System Mastery and Younger Gamers

Doug McCrae

Legend
Basic D&D has that same kind of system mastery, incidentally. Sleep is the skill choice, Tenser's Floating Disk the primary noob trap.

When I played my first rpg, aged 11, the other players, a little more experienced than me, told me to take Sleep or Charm Person.

It's a crappy way to design a rpg, imo, but Monte Cook and Tom Moldvay disagree with me.
 

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Imaro

Legend
System mastery should come into play thru tactical choices in combat, knowing when to use your area-of-effect, your debuff, your heal, your straight damage power, and so forth.

But then why should tactical skill be given so much more weight than the strategy of build? Some people will be better at tactics than others, and unlike the build strategy... reading and understanding the rules will not necessarily make you a better tactician in combat. Why should your tactical skill determine whether you win or loose, regardless of the character you want to play or archetype you are trying to recreate?

Edit: I guess I'm asking why is it any more fair, that Jill (who loves to play, is a great roleplayer and brings snacks every weeK), has to make a new character up every week because she sucks at tactics?
 
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Imaro

Legend
Oh, I think there's plenty of gamers of every generation that enjoy system mastery. The term "power gamer" was coined many years ago, not for the current younger crowd.

That's not to say you don't have a point, you jut may be a bit off on the cause. My observation (and I admit that it is just a personal observation, not a 100% truism), is that when one picks up RPGs, there a tendency for gamers to concentrate first on what the character can do, what cool actions can they perform, and how they perform in a game-rule sense. Concentration on the game world (like in-game politics) or on the emotional content of the character tend to come a little later, after you figure out how the game works.

That will lead to it always looking like it is an effect of generation, when it may be more tied to how long the person's been gaming.

Emphasis mine...
That is a good point.
 

ggroy

First Post
But then I wonder... when does the boost of attaining system mastery become so small that it no longer entices someone wired to enjoy it. Either the payoff is so small that they don't bother (and thus actually become casual gamers), or after finally discovering that system mastery has an almost neglible effect they move on to a different game.

Some of my powergamer friends found 4E D&D to be like this quite early on, where it was significantly harder to optimize and find overpowered combinations, compared to 3E/3.5E D&D. After several months of playing 4E, they dropped 4E and went back to playing overpowered characters in 3E/3.5E with other similar like-minded powergamer friends.
 

Imaro

Legend
Some of my powergamer friends found 4E D&D to be like this quite early on, where it was significantly harder to optimize and find overpowered combinations, compared to 3E/3.5E D&D. After several months of playing 4E, they dropped 4E and went back to playing overpowered characters in 3E/3.5E with other similar like-minded powergamer friends.

Well I had a similar but different experience where my non-powergamer friends found 4e (only the first 3 corebooks) limiting in the type of characters (both good and bad buiilds) that they could create and experiment wiuth... as opposed to what they could do with 3e rules... We stopped playing and went back to 3.5 as well. We gave 4e a few more tries after more books came out, but ultimately we decided to go with Pathfinder.

See again, system mastery does not necessarily equal powergamming, but moreso the effect of a system that is complex enough to beg exploration while making that exploration of it rewarding enough to maintian interest. IMO
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
But then why should tactical skill be given so much more weight than the strategy of build?
Good question. It makes each session, each encounter, exciting. The tactical master has to keep making the right decisions. He could lose any time. With the build master, each individual encounter is pointless, its result almost a foregone conclusion. One might as well not even play the game, just make builds, try them out for a few encounters, maybe a half dozen at most, to see how they perform in different situations, then say done.

Incidentally, this is exactly how some people do play 3e, often trying out new builds.

I guess I'm asking why is it any more fair, that Jill (who loves to play, is a great roleplayer and brings snacks every weeK), has to make a new character up every week because she sucks at tactics?
I don't think Jill should be playing in a game that requires either a high level of build mastery or a high level of tactics. Though, I admit, in mixed groups what often happens is the build master makes everyone's characters for them, or for the players that are not build masters. This is often the way in HERO, Mutants & Masterminds, and 3e groups. Sometimes it takes a long time to get to this stage tho, until then the PCs can be very unequal.

There was no Jill in our 3e or M&M groups, and she wouldn't have got an invite, I'm afraid. We only took people who were both good roleplayers and good gearheads.
 

Ourph

First Post
But then I wonder... when does the boost of attaining system mastery become so small that it no longer entices someone wired to enjoy it. Either the payoff is so small that they don't bother (and thus actually become casual gamers), or after finally discovering that system mastery has an almost neglible effect they move on to a different game.
I think the games that make good use of system mastery tend to have a baseline effectiveness everyone can access and a reward system for mastery that allows more versatility and options rather than vastly higher effectiveness. The way I see it, some systems tell the players to choose "A", "B", or "C" and get locked into one of those choices; where "C" ends up being a bad choice that gimps the character. Whereas systems that do a better job with mastery tend to have a system where everyone can always access all three choices. "A" gives baseline effectiveness in every situation. "B" and "C" are less effective than "A" in some situations, slightly more effective than "A" in others. Experienced players are rewarded for mastery by recognizing situations in which "B" and "C" are better than "A" and choosing to use them "correctly". On the other hand, inexperienced players can just choose "A" all the time without being completely underpowered compared to the other characters.

The consistency and magnitude of the reward for experienced players comes in finding ways to combine options "X", "Y" and "Z" with options "M", "N" and "o" to create a situattion where option "B" becomes more effective than "A" for a little while.
 
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malraux

First Post
But then why should tactical skill be given so much more weight than the strategy of build? Some people will be better at tactics than others, and unlike the build strategy... reading and understanding the rules will not necessarily make you a better tactician in combat. Why should your tactical skill determine whether you win or loose, regardless of the character you want to play or archetype you are trying to recreate?

Edit: I guess I'm asking why is it any more fair, that Jill (who loves to play, is a great roleplayer and brings snacks every weeK), has to make a new character up every week because she sucks at tactics?

My objection to making the greater emphasis of system mastery on the character creation phase of rpgs rather than the play phase is that the build phase is typically a very rare part of the game. If you make a bad deck in magic or the like, you just need to adjust it for the next game. If you make a bad character, you're stuck with a bad character for a long time. Since tactics are what the game spends the most time on anyway, its reasonable to make that the focus of the system mastery.

Moreover, since the game is arguably cooperative, bad tactics can be helped by the group.
 

Dragonblade

Adventurer
I know exactly what you are talking about Imaro. The subtle promotion of system mastery was a stated design goal in 3e.

Monte Cook and others have gone on record as saying that some feats, spells and so on were deliberately created to be more or less effective than others of a similar level. This was done so that gamers could feel a sense of accomplishment when they learned the system and realized some choices were flat out better than others.

I agree that is probably something that young boys might enjoy. After all, they don't see deeper into the game's construction or philosophize about the merits and flaws of metagame construction. They just like to talk about how they took this feat and it made their character better than this other feat would have.

There is some overlap with the concept of "powergaming". But everyone powergames to some extent. Everyone wants to make the best choice when given a range of options to choose from. It is simply human nature.

Diamond Cross, I disagree with your, or rather the Mongoose definitions of powergaming and min/maxing. I'm old school. I started with 1st edition and my games predate anything conceived by Mongoose Publishing. These are the definitions I have used for years and are generally shared by everyone I have ever gamed with. What mongoose labels "powergaming" is what I would label a "munchkin".

Min/Maxing - Simply the concept of constructing a character to deliberately minimize weaknesses and maximize their effectiveness and advantages. Min/maxing itself in and of itself is neither positive or negative.

Powergaming - Somewhat overlapping with min/maxing, powergaming is making a conscious effort to make the best or most effective character possible given the constraints of the system or the DM's rules. Many gamers powergame and again it is neither positive or negative. It also has nothing to do with role-playing. I have gamed with powergamers who were amazing role-players. They could do voices, mannerisms and wrote tens of pages of background for their characters.

Munchkinism - Is the focus on "winning" the game, by simply breaking the rules whenever possible. Munchkins are the players that want an 18 in every stat (or higher if they can get it). They "overlook" rules that they don't like, and always interpret vague wordings in the rules text in their favor. The Mongoose definition of a powergamer is one that I would apply to the munchkin. Munchkins definitely have a negative impact on games.

In a well designed rules system like 4e where system mastery is minimized, powergamers won't have a large advantage over other players who don't focus as much on making the perfect character. In a rules mastery based system like 3e, it is quite easy for a powergamer to make a character that far outstrips the effectiveness of another PC created by a player who doesn't understand the system well enough to make better choices. This can cause a game to break down because challenges may be too easy or too hard depending on which PCs the DM is designing the adventure for.

DMs who may not understand that this is caused by inherent imbalances that are literally and intentionally built into the system, may blame the players they perceive as causing a problem. These players may or may not have a tendency to optimize their characters, but even by subconsciously making better choices due to a better understanding of the system than another player, the game can fall apart.

Or a DM may become restrictive by disallowing other books which limits options, or by avoiding high level play where superior choices in making a character can have a more dramatic effect on game balance.

Many gamers are content with playing or running games this way. That's perfectly fine. There is no right or wrong way to game.

Personally, I would find a core rulebook only E6 game extremely unsatisfying. But I tend towards the powergamer model. I like choices and options. I like to find power combinations that make my character more effective. But I also recognize that some players don't want to put the same time and effort into character building that I do so I like to play a game where my choices are meaningful and make my character better, but that don't cause me to make dramatically superior characters to another player who doesn't know all the ins and outs of the system. For this reason, I personally prefer systems where the concept of rules mastery was not an intentional design goal.
 
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Imaro

Legend
Good question. It makes each session, each encounter, exciting. The tactical master has to keep making the right decisions. He could lose any time. With the build master, each individual encounter is pointless, its result almost a foregone conclusion. One might as well not even play the game, just make builds, try them out for a few encounters, maybe a half dozen at most, to see how they perform in different situations, then say done.

Well I would tend to think it makes it exciting for those who want to try out or are good at tactics... which is similar to those who want to try out or are good at builds.

I mean, aren't players, who are better tacticians than their DM's, creating a situation that is as much a foregone conclusion as a group of good builds made outside the game with no specific knowledge of the encounter... one might as well not play the game if the disparity in tactical know how is too large.

Finally, isn't a delve encounter just a quick chance to try out tactics in a combat to see how good your groups tactics are? Then it's over with no requirement outside of that?

Incidentally, this is exactly how some people do play 3e, often trying out new builds.

Incidentally the above is how some people do play 4e, going to an encounters night where they can test out tactics with different group composition. This, nor what you posted above is intrinsically wrong if that is how they enjoy the game though.

I don't think Jill should be playing in a game that requires either a high level of build mastery or a high level of tactics. Though, I admit, in mixed groups what often happens is the build master makes everyone's characters for them, or for the players that are not build masters. This is often the way in HERO, Mutants & Masterminds, and 3e groups. Sometimes it takes a long time to get to this stage tho, until then the PCs can be very unequal.

There was no Jill in our 3e or M&M groups, and she wouldn't have got an invite, I'm afraid. We only took people who were both good roleplayers and good gearheads.

Yes, but my point is... I don't see the game shifting to tactics as opposed to builds as an objectively better thing... it just caters to those who enjoy or are better at tactical combat as opposed to build strategy.
 

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