What would be some good metics to evaluate RPG rules/systems?

GrahamWills

Adventurer
For me, the most informative information about a game is whether it has a narrative, gamist or simulation focus. That pretty much tells me the main thing I need to know. Next is the page count, which tells me roughly how complex it is, and then finally a quality measure which is usually a review from someone I trust.
 

LostSoul

Visitor
What matters are the choices that the players make.

So what do the rules

1. force choices for the players to make?
2. ask choices that the player may or may not make
3. suggest
4. ask the DM to force/ask/suggest choices

It's complicated; something like 5e would have different answers if the standard encounter XP budget was doubled. Or if the monsters in the MM were more or less difficult than they are now. AD&D would have different answers if the tables at the back of the DMG were removed. Both force the choice of race and class, but these are not the same thing in both editions (multiclassing and the racial harmony table).

You'd also have to look at all the spells and abilities.

So, good luck.
 

Riley37

Visitor
What matters are the choices that the players make.
Interesting point. I'd guess that it also matters how many of the choices are front-loaded. In AD&D you have X choices to make, before you have a playable entry-level character and can make your first action declaration to specific events in the scenario. In 5E D&D you have Y choices to make. Which is greater, X or Y? How many choices does it take to make a PC for Pathfinder, Savage Words, GURPS, Call of Cthulhu?

There will still be variation by table. Some AD&D players just rolled stats in order; your first roll is your STR. Other DMs allowed players to move stats around, which means more decisions. Perhaps some systems encourage more DM discretion than others, over which choices are in the hands of players.

"You'd also have to look at all the spells and abilities." - Only for games which involve spells. Some do, some don't; perhaps that is itself a metric.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
100
90
80
70
60
Player Agency %
50
40
30
20
10
.1
.25.5.7511.33
2410
Rules/Fluff Ratio

How's that look? Forgive the forum formatting limitations.
 

Sword of Spirit

Adventurer
A difficulty on rating player agency is that it can vary in manifestations such that it can be a meaningless metric. For example:

System 1 has a highly narrativist focus, where each participant gets an equal share in telling the story. The players are allowed to declare certain things about the world to be true, including things that extend far beyond their characters’ immediate interests. The world exists as a backdrop for the story and bends and molds around the characters. What exists tomorrow, or beyond those mountains, is totally based on the immediate needs of the story, and left blank until filled in by someone during play. Beyond the world, the mechanics are also designed to support plot. The rule of cool is the norm, and the heroes can’t fail unless that’s how they decide they want the story to end.

System 2 has a more simulationist focus, where the emphasis is on world exploration, with the world being treated as its own entity with “solidity” and not subject to play-time adjustment. The duke’s secret invasion fleet is going to make it to the planet tomorrow, regardless of the fact that no one but the GM knows that, and that date isn’t going to change to accommodate what could be seen as a better story. The things beyond those mountains are either already drawn on a map, or they randomly determined based on geological and geographical probabilities. There is not a swamp there because that would make the best story or be convenient. There is or is not a swamp there based on how the world was pre-designed. The mechanics provide a consistent framework where results follow actions based on whatever passes for physics in that world, and neither players nor GM can alter the causally-determined results of actions.

Both of these could be considered high player agency systems. In the first the players have a high degree of influence over the course of a created story, the development of a world, and the outcomes of particular tasks. In the second the world and mechanics allow the players to truly explore a world, choose actions that have fairly predictable results based on known (to character as well as players) in-world physics, and experience accomplishments based on skill and luck, similar to real life.

Both of these could also be considered low on the player agency scale because they each fail to provide the points of agency of the other. Many systems blend some of these elements together (with varying degrees of success), but I find it hard to imagine a system that was high on both of them.

(As an aside, I consider these play styles to be so distinct that they shouldn’t both be considered the same thing. At this point in the state of role-playing, deeper levels of distinguishing names should be developed and applied to the distinct types of play such as the those just described.)

From a practical stand-point, I can enjoy either type (and if I had to pick a favorite it would probably be a combination that leaned towards system one if set on contemporary earth, and towards system two if set in an imaginary world), but saying something is high in player agency isn’t necessarily going to explain what kind of agency the system provides. I think any good system ought to provide a high degree of player agency in some way or another.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Both of these could be considered high player agency systems.
And both in practice could fail to provide player agency depending on the techniques that the game's moderator/referee/secret keeper/story teller employed to shift agency back to themselves.

And that means that we have to look beyond just the systems that the game's rules put in place, but at the games actual processes of play. In practice, I think 'System 1' will be harder to railroad, but only because 'System 1' type games tend to be more recent, and as such tend to define the processes of play more tightly as part of the rules that they present. But I've watched videos of 'System 1' games actually being played, and there is still enough room for a Gamemaster to skillfully manipulate the process of play, that it was very difficult for me to tell by watching the video whether the players had any agency at all.

And certainly, I know 'System 2' type games well enough, and how to run them, and the subtle techniques you can employ, that I know I can successfully manipulate and steer players without them realizing how little agency they really have at that moment. And that's not even to get into situations where, I'm the player, and I know the GM is running a module, and so I willingly get on the rails and give up the agency I in theory have, because I don't want to make life difficult for the GM. So here, in theory I have a lot of agency, but because published modules run as is are typically 'small worlds', despite the agency I may have, in practice because of how the game was prepared (or not prepared), my agency is limited to comparatively small 'tactical' choices and not larger narrative choices.
 
So... Instead of a series of axes, perhaps a list of tags or descriptors might be easier to get to. Some of these tags might be mutually exclusive (or almost so), but many would not.

So you might describe GURPS with the following tags... [Point-Buy], [Universal], [Modular], [Unified], [Roll-Under] ... relating that the system uses point-buy character generation (as opposed to, say [Class-Based]), is a universal system (as opposed to a system designed for a specific type of play, for which I can't think of a good descriptor ATM), has lots of modular options, a unified mechanic, featuring a roll-under system, and so on.

And you might describe Monsterhearts with... [Class-Based] (or maybe [Play-Book]), [Focused], [Stand-Alone], [Unified], [Fail, Success w/Cost, Success] ... relating that Monsterhearts uses classes (or playbooks, in the PbtA terminology) is a focused, rather than universal type game, is meant to be used more or less as is (although new Play-Books oughtn't to be too hard to add) rather than modularly pieced together, and uses the Fail, Success with a Cost, Success mechanic common to the Powered by the Apocalypse games.

I'm sure that there are other descriptors that I am overlooking, but that might be a reasonable start...
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
System 1 has a highly narrativist focus, where each participant gets an equal share in telling the story. The players are allowed to declare certain things about the world to be true, including things that extend far beyond their characters’ immediate interests. The world exists as a backdrop for the story and bends and molds around the characters. What exists tomorrow, or beyond those mountains, is totally based on the immediate needs of the story, and left blank until filled in by someone during play. Beyond the world, the mechanics are also designed to support plot. The rule of cool is the norm, and the heroes can’t fail unless that’s how they decide they want the story to end.

System 2 has a more simulationist focus, where the emphasis is on world exploration, with the world being treated as its own entity with “solidity” and not subject to play-time adjustment. The duke’s secret invasion fleet is going to make it to the planet tomorrow, regardless of the fact that no one but the GM knows that, and that date isn’t going to change to accommodate what could be seen as a better story. The things beyond those mountains are either already drawn on a map, or they randomly determined based on geological and geographical probabilities. There is not a swamp there because that would make the best story or be convenient. There is or is not a swamp there based on how the world was pre-designed. The mechanics provide a consistent framework where results follow actions based on whatever passes for physics in that world, and neither players nor GM can alter the causally-determined results of actions.

Both of these could be considered high player agency systems. In the first the players have a high degree of influence over the course of a created story, the development of a world, and the outcomes of particular tasks. In the second the world and mechanics allow the players to truly explore a world, choose actions that have fairly predictable results based on known (to character as well as players) in-world physics, and experience accomplishments based on skill and luck, similar to real life.

Both of these could also be considered low on the player agency scale because they each fail to provide the points of agency of the other. Many systems blend some of these elements together (with varying degrees of success), but I find it hard to imagine a system that was high on both of them.
Oh. Then I guess my chart would have a footnote describing player agency as "GM-like control over plot and setting." At 100%, all players share this control, and there is basically no GM. At 0%, players just roll dice and Matt Mercer tells them what happens.

And both in practice could fail to provide player agency depending on the techniques that the game's moderator/referee/secret keeper/story teller employed to shift agency back to themselves.
I like "guide," personally. :)

And certainly, I know 'System 2' type games well enough, and how to run them, and the subtle techniques you can employ, that I know I can successfully manipulate and steer players without them realizing how little agency they really have at that moment.
Which is why narrative control lies at both ends of the spectrum. You can give players all the rules you want to do whatever they want, but if the guide is the only narrator, the players have agency only to the extent that it's given by the narrator.

In Numenera, players roll all the dice, they use XP to change the GM's mind, and they use abilities to determine/adjust how difficult a task is. The book encourages the GM to let players describe their actions, and gives many examples of negotiation between player and GM of certain outcomes. I'd put its Player Agency rating at about 40%, as in, the GM still has most of the control, but the players have a lot of influence in what happens. I don't know how the rules go, but if you've seen Titansgrave (the web series), you'd know that a game can be played with more player agency than Numenera. The players in the series do a lot of GM-level narrating, so I'd put that at a good 50%, if not more.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Which is why narrative control lies at both ends of the spectrum. You can give players all the rules you want to do whatever they want, but if the guide is the only narrator, the players have agency only to the extent that it's given by the narrator.
I believe you misunderstood my point. I'm suggesting that in games where players can engage in authorship, they can have less agency than in games where they can't.

Consider my case of a railroaded traditional RPG where the players have only limited tactical choices and can't actually shape the overall story. We both agree this represents low player agency. The game is on rails.

Consider a hypothetical game with typical Nar mechanics. It will have rules for allowing players to engage in authorship, but only in a finite way. However, the storyteller - or 'guide' - still has the unlimited authorship of a world builder and secret keeper. Additionally, Nar games often flat out encourage the guide to engage in traditional railroading techniques such as Schrodinger's Map or Schrodinger's Stat Block.

Now suppose we are engaged in some sort of story arc and have reached the climatic encounter (or a climatic encounter) with a villain or foil. Because the guide has unlimited authorship and is flat out encouraged to "do what is best for the story" or "do what is fun", the guide can decide that since this is a climatic encounter then it ought to be a tense and exciting combat. And as such, he can using his authoring authority adjust the encounter on the fly so that - for the good of the game - the villain does not go down like a chump resulting in an "unfun" anti-climatic end of the story arc. Likewise, if the villain seems to be getting the upper hand, then he can - for the good of the game - adjust the combat on the fly so that just as it seems all is lost, one good die throw turns the tide at "the last moment'.

I put to you that this game is identical in terms of agency with the traditionally railroaded traditional RPG, despite the ability of the players to engage in authoring during the game. The reason is that ultimately, all that authoring is going to amount to what are essentially tactical choices of small import, while the actual results are beyond their ability to actually effect.

I came to this conclusion after watching game on youtube with mechanics that allowed player authorship. The game was more on rails than a game I run with traditional preparation and mechanics. Indeed, because the game actually encouraged much stronger authorship by the guide than is normally validated by a traditional RPG, the actual player agency relative to the GM was less than a traditional RPG despite sharing the authoring role with the players.

In Numenera, players roll all the dice, they use XP to change the GM's mind, and they use abilities to determine/adjust how difficult a task is. The book encourages the GM to let players describe their actions, and gives many examples of negotiation between player and GM of certain outcomes. I'd put its Player Agency rating at about 40%, as in, the GM still has most of the control, but the players have a lot of influence in what happens. I don't know how the rules go, but if you've seen Titansgrave (the web series), you'd know that a game can be played with more player agency than Numenera. The players in the series do a lot of GM-level narrating, so I'd put that at a good 50%, if not more.
I'll have to watch that but don't be too surprised if I don't have the same analysis that you do.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Sales price - (Develop Cost + Printing cost + business cost) = profit.
For me.
(Purchase price + upkeep cost (soda, note pads, new modules) ) / # of hours of enjoyment = fun ratio.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
Consider a hypothetical game with typical Nar(rative) mechanics. It will have rules for allowing players to engage in authorship, but only in a finite way. However, the storyteller - or 'guide' - still has the unlimited authorship of a world builder and secret keeper. Additionally, Nar games often flat out encourage the guide to engage in traditional railroading techniques such as Schrodinger's Map or Schrodinger's Stat Block.
Sure, sure. Infinity makes any other amount look like zero. Or actually zero (not sure). I see Schrodinger's Pie as a finite one. And you don't know how much control pie the GM has until the players have their pieces. BTW, didn't know Schrodinger was so into role-playing!

Sales price - (Develop Cost + Printing cost + business cost) = profit.
For me.
(Purchase price + upkeep cost (soda, note pads, new modules) ) / # of hours of enjoyment = fun ratio.
Is that ratio upside down? Also, does it mean that free games have a fun ratio only if they have an upkeep cost?
 

Celebrim

Legend
Sure, sure. Infinity makes any other amount look like zero. Or actually zero (not sure). I see Schrodinger's Pie as a finite one. And you don't know how much control pie the GM has until the players have their pieces. BTW, didn't know Schrodinger was so into role-playing!
I heard the game he ran with HG Wells and Heisenberg was visionary. Decades ahead of its time. Unfortunately, it fell apart because they players kept interfering with each other and they couldn't agree on the fictional positioning.

As for the pie, even if it is a finite pie, you actually don't know how big your piece is until you can compare it to the GMs piece. Because everything is relative.

But at times I've argued that a game without Rule Zero isn't even an RPG, and if rule zero is present (as it usually is), then the pie is not necessarily countable. Traditional RPGs try to make the pie finite by encouraging the GM to restrict the resources they give themselves by first recording them and then faithfully adhering to the restrictions that they gave themselves. If you can't count the number of orcs and pies in the dungeon until after the PC's have rolled a dice and kicked down the door, then the pie size is not finite and the GM holds effectively all of it regardless of how big of a pie piece he handed you. Or you know, whoops, you killed the orc too quickly, but now the pie is attacking you, roll for initiative.
 
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jasper

Rotten DM
Sure, sure. Infinity makes any other amount look like zero. Or actually zero (not sure). I see Schrodinger's Pie as a finite one. And you don't know how much control pie the GM has until the players have their pieces. BTW, didn't know Schrodinger was so into role-playing!


Is that ratio upside down? Also, does it mean that free games have a fun ratio only if they have an upkeep cost?
YOU ARE CORRECT.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
I believe you misunderstood my point. I'm suggesting that in games where players can engage in authorship, they can have less agency than in games where they can't.

Consider my case of a railroaded traditional RPG where the players have only limited tactical choices and can't actually shape the overall story. We both agree this represents low player agency. The game is on rails.

Consider a hypothetical game with typical Nar mechanics. It will have rules for allowing players to engage in authorship, but only in a finite way. However, the storyteller - or 'guide' - still has the unlimited authorship of a world builder and secret keeper. Additionally, Nar games often flat out encourage the guide to engage in traditional railroading techniques such as Schrodinger's Map or Schrodinger's Stat Block.

Now suppose we are engaged in some sort of story arc and have reached the climatic encounter (or a climatic encounter) with a villain or foil. Because the guide has unlimited authorship and is flat out encouraged to "do what is best for the story" or "do what is fun", the guide can decide that since this is a climatic encounter then it ought to be a tense and exciting combat. And as such, he can using his authoring authority adjust the encounter on the fly so that - for the good of the game - the villain does not go down like a chump resulting in an "unfun" anti-climatic end of the story arc. Likewise, if the villain seems to be getting the upper hand, then he can - for the good of the game - adjust the combat on the fly so that just as it seems all is lost, one good die throw turns the tide at "the last moment'.

I put to you that this game is identical in terms of agency with the traditionally railroaded traditional RPG, despite the ability of the players to engage in authoring during the game. The reason is that ultimately, all that authoring is going to amount to what are essentially tactical choices of small import, while the actual results are beyond their ability to actually effect.

I came to this conclusion after watching game on youtube with mechanics that allowed player authorship. The game was more on rails than a game I run with traditional preparation and mechanics. Indeed, because the game actually encouraged much stronger authorship by the guide than is normally validated by a traditional RPG, the actual player agency relative to the GM was less than a traditional RPG despite sharing the authoring role with the players.

I'll have to watch that but don't be too surprised if I don't have the same analysis that you do.
Are you defining "player agency" to mean that player actions can affect/change outcomes? If so, I think you're describing the inverse of railroading, but railroading and player agency are not antonyms.

I would define player agency to mean that the player is in full control of their character, not that said control is able to achieve certain outcomes.

Or maybe I'm not understanding your point.

EDIT: But that does make me wonder if a useful piece of information* about a game would be where the boundaries of player agency are. E.g., in D&D 5e I would say that player agency is (intended to be) lost only through magic. In The One Ring it can be lost temporarily through bouts of madness that occur when you accumulate Shadow points, and after four bouts of madness you permanently lose your character. Etc.

*Where "piece of information" is my new attempt at "metric" or "rating"...
 
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Celebrim

Legend
Are you defining "player agency" to mean that player actions can affect/change outcomes?
I don't think I've ever settled on a "official" definition of player agency, but in general by player agency I mean tending to have the ability by your in game choices (propositions) to change both the direction and the outcome of the game. I think you'll find that defining "direction and outcome" tends to be difficult here.

If so, I think you're describing the inverse of railroading, but railroading and player agency are not antonyms.
I've never defined railroading except in a Aristotelian manner either, but I would think that as close as I've come to defining "to railroad" it isn't an antonym of "agency" because one is a verb and the other is a noun, but they are related. As a loose definition, I tend to define "to railroad" as "To use any of a number of GMing techniques where by the GM transfers agency from the player to himself in order to take temporary control over the direction of the story." In my discussion of railroading, I noted that if the player's agency was already low, then use of a railroad technique could in some cases result in a net increase in player agency - for example by providing exposition that would allow a player to then make an informed choice.

The inverse of railroading would be for the GM to transfer agency from himself to the player. I don't know that that has a name.

I would define player agency to mean that the player is in full control of their character, not that said control is able to achieve certain outcomes.
Ok, I wouldn't. Control without the ability to achieve an outcome is a rather strange concept of control. A player rarely or never has full control over their character. As an obvious example, a player can declare the intention to attack and kill an orc, but they cannot normally declare that they do attack and kill an orc because normally such actions require a fortune check, and a fortune check will temporarily deprive the player over control of the character - for example, causing the player to swing and miss, something that they did not intend to do.

So what you probably mean by "full control" is simply that another participant in the game cannot make propositions which assert how a player's character thinks, feels, or acts. This is somewhat verified because you assert that in 5e agency can be lost only through magic. But I would consider this a very limited understanding of what agency actually is, as a player may be the only participant that can make propositions which assert how their own character thinks, feels, or acts and yet still have no agency whatsoever - and I tend to think that as a practical matter a player that felt he was allowed to declare whatever he wanted with respect to his actions, but couldn't actually affect the outcomes, would feel that they didn't have much agency and that the game was on rails.
 
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Are you defining "player agency" to mean that player actions can affect/change outcomes? If so, I think you're describing the inverse of railroading, but railroading and player agency are not antonyms.

I would define player agency to mean that the player is in full control of their character, not that said control is able to achieve certain outcomes.

Or maybe I'm not understanding your point.

EDIT: But that does make me wonder if a useful piece of information* about a game would be where the boundaries of player agency are. E.g., in D&D 5e I would say that player agency is (intended to be) lost only through magic. In The One Ring it can be lost temporarily through bouts of madness that occur when you accumulate Shadow points, and after four bouts of madness you permanently lose your character. Etc.

*Where "piece of information" is my new attempt at "metric" or "rating"...
You could call that the inviolability scale. It would range from, "You're not the boss of me!" on the one end and, "You clicked the, 'I Agree' button." on the other... or something.
 
Who are the PCs, and what do they do in the game? (if this can't be answered in a sentence or two, pass)

What is the game's task resolution system? (some games may downplay task resolution altogether, which is fine, but you need to know that up front)

How long is a typical session? How long is a typical "campaign" (or "series")? (this is personal preference but also something you need to know up front)

And then I'd go with some general usability concerns:
* How visible is the PCs' status within the game? Does this match with the genre / tone the game is trying to convey?
* How free is the player to selection actions for their PC to take?
* How consistent and standardized are the game rules?
* How error tolerant is the game? i.e. if you mess up the rules, what happens?
* How much does the game rely on recognition, recall, or both?
* How do you learn to play the game?
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
I don't think I've ever settled on a "official" definition of player agency, but in general by player agency I mean tending to have the ability by your in game choices (propositions) to change both the direction and the outcome of the game. I think you'll find that defining "direction and outcome" tends to be difficult here.



I've never defined railroading except in a Aristotelian manner either, but I would think that as close as I've come to defining "to railroad" it isn't an antonym of "agency" because one is a verb and the other is a noun, but they are related. As a loose definition, I tend to define "to railroad" as "To use any of a number of GMing techniques where by the GM transfers agency from the player to himself in order to take temporary control over the direction of the story." In my discussion of railroading, I noted that if the player's agency was already low, then use of a railroad technique could in some cases result in a net increase in player agency - for example by providing exposition that would allow a player to then make an informed choice.

The inverse of railroading would be for the GM to transfer agency from himself to the player. I don't know that that has a name.



Ok, I wouldn't. Control without the ability to achieve an outcome is a rather strange concept of control. A player rarely or never has full control over their character. As an obvious example, a player can declare the intention to attack and kill an orc, but they cannot normally declare that they do attack and kill an orc because normally such actions require a fortune check, and a fortune check will temporarily deprive the player over control of the character - for example, causing the player to swing and miss, something that they did not intend to do.

So what you probably mean by "full control" is simply that another participant in the game cannot make propositions which assert how a player's character thinks, feels, or acts. This is somewhat verified because you assert that in 5e agency can be lost only through magic. But I would consider this a very limited understanding of what agency actually is, as a player may be the only participant that can make propositions which assert how their own character thinks, feels, or acts and yet still have no agency whatsoever - and I tend to think that as a practical matter a player that felt he was allowed to declare whatever he wanted with respect to his actions, but couldn't actually affect the outcomes, would feel that they didn't have much agency and that the game was on rails.
Ok, so we're using the terms very differently. In your example of declaring "an intention to attack and kill an orc" the player has full agency, in my view, as long as he/she is able to attempt actions to accomplish that goal, such as swinging a sword, even if the outcome is uncertain. "Loss of agency" would be the GM saying, "No, you wouldn't do that because of (insert reason)..."

But I could also see how "agency" could be interpreted the way you are using it, to mean an ability to influence the game world. In which case it would be the antonym of railroading. (Which is kinda funny, since most people use "sandbox" and "railroad" as opposite ends of a spectrum, when really you could quite easily have a sandboxy railroad.)
 

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