Do crunch & central narrative authority curb character?

Not wanting to put this question in "What did you play this week?" I'll start this new thread.

Last week we played Freeform Universal, GM with narrative control, in a "wild west" setting. We, the PCs, didn't start off with a lot of strong interpersonal ties. Just how we set things up. My character was a sharp-as-a-tack peddler. He had a rather stern and fatherly approach to solving other people's problems, and a greedy side that could explain away profiting off of people in difficult situations. I felt he was an interesting character, maybe cliche' in a fun way. In hindsight I should have added a disappointing backstory to help flesh him out more in my mind. In game, more social interaction and ties would have made the evening better. But it had nothing to do with the rules set nor the distribution of narrative control in my opinion.

Pretty open set up in Freeform Universal. Not prompted like a Fiasco set up (but often those PC-PC ties have little or no impact on the story either.)

Last night we play tested the "ultralight" version of my rules set. The premise voted for was 1 of 4 that I'd posted on MeetUp. The winner: Gowns and Guns. Everyone plays a princess. The BBEG attacks the palace. Silk, sequins, and high caliber weapons.

Now, here's the thing about simulationist rules sets: they aren't a whole game. They are an action resolution tool. Depending on the amount of crunch, they let you give PCs and NPCs hard stats. They can yield measurable results when a PC tries to accomplish something. They can quantify injury and death in violent situations. They don't actually tell the players how to distribute narrative control. With some, you could play solo, share narrative control, and anything inbetween.

That said, my dice mechanics needed testing out. And the game pitch already let it be known that there would be shooting. Long story short, there was blood and mayhem, some creative killing, some predictable killing, and one grind.

A few things need revising, and I got some good data to work with. Thank you play group!

The actual scenario of a ball at the palace had tons of promise, in my opinion. And for the first 45 minutes or so all of the sparring and interaction were strictly on a social and political level. People to greet, fancy sports cars, gorgeous gowns, people to probe for business information, being cajoled by a chaperone, possible suitors to converse with, possible suitors to avoid, not-so-marriageable men to flirt with, an overbearing and disapproving sister to suffer, and the technophile princess had a portable robot and surveillance station to attend to.

Had we had more than one evening, the Baron's men wouldn't have attacked so soon. There were other NPCs to meet. Verbal power plays to be made. And after the violence began and the princesses needed to escape the palace, there were non-combat situations which we just didn't have time for. The arrogant older sister didn't have time for her fit of epilepsy. They never got to interact with the dashing-but-not-quite-high-blooded-enough major who was wounded and hiding (so, so vulnerable..)

So really it comes down to time. Now, often with high crunch action resolutions systems, players will spend a lot of time on gaming evenings resolving combat. And if it's how all the time is spent at the table, the personalities of combatants can be extremely sparse. Oh my but how I've been trapped in that for years at a time. But it's not a factor of the rules sets. Not the fault of D&D. Not the fault of Pathfinder. It's the culture at the table. No sharing of narrative authority outside of PC free will? It need not affect the dramatic existence of the PCs at all.

To argue otherwise would necessitate leveling the same accusation at many LARPs. An argument which wouldn't stand up, in my opinion.

So, where did last night's princess game fail? Depends on what you wanted out of the game. The combat at the end became a little bit of a grind. That's more a numbers thing, and when the PCs were failing to think outside of the box, it was up to me to perforate the box for them. Wish I had. Shaken up what was becoming the status quo, let those missiles go off. But really, in my opinion, where the scenario had failings, was where the trope was hobbled in the area of continuity. Which came to be right when the PCs had been created. People voted for the scenario, and then seemed to want to break the trope right out of the gate. Princesses who don't dance and don't think about marriages and politics. The rebellious younger sister in the cocktail dress? Awesome! The boyish princess in a trench coat and robots to converse with? Not so much.

Oh well, to each their own. Maybe everyone else had the dramatic interaction they craved last night. If they did, then I'm essentially all for it. And for the most part I think we had a lot of fun, at least until the grindy part and running out of time (20 minutes?). The options for drama, immersion, discovery, plot twists, etc etc were not bounded.

Thoughts?

Do crunch and central narrative control constrain certain modes of play? Do they naturally/often lead people into certain modes of play? Do they have to? Do we associate certain limitations of character development when in reality it is mass observation which leads us to make the conclusion? Do we call it cause-and-effect? If we do, is it an accurate assessment? Are there abundant outliers that are being overlooked? (e.g. tables where character development and interpersonal relationships figure prominently in the story, alongside technical crunch, and with a GM running everything except the PCs).

What are the actual limitations of crunch? What are the actual limitations of central narrative control? What are the trade-offs, i.e. what do the players GAIN when they opt for limitations?

Comments

  • Yes and no.

    In theory, any game can be played with a variety of creative input.

    However, crunch requires attention, buy-in, time and effort. In practice, this tends to shape the game in specific ways.

    If I'm going to spend an hour optimizing my character's combat stats, I'm going to want to see that in play, whether consciously or unconsciously.

    If I'm GMing and I stat up fighting powers for an NPC, I've invested emotionally in seeing that NPC get into a fight. That's going to bias the way I run the game and portray that NPC.

    In theory, I'm happy with any crunch at the table, especially if it's well-designed and creates fun outputs.

    In practice, I get bored or disconnected when the crunch landscape requires me to make mechanical choices which aren't relevant to the themes, characters, or meaningful decisions of the game we're playing.

    (The typical example being the introduction of gun caliber rules to a romantic comedy or some such - even having to ask "hey, you're threatening him with a gun? Wait a minute... what caliber is it? What's it's firing rate? Ok, so that's four dice of damage, right?" takes us out of what we're trying to do.)

    I like crunch when it interacts meaningfully with our concerns in a particular game, and the significant decisions we make as players and on behalf of the characters - assuming it's well designed, of course.
  • Magicians have this misdirection trick where they say what will they attempt, casually ask you anything that makes you think of numbers (like your age, etc) and then show you that they have already done what they told you.

    Switching from narration stance to number crunching has that slight effect on players; it doesn't matter how well the numbers simulate the fiction, how used to the system the players are or how good they are with numbers. You're all still switching your mind between two different ways of processing things. Of course, both can be totally fun and learning to navigate through this effect still allows anyone to enjoy the whole process.
    It won't feel disjointed if the switch uses triggers that get charged with positive emotions. Like saying "roll initiative!" which has become a sort of battle cry.

    But then again, it's a matter of player and GM taste and comfort. Less crunch doesn't mean no crunch at all, the slight distraction present when gears change can be less noticeable but it will still be there. OTOH, I'm not one of those but there are a huge group of players for whom numbers say more than words about the fiction, so reducing the crunch will actually make the game less real for them.

    Tastes and comfort are different for everyone. For me, I'm okay with central narration but I like to be surprised by the story as much as players do, I do prep but I don't enjoy it too much when I have to do a lot to make the game work, so I ended up integrating player input with a good deal of impro over random tables and some prep. I'm more comfortable with that, though I admit it probably won't sound comfortable for anybody else. Crunch will create a certain mode of play for me and my group, but I wouldn't dare say this happens with all groups. It happens to us due to how our particular social contract has evolved through the years we've been playing but that doesn't mean that with the right frame of mind we can't play a crunchy game and go full story-immersion with it.

    So, all I can say from my experience with Central narrative control and crunchiness (hope I'm getting the terms correctly, excuse me if I don't, my forgite is somewhat rusty)

    -Narrative control is great when the GM has a really great, deep and interesting vision of the fictional world for the players to explore, when he can can communicate that vision in a way good enough to catch the players attention and get the players in the mood for exploring it. Also helps a lot when players collaborate doing this exploration in a somewhat respectfully way. Trust, tolerance, understanding and collaboration of both sides enrich the experience. The less railroading (or the less it notices) the better, for which the GM needs to be prepared or at least ready to improvise a bit and let go of his creations, for when he introduces them into the shared fictional world, they are no longer under his control. Given these conditions, play flows naturally and the GM just needs to pace himself in order to end the session on a good cliffhanger instead of arriving to a satisfactory end. However if this is the actual objective (like in a one-shot) then what is needed is to keep the premise simple and the world really small. If this means editing stuff out before starting the game, talk it with the players and cut out thing together.

    -Crunchiness is great as long as it produces material that reinforces the genre atmosphere in an efficient way. It's okay if players spend a big part of the session engaging the system as long as it all becomes part of the fiction instead of another mini-game that players must go through to get the narration going. It's okay if the GM spends a good amount of prep time working with the crunch to make it produce the right effect in play, as long as the GM finds it fun. All kinds of digital tools, cues for procedures and random tables can be included to facilitate the prep after all. Grinding can be avoided by resuming the scene instead of going through the whole process, I do that even with D&D 5e, though mostly when we're out of time. Resuming a boring process or introducing a narrative element to change the pace is always better than going through it all, specially when the GM knows how things would end. As soon as you see the fight is going to turn into grinding, ask players if they prefer to roll a die to see if they win and get some wounds or if some side runs away/surrenders. You shouldn't need to reduce crunchiness of a game to get what you want from it, specially if you like that crunch.

    That's it I think, hope this helps.
  • edited August 2017
    In practice, I get bored or disconnected when the crunch landscape requires me to make mechanical choices which aren't relevant to the themes, characters, or meaningful decisions of the game we're playing.

    I like crunch when it interacts meaningfully with our concerns in a particular game, and the significant decisions we make as players and on behalf of the characters - assuming it's well designed, of course.
    Strongly agree with what you say here. And with your comments about a combat build for an NPC leaning the game towards a fight. I stat out NPCs for a fight if they are likely to cause or precipitate violence. Other NPCs are a name and a few notes about personality, status. I'll stat them for combat abilities on the fly if the PCs start something.

    So crunch which matches up well with the story--could be really simple crunch, could be very detailed. Simple crunch might work well for an off-the-cuff pulp treasure hunt. Highly detailed crunch might work well for a mech combat campaign. And players at some tables might like the exact opposite.

    I have to say that I like systems (ok, my own system) that allow tactical crunch with very little time statting out NPCs. Sometimes you just make the call on the fly that a henchman has pretty good marksmanship (10) and is generally capable in soldier-y things (8). Light armor (2). Heavy rifle (x1.5). I can stat that in 10 seconds.

    I steered away from GURPS, as much as I liked it, because combats bogged down. Degree of crunch is a very subjective to personal taste.

    Thanks for your response.
    Switching from narration stance to number crunching has that slight effect on players; it doesn't matter how well the numbers simulate the fiction, how used to the system the players are or how good they are with numbers. You're all still switching your mind between two different ways of processing things. Of course, both can be totally fun and learning to navigate through this effect still allows anyone to enjoy the whole process.

    Tastes and comfort are different for everyone. For me, I'm okay with central narration but I like to be surprised by the story as much as players do, I do prep but I don't enjoy it too much when I have to do a lot to make the game work, so I ended up integrating player input with a good deal of impro over random tables and some prep.

    -Narrative control is great when the GM has a really great, deep and interesting vision of the fictional world for the players to explore, when he can can communicate that vision in a way good enough to catch the players attention and get the players in the mood for exploring it.

    The less railroading (or the less it notices) the better, for which the GM needs to be prepared or at least ready to improvise a bit and let go of his creations, for when he introduces them into the shared fictional world, they are no longer under his control.

    -Crunchiness is great as long as it produces material that reinforces the genre atmosphere in an efficient way. It's okay if players spend a big part of the session engaging the system as long as it all becomes part of the fiction instead of another mini-game that players must go through to get the narration going.
    Excellent example about the numbers/verbal parts of our brains. Not something I had ever considered before. Underscores what I had internalized about the need for the GM to narrate how the rolls translate into what happened (or players too if full narration task isn't assigned to the GM). It wasn't a 15 attack roll. It was a bullet to the heart and now there is blood spilling out on the floor.

    Agreed about railroading vs. discovery. I like to create NPCs and set them in motion. Living, breathing world. And I love it when the players think of smart ways to get around obstacles. That chain in a flooded 300' passage? When the PCs used it to pull themselves through the cold water it was deadly. The PCs that emptied their water skins and used them for some extra breaths along the path? I loved it! So why plan the players' path? Let them find something cooler than what I might come up with (or maybe I push them and expect them to come up with something which is outside the box.)

    Agree that the crunch just needs to align with the scenario and PC goals, etc. High crunch for special ops commandos. Very little crunch for PCs who are mostly interacting socially.

    As I said, given lots more time, and no need to test my game's dice mechanics, the princesses would have been involved in very few crunchy gunfights. Maybe an assassination attempt. Maybe a duel. But the crunch is available if the players want crunch, and they want a concrete resolution.

    *****

    In my opinion, this is the biggest thing that crunch provides: a tool for finding out what happens in the story. If a GM interprets or fills in the blanks that's not the same. If the players all share narrative power, that's not the same. Not what some gamers want, critically important for others. But obviously different.

    At the other extreme are dice resolution mechanics which are big, sweeping, and not very tied to in-story details (e.g. Fiasco--we roll and then decide what good or bad results were.)

    So with crunch we can get some surprising results. An underdog wins, a champion falls. We can get a source of drama. Our friend is wounded and we have to get them out of harm's way, etc etc etc.

    The right amount of crunch HELPS the story...helps character development.
    I'm not one of those but there are a huge group of players for whom numbers say more than words about the fiction, so reducing the crunch will actually make the game less real for them.
    Might we even say that some gritty fiction will be missing grit if the danger of death and failure isn't quantifiable? Which is another way of saying that there are awesome dramatic stories which CANNOT be told effectively without crunch.
  • edited August 2017
    I usually hear "crunch" used to mean mechanical complexity, or play which rewards system mastery.

    It sounds to me that in your last post, you're more talking about quantification, rendering fictional facts and probabilities into the world of the numerical and objective.

    If I understand that correctly, then I essentially agree that variable objective weights often abet a compelling field of emergent choices, and that knowable risks add grit and drama to our experience of danger.

    I don't think any of that requires that a game be at all "crunchy", though. A few key action percentages, a few key stats and a few key situational modifiers might get you there, for instance.

    As for special ops commandos vs social interaction, I think it depends on where you look for the risk and the drama. It seems to me that the higher the stakes, the more players care about incrementally navigating the landscape of risk. If my character might die, and I'm attached to them (or it'd be tough to just make a new one and play on), then every inch closer they get to death is compelling, as long as I have the chance to react to it. The same might not be true for, like, befriending an NPC. On the other hand, if you're playing FreeMarket, where physical death is irrelevant unless you lose the social capital that grants you access to the station's "print a new body" resources, then it's the social risk landscape that rewards minute attention.

    I think "higher stakes rewards more detail and more choices" is also true for positive stakes, not just threats. In classic adventuring play, the characters' attempt to achieve something awesome is often handled so minutely as to take several sessions! I don't see how hit points and progress probabilities are any less suitable for a possible triumph ("We acquired the castle!") than they are for a possible disaster ("The dungeon killed us!"). But "roleplay it out" has been the norm for projects and quests. So, whenever we want details and choices, it seems to me that (a) simple rolls interspersed with roleplay and (b) crunchy subsystems are both viable options.
  • @David_Berg

    I think degree of complexity of the metagame (i.e. the techniques and rules that allow us as players to interact with and manipulate the game world) is directly equatable with crunch. Risus has very little crunch. GURPS has a lot of crunch.

    Mathematical modeling creates crunch, always. Some games might be devoid of modeling. But my experience is that just about any game with numbers and dice has some element of mathematical modeling. Maybe it's possible for a game to have crunch which is divorced from mathematical modeling, but I don't think I know of any.

    The more granularly a game can handle things happening in time, the more crunchy. Second to second resolution in GURPS? Very crunchy. Resolve 1 minute of an event with one dice roll and then narrate what happened? Low crunch.

    In short, I'm not talking crunchy/not crunchy in a binary way. It's all on a continuum. Many players choose a system to play in based on that crunchy dial of action resolution. It has a lot to do with the kind of game they want to play. A game that has a lot of in character action with very little time rolling dice or consulting rules is a low crunch game. If it resolves the big question marks in a way that satisfies the players at the table, it's a great match for the game they are playing.

    Some players may want that for their commandos game. Others may want the second to second tactical role playing (NOT roll playing) of a crunchier rules set.

    Different rules for different uses. I like your example of FreeMarket. Yes, there could be some very high stakes dialogue at the negotiation table. Maybe life and death. That's cool.

    But I think there are certain types of high stakes games that are going to require at least some crunch. There needs to be a system which lets your PC interact with the world and increase their chances to achieve victory.

    If not, big questions will be determined by capricious chance (dumb luck) or by GM or group fiat. Personally, I think that finding out how the story ends through only dumb luck randomness is very unsatisfying. It cheapens the meaning of player choice. We could have flipped a coin at the beginning of the evening instead of at the end.

    Deciding outcome by GM or group fiat is more complex. It can be approached from a standpoint of "what would logically happen next?" Or perhaps "what would be more dramatic for the story?" It can also devolve into a sort of popularity contest. But in short it's a radically different approach (and yes, it's possible to slide from a crunchy resolution in a game and to openly/secretly allow fiat to have a much bigger influence on how the story progresses.)

    So...let's find out how this story ends, right? The big question. Well, if there is no crunch and no random outcome whatsoever, then humans will decide. They might do a fantastic job. I guess I could experience tension through wondering what the humans will decide. I play some of those games. Sometimes they are really fun. But I'll admit that I'm never on the edge of my seat. The stories frequently suffer from "too many cooks in the kitchen" syndrome. That's just my personal feeling/experience with it.

    Games with crunch, however, have more options. GM or group fiat could decide some or many events in the story. Chances based on mathematical modeling could decide events. It's the best way for death or other serious loss to be handled in my opinion. And I'll have to say that the majority of my most tense moments in gaming were in high crunch moments.

    So back to half of the original question of the thread. Does crunch hamper character? Well, it can be argued that any time spent rolling dice and tending to the metagame is time out of character. That's completely true. But I think it comes down to cost/benefit considerations. Crunch takes time. Crunchier takes more time. But what you can get for the time investment are story elements (tension! non-fiat concrete results!) that you can't achieve any other way.

    For those that just don't like crunch, that's fine. Not talking you into it. It has its limitations and costs. But I don't think that sacrificing character is one of the costs.
  • I agree with pretty much everything you just wrote, I'd just like to note a few differences:

    - I think "complexity" and "many rolls per unit of fictional time" are two different things.

    - I agree that objective constraints on what can/will happen need to exist for maximum struggle and tension (like you, I prefer these over fiat / randomness for this purpose), but I think such constraints can be quite simple (e.g. the classic, "You have 3 HP, enemy attacks do 1d6, try not to get in a fight," of low-level old-school D&D). I would call my OSR play fairly low-crunch (it ain't Fiasco, but it ain't GURPS either) -- the numbers are there when death threatens, but the vast majority of the PC interacting with the world to increase their chances of victory is via back-and-forth with the GM under the system of "impartially judge what would happen".

    But maybe we actually agree on that too, and it's just semantics between "crunchy" and "has any crunch at all".
    Does crunch hamper character? Well, it can be argued that any time spent rolling dice and tending to the metagame is time out of character. That's completely true. But I think it comes down to cost/benefit considerations. Crunch takes time. Crunchier takes more time. But what you can get for the time investment are story elements (tension! non-fiat concrete results!) that you can't achieve any other way.

    For those that just don't like crunch, that's fine. Not talking you into it. It has its limitations and costs. But I don't think that sacrificing character is one of the costs.
    I think it's just as you say -- you sacrifice some time spent purely in-character, but you gain other things.

    Personally, I don't look at those other things as unique story elements -- for me, it's more about building character identification (or at least connection) through intense experience. Sweating my character's possible loss helps me care about them, and really struggling on their behalf makes me identify with them.

    I do need to know who they are first, though. If they aren't already a person before the combat starts, then I'm just playing myself wearing a stat block.

    So I guess I'd say that, no, crunch doesn't hamper character, unless it takes all the play time away from establishing character in the first place.
  • Thanks David, I think we are about 98% of the same opinion.

    Personally for years I've been on a quest for a game where there's a mix of exciting tactical, political, and emotional play all in good doses. Characters who really feel real (instead of only craving power and wealth). Meaningful choices to be made.
  • Crunch is not a binary scale. There are, for example, games with detailed calculations and stats but where significant outcomes actually come down to fiat. There are games with complex arrangements of stats and dice but where the stuff we care about but is effectively random. Likewise, there are games with single rules which are strong and binding and determine significant outcomes.

    I tend to prefer "low crunch" but I want my rules to have definite and meaningful impact, for example.

  • edited September 2017
    I'm pretty much with WarriorMonk and Paul_T here. Personally, I think fictional hooks tend to produce more interesting character-relevant stuff than abstract resource minigames, but there's some crunch even I like.
  • My thought is that if a gaming group wants to find out what happens in the story, a concrete answer to a concrete question, with no GM or player fiat involved, then an action resolution tool is needed. Ergo, crunch.

    It could be a coin toss, which is about as crunchy as eating one piece of crisped rice, but it does fall on the crunch continuum scale.

    PbtA and anything with a "yes, but.." rule opens the fiat door I suppose, although you can get concrete do-or-die depending on system. That's a confusing topic, in my opinion.
  • edited September 2017
    Personally for years I've been on a quest for a game where there's a mix of exciting tactical, political, and emotional play all in good doses. Characters who really feel real (instead of only craving power and wealth). Meaningful choices to be made.
    Mongrel, I think the perfect game for you is Burning Wheel, but it takes a lot of time and commitment to read and learn and I know you may not be able to make it a priority with your stretched schedule. Maybe after awhile, if everyone is committed at SG SLC, we can play it on the Friday Game sessions we are experimenting with—I think I'm going to call it "Fellowship Fridays"...you like name? You no like name?
  • That's a thoroughly goofy name, so I'd say it sounds about right!
  • Burning Wheel, in many ways, embodies a great deal of the design philosophy being described in this thread.

    A great game and well worth checking out!
  • Trying to read a bit about BW rules. I probably need to watch a good YouTube session. I'll admit I'm not a fan of skill and combat perks for acting in character. I'd rather just play at a table where people play in character for the love of it. (See below for points builds trade offs)

    From what I'm reading it looks like the combat mechanics are more rules heavy than my homebrew, at least before imposed conditions are concerned. Could be wrong, maybe about equal.

    Other action resolution probably about equal.

    I'd want to learn more about weaknesses and foibles. Is that a thing in Burning Wheel? Sometimes a GURPS style of taking on weaknesses is appealing, but then I think about how people take advantage of it and that makes me want to dispense with it altogether.
  • There are certain mechanics that work only if you and your group get in the proper mindset and respect it. This can either happen spontaneously or be enforced by at least a couple of people present (it's harder if the GM does it unsupported) until the group gets accustomed. It's also easier if the group sees how the mechanic actually makes the game better or if the group doesn't already have something similar that works well. There's also the fact that some players or even the GM have bad memories related to similar mechanics that may subconsciously help them sabotage their potential. Even just explaining the mechanic in the wrong terms can ruin it.

    When my group tried Fate-like aspects they mashed that button so bad it ruined my immersion and now I can't even bring myself to use any mechanic that rewards players immediately for roleplaying. But when I think about it, we already had good roleplaying before trying aspects. No wonder why adding it upon our practices kinda ruined roleplaying: the problem isn't usually the mechanic but how and if it really fits the group.
  • edited September 2017
    Mongrel, based on our discussion above about making things concrete instead of dependent on GM/player whims/judgment, I think you may really like the way Burning Wheel sets difficulties for rolls. The game's accounting of relevant factors is nicely thorough and clear.

    And no, you can't do that thing in BW that you can do in GURPS where you load up on Disadvantages to get more points to buy good stuff with. :) (At least not significantly; maybe there's a tiny degree of that that I've forgotten?) I still remember my gross GURPS ninja -- I got the last few points I needed for elite levels of stealth and murder by taking some Odious Personal Habits. I believe he chain-smoked cheap cigars.
  • @David_Berg I typically capped GURPS disadvantages at 30 or so points.

    Watched 2 videos about Burning Wheel. Curious but not sure. Skill progression idea is intriguing but looks like too much bookkeeping (and obnoxious ways to game it?) some parts seem maybe just a tad too crunchy. I personally want a LOT of GM freedom when GMing.
    Rules enforcement of personality driven play--maybe I'll just have to try it to know.

    @WarriorMonk in some ways I'm just wondering how it would be to play a big crunchy campaign that is driven by believable character goals (so no PC who lives solely to acquire swag and become more powerful). I think it really comes down to the aims of the table. It would succeed every time with players who wanted it to, and fail to varying degree with players whose big focus were power progression. Actual system would only be a minor factor in the outcome.


  • @WarriorMonk in some ways I'm just wondering how it would be to play a big crunchy campaign that is driven by believable character goals (so no PC who lives solely to acquire swag and become more powerful). I think it really comes down to the aims of the table. It would succeed every time with players who wanted it to, and fail to varying degree with players whose big focus were power progression. Actual system would only be a minor factor in the outcome.
    I think this is precisely the point of the Burning Wheel system, to a large extent. It's the forefront example of "crunchy campaign driven by believable character goals" on the scene today, and that's why people are suggesting it here.

    I disagree that "actual system would only be a minor factor in the outcome"; my gaming experience playing around with a variety of games and groups suggests very much the opposite.

  • Actually, there's a lot to consider behind the phrase "actual system would only be a minor factor in the outcome". You're right Paul, system matters. But when somebody says that phrase out loud confidently they meant to say "I already have interiorized most of the system I use in my head, so whatever else I play with would only be a minor factor in the outcome"

    Funny how our brain play these games on us.

    Anyway, once you have interiorized your personal system, it's true that whether you use a d20 roll under, d6 pool, percentile dice with any arrange of bonuses and specific rules/mechanics for certain moments, it doesn't matter much. The resulting experience will probably not change too much. But the crunch is not the whole system. It's the interaction of the part you interiorize of it with the crunch and the vision everybody has of the game that constitutes the whole system.

    Parts get confused with the whole because the unwritten parts of the system (rpg theory has a name for this but I can't remember and I hope it's less obscure to explain it this way) only form in your head when you read the crunch carefully and try hard to not bring previously interiorized systems from other games into the new ones. It's really hard; even when putting an effort to learn and use a new system as the designer intended, the reader's mind will skip parts that look familiar and fall back to whatever they already interiorized that looks similar.

    That's why veteran D&D players may end up playing and DMing VtM as if it were superheroes, or trying to prolong campaigns for way longer than the levelling up mechanics in VtM can cope. Sure they will make it work and enjoy playing VtM as if it were D&D, but that's not playing the game as the designers intended. They are missing the real VtM experience.

    It's not impossible to learn and play the game as it is though. Once you're aware of this trick of your mind you learn to approach at any game with no expectations and to recognize what belongs in each system. You read carefully and find out that different games are meant to give different vibes, need to be seen under a different light and may need you to develop different skillsets to be played properly.

    So Mongrel, when people around here say that BW is different and might be what you're looking for, they are actually talking about a different experience, not just recommending you to try a different crunch over your system. I'd say that your system as it is is probably already alright and you just need to write down what you've already interiorized. Or perhaps try BW as it really is before doing so. Who knows, you may be surprised. :)
  • Funny how our brain play these games on us.

    ...

    It's not impossible to learn and play the game as it is though. Once you're aware of this trick of your mind you learn to approach at any game with no expectations and to recognize what belongs in each system. You read carefully and find out that different games are meant to give different vibes, need to be seen under a different light and may need you to develop different skillsets to be played properly.

    So Mongrel, when people around here say that BW is different and might be what you're looking for, they are actually talking about a different experience, not just recommending you to try a different crunch over your system. I'd say that your system as it is is probably already alright and you just need to write down what you've already interiorized. Or perhaps try BW as it really is before doing so. Who knows, you may be surprised. :)
    Insightful points. Noted and thanks.

    I definitely know what I want, and it is freedom to tell dynamic group stories. My rules are a tool box. I want to hone them into an incredibly streamlined, powerful & adaptable tool box (cliche I know). They don't give direction as to what kind of stories to tell. They are an action resolution system, no more, no less.

    Some games are a whole game experience. As a game consumer if
    it's the experience I want, then it's like a movie I will go see.

    But I approach most games as I would literature that is open to interpretation. Not literature where the author comes back and says everyone missed the point, but literature where the author is stoked if 10 people will read and come away with 10 different ideas.

    Really what I want is a year with my system and a group of smart and committed players. Oh yeah, and world peace.
  • Heh, me too. Actually, that path has taken me from one game to another, I've only finished two of them and same as always, I feel I've got what I want on my last design. Perhaps I do, perhaps it will be the next, but in the road I have accumulated several tools that will definitely be part of the final design, whatever this is. If my current design works, I'll be able to get crunchy like results with barely no crunch that looks like no crunch at all. Good luck!
  • Same to you!

    Here's to unwritten masterpieces!
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