2006-02-27 : Unpopular Ideas for 2006 #1

These aren't dangerous ideas - in fact they're quite safe - but they're good ideas and maybe they've fallen out of fashion.

1. Have stats
Yes, I mean strength stamina willpower charisma education and savvy, or whatever combo your game calls for. Probably your game calls for some.

Know why? Because stats imply arenas of conflict, and they differentiate both a) the characters, in terms of which arenas of conflict they're fit for and b) the players, in terms of the details and wrangling of your reward rules.

Remember how important the fitness of a character is? Stats are a clean, easy and functional way to make fit characters.

But check this out, let's call it 1a:

1a. Make your stats tricky
That is, don't name your stats after the arenas of conflict in your game - in fact, don't line them up 1:1 with the arenas of conflict in your game at all!

It probably doesn't make any difference to the fitness of the character, but it makes a huge difference to the details and wrangling of your reward rules for the player.

I'll offer Dogs in the Vineyard as an example. Here's my character:
Acuity 3
Body 2
Heart 5
Will 3

In terms of character fitness, is that functionally equivalent to these stats instead?
Just Talking 8
Physical 7
Fighting 5
Gunfighting 6

Yes, it sure is.

But see how much difference it makes to me, the player, to be manipulating my character's fitness in pairs instead of singly? I want to make my character a more fit fighter, for instance - so do I increase her Body, thereby also making her a more fit athelete, or her Will, thereby also making her a more fit gunfighter? Dogs' split stat makes its reward rules more interesting than they would be if I just slapped a +1 on my favorite way to win.

Coming soon(ish): 2. Reward the winner, punish the loser

1. On 2006-02-27, Ninja Monkey J said:

1a: No, I don't see why that's better. You're making the player figure out what they need to know in order to play effectively instead of giving it to them and letting them spend their energies making a story.

1: Yeah, neat. That's the purpose of the Praxis scales in Shock: too. Only I say, "write down two arenas of conflict and two mutually exclusive ways of dealing with those arenas." I don't hide it. At least not on purpose.

2: This had better be good. Or at least useful in strictly prescribed circumstances.


2. On 2006-02-27, anon. said:

Thanks for that Vincent. That explanation really helps me understand what's going on with stats in Cold Iron. Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution work well in an intertwined set of conflict arenas. But the rest of the stats aren't really intertwined. The result is that spell casters have no reason for their primary arena to have good physical stats, so they have tended to suck totally at non-magical conflict. The reverse isn't quite so much a problem, though it would definitely work better to have all the arenas intertwined.



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3. On 2006-02-27, Vincent said:

J: "1a: No, I don't see why that's better. You're making the player figure out what they need to know in order to play effectively instead of giving it to them and letting them spend their energies making a story."

Figure out, how? It's no mystery which stats make your character a better fighter. There's no guesswork or investigation or figuring out involved. Instead, in Dogs' design I'm saying that your character's development as a fighter must have implications in other parts of your character's story.

So no figuring out, just an additional interesting decision: "I want my character to be a better fighter. Do I also want her to be a better athelete, or a better gunfighter?"

And of course, the praxis scales in Shock: are stats.


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4. On 2006-02-27, Ben Lehman said:

In Dogs, there is a two extra stats you forgot to mention.

Survive Injury: 2
Heal Other: 5

I point this out mainly because it bugs me to no end for reasons I can't fathom.

As far as stats, all I can manage is a shrug.  I had them in Polaris, and they were very useful in that design, but I'm not feeling any pressing need for Bliss Stage or Drifter's Escape to have them.

As for reward the winner, punish the loser, I have to wait to see what you say before agreeing.  But I think I agree.



5. On 2006-02-27, Vincent said:

Ben! Those two are the best. They should anti-bug you.

They're where my "I want my character to be a better gunfighter" and your "I want my character to be a better athelete" touch!


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6. On 2006-02-27, Chris said:

1. Yep yep.  Stats are a good way to get focus.  Dogs is nice because while you use stats to unify the conflicts, you also use Traits/Relationships to let players customize their characters and how they deal with conflicts.

1a.  What this does is spread out your effectiveness options.  In Dogs at least- you're always boosting two options to deal with conflicts, so you always will have at least two solid choices even if you invest heavily in one area.

Normally in games, when you concentrate in one area, it becomes the only way to succeed after a point, and then you keep specializing.  Characters become one-trick ponies, trapped to their niche.  Here you at least pull two options even if you specialize.


7. On 2006-02-27, Adam Dray said:

Vincent, you wrote the stats in the wrong order on the character sheet. If you swap one of the vertical pairs, then you can draw lines and make a box shape and write "Just Talking" on one edge, and "Guns" on another and so on, without the lines making an X that is hard to write a word on.

Here, this is what I mean:


8. On 2006-02-27, Vincent said:

Adam, I know what you mean, even though your picture didn't show. I blame alphabetizing.

Ben, come to think of it, in a better world there'd be a "do you abandon your calling?" conflict to mirror the "do you die?" conflict, and it'd be your own will + your healer's heart. That's especially cool because Acuity+Body and Heart+Will are the pairs you don't use otherwise.

But I'm interested in other ways to mix up stats and arenas of conflict than splitting and pairing them like Dogs does. Consider Trollbabe, with its magical, social and physical, where a) the stats are named after the arenas of conflict, yes, but b) they're mixed up by one of them being set equal, always, to the lower of the other two +1.

Other examples welcome!


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9. On 2006-02-27, Matt Wilson said:

Archetypes in my new game are totally color. There's no real strategy there other than "how you want to imagine it."

Maybe that means they're teh b0rked, I dunno. I've often thought about tweaking them to match specific actions, but damnit I can't steal EVERYTHING from Dogs.

... or can I?

Is there an emoticon for one arched eyebrow, because that's what I'd type.


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10. On 2006-02-28, Ben Lehman said:

Here's how stats in Polaris work.

Beginning: Odds are always 1/6.

Middle: You can flatten the odds or restructure them, eventually reaching either a middle ground or an extreme for one arena.

End: Odds drift slowly back to 1/6.

The choice between Ice and Light is essentially—do you want to have authority over your character's person and personal belongings, or your character's place in the world?  Or, you know, both badly.

In that manner, they're really more stats for players.


P.S.  Now that I'm thinking about it, Bliss Stage does have "stats" in the sense you are talking about.  The other characters (there are 4n-1 characters in total, where n is the number of players) are essentially a pre-defined set of attributes for the game, and I'm very much talking about your definition of attributes as arenas for conflict.  Or is that just a cop-out?


11. On 2006-02-28, Tris said:


Pick up any RPG that sells more than X, and it will have stats.

So I don't hold that they are going out of fashion.  Fashion is still stats, hit points, and so on.

I dig what you say about combining stats to make them interesting though.


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12. On 2006-02-28, Vincent said:

Different crowd, Tris, that's all. Fashion is very locally defined.


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13. On 2006-02-28, Bob the Fighter said:

Character classes are pretty unfashionable too, I'd say. I wonder if that'll make it in around #4 or so?

Classes, if used correctly, can provide archetypes, social roles within the setting, and serve as a macro of sorts for quick character generation. Granted, they won't fit in just *any* game, but they can have their uses.

The question at hand, then, would be: what settings would actually call for a strict delineation of social roles, particularly divisions that might give characters skills and abilities that are markedly different from one another. On one hand, classes could simply be rough sketches to follow. On the other hand, one could go farther (in a sense) than D+D does and demand that a particular class be visible or at least obvious in some fashion by its nature. If you've got class-as-social-caste, you're on the right track. In such a situation, however, it's not skills that are tightly guarded; it's knowledge and social privileges.

But dealing with issues of social caste can make for an extremely specific sort of game, one whose themes in that direction might be hard to push towards a more general, modern context.

Places to Go, People to Be ( touched on this in much more detail (for 3ed. D+D, anyway) in issue 19.


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14. On 2006-02-28, Vincent said:

I haven't given any thought yet to character classes. I suspect I think they're irrevocably b0rkened, but I ought to give some thought before I say so.


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15. On 2006-02-28, Mendel Schmiedekamp said:

I must agree, stats are under-utilized, as much in games which have them as those which don't.

Related to the Dogs stats, I've recently resurrected an old design of mine which is based on having layered stats. First a few situation stats (alone, one-on-one, surrounded - all dealing with people), then a few environment stats (wilderness, maritime, cultured), then a few intention stats (destructive, protective), and lastly a few knowledge area stats (martial, craft, nature). You add one from each. So if you wanted to be a better duelist you need to decide what to increase - one-on-one makes you better in head to head situations, cultured advances your civility, destructive advances your tendency to violence, while martial increases your knowledge of battle and combat. All good reasons to be a better duelist, but each reflects a very different character change.


16. On 2006-02-28, Lisa Padol said:

Have rules.
Have as many rules as your game needs in order to work the way it is supposed to work.
Don't worry about your rules not being trendy enough.
Don't worry if your rules are traditional or if they break with tradition.
Does the game work?
Can someone who has never had the privilege of playing with you, your group, or the Forge / Indie-in-crowd pick up the finished game, learn it, teach it to friends, play it the way it was intended to play, and enjoy it or decide it's not for him/her/it/them based solely on what the game is, or do the players get confused about how the game is supposed to work?

That about cover it?



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17. On 2006-02-28, Bob the Fighter said:


In a game I've been tinkering with, characters have World stats, which sound a lot like your "environment" layer. Each so-called "World" is a different culture that exists in the setting, and the stat indicates your grasp of that culture's particulars.

That design you've got sounds pretty compelling. Do you have anything available to share on it?



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18. On 2006-03-01, paulkdad said:


The question is one of "fixed" character elements. As a designer, can you structure the game in such a way that fixed elements are used in structured conflicts in a way that leads to tough choices (i.e., you want both, but you can only have one)? Stats are one way to do that.

It isn't a question of trendiness (if that's even a word). Personally, I cringe from the "unpopular" word in the title of this thread, because that is the province of the critic. If I wanted to read the opinions of critics, I'd go to RPGnet. IMO, declaring something "unfashionable" or "unpopular" is ridiculous, in a designers forum.


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19. On 2006-03-01, Vincent said:

Jeez people. Buncha humorless pedants, make me explain every single irony and in-joke.

Indie RPG design has fads, fashions and trends, same as any other field or body. Duh. Among indie RPG designers, stats are out of fashion. It doesn't, y'know, mean anything. It's just how fads go.

Especially, I COULD CARE what's fashionable in the hobby at large. You just gotta figure that I'm talking about current indie RPG design, not about the crap you knock off the shelves when you swing a stick in the game store.


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20. On 2006-03-01, gains said:

Every time I work on my game, the first thing I do is try to think of better names for the stats.

The only time a broader name is really useful to me is when a stat has multiple applications and adding another one to cover one of those applications is just too much real estate.

For example this week I'm using ATTENTION as the stat for both researching and criminal actions like picking locks and dodging alarms. I tried to have a separate stat, but everytime I put it in, the idea of a thief needing wit and clear perception to safecrack sounded too much like what the hacker needs to find protected data. So one stat for both.


21. On 2006-03-01, Vincent said:

Gains, that's a terrific example.

Cracking a safe and finding protected data in a computer fall into the same arena of conflict. You want access to something, I want to keep it secure.


22. On 2006-03-02, luke said:

I like stats because they create an imaginary corporeal body for the player to manipulate.
I like the way Vincent's stats work because there's "space between the notes." There's room to get your imaginative fingers inbetween them and wiggle them a bit. There's room for each player to invest in his character simply through the interplay of the four basic stats. So right away, he's got something do, something clicking in his head.


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23. On 2006-03-02, Curly said:

I've got an 18 Unfashionability.


24. On 2006-03-02, Roger said:

Maybe I'm pushing a metaphor too far, but consider this:

The stats are the lines forming the incomplete cube of the Fruitful Void.

The arenas-of-conflict are the vertices.


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