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And then what? - or a lack of scope in gaming

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  • And then what? - or a lack of scope in gaming

    Game design is weird. It hyper focuses on some aspects, but completely glazes over other aspects.

    In your standard D&D style fantasy game, you focus on leveling up, wandering from place to place often with no overall goal beyond kill things and take their stuff. While being a "murder-hobo" is a time honored tradition, there is from time to time the player or group that wants to become king/queen of an empire. But there isn't really much in the way of mechanics to support that goal, let alone give a frame work for what happens in the game once you achieve that goal. I mean why stop the game once you become the emperor, why not conquer the world?

    In most White Wolf games you can level up your stats, but the setting tends to exist as an immutable default. Most neonate vampires will never have a real affect on the jyhad of the elders, most were-critters will never be able to change how the spirit world does things, etc. The one outlier is the exalted setting, but even that rule set strains when you direct it away from insane personal combat situations.

    Games Workshop who gave us the Warhammer 40,000 setting produces RPG supplements that allow you to play traders, cultists, imperial guardsmen, and even space marines. But you can't really play as the God Emperor of mankind and his Primarchs conquering the galaxy and attempting to seal away the powers of chaos.

    Even video games have trouble with the zone I am talking about. Consider a game like Skyrim, where you can save the world by defeating Alduin, you can become the leader of every guild and faction, as well as become a thane of every hold. But its not like you can become the ruler of Skyrim or of all Tamriel like a previous dragonborn nor does being the leader of those factions functionally do anything. The Elder Scrolls Online has an achievement where the top ranked player in the world is named Emperor of Tamriel, but there isn't really content to be had once you have clawed your way to the top, just a trophy unlock.

    Now part of this is the fact that many gaming groups just don't stick together or maintain a game long enough to max level a character, let alone worry about content that such a character would require. But I find that to be an incomplete reason because you could just design a game to have a shorter progression path so you could get to the "end game" sooner or just start at the "end game" state sort of like how the Exalted bypasses most traditional leveling.

    Or to put it another way, every RPG allows you to play in a world or setting, but always ends the game before you can affect the setting and change it. Sure you can save a world and alter the course of history, but only in a storyline way rather than a built in mechanical sense. Every fantasy setting has some variant on a magical kingdom that once existed and you can explore the ruins of that ancient lost society, but there is no mechanical support for being the hero or visionary who built that society in the first place.

  • #2
    I don’t think most folks are particularly interested in playing gods and kings.


    Going by Willow now, or Wil for short. She/Her/Hers.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Charlaquin View Post
      I don’t think most folks are particularly interested in playing gods and kings.
      Its not just gods and kings, its the ability to change the setting rather than simply reacting to it.

      In D&D you can play an evil alignment, but there aren't mechanics for doing the things the villains end up doing. Why is it that it is only the NPCs who discover an ancient rite that can change the world, only the NPCs can design the magical object that will change the balance of power, only the enemy NPC can make a society change direction.

      From a certain point of view, the myth about Johnny Appleseed suggests he has more long term "setting" power than most PCs due to the changes in biome in an entire country.

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      • #4
        I don't think that really address the core issue of popularity of play style.

        Playing an evil character changes what sort of behaviors are acceptable for your character, but they're still protagonists that do protagonist stuff, while the enemy NPCs (whether good people trying to stop you, rival evil people, or whatever) are still antagonists doing antagonist stuff.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Thoth View Post

          Its not just gods and kings, its the ability to change the setting rather than simply reacting to it.

          In D&D you can play an evil alignment, but there aren't mechanics for doing the things the villains end up doing. Why is it that it is only the NPCs who discover an ancient rite that can change the world, only the NPCs can design the magical object that will change the balance of power, only the enemy NPC can make a society change direction.

          From a certain point of view, the myth about Johnny Appleseed suggests he has more long term "setting" power than most PCs due to the changes in biome in an entire country.
          The limitations of this are purely down to the imagination of the GM and players.

          I had a DnD character that set up a new country, arranged an army to clear out the orc tribes, put out the call for settlers, used Permanent Walls of Force to create the templates of cities, and effectively indestructible roads, aqueducts and sheltered harbours. Made religion a personal choice and not mandated by the state, opened up citizenship to any race that obayed my laws. Tax was gathered via linked portal rings to the central treasury then dispersed back out as needed.

          If it wasn't for those bloody Lawful Good heros showing up and ruining everything it would have been an awesome sovereign state...


          Prone to being a Classic Curmudgeon, goshdarned whippersnappers...

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          • #6
            I can't help but notice you're not mentioning any games where you build the setting together as part of play. Get out of the tradgame space and you'll see scale getting played with plenty.


            Remi. she/her. game designer.

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            • #7
              I think what you want then is some adventure guidelines or a source book for..., not high powered play necessarily, which would require high-powered characters, but high-scale play. And depending how it's run, you wouldn't necessarily need high powered characters to do that.

              So one thing is you'd need somewhat developed worlds, but most game worlds as you say are ultimately pretty static, until nearly the end maybe which also ends the campaign as the world is to screwed over to keep playing in

              So you'd want a way to randomly generate the worlds, or lists to choose from, since few are gonna want to put a lot of work into a world that you can't use over and over

              So if you got that, then you can start to start, and then figure out how your world changing plan might get reacted too. So a sandbox that can change all you want

              So you could use a premade world, but that version of the world is done after that campaign. I mean, I get the impression that each table uses that history for each and every game, but if you do want to get in to major world changes, then you'll all want to know those changes end with each such campaign and you'll use the world fresh again next campaign

              So I think this can be done, just need to think some things out and have everyone know the changes to the world won't be permanent across multiple campaigns, and stuff like that

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Thoth View Post

                Its not just gods and kings, its the ability to change the setting rather than simply reacting to it.

                In D&D you can play an evil alignment, but there aren't mechanics for doing the things the villains end up doing. Why is it that it is only the NPCs who discover an ancient rite that can change the world, only the NPCs can design the magical object that will change the balance of power, only the enemy NPC can make a society change direction.

                From a certain point of view, the myth about Johnny Appleseed suggests he has more long term "setting" power than most PCs due to the changes in biome in an entire country.
                once you get into that kind of territory you are looking at homebrew, most games try to cover the areas they think most players will play in. So you want your neonate to be able to actually impact the world, track down a stronger vamp and drain it. Sure you're going to have to worry about the stain of diablrie but that doesn't matter as long as you are either able to run to the next elder to drop your generation or you are strong enough to actually fight off the other vamps coming after you.

                I'm not super familiar with werewolf so I can't comment much on that

                dnd allows you to traverse the multiverse collecting incredibly powerful items and brokering deals with gods and such, meaning you may be able to find a god that would sponser your ascension to god hood or any manner of other things as long as your DM knows how to handle the homebrew and still come up with interesting things for you to do

                also, NPCs having special things the players don't is a shortcoming of the ST/DM/GM/whatever you want to call it, I don't give my NPCs things the players wouldn't have access to and I'm still able to do some fairly world changing things with it

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by atamajakki View Post
                  I can't help but notice you're not mentioning any games where you build the setting together as part of play. Get out of the tradgame space and you'll see scale getting played with plenty.
                  I've lot count of the number of games and systems I have tried over the decades. The issue is that most standard games don't invest in that bigger scale game that we are talking about, almost like they ran out of interest.

                  Alternatively if the game or system starts at that larger scale level, then it never feels that personal or that unique to your play through. Kind of like playing a big 4X strategy game or the Sims doesn't scratch the same character connection itch as say skyrim or Vampire: Bloodlines. Such games stay in that grand scheme head space and never make the connection down to the personal.

                  As I said previously, with the exception of 2nd Edition Exalted, I have yet to run across a system that gets close to that sweet spot where the personal character game and the grand scale game interface. Though I am sure there are still some forum members who are still suffering a hint of PTSD from the manse builds I used to post back in the day.

                  So if you know of some systems, I would be curious what game systems what hit that mark.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Dezeroth View Post
                    once you get into that kind of territory you are looking at homebrew, most games try to cover the areas they think most players will play in. So you want your neonate to be able to actually impact the world, track down a stronger vamp and drain it. Sure you're going to have to worry about the stain of diablrie but that doesn't matter as long as you are either able to run to the next elder to drop your generation or you are strong enough to actually fight off the other vamps coming after you.


                    A good vampire example of what I am talking about is Golconda. If you achieve it, then not only are you at peace with your inner beast, but your stat caps are removed so you can with enough xp 10 dot everything with no restriction. There are tons of rules to loose humanity or path points, how to become nothing but a mindless undead beast, and tons of rules for what happens when your scores change. But there is no real support for the point where you transcend the system or what a campaign would look like if an entire coterie managed to succeed at Golconda at once.

                    In Exalted there were specific rules and mechanics for corrupting a Solar and turning them into an Abyssal, but the rules and mechanics for redeeming an Abyssal back into a Solar were absent beyond a vague suggestion about the Great Curse no longer applies. Though there wasn't any system support for how many mechanics that just got ham strung. Also back then the Exalted setting was supposedly the prehistory setting of the oWoD setting. So its not like there was any mechanics or support to play an Abyssal all the way from 3rd Age all the way into the final nights, which extrapolating things out would make Cain either a low powered abyssal or an Abyssal Half-Caste.

                    Originally posted by Dezeroth View Post
                    dnd allows you to traverse the multiverse collecting incredibly powerful items and brokering deals with gods and such, meaning you may be able to find a god that would sponser your ascension to god hood or any manner of other things as long as your DM knows how to handle the homebrew and still come up with interesting things for you to do

                    Ah AD&D, the last time I played that it was 2nd Edition, but the group took that game system to levels that would make the Exalted system seem a bit under whelming. Each player was eventually running characters with multiple classes each ranked up to 30. The main mage in the group had a personal bodyguard of 100 Demi-Liches (makes a standard lich look like a weak skeleton). The group conquered their own world and things got crazy once you added in spelljamming rules for interplanetary games and chronomancer rules so that you are conquering the past, present, and future at the same time. Needless to say the powers that be didn't like the competition so they threw the group into Ravenloft to try to contain them. That backfired rather spectacularly once the riftspanner was found and refined. The Blood War looked like a mild skirmish after the group got back into the outer planes.

                    That game was best summed up as playing Crono Trigger as Lavos, while trying to figure out how to mash as many old AD&D settings and rule sets head on into each other like crash test dummies. Near the end the group had a running joke that we no longer rated characters by how many classes they had maxxed out, but instead by how many books were required to play the character, if memory serves the record was 26 books for one character.

                    So yeah, our rotating crew of DMs were running around like madmen trying to homebrew patches all over the place once you start going to that level. But that experience gave me an appreciation for playing games at that scale as well as making me aware of how many other systems out there tend to treat that level of character ambition/insanity as something that doesn't exist.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Thoth View Post


                      A good vampire example of what I am talking about is Golconda. If you achieve it, then not only are you at peace with your inner beast, but your stat caps are removed so you can with enough xp 10 dot everything with no restriction. There are tons of rules to loose humanity or path points, how to become nothing but a mindless undead beast, and tons of rules for what happens when your scores change. But there is no real support for the point where you transcend the system or what a campaign would look like if an entire coterie managed to succeed at Golconda at once.

                      In Exalted there were specific rules and mechanics for corrupting a Solar and turning them into an Abyssal, but the rules and mechanics for redeeming an Abyssal back into a Solar were absent beyond a vague suggestion about the Great Curse no longer applies. Though there wasn't any system support for how many mechanics that just got ham strung. Also back then the Exalted setting was supposedly the prehistory setting of the oWoD setting. So its not like there was any mechanics or support to play an Abyssal all the way from 3rd Age all the way into the final nights, which extrapolating things out would make Cain either a low powered abyssal or an Abyssal Half-Caste.


                      Ah AD&D, the last time I played that it was 2nd Edition, but the group took that game system to levels that would make the Exalted system seem a bit under whelming. Each player was eventually running characters with multiple classes each ranked up to 30. The main mage in the group had a personal bodyguard of 100 Demi-Liches (makes a standard lich look like a weak skeleton). The group conquered their own world and things got crazy once you added in spelljamming rules for interplanetary games and chronomancer rules so that you are conquering the past, present, and future at the same time. Needless to say the powers that be didn't like the competition so they threw the group into Ravenloft to try to contain them. That backfired rather spectacularly once the riftspanner was found and refined. The Blood War looked like a mild skirmish after the group got back into the outer planes.

                      That game was best summed up as playing Crono Trigger as Lavos, while trying to figure out how to mash as many old AD&D settings and rule sets head on into each other like crash test dummies. Near the end the group had a running joke that we no longer rated characters by how many classes they had maxxed out, but instead by how many books were required to play the character, if memory serves the record was 26 books for one character.

                      So yeah, our rotating crew of DMs were running around like madmen trying to homebrew patches all over the place once you start going to that level. But that experience gave me an appreciation for playing games at that scale as well as making me aware of how many other systems out there tend to treat that level of character ambition/insanity as something that doesn't exist.
                      thats awesome on the dnd game, that would have been a ton of fun

                      the rules for golconda and cleansing an abyssal shard were supposed to be unclear, that part was intentional to make it something special for each character. As far as Exalted being the WoD prehistory, that was 1st ed and again, it was intentionally made unclear as to what happened in between Exalted and the modern nights, what exactly was lost to diminish creation into what it is now so that the storyteller could fill in the blanks if that was the story that was being told. For my groups it was ultimately the sidereals that caused creation to diminish into what would become the modern world. They separated the spirit world from the mundane basically creating the gauntlet. They couldn't permanently bind the Exalted shards but what they could do is shatter one of each type and seal the others away, so all vampires would be 1 abyssal shard shattered and shared between all vampires so when you drain another vamp you are concentrating pieces of the shard and reducing your generation. I don't remember how I wrote up everything for the other shards as its been a few years since I ran a game based off this, I do remember having hunters be a solar shard that shattered, mages were a sid shard, lunar and shifters, so on so forth and changeling was what was left of the fae from exalted. The whole premise for the sidereals was that what powers were left in creation wouldn't be powerful enough to destroy it

                      that was just my take on it though and I had some stuff set for an exalted modern to bring them all back and letting them start to reintegrate the umbra and the normal world into something that was kinda like creation was, even if the modern world would leave its mark on the world to come

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                      • #12
                        The main problem you are running into is the inherent limitation of games. Contrary to some claims, you can't actually do "anything" in D&D. The game engine can not handle it. D&D as a game supports small scale personal action ranging from detailed combat to undetailed social interactions. But it does not support, say, running a mage guild. If you want to research spells, or run trade caravans, or have kinky sex with a princess - you have to extend the system yourself. And that is both hard and time consuming, and gets harder and more time consuminger the more complex you make your system.
                        Rules-light abstract systems like FATE make extension easy, but the lack of crunch and specificity to such extensions is a turn-off for a lot of people.

                        Another aspect is the narrative scope of games. Let's use your example of Golconda. Vampire the Masquerade is a game about vampires. A vampire who reaches Golconda and becomes human isn't a vampire, and thus is outside the scope of narratives that VtM generates. A similar example would be getting rich in Shadowrun. Shadowrun is a game about being a mercenary criminal. When you make your million billion nuyen and retire, you stop doing mercenary crime, so you stop being a viable Shadowrun protagonist. If you want to keep going you need to DIY a new game, one that would cover the new scope.
                        Alternatively you can do what V5 did and redefine Golconda so that a vampire in Golconda is still a viable player character in the scope of VtM.

                        Now, this problem could be solved with machine generation. A computer can make content way faster than a human writer can. There are games like "AI Dungeon 2", which uses machine learning to generate arbitrary adventures. You want to be a lich king - be a lich king. You want to be a vampire assassin - be a vampire assassin. You want to be a single dad and care for your daughter - you can do that. These systems are still very primitive and severely limited. But we are getting there.

                        TLDR: Making games is work and any given game can only do so much. That's why Rogue Trader and Deathwatch are different games. That's why Civilization 6 and Assassin's Creed 2 are different games. That's why there is no single game that perfectly simulates absolutely every possible interaction.
                        Last edited by Kammerer; 06-24-2020, 07:06 AM.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Kammerer View Post
                          TLDR: Making games is work and any given game can only do so much. That's why Rogue Trader and Deathwatch are different games. That's why Civilization 6 and Assassin's Creed 2 are different games. That's why there is no single game that perfectly simulates absolutely every possible interaction.
                          I see where you are coming from, but there are inherent game design element traps that the developers fall into which in turn limit the options of the game, and if civilians can home brew some balanced rules for that scenario, then it is not impossible for the developers to do the same.

                          Staying with Vampire for a moment, lets say you wanted your character to pursue a boxing career for a while. So they train up their fortitude and potence scores and then go to town in their weight class. Over time you beat every fighter and become that weight class champion, perhaps with a perfect 0 losses record. Then you and your ST take it a step further and allow you to compete again all weight classes for specialty bouts for extra championships. Eventually you are faced by the fact that there is no one left to challenge and depending on how much time all this took you might have to retire before people notice your lack of aging.

                          Most RPGs only build mechanics for you to simulate the individual boxing matches and then use fluff to suggest about championship titles. But none of the books are designed to give guidance for what happens next when you follow all of that to its logical conclusion.

                          I mean would it really have destroyed the vampire game system if the designers and play testers thought about what happens next with the characters they had, rather than creating yet another set of clans or bloodlines that just bloat character creation?

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                          • #14
                            Your example presumes infinite vertical growth for a character as a good thing, something lots of designers and players wouldn't agree with.

                            If your character has literally become the best boxer the mortal world will ever know? Either you've completed the interesting part of that character's story and you move on to a new character, or the character needs to shift horizontally to a different pursuit (if possibly related to boxing). There's no "higher" place to go past, "the best ever." There's no greater scope to achieve. What comes next is not always going to be vertically building on what came before.

                            I think most designers would argue hitting those ceilings is a good thing if you want to keep playing a character because "next" means finding something else to do with the character instead of more of the same.

                            Just because someone can do something, doesn't mean it's a good thing for the game. Can I homebrew all sorts of "balanced" mechanics for games that might address a specific need for my specific table? Yeah, I can. Would I expect presenting those to the developers of the game to get them to include them in the next edition just for being balanced rules expansions? Not at all. If I address something that matters to the core design goals of the game, maybe they might, but in general the best I could hope for would be to get asked to include it in some sort of hacking guide style supplement along with lots of other optional rules they came up with; or being told to put it on a community content system because it's good enough people would pay for it, but it's still not a fit for the core rules of the game.

                            This isn't a bad thing. A game can be a lot of things to a lot of people, but it's never going to be everything to everyone, and games that focus on their core game play loops invariably do better than games that don't.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Heavy Arms View Post
                              Your example presumes infinite vertical growth for a character as a good thing, something lots of designers and players wouldn't agree with.


                              My example only shows that people routinely don't think about anything character wise, story wise, or mechanics wise beyond what is directly in front of them. Is this a good or a bad thing? Who knows, but if we never ask the question or try it out, then that is demonstrably bad for gaming in general.

                              Until White Wolf you were generally expected to hand your character over to the GM for use as an NPC if they got turned into a Vampire or contracted Lycanthropy. You were only at most expected to play evil characters, but never play as the monster since that was too far out there in role play terms and completely unbalanced in game play. White Wolf changed that and created both some amazing games and changed gaming culture.

                              In older gaming systems there was the expectation that if your character some how survived to max level, they would retire. Usually under the premise that they were too old to withstand the rigors of adventuring. But with something like Vampire or Exalted you start from character generation as an immortal whose lifespan is conceivably endless. Thus with the retirement question some what taken off the table you are faced with a character dilemma.

                              Does your character mature and evolve over time or do they keep doing the same thing at the same level forever, just with better stats & gear?

                              Because what we have now is just improving stats & gear until we get bored and drop the character or the game. What I am asking about is what can happen next and why isn't there design space for it.

                              If I was going to be conspiratorial about all this, I could see a business strategy where the game designer keeps churning out new starter options because that is more profitable than figuring out end game options. Both new players and veterans will want new starting options, but only committed veterans who have long term games and groups would want large scale play options.

                              If I recall correctly Wizards of the Coast once messed around with restricting D&D to 10th level because in their opinion most groups and games broke up or got bored before getting that far along. But all that says is that they didn't consider putting out a rule set for starting at 10+ and how to scale the games from there, not to mention that perhaps the character progression wasn't well tuned enough to keep peoples interests.

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