Monday, January 26, 2009

Another Kick At The Cat

This conversation has bled out into other blogs, specifically here and here…and so I guess I’m not done yet.

I just don’t understand you people at all. I know you’re all playing some sort of game that’s vaguely similar to what I’m playing, and that’s great and all, but when it comes to your minds and my mind, there is no meeting there.

This IS a simulation. Chess is a simulation. You may not choose to make your particular world a particularly accurate simulation; you may enjoy the various ways in which you goof with reality or reason; you may revel in the dismissiveness you feel towards logical sense…but if you use the word “sword” and the word “swing” within the context of “combat,” then you ARE simulating a real-world activity by the use of symbology.

Now let’s get this straight. The value of simulating an activity is the emotional gain involved. I want to feel adrenaline. I want to feel the adrenaline associated with the animal sensation of bloodlust. I create a game which simulates this bloodlust, so that I can feel the emotional rush without having to get messy. No, I don’t want to do it in reality. It isn’t wish fulfillment. But if you take away the faux reality of my simulation, what I feel is BOREDOM. What I feel is, “Why would I give a fuck?”

Now, maybe what it takes to make some of you people feel emotional from what you’re doing is very bland. It seems very bland to me, since words like “simplify” and “make easy” seem to be de rigueur. But for me, I find the real world very complicated, and I find that simulating the real world had better BE very complicated or, willy nilly, I’m going to ditch the simulation and just get the fuck on with living in the real world.

You may or may not understand this: I enjoy D&D not because it provides an escape from the world, but because it provides, in a small box, a unique, distilled, experiential interaction with that world. I want it to be as real as it can get without getting icky. This encourages emotional commitment on the part of my players, as it gives them the sense that there is something to lose.

What I’m reading suggests that win or lose, just don’t make me work.

I don’t know what any of you do for a living. Obviously, you’re not designers (bridges require too much math) or in business, or in any of the sciences. For me, personally, a writer, I find this math pathetically Simple Simon.

Now, let me bring up some salient points about the gnoll/mastodon example that has been worked over on this and other blogs. It has been suggested that the party receive 100 X.P. per hit die. To be specific, this would be 1200 for the mastodon, 700 for its rider (2 hit die +5 levels), 1000 for the cleric (whom no one seems to remember), and 5000 for the various other gnolls. Total, 7,900.

Add to this the 8,000 g.p. worth in treasure it was suggested that I add to this, and the party is making a considerable haul.

Let me just point out that I did mention that this was a hunting party, seeking out the characters, and therefore not likely to take along any treasure beyond a few pieces of jewelry. They certainly wouldn’t be hauling along 300 g.p. each (which in you people’s world weighs 30 fucking pounds—that seems pretty stupid).

Secondly, let me just add that when I said the party “slogged” their way through the other gnolls for 20 rounds, you may have misunderstood. Most of this involved dragging their asses through the snow, closing the distance between gnolls they just killed and gnolls still fighting across the field. It was a scattered fight and that definitely extended the combat. The gnolls did their best tactically, but let’s be serious—against magic and superior firepower they never had a chance. Since I mentioned these gnolls caused about 80 damage, it would help to remember that the ranger alone has 80 hit points. The party as a whole has something like 400. Which means that, in comparison, they cut through the gnolls like tissue paper. Only when I rolled four freaking 20s in a row did the gnolls EVER threaten any of the party. It was a cakewalk.

I am NOT going to hand over almost 16,000 X.P. for a cakewalk. You people seem to think that its hard for ten 5-8th level characters to slaughter 26 gnolls and a mastodon. You really have to be kidding me. The running before the party had just got through bashing fifty gnolls, ten of whom were 4th level and above (remembering that I play a 4th-level gnoll as having 6 HD), a battle made more complicated by the fact that they were trying to seize the 9th level cleric in THAT battle without actually killing him. Now that was hard.

I only threw this little party of gnolls/mastodon to pester the party as it fled the area, having failed to keep one of the gnolls from the first encounter from warning the local village of 200 gnolls, who are now scouring the woods looking for them. I just wanted to knock the party down a few hit points, keep them running scared, remind them that they’re mortal and that if the larger revenge party finds them they’re pretty much hooped.

All right. Hopefully that clears up a few things.

The one point that no one brought up—and which I think is the serious flaw in my proposed X.P. scheme, is that it incorporates a FINITE number of experience which the party can gain in any one encounter. The most X.P. any person can gain equals their total hit points minus 1. That means it wouldn’t matter if they slaughtered 10 very lucky gnolls or Asmodeus—they can’t do better than the hit points they have.

If you all want to bitch, bitch about that. Complain that it doesn’t reward the party for being immensely effective as killing machines—if they ever are immensely effective. THIS I admit is a flaw in my concept. I’ve been turning it over in my head looking for a solution, which I’m sure is there, while I in the meantime test the proposal as it stands. Experimentation. Something for which one creates a simulation.

One more point. The proposal also makes it clear that the party does not have to actually kill the monster to get experience. So if I give the mastodon 450 points, and the party fights it and decides it’s a losing proposition, and decide to run, I’m not limited by the D&D rule that the monster has to be dead in order to reward experience. The party was damaged—the party is compensated for that.

I find that very interesting.

Maybe X.P. shouldn’t be looked as a “reward.” That seems to swell the heads of DMs, who simply fail to grasp that the work was done and the risks taken without necessarily getting the DMs approval. Reward seems to invoke a paternal, patronizing instinct on the part of the DM—I think maybe the DM should concentrate on compensating the party, and recognizing that the experience isn’t about making the DMs life easier, or simpler. That X.P. isn’t about patting the characters on the head.

It’s about holding back when the party really hasn’t done anything special, and forking over the goods when the party has fucking earned it.

Let the WORK DONE reflect how much they get. Stop throwing darts at a board.


Jeff Rients said...

Now, you see this is exactly the sort of bad attitude that helps make your blog so entertaining. I really like how you can write a line like:

I don’t know what any of you do for a living. Obviously, you’re not designers (bridges require too much math) or in business, or in any of the sciences. For me, personally, a writer, I find this math pathetically Simple Simon.

But then you manage to accuse the folks on the other end of the conversation of being patronizing. I wish I had the balls to pull that off!

Part of the misunderstanding here no doubt boils down to denominational differences. You're playing a version of D&D where a ranger somewhere between 5th and 8th level has 80 hit points. The absolute maximum an eighth level PC in my campaign could achieve is 88 points, assuming an 18 Constitution and max rolls on all the dice. The average HP would be under 50 for fighty types. A mastodon and a couple dozen gnolls might look like more of a threat in my game compared to yours.

One more point. The proposal also makes it clear that the party does not have to actually kill the monster to get experience.

I find that interesting, too. Again, I don't agree but I acknowledge that you have a particular goal in mind and this clearly serves your goal.

Alexis said...

Stats for a 7th level ranger with an 18 constitution, which this one has:

8 HD; +4 hp per die for 18 constitution = max. 64+32 =96. The average is affected by the ranger beginning with maximum hit points, which I've always played by and is a hardly unheard of house rule: 24 initial h.p., +6 rolled dice at 4.5 average each, +32 hp = 77. So, not unusual.

For the ranger to have 50 h.p., and assuming no beginning with max h.p., the ranger would have to roll an average of 2.25 per die…in which case I doubt the ranger would have survived so long. That would have been some very bad rolling.

An 8th level ranger would have a max of 108, and an average of 81.5.

I'm not being patronizing. I'm being facetious. Therefore, no conflict.

Jeff Rients said...

The average is affected by the ranger beginning with maximum hit points, which I've always played by and is a hardly unheard of house rule

Not unheard of, merely depraved. How long have you been a member of the communist party, anyway?

But yeah, denominational differences. My game has no rangers to speak of, an 18 Con is worth only +3, fighters get d8's for hit dice, and I do make the poor bastards roll at first level. Meanwhile, I'd suspect that our gnolls have much the same stats.

Chgowiz said...

It's like old Metallica vs. new Metallica - we could go round and round all day and never agree except that we like *our* Metallica. I think it's great you feel passionate about your game, so do I.

I find this all fascinating, more than anything else. I have no problem that you want to run a combat simulation game. I thought you raised a good point about the calculation of XP, but I don't agree with counting damage. I like the 100xp/HD but I'm not sold on it. So I'll figure out what works for my game and move on.

I think that in the end, XP and character advancement opportunities will point to the type of game you're playing or running. I think if someone's really unhappy about the way they advance, they'll let me know. I don't see any one particular system "holding back" versus another.

Carl said...

Levelling can be construed to be a lot of things (reputation, experience, improved physical conditioning) but mechanically it is an increase in the power of your character. You increase your ability to hit others, your ability to last in combat and in later editions of the game your ability to do things other than simply swing your sword such as move then attack then move again in the same round.

The design of the game (pre-3.0)favors two activities for XP awards: combat and treasure accumulation. Post 3.0, this is reduced to combat-only, with more nods given to "story awards" and other subjective DM experience awards. Regardless, some combination of combat and treasure are still need to advance your character. However, only one of these things makes sense from the perspective of leveling as an accumulation of character power. That thing is combat. Granting XP for treasure makes no sense until you abstract it to include all the activities necessary (aside from combat) to acquire that treasure, and even then it doesn't explain why you nearly got killed to gain 100xp from 100gp and why you mostly sat on your ass to gain 10,000xp from 10,000gp. Effort expended to acquire the loot is not factored into the loot XP award. Alexis alludes to the effort factor in other posts.

In my view, you're kind of cheating your simulation if you roll up all the planning and skill execution into the gold piece value of the loot you took. And even then you're cheating the players by handing them XP for the amount they took with no adjustment for how hard they worked (or didn't work) to get that loot pile. Effort or difficulty should be a multiplier on the XP award for both combat and treasure, much like the difficulty rating of a routine in gymnastics affects your final score. However, gymnastics is a subjectively-judged sport, so maybe it's not a good example.

The best measure of character power accumulation is experience from combat. You defeated monster X. Monster X is worth Y experience points because it is has been objectively rated to be worth that amount. Hold your boos for a moment -- suspension of disbelief has to start somewhere.

That said, I think the XP system and the character progression system that it derives from is kind of silly. First of all, you don't have a moment of clarity in life when all your skills and abilities go up. Your skills and abilities accumulate over time. I trained for months in Kung Fu and the day I passed my test and officially advanced to the next level was not the day I learned to throw a punch so hard I could knock down 250lb man. In fact, I could do that for several weeks before actually attaining the new level. Just as on the day I was granted a bachelor's degree I was not suddenly able to pontificate on the Second Punic Wars, recite Avagadro's number and lecture on the cultural impact of Benny Goodman. Those things all happened in the four years preceeding the award of the diploma.

The problem with XP in D&D as I see it, is that it does not represent the incremental increase of a person's skills and abilities over time. There's a long period of accumulation and then one day you suddenly gain a bunch of new skills, abilities, spells and hit points. This is not simulation. This is abstraction. Madness? This is Sparta!!!

I've played D&D for a long time. That's not saying much in this crowd, I know. One of the things that's great about D&D is the character advancement. Kick down the door, kill the orcs, take their loot and gain a level. Kill, loot, level. Repeat as necessary. This is the highly-addicitive formula that made D&D what it is, along with World of Warcraft (which purified and refined the formula) and a host of other games with a levelling mechanic. That said, levelling mechanics are dumb in that they are not even a remotely accurate representation of skill and ability accumulation. They are so far from how it actually happens that it makes me wonder why we try so hard to tweak this particular mechanic to make it more representative of the real world.

I don't think you can create a wholly objective XP reward system. Any XP reward system you create is going to favor the DM's prejudices. In my game, it's treasure and clever ideas over combat. In LotFP's game it's acquisition of treasure over everything else. In Alexis' game it's about the effort put forward to win a fight and/or get the loot. They're all subjective. Even if you say, "100xp per hit die, plus 1 per hit point," it's still subjective because it favors combat AND because you declared it.

I think the only objective way you could award experience is by having your players state their character goals and attaching XP award amounts to those goals which will be granted on completion. Those goals might be something simple like, "Acquire enough money for a turnip of my very own," or more complex like, "Create an international organization of all-female assassins with guild chapters in every city with more than 50,000 residents." Or whatever floats your boat. Even this isn't really objective, it's just that the players know ahead of time what they have to do to advance their characters and that takes out the subjectivity of the actual awards.

You could create individual and party goals, which when achieved would grant either a single character or the group the amount of XP you the DM determined appropriate for the goal. You could even bypass the nickle-and-dime approach to XP distribution as it is now and say, "This goal is worth 50% of your next level." Or, "This goal is worth two levels of advancement."

Until then, you're rewarding the Kill, Loot, Level formula since the first two lead to the third in almost every game of D&D I've ever played.

Alexis said...

That is certainly a last word on the subject. Well done, Carl.

Carl said...

I think I need to go back to the less-is-more school of responding to posts.

Anonymous said...

"Secondly, let me just add that when I said the party “slogged” their way through the other gnolls for 20 rounds, you may have misunderstood. [...] It was a cakewalk."

"I have absolutely no trouble giving an entire party 7,000 X.P. after an encounter (as I did with the one described yesterday), primarily because I know I’m not making life easy for them. They had to fight hard to win that combat."

"In other words, it took no time at all to dispatch the massive mastodon with its rider for a gain of 2,700 X.P., mostly because it was a big target and easily attacked by multiple players, while the backbreaking work of killing ordinary gnolls provided 1/3 of the reward."

Emphasis mine. Was it a cakewalk or hard fought backbreaking work?

Alexis said...

Context is everything.

7,000 experience is what I give for a cakewalk.

They always fight hard--from their point of view, not from mine.

"Backbreaking" in this case, in comparing fighting the gnolls as compared to fighting the mastodon.

But all right. Kill me for being too poetical in the first post. That was classically inaccurate of me.