Thursday, November 6, 2014

Alexis Admits He's Wrong

"The context in which you make [a] decision will continue to exert its influence after the decision is made and you're actually experiencing the thing you've chosen."

Dr. Barry Schwartz, describing 'The Leakage Principle'

Let me begin by saying that if the reader is unfamiliar with the consequences of choice, they might begin first with this post I wrote back in Feb, 2013.  You might also want to make a mark on your calendar, because today I'm going to talk about why I was wrong when I wrote that.

In fact, I was wrong twice.

First of all, because the point I argued on the post was to say that we are all making the best of what we have - and that in spite of the fact that we were all shoved into round holes in terms of upbringing, education and ability, on the whole we are good with that.  We've learned to adapt.

Oh, how ignorant I was 19 months ago. Because I no longer think we have. It is probably more true to say we fume, we struggle, we bitch and moan and seek to assign blame that the world has unfairly limited us.  We may live with it, but we don't do so contentedly and that under the surface there is a screaming demand that in those things we can control, we deserve absolute, unrestrained freedom.  Even when that is impractical or wholly selfish.

I now think this unrequited expectation influences greatly the way that many people approach role-playing games.

The other point upon which I committed an error was in calling the WOTC a group of 'friendly fuckwits' for providing choice on the principle that choice can only improve things.  And yet, at present, the friendly fuckwit in the room is me - because I am, with my sage abilities, walking right down that same road.

Here is the difficulty with choice:  the more we add, the more difficult it becomes to make a decision. Additionally, we will probably make a bad decision, as we'll try to simply the decision in order to enable ourselves to make it.  We may not make any decision at all, as that will be easiest.  On the whole, the process of making a decision is less pleasurable, and we'll be less likely to be happy no matter what decision we make.  Finally, in the end, we'll find ourselves so focused on the decision we didn't make, it will forever taint whatever we have.

All of this is explained in detail by Schwartz, in overview on the TED talk linked on the 2013 post, or in the longer lecture linked at the top of this post.

My present boondoggle, the sage abilities, are poised to make life much, much harder for the player than easier - because I am trying, with all my efforts, to make every study in the collection interesting, useful and relevant.  This will mean that when the player chooses to be a fighter and not a cleric, all those clerical abilities will be slammed closed to the player; and when the player has chosen to be an historian or an expert on heraldry, once again a wide variety of other options will be removed - at least temporarily, and at any rate no character can become an expert in everything, there isn't time.

Thus, even if the player doesn't 'buy' skills, the player is still forced to make a choice, one that will haunt and undermine all the pleasures of whatever ability the character has actually adopted.  And this will be a problem that never, ever goes away.

For those who might be interested, the reason why so many railroading campaigns remain successful comes from the relative peace that comes from not having to make a choice.  Once the bit is out of the player's mouth, then comes the expectation that the world owes a person happiness; and all that resentment against the world asserts itself in the forefront of the mind.  At once, the player's expectations grow.  They MUST now make the right choice, only there are so many choices, what the hell is that?  They don't know.  The look over the options and the pressure builds.  The other players and the campaign are waiting, but the player just doesn't know.  All the player can see now is the wrong choice, not the right one - and in the end, it doesn't matter because due to the leakage principle, given time every choice ultimately becomes the wrong one.

I can see the problem.  I can see how I'm creating the problem and how my efforts are exacerbating the problem.  And yet, I'm already in love with this idea.

So I am wrong.  And I do know it.  Despite that, I have no intention of changing my plans.

Just now, I don't know what to think about that.  


IvaliceFan said...

On the subject of being wrong...

And I just wanted to say I enjoyed your whale article.

Oddbit said...

Choice and opportunity cost is inherent to the game.

Saving time by not choosing a focus now, would only save some time later for when they choose which weapon to wield. Or which road to take, or which enemy to attack, or which spell to cast...

As you have said before, this doesn't so much lock the closed door as you can hire someone to give you a hand with knowledge if you really need it.

I think one of the major questions you should be asking, is what is the loss?

If you make the system, would your players have more or less meaningful and interesting options? And is the value to work ratio worth it for you?

By making this system, will it ever put the players in a situation where they cannot proceed, or cannot proceed without great effort where before they could?

Have you considered a system of 'try before you buy'? Essentially the players don't specialize till the laws of probability pretty much say they would have already gotten a chance to try a few different skills?

Maybe those questions might be worth considering.

JB said...

As a person used to second-guessing himself all the time, allow me to say, "Welcome to the club!"
; )

Really, Alexis, it may turn out to be 'not that bad.' You won't know until it's implemented in your game. And even if you find that it DOESN'T work and you want to scrap the whole system, that doesn't mean the exercise was a waste or without value. Au contraire, you, you might find the charts you've created are extremely useful as a DM reference (since you've, for the most part, taken the bulk of the complicated creation, trade systems, etc...on your shoulders for your game), despite being 'less than fun' for the players to have as options.

I spent a few days researching the historic development of the helmet the other week, and in the end had nothing to show for my "work" (I decided that it just didn't make sense to implement any kind of mechanical system regarding helmets or their variation). Was it a waste of my time? I don't think so: I enjoyed the reading, and I learned something, and I can incorporate description into my narrative now that I know the difference between a "bascinet" and a "pot helm."

But try the system first before deciding you're "wrong" to even go down the road.

Issara Booncharoen said...

There is nothing in your system that requires there to be a choice at all. At the most restritctive you could simply roll out what fields of knowledge a person has access to at characrter creation as you do for so many other things. If you didn't care about balance you could even link them into the stat tables which inform quite a lot about the characters already.

Personally if I had your world and I wanted to limit out of character choice I would link the sage system to the global trade system leveling up earns you dice to roll as normal, but each dice can only be used if you find a relevant teacher (or in very large cities acces the relavant collection of books)The choice still exists but it constrains and limits choice in an organic non-arbitary way.

Of course this is all solving a problem that you don't have. So long as every choice has a use I believe it is the onus of the player to make their choices meaningful. The problem I see with point as I see it come from a combination of worlds where the players literally can't make their choices meaningful or envrionments where DMs are encouraged to always make the players choice meaningful for them.

Barrow said...

I am curious. I could not find this on the blog either, though I bet it is plainly stated somewhere. What do you do when a PC tries to draw on knowledge from a field of study they do not know. Say a Cleric who studies theology encounters a spider. Identify Bug Specie is a Druid field of study. Lets suppose the spider is indigenous to an area the cleric is familiar with, and the spider is not an exotic specie. Can the Cleric know the name of the spider or if it is poisonous and how would you adjudicate this?

Alexis Smolensk said...

DM: "You see a spider crawling along the corridor towards you; it is about four inches in diameter."

Player: "Do I recognize the spider?"

DM: "Yes, it's indiginous to the area; but you haven't actually seen one since you were a young man."

Player: "What do I know about it?"

DM: "Almost nothing."

Player: "But if it's from around here . . ."

DM: "Yes, but you've never made a study of it and the deacon that gave you your education never mentioned it. The most you know is the locals call it a 'Torfa.'"

Player: "Do I at least know if it's poisonous?"

DM: "Well, some people around here say they are, some say the venom just makes you sick. You don't have any idea, really. You could test it, if you like."

Player: "No, I don't think so."

Player #2: "Wait, I'm a druid. I have 10 points in bugs and spiders. What do I know about it?"

DM: "Ah, that's different. Well, first of all, you can see it's not a true 'Torfa.' That's actually a spider with a range that doesn't reach this far north. This is a Curfa, related to the Torfa, but in fact different in the size of the mandibles - smaller. And no, it's not poisonous, except to very small children and young halflings. It's a big spider, though, with lots of venom; so if it bites you, you'll feel sick for a day, but with rest you'll heal that back."

Alexis Smolensk said...

That should read that it's not DEADLY poisonous . . . but that should be implied.

Eric said...

The skill system you have here avoids some of the perils of the WotC versions of D&D. In 3E D&D, if you pick a character's skills and feats at first level, then choose what seems logical and appropriate for that character at each level, you'll be weaker than the guy who built his 1st-level character around qualifying for #FEAT at 4th level to get #PRESTIGECLASS at 7th, or somesuch. That was the era of "character builds" - being good at this was tagged as "system mastery." About the only similar choice limitation imposed by your system is "if you want to be a world expert in a field at name level, better start putting points in whenever possible!" So you've got a much more transparent system, that's also not going to affect character power nearly as much as feats+skills do in WotC editions.