Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Character Comparison #1: Fvlminata

As threatened two weeks ago, here is my Fvlminata character for comparison, as well as my overview of the game itself.

You will notice that both characters are remarkably similar.

Similar enough that I don't know that there's any point to breaking down specific differences - it's more important that I talk a bit about why they are so similar.

"It's the system, stupid."  Yes.  Really.  The game only has four attributes, and when you only have four attributes - and a dedicated pool of points for attributes - you are going to have a lot of similar characters (unless you game with math geeks who optimize).

I, by a strange coincidence, DO occasionally game with math geeks who optimize.  I'm not saying that it's a bad thing - dealing with munchkins is a fact of GM existence, and you need to make sure the game is interesting and challenging for all players involved.  But that's another rant for another time.

I showed the game (and its probability curve, which you can see below) to one of my more math-oriented friends.  Here is what he had to say:
Most builds should have 2 @13 and 2 @7 with the last 2 points distributed in a manner dependent on how the xp tables function (15,15,7,5 may also work, if you can fully sacrifice one attribute).
3 skill points into balancing humors, some into dabbling in survival and the rest into being awesome. Precise distribution dependent on how any difficulty modifiers break out and how xp works (in the absence of difficulty modifiers, 1, 3, 5 and 9 are the breakpoints for the high attribute based skills; 1,3 for the 7 and 1,3 for the 5).
Of course, I wouldn't allow that set of stats into one of my games, which is one of my restrictions.

All in all, I wound up with a character I think I'd be willing to play, but I also learned some things to watch for in character generation (and elsewhere) when I end up writing my own game.

Here are my takeaways from generating this character that I can use when working on my own game:

1)  Chapter Organization: Explain the system before character generation in the book. Even a two-page "system in a nutshell" intro will make it easier to make useful characters.

I see this in a lot of games, and it goes all the way back to Dungeons & Dragons. There are games where knowing the system doesn't matter, either because you don't have a lot of control over the finished product or because you're just going step-by-step through a lifepath of sorts.  For point-buy games, however, it's a good idea to know what these numbers mean before you are stuck with a useless character.

2)  I was astounded at how little of Fvlminata's page space was given to combat compared to the rest of the system.  Many games will devote an entire chapter to combat.  This devoted only a few pages of the system chapter.  It almost felt like combat was an afterthought for the Fvlminata designers.  Magic also had a surprisingly small footprint on the finished book. These are neither good nor bad - merely interesting.

3)  Layout: Don't put page numbers in the middle of the page.  Put them in the outside corners.  And if you have art in your margins and along the edge of your pages, leave a gap for your page numbers.  Obscured page numbers in the center of the page make an index extremely frustrating to use, even if it's a good index.

4)  Function: Don't require custom dice for your game.  They can screw with the odds in a weird way that you may not have anticipated, which will make the more math-oriented customers a bit twitchy. Not only that, but gamers don't want to spend extra money on custom dice when we already spent $30 or more on your book.

Note that when I say "custom dice," I'm not counting the (by now) gaming standards - d4, d8, d10, d12, and d20.  Fvlminata uses custom d8's which are numbered 1, 1, 3, 3, 4, 4, 6, and 6.  Or, more accurately, I, I, III, III, IV, IV, VI, and VI.  Yes.  They used Roman Numerals.  They also provided stickers if you didn't want to buy custom dice - you could just sticker up some of your existing d8's (rendering them useless for anything else).

Also worth mentioning on this point: For some reason, FUDGE doesn't trip this button for me. Maybe because FUDGE dice are more versatile than Fvlminata's tali.

5) Setting: Make it interesting.  Fvlminata has a very interesting setting.  It really does. The core concept is fascinating, and I like what they did with it.  That said, however, the authors managed to publish a game book that reads like a history book.  They took an awesome concept and made it dry and dull to read.

When all is said and done, what do I think of the game?

It has potential, and there are things in here I can borrow for other games, but I'm not likely to one-shot this one.  It's headed back to the shelf.

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