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Player Buy In and Game Sub-Systems

Jared Rascher

Explorer
Lots of games have subsystems for resolving conflicts that don't utilize their normal round to round resolution. 4th Edition and Star Wars Saga have Skill Challenges. Savage Worlds has various sub-systems for chases, mass combat, and social conflicts. Mutants and Masterminds has challenges to model events that might take a certain number of successes instead of just automatically working.

Some of these are great, and use similar rules to the main system resolutions, and some of them feel a little less intuitive and counter to the flow of the normal game. But regardless of how well presented these sub-systems are, there is one similarity to all of them. They take a certain amount of player buy in.

By way of anecdote, I was running a session of Mutants and Masterminds 3e a few weeks ago, where the game started with the group chasing a supervillain that they were clued in about, and the villain was already flying through the city trying to get away.

There is a subsystem that was presented in the same vein as the challenge system already in the game that was detailed in one of the Threat Reports that detailed chases. I decided to use these rules. Basically, it would see if the PCs could catch up to the already fleeing villain in order to beat them into submission and drag them back to jail. It wasn't suppose to take long, and the chase was suppose to be the main action.

Long story short, I had a hard time with player buy in. Several players had it in mind that if they moved faster than the villain, they automatically caught up with the villain. When I mentioned that the chase rules represented dodging through alleyways, feinting one direction and moving another, I was met with the simple explanation that the one of the PCs moved faster, could make a perception check to find the villain, and could phase through buildings, so they would automatically win the chase.

This was before I even got a chance to start describing what the villain was doing in the chase, what skills and powers they were using, or asking what the PCs are doing. Heck, I'd give them bonuses for stuff like passing through buildings or any other logical or good ideas. But the skepticism was already up and running as soon as a subsystem was mentioned.

I've got good players. They like to roleplay and come up with plans and describe their actions, so it's not that. It just seems like subsystems automatically kick at least some of them into "skeptic" mode.

I'm almost certain that once we got up and running with descriptions and the like, things would work fine. In fact, later in the night, we used the challenge system, not for a chase, but for physical trials that didn't have to do with combat, and it went great.

So I guess what I'm wondering is:

As a player, what makes you leery of sub-systems to resolve various situations in an RPG?

Is it possible that if you trust the GM, you might have fun with the subsystem, even if you aren't sure that the sub-system might not be 100% needed in the system?

Do subsystems that you don't like ruin your enjoyment of the evening, or is it something you might sublimate in case the GM and/or another player might enjoy the subsystem?

I am totally not against some parts of the game not working for people, I'm just kind of wondering what exactly triggers "a bridge too far," and at what point are you so sure that you can't enjoy a subsystem that bugs you enough that it would override something that works for another player at the table?
 

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scourger

Explorer
For me as a player, I generally have no problem with subsystems. What would make me lose interest is if it goes too far into strategy & tactics. Something that is more abstract than the player character level game is fine with me for big picture stuff. The mass battles rules in Savage Worlds, for example, allow the heroes to resolve battles and even participate in the big battles if the players choose to do so.

As a GM, I've had pretty good buy in with players in subsystems. The latest success I had was crossing Savage Worlds with Star Trek Heroclix Miniatures. I used the basic minis rules for the starship-to-starship combat and then the RPG rules for the boarding actions. It went better than I expected, and I think the minis increased the players' buy in. Plus, I used some aspects of the RPG stats to affect the minis rules, so the heroes could make a difference at the macro level as well as being super effective at the micro level. The ST minis rules are simple and all the stats are on the ships' click bases. Plus, the models look cool and are fun to handle in play.

In the future, I want to cross Savage Worlds characters with the Cars Wars Card Game. The card game is such a fun & simple car-to-car combat system, and I think some parts of the RPG stats could be used to affect the card play in very fun ways. The SW chase rules are great, but the CW cards add a tactile dimension. It would be extra fun with little cars with armor & weapons mounted.

So, I think simplicity and objects are what add to buy-in for subsystems.
 

Jared Rascher

Explorer
For me as a player, I generally have no problem with subsystems. What would make me lose interest is if it goes too far into strategy & tactics. Something that is more abstract than the player character level game is fine with me for big picture stuff. The mass battles rules in Savage Worlds, for example, allow the heroes to resolve battles and even participate in the big battles if the players choose to do so.

As a GM, I've had pretty good buy in with players in subsystems. The latest success I had was crossing Savage Worlds with Star Trek Heroclix Miniatures. I used the basic minis rules for the starship-to-starship combat and then the RPG rules for the boarding actions. It went better than I expected, and I think the minis increased the players' buy in. Plus, I used some aspects of the RPG stats to affect the minis rules, so the heroes could make a difference at the macro level as well as being super effective at the micro level. The ST minis rules are simple and all the stats are on the ships' click bases. Plus, the models look cool and are fun to handle in play.

In the future, I want to cross Savage Worlds characters with the Cars Wars Card Game. The card game is such a fun & simple car-to-car combat system, and I think some parts of the RPG stats could be used to affect the card play in very fun ways. The SW chase rules are great, but the CW cards add a tactile dimension. It would be extra fun with little cars with armor & weapons mounted.

So, I think simplicity and objects are what add to buy-in for subsystems.


I will say that while the chase rules may not have been a big hit in M&M, the mass combat rules in the one Savage Worlds game I used them in seemed to go over pretty well.

I guess the assumption is that you really can't model mass combat well without buying into some kind of subsystem.

Using Hero Clix for starship combat in a Star Trek games sounds interesting. I wonder if I should have tried something like that in my old Star Wars saga game, and if it would have worked out. I purchased several Star Wars ship boosters, but never once looked at the rules.
 

Serendipity

Explorer
I dunno - subsystems not modeled on the rest of the game work fine for me, so long as the subsystem is less complex than whatever the rest of the game does (knowing that not all games have a unified mechanic for everything).
 

A

amerigoV

Guest
So I guess what I'm wondering is:

As a player, what makes you leery of sub-systems to resolve various situations in an RPG?

For me, D&D's subsystems (note I am speaking mostly pre-4e here) have never been all that good to begin with - turn undead, grappling, psionics, and Skill Challenges. So if its D&D, I prefer just to roll a d20 and whack it. A bad track record trumps trying anything "new" when it comes to the d20 crowd of games.

Now that I am a Savage - I love well written subsystems and their applications. One can make some very interesting encounters with Chase Rules, Dramatics Tasks, Roleplay Challenges, and Mass Combat. As a GM, I look to weave them in to spice up the game. As a player, I find it really gets me thinking out of the box instead of just nuking the opposition.

So it does come down to execution. Savage Worlds earned my "trust."

Is it possible that if you trust the GM

What in the seven hecks are you smokin? ;) Rule 0 for PLAYERs is NEVER TRUST the GM!
 

Tequila Sunrise

Adventurer
Are, or were, your players D&D players? If so, it might be just a matter of expecting supers to work like D&D when it comes to chases. Which I'll be the first to admit, D&D handles poorly. Anyway, your players may have been expecting a simple "Whoever has the highest speed wins," and wanted to get down to what they saw as the real conflict?

As for myself...

I am totally not against some parts of the game not working for people, I'm just kind of wondering what exactly triggers "a bridge too far," and at what point are you so sure that you can't enjoy a subsystem that bugs you enough that it would override something that works for another player at the table?
What Serendipity said. Sorry, but "It depends" is the best I can give you. :)
 

Celebrim

Legend
Basically it comes down to this: most subsystems that get created for a popular game aren't as interesting or as well thought out as the main system. 4e 'skill challenges' (which are no such thing) are an excellent case in point. Additionally, it's also important that a subsystem interface smoothly with the main system. Your description of problems buying into a subsystem in M&M seems to have both of these problems to one degree or another.

My favorite chase subsystem is 'Hot Pursuit', but unmodified it has the problem of not interfacing well with the main game as well. In particular, it has the exact problem your character is (probably rightly) complaining about - it simply doesn't reward being able to move faster and indeed MUCH faster than your opponent as much as it should. Instead, it gives only a fairly small bonuses in winning a race to the faster competitor. This makes sense in cases where the terrain is complex and the difference in speed between the competitors is very slight, but as a general rule for adjudicating chase scenes it doesn't. It's all well and good to try to justify it by briefly imagining some cinematic action, but if the rules come first over common sense then at that point its not a chase - it's a railroad. A good system doesn't let its abstraction shine, especially in the midst of a game with otherwise concrete relationships between propositions and results.

To handle smooth transitions, you need to not drop out of your normal player/game master interface when modifying the rules sets. If switching between discrete and concrete motion (like D20's typical movement in concrete) and continious abstract motion (like an abstract chase system that measures only the abstract distance between participants) you need to make sure this transition is somewhat transparant. If the distance is 'close' or 'far', you still need to know how many range increments that roughly corresponds to. You still need to properly advantage the guy whose characters has the Run feat, boots of speed, or expeditious retreat up. Particularly with players who hold a more gamist table contract, you need to make sure that they don't feel like you are changing the rules just to cheat them which means that they need to feel like the subsystem makes sense and is something that they can leverage advantage out of and gain control of the game with. Gamists want to feel that their choices matter and the outcome isn't arbitrary or predetermined. So subsystems scare them.

Overly simple subsystems tend to scare narrativists as well, because they feel that their actual choices are being limited by an arbitrary subsystem. Likewise, simulationists are going to focus on discrepencies between the outcome and the logical outcome. If you have players with mixed goals, then they might end up raising all the objections.

I've had great fun with subsystems over the years, but in general I've found that subsystems need house ruling more than any other section of a game and that you need to be really clear ahead of time about what is happening and why with some players before you bring a subsystem in. In a game like M&M, its easily possible that some characters bonus in a chase should be so high that they can't lose. In that case, explain to the character that sure, they can always 'catch' up to the villain, but that this doesn't mean necessarily that the villain is going to stop moving. In this case, the roll of the speedster/teleporter character might be to force the villain to slow down/stop, allowing the rest of the team to successfully beat his chase result and thereby bring him to close quarters and ultimately end the chase.

I would think that most characters would agree that D20 doesn't handle continious simultaneous motion well with its default combat system. In your particular case, it sounds like the player felt that you were deliberately nerfing his character. Try to satisfying the player that his concerns are met. That means providing a narrative framework, frex: "Imagine the avengers are chasing a character like Rhino (or the Hulk) through the streets of the city. If Quicksilver is with the team, then because of his superspeed, he can pretty much always determine the distance on the Rhino and its unlikely (barring unconsciousness) that the Rhino can do pretty much anything about that. But on the other hand, Quicksilver is going to need to pull off some sort of stunt to slow Rhino down so that the heavy hitters on the team can force the Rhino into a melee." Also try to assure the character that whatever super-movement abilities that he has will be given proper due. If you can move 10x faster than what you are chasing, the bonus on a race check shouldn't equate to merely 5% or 50% more likely to succeed, but virtually assured success. Narrating anything less requires either the realization that you simply aren't 10x faster, or else the narrative of a fumble - and there is only so often you want to narrate a fumble because you'll quickly irritate players if it happens too often. Finally, you'll want to focus on the options that the subsystem opens up for the player and the character - perhaps the ability to 'head them off at the pass' or otherwise gain narrative control.

If in fact you can't justify the subsystem in those terms, then there is a good chance its a bad subsystem and you should just drop it or at least fix it.
 
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