The importance to RPGing of *engaging* situations

In this respect I would say the game compares to 4e D&D, Torchbearer (as I've experienced it), Burning Wheel, and MHRP/Cortex+ Heroic. There is no point at which the game is beaten, in the sense that the core mechanical/system framework is overcome such that players, via their PCs, can obtain what they want without risk of consequence. (An exception: I think MHRP/Cortex+ risks degeneration when there are too many d12 abilities on the PC sheets, although I haven't fully tested this conjecture by playing any of the Annihilation scenarios which are build around such characters.)
When you're routinely throwing 3d6 without pushing yourself and frequently rolling 4d6 in Blades (or have routine +4s in PbtA games) the game feels pretty beaten.
 

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kenada

Legend
Supporter
The structure of the game is then about mitigating those draws and achieving as much as possible before the randomizer works against you. You're building out a board position over time, but you're fighting against constrained choices as the game goes on and your economy will eventually collapse. Skillful play absolutely exists in how you make those choices, but ultimately you are always worse off on turn 12 than you were on turn 1.
Do the tokens placed on the board not do anything? If it were possible not to make a move, would that always be the best play?
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
When you're routinely throwing 3d6 without pushing yourself and frequently rolling 4d6 in Blades (or have routine +4s in PbtA games) the game feels pretty beaten.
Tier also makes a huge difference. I took a claim from the Silver Nails a couple of sessions ago by myself because we have tier on them. We frequently split up into smaller scores because otherwise having the entire crew on one score would be completely ridiculous. We save that now for when we need to punch up, which includes fewer and fewer targets as the game goes on.
 

@Pedantic , too busy to try to get everything, but I'm going to pull out a few things from your post and try to focus on them because I feel like I'm growing increasingly unclear on some things:

"point two, there's a variety of events occurring that make your board position worse at all times, you literally used the word "inevitable" which is a pretty clear indication of what I'm talking about.

To make sure we understand each other. "inevitable" here was about "At-War status." At-War status is, as intended, a hardship on play that is meant to be resolved. But its kindred to something like "74 HP Fighter is at reduced value x now" (with value x having consequential associated riders such as how dangerous is status reduced value x actually, how rare vs how prolific restoration of that value to 74 is, what other means does the Fighter have to minimize that HP loss, does the Fighter have breadth of tactical move-space to resort to which would partially obviate the gamestate reality of reduced value x HP, etc) or "13 spell Wizard is at reduced value x now with loss of level spells y and z." Given enough play, the Fighter and the Wizard are both going to achieve this state during play. Whether or not (a) the gamestate is unrecoverable or (b) inherently degrades perpetually is a matter of asking and answering those other questions. You can certainly design a D&D where either/or/both (a) and (b) are true, but they aren't true as a matter of the Fighter or Wizard being in those states at some point in play.

Here is a very interesting aspect of At-War status in Blades:

The present Crew I'm GMing is at Tier 4. They have chosen a particular Advance (War Dogs) that nullifies the two major hindrances (though there are a few other smaller things At-War does such as "Claims that generate Coin during DT generate only half as much) of the "At War condition"; -1 Hold and 1 vs 2 Downtime Activities during DT.


So guess what there strategy has pretty much been since they had it? Force as many of their Enemies into At-War status with them as possible and live there perpetually as they knock-off their now weakened enemies or leverage that weakened state to dictate terms (while they themselves were relatively unscathed by the status).

The prior Crew I GMed that got to Tier 4? They did not have the above Advance. Consequently, they did not adopt this strategy to persist in At-War status. As soon as they went to At-War status with a Faction, they dedicated their means (Scores and Longterm Projects via DTAs) to resolving that status by either eliminating the faction outright, arranging for armistice (0 Faction), or finding a way to turn their former foes into positive to Ally status (+1 to +3).

but I found the whole thing frustrating, because I could never find a line of play that led to victory, or make a decision that felt meaningfully superior to another. Narratively, I might prefer one consequence to another, but I couldn't find a handle on mechanically how I got ahead of the game and it seemed that the game was designed not to let me do that. There was no optimal line of play I could articulate a preference for.

So this reminds me of @prabe (who has xped you and we've had conversations to this end multiple times) where he has expressed exactly the same disposition toward Blades in the Dark as you do.

So above, when I said that an inherently degrading gamestate (you're calling "board state") that isn't adequately sensitive to player inputs to arrest that (perceived) spiral = skillfulness of play becomes sufficiently decoupled from play process & results such that the ability to evaluate skillful play from unskillful play is obscured, this above quote is what I'm driving at. Like CoC? Who cares about skillful play. Your descent into madness is locked in. The game isn't sufficiently sensitive to skillful play for it to matter (which is why no one talks about this nor approaches the game in a competitive manner). Evaluating CoC upon skillful play when (a) the gamestate is encoded to spiral and (b) the GM can literally Calvinball the way there (deploy Force to do a runaround of the rules if need be) if they need to (they typically don't though).

Outside of that though, what I'm sensing is you have a very small amount of play under your belt at the opening gamestate of Blades in the Dark. And, yes, that opening gamestate is a difficult "board state" (by design). Its precarious and its quite demanding. As a result of your small sample size at the precarious opening gamestate exclusively, you have a lot of raw feelings and raw assessments about the dynamics of the game ("frustrated", "felt", "seemed", "could never find a line of play to victory"). This is the post-play orientation that someone playing CoC who is expecting to play it skillfully (and for that differentiation of skillful vs unskillful to (a) matter and (b) be readily discernible to you) would have.

In contrast to your friend's 4xbee game and CoC, in Blades in the Dark progression (I've called it "cresting the Tier 2 wave"), both the available line of plays (I typically call this "move-space") + your ability to amplify any given line of play becomes increased rather than contracted. So I'm wondering if your feelings and assessments are an emergent property of that limited sample size extrapolation (as well as the cohort of that sample size being at Tier 0S which bears little resemblance to 2W which bears little resemblance to 4W) and maybe some priors (which might include your own inherent cognitive orientation and situational anxiety at the duress of such an opening gamestate; "claustrophobia")? Perhaps if you're 16 sessions downstream and you've "crested the Tier 2 wave" with the gamestate ("board state") that entails, you might feel differently? You might be able to articulate "well, when faced with situation y last week, the line of play a that I chose was a bit of a misplay...I should have played line of play b. Consequently, my play last week was less skillful than I would have liked it to be. If we could instantiate that exact "board state" again, I would choose b and the result would be an improved overall gamestate for my PC and the Crew." And maybe as a result of that newfound ability to couple play inputs and outputs to enhanced or degraded "board states", you might feel and assess differently?

EDIT - FInal thought on this. I don't know if your one-shot play of Blades was with a friend GMing or with a GM at a con. So forgive me if you were GMed by a friend. But I am fairly skeptical of the technical GMing skill and understanding/application of the ruleset with which the one-shots you were involved in were run (I've witnessed a host of anecdotes online and in person that illustrate that "Blades GMs in the wild" are not running the game as intended). Blades in the Dark is a game that is very sensitive to GMing skill and the ability to integrate multiple lines of information simultaneously. Its very sensitive to procedural integrity (or lack thereof). Someone might be an incredible AD&D 2e GM and be the most unimaginably unskillful Blades in the Dark GM possible (particularly if they don't understand the game/procedures and they're smuggling in priorities and techniques from other games; like AD&D 2e).

So there is that as well.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
By your definition of Parasitic Design Dungeons & Dragons is textbook parasitic design. Every spell you cast is a spell crossed off and resources being spent. Every time you take damage that's fewer resources you have for the rest of the day.
Just to lob an observation in here: your examples here all speak to short-term parasitism, as those resources are each in some way or another recoverable or renewable within the game state as mandated by the rules: you cay pray/study spells the next morning, you recover hit points naturally by resting*, you can re-fill your ammunition containers in the next town, and so on. Thus, any parasitic effects aren't permanent.

What I read @Pedantic to be getting at (and please correct me if I'm wrong!) is more of a long-term thing - no matter what you do in the long run, not only does your character not improve vis a vis the surroundings but in fact it goes backward. Put another way, the character gains one level but the setting in effect gains two.

A neutral-state example of this might be the "treadmill" effect some found with 3e (and 4e?) D&D, where the challenges more or less kept up with the characters as they advanced. Contrast that with earlier versions of D&D, where at low levels the setting stomped you but at high levels you stomped the setting - your character visibly gained power when compared to its surroundings.

In contrast, an example of a long-term parasitic effect in 1e D&D is that on each revival from death a character comes back forever down a point of Constitution, which makes the next revival a little harder (your 'resurrection survival roll' odds are dictated by your Con score at time of death) and can eventually lead to a slow-motion spiral.

* - that recovery rate, of course, is widely variable by edition.
 

Just to lob an observation in here: your examples here all speak to short-term parasitism, as those resources are each in some way or another recoverable or renewable within the game state as mandated by the rules: you cay pray/study spells the next morning, you recover hit points naturally by resting*, you can re-fill your ammunition containers in the next town, and so on. Thus, any parasitic effects aren't permanent.

What I read @Pedantic to be getting at (and please correct me if I'm wrong!) is more of a long-term thing - no matter what you do in the long run, not only does your character not improve vis a vis the surroundings but in fact it goes backward. Put another way, the character gains one level but the setting in effect gains two.
My reading came from @Pedantic saying "Admittedly, my Blades experience doesn't span past a few one-shots" and thus was speaking about the short term. The treadmill in my experience is a matter of DMing and some DMs doing weird things rather than being about the edition.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
We’ve been playing Blades in the Dark almost weekly since last July. Our characters and our crew have advanced considerably since the game started. We are taking on adversaries that we would have been helpless against early in the campaign. It’s like having to defer to the red dragon that rules in the town when you’re 1st level and then killing it for its treasure when at 15th.

It’s true we have to manage our recovery after scores, but that’s not a big deal. You get two free downtime activities, and you can take more at the cost of coin or rep. You usually want to manage your rep to avoid tiering up too quickly, and coin is easy to get. You get it from scores, but you also get it from certain claims, and you get stash every time the crew advances, which should happen every session or two. Unless you spend profligately, it’s hard to stay poor in Blades in the Dark.
 

niklinna

učim hrvatski
We’ve been playing Blades in the Dark almost weekly since last July. Our characters and our crew have advanced considerably since the game started. We are taking on adversaries that we would have been helpless against early in the campaign. It’s like having to defer to the red dragon that rules in the town when you’re 1st level and then killing it for its treasure when at 15th.
Yep, we're heavyweights now!

It’s true we have to manage our recovery after scores, but that’s not a big deal. You get two free downtime activities, and you can take more at the cost of coin or rep.
I get three free downtime activities! There's a special for that. :)

You usually want to manage your rep to avoid tiering up too quickly, and coin is easy to get. You get it from scores, but you also get it from certain claims, and you get stash every time the crew advances, which should happen every session or two. Unless you spend profligately, it’s hard to stay poor in Blades in the Dark.
Even then I feel we've advanced incredibly quickly, but that's largely due to us splitting up to do multiple scores per session. We've all had different spending habits, I blew a lot of money on training early on, but most of us are pretty flush now.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Even then I feel we've advanced incredibly quickly, but that's largely due to us splitting up to do multiple scores per session. We've all had different spending habits, I blew a lot of money on training early on, but most of us are pretty flush now.
That makes sense though. As the PCs advance, they can handle more on their own, so having people do multiple scores allows you to hit more of the crew playbook XP triggers every session (and get more rep, etc). Heat can be an issue, but there’s a claim to reduce it.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Thinking about concentric design, and noting first that I believe it is a very pragmatic way to understand and divide classes or roles of rules and second that what I will discuss will leave behind the context in which concentric design was introduced in this thread, there is an omission in the construct that I believe matters to the premises of this thread.

In the third shell is listed "Character improvement, including the ungiven future." Extending the analogy of a lightbulb (standing for the core rules) RPG play envisions lighting the bulb many times (or if you prefer, picture a series of lightbulbs, lighting one at a time in sequence). The core loop is the heart of the game. Overarching the game is the metagame: a distinct and fruitful area for rules design.

The intent of the original construct is to discuss layers of priority. What must we have. What may we have. Perhaps this also helps designers notice their core rules in order to give them the appropriate attention. In play, it suggests a safety net for players (e.g. concentrate on mastering the core rules as those can sustain play even if you forget some rules in the outer shells.) It is even possible to play some kinds of games without forming a metagame, although in practice examples are rare. Rarer still are RPGs that lack a metagame! Relevant to this thread, the metagame is the space in which the possibility that "the players have shown [what] their PCs care about" lives.

Again, stressing that I regard the idea of concentric game design as a sound construct for understanding and dividing rules, I think it is useful to expand the construct to separate out the metagame. I might propose even a strong view of metagame, which would be that RPG essentially doesn't exist without it. Putting it on the same level as core rules, i.e. at the heart of a TTRPG design and - given a purpose of playing an RPG as we generally talk about that activity - not dispensible in the same way that outer shell rules might be.
 

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