sad as it is, even Square has begun going "away" from the real RPG into the more Action/Adventure Genre. I believe that after Final Fantasy VII, they slowly began changing their games. You can call it "Evolving" if you like, but it's the RPGers like myself who want to stay with True RPG Games. I believe that only Atlus and NIS are doing pretty good staying true to RPG's. KOEI, Konami and few others are putting out an occasional "real" RPG as well, but Square is going totally opposite. Really Sad !!!
 

Alex_P

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gamero1 said:
True Role Playing Games are very Story Driven, Do have the essential attributes, such as; Level, Health, Agility, etc., and a "whole lot more" (to much to mention in this post).
The whole point of the article is that these supposedly "essential" mechanical quirks are holding back the development of more meaningfully story-driven games.

As far as I can tell, Tidball pins the allure of "roleplaying" on the fiction and the fictional world, not on Armor Class and Hit Points and Charisma scores.

-- Alex
 

gamero1

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You are "Right", Alex...
However, the point I was making is we need to go "back" to real RPG's, not away from them.
 

pneuma08

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gamero1: What you consider to be "real RPG's" still exist, only as technology advances and more becomes possible, there is becoming more variety among (I suppose) "non-real RPG's" and RPG-derivatives. Is this a bad thing?

Fallout 3 is considered to be an RPG because, as an example, the damage inflicted by the character using any given weapon is based on the related weapon skill and related perks. This is clearly a derivative of western RPG traditions, and very closely related to many games, especially the percentile-die-roll branch that is still alive and well today. (See: some versions of Call of Cthluhu, HARP.)

Also: western RPG traditions are largely rooted in character-driven narrative rather than purely story-driven narrative. In fact, shunting the player characters into specific parts designated by the story is very much frowned upon. This is kind of a prerequisite to the strong types of narrative gamero1 mentions, as the narrative in Fallout 3 is very open-ended. You choosing not to be your father's child is prohibited, but you can choose whether you care for him and what he's doing, whether you follow him or stumble across him, whether you ultimately save the area or leave it to its own devices. If done correctly, allows the players to work through the plot points on their own terms, which is essentially the apex of western roleplaying (although player-GM interaction provides far more flexibility as the GM can change the plot points at will whereas games are stuck in their programming).
 

bhlaab

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It's people like the guy who wrote this article that are holding the genre back. You, along with the entire mainstream industry, want to take RPGs and strip every ounce of actual gameplay away from them until they're nothing more than games of dressup and looking at the pretty trees.
Why don't you all just become LARPers that way you can have even more of your precious immersion without that pesky game design getting in the way.

pneuma08 said:
as the narrative in Fallout 3 is very open-ended.
Really? Because I wanted to join the enclave, kill my father, and enslave elder lyons.
 

civver

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I didn't see any proposed alternatives to the level and stat system. It has worked well so far. What do you propose to replace it, and how would it be a definite improvement over the previous system?
 

The Rogue Wolf

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This article would have been helped immensely if it had given me any clue at all as to what Dogs in the Vineyard actually does differently, to replace those base stats like Strength and Level. What bounds do the characters have, if any? How does anyone know what they're capable of? Or are the games simply an extension of two children running around in a parking lot, yelling "I shot you!" "No, I shot you first!"? Not a single word here has told me, and nothing here has given me the slightest impetus to go looking for myself.
 

pneuma08

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bhlaab said:
pneuma08 said:
as the narrative in Fallout 3 is very open-ended.
Really? Because I wanted to join the enclave, kill my father, and enslave elder lyons.
Open-ended doesn't mean able to do anything you want. Although I agree that not being able to join the Enclave is unfortunate. Perhaps open-ended is a poor term - let's revise it to, "Fallout 3 has more degrees of freedom than most games".

Just remember that for every significant, game-altering choice there is in the game is one more thing that basically doubles the time needed to be spent on the story. Tabletop RPGs avoid this increased complexity by making the choices in realtime, which cannot be represented in something written like computer game code.

Have you ever played Growlancer 2? That game has one of the most expansive storylines I've seen. For instance, towards the end of the game, the lead villain asks you to join him, and the game prompts you with a simple yes/no box. But selecting yes means that you turn on your former comrades which alters the course of the game significantly. The game has several of these choices. As a consequence for this, whatever storyline path you follow is very short.
 

bhlaab

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pneuma08 said:
Perhaps open-ended is a poor term - let's revise it to, "Fallout 3 has more degrees of freedom than most games".
Though acres less than, say.... Fallout 1 or Fallout 2 (which were released 12 and 11 years ago respectively)
 

Alex_P

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The Rogue Wolf said:
This article would have been helped immensely if it had given me any clue at all as to what Dogs in the Vineyard actually does differently, to replace those base stats like Strength and Level.
Very true.

I've read it and played it. Let me fill you in a bit.

Dogs in the Vineyard is an independently-published roleplaying game written by Vincent Baker. It came out in 2004. It's part of an "indie" design movement that generally emphasizes focused rules that help the players address the game's subject matter.

So, to understand why it works how it works, you have to understand the overall thematic focus of the game.
Here, take a look at these excerpts [http://www.lumpley.com/dogcerpts.html].
Fundamentally, DitV is a game about community in crisis. The player characters find towns in trouble -- in trouble because pride and sin have disrupted the community and opened the door for calamity to strike. It's the Dog's job to clean things up.

The Wikipedia article summarizes the mechanics and setting a bit [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dogs_in_the_Vineyard].
The game mostly relies on player-created traits.
Every character has four main stats: Acuity, Heart, Body, Will. Which ones you use depends on the conflict.
The player-created stuff falls into three categories:
- Traits describe your character. "Good Shot", "Book-Learning", "Short Temper",
- Relationships describe your character's attachments to other people.
- Belongings describes your signature stuff. Every Dog has a coat, for example, created by the people of his or her home town to represent the trust and pride of the community.
These are all rated in dice, like d4 or 2d8. As you play, you'll raise and lower these stats and occasionally add new ones.

Players don't really make "skill checks" or anything. You're either engaged in free narrative or a game-mechanical conflict.

A conflict is about something. You define what's "at stake" and then take turns narrating stuff, using the dice from your attributes to back them up (see the Wikipedia article for an overview of the back-and-forth).
Essentially, every turn we take is about proposing a consequence. The other player then averts it or "takes the blow" depending on how he uses his dice.
If you run out of dice, you lose. If you're low on resources, you can try to call on additional attributes to shore up your hand. You can also "escalate" the conflict -- for example, if you're losing an argument, you can try to turn the tide by pulling a gun. (But it means you pulled a gun! That's not something people do lightly. Remember that you're not dealing with monsters here -- you're dealing with people you're supposed to help and save, many of them your own kin!)
You can always choose to lose the conflict. People do this in play a lot. Why? Usually because they'd rather lose the conflict than suffer the consequences of sticking it out.

"Taking the blow" can be worthwhile, too. That's how you improve your attributes and gain new ones. Unless "taking the blow" means getting, y'know, shot in the face -- that's how you lose attributes or get killed.

To summarize:
- Characters are defined in terms of aspects that their players consider important to the character and the story.
- Players engage in conflicts to achieve a goal. The mechanics are about seeing how far your character will go for that goal.
- Characters grow over time, chiefly by learning from their losses.

Generally, if the Dogs all work in concert and they don't care how much bad stuff they cause, they'll pretty much always win a conflict. In other words, a group of canny and coordinated young people with rifles or big-ass Dragoons can massacre a bunch of town people in the streets to get their way. Usually you don't want to do that. ;)

Now, I'm kinda ignoring some of the bits that make the game awesome here, in favor of keeping the description kinda short and mechanics-focused.

The Rogue Wolf said:
What bounds do the characters have, if any? How does anyone know what they're capable of?
You have the stats described above. Everybody's supposed to point out weak conflicts or poor ideas.

The players define the tone of the game in play. See the excerpt on supernatural stuff, linked above.

The Rogue Wolf said:
Or are the games simply an extension of two children running around in a parking lot, yelling "I shot you!" "No, I shot you first!"?
I think you can see from the conflict rules that it's not just, err, arbitrary.

The whole "I shot you!"/"No you didn't!" thing is kinda a red herring, anyway. While a lot of RPG players and a lot of RPG books mention this as an example of "why we need rules", Baker is quick to point out that many, many people actually play freeform games all without ever running into this problem; as such, he thinks it's trivial.

The Rogue Wolf said:
Not a single word here has told me, and nothing here has given me the slightest impetus to go looking for myself.
When I want to "sell" someone on "indie" games, I usually show them this little story about actual play -- it's not about DitV but it really summarizes what this style of RPG is all about. If you only read one link, this is the one:
[Trollbabe/Conan] AP: The Heart Ripper [http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=250634]

-- Alex
 

The Random One

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Nice article, Escapist person. Strangely, I find myself drawn to both sides.

On the one hand, I've created a simple homebrewn RPG system and I've played it with a few people, mostly over the internet, for what may have amounted to be around ten years. I liked it a lot, but it turns out that combat and level-up in the game are highly strange, which means that whenever there's a combat a lot of time is missed. I'm currently experimenting with a system that has as little numbers as possible, focusing on the storyline instead.

On the other hand... oh man, you guys do it on purpose, I'm going to bring up NetHack again. NetHack's characters are essentially a bundle of numbers, but the effects of those numbers are so complext that, from a gameplay perspective, they stand in for the story. Having a high STRENGHT does not just means that you are STRONG and do more DAMAGE RAR. It means that it's easier for you to kick open a door, to push a boulder, to carry weight, etc. It has a lot of depth, and it's only possible because there's a computer behind all this to run all the difficult calculations.

Essentially, I think that relying on numbers is not a bad thing. Quite the opposite. Relying on numbers is one of the things a computer does best. And when you make a videogame, you can rely on the computer to remember and calculate numbers that humans couldn't manage well, at least not without a lot of stopping and thinking. On the other hand, computers are quite bad at narrative theory! That's because everything on it must be programmed, and programming the effects of direct attributes such as strenght and agility is much easier than the complex results of gray morality actions. (I haven't looked at the Dogs in the Vineyard resources, but do you think a computer could be programmed to run it smoothly?) The notion expressed in this article seems to stem from the notion that games will only become TRUE ART when they are able to convey NARRATIVES OF MASSIVE COMPLEXITY, whereas I think that games can find their true artistic value not only through that, but mostly by the things that tell it apart from other media, the most important of which is gameplay.

So my point is this: leave the numbers to the computers, they're much better at it. I wholeheartedly defend less numbery tabletops, though a bit of hack-and-slash can be welcome if you have a good GM that can count quickly.
 

Alex_P

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The Random One said:
I haven't looked at the Dogs in the Vineyard resources, but do you think a computer could be programmed to run it smoothly?
I think this is the wrong question to ask.

D&D-derived RPG video games (the vast majority of all RPG video games) aren't replicating the exact same play experience as D&D, after all. They're using part of the formula and modifying some things to suit the medium.

The thing is, pretty much all of these D&D-derived video games tend to rehash the same kind of D&D-like story: a zero-to-hero fantasy bildungsroman full of combat, treasure, and black-and-white morality. That's... getting really old.

-- Alex
 

Grampy_bone

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This is the dumbest thing I have read in a good long while. It sounds like it was written by one of those Whitewolf LARPers that even all the other D&D nerds think is a dork.

Saying you need an RPG without stats and levels is like asking for an FPS that does away with the shooting or a Madden game without all that "annoying football." Take that stuff out and the game ceases to be an RPG and becomes something different. It may well be a fine game, but it won't be a RPG.

We can accept that RPG in the videogame sense doesn't exactly mean what it means in other contexts. RPG videogames are about stats and levels and numbers; some part of the game has to be hidden beneath an abstract layer. Take out the numbers in Fallout 3 and you have a lousy shooter. Ditto with Mass Effect. Take the numbers out of Neverwinter Nights or Baldur's Gate and you have an RTS with very few units. Take levels out of a final fantasy game and you have a marginally interactive adventure with pointless combat.

Basically, RPGs are a kind of meta-genre which can be applied to any other style of game (see RPG golf games which are currently out). So asking for a stat-less RPG is to just ask for a different genre of game entirely.
 

Alex_P

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Grampy_bone said:
We can accept that RPG in the videogame sense doesn't exactly mean what it means in other contexts. RPG videogames are about stats and levels and numbers; some part of the game has to be hidden beneath an abstract layer.
The RPG genre also has a near-monopoly on in-depth dialogue, though.

I don't care what you call the genre that results, but it's time to free that kind of game from the vice-like grip of Charisma and Hit Points.

-- Alex
 

DirkGently

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I completely disagree with this. RPG's are entirely about the stats. It's half the fun of them! It's what I enjoy about them. I love the stats. I love balancing a character I love designing a character. Hell, the metagaming usual beats the gaming in some cases. Depends on the game and story. Numbers are an unavoidable thing; COD4 is full of numbers, you just don't get to really change them outside of MP via perks. This is okay, because COD4 is a FPS and is about run and gunning your way to victory. COD4 is not a RPG. A RPG is based on numbers. Numbers you can influence. Heavily. It's the core of the game. In good RPGs, you get to make the character as you want, within the realm of possibility. You get to choose your focus of how you want to interact in the world, and then you get to interact with it that way. You get to pick your focuses in the world, and you get to see just how good you are at that stuff. It's a critical aspect of the RPG: "Knowing Your Character".
 

Grampy_bone

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Alex_P said:
Grampy_bone said:
We can accept that RPG in the videogame sense doesn't exactly mean what it means in other contexts. RPG videogames are about stats and levels and numbers; some part of the game has to be hidden beneath an abstract layer.
The RPG genre also has a near-monopoly on in-depth dialogue, though.

I don't care what you call the genre that results, but it's time to free that kind of game from the vice-like grip of Charisma and Hit Points.

-- Alex
You're talking about the adventure game genre, which died a horrible death and is now lurching around like a zombie.

Face it, take away the stats, numbers, levels, and combat and the result isn't much fun except to a tiny niche.
 

Royas

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After reading this article, my problem is that I don't see what the problem is. Three pages, and no clear definition of why stats and levels are such a bad thing. I may be a bit biased as an old time AD&D player (1979 until today), but I think that levels and stats work quite well. You have to define the character somehow. If it's not levels and stats, you have to use something else. For example, in the game Over The Edge, you defined your character by using descriptive traits rather than stats. No levels, and it worked, but you couldn't use a system like that for a CRPG. You need a guiding intelligence in the game master, and no computer can provide that yet.

Personally, I prefer systems that don't use levels as such, but I've never seem an RPG without stats of some kind that worked. Even most of the diceless RPG's (Amber, for example) have stats or traits of some kind. Your character has to be defined in relation to other characters and the world in some fashion or another. How are you going to do that without defining such basics as how strong or how fast he/she is? You have to have something to work with, or it's just narrating a story with friends. Not really an RPG then, that's becoming something else, in my opinion.