Monday, October 27, 2014

One Point Makes the Difference

Since yesterday, I've been breaking apart the spell and cantrip lists on the wiki for the cleric and illusionist, creating more than 130 new pages.  I hadn't really considered what a monumental task it is to rewrite all the spell lists - but in breaking them up, I'm getting a sense for that.

Yet, it is also encouraging to know that I've done at least this much.  And it is encouraging me to apply myself once again to the sage tables, something I've left off for three months now.  I can sense the motivation, like a train whistle that announces itself far in the distance.

I'm in an organizational frame of mind.  For weeks I've been transforming and working on the distance tables for the trade system.  While I'll continue with that, I'm also thinking about the wiki and whether or not to keep the work blog (I don't think that idea worked), while gearing up to work on the new book.  I wrote a few thousand words last week on that project, just enough to get my feet wet; I hope to have some sort of working first draft by Christmas.  Sorry that I'm not ready to talk about it yet - I don't want to cripple the muse that is kindly possessing me.

There's no question that the completion of How to Run shattered me a bit, forcing me to draw back and regroup.  I'm pleased that it did as well as it did - I still think there are many more people who would gain from reading it.  I believe the readers who liked it are helping me send that message; there are signs of that in the book's sales.

I wanted to talk about those sage tables, however, that are proving to be every inch the gargantuan task that the spells represent.

A quick overview - different classes are provided with a set of knowledge paths which players can choose, which provide both mundane and exquisite abilities that can be applied to every day running. I don't mean for this knowledge to be applied to making the characters more powerful in combat, so even for the fighters it does not include weapon use or additional bonuses.  The knowledge is more like 'support' for managing the environment, handling equipment, organizing the world and making use of things.

Knowledge is divided into four basic orders, amateur, authority, master and sage, based upon the number of points accumulated over levels.  Each level allows a die to be rolled which increases points, depending on the path chosen by the character.  Never mind the details right now.

Amateur starts at 10 points; authority at 20, master at 40 and sage at 80.  The point system is, not surprisingly, troublesome - not only in itself, but also in its presentation.  For reasons I can't put my finger on, I find myself chafing against declaring a skill to be something only a master can perform. I know it has to be that way.   It's like the thing with dogs and cars.

Yet I can see it from the player's perspective.  Let us say, for instance, that the player chooses to know something about geology.  10 points would indicate that the player is an amateur geologist. Yet the player only has 9 points.  Surely, those 9 points mean something, yes?

I have to argue that they don't, not because they shouldn't but because it would be impractical to allow hair-splitting on these lines.  I understand the arguments.  A person doesn't *poof* become an amateur geologist.  It takes time.  There's a recognition of common features and items before one becomes able to recognize a wider range.  'Obviously,' if the character gets one more point and suddenly becomes an instant amateur, while having no knowledge previously, then there's something wrong.

The solution, as anyone would propose, would be to have a percentage roll that decides whether or not the character knows something.  There we go, problem solved.

Except . . . well, I tried that and it doesn't work.

Players would ask to roll the percentage at every opportunity, which was fair but which also presented their knowledge as entirely hit and miss grab bag.  At no time did the player ever really believe that they had any ability or knowledge - they simply saw the possibility of knowing something like a magic 'genie' they could ask questions and hopefully get a right answer.  The skill didn't play out like a character building device - largely because randomness is a really shitty game delivery system.

I realized that sage abilities would have to function like other player abilities - the fighter does not roll to see if knowledge of the sword's use is present!  A geologist does not randomly guess at the meaning behind a given rock formation.  Knowledge simply IS.

If this means in game terms that the player instantly goes from knowing nothing to being an amateur, then it does.  Many features of the game work exactly that way.  We're just used to those features and we don't think about them much.  Unless, of course, we're still flummoxed that this is a game.

It means that having 9 points in the understanding of geology is equivalent to having zero understanding.  That's just the way it has to work.  Dogs and cars.

At the same time, it also means the character with 10 points can be sure of their amateur status.  We have a fairly good concept of what amateur status in a field means.  We understand the main stream, but we don't create knowledge and we tend to miss hidden details or the odd and absurd.  We understand the basic tools, such as a touchstone, but we're foggy on why precisely the tool works. We have knowledge of use but not theory.

Within that framework, we can assess the character's skill without needing to roll dice.  We can apply our own experience to the question - is this something an amateur geologist would know?  If yes, then we can assume the character ought to know as well.

This gives the character a clear sense of their ability and their power - and in turn allows the character to make predictions about what value their assessments will have.  Is this the sort of rock formation that contains caves?  Yes it is.  If we keep searching, we're certain to find a cave.  This is not a guess.

The benefit of that is, I think, worth the inconvenience of one point making the difference.

There is an alternative - but it's unthinkable.  Assign a specific knowledge set to every point gained. Shake the knowledge set so that different amateurs get slightly different mixtures of knowable things, gauged throughout the process, until ultimately every sage knows everything.

GAH.  I'll be at it until doomsday.


  1. Rather than assign specific knowledge for every point gained, could you not assign specific knowledge for every one of your four tiers (amateur, authority, etc.). Then, once a character accumulates enough points to increase in tier, they gain access to the additional knowledge of that tier?

    Until they reach a new tier, they're assumed to be puttering around in their current tier (exploring all the ins and outs of the rock formations they know, for example). Once they've accumulated enough points to "ascend," they have an epiphany or accumulated insight into the greater mysteries associated with the new knowledge level.

  2. I disagree.

    Assume the amateur sage (regardless of field or specialty) has 10 known "facts" (or knowledge items that the player can use to act upon their environment). At 0 points, the character is not a sage. At 1 point, the character is an amateur sage and receives a randomly chosen fact from the list of 10. Assign an additional random fact for each sage point. If you get a duplicate fact, re-assign.

    The trick, I think, would be writing the program. I'm not skilled with any program languages so I can't say where the difficult parts would lie. But if I figure out a solution, I'll be sure to let you know.

  3. JB,

    Did you bother to read any of the linked material? I've been posting it for months.

    Druids Sage Abilities & Alchemy"

  4. So, Ozymandias, you're saying the entirety of amateur geology consists of 19 facts? That is, presuming we're only speaking of amateurs. Are you saying that an authority is possessed of 20 facts?

    Which facts, precisely. If I query about something having to do with geology that is not on your fact list, do I know that thing or not?

  5. @ Alexis:

    I didn't bother reading the links again (I've read them before), though I perused them (briefly). I've now gone back and read them in full.

    I suppose I don't understand your quandary. I thought you were saying you have an issue with these individual points that are needed to ascend to a higher degree of knowledge don't carry any inherent value in and of themselves COUPLED WITH a character not being able to perform "master level" alchemy (for example) when she has only obtained "amateur" level. If this is correct, I don't see something to get preoccupied over; after all, we don't worry about the value of 1 XP either (that is, there are no break-points "between levels" with increased effectiveness, only achieving a new level itself means anything).

    Ignore the first paragraph of my comment (which is redundant given your sage rules as written...this was in response to the % chance thing; why *should* a person have a partial % chance of knowing anything? They have the knowledge or not...determined by the tier they've reached). The second paragraph was just to say, "here, this is not a problem." You don't know what you don't know.

  6. As the character accumulates points to gain the next level of sage mastery, the additional points increase the chance of knowing an answer for that level of mastery.

    For example, a character with 5 points in geology has a certain percent chance of knowing an amateur-level answer. As that character gains more points in geology, his odds of knowing an amateur-level answer increases until he becomes a true "amateur" and reliably knows everything of that level.

    My gut instinct is to use a percent completed for determining odds of knowing an answer. For example, a character with 1 point in geology will have a 10% chance of knowing an amateur-level answer or performing an amateur-level task successfully.

    I'd probably add a penalty for going beyond ranks. For example, say the chance drops by 50% for each tier of mastery beyond the one the character is currently working on attaining. Our character with 1 point in geology may have a 10% chance of doing something amateur-level; but only a 2.5% chance of doing something authority-level (1 point in geology is 5% to 20 points, reduced by 50%) because he's pushing through the amateur tier and into the next, "authority" tier. He'd have a 1.25% chance of knowing an expert-level answer, and an 0.625% of knowing a sage-level answer.

    This does bring us perilously close to a percent-based system, but it still retains the guaranteed knowledge aspect of your current system.

  7. Damn. That is one difficult point to answer, Homer.

    Here's the problem. There isn't just one knowledge field. There are more than 70 that I've already conceived. That means several players in any given instance with the least amount of experience possible rolling that 10% die over and over. And it means a player pointing out that 11 points is 10% of the way towards "authority" knowledge, and a player pointing out that 21 points is 5% of "expert" knowledge and so on and so forth, so that I'm right back to players continuously rolling dice. And there's that magic genie all over again.

    It just . . . doesn't . . . work.

  8. I suppose imposing a limit to the number of rolls per day/week/session is out of the question...

    I was going to try explaining myself in more detail, but I have had a sudden flash of understanding: you're not looking for a means to "smooth out" the acquisition of abilities. You're looking for the means to fairly adjudicate when a player poses a question. If I have knowledge of flowers and sprigs, and your list does not include their culinary applications... That may be a poor example, but I think I see what the quandry is...

  9. It's an excellent example. But by establishing what level culinary applications has, it can simply be added with the new plan and no other changes need to be made.

  10. If you want a benefit from half a tier, what about book study adding 1d6 points after a week of reading for the next desired task or thing to understand?

  11. Alexis, in your latest comment, you say "establishing what level culinary applications has".

    What I think your meaning is, is "once I determine what level of knowledge is needed for the novel idea of culinary applications of, say, fungus, then culinary applications can be added to all similar sage fields at that level of knowledge."

    Am I right?

  12. Oddbit,

    Like everything else, I'd like to leave it hinged to levels. Can't practice with a sword and just get better.



    Let me put it another way, if clarity is the request.

    Any detail or element of the knowledge in question can be assessed, parsed according to its relative status of expertise, then assigned to a place within the given heirarchy. The amateur learns to cook ordinary meals with flowers & sprigs, the authority is a chef with these, the expert elevates the taste to morale-changing proportions and the sage makes the 'food of the gods.'

  13. I think Oddbit is on to something. He doesn't seem to be suggesting training, he's suggesting a system whereby if you have 5 points in a field you don't know the answer to the question now, you know it after a week of study.

    So making the system simpler for demonstrative purposes. 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.

    It's not perfect, and I think just having 8 points functionally equal 0 points for the purposes of knowing stuff saves a whole load of effort, but it's a thought.

  14. "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. "

    I think I could get behind that mechanic.

  15. I thought that the number of knowledge areas was limited by class, and each character could only have points in a small subset of the class knowledge areas. So player might only have points in two or three fields, and substantial points in only his field of focus.

    Seems that part of the problem with a probabilistic lore system is that there's no limit to the number of rolls, and that rolls are free.

    What about allowing a player to roll for answers regarding a given issue only until they fail a roll? That will set an upper limit on the number of questions a player may ask.

    Or make rolling outside expertise consume HP, because it represents considerable stress or some such. That might add a tangible cost to asking questions beyond the character's established expertise, so that asking questions is no longer free.

    I don't see any issue with an all-or-nothing knowledge system per se -- the entire D&D progression system is based on it. I'm not sure that the benefit of a more-granular knowledge system is worth the increasing complexity.

  16. Homer,

    Some classes will have access to more 'fields' and 'studies' than others, but these are not the same across the board and I have to individually design them all no matter how many the player may have. The system I've proposed elsewhere explains that players will develop at different levels in different studies - but have some knowledge in everything of their field.

    Consider a cleric, for instance, who would certainly have a wide range of knowledge connected with their religion. A sweep of knowledge has always been part of religious training. It wouldn't make sense for a cleric to only know a few things about a few select subjects (how would they control the forces they have in spell use details?).

    Secondly, I'm not interested in limiting the number of questions players have. I'm interested in empowering them with a certainty that they will know certain things - and that the game 'questions' will automatically shift into logical answers for logical knowledge. The players shouldn't be asking me if they know things - they should be arguing with me, saying that since they're an amateur in such and such a field, they should at the very least know this thing I haven't yet told them.

    Do I only know things until I'm wrong about something? That doesn't make sense.

    Finally, with regards to value. Let me continue on a new comment.

  17. Just before shutting down all my sage abilities for my players in my world, I did some testing - and the results were AMAZING. People, it turns out, like knowing things. They also LIKE having a clear idea of what they know. This was harder to convey in the online campaign, but off-line it began working furiously right from the first instant.

    Note the structure I've tried to impose. The pages on the work blog are only a framework that can be added as the players 'experiment' with their new skill. Note the various 'adventures' it suggests - where the players are able to decide how to use their individual skills to build up their own fantasies and structures, rather than having to accept knowledge in the eyedropper the DM provides.

    I know this is strange to say, but I love it when players ARGUE with me that they know things or can do things. I have always encouraged arguments about rules in my game, because I want the players to feel they can adjust rules to fit their needs as well as mine. Having players be able to argue their logical knowledge fundamentals - they can read wikipedia as well as I can - gives them control over their characters.

    I retain control over the world because I like knowledge also - so long as the players and I agree on what knowledge is, we can agree on how they can best used that knowledge to support themselves.

    Homer, you're suggesting a series of game mechanics as a sort of knowledge 'skill.' I'm suggesting a massive shift in functional design for the entire game.

    I hope you will come to see this.

  18. (I guess my long comment of a few days ago got eaten by the log-in process; here is my quick attempt to recreate it.)

    Alexis, when you mention that there are instances where someone's suggestions would work, but instances where the suggestions would not work, it seems to me that the dividing line is Knowledge vs Application; Science vs Technology, if you will.

    And therefore it seems to me that you're trying to solve Science and Technology with the same system, and you'll not find that you can use the same system to represent two fundamentally different practices.

    The Sage is consulted when Theory is required: "how much seed do I need to fill my furrows?" This knowledge can be pulled from a book.

    The Practitioner is required to apply the Theory in Practice: "Here is X bushels of seeds; plant them for me." This information might be within a book, but without practice (experience, leveling, what-have-you), your efforts will pale in comparison against the man who has years of experience in actual planting.

    It's the difference between transcribing a scroll with directions for the manufacture of a magic sword, and the actual forging, incantation and polishing of the magic sword.

    Sages are all Theory. Practitioners are all Practice.

    Your difficulty seems to me to be attempting to treat Practice as something Sages do. You need two systems.

  19. I'm lost, mujadaddy. I don't have any idea what your agenda is. It clearly isn't mine.

    I strongly disagree with your premise. I will define a sage as the dictionary does: "Sage. n. Someone venerated for the possession of wisdom, judgment and experience."

    You're quibbling again.

    There's nothing that says that the sage's knowledge has to be of this type or that.

    My desire is not to have the character to ask questions, but to feel strongly, "I am a farmer; I know how to plant."

    The way the rules are written on the links clearly indicate that is the substance of the ABILITIES.

    I should think that calling them Sage Abilities should make that patently clear. Or would you like to quibble over the use of the word 'abilities?'

  20. I also like this idea

    "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. "

    But simply agreeing with you does not do much to add to the conversation.

    As for 9 points being equivalent to 0 and at 10 you can suddenly "know" things, I do not find that ridiculous in the least.

    I am currently in my 4th year of 6 in mechanical engineering, and there is a definite threshold where you can have knowledge of stuff but not yet "know" it, and "knowing" it honestly does seem to happen miraculously over night. Its just that up until you can consistently apply your knowledge it is useless even though you know it, and you could use that idea to explain the hard line between not knowing and knowing.

    Hope that made as much sense in text as it did in my brain.


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