Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Mechanical vs Non-Mechanical, Keeping Myself Focused

I realized the other day that I'm really starting to appreciate role-playing games where non-mechanical statements have (or can have) mechanical effects.

Of course, once they have mechanical effects, they're not really non-mechanical statements, are they?

A few examples of this:

In 13th Age, there are two forms of non-mechanical statement available to you. Every character has One Unique Thing, and your character has Backgrounds. The One Unique Thing is something that is distinctive to your character on a global scale. "I'm the only ... " is a good way to start these. In play, these don't necessarily have a strong mechanical effect, but they are a huge part of worldbuilding for the GM. And then the Backgrounds. These take the place of skills, but instead of cherry-picking from a list of "This is what I can do," you _create_ a list of "This is what I have done." As I've mentioned before, this can also be used for worldbuilding if you have a particularly awesome background. But it also fixes the problem you run into occasionally where skills are too narrow and you don't know what will fit your character concept well. It's much easier to spend three points on "Front-line Medic" than it is to split points between skills that keep you cool under fire and allow you to tape people up.

Fate doesn't have a specific list of character traits, either. You have "aspects," which describe your character and give you a benefit when they apply (and you spend a point).  So, for example, if my character has "Front-line Medic" as an Aspect, and has the "Heal" skill, I can spend a Fate Point to get a bonus on my skill roll or to negate a penalty for taping someone up while under fire.  And - before someone takes me to task - I know there's not a Heal skill in the default skill list. By the way, you can get the Fate Core System rulebook as a "Pay What You Want" PDF on DTRPG. And "$0" is an option. If you "buy" it for $0 and later want to pay, you can go back and buy it again.

And then there is Burning Wheel. It has beliefs and instincts. Beliefs are what drives your character. They can be goals, but some of the best beliefs are simpler than that. I've spoken in the past about using your character to tell your GM (and the other players) what type of game you are interested in playing. That is what the Beliefs are in a nutshell. If your character's belief is "Cats are the devil's eyes through which he sees into this world," then you've told the GM quite a bit about your character. And you've set up quite a bit of potentially very interesting play.  Instincts, however, are much closer to what I'm talking about here.  Instincts are frequently If/Then statements. "If startled, I grab my dagger." But they can also be "Always" statements about your character, "I always sleep with a dagger under my pillow." "Never pay full price for equipment in a big city."  You can even pair them with Beliefs, "Merchants in cities always overcharge," for example. It's part of why I find The Burning Wheel so appealing. To be honest, I like the Beliefs & Instincts better than I like most of the rest of the system (and I do like most of the rest of the system).

Currently, I'm playing in two games and running a third.  I'm playing in a 13th Age game, and in a Dungeons and Dragons (4th Edition) game. I'm running Legends of the Five Rings (4th Edition) game. And - in the process - I'm actually learning a lot about me as a player.  For example, I'm not an ideal player in a lot of ways.  I'm easily distracted and lack focus (which has to be frustrating for my GMs). And I'm learning to counter that. For example, in the 13th Age game, I multiclassed my character to include a class with a lot of fiddly bits that are only usable on other players' turns, which forces me to pay attention.  My D&D character is similarly active on other players' turns.  And I think that my ability to change gears at the drop of a hat is a strength as a GM, because players are the least predictable thing in any gaming situation and I need to be able to react.

Also worth noting: Two of the three products above have current Kickstarters running.

Next week, I'm going to check in on my delayed Kickstarter projects.

1 comment:

  1. Having the self-awareness to identify your blind spots as a player AND find and implement a workable solution makes you an awesome player. I could not have come up with the idea to multiclass in 13th Age, and it was brilliant.