System Mastery and Younger Gamers

Imaro

Legend
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.

The problem I see here, is that in order for the system mastery to be rewarded... the GM has to make sure those situations where B & C are more effective come up enough times to justify the amount of system mastery it took to realize the difference.

Of course it could also go the other way, where the GM only introduces situations where B & C are sub-par... this just doesn't seem like a viable solution to get someone interested enough to figure it all out.

To your final paragraph... I will say again, the reward for finding these combos has to be great enough to justify the necessary work in figuring it out. Another downside is that if it is group based, like in 4e, the other players may not be interested in trying to figure out, or going along with your plan to combine X, Y & Z.
 

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ggroy

First Post
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.

What kind of rpg game do we have left if both tactics and builds are totally deemphasized or not relevant?
 

Aust Diamondew

First Post
Not really. It just sounds like trying to over-complicate power gaming to make it seem legitimate.

How is power gaming illegitimate? What constitutes legitimacy?

In any case, system mastery helps creating powerful characters but it is also useful for other things.
Someone who has system mastery of a complex RPG knows how to design a particular type of character using that RPG.
So that if I were to say to one who has system mastery, "I want a character who is x, y and z and can do a, b and c." The one with system mastery would be able to tell me if it was possible and the different ways of accomplishing those objectives.

A, b and c could be...
Great at marking, high damage, maximum AC (power gamer)
Animal companion, uses fire themed spells, very fast and mobile
Great interrogator, scholar, mad/talks to spirits

Depending on the system one might use classes, feats, qualities, edges, hindrances, flaws, skills, etc, to accomplish these design goals.
The more system mastery a game requires the more difficult it is to accomplish goals (non-obvious choices, choices that are pit traps being the most common reason).

At least this describes system mastery as it relates to character creation.

I liked higher levels of system mastery more when I was younger. As I've gotten older I've tended to turn my inquisitiveness and analytical ability toward other pursuits, and have consequently preferred my games to be more transparent for the purposes character creation and encounter design.
 

Imaro

Legend
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.

Eh, I play once a week for 4 to 5 hours... yet I have over 6 days left wherein I'm not gaming but I have my books... IMO, the build strategy takes advantage of that time by giving one something they can do solo, that also keeps interest and excitement about the game going. With retraining rules having been introduced in 3.5 and 4e I don't think the bad character problem is anywhere near as bad as it once was.

I find it intersting you say tactics should be the focus of system mastery... because honestly I don't think they can be. I mean reading the PHB 1 is not going to make you a better tactian, no matter how many times you read over it. There's a big difference in understanding how a power works (which helps build your character) and how you should use it (which helps in tactical combat). The rulebooks don't really touch on how something should be used.


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

This is another thing I think just went toO far in 4e... group play being basically forced on you... but that's for another thread. Can't people help others with their builds just as easily though? Probably moreso.
 



I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
My son and his cousins take pleasure in constructing their decks/Star Wars armies/rpg characters/etc. and showing how "awesome" of an entity (for lack of a better all encompasing word) that they have created. They also enjoy the fact that better choices lead to a recognizably better game entity.

I think part of it has to do with "competitive" play vs. "cooperative" play.

With a competitive game, this sort of wang-measuring contest ("who's got the biggest?!") is resolved with clear winners and losers. If you're not good, you'll lose.

With a cooperative game, it's pointless. Nobody cares if you've got the l33t35t damage, it only needs to be l33t enough, and even then you can't slap someone else in the face with it, because you still need your cleric and your fighter and your rogue to be able to win. On the other hand, if you're not pulling your weight -- if your cleric can't heal -- then you make everyone suffer.

It's the difference between hunter/gatherer and agricultural societies. It's the divide between Capitalism and Socialism. It's "All for one and one for all!" vs. "None for you and all for me!".

D&D is very much in the co-operative, agricultural, socialistic, people-coming-together-to-do-great-things vein. Party-focused play ensures that kind of specialization. You can't do everything yourself. You can't win by yourself.

"System Mastery" is only good if it ends up supporting yourself. Which makes sense for younger players, especially, to be into it. They're trying to figure out what they're good at.

It's probably also the reason a lot of people in college really love Ayn Rand, but that's sort of orthogonal.

The thing is that, for a cooperative game like D&D, system mastery isn't much of a benefit. It's more important to make sure that even newbs can contribute to the whole party's success without screwing everything up. It's more important to have that gameplay safety net. In a competitive game, that safety net isn't as fun.
 

ggroy

First Post
Who said de-emphasize both... perhaps a better route would have been to make them equally important?

If both tactics and builds are heavily emphasized equally, and both heavily dominate the game equally, such a game may possibly resemble Mutants & Masterminds (or Rolemaster) combined with 4E D&D. (ie. A char build system like M&M or Rolemaster, with the tactics of 4E D&D powers). It would probably be a complicated rpg which hardcore gearheads could like.
 

Dragonblade

Adventurer
It's the difference between hunter/gatherer and agricultural societies. It's the divide between Capitalism and Socialism. It's "All for one and one for all!" vs. "None for you and all for me!".

I disagree completely that either one of those quotes encapsulates socialism or capitalism in any way whatsoever. But thats not really a discussion for this board.
 

Imaro

Legend
If both tactics and builds are heavily emphasized equally, and both heavily dominate the game equally, such a game may possibly resemble Mutants & Masterminds (or Rolemaster) combined with 4E D&D. (ie. A char build system like M&M or Rolemaster, with the tactics of 4E D&D powers). It would probably be a complicated rpg which hardcore gearheads could like.

I didn't say heavily emphasize it either. I think what I would go for is more of an evening out of the two into an equilibrium... let me try and think of a game I feel does this well and I'll post it as an example...
 

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