With Special Guest James D’Amato – Afterthought 14

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What the hell, did we conduct an actual interview with an industry person?  Man, I guess so.  We sit down with James D’Amato, host of the One Shot Podcast, who is also sitting down probably while several hundred miles away, and discuss Little Baby Micro Games, the official name of the micro RPG revolution sweeping the gaming industry.  Then he helps us answer your awesome questions!

9 responses to “With Special Guest James D’Amato – Afterthought 14

  1. I’m not a fan of reflavoring mechanics. I expect the game to give me the one true mechanical representation that corresponds to any given action, because that helps me understand the language which I can use to ascribe mechanics for actions that the game doesn’t explicitly cover.

    If you have three different ways to get the same mechanical result, and it doesn’t matter how you describe it because the mechanics are the same regardless, then that doesn’t help me to understand how the narrative translates into the mechanic. As soon as the player wants to improvise something that doesn’t use one of those powers, I’m left without reference points in how to resolve that.

    I guess I just prefer games with fewer powers/skills, where each one is fairly broad and distinct, so we always know which mechanic to call on for any given action.

  2. I’ve always thought of this as the “Illusion of No Choice.” Consider this. You’ve got two players in two games. One is playing in a rules-light system, the other in something crunchier. Or one’s playing 3.x, the other 4e. Doesn’t matter.

    Player 1 wants to swing from a chandelier and crash it on some bad guys (this is always the first example, it’s tradition). He’s playing a game without discrete powers, basically just stats, skills, ‘n feats. He’s even playing a Fighterish guy, so no spells or anything. There’s nothing on his sheet that resembles “Swing from a chandelier.” He describes the coolness of this action to the DM and they work something out, some roll he can make, or just letting it happen because it’s cool, whatever.

    Player 2 wants to swing from a chandelier and crash it on some bad guys. He looks down at his character sheet which, as he is playing a powers-y game, is replete with discrete little powers. He’s also playing a fighter-type so he can do stuff like shove enemies around or dart around in combat as various powers. However, after riffing through them, none really resemble “Swing from a chandelier.” So instead, he describes the coolness of this action to the DM and they work something out, some roll he can make, or just letting it happen because it’s cool, whatever.

    The hangup a lot of people seem to get is thinking that scenario 2 can’t happen, because the character has a list, and by gosh, he better pick from that list. This is basically inaccurate. The first character after all also has a list. He has rules for how to hit guys and how to not be hit, he has rules for rope use and cooking. Ostensibly, if we treat both characters the same, Character 1 also can’t swing from a chandelier, because it’s not in his purview of “Hit guys. Use Ropes.” Character 2’s list looking more traditionally list-y doesn’t remove the “work it out with the DM” option.

    This is a regular complaint against 4e D&D, that the characters end up being defined by a little stack of power cards. It’s specifically a complaint that ignores the book telling you how to broadly adjudicate stuff that isn’t in the powers, and how that broad adjudication is near-identical to how it worked in the previous edition anyway.

    • It’s not that the powers-list fighter can’t do something creative – and I agree, that’s a false accusation from people who didn’t read the rules – but that the system doesn’t have good rules for adjudicating those things.

      Going by memory, a one-shot environmental stunt (like dropping a chandelier) does damage on par with an encounter power. That means it scales by the level of the person dropping it. Which isn’t very satisfying for me, as the GM, who wants to know how much damage a chandelier does when you drop it on someone. It should be consistent, and it’s not intuitive to see how the skill of the dropper should affect the damage. Accuracy, sure, but not damage.

      It’s a similar issue with reflavoring powers in any system. Whenever you say that a particular action uses a particular mechanic, you’re establishing precedent, which may or may not be consistent with existing or future rules and rulings. It’s not something to be done lightly!

      If you care about consistency, that is. Your Mileage Probably Varies, but internal consistency of a rule set is right up there alongside playability, in terms of what I’m looking for in a game. Even if a game works well as a game, I won’t be having much fun if it’s full of inconsistencies (not actually blaming any specific game here). From a game design perspective, saying that a rule works a certain way “because it’s a game” seems like taking the easy way out, so I dock points accordingly. It’s still better than a broken game that doesn’t even work as a game, but this is 2015, and they should really know better by now.

      • That “improvised attack does basically the same amount of damage as a normal attack” rule especially rubbed me wrong way, because it’s effectively saying “you can try to be creative, but it won’t matter, because we’ve put an upper limit to how much your creativity can help you”. That’s just awful design philosophy. Surely you WANT your players to be creative and engaged in the fiction of the game world. Don’t put a limit to what they can accomplish through cleverness. No other game that I know of has such a limit.

      • I can certainly agree that that’s not a very smart sentence to add to your book. Most of the tables I know of have generally treated cool improvised attacks as a way to dramatically shorten what is admittedly the standard way-too-long fights of any given 4e game.

  3. Random notes as I listen to this, taking notes instead of working.

    – LMAO – the Car Talk opening!
    – Elves make way too much sense as Germans to me.
    – A road trip of all the roadside attractions is a bucket list item for me. Love those stupid things. There is a terrible LotR based one in Northern California.
    – Worst thing I’ve eaten was a fertilized, partially developed in shell, goose egg.

  4. Copying stats from D&D irks me too, but only if it’s the actual Gygax/Arneson sixpack. If it’s merely something ‘kinda like that’ it’s not really a fair complaint, because anyone who sets out to list the physical and mental qualities people can have is naturally going to come up with a very similar list. I’ve read military manuals from 1950’s that listed the components of fitness as “strength, endurance, dexterity, agility, speed, …”

    • Basically, it just starts to get noticeable after you round the horn of reading 50 RPGs in a row. Watch for next week when the book we’re reviewing says “D&D is unrealistic garbage. So roll 3D6 for for your stats.”

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