Systems That Model The World Rather Than The Story

Reynard

Legend
And the slightly less tongue-in-cheek version of this is an otherwise RM-ish game that is supplemented by Fate/Hero/Action points that allow a player to "buy off" a consequence in combat, so as to preserve the player's conception of and/or desires for their PC.
I am ambivalent about hero points. I think they represent a useful tool most of the time, and generally increase the overall level of fun at the table. But I can also do without them, especially if we are aiming for something grim and grittier.

By the way, I don't have a problem with systems that create what might be called emotional effects. You can be "miserable" because you have been on the road in the rain for 4 days eating soggy, worm ridden rations. Take a -2 on all the things. I just don't think it is the system's job to tell the player how to incorporate that sort of thing into their choices and role play. You can have the ever-happy gnome be "miserable" mechanically, but the player portray them as still singing all day because that is how they want their PC portrayed.

I have a special dislike for Morale checks forcing PCs to flee or whatever. That is not something anyone but the player should pick.
 

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When thinking about games that attempt to model the world, the first thing that comes to mind is "book keeping." This was often a bane in the past, and probably still is, but one thing that I think might help is the proliferation of electronic tools. In general, I actually think VTTs can help bring back crunchy, world modeling systems because a lot of the niggling details that could be troublesome to work out at the table can be handled by the computer. The most basic example, which is I think a thing that is essential for these kinds of games, is inventory management, including encumbrance. The VTT or D&DB or whatever can keep track of how many days' rations you have left and how much they weigh. That's great.

Something to learn from video game designers is that trying to model actual physics is a dead end outside of specific and tightly focused simulations, and even then. The truest to life flight sims aren't really all that close and really can't be without it becoming a barrier to play on many different fronts; there's still a great deal of abstractions going on to ensure the game works as a game.

Instead whats preferable is something some call sweet lies; ie, abstractions that look and feel the part but simplify and reduce the complexity and induced constraints to model them. When you have a magnetism power in Breath of the Wild, you aren't trying to build actual magnetism physics. That'd be impossible to run. Instead you just add tags to the right objects and the power only works on those.

Something else to learn though is that any sort of items you introduce to the game should reinforce the gameplay loop. This is less important in video games as they can easily model infinite amounts of clutter with little overhead, but not so much in TTRPGs where trying to directly model clutter just bloats the system. Clutter though isn't just random buckets and trash; its also random parts of the street or buildings a Superhero might be inclined to pick up and throw at the Supervillain (or vice versa).

Rather than trying to model these types of clutter, and all the infinite varities inbetween them, you would typically just define how whatever character mechanic interacts with these, typically Strength, relates to the options open to players. Ie, 5 Strength says you can barely lift a sword, 30 says you can rip off half the building and throw it onehanded. It doesn't actually have to be Strength, mind, but its all the same underlying design principle.

The main concern is getting the scaling right, and being explicit about what different levels in that scale do.

But an often unnoted concern, at least as far as doing this in ttrpgs, is embracing emergent gameplay in these mechanics. Some games put in a lot of wonky exceptions into their rules that try to plug these emergent behaviors (or worse yet design them in such a way that emergence isn't possible at all, or is just super weak), and most don't give any guidance to GMs on how to handle when these things happen and how to lean into them for great effect.

The peasant cannon, while it doesn't actually work regardless, ultimately only deals 1d4 damage per 5es ruleset. If we get rid of the nonsense of the cannon, and just assume some other more typical means of launching an object to try and harm something, its kind of pathetic that it doesn't do much, isn't it?

It makes environmental interaction not very worth it to explore which in turn means gameplay is going to narrow in a lot of areas other than just this one part, because now even if theres spots where environmental interaction might be beneficial, people won't make use of it because one option is basically a waste of time.

In regard to modeling the world, one thing that I haven't seen very much of (though instances of it are out there) is methods of generating relatively large-scale events in order to portray a dynamic world, i.e. things are happening even if the PCs don't interact with them.

You mostly get this as "random events" at domain-level play, where the GM will roll on a table for something to happen, either as part of the PCs' fief or abroad. But it applies to a lot of other things, such as random weather tables (which can be a lot of fun if used correctly, albeit more so in low-level/magic games), or even an economic fluctuation system I once saw. In those cases, I think that rather than rolling them at the table and letting things unfold in the moment, it works better if the GM makes those determinations ahead of time, and extrapolates where necessary to help tie things together, creating backdrops that the PCs can subsequently react to if they so choose.

Now, that requires a lot more work by the GM, work that needs to be done prior to game, but it can result in a very immersive play experience, and it's one aspect of "generating the world" that I think gets overlooked a lot.

A method I advocate for for this is to essentially write timeline flexible stories that assume the total absence of the players. Ie, if they never interact with that story's elements, the story plays out as written.

But by making them timelime flexible, meaning you can time certain acts within that story to happen when you need them to, then you open up the possibility of PCs intervening, and then it becomes a matter of working out, either on the fly or session to session, how the PCs interactions change the written story, which becomes dramatically easier when you have a fully functioning and finished story to work with; you're not worried about how the story will end while also trying to figure out how to incorporate whatever bonkers things the PCs did; unless it was so bonkers that it unravelled the entire story.

But that then becomes a matter of improvising a new story, which outside of specific circumstances, might not need to happen in-session. GMs can and should call a session early if their material got blown out of the water, and most of the time its unlikely you're going to be in a situation where you have to immediately provide new story beats. These games do have downtime baked right in, after all.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
I think there is a degree of tension between the first and last of these posts.

If all the significant consequences (who feels what emotions, how they respond, what social processes unfold, who decides to rob a bank next week, etc) are being decided by the GM, then it's not really a case of setting the parameters and then playing to see what happens. Because most of what happens isn't determined by the operation of the system, and the input parameters, at all!

This isn't just a theoretical problem either. My views on this probably are not exactly the same as @Thomas Shey's, but the things he is saying about super hero RPGing are entirely consistent with my experiences of FRPGing with RM. The interplay of highly "simulationist" resolution in some contexts, with "GM decides" resolution in other contexts, can be a pretty unstable mixture, that causes practical issues in play.

I don't find a tension, exactly, but I do tend to think there's only a borderline relationship in how things work out in a physical (and thus mechanical) sense and how they work out in a larger scale social sense, unless your system has mechanics for those. Because at the end of the day the social impact of the mechanics is entirely a judgment call (whether by the GM or the group collectively), and that is only modestly impacted by how the mechanics work. I mean, in my example, whether authorities tolerate the fundamentally vigilante actions of superheroes may be colored by how lethal they are or aren't, but they're still going to have to decide whether the collateral damage is acceptable either way. So you could just as easily decide they don't in a traditional supers system that has that low lethality baked in. The social conventions are a mostly separate decision from the physical ones.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Everything? Pretty much never. Enough to help? Quite often, with some effort.

Then our experiences seriously differ. I've never seen a group that doesn't have massive, sometimes relevant blindspots (and its even worse when they're based on varied third party information, where its hard to play the personal-experience card)
 


Thomas Shey

Legend
I think this is desirable.

That's fine; I'm just noting you can feed in somewhat different physical conventions and get the same social output because they aren't directly connected. When one only occurs in the head(s) of the participants, there's no assurance that different mechanics are going to make any difference at all there, and the less different they are, the less likely that is.
 

Reynard

Legend
That's fine; I'm just noting you can feed in somewhat different physical conventions and get the same social output because they aren't directly connected. When one only occurs in the head(s) of the participants, there's no assurance that different mechanics are going to make any difference at all there, and the less different they are, the less likely that is.
That is true, but if you are aiming for a very specific genre, you probably don't want a game that doesn't reinforce genre through mechanics. The "models the world" style of game design is most useful, IMO, for having a strong foundation expectations everyone agrees upon (because that is how the system explicitly works for the things that are likely to be happening in the game) and then running with it. The degree to which any table defers to the GM or decides things in discussion between all participants isn't really a function of the game rules themselves. That's just table culture, and it varies.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I feel like you’re eliding between simulationism and granularity here. In the latter example, torches aren’t modeled in detail, but the principle is that using torches dwindles your supply, and the answer to why you ran out of torches is that you used one too many.
The problem with that, however, is that the player never knows when her character is down to its last torch, or last two, even though the character would 99.9% of the time know this all too well. This leads to a disconnect in player/character thinking, where in-character she might say "Guys, I only have one torch left after this one, we gotta speed this up." but can't because the player has no idea that the next torch will be the last until that last torch is already lit.
By contrast consider a system where players can invoke extra good luck to empower cool coincidences, but every time they do so they have to grant the GM an Oh, naughty word token that she can use to invoke an oh naughty word moment like torches going out at an inopportune time. There, the reason the torches went out is that the GM thought it would make a neat story beat. Note that a system like this can also be very bookkeepy and granular.
A system like that might be fine for some but is a hard fail for me.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Besides, the degree to which things are realistic or accurate is just an agreement between the people at the table. Some groups will happily stop play to do some googling to find the air speed of an unladen swallow,
Yep. Happens at least once a session. :) (though instead of flight speed, it's often to determine the vision capabilities of various creatures before the Druid shapeshifts to go scouting and-or to do stuff at night)

And as DM I don't mind too much, as I'd rather get it at least vaguely right.
while others are perfectly content to let the GM throw out a (probably wrong) number and move on. The point is that the system is taking into account the "physics" of the fictional world, not the needs of the genre or the structure of a narrative.
Thing is, if you've got the means at hand to quickly get it right e.g. you've someone knowledgable in the field at the table, or the answer can be googled within just a few seconds, why not get it right?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I am ambivalent about hero points. I think they represent a useful tool most of the time, and generally increase the overall level of fun at the table. But I can also do without them, especially if we are aiming for something grim and grittier.

By the way, I don't have a problem with systems that create what might be called emotional effects. You can be "miserable" because you have been on the road in the rain for 4 days eating soggy, worm ridden rations. Take a -2 on all the things. I just don't think it is the system's job to tell the player how to incorporate that sort of thing into their choices and role play. You can have the ever-happy gnome be "miserable" mechanically, but the player portray them as still singing all day because that is how they want their PC portrayed.

I have a special dislike for Morale checks forcing PCs to flee or whatever. That is not something anyone but the player should pick.
I largely agree, but then I even more dislike the asymmetry that arises when there's Morale checks that can force NPCs to flee etc. Same applies to "social mechanics" e.g. Intimidate in 3e D&D.

What's the answer? For me it's to drop or ignore a lot of those sort of rules completely, as the other option would be to have them apply equally to PCs and NPCs alike, and that would play hell with player agency.
 

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