Zo-oZ, similar philosophies, opposite direction


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(Posting on behalf of [MENTION=85493]zincorium[/MENTION])

Zo-oZ intro, stealing fire from the gods and subsequently burning myself.

Although Onxyhope has detailed the nature of the experiment, I should probably throw some details in about what I'm attempting to do through all of this. Rather than building a system to try and achieve a specific feel, I'm looking at going from the ground up to correct issues that I've seen affect the fun of the people at the table. FATE is the 'narrative' game with which I have the most experience, so I'm probably going to seem like I'm specifically picking on it unfairly (true but I'm not trying to be mean about it) while also being massively ignorant of other systems which do things better. And I'm expecting people to repeatedly point out, not quite incorrectly, that all of my complaints are resolvable by having a good group instead of changing the system. They are, but once you HAVE a good group, you still want the best system possible for what you want to do.

While I greatly enjoy systems that are more narrative and try to make characters more than just a page of numbers, there are two real problems that I see narrative type systems suffer, one of those is that, since the roleplaying traits that are built in tend to be always beneficial to involve in a roll, the incentives for the players and GM are to repeatedly call on traits for every roll in every session all campaign long, and for the system to restrict the traits to a short list. This applies even when traits are those of your opponent and can be used to create a penalty, if they apply the incentives are typically geared towards using them all the time.

NOT choosing to involve a trait which might arguably apply is essentially choosing to penalize yourself, on both sides, because all rolls are relative to others. The sessions themselves might be unconsciously or deliberately heavily biased in favor of certain sets of traits, and some players are more willing to take the penalty (not take the bonus) than others. What I've seen this result in, in play, is that some characters are demonstrably weaker because they chose traits that were narrow or not encouraged by the adventures and they don't want to use them inappropriately, alongside other characters that choose overly broad or coincidentally optimal traits and are more effective because they're able to use these all the time, on every roll. This leads to resentment, and also attempts to 'skew' traits into areas that don't quite fit in order to participate at the same level and to the same degree the other players are playing at without doing so.

Alongside that, since the number of traits is limited in order to try and keep the use of bonuses down somewhat, the same traits get used over, and over, and over again. If a recurring villain has three traits and one is a 'bad leg', for example, the players are given a very obvious incentive to repeatedly use that literally ever turn in combat. Should they choose not to, fail rolls as a result, and the villain succeeds in his plan or kills one of the PCs, that can be directly traced to the decision not to use the available incentive. Whereas any trait that even could be negative and result in a penalty in play is likewise painted with a big bullseye indicating that the GM should be using it as much as possible. If players can avoid having meaningful weaknesses they'll often choose to do so, or contrariwise imagine characters who have so many important flaws that they're the universe's punching bag because it's almost ALWAYS appropriate and encouraged to bring them into the game in a way that effects play. It gets boring, characters become flanderized since they consistently act the same way in all situations, often to an excessive degree, and GM control over what traits are allowed becomes hard to judge.

What I'm going to try to do is create a good way of having traits in the game that encourage them to be used without them being an unambiguous good or bad thing, since that seems to be where it has gone awry in my past experience. Characters, scenes, potentially even equipment should have large numbers of traits that can be of mixed quality and applicability without negatively affecting the game.

The other problem of the two I'm focusing on, and one that's probably a bit less controversial in it's existence, is that most narratively based games do strip down their mechanics that aren't focusing on the core concept to the bare minimum. If you played them without their specific narrative elements, they're boring and overly simplistic, and of course that's by design. 'Rules light' and 'gets out of your way' are selling points, they're included as part of the elevator pitch for the game. You're supposed to use the fun stuff as the primary game element and the rest of it is just to give context for the fun stuff. But the narrative bits take a lot of effort, and a lot of imagination. They're each a small creative act and those are hard to crank out at high quality as the pace of the game demands.

Each game is highly dependent to function at all on having high energy, completely engaged participants, in order to actually use all of that narrative stuff. Of course you always want to have those in every game in every system every time but being realistic that's not always what you're presented with and every RPG game functions in it's own, most basic way when people are creatively exhausted and are participating in a reduced fashion. In a mechanics forward game like D&D, just showing up and rolling dice, swing, hit, deal damage, swing, miss, roll saving throw, that's an option. It isn't as good of an experience as really moving forward with the roleplaying, but again it's an option, if you didn't get enough sleep or something outside of game is bothering you or any number of other things. Narrative games, you might as well call off if you aren't doing great. Does that ensure games that do happen are more noteworthy? Possibly, but it's typically at the expense of games not happening at all for some groups.

Additionally, the simpler a system is, the less functional it is when tampered with. When you have so few rules, each one of them is massively important and you tweak them at your own risk. When bonuses and penalties are few and far between, it's hard to differentiate between a minor inconvenience and near paralysis. More complex systems are sometimes more resilient when things are changed, although the full effect of changes can be hard to be sure of generally the game will still function, and when they're not it's usually simple enough to introduce a counterbalance specific to the problem.

So, what am I trying to do here? Mostly, create a system that's character based, contains large amounts of free form elements, gets out of the way of roleplaying momentum, but is mechanically substantial enough to have survive blah days and still move when more components are grafted on. After that, I'll relax by solving world peace and inventing an FTL drive.

(OH note, to keep all these in the same place Zinc and I decided to have me post both ours for now with appropriate tags, we may change this up in the future if need be. Thus any confusion on the authorship of a piece I will tag Zinc in all his entries for clarity in addition to using Zo-oZ or Oz-zO as appropriate in the title.)
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