A State – System Mastery 101

This book is a grim, unrelenting slog.  Punctuated by the kind of art that would be impressive if this book was a collection of screenshots from the first Fallout game, filled to the brim with grimy short stories where nameless murderers murder murderers for the joy of murderin’, and with about 14 of its dismal 200 or so pages given over to the rules.  We hope you enjoy the review, as someone somewhere should have a bit of happiness, since we apparently cannot.

12 responses to “A State – System Mastery 101

  1. Meanwhile, I’m reading through an RPG that looks to be the inspiration for the original Fallout, and it at least tries to be funny.

    Be sure to check out Blood Dawn if you want something a little less grim.

  2. I don’t get what it is about d100 based systems and making the characters start as ridiculously incompetent shitfarmers. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and all the 40k ones do it, Basic RPG does it, even Unknown Armies has this problem although it tries to migitate it with lots of dice tricks you can do.

    Also the lack of scaling in d100 based roll under systems bothers me a bit. Like I understand in some contexts that you want to put the cap at 100%, but it’s really weird in certain games where you’d expect certain creatures and characters to work completely outside the human range of abilities, like Call of Cthulhu or something.

    What I’m trying to say is that d100+modifier systems rule. If you have something bad to say about Rolemaster and it’s dumb ridiculous bullshit charts I’ll have none of it.

    • It’s not just d100 systems, it’s any roll-under system, and simply because they come with a built-in hard limit for character progress. You can’t get better than “succeeds 100% of the time”, and you really shouldn’t ever reach even that point because with no chance of failure things get boring real quickly. On the other hand you want characters to have plenty of room to grow because RPGs kind of work like that, so the only way to go is downwards.

      There are ways around this, like the one in Stormbringer where you can split a 250% combat skill into multiple less-guaranteed attacks, but they come with their own problems and all of them make the math more convoluted. The main upside of a d100 roll-under system is, after all, that you know more or less right away what you’re going to roll.

      Oh, and Cthulhu is an ideal sort of game for that sort of thing because Cthulhu characters basically are all either totally normal average joe humans with nothing remotely heroic about them, or monsters of the sort that don’t really even need stats. The scale only really becomes constraining if you’re supposed to play as Big Damn Heroes of some sort.

      • Yeah, thinking about it those are all good points. The lack of scaling is actually a feature in games that are trying to be more grounded. However, it sort of leads into a weird situation where you want there to be scaling so players can get a sense of progression which means having to start characters at below 50% in most of their abilities in order to reinforce that sense of progression, which leads to the sense of characters being incompetents at starter level.

        I mean of course you can also apply modifiers to the roll based on difficulty and obviously you should always use common sense (if you do it and there’s no reasonable chance of you failing or interesting consequences of failing, you do it), but for an example in WFRP 2e it alwasy felt a bit backwards to me that characters would start with an around 40% chance of succeeding at a thing they were supposedly good at and the GM had to rejigger the percentages on the fly by applying modifiers for difficulty, like “Oh this is so easy you have a +20% chance of succeeding.” Like it’s not exactly hard to do that, but I guess I’m just used to having a low baseline difficulty which is then increased as the situation becomes harder to account for wanting to challenge your players as they advance.

        Ultimately though this is a matter of tastes of course: having the baseline percentage floating around 60% and assuming that’s the percentage chance for something that a starting character would find easy is effectively the same as having the baseline chance be 40% and then assuming that the GM will dole out +20% bonuses for most easy starting level tasks, the former just feels more natural to me for purely psychological and aesthetic reasons.

        Rolemaster still rules though, I’m kind of struggling with whether I want to keep my cool 2e box for myself as a curiosity (even though I know I would never run a serious campaign in it) or whether I should send it to Jef and Jon to share my pain with the world.

      • The big advantage that a d20 system has over percentile is that it’s super easy to scale difficulties by just changing the DC. The big advantage of percentile is that it’s easy to understand exactly what your chances are, since it’s unlikely to be modified significantly.

        If you really want to include scaling in a percentile game, it’s probably better to leave low percentages for unskilled characters. Give everyone like 20% to pick a pocket, but let a trained thief start at 70% and work up from there. You could also add scaling to parts of the system that aren’t percentile, like damage and defense (or health).

  3. Hey, I’ve seen Titan A.E., not recently but I saw that so many times as a kid that I’ve basically memorized it.

    Finally, a podcast for me!

  4. For the record, the objectively correct method of assigning XP is based entirely on what the characters actually experience, to whatever degree of abstraction you are comfortable with. Assigning it based on how well someone roleplays would be metagaming, and assigning it based on GM whim or story concerns would be biased and unfair. The GM should strive to be fair and impartial in all things.

  5. hey, read “the cone” a short story by HG wells and tell me how identical it is to the story you mention in this episode with the heat exchanger

  6. You can give out XP based on the needs of the story, but that’s just one way to game, and not a really interesting one; the story might be great, but that’s a pretty bare-bones mechanic that makes XP arbitrary. Why not just start everyone at the desired power level and keep it there? Or when the PCs need a power to do a thing, just give them that power. Why even have XP at all, if “the story needs it” is the justification for PC power?

  7. Shiv is slang for a knife, there is nothing special about a shiv. People in jail make them with sharp metal or whatever.
    Rhymes with ‘live’.

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