Attributes & Priorities: A Design Thesis

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Daeruin
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Attributes & Priorities: A Design Thesis

Post by Daeruin » 09 Apr 2015, 23:32

hector in [url=http://www.grandheresyforums.com/viewtopic.php?p=1118#p1118]The Wheel of Time thread[/url] wrote:An Attribute and a Major Edge (or a Minor Edge to be able to learn which should be upgraded to the Major version when they learn how) was the general idea - the Attribute determines the strength of a channeller while the Edge denotes their ability to channel in the first place. The most powerful channellers in the fiction are characters who would most likely be considered NPCs, or are characters who start off unaware of their ability to channel. They would have the Major Edge, but would have the Attribute at 0 - SA expenditure would cover the seemingly random uses of the Power at opportune moments, but they would be otherwise unable to channel. Then, as they receive training in the game, they spend SA points on increasing the Attribute and so become stronger.

To balance out the fact that being able to channel from the outset comes with a Major Edge, most characters in the fiction who are able to channel naturally have a block of some description (Nynaeve can only channel when angry, for example), which would likely count as at least a Minor Flaw, if not a Major Flaw (since it's a hard and fast limit - until the block is broken, the character can't even sense the Power, let alone use it, unless the condition of the block is met).
Regardless of what setting the game is in, if you are using a priority system of character generation, I am generally against the idea of one priority category being a prerequisite for another category, or one category having a major influence on how good you can get in another category. That makes some categories inherently more desirable than others and essentially punishes players who want to be good at the other category. That's why I think really general things like attributes shouldn't be part of the priority system at all, or at the very least, if you have a magic category among your priorities, it should include everything you need to be good at magic. So if you pick magic as your highest priority, and the setting requires that you be intelligent to be good at magic, then the magic category should automatically include whatever it takes to make your character intelligent in the system—perhaps by giving you free points in the intelligence attribute. Otherwise I'm forced to make my attributes a high priority too, and that skews my ability to make further choices for my priorities (and my remaining attributes). The same arguments would apply if you required a Major Edge in order to work magic, in addition to having a separate magic category. Each priority category should be as independent as possible, in order to make each choice equally desirable and valid for my character.

Anyway, that's a general argument that touches on some of the specifics of what you're talking about here. Things may differ depending on specific settings. Feel free to ignore me and move on. :)
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Re: The Wheel of Time

Post by Agamemnon » 10 Apr 2015, 00:55

Daeruin wrote:Regardless of what setting the game is in, if you are using a priority system of character generation, I am generally against the idea of one priority category being a prerequisite for another category, or one category having a major influence on how good you can get in another category. That makes some categories inherently more desirable than others and essentially punishes players who want to be good at the other category. That's why I think really general things like attributes shouldn't be part of the priority system at all, or at the very least, if you have a magic category among your priorities, it should include everything you need to be good at magic. So if you pick magic as your highest priority, and the setting requires that you be intelligent to be good at magic, then the magic category should automatically include whatever it takes to make your character intelligent in the system—perhaps by giving you free points in the intelligence attribute. Otherwise I'm forced to make my attributes a high priority too, and that skews my ability to make further choices for my priorities (and my remaining attributes). The same arguments would apply if you required a Major Edge in order to work magic, in addition to having a separate magic category. Each priority category should be as independent as possible, in order to make each choice equally desirable and valid for my character.

Anyway, that's a general argument that touches on some of the specifics of what you're talking about here. Things may differ depending on specific settings. Feel free to ignore me and move on. :)
When we set out to define what the priorities do, we decided we didn't want them directly overlapping in terms of what they offer. One of the things I disliked about TROS was that there were Gifts that specifically made you better at combat - so much so that if you wanted to have a combat-focused character, you were sure to make sure to get that exact same edge everyone else was.

So for us, we basically wrote it in that each priority had its own domain, and it shouldn't directly intrude on any other.

On the other hand, the priorities intentionally intersect in terms of long-reaching effect within the system. Making it so "X gives you all the things you could possibly need for Y" isn't that straightforward. Everything is interconnected.

Being a nearly god-like character in terms of physical and mental attributes is really cool until you need to do something with them - then you'd better hope you have some skills or proficiencies relevant to what you're trying to do.

Being the most skilled character ever is nice, but if you don't spend into Attributes, you're going to wind up fairly average in terms of ability.

A swordsman's proficiency with his weapon is important, but learning all of that technique will still be at a disadvantage if they haven't bought into a Attributes. It's not just about how practiced you are with a sword, but the stamina, agility, reaction time, and strength that you need as well. And of course, unless you've got a Social class that has some money, you're going to play the greatest clubsman that ever walked.

Everything is interconnected, and everything is a tough choice to make. This is intentional.

I think what you are thinking would be to re-adjust the table in terms of "area of ability." For instance, a "magic priority" that would already have intelligence built in as well as magical proficiency. At that point, you may as well go full bore with it. You'd want a Combat priority, which by selecting would automatically grant all of the relevant physical statistics in addition to your combat ability. A Stealth priority becomes the next most likely, and so on.

Once you've gotten your hands on the beta, you could do just that: make an alternate priority table based on area of ability, rather than divided up the way we have. It might actually be pretty cool. The OSR-like Warrior, Rogue, Mage does something very similar.

But for normal games, I rather like things being interconnected the way they are. It creates the ability to have a character who is perhaps physically nothing special, but he is an awe-inspiring swordsman because of raw skill. Or you have an almost Greek-hero inspired character who is perhaps just learning his weapon arts, but approaches physical perfection in his attributes. Mechanically they may wind up with the same die pool, but in terms of "what does this say about my character?" it paints very different pictures and the two characters will react to different things in different ways - both mechanically, and in role-play.

As well, by making the different areas of priority interact with each other (you want to spend points on both mental attributes AND magical proficiency, for instance) you wind up making it much harder to minmax or pigeon-hole a character into being a one-trick pony.
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Re: The Wheel of Time

Post by Daeruin » 10 Apr 2015, 02:48

I get what you are saying, and yes there should be some overlap. Your low priority picks should complicate your high priority picks in some way. I think my real bugbear is attributes. Every character needs them. Using a low priority pick on attributes is a sure way to make your character mediocre, no matter what else you pick. It makes no sense whatsoever to use a low pick on attributes, and it offers virtually no story potential.

On the other hand, making every category mostly self-contained can actually prevent min-maxing, because you can't combine two categories to be better at something. If most everything I need to be a good warrior is in a single category, and I put my highest priority there, I won't necessarily be any better than anyone else who does the same. At the same time, this also guarantees that you are free to choose whatever you want for your next priority, which enables more diverse character options. I can be an incredible magician (first pick) and a good warrior (second pick) without worrying about making my character mediocre in both categories just because I didn't use high pick on attributes. I would rather see each category give a certain number of points to spend on certain attributes that then allow me to customize that category—for example, using a high pick on magic could give me 10 points to spend on any mental attribute, and if I use them on intelligence I'll be better at alchemy while if I use them on charisma I'll be better at summoning, or whatever. Then my next pick further customizes my character—will I be a mage/warrior or a mage/noble, etc.

To bring it back to the discussion at hand, making magic such that it requires a Major Edge, high attributes, AND a high pick in a magic category is simply unfair to anyone who wants to be a magic user. If magic is supposed to be rare and/or hard to learn in your setting, then that should be used simply to highlight how awesome the PC is, not to drain all their character-building resources just to make them a decent mage.
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Re: The Wheel of Time

Post by higgins » 10 Apr 2015, 13:55

Daeruin wrote:I would rather see each category give a certain number of points to spend on certain attributes that then allow me to customize that category—for example, using a high pick on magic could give me 10 points to spend on any mental attribute, and if I use them on intelligence I'll be better at alchemy while if I use them on charisma I'll be better at summoning, or whatever. Then my next pick further customizes my character—will I be a mage/warrior or a mage/noble, etc.
So, in short, you would prefer a lifepath system?
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Re: Attributes & Priorities: A Design Thesis

Post by Daeruin » 10 Apr 2015, 15:00

No. I realize what I said sounds kind of like a lifepath system (and I actually do like lifepath systems) but that's not what I meant. I simply meant that your first priority pick acts kind of like the character's primary role, and their second pick acts kind of like their secondary role. In TROS terms, the mage/warrior would have spent their first pick on vagaries and their second on proficiencies (but I would then prefer if there was no need to spend the next pick on attributes or race just to ensure that the character can actually be a good mage rather than a mediocre one). Vagaries and proficiencies already allow you to customize your character by choosing how to distribute the points. I was imagining further customization by also providing attribute points to spend in certain ways.
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Re: Attributes & Priorities: A Design Thesis

Post by EinBein » 11 Apr 2015, 11:02

Look at Shadowrun 5E. They have a Priority Pick System, and if you take the first priority for magic, you get a maximum Magic attribute (which is no "general" attribute but counts as a special attribute that is anyways very influential on everything magic-related), 10 free spells/rituals and two free magical abilities.

This has the positive effect, that you are not forced to pick skills as second Priority necessarily, as you have gotten some basic skills along with the magic pick and that you are not forced to max out certain attributes as well (as most magical skills are combined with Magic attribute and not general attributes like Logic).

I find it pretty good even if it's no "role-pick" as you asked for. It gives the mage more flexibility with the other four Priorities.

Another good aspect of SR 5E is the "limits" which might also have some good effect in TROS-like systems (there are many similarities between TROS and SR if you compare them). Depending on what action you perform, certain limits cap the amount of maximum counted hits. So if you use an old rusty shotgun from your grandpa, you will certainly not be able to hit as good as if you use a sniper rifle with multiple augmentations (this limit is called Accuracy and is depending on the weapon and augmentations used). And if you jump over a gap as a mage and roll hits with all your dice, you can not fly ten metres anyways because your Physical limit will cap this to a reasonable distance depending on your general physical condition.
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Re: Attributes & Priorities: A Design Thesis

Post by Agamemnon » 11 Apr 2015, 17:06

In any given character creation system, if we assume that all player characters are given an equal number of resources to purchase things, any one thing you buy inherently limits the amount of resources you have left to buy something else.

Addressing Attributes first, since they seem to be a big part of this discussion:

Attributes plug into everything, more or less. They form the basis for every action you could want to do, but they also are in no way the sole determination of how well you can perform. Now while the most optimal combination of picks is going to be Attribute+thing you want to do, you're also giving up a whole bunch of other stuff that you could've put those points into.

As a general rule, a high attribute character is actually a pretty good way to build a generalist, because they will be naturally adept at doing a little bit of everything. On the other hand, a low-attribute character isn't in any way screwed, because (assuming they put "thing they want to do" as a high priority) then their high (thing they want to do) will balance out their low base attributes.. and because they picked low attributes, they have more points to spend in every other category. We did the math. When you plug everything into raw averages, the difference in die pools between high skill/low attribute and high attribute/low skill pool is about 0.2 dice.

It's admittedly worse in proficiency, but that's because tier 1 in proficiency is actively saying "My character has no combat/occult training whatsoever." which is perfectly valid for many characters. Sansa stark's combat ability really doesn't need to be balanced against Jaime Lannister.

Roles in In brief:
while the "role" pick is not a bad way to go, it is also not what we wanted as the default for 'bastards. We specifically wanted to avoid things that made it too easy to put a character into an easily labeled box. Making a Magic category specifically has its own problems. In TROS, it became an extremely expensive gateway for anyone who wanted to actually be a mage, and a dump stat for everyone else.

BoTIT tried to grapple with this as well, if I recall. In order to avoid dump-stats, they decided to make a "low" magic score penalize you, with using it as the lowest priority literally killing your character during play. You effectively had to put your C priority into magic even though it wasn't part of the concept you wanted to play.

The solution we came upon was to piggy-back it into proficiencies. However, we also know from testing that if it becomes as simple as "I have two extra points, I could place this in a ranged proficiency, or I could learn necromancy" you wind up with everyone invariably picking some kind of magic and the guy who doesn't want to be a wizard winds up being the odd-man out. Regardless of player characters being exceptional in their world, we didn't want Jedi syndrome to kick in, where despite being relatively rare in both the series and setting, every player character was a force user of some kind.

Our solution was to make the specialized learning a Major Edge, which in our system requires at least a C priority. The Occult Lore edge automatically grants 3 points of proficiency towards a magical discipline of your choice, and the ability to spend additional points into it.

Mechanically, it means even if you take Cs in every category, you'd have a character with an average social class, average stats, and so on, who can start at Proficiency 10 in their wizarding (for a total magic pool of 16, on average) if you built the character as a dedicated wizard.

Given that the "average" fighting man is going to have a prof 6 in their weapon of choice, and a profession will be at prof 8.. if we assume such a thing as an "average wizard" even exists, then you are above average if you want to be, even if you spend Cs in literally everything.

If you are willing to give up some ability in some areas in order to gain ability in others, you can get even more abilities, magical power, and so on.

After all, because it is possible to make a character with all Cs as your priorities and still be relatively decent at the thing you want to do - anything below a C is deliberately saying "i want to be slightly worse in this area in order to be better somewhere else."

This is all without even touching the fact that in our system completely untrained characters can actually perform magic if they know what to do (i.e. find a book of rituals, are coached through, etc) and that magical power can actually be drawn from outside sources (place of power, ritual sacrifice, etc).

Making a wizard is no more expensive in the system than any other character archetype you might want to play, and in some ways it's easier because of both how little dependence they have on money and the fact that they can "borrow" power - albeit at some risk. And if with all of that said, if you still can't stand the idea or you're specifically wanting to play a setting where it's thematically appropriate for just about everyone to dabble in some kind of magic, then you can Lever it out and bar the edge from play, allowing everyone to purchase magic directly from proficiency without any kind of requirement.

That said: after the book is out and published, among the different things we wanted to offer for the game after-the-fact was alternate character generation methods. Not just more world-specific priority tables, but I've also got in mind a lifepath system I want to work the kinks out of, and some other stuff. An alternate priority table based on specific "areas of focus" isn't out of the question either as a supplement or as something you the fans could cook up. I'm all for fan contributions. We'll probably set up a section to house them or links to them on the official site.
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Re: Attributes & Priorities: A Design Thesis

Post by higgins » 14 Apr 2015, 10:32

Apparently your 1000-word rebuttal killed the conversation. :lol:
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Re: Attributes & Priorities: A Design Thesis

Post by Marras » 14 Apr 2015, 16:02

higgins wrote:Apparently your 1000-word rebuttal killed the conversation. :lol:
That tends to happen when the subject is exhaustively explained :)

Still, I am not a huge fan of priority system (in Shadowrun) as it somehow makes (at least in SR5) character generation really quite cumbersome. My players spent all evening (around 4 hours) creating characters and didn't quite finish them. I suppose it was the first time syndrome and all but I hope (and am confident) that the same system works quicker than the SR5 equivalent.

Despite this I still like it better than a class system.

Do I remember correctly that you can actually take the same priority multiple times as long as the "total" stays within the limits?
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Re: Attributes & Priorities: A Design Thesis

Post by higgins » 14 Apr 2015, 16:41

Marras wrote:Do I remember correctly that you can actually take the same priority multiple times as long as the "total" stays within the limits?
You can (and indeed must) pick each priority exactly once. That said, you can pick the same tier multiple times if you choose to do so.

As in, you can take each priority from a different tier (that's the assumption). Or you could pick two highest tiers, two lowest tiers and then the middle. Or one highest, one lowest, three middle ones. Or some other weird combo. It's pretty straightforward in the system.
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Re: Attributes & Priorities: A Design Thesis

Post by Marras » 14 Apr 2015, 16:45

From that description I meant tier when I wrote priority. Terms seem to get a bit confused at this point :)
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Re: Attributes & Priorities: A Design Thesis

Post by Daeruin » 22 Apr 2015, 23:56

Sorry guys, I didn't intend to abandon the conversation. At first I didn't notice that it had gotten split into a different thread (Tapatalk stopped notifying me of replies because there were none on the original topic), then I just got sucked back into busy life. That said, my goal wasn't necessarily to get you to change your system which I assumed was already pretty set (considering it's already nearing beta-stage). So I appreciate the long response that clarified your design goals for character creation. It's something I'm definitely willing to give a shot, assuming I ever have time to game again (waaah!), but will likely create houserules that pander to my preferences at some point.

I don't think making magic a separate category inherently has problems, but it does have strong design implications. It was problematic in TROS because it was so hard to be good at it. That's really what caused it to become a dump stat. One solution is to make magic easier to do by making sure it's not dependent on other priority categories. That simultaneously means that it will be more common in the setting, and I happen to like that idea. Taking it at a lower tier would then have strong story possibilities in a setting where magic is fairly common, and taking it at a higher tier would not be punishing to those who want to be mages. You would also want to balance magical abilities fairly closely to nonmagical combat.

I differ pretty strongly on the subject of generalization. I have no interest in playing a generalist, because the story possibilities that come from being a generalist don't seem exciting to me. What story possibilities excite you about that? I prefer the assumption that every character will have at least one area in which they suck, because THAT makes for many more interesting story possibilities. I really liked that aspect of TROS. But I always felt that making attributes part of the priority system wasn't coherent with that design goal, for all the reasons I've already mentioned (because there is very little motivation for choosing low attributes).

So I would prefer not to have every category start out in the middle tier, and I would prefer not to have attributes part of the priority system. Maybe I'll try to create some alternate character generation rules that reflect those preferences once the game is out.
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Re: Attributes & Priorities: A Design Thesis

Post by hector » 23 Apr 2015, 11:51

That's fair - the thing is, of course, that in TROS and in Bastards (I believe), magic was intentionally rare. In the case of TROS, you had to take a high racial priority to use magic at all, which meant that your F pick had to be something else (since it was a natural F pick for anyone not interested in using magic). It was also quite easy to start as a highly skilled mage - B racial pick, C attribute pick, A proficiency pick, then the other three in order of whichever you care about least. This, again, was deliberate. Prior to the start of the game, your character could only be focusing on so much, and starting the game as a highly skilled mage basically prevents your character from being really good at other things (not necessarily a bad thing).

That said, if you wanted to run a game with highly skilled magi who also had other skills, some starting equipment beyond the clothes on his back and not quite so many Disadvantages, you could always start the game by awarding all the players a certain amount of Karma (enough for either a second E or D pick; no more than that) to make more powerful characters. Karma isn't just a metagame reward system, it's also a really easy way to allow the game to start with more powerful characters than the norm.
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Re: Attributes & Priorities: A Design Thesis

Post by higgins » 23 Apr 2015, 13:04

Daeruin wrote:I don't think making magic a separate category inherently has problems, but it does have strong design implications. It was problematic in TROS because it was so hard to be good at it. That's really what caused it to become a dump stat.
To each his own. For me it was a dump stat because I found the warrior path in TROS way, way more interesting than the magical one.
Daeruin wrote:One solution is to make magic easier to do by making sure it's not dependent on other priority categories. That simultaneously means that it will be more common in the setting, and I happen to like that idea.
Not only would that make magic more common in the setting, but it would alter the whole feel of the game. With everyone having not only easy access, but being forced to make a conscious decision about what level of access will their character have to magical means will fundamentally alter the whole premise of any game you ran with such foundation.

From experience, I'd say that this move would not only make magic way more common, but it would also make it more utilitarian and rob its mystique (though very few games leave that last one intact). The plus side would be that as long as you won't tether down the rules too much, you'd see a lot of ingenious magic use, since pretty much every player will deploy it. From out of roughly twenty characters I've seen made under such free-access system, just two were made non-magical. Let that one sink in :twisted:
Daeruin wrote:You would also want to balance magical abilities fairly closely to nonmagical combat.
That's another key thing 'Bastards ain't going to follow.
Daeruin wrote:So I would prefer not to have every category start out in the middle tier
Que? :)
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Re: Attributes & Priorities: A Design Thesis

Post by Daeruin » 24 Apr 2015, 23:19

Daeruin wrote:So I would prefer not to have every category start out in the middle tier
higgins wrote:Que? :)
Someone said every priority starts out at tier C, and to get tier B or A you have to choose a lower tier in a different priority. Did I misunderstand?

It's not a huge difference, except that starting out this way encourages characters who are generalists.
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