Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Just Employ Others

Not surprisingly, of late I have become increasingly focused on the trade system and the wiki (and that other thing).  I find it hard to write about anything else.  So I don't think I'll try.

Yesterday, Issara Booncharoen proposed a solution for a condition found in my sage abilities system - namely, that being not enough points to know what the players might like to know.  In his words,

"... The difference between number of points the character has and the threshold for whatever the next level is is the number of minutes/hours/days required reading/working things through from first principles/achieving things through trial and error before the player can start using the skill normally. Say a player has 8 points in a field and wants the answer to a question relating to it, they know enough to know where to look and can find the answer to the question with two hours research, if they can get access to the book. Or they know what sort of people would know the answer, and it takes two hours (assuming an appropriate environment) to hunt down someone who might know that information and interact with them to the point where they're happy to answer your simple question."

In my words, if you're 1 knowledge point shy from amateur status, it will take less time looking up the information in a book than if you're 9 points shy.  From that, it should be possible to search for knowledge even if one has zero knowledge points - something which admittedly I find problematic.

Suppose that we take a specific example for which this system would work.

With regards to the study of Bushes & Shrubs, there is an amateur proficiency for 'Arboriculture': identify name of genus and species of shrubs upon sight. Includes value of same. Min. 10 pts. Unlimited use of this ability.

I can see right away how a bit of study can help there.  Pluck the plant (or draw a reasonably decent picture of it), take it to the local druid that's used to these things (is an amateur) and get them to say, "ah, that's a primrose."  Libraries are rare, but digging through the right books for a day or so could get the same answer.  Works great!

Now let's take an example where it doesn't work.

Bushes & Shrubs also has an amateur proficiency for 'Pruning': allows for the intensive improvement of one fruit tree per season per pt, doubling its total yield. Cultured, unpruned shrub patches typically produce 3-12 lbs. of fruit. Each shrub patch requires half a day of effort.

This is a hands-on activity, one that requires a steady hand, a good eye and plenty of personal experience looking at thousands of tree branches and knowing instinctively what is good to cut and what isn't.  Moreover, it requires an adept hand that makes a clean cut with the knife, causing the least possible damage to the tree.  How do characters learn this through a few hours of study?

Answer is, they don't.  The proficiency assumes the character has cheerfully spent their free time performing the activity, even in the midst of running through adventures, personally examining nearby trees, stopping to chat occasionally when passing near an orchard with some pickers, sharing ideas with a fellow at the tavern before turning in, making use of their years of original expertise gained as a child (indicated by the player having chosen that class or field) and so on.  The character can't get that information out of a book; the character has to live that proficiency.

When I look over the other proficiencies associated with bushes & shrubs, I see the same pattern. Horticulture, Grafting and Silviculture are pruning on a grand scale; bonsai trees and topiary are artistic pruning.  Viticulture is a mix between artistry, horticulture and gut instinct.  The only actual proficiency a library would be good for is the identification proficiency.

This is the pattern with other studies as well.  While some things could be looked up, most things are hands on experience working in the field, from properly employing a sextant to experimenting to invent a previously non-existent humanoid that can breed offspring.  The only shortcut to these things would be to actually have the amateur, authority, expert or sage present, doing these things for the player.

And perhaps that is best.  Perhaps the player, rather than trying to shortcut their own knowledge, should accept that the solution is to bring along someone of needed ability until such time as that ability has been gained by a player.  This in turn would help compliment the manner in which the player gained that ability.

Yesterday, I said I could get behind Issara's proposal.  I'm not so sure now, having given it some thought.  I think we all want to circumvent limitations.  Sometimes, however, it may not be the most fruitful means of expanding the game's play.


Issara Booncharoen said...

I'd like to clear a few things up, as much as I would like to be able to claim that the seemingly elegant idea was mine, it was actually Oddbit's (by my reading of their suggestion anyway) I just removed the d6 roll to clear the idea up for demonstration.

Secondly, I'd like to stress that I personally have the same doubts about the idea as you do, what if you happen to be in an an area where access to certain fields of knowledge is easier or more difficult? Why should dabbling in theology be the only factor that determines how long it takes to find a local priest and get him to explain in simple terms what this religious symbol means? The simple truth is, the system you have now is just easier to accept in a narrative sense.

All that said, I feel their is a solution to your specific problem. Imagine the time spent by a not quite amateur trying to find an answer to a question as time spent failng to get the answer until they finally succeed. The system is essentially charging players for knowledge, it's saying that you can have this knowledge (circumvent this limitation) for a cost. The idea is to weigh the ability to circumvent the limitation with the percieved cost. For a question this cost is in time. But obviously this doesn't work for everything.

So, we need to make it costly to try to attempt to do something you have been practicing but cannot do reliably yet. Why not impose that cost in average numbers of failed attempts before a successful attempt.So a player needs to do some pruning but only has 8 points in pruning. For each bush they manage to prune successfully they also ruin two patches, wasting one and a half days in the process. (This can be simulated in a die roll- the player suceeds at pruning on a 1 or 2 on a d6 or just be a flat failures per success, depending on preference). This /is/ the practice that slowly edges the PC up to amatuer level, getting it wrong untill you can get it right reliably. If the player has only one rosebush and they have to prune it correctly first time? They're out of luck. But if they have time and bushes and they somehow need only one pruned rose bush? Well it's an expensive option that I don't see being used unless it's important.

This is not me trying to convince you t ochange your system, I want to remphasise, I think your system is a good one without any changes. This is me running away with a little sub system someone else suggested and seeing how far it can be pushed and to what effect.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I hope you did not take any of the post as a negative indictment, Issara.

Issara Booncharoen said...

Not at all. I'm enjoying seeing where this idea grows. I just feel the need to stress that I'm not trying to get it implemented. So far it looks to me like a kernal of an alternative view point on your (percieved) problem that might grow to help inform any solution. In fact the way you wrote the post allowed me to see what the idea was in essence, which is valuable for my own running, even though I never plan to implement the idea. Which is the first tangable value this particular idea has actually given me.

Again, full credit to Oddbit who actually came up with the idea!

Alexis Smolensk said...

As regards to Oddbit, who will certainly be reading this:

I didn't see your idea and his at all as the same. I read his as a permanent addition of 1d6 points to the total knowledge points possessed by the character, due to reading materials. Even if the points aren't permanent, they can be replaced any time the character is in a reasonably high placed civilization. That's really not what I perceive as viable at all.

I should point out that I was never looking for a 'solution.' I'm quite happy with the 9 knowledge point non-amateur getting short shrift of any and all abilities, period. I wrote yesterday's post to discuss how some people, me included, will have trouble with that, but that the trouble should be dumped because, well, game, dogs and cars. JB misunderstood me, then made is perfectly clear that he and I both accept that an absolute cut-off line works for this as it works for every other game feature.

I've let the conversation lapse into 'solutions' anyway because, well, we must talk about something. And on some level, it has encouraged me to embrace more clearly the flat cut-off. Because while these other proposals might 'work,' they also seem like a tremendous pain in the skull. One the game doesn't actually need.

Issara Booncharoen said...

I think I understand now. I still have a takeaway from this, along the terms of players wanting to take shortcuts and how that can be used to add to the real emotions I ideally want players to feel. But I'm going to have to think about it and perhaps wait for an opportunity to test it before I can work out if it's a worthwhile thing to say or not.

Which reminds me, I really should get back to the chariot thread, even though I've only heard the Yale module about the greeks and have failed to do the actual reading about chariots.

Oddbit said...

Oh mine was a temporary thought.

1d6 only for the next task after a preset time period (week or so).

The effect is for one action.

And the book could never be used again by that character.

Encourages large libraries as books would be shared between characters and consumed for each action.

Discourages abuse of using same book again or again.

High quality books might have many uses, like atlases or magical books.

Oddbit said...

That said, that's only if you want to make the edges fuzzier. Having a solid line is fine and dandy.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Who knows? Perhaps the idea will percolate, Oddbit, and I'll use it.

Jhandar said...

After contemplating this issue a potential alternative solution has occurred to me that I would like to forward. Rather than deal with the dissatisfaction of using a 0-100 scale to express knowledge which then translates to tiers of knowledge why not dole out the knowledge itself. What I mean by this assign the knowledge a point value such as Amateur rank knowledge is worth 1 point, Authority ranks are worth 2 points, etc. as you see fit. Thus instead of a dice roll to determine increase in potential knowledge and having to intellectually come to grips with a 9 knowing nothing and 10 knowing much more it could be dispensed incrementally. This also addresses the issue of various facets of knowledge often times being fairly discreet from each other. I will use the Fungi chart that is up on the Work blog as an example for simplicity. Each of the three Amateur abilities could be obtained independently from the others, and while certainly Know Species would be a boon to the others, it is not technically a dependency to Mushroom Hunting, it just makes the practice of mushroom hunting exponentially safer.
Then let us assume you will be dispensing 1 ‘skill point’ per level with characters starting with 2. Gustav the Druid takes up Fungi as a specialty and puts his first two points into ‘Know Species’ and ‘Mushroom Hunt’. Then at 2nd level he gains another point, which he could use to purchase ‘Cultivate’ but he has his eye on ‘Curative’ from the Authority tier, so he saves that point and at level 3 purchases ‘Curative’ with the two points he has.
The exact mechanics of how you wish to dole out these points is variable, but the idea has at least the veneer of modeling more organic learning than bulk tiers of knowledge while also providing players a more consistent feel of learning as they go rather than waiting to hit benchmarks through random rolls. It also circumvents you having to redo the sage tables, and would tie in nicely with your character background creator by allowing you to add the option of ‘you have skill’ based on background or profession.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Thank you, Jhandar.

You've just reinvented 3.0.

Please, let's not go THERE again.

Jhandar said...

I am going to assume that I just did a poor job conveying my thoughts through my post, as I do not see how my proposal and the skill system of D&D 3.0 are similar, so I will try again to explain my thoughts and I would appreciate any feedback.

I believe part of your concern with skills is that you do not want a basic category to provide a chance for knowing everything/anything and wanted a more discreet conceptualization of what people know. Which I am assuming is where the dislike of 3.0 comes in because once you possess the Arcana skill, for example, you can roll to see if you can recognize cantrips but also identify artifacts with the same skill with no gating between the knowledge other than a random roll. You wish to avoid perpetual rolling to try and figure out what the players do and do not know, and I am assuming dislike a portion of the randomness as they may chance into advanced knowledge while failing at basic knowledge.

On this point I agree with you unequivocally. Where the system I have proposed is different from a d20 roll plus bonuses for skill points allotted per level is first and foremost that there is no roll, ever. Rather than picking a macro skill, or as you call them ‘specialties within a field’ the players pick discreet and limited bits of information that they know.

Rather than saying I have a Math skill +5, you are able to spend points (or whatever label you would like) on discreet aspects of math, such as; Addition, Subtraction, Algebra, Geometry, etc. You then know those things, no roll, you as the DM can simply state that because of their knowledge of they know/observe/infer/accomplish . This eliminates rolls and clearly defines the limits of knowledge so that rather than trying to solve advanced trigonometry with a Math +5 roll every time it comes up (as well as bypassing the Pavlovian reward for succeeding 1:20 times), the limits of player knowledge are very clearly defined. This also prevents your stated concern of players pushing your conceptual boundary of what is amateur versus authority and the value of a 9 versus a 10 in skill.

The system I am proposing also provides the ability to tweak for balance is an easier function by assigning ‘skill points’ (your label may change) to various facets of skill, with the more complex aspects requiring more investment as well as the ability to differentiate the difficulty of tasks at different tiers of knowledge as you have already predefined them in your Sage charts. To return to the Fungi chart, I would imagine that there would be a slight difference in ‘skill point’ cost at the Sage level between ‘Cultivating Truffles’ and ‘Breed Monsters’. But then again, I am fairly conservative on some issues, which can be a detriment.

Alexis Smolensk said...

No, Jhandar, my problem with skill buying of any kind is in power maximization. Players given the option will always opt for the most powerful skills possible - by separating those skills into different 'departments,' no one character can maximize those skills together.

As well - and I know this is difficult to see - the real GENIUS of the point distribution system I've designed is that it gives random, minor amateurism in proficiencies that are not chosen, encouraging players to explore avenues of inquiry and possibility that they would never ordinarily follow because of prejudice and presupposition.

Take Heraldry, Signs and Sigils, for example, a subject which I would expect NO ONE to take as their prime proficiency . . . but which could pop up as an unexpected talent. Such things can be serendipitous, leading the player to suddenly discover for themselves how useful the knowledge could be - something they'd never discover if they had a choice. Because they'd never choose that option.

Players will only choose options that are familiar to them, which seem obviously beneficial. And this has always proved a disaster, since everyone ultimately chooses the SAME obviously beneficial options.

I would think that 3.0 and other skill-buying systems would have taught that lesson, but apparently they haven't, as you didn't immediately understand what I meant.

Oddbit said...

That is an advantage I wasn't considering.

However you have done a great job so far of making most knowledge paths very interesting to me.