Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Game Mechanics: Smoke Em If You Got Em

Over this past week’s vacation from work, I broke down and picked up a first-person shooter for myself. I’m not much of a console gamer - there’s something about using console controllers that I just find awkward, and if one is using the TV to play a console game then no one else can use the TV for it’s more common purpose. So I tend to prefer computer games, especially for FPS-style games (I find the reaction time and precision afforded with a mouse and a keyboard way better than a console controller).

Anyhow, I picked up Rogue Warrior, a so-so computer game I bought mostly because I think Richard Marcinko is a hardcore throat-stomper who’s more or less made a second successful career out of being a well-marketed bona-fide badass after his first career as a Navy SEAL ended at the hands of a wrathful US government-delivered jail sentence. the FPS game would have been decent maybe ten years ago, around the era of Rainbow Six and the like, but these days is woefully outclassed. However, since I don’t play a lot of video games, the novelty of a new game, filled with ridiculous profanity and all sorts of gratuitously brutal “kill moves” kept me entertained for a handful of evenings.

And yes, I’m getting to a point...

One thing I noticed was that every level I played, there were opportunities for utilizing some of the little perks of the game. For example, the beginning of every mission, your enemies aren’t aware you’re there, and you have the option of taking out the first half dozen or so bad guys in hand-to-hand “kill moves” which are pretty entertaining. Most every mission also has at least one area where you could enjoy yourself sniping at the bad guys with a handily available sniper rifle. There’s also at least one close-quarters battle area where a shotgun or SMG can be very handy.

Now, the cool part is that you don’t HAVE to kill people quietly in the beginning of the mission, or snipe at them at another point in the game, etc. etc., but there is an option to use these features and while you don’t have to, it makes it fun to do so.

This got me thinking about role-playing game mechanics. While it is perfectly possible to play an all-human, no-spellcasters game of D&D where there is no magic and no magic items, and no one ever goes into a “dungeon”, you’d be hard pressed to give me a reason why this is a good idea. Similarly, playing a Traveller game where you never leave the low-tech planet you’re on, or a Shadowrun game where there’s no cybernetics, or an Ars Magica game where no one plays a mage. There’s nothing stopping you from ignoring the primary “draw” of a certain RPG, but it gives me pause to consider it because if you ignore what makes that game unique, I feel there’s little point in using that game in favor of another, far more generic and flavorless system.

Of course, this is different than “picking and choosing rules” or coming up with homebrew solutions. I’m talking more about ignoring whole reasons why the game was created. Using my own homebrew Tankards & Broadswords RPG as an example, I’ve designed the game from the beginning to facilitate episodic play. For someone to take the game and use it in a linear campaign wouldn’t be “doing it wrong”, but on the other hand, why pick my RPG out of all the hundreds out there and then not use that which helps set it apart a little from its peers?

So my question to the reader is, when would you or when have you taken a game system and then completely ignored or thrown out that which most strongly defines that system, and why would you or did you do this?


Darkwing said...

Not really answering your question, but addressing the "fun" aspect of the FPS you mention above...

I think it applies to writing adventures. While you could have a dungeon where your high level party could just blast their way through every obstacle to get the prize, it seems to me that it can be more fun to have multiple widely varied obstacles. The tough monster to satisfy the combat oriented, the traps/locks/sneaking that makes the rogues shine, and a puzzle that the intellectuals can sink their teeth into.

I'm not talking about a dungeon where there's Monster 1 that can only be killed by an uber-fighter, Monster 2 that can be only killed by magic, and Monster 3 that must be killed by sneaking up behind it and knocking it on the head. Rather I mean challenges that are varied for the player, rather than the character.

Virenerus said...

we did this around 4 times. Often a D&D campaign without magic and once a StarWars RPG campaign without StarWars. The reason was the sam every time.

The "normal" player knows 1 to 3 RPG systems. If you want to play a campaign that would favour another system it's just easier to bare the flaws of a known system (wrongly used) than to learn a new one.

Dagda said...

I think the key thing you're overlooking is that most tabletop RPG products aren't actually games; they're a form of middleware, i.e. tools and resources to help someone make their own game. You buy a set of tools based on the things you want to build, and don't lose any sleep when a given project only calls for a fraction of the tools in your box.

Badelaire said...

I'm hardly overlooking it.

I see no logic in, by your analogy, going out to by a $400 86 piece Craftsman auto mechanics kit and only using the 1/4" wrench that happens to come with it. Or more specifically, buying a framing hammer (used to put up building wall frames) and using it to drive finishing nails. Or any other stupid analogy that makes a game a "toolkit".

Dungeons and Dragons works because it makes a crapton of assumptions about your game. If you throw 90% of what makes a D&D game a D&D game out the window, I see little sense in using the D&D RPG in the first place. D&D isn't a toolkit game - GURPS is a toolkit, BRP is a toolkit, FUDGE is a toolkit - most generic RPGs are toolkits.

Shadowrun isn't a toolkit game. Traveller isn't a toolkit game. Harn isn't a toolkit game.
Vampire: the Masquerade isn't a toolkit game.

Taking a game that has a very specific point to make and then completely ignoring that point seems, well, somewhat pointless, UNLESS it is some other very specific aspect of that game you really, really like, such as perhaps the underlying core mechanics, which is why I'm a big fan of a game that has a very clearly defined "core rules" chunk and a very clearly defined "setting/premise" chunk, so you can avoid the hassle of buying $300 worth of D20 D&D3.5 books and then take 3% of that material and run a 19th century Oregon Trail campaign.

Dagda said...

First off, I apologize if I came off as talking down to you or anything like that. I say "overlooking" because that's what I was doing until the "middleware" point finally dawned on me about a month back.

Laid out like that, I suppose my point is that D&D is still closer to GURPS on the toolkit-game spectrum than it'll ever be* to a game like Rogue Warrior, unless we're talking about a GM who only uses premade modules. (Which is fine!)

Most GMs I've known, however, start with their own concept for a game, and then:
-If the concept was inspired by an RPG system/setting, rummage around in the rulebook (i.e. toolbox) for all the stuff relevant to the concept *they* want to do.
-Otherwise, review the systems they're familiar with to see which one best suits that concept (and occasionally browse beyond that).

And yes, it's still stupid to buy $400 worth of (craftsman tools/NWoD books) when all you want to do is (tighten a quarter-inch bolt/run a one-shot inspired by a buffy episode). The analogy doesn't counter that aspect of your argument, it supports it. On the other hand, I suppose it gets more accurate if you compare the financial cost for a new toolbox to the mental effort required to learn a new system.

*With the current editions, at least.

Nathan Abrahams said...

So what would you say about a game designed for the express purpose of playing a human-only group of non-magical, non-dungeon diving adventurers or mercenaries?

J. E. Badelaire said...

I'd say go for it as long as the game supports the proposed gameplay - after all, that's what I'm looking to do with Commando.