Consistency is key – Part 2

Fun trumps adversity every time

Last week I posted part one of my thoughts on this thread from Reality Refracted on avoiding rules and dice when the outcome of a situation is presumed.

I didn’t want to spin the discussion by posting my solution to what I considered the crux of my concern over the simple rule (to which I happen to agree) and instead decided to wait until after the weekend to respond fully.

I know you’ve been waiting patiently all weekend for my response, so I won’t keep you waiting…

First, I’m intrigued by, and agree with, both responses to my post.

Let’s talk about the past:

For the record, in historical practice I’ve probably leaned toward Phil’s response of “playing it both ways” when I’ve been behind the screen. I’ve never been one to just go off and kill someone’s character when they’ve invested time in participating with the plot and story simply because that’s that and so I’m probably guilty of letting the characters perform the killing blow outright while allowing for the dice to potentially mitigate an insta-kill situation far more than I can recall.

Basically speaking, I’ve removed the input of the dice from the equation when the dice might interpose an answer that seems unrealistic, isn’t interesting, or isn’t relevant to the situation. Good examples of this would be times when stealth killing an unarmored guard makes for good play and having said guard survive doesn’t. That said, in equal fashion, I’ve let the dice hold sway to give the character an out in similar situations… e.g Even a sleeping person might roll over at the exact moment someone fires the killing blow and thereby avoid instant death,

And now, the present:

However, I can see how that might be seen as not following my own advice (specifically the part on Character Killing) on what to do with a killing situation and as a result, I also find myself nodding at the deeper wisdom of, and finding comfort being in the same camp as, Demiurgus. He’s right that rules to protect the player aren’t what I consider necessary anymore given that I’ve moved past the “GM as adversary” portion of the game.

Combining the two:

And that leads us to the real answer here:

In general, the “insta-kill, no save, no way to prevent death” type of situation should never (allow me to repeat that: Never) happen to a character. And as a GM its your job to work hard to prevent these types of impasses since they’re both not fun and presumably adversarial.

If you’re unwilling as a GM to pull the trigger, and/or your players don’t want to play in a game with instant kills in their character’s sleep, then its your job to prevent such an occurrence from occurring while still making the world realistic.

And it isn’t as hard as you might think.

  • Someone might bend down to pick up a coin and the last moment and avoid the swinging sword.
  • As noted earlier, someone might roll over at the last moment and avoid the gunshot.

But more importantly, and to keep realism while preventing your game from becoming too cliched, you need to prevent the “last minute save” from being your crutch. Instead, the would-be assassin is heard opening the door, or the change of wind-flow pattern ruffles the curtains, or a floorboard creeks unexpectedly and the character awakes before the attempted assassination can occur.

I’m certain at this point you’re wondering if I’m advocating that you should turn the situation into a Quantum Ogre by ignoring or fudging the stealth check for NPCs for the sake of a good game.

Yes. That’s exactly what I’m proposing here.

Because first and foremost the game should be fun. And, as a GM, its your job to foster that fun.

Posted in Roleplaying game (RPG)
by Kevin Oedekoven
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Consistency is key – Part 1

Because blind follow-through leads us down the wrong path

I was perusing a great article over at Reality Refracted about using common sense to answer resolutions where chaotic variances of the dice might (and sometimes do) create inconsistencies in situations where we all know “what should be the outcome.” Its a great read inspired by the AngryDM and you should really go take a look.

Now in some regards I’m 100% on board with the conclusion of the article that specific outcomes should be left to those at the table to resolve and the dice should only ever be consulted with that outcome is in question. Common sense rightly tells us that certain actions necessarily yield certain results because nothing interferes or prevents an outcome. Seems pretty simple right?

Wherein we jump the river:

Yellowstone River

Yellowstone River

A good example, as identified by the article, is jumping over a river. Anyone who has spent any time alive probably has a really good idea by visual inspection if a river (or any similar obstacle) can be jumped. We’re fairly good at estimating and predicting the outcome of such an attempt.

In short, given a visual, most people know if they can jump a river or not. The DM informs the player their character is certain he or she cannot possibly make the leap successfully and that’s that. Or is it?

Let’s presume a player (like most players) wants to throw caution to the winds, starts citing character background where the player their character to attempt the leap none-the-less. Its at this point we roll the dice. No, not to determine if the character actually managed to do the impossible, we already determined the river can’t be jumped. But instead we might roll the dice to determine how far across said river did the character actually leap, and where in that same river did the character actually land.

And all that meshes up with the reality of the situation and everyone at the table is likely to be perfectly copacetic with such a ruling. This is a good thing because it actually speeds play, adds to internal logic and inherently improves the trust relationship across the table.

Wherein we jump the shark:

But as I read to the end of the article, I started wondering how even-handed such a rule is, would be, and more importantly should be applied.

The more I considered the ramifications of removing some dice rolls when the outcome is assured the more I recognized that the flaw in the realism of the situation vs. the assumed outcome bears its ugly head when we take the other example of sneaking up on someone and killing them outright.

As discussed in the article, should a character stealthily attack a victim, it is presumed no dice rolling should occur because the situation is akin to a sleeping victim being attacked. And on the surface this all seems reasonable and I’m rather certain everyone at the table would be amenable to such a ruling… until its their character getting killed with no chance to affect the outcome.

If we apply the ruling evenly, we may find ourselves in a position where we actually speak the words, “Someone or some thing sneaks up on your character and kills them. Your character is dead. No save. Roll up a new character.”



But that’s the breaks of making such a bold statement that sneaking up on someone ipso facto yields to insta-kill success.

Why you ask?

Because rulings need to be applied to characters just as to non-characters if we’re going to support some internal structure of realism. Otherwise questions of trust start to creep into play when the internal consistency fails simple logic.

To witness some incredible failure in internal logic, you need look no further than The inherent problem with making your fantasy world one Big ol’ Super Random, Character Killing, mondo, MEGA-DUNGEON of DOOM! - Kevin

And I can assure you that having characters die because they didn’t notice the dude sneaking up on them… or the invisible stalker or whatever isn’t going to play out well with those around the table because your assumed outcome (that the killing blow is assured) is in direct conflict with the assumed frame of reality of the player (that their character is the “hero” of the story and should be given a chance to overcome any situation.)

How to un-jump the shark:

I have a few thoughts on how to allow us to jump the river without jumping the shark, and I’ll post them in a response next week.

I ‘m curious to know how you both see, and would resolve, this situation (presuming you even see this as problematic) without interjecting and possibly skewing the responses with my input. So the floor’s open and I’m listening… care to chime in?

Posted in Roleplaying game (RPG)
by Kevin Oedekoven
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Why Charisma and not Intelligence and/or Wisdom?

Am I just being timid?

A while back I received this rather intriguing email from Demiurugs:


As so oft happens late(ish) at night, I started having creative thoughts, and was wondering about some of the implication of your more off-handed statements regarding D&D stats. You’d mentioned, when nixing Charisma (best idea since sliced orcs) that you were, by the same token, categorically against Int and Wis as well, but were letting them be due to their more entrenched nature. Now, I kinda like Int and Wis, just, uh, because, but I was sitting here trying to think of alternatives.

What sorts of things could one use, as far as actual player skill is concerned, to simulate the kind of thought processes that would justify a mechanical bonus to spells, or even simply determine if they work?

For Intelligence, I was imagining some sort of randomized puzzle of varying difficulty played each time a spell is cast, but there are significant drawbacks to this idea, including the difficulty of designing such a puzzle and the likelihood that such a mechanic might rapidly become boring. I had devised so such analog for Wisdom.

It’s also possible that game-world description of sufficient depth might allow for permanent bonuses in the area and substitute entirely for a stat. Magic, in tabletop games, is often presented as a very scientific discipline, at least relative to most of the rest of the world. Perhaps the player coming up with ways to help codify the rules of the universe in a manner not unlike journal articles, putting forth peer-reviewed (read: DM approved) theories that would result in publishing (read: being applied in a lasting way to the game world and providing a future permanent bonus to the player re: spell-casting).

A similar solution may work for the Cleric, but with revelations on the mysteries of a church’s teachings, or on the actually historical fact of mythological events, both of which seem quite relevant to the overall teachings of any religion. This, and possibly the Wizard proposal above, might be also tied to ongoing and consistent behavioral changes in the character, which I will not codify here.

While the fighter gets magic weapons and the rogue gets, well, I have no idea, this provides an advancement mechanic for the spell-casters, and may even define what sorts of spells/miracles they have available to them.

If you’ve got the time, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

For those who aren’t entirely sure, he’s referencing the blog post wherein I remove charisma from the attribute list in my D&D redesign and, more specifically, the discussion point from Adrian where he eludes to the point (and I concur) the the same logic used to remove charisma could be used to remove intelligence and wisdom.

What Demiurgus has done to consider options to remove intelligence and wisdom is intriguing, and has a lot of potential, and more interestingly pokes at the concept of player skill and ability vs. character skill and ability.

However, let’s get to the core of the question. Namely that I’m not entirely sure I’m on board as to being classified as, “categorically against Int and Wis as well, but were letting them be due to their more entrenched nature.” Instead I’d consider myself more, “happily willing to let intelligence and wisdom remain because they still have impacts on core game mechanics.”

Here’s what I think is the genesis of this disconnect…
In the original blog post, I defined charisma as:

At best a role play support metric masquerading as a real statistic, and in the most compassionate and friendly light to the attribute, charisma should be a skill… like leadership.

In the ensuing discussion I further surmise that charisma is a carryover of the leadership characteristic that was in the Chainmail rules for miniatures.

I should point out that I could be wrong about this, so if anyone knows how Dave and Gary determined what attributes to use, I’d be interested in hearing about it. – Kevin

And in truth many of the attributes (or at least those that may not exactly define the physical characteristics of a character) could similarly be relegated to skills (which no longer exist) with wisdom and intelligence being arguably the easiest transferable as skills.

But there’s a deeper issue in that the attributes of a thing are the building blocks of that thing. Removing them would change the nature of the things those blocks create.

Which bring us to…

Kevin’s Grand Unification Theory of D&D

In some regard this discussion picks at what I consider to be my Unified Theory of D&D… that everything in the game, including the very universe of the game itself, can be described by the creations of more complex things that are themselves described by the fundamental units of the core attribute list.

So essentially, removing intelligence and wisdom would lead us with characters defined only by physical characteristics in a world that is so typified as the convergence of a physical/mental/spiritual world. And that would be a bad thing. Because removing charisma doesn’t change D&D, but removing intelligence and wisdom do.

So, in conclusion, even were we to want to shift those attributes to skills (or eliminate them altogether) if we ever did find a way to make them into islands of rules, its best we leave them in as the mental and spiritual definitions of the character.

Posted in Game Design, Roleplaying game (RPG)
by Kevin Oedekoven
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Growth! becomes Sew What?

Sew funny. Sew very very funny.

Its complete!

joshuanimation has come through once again with artwork for Mad Scientist: the Game.

You’ll recall that, much like Super Growth, I didn’t really think Growth evoked the right imagery for the game and was looking for a better card name. Super Growth became the far more appropriate Team Building Exercise but I was still left with a challenge in coming up with the right image to place on the card. I’ll admit to being very concerned that I’d once again be left in view of the finish line with no means of completing the race.

But that didn’t happen.

Here’s the great artwork joshuanimation created for the card:

Mad Scientist: the Game event card Sew What?

Sew What?

With the artwork complete, its on to getting all the components in the same box.

Posted in Board Game, Card Game, Game Design, Mad Scientist
by Kevin Oedekoven
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Super Growth! becomes Team Building Exercise!

Funnier. And much better... Also, did I mention funnier?

At the end of April I posted that I wasn’t happy with the names for the “add a card” mechanic event cards for Mad Scientist. As a result, I tossed it out to the public to help perhaps identify better, more appropriate, and hopefully funnier names for Growth and Super Growth.

Super huge thanks to everyone who submitted ideas. Its obvious you’re all incredibly talented and understand what I’m aiming for in the game. I can prove it easily because I liked all your ideas far more than mine. – KO

Out of all the ideas, I immediately realized that “Team Building Exercise!” was a much better name for “Super Growth!” and nothing ever offered seemed to capture the card concept as well.

Today I can present you with the artwork that joshuanimation created for that event card.

Team Building Exercise event card for Mad Scientist: the game

Team Building Exercise!

Pretty cool isn’t it?

The image so simply but perfectly captures the fun of the game and even some of the mad dash means that some Mad Scientist players employ to quickly snatch up whatever monster part card they’ve been eyeing and hoping the dice let them take out of the laboratory. I couldn’t be more pleased with the end result.

Now its on to the new Growth card where I’m really liking the name “Sew What?!?” (another Demiurgus suggestion – huge thanks again) but am still having the same issue before the name changes… namely what image should I ask joshuanimation to create?

The image needs to be fun, lighthearted, humorous, and kid-friendly. Anyone have any thoughts?

Posted in Board Game, Card Game, Game Design, Mad Scientist
by Kevin Oedekoven