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 Post subject: Dice: Pointless?
PostPosted: Thu Jul 30, 2009 4:51 am 
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Let's just say, purely for the sake of argument, that the purpose of roleplaying is to emulate adventure fiction. Since in fiction the scenes are all precisely constructed by the author to have a particular result, why do we still rely on fortune mechanics such as dice in our roleplaying? Why not go all Universalis and just give each player a certain number of points they can spend to get what they want? That way you can be more certain than ever of telling the story you wanted to tell. Why do we allow dice the chance to ruin our story? Is this a significant departure from the purpose of emulating adventure fiction?

I'd like to put forward that it has to do with a sense of mystery. We like to be surprised by our adventure fiction. We love the tension. Too much author stance in our roleplaying games can have a tendency to destroy the tension. Relying on dice is one way to get tension into the game. You can never know for sure if you'll actually succeed.

Of course, introducing tension, mystery, and uncertainty is also part of the function of the GM. Despite having told him what you want via your SAs, you can never quite be sure what he'll cook up.

Thoughts, anyone? Does collaborative storytelling actually hurt your ability to emulate fiction by reducing tension and mystery?

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 Post subject: Re: Dice: Pointless?
PostPosted: Thu Jul 30, 2009 6:41 am 
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Fascinating topic, Daeruin! :) I think that your analysis of why we use dice, or some other kind of fortune mechanic, is very sound.

Daeruin wrote:
Does collaborative storytelling actually hurt your ability to emulate fiction by reducing tension and mystery?

Like you probably know, I am all for Story Now!, and that’s how me and my group play, so I’ll give you a breakdown of how we use dice and how this impacts the story. To see these pinciples in action, one needs only lookt to “What Price Freedom”.

Unlike what many people probably believe about collaborative storytelling, we resort to the dice quite frequently, on the average a few times per scene, with our scenes being rather on the short side. In using fortune, I am influenced by Conflict Resolution, but have not completely embraced it. This means that almost every die roll must have yield either a tangible benefit for the PC on success or tangible drawback on failure. The dice can such have quite a major impact on how the story goes, and I have not found this disruptive.

You have already hit the nail here:
Daeruin wrote:
Of course, introducing tension, mystery, and uncertainty is also part of the function of the GM.

The way I use fortune, it does wrest control over the story away from me and thus make storytelling more communal, and it does so by introducing uncertainty, uncertainty also for myself as the referee. All my rolls are always in the open, and consequences of failure or success announced before the roll. Sometimes, the players are not quite happy about the outcomes I announce and point out something I have overlooked or propose some modification, but we always find a consensus that makes sense in terms of what is just happening in the story.

So – we are basically having a situation where somebody is somehow at odds with something or somebody and tries to resolve this conflict. We agree upon reasonable outcomes for the conflict and then resolve it by resorting to the dice once. We then apply the result and continue from there.

In that way, the dice become in our games a kind of second referee, at least where uncertainty and plot twists are concerned. It’s a bit like arriving at a situation in the story where either this or that meaningful and sensible thing could happen and then flipping a coin. The key here is really that the possible outcomes have to be sensible and meaningful, or else the dice introduce nothing but wilfull randomness.

Me and my mates have found that this approach is very refreshing for us. It does not curtail our capability to tell an interesting story, but it prevents railroading, precludes staleness in how the story unfolds and introduces uncertainty and surprises. I suspect that doing away with dice and their powerful impact our collaborative story-telling would devolve into communal masturbation.

EDIT: Edited to remove a previous edit that was overtaken by Ian's post below.

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Last edited by Grettir on Thu Jul 30, 2009 9:12 am, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Dice: Pointless?
PostPosted: Thu Jul 30, 2009 9:02 am 
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Daeruin wrote:
Does collaborative storytelling actually hurt your ability to emulate fiction by reducing tension and mystery?


Grettir wrote:
Like you probably know, I am all for Story Now!, and that’s how me and my group play, so I’ll give you a breakdown of how we use dice and how this impacts the story. To see these principles in action, one needs only look to “What Price Freedom”.


IMO, the closest RPGs get to genuine storytelling -- by which I mean a narrator speaking and a group listening to the tale being woven -- is a heavily Sim orientated group with very passive players. The groups interest in the game revolves around Exploration but they're used to the referee being responsible for the scenario material. So if the players are passive then it is the referee who is describing what is going on, performing the actions of the NPCs, while the players sit back and let it all unfold before them.

Daeruin wrote:
Of course, introducing tension, mystery, and uncertainty is also part of the function of the GM.


Grettir wrote:
The way I use fortune, it does wrest control over the story away from me and thus make storytelling more communal, and it does so by introducing uncertainty, uncertainty also for myself as the referee. All my rolls are always in the open, and consequences of failure or success announced before the roll. Sometimes, the players are not quite happy about the outcomes I announce and point out something I have overlooked or propose some modification, but we always find a consensus that makes sense in terms of what is just happening in the story.

So – we are basically having a situation where somebody is somehow at odds with something or somebody and tries to resolve this conflict. We agree upon reasonable outcomes for the conflict and then resolve it by resorting to the dice once. We then apply the result and continue from there.


I like rolling dice. I used to play a percentile system -- now it's TRoS with its Dice Pool mechanics and a fistful of dice when the pressure is on. TRoS rocks.

The tactile experience aside, my experience is that my referee and I can play out a solo scene via email without dice and we're both generating plot twists so we're both surprised by the eventual outcome -- but that as soon as we're around the gaming table the referee wants everyone to roll for everything. Dice form the pedestal on which the referee stands in order to claim the crown of Impartiality. They are the crutch on which he leans in order to avoid the possibility of being tagged as a Rail-Roader. "The dice don't lie." is the mantra chanted when the plot heads in a stupid direction because the referee insisted on everyone rolling to make sure they'd tied their horses saddles properly the morning before their character attempted to jump the hedge...

I definitely agree though with the sentiment of both posts -- dice can and do produce unexpected results in scenes, and that is good for the game.

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 Post subject: Re: Dice: Pointless?
PostPosted: Thu Jul 30, 2009 10:07 am 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
Dice form the pedestal on which the referee stands in order to claim the crown of Impartiality. They are the crutch on which he leans in order to avoid the possibility of being tagged as a Rail-Roader. "The dice don't lie." is the mantra chanted when the plot heads in a stupid direction because the referee insisted on everyone rolling to make sure they'd tied their horses saddles properly the morning before their character attempted to jump the hedge...

This may be only semi-pertinent, but I’d like to dwell upon how the dice can be (and often are) abused by referees as a fig’s leaf of impartiality. I think we all have as referees at times used these techniques of steering the story into the “right” direction (i.e. railroading it) while trying to appear utterly impartial.

Rolling in secret is of course the simplest and most transparent of these techniques, but there is a more insidious one – negating player successes by demanding second and third rolls to achieve the goal. We have already discussed this previously in some length, but I’d like to once more disect how it is done:

Say a PC tries to infiltrate a castle and the referee deems such a successful infiltration as undesirable in terms of his prepared scenario. To thwart the PC, even while rolling openly, the referee can simply demand Stealth roll upon Stealth roll, introducing one guard, watchdog, lookout or chance encounter after the other – until one of the Stealth rolls finally fails. And all of that while appearing fair and impartial. “The dice don’t lie” indeed. :roll:

To divest myself as referee of this possibility, I roll openly, make every roll really count, i.e. attach a tangible and definite advantage and drawback to its outcomes, and announce these possible consequences beforehand. “Make the contested Stealth roll and your character gets safely and undiscovered into the bowels of the castle, fail it and he is spotted and the alarm raised.”

And here’s what I wanted to add to my previous post above:
It should also be said that me and my group have found Drama to be a perfect mechanic for staying in control of events when some of us really don’t want a situation to be resolved in a certain way. In that case, you spend Drama and introduce elements that sway the chances in your favour, but not by providing outright dice-modifiers (we disallow this and the invalidation of dicerolls by subsequent Drama expenditure), but by introducing story-elements. So we rely solely on the dice when we think that either possible result would be interesting, but we influence the odds with Drama when we want to prevent some outcome that would ruin the story or the character concept for us.

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 Post subject: Re: Dice: Pointless?
PostPosted: Sun Aug 02, 2009 5:14 pm 
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Hello to all Trosfans! This is my first post here even if I've been registered for quite a long time now. The topic is very interesting and I just want to share my 2 cents.

Daeruin wrote:
Why do we allow dice the chance to ruin our story?

[...]

I'd like to put forward that it has to do with a sense of mystery. We like to be surprised by our adventure fiction. We love the tension. Too much author stance in our roleplaying games can have a tendency to destroy the tension. Relying on dice is one way to get tension into the game. You can never know for sure if you'll actually succeed.


What I noticed playing some "forge-games" in the last few years is that a well designed system, almost by definition, is realized in a way that the story will never get ruined whatever the result of the dice (assuming that players are familiar and skilled enough with stake setting, or equivalent conflict resolution nuances for those games that don't contemplate stake setting). Actually, the story will probably get ruined and will fall flat if you don't roll the dice. The resolution systems I like the most not only adjudicate "victory" in a moment of uncertainty, but also actively push the players to esclate the current situation in terms of emotional involvement (check the resolution system of Dogs in the Vineyard as an example).

Also whose story will get ruined by the dice? The GM story? The story of a single player? The story of the whole group? I think this question is not trivial and I think Grettir really nailed down the issue. At least in "Story Now-oriented" games the dice are one of the possible way to wrestle the control of the story from a single player, allowing and facilitating the sharing of the responsability and of the pleasure of "story-building" among all members of the group. The moment when you roll the dice is one of those prominent moments in roleplaying when your role as an author clearly meets your role as a member of the audience. Just think about the fact that some modern games (The Shadow of Yesterday - TSoY - for example) contemplate the possibility for players whose characters are not involved in a conflict of influencing the result of the conflict in some way (in the case of TSoY they can gift dice to either side in a conflict in order to shift the probablity of success in the direction they like the most).

Dice are not the only way to introduce uncertainty in the developement of a given fictional situation. It's enough to mix and match the contribution of different players to get tense and uncertain results. That's why some games use resolution mechanics that only or mostly estabish who has the authority to say what in a given moment of play. A couple of example that come to my mind are Polaris by Ben Lehman (almost totally diceless, makes use of some ritual phrases to negotiate conflicts) and Spione by Ron Edwards (that uses common playing cards in conflict to establish who can speak when and the boundary of what that player can narrate and establish into the fiction).


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 Post subject: Re: Dice: Pointless?
PostPosted: Mon Aug 03, 2009 9:26 pm 
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Leonardo wrote:
Hello to all Trosfans! This is my first post here even if I've been registered for quite a long time now.


Hi Leonardo! Congratulations on making that first post!

Daeruin wrote:
Why do we allow dice the chance to ruin our story?

[...]

I'd like to put forward that it has to do with a sense of mystery. We like to be surprised by our adventure fiction. We love the tension. Too much author stance in our roleplaying games can have a tendency to destroy the tension. Relying on dice is one way to get tension into the game. You can never know for sure if you'll actually succeed.


Leonardo wrote:
What I noticed playing some "forge-games" in the last few years is that a well designed system, almost by definition, is realized in a way that the story will never get ruined whatever the result of the dice (assuming that players are familiar and skilled enough with stake setting, or equivalent conflict resolution nuances for those games that don't contemplate stake setting).


If a fortune mechanic is capable of making a gaming session unsatisfactory then, by definition, it becomes somewhat random as to whether any particular gaming session is fun or not. As such, it should be a goal of game design that any fortune mechanic doesn't have that much influence. That influence needs to be mitigated somehow.

Leonardo wrote:
Actually, the story will probably get ruined and will fall flat if you don't roll the dice. The resolution systems I like the most not only adjudicate "victory" in a moment of uncertainty, but also actively push the players to escalate the current situation in terms of emotional involvement (check the resolution system of Dogs in the Vineyard as an example).


Yes indeed -- complete agreement here.

Leonardo wrote:
The moment when you roll the dice is one of those prominent moments in roleplaying when your role as an author clearly meets your role as a member of the audience. Just think about the fact that some modern games (The Shadow of Yesterday - TSoY - for example) contemplate the possibility for players whose characters are not involved in a conflict of influencing the result of the conflict in some way (in the case of TSoY they can gift dice to either side in a conflict in order to shift the probability of success in the direction they like the most).


I think a goal of any game should be to keep all of the players involved all of the time (or as much of the time as possible). Not everyone can be in the limelight all of the time, but gone are the days (thankfully) when players are banished from the gaming table if their character isn't involved in the scene (and therefore couldn't know the outcome). TSoY's mechanic only works if all the players are story-focussed, but if they are then it is a great idea.

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 Post subject: Re: Dice: Pointless?
PostPosted: Tue Aug 04, 2009 7:37 am 
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Leonardo wrote:
Hello to all Trosfans! This is my first post here even if I've been registered for quite a long time now.

Hello Leonardo! It’s always good to have another active member.

Leonardo wrote:
Actually, the story will probably get ruined and will fall flat if you don't roll the dice.

Absolutely. Rolling the dice, or any other fortune mechanic, can introduce the element of uncertainty and tension that would otherwise be lacking in “games” where the action is only told by in whatever way one desires at the moment. This kind of gaming lacks any bite, it is devoid of tension.

Leonardo wrote:
Just think about the fact that some modern games (The Shadow of Yesterday - TSoY - for example) contemplate the possibility for players whose characters are not involved in a conflict of influencing the result of the conflict in some way (in the case of TSoY they can gift dice to either side in a conflict in order to shift the probablity of success in the direction they like the most).

I've only once played TSoY – quite enjoyed it – but I liked this approach a lot; IIRC even the referee has a store of such dice to gift to players whose PC's action he wants to succeed. This is a fine mechanic especially for story-oriented gaming groups who don't do the "band of brothers"-thing a lot. If your own PC is most of the time not in the presence of the others, everything that involves you in the others' story is a good thing. In my group, communal character creation is one means to achieve this interest in another's character, but I do also allow the use of Drama to influence scenes in which the player's character is not even present.

Daeruin wrote:
Why do we allow dice the chance to ruin our story?

I think that the key to using dice is not to use them trivially. Ian’s example of the PCs failing to tie their saddles on properly would be a trivial use of the dice, one where failure and the subsequent fall from the horse while trying to jump the ditch and the resulting broken leg really ruin the story. Things like these don’t happen in stories, at least not at random, they happen only if hey serve a function in the story. If you allow the dice to force random events upon the story, they will most likely really ruin it.

As a referee, I resort to dice quite often, but only at pivotal points, never trivially. In 99 out of 100 cases “Roll wether you tied your saddle on properly – if you fail, you’ll slide of your horse while jumping the ditch” will be trivial, and “Make the contested Stealth roll and you are safely and undiscovered in the bowels of the castle, fail it and you are spotted and the alarm is raised” will in 99 out o 100 instances not be trivial. Failure in the first can ruin the story (the experienced horseman blunders and makes a fool of himself), failure in the second merely takes the story in a new direction (escape from the failed infiltration attempt), but one that is still in line with the overall story.

Use of the dice that is neither trivial nor unfair/secret can add a sense of uncertainty, prevent railroading, wrest the control over the story away from the referee and surprise even the referee with how events unfold in “his” story – which is of course the group’s story.

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 Post subject: Re: Dice: Pointless?
PostPosted: Tue Aug 04, 2009 7:47 pm 
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Good to see a lurker stepping forward! Hope to see more of your posts from now on, Leonardo. :D

Anyways, a lot is said on the topic already, but I wanted to comment on diceless systems. I've seen a few, but none that I've liked... Active Exploits Diceless was just a confusing resource management system and Amber is quite useless for playing anything else than high-powered can-do-alls. I'll not delve into what I think of Polaris. So, has anyone ever seen a good diceless system?

Secondly, as a related subject, I stumbled upon a .pdf that talked of differences of how dice have been used during the evolution of RPGs. Quite an interesting read and I find that I'm an "old school" gamer despite starting off with D&D 3e. :P

And one more point that is relevant to this topic. In almost every system, the dice roll determines the success or failure of the action at hand. In John Wick's Houses of the Blooded however, the success of the roll determines who will have the narrative privilege... Success? The player narrates the result. Failure? The referee does. Quite an interesting concept.

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 Post subject: Re: Dice: Pointless?
PostPosted: Tue Aug 04, 2009 9:44 pm 
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higgins wrote:
So, has anyone ever seen a good diceless system?


I think Universalis is diceless, and I like that game, but I would label it a Storytelling game rather than an RPG.

higgins wrote:
Secondly, as a related subject, I stumbled upon a .pdf that talked of differences of how dice have been used during the evolution of RPGs. Quite an interesting read and I find that I'm an "old school" gamer despite starting off with D&D 3e. :P


I may be completely wrong but the author seems to be writing for a 3.5 or 4e audience, describing how the original 0e game was played. The recent games I've looked at -- admittedly only half a dozen Indie games since 2000 -- aren't built around the idea of a skill for everything and special (meaning non real-world) abilities being gained as the character advances. Does 3.5 or 4e work that way?

higgins wrote:
And one more point that is relevant to this topic. In almost every system, the dice roll determines the success or failure of the action at hand. In John Wick's Houses of the Blooded however, the success of the roll determines who will have the narrative privilege... Success? The player narrates the result. Failure? The referee does. Quite an interesting concept.


I love this idea! Any game recommended by the posters to this board is a must buy -- so I just bought the game! I'll have a read and get back to you.

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 Post subject: Re: Dice: Pointless?
PostPosted: Wed Aug 05, 2009 6:43 am 
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higgins wrote:
So, has anyone ever seen a good diceless system?

Nope. I’ve tried Amber only for a few sessions, and they were fun, but I guess that its diceless resolution mechanic works only for a very specific kind of game. So no, I don’t know a good diceless system. Dust Devils, though, uses playing cards instead of dice in a way that is not only fitting for the flavour of the game but that does also make a lot of sense allows for more diversity in the outcome than dice usually do.

higgins wrote:
In John Wick's Houses of the Blooded however, the success of the roll determines who will have the narrative privilege... Success? The player narrates the result. Failure? The referee does. Quite an interesting concept.
Ian.Plumb wrote:
I love this idea!

It is an interesting concept, but not exatly a novel one. Indie games like The Pool, the excellent The Mountain Witch and In A Wicked Age, among others, all use this mechanic to either some or the full extent.

Ian.Plumb wrote:
Any game recommended by the posters to this board is a must buy -- so I just bought the game! I'll have a read and get back to you.

Please doreport back, Ian; I’ve downloaded the 48-page preview pdf and from this got the impression that this is just another kind of World of Darkness, with houses/clans/bloodlines of one type of supernatural creatures, each one representing a certain behavioural archetype, competing with each other… :roll:

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 Post subject: Re: Dice: Pointless?
PostPosted: Wed Aug 05, 2009 4:21 pm 
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Thanks to all of you for the warm welcome!

Higgins, having the Love: Polaris by Ben Lehman Spiritual Attribute I'm sure I'm not the right person to express an unbiased opinion about that game. But there are a couple of things I can safely say (at least... I think). Imo, the ritual phrases based negotiation system in Polaris cannot be considered a system by itself. What I mean is that it's not really portable: it's so much integrated in the whole game at large (especially with regard to the premise and the authority distribution among the players) that it looks very difficult to make that subsystem work as a standalone resolution mechanic. It works well in the limited scope of the game but I'm not sure how well it will behave in a different game/situation.

Also, are you interested simply in examples of diceless resolution systems or more specifically in "fortune-less" resolution systems? Grettir told you about Dust Devils card driven resolution system. Games like Spione and Primetime Adventures make use of card based resolution systems too (although in very different ways). These kind of systems are not that uncommon. On the contrary Fortune-less resolution systems are less widespread, at least in my experience. Except for those games nominated in this thread there aren't other examples that come to my mind right now.


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 Post subject: Re: Dice: Pointless?
PostPosted: Wed Aug 05, 2009 6:15 pm 
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Grettir wrote:
higgins wrote:
So, has anyone ever seen a good diceless system?
Nope. I’ve tried Amber only for a few sessions, and they were fun, but I guess that its diceless resolution mechanic works only for a very specific kind of game. So no, I don’t know a good diceless system.
Yes, indeed... if you narrow down the four abilities to more specific ones, the character creation flies out of the window. "Less than heroic" abilities would need some more granularity IMO, especially if the power level is toned down for the purposes of another setting. I also found it interesting that there's no stealth/thievery attribute, but I've never actually played it so I wouldn't know how that issue would be handled. 8-)

Leonardo wrote:
Also, are you interested simply in examples of diceless resolution systems or more specifically in "fortune-less" resolution systems?
The latter. :) I was quite sure I revisited my sentence to make that more clear, but seem to have I forgotten that.

Grettir wrote:
Ian.Plumb wrote:
Any game recommended by the posters to this board is a must buy -- so I just bought the game! I'll have a read and get back to you.
Please doreport back, Ian; I’ve downloaded the 48-page preview pdf and from this got the impression that this is just another kind of World of Darkness, with houses/clans/bloodlines of one type of supernatural creatures, each one representing a certain behavioural archetype, competing with each other… :roll:
Uh, it was meant as an example, not as a recommendation but... I hope you like the game now that you've spent your money. I followed the design (b)log quite avidly at one point and loved how the author took the time to elaborate on his design choices on youtube as he went along (much like the new A Song of Ice and Fire design journal, but in a more consumable format in our steaming-media age :)). I did eventually decide, however, not to buy the book as I wasn't quite exited about neither the ven nor about the splat-design. On his journal, John Wick stressed numerous times that HotB is more Elric than Conan... Well... I'm definitely a Conan guy if I need to choose between those two. :mrgreen: And I find it curious how he came across with Conan & D&D vs. Elric & HotB. The more I read the Conan stories, the more evident it is how badly D&D would model the stories... powerful creatures drop dead left and right with superbly placed shots with utter disregard towards how many hit points they should have... :lol: I also find it odd how he based on his "crucial weakness" design on Elric's weak body... I don't recall a thing he was incapable of achieving due his lack of bodily vigor and he was a capable warrior if the need arose... well... I'm just rambling. :?

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 Post subject: Re: Dice: Pointless?
PostPosted: Thu Aug 06, 2009 3:24 am 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
Any game recommended by the posters to this board is a must buy -- so I just bought the game! I'll have a read and get back to you.


higgins wrote:
Uh, it was meant as an example, not as a recommendation but... I hope you like the game now that you've spent your money.[/quot]

US$5.oo for the PDF! :)

higgins wrote:
I followed the design (b)log quite avidly at one point and loved how the author took the time to elaborate on his design choices on youtube as he went along (much like the new A Song of Ice and Fire design journal, but in a more consumable format in our steaming-media age :)). I did eventually decide, however, not to buy the book as I wasn't quite exited about neither the ven nor about the splat-design. On his journal, John Wick stressed numerous times that HotB is more Elric than Conan... Well... I'm definitely a Conan guy if I need to choose between those two. :mrgreen:


On the one hand I like the idea that an RPG character can be tragic, like Elric. On the other, I'm quite able to play that character myself within any given RPG system if that is the story that I want to tell through my character. I don't need the mechanics, the game world, to be geared around the concept. Clearly though the author expects the reader to find this concept to be new -- and so *a lot* of page count is spent showing the reader how cool the idea can be.

higgins wrote:
And I find it curious how he came across with Conan & D&D vs. Elric & HotB. The more I read the Conan stories, the more evident it is how badly D&D would model the stories...


My understanding of the author's point is that D&D is good for gamers who want to play games where their characters are successful or at least striving towards success. HotB is good for gamers who want their character to be part of a tragedy. The premise doesn't bear a lot of examination -- it's not so much whether D&D's mechanics support heroic play as much as the players of D&D choose to play in this way.

higgins wrote:
I also find it odd how he based on his "crucial weakness" design on Elric's weak body... I don't recall a thing he was incapable of achieving due his lack of bodily vigor and he was a capable warrior if the need arose... well... I'm just rambling. :?


Yes, I agree with you here. However, the crucial weakness is something that I did like about the game's design. As I read through the remaining text I'm sure that I'll like other aspects of the game design. But I did like this one. For those unfamiliar with the game the mechanism is quite like Priority Picks but for your attributes. So you have to nominate one as being your weakness.

Looking forward to reading more of the game.

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