Five Moons RPG: It’s a Team Game

One of the things I like most about roleplaying games is that they’re a cooperative experience: the players are working together for a common purpose. Each character might excel in a particular area, but the “win condition” for the game is “we complete the story,” not “I have to do better than everyone else who is playing.”

Unfortunately, for many players, making the “best” character in the group becomes the goal of playing, rather than being an effective part of the team. Double unfortunately, the easiest way to measure which is the “best” character is by adding up how much damage a character can deal in a round, and any character option that doesn’t improve that damage statistics is an inferior or even “useless” option. That sort of thinking means the player is thinking “me, me, me” instead of “us, us, us.”

(Also, as I pointed out in an earlier blog post, the game is already stacked in the PCs’ favor–you don’t need to optimize your character to “win” the game.)

My upcoming game, Five Moons RPG, emphasizes that you are part of a team. Your character functions more effectively when you take your allies’ abilities into account, and every character has class-based abilities that help other people on the team.

(Update September 23, 2014: If you like this post and where these ideas are going, please check out the kickstarter for my Five Moons RPG, which uses these ideas. Thanks!)

Synergize Your Powers

Every character has character abilities that interact with the abilities of the other PCs in the group.

For example, a fire wizard might have an Incendiary Blast attack spell sets an opponent on fire, and a Explosive Combustion spell that does extra damage if used on a creature that is on fire. The archer warrior in the party might have a Burning Arrow attack that sets an opponent on fire, and a Dynamite Arrow* that does extra damage if used on a creature that is on fire. It doesn’t matter whether it was the fire mage or the archer warrior who set the creature on fire–the Explosive Combustion spell and the Dynamite Arrow attack both get their extra bonuses. Either character could ignore what the other character is doing (spend round 1 setting the creature on fire, then round 2 taking advantage of the burning), or they could take advantage of each others’ actions and activate these “combos” more quickly.

This game mechanic helps someone creating a new character get suggestions from other players about what attacks and spells have an enhanced effect when the other PCs are around.

Your Class Has Tangible Effects On Others

Another way to reinforce the team aspect is through effects that you automatically grant to other members of your team. The perfect D&D/PF example of this sort of thing is the paladin’s aura of courage, which grants allies a bonus against fear. (A bard’s inspire courage ability is another ability like this, although it requires expending performance rounds instead of being on all the time.) In World of Warcraft, most classes have some kind of “buff” that you can add to everyone in your party—priests add stamina (increasing your health), mages add intellect (increasing spell damage), and so on. Warriors could add their bravery bonus to nearby allies, rogues could add a bonus to Stealth or Reflex saves (or to certain social interactions), and so on.

This game mechanic lets each class contribute to the party as a whole–no character is an island, and it encourages players to try a class that contributes a “buff” that your group doesn’t currently have.

Coaching Your Teammates

Another way is to expand upon the idea of the “aid another” action and give all classes ways to “coach” other characters to do better. PCs in the same party see each other practice, work, and fight all the time. They’re not going to be completely ignorant about each others’ abilities.** The wizard has seen the warrior do that stab-spin-chop maneuver dozens of times; the warrior has heard the wizard speak the words to Incendiary Blast over and over again. There are many examples in fiction and movies of an unskilled character being inspired by an expert character, whether as a flashback to watching the expert in action, a “what would the captain do?” moment of reflection, or even a guided suggestion like “trust your feelings, Luke.”

In Five Moons, your expertise in your class allows you to temporarily improve another character’s ability to perform a task relevant to your class. For example, your warrior can call out tactical tips to help the cowardly rogue do better in a fight. Your rogue can pantomime how and where to walk to reduce the armored cleric’s noisy movement. Your cleric can tell the wizard of an old prayer of healing that fixes broken fingers. Your wizard can tell the warrior how to activate the Mystic Emerald of Agrijarrn. This “mentoring” or “coaching” isn’t always effective, and you can’t do it all the time, but it’s there when you need it.

And here’s a fun bit: your character can help another character this way, even if you’re unconscious or dead. How many times have you watched a movie where the hero dies, and the sidekick has to kick some ass to get the job done? That’s what I’m talking about. As I just said, it’s not always effective, and you can’t do it all the time, but sometimes when the situation goes to hell, you have Greatness Thrust Upon You, and it’s time to step up.

To sum up, in Five Moons RPG, I want your character to interact with the other PCs, teach them, and learn from them. It is a team game, be a team player.

* No, it’s not actually called that, but it’s a good visual concept.

** If you’re a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I’m talking about this bit from the “Grave” episode.

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Five Moons RPG cover

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37 thoughts on “Five Moons RPG: It’s a Team Game

  1. Games at my table are definitely played as team games always. Even to the extent that PCs will spend valuable feats for things that don’t help them but which helps a teammate. For example, one of my players took a feat (name escapes me at the moment) which allows her to give up sneak attack damage on 1 attack (out of her several now since she’s a dual wielding type, but less when she took it) to make the target flatfooted to another character (who happens to be ranged rogue…who now was able to get sneak attack on all of her attacks.)

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  2. This is why I like sneak attack and flanking. While Pathfinder certainly overvalued it in terms of balancing the rogue class as a whole, it’s a class feature that encourages players to work together and set each other up. I always scratch my head when I see suggestions to make sneak attack deal bonus damage all the time in one form or another. My reaction is always “Why remove gameplay from an ability that encourages teamwork in a game focused around teamwork?”

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    • You gotta find the line between “I need to have the baseline rogue damage without flanking be reasonable, but still encouraging flanking so the rogue deals extra damage” and “the rogue’s baseline damage is poor because we want to assume that the rogue is getting that extra sneak attack damage most of the time.”
      If you lean too far into the first category, you get, “the rogue’s baseline damage is good because you always get to add a sneak-ish damage, so there’s no need to add bonus damage from a teamwork element.” Which is the problem you describe.

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      • Hm, I see. It also doesn’t help that the rogue class, both by flavor and mechanics, encourage two-weapon fighting and Dexterity builds. Both are feat-intensive and do very little damage unless the class has a reliable way to add bonus damage to each attack. But that’s a different matter entirely.

        I’d love to see more mechanics that encourage teamwork, and look forward to seeing what you come up with. I really like features that encourage connections between PCs, like how many of Numenera’s Foci how some kind of flavorful benefit that associates you with another party member.

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  3. This is where my frustration starts to set in. People seem to be focusing more on how good their character is rather than how good their group is. The prevailing attitude “back in the day ™” was “Wow! We’ve got a good group of characters here, let’s do this!” and on the internet most of what I see is people trying to make the best character EVAR and getting sore at the fact that they can’t find one that does everything better than everyone else.

    People who did that “back in the day ™” were outliers who we didn’t want to play with. I don’t know when it became such a strong movement, but I don’t like it, dagnabbit.

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    • Honestly, I think games like World of Warcraft have something to do with the “movement” you’re describing. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing WOW, but there’s really not any roleplaying built into it (I call it a “fantasy adventure game” not a “roleplaying game”).
      The end goal of each WOW expansion (at max level) is a series of increasingly more difficult combat encounters (raids) where you have to have X amount of damage in a certain time or the boss enrages and does a TPK. Which means if your damage-focused character isn’t optimized, you shouldn’t participate in raids because you’re putting the whole team at risk. That’s because the WOW designers have it hard-coded based on your gear–the first raid is supposed to be challenging for characters who have the best gear available before that raid, the next raid is supposed to be challenging for characters who have gear from the previous raid, and so on.
      In WOW, there’s endless talk of “builds,” where people number crunch primary stats, secondary stats, specific combinations of certain abilities in order, and so on, all to produce the highest DPS. And now there’s a lot of that in D&D/PF, too, where people talk about optimizing their character’s “build” to do the most damage or have the most AC, or referring to “character guides” written by other people on how to make their characters as buff as possible. But doing so is ignoring that D&D/PF isn’t balanced to be an endgame series of intentionally-challenging fights, it is (as I have said before*) balanced so that an “average” fight is actually an unfair fight in the PC’s favor, and therefore you don’t have to optimize to win.
      D&D/PF actually assumes you’re *not* optimized (because they don’t want a CR 3 ogre to easily kill an APL 3 party of new players who haven’t done hours of math to optimize their characters). You can see this in the stat blocks for the D&D iconics and PF iconics: they have suboptimal skill, feat, and weapon choices, which make them interesting characters but not the “best for DPR.”
      In other words, a lot of people act like the point of playing is to *build* characters, and actually *playing* those characters is just a side aspect of building them. And to some extent, the game (and publishing business model) rewards them for doing so.
      * http://seankreynolds.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/designer-talk-apl-and-fair-fights/

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  4. I definitely agree with the spirit of teamwork and synergy. But what about the potential that one person in the group could get stuck being the “setup” guy, while someone else is perpetually in the spotlight as the “combo finisher?” Or that the group might be optimized if one player would switch classes for a different buff? Teamwork and synergy are great, but only up to the point where you might have to play a role you didn’t want to play.

    I guess what I’m wondering is, how will you mix it up so players don’t get stuck like that? It’s not a problem if everyone is always happy as long as the team wins, but sometimes you also want to be the one doing the cool thing.

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    • Initiative will be a factor in this… if Freddy FinishingMove goes first in initiative, they’d have to delay until Sid Setup gets to go.
      Different creature types and battle setups will be a factor, too. Maybe your setup ability doesn’t work on undead, but Freddy’s does.
      If Freddy insists on being “the finisher,” it’s easy to spot that he’s being selfish. SHUN HIM! SHUNNNN!
      Ideally, classes will offer two different buffs (only one of which is active at a time), so you’ll be able to get a nice compatible combo without anyone having to switch characters. And the intent is these buffs will augment the team, not be the make-or-break for beating an encounter, so there won’t be pressure for the player of fighter #2 to switch to a rogue in order to provide a different buff.

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  5. “Unfortunately, for many players, making the “best” character in the group becomes the goal of playing, rather than being an effective part of the team.”

    The part of this article seems to start off on some misconceptions it looks like. There are many valid reasons to optimize in RPG’s (which I guess I’ll direct to in that article you linked), the reason in this one is because it actually ensures greater victory & survivability for the team. A classic example is people believe Clerics should best do “teamwork” through being a “healbot”, whereas in reality, they’re better suited to self-buffing. Where since now can defeat things, ensure the team gets hurt less (needing less healing), less foes for the party to worry about, likely is taking some of the heat off the party (since he’ll be in the fray), plus it’ll be lot more fun to boot.

    Other examples of that is when the Wizard/Druid drops down Web/Entanglement, now locking Melee Enemies from hurting the party, setting up conditional advantage to those that need them (I.E Sneak Attack & the like), and if done round 1, allows party go through with little/no harm. Save-or Dies also have this advantage as well, and conductive to the team, albeit one spell by one dude wasn’t doing “teamwork attacks” necessarily (though it compliments every one else’s actions if the enemies not actually “Dead”). It’s actually sub-optimal in a way to keep a foe alive just by doing raw damage if it doesn’t take it out, as then its free to damage the other party members, and possibly cause them to expend their resources as well (the less resources lost, the better for the team right?).

    NOW onto the rest…

    Synergizing powers ela Guild Wars 2 sounds AWESOME, could get cumbersome unless your approach is done wide enough for that, so I’d like to see the rules for that. Everyone having a buff is interesting, no worries of having it better on yourself, as little/no choice in matter of it placing on your allies, good.

    Making Aid Another more than just some forgettable “+2 to an action” like concept is great! Like with all of the ideas, I’m interested in seeing how they play out, off-hand, can’t think of how their interaction may have unintended & adverse effects on the gameplay.

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    • {the reason in this one is because it actually ensures greater victory & survivability for the team.}

      When the odds are already stacked well in your favor (as I explained here http://seankreynolds.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/designer-talk-apl-and-fair-fights/), you don’t need to optimize for even more damage. That’s just overkill. And if you insist on doing it to the detriment of your character’s ability to roleplay, or in a way that marginalizes other people at the table, you’re not being a team player.

      {whereas in reality, [clerics are] better suited to self-buffing}

      And I disagree with the argument that a cleric “shouldn’t heal because they contribute more to the party as damage-dealers.” If that’s the role of the cleric, then why play a cleric instead of a wizard? And why should someone else’s opinion about what is “best” have any effect on the choices I make for my character? If John thinks a damage or buffing cleric is the best option, John can make a cleric and play *his* cleric that way.

      {plus it’ll be lot more fun to boot.}

      Unless you *want* to play a healing-oriented character, in which case you should be able to play your character the way *you* want to.

      {Save-or Dies also have this advantage as well}

      Except that the biggest complaint about spellcasters in D&D/PF is *because of* save-or-die spells. SODs invalidate the need for martial classes (which don’t have SOD abilities at all). The existence of SODs makes combat just a race to see who’s the first one to cast a SOD spell, which is boring–“rocket tag” is an effective but boring strategy because combat is *fun*, and *rushing* through combat means you’re speeding through one of the fun action-packed parts of the game. If you spend 10 rounds in combat in a particular game session, it’s not any *more* fun if you’re able to blast through 5 fights in 2 rounds each instead working your way normally through 2 or 3 fights of 4 or 5 rounds each.

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      • ” And if you insist on doing it to the detriment of your character’s ability to roleplay,”
        Maybe I’m missing something, but Optimization does not harm your ability to roleplay a character. If anything likely enhance it if the character is more “exotic”, thinking outside the box, but regardless, theres no correlation to optimization equating to someone being less capable of roleplaying something. That implies a dark road of “sub-optimal characters roleplay the best” which I’ve seen actual people argue, silly as that is. I’ve seen people who optimize a character & roleplay very very well, and I’ve seen very shallow PC’s who’d roleplay little to not at all.

        In regards to the cleric, & offense nature of D&D, that is the reality the cleric where cleric would do most in. As for what its role “should” be in a new game, under new parameters & the like, I imagine is up to designer intent, and possibly us as well if going with Player feedback route (which sounds like ye are, and I’m hoping to aid where I can in that).

        “Unless you *want* to play a healing-oriented character, in which case you should be able to play your character the way *you* want to.”

        Yes, a new game should allow PC’s to play characters they want to play, and that I agree. In current set-up of D&D, they “could” do that sure, but its best they understand the consequences of doing so, and prepare accordingly. Like playing an evocation wizard, ye can totally do it, just expect to have measures to help counterbalance the increase in resources, applicable feats that’ll help you immensely, and good evoker spells to best ensure ye can pull it off to maximum satisfaction. Course, can also NOT do that, and quite likely have a character not producing well the results ye wanted it to (unfortunately as that is, but a new game like Five Moons will ideally minmize that as been stated before, thumbs up).

        Yeah…Rocket Tag is its own set of demons, It can be satisfying, but disappointing for boss fights as we know. If the game isn’t as deadly, being “stacked in PC’s favor”, then it won’t be as necessary a measure. I’d imagine I would be relatively happy with casters SoD’s doing gradual effects over rounds (like a stone effect slowly turning you to stone like in Final Fantasy 4).

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      • {Maybe I’m missing something, but Optimization does not harm your ability to roleplay a character.}

        Pushing your Cha down to 6 because “I don’t need to talk to anyone” is sacrificing roleplaying to promote damage optimization.
        Not bothering to put any ranks in skills that don’t have a direct effect on combat (such as Survival or Diplomacy) because “I just fight things” is sacrificing roleplaying to promote damage optimization.
        Telling another player that they should maximize Str instead of Con because “Str lets you deal more damage, therefore maximizing Str is the right way to build a character,” even if the second player’s goal is “be the super-tough character who isn’t a damage-dealer” is sacrificing roleplaying to promote damage optimization.

        And no, saying, “I’m roleplaying my Cha 6 character as a wallflower” doesn’t mean you’re roleplaying.
        Nor does saying, “I’m playing a character who wants to be the best at fighting.”
        Nor does saying, “I want to be the strongest person in town.”

        {That implies a dark road of “sub-optimal characters roleplay the best” which I’ve seen actual people argue, silly as that is.}

        Fortunately, I’m not arguing that. But if a player’s argument is “it’s better to take Power Attack than Self-Sufficient, because Power Attack lets you deal more damage,” yes, they’re focusing on optimizing damage.

        {Yes, a new game should allow PC’s to play characters they want to play, and that I agree. In current set-up of D&D, they “could” do that sure, but its best they understand the consequences of doing so, and prepare accordingly.}

        Exactly my point–you’re agreeing that players should be able to play what they want, but then you turn around and suggest that doing so has “consequences” if they don’t build for optimization. The “consequences” are that PCs might die. It’s a risk. But there are countermeasures for that in the game (raise dead, and so on). I’d much rather someone play a character *they* think is fun, even if it means the party doesn’t have a 100% success rate at finishing a fight with everyone alive, than be forced to play someone else’s idea of a “best” character just to make sure nobody dies.

        The point of the game is to have fun–that’s why it’s called a “game” and not a “sport.” If your focus as a player is on the number-crunching to maximize your damage output, you’re focusing on the wrong thing. It’s like a football player who focuses on maximizing how many yards of progress they make in each game; there’s a correlation between that and actually scoring points, but the point of the game is to score points, and if you focus on yardage instead of points, you’re not understanding the point of the game.

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  6. Since I’ve been needing to “catch up” on the blog, didn’t realize there wasn’t really a post that talked more on Optimization..my bad.

    Currently, its really sounding like there’s a bias towards the notion of “Optimization” being a derogatory term. Despite optimization is not a bad thing, its actually a great thing when testing a system to its limits, it also helps the game have more longevity. Game without optimization tends to be rather shallow, and more “rules-lite” (albeit not a bad type of RPG), and likely has less to offer. Optimization also helps allow people play weird or “out there” character concepts, make things may’ve not thought possible. Since they may think “out there” going to be more out of the box, and possibly quite imaginative to boot with that, so its certainly healthy to have. Optimization also usually ensures someone who knows the rules well, so ye know they’re interested in your game, likely want to ensure others in group do as well, especially if they DM (which may very well be good for knowing all the rules & pitfalls to avoid for the players, imagination aside). Optimization most of all, lets people play the character they want to play to maximum entertainment value.

    In D&D its encouraged, due to as we know, the trap options everywhere, and hostile environment which D&D punishes those who aren’t making optimal characters (unless the DM pities the players, and holds back). Just because ye may feel its not needed currently, doesn’t mean it should get shamed, optimization will serve to help players make it through those harder encounters, feel more “empowered” and heroic as well.

    Optimization is also conductive to even the Roleplaying of a character. Yes! roleplaying, by making your character concept better at what it does, you’re doing what is line what hero do in the game world, seek be good at what they do. If were to be sub-optimal on purpose, you’d be “anti-roleplaying” to that character, as options not encapsulating your concept is taking away from that. Now given, if it was disruptive to the game, I support changing the character to achieve that.

    MOST Especially, you want Optimizers for your playtests, groups of people willing to help crunch the numbers, see what works, what breaks, will give so much more feedback to your game. It’ll help pave the way of how to design future products for the game, how things to be expanded, and if doing a reprint for errata, they’ll be invaluable in getting it properly corrected. Shaming Optimization will really bring a hostile atmosphere to that, be harmful to any playtests, to improving the product, and otherwise contradiction to the ideals in the second paragraph that you had supported (in the link below)

    Lastly, yes I know there are “Munchkins”, people who seek to abuse the rules to point of being disruptive, despite usually not even READING them. That is bad, but that is simply the fault of the person, and not Optimization itself, cannot be blamed for someone’s behavior.

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    • I also feel like you’re attacking a strawman here. Optimization itself is not an issue with a tabletop RPG like Pathfinder. A player’s attitude creates problems — powergaming tends to be their methods. I’ve had players on the opposite side of the spectrum where they spent every game whining that their class was underpowered and refused any kind of help or suggestion to be a better team player. From what I understand, Sean intends to help mitigate this problem by having the game mechanics clearly communicate 5 Moons as a team game.

      Destructive playtesting is important, but a designer can fix most corner case abuse simply by designing the core rules so game content uses simple, concise, and unambiguous language. Many modern RPGs take this approach, including Numenera and the new D&D and, to some extent, the new Shadowrun.

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    • {Currently, its really sounding like there’s a bias towards the notion of “Optimization” being a derogatory term.}

      Let’s just say that I have seen the worst of the worst optimizers turn what’s supposed to be a fun game into a competition between advanced players who leave non-optimizers in the dust, make GMs feel their encounters are steamrolled, pick apart character sheets and stat blocks because they “waste” options on roleplaying choices, claim that “I can’t see how you spent this monster’s optional class skills” is “errata” (or that requiring the GM to make a judgment call is “errata”), and turn the rules and forums into a toxic environment where everything reads like a legal document. I don’t want to cater to that sort of player, at all.

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      • My mention of “Munchkins” above aside, I would still say that’s the issue of the person, and not that optimization in itself is bad. It’s like if ye got served a bad steak, and then declared that all Steaks are now bad, wouldn’t be true (I’m sure even a steak hater could find a steak that amazes them. No, not directed at you personally, just an example to denote a point). Optimizing will also create more discussion for you game, which is also a very good thing, keeping it going & like.

        I want to reiterate the following passage, as I find it an important point (pardon if redundant):
        “MOST Especially, you want Optimizers for your playtests, groups of people willing to help crunch the numbers, see what works, what breaks, will give so much more feedback to your game. It’ll help pave the way of how to design future products for the game, how things to be expanded, and if doing a reprint for errata, they’ll be invaluable in getting it properly corrected. Shaming Optimization will really bring a hostile atmosphere to that, be harmful to any playtests, to improving the product, and otherwise contradiction to the ideals in the second paragraph that you had supported (in the link below)”

        “you don’t need to optimize for even more damage.”
        Well I assume classes will do more than just damage for 5 moons, and in case of spellcasters, doing that is generally not an optimal thing to do. Optimizing could allow to push the system to its limits, so players can feel more awesome & fun when they survive against a “epic encounter” (party vs party of NPC’s) more than they should’ve, or take on those enc’s where someone was to die but they survived can be amazing (possibly worthy of a memory talked about for time to come). Players by nature like to try & defy the game in a sense, and optimization is that power to do that. Now again, if it’s disruptive to the game, then it can be worked out, and possibly got talked out before the game began. The best optimizers in current D&D formats know when to “hold back” so to not go excessive, and being disruptive to the game, but can be a safety net when a great DM error arises.

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      • {It’s like if ye got served a bad steak, and then declared that all Steaks are now bad}

        It’s more like “Restaurants that serve undercooked steak have a real problem with food poisoning and parasites, maybe we shouldn’t serve undercooked steaks.”

        Remember, I’ve been dealing with this sort of thing for *19* years. It’s not one bad apple spoiling the bunch… it’s a trend of many bad apples brought together by certain (avoidable) aspects of the rules.

        {Players by nature like to try & defy the game in a sense, and optimization is that power to do that.}

        Actually. When the game says, “the rule is X,” and the player’s first thought is, “I’m going to find away around that,” that’s a problem with the player.

        The short version: Breaking the game breaks the game. Why scour the rules for ways to break the game if it’s supposed to be a cooperative, fun, *storytelling* experience? Or as John Wick probably would put it, “if you’re trying to find rules loopholes to make the most powerful character, why are you doing that with a *roleplaying* game?” http://www.critical-hits.com/blog/2014/07/10/dd-breaking-is-bad/

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  7. SKR, is there some kind of limit to responses on this blog? Twice so far, I’ve found after your second/third response, that I’m unable to “Reply” directly under it in any capacity. In case it’s not just me, would you have an idea to why it does that? Either case, I’ll be putting all my responses so far here:

    “Pushing your Cha down to 6 because “I don’t need to talk to anyone” is sacrificing roleplaying to promote damage optimization.
    Not bothering to put any ranks in skills that don’t have a direct effect on combat (such as Survival or Diplomacy) because “I just fight things” is sacrificing roleplaying to promote damage optimization.
    Telling another player that they should maximize Str instead of Con because “Str lets you deal more damage, therefore maximizing Str is the right way to build a character,” even if the second player’s goal is “be the super-tough character who isn’t a damage-dealer” is sacrificing roleplaying to promote damage optimization.” /quote

    You seem very adamant on Damage optimization, albeit I guess the classes most consistent with the CR system (spellcasters), good half or so of them “do” self-buff & proceed to tear it up (Cleric & Druid respectively). Anyway, lot of those examples look like moreso problems with the specific game in question, such as having a “roleplaying” stat as Charisma, class not getting enough SP or too many skills to invest in things as would want (Warrior-types mostly, Wizards will invest in skills that supplement them best), Str + Con being separate, despite being very rather narrow and similar stats to begin with, or having a “survival’ stat tax. Also don’t want to confuse poor optimization with it being a bad behavior in general.

    Actually for those “nor” those could easily be justifiable as well ( I can see your “apprentice” PC’s having that last example), they’re rather narrow goals, but considering the character, it sounds like a very one-dimensional options they were forced with. So it looks like excuses yes, but they were also forced a bad hand in that the implied “non-caster strongman” is thrown w/such limitations that a player is forced to try & do what they can to make it work. Given, some sacrifices to what a character will happen in optimizing, but ideally game won’t be designed to have a character sacrificed for doing it (speccing to be an Evoker means can’t be as much a Necromancer makes sense).

    **”but then you turn around and suggest that doing so has “consequences” if they don’t build for optimization. The “consequences” are that PCs might die. It’s a risk. ”

    Well obviously there are consequences, every action has a reaction, even if its a result they didn’t intend or realize. If you want to wield two weapons, and don’t take Two Weapon Fighting, be prepared to be faced with the reality of TWF penalties, It’s not being mean, it’s just honest. If you build for a Evocation Wizard, but don’t take the efforts to make it your thang, then expect to spend more resources than needed, for a less result than likely desired (again, not being mean personally, but it is a result of the rules themselves). It’s like firefights, don’t waste 15 bullets for a job ye could do with one (in D&D case, SoD’s require less resources to focus on vs. Evocation, sad as that reality is).

    All of this of course, referring to in reality of current format of 3rd edition D&D.

    “I’d much rather someone play a character *they* think is fun, even if it means the party doesn’t have a 100% success rate at finishing a fight with everyone alive, than be forced to play someone else’s idea of a “best” character just to make sure nobody dies.”

    I’d much rather one gets to play the character they want to play, to maximum entertainment value, and contribution to the game so they feel like the main characters they are. While Optimization doesn’t mean you “do everything perfect”, I’d rather not players fall behind, as that would harm their overall enjoyment (in case that death is counterable, and carries an escalating penalty like Level loss vs. Temporary Penalty. As stacking penalty ensure a PC falls further & further behind till they make a new character out of frustration that they’re no longer at the quality they desired).

    ” Why scour the rules for ways to break the game if it’s supposed to be a cooperative, fun, *storytelling* experience? ”
    The reasons for optimizing I’ve given in my original post(s) here on the subject.

    Optimized characters tend to be able to cooperate w/others, and we tell stories with the game we’re playing, so not sure what you’re referring to there.

    ” The point of the game is to have fun–that’s why it’s called a “game” and not a “sport.” ”

    I myself actually despise sports, am not a fan of competitive-like things, be they physical/mental/Video-games/Card/etc.

    Lastly, the fact that holding the status of doing it 19yrs or have you, just means I’d expect more from you to not carry that bias. To ensure that in design discussion environments, ye won’t shame people playing their characters to the fullest, showing what’s possible with your system, and highlighting validity (or lacking) of various options. Just because your experience has been sour, does not mean it can’t be of use for your games playtests, or can be conducted in ways that are enjoyable to all (It’s a Same page thing as I see it, all on the level should mean minimal problem).

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    • {SKR, is there some kind of limit to responses on this blog? Twice so far, I’ve found after your second/third response, that I’m unable to “Reply” directly under it in any capacity.}

      It doesn’t let you keep nesting replies (replying to a reply to a reply, etc.), so I’ve been scrolling up to the previous root post and replying there, which puts it underneath the previous reply.

      {I’d much rather one gets to play the character they want to play, to maximum entertainment value, and contribution to the game so they feel like the main characters they are. While Optimization doesn’t mean you “do everything perfect”, I’d rather not players fall behind,}

      If nobody is trying to optimize their character, then nobody’s character is “falling behind.” If only one person is optimizing, then *all* the other characters are “falling behind.” In fact, if only one person is optimizing, then it forces the other players to (1) accept that their characters will be second-rate compared to the optimizer, or (2) optimize their characters so the entire team is optimized. Optimization means the game’s metrics are out of whack and the GM has to escalate the encounter difficulty in order to remain challenging for the optimized character… which further punishes the non-optimized characters because they’re more vulnerable to the escalated threats.

      {Lastly, the fact that holding the status of doing it 19yrs or have you, just means I’d expect more from you to not carry that bias.}

      I’m just saying that in all my years of playing, I’ve seen minmaxers ruin a campaign more often than I’ve seen roleplaying elitists ruin a campaign. I’m not biased, my position is based on evidence: evidence from my own experience, from the RPGA, from PFS, and the Paizo message boards. Optimization is an attempt to push the game rules to extremes. I don’t want to run a game like that, I don’t want to play a game like that, and I don’t want to write a game like that; if I did, I’d still be on the Pathfinder design team.

      {To ensure that in design discussion environments, ye won’t shame people playing their characters to the fullest, showing what’s possible with your system, and highlighting validity (or lacking) of various options.}

      And player1 doesn’t need player2 deciding whether player1’s character (built from available game options) is “valid” or “invalid.” If Jim wants to play a cowardly rogue who knows a few minor magical tricks but isn’t particularly effective in combat (and has the skills and feats to show it), he doesn’t need Optimizing Oliver to shame him for playing a character that isn’t as best as it can be… if Jim is having fun and isn’t ruining the fun of the other players, Jim’s character choices are perfectly valid, even if his game stats are half of what they could be with optimization.

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      • Alright, thanks for letting me know, I’ll try to keep that in mind and see if it works.

        “If nobody is trying to optimize their character, then nobody’s character is “falling behind.” ”
        Untrue in the current format of D&D, as not all options are equal. Where some characters need to optimize to stay relevant, or else they do in fact “fall behind” as reflected in the gameplay without DM Pity of course. Inevitably, even 5 Moons will eventually have some character option(s) or another weaker than another, and optimization can serve to make it more in line w/the others (no, does not equate to “being the same”). “Validity” referring to options falling within the Encounter system & other metrics set by your game. Though I’ve no doubt you’ll dry your best to make them all relevant, so that’ll be exciting to see.

        “he doesn’t need Optimizing Oliver to shame him for playing a character that isn’t as best as it can be…”
        You’re right, Oliver might not have to do anything, as the Game itself will point out the problems (if any) in time. Its unfortunate as that is, but 3rd edition D&D can be mighty cruel like that. For 5 Moons, if Combat is a big part of your game, and example PC isn’t good at a major portion of the game, the players fun will suffer over time, even if the group doesn’t care since “fun” is subjective (That is, people can easily have fun in despite of the game, oppose to because of the game, I’m hoping the latter for Five Moons). If Jim’s contribution to major part of the game is faltering, it runs the risk of harming everyone else’s fun as well, and may require someone to pick up the slack. Therefore one or more PC’s optimizing in his place, even if they’re not “carrying him necessarily”, did become a tool that helped ensured the future happiness of everyone.

        That said, if your game supports this, and its reflected in the execution of your ruleset w/ no problems, then we’ve nothing to worry about.

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  8. How does this work with larger or smaller parties? I’ve played with MMO systems where party members buffed each other, but that meant a smaller party was geometrically less able to handle things. A similar problem was that the same classes had the same buff. If a group was based off of similar skeletons because they were doing a theme (say soldiers), would that group find less synergy (even though they know how to work together) then a diverse group that could bring lots of different focuses?

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    • The expectation is you have 4–5 PCs in the group, and that there are 5 types of buffs available. Some classes have more than one type of buff they can grant (like how the WOW paladin has Blessing Of Kings and Blessing Of Might), allowing them to make sure you don’t have overlapping buff slots.
      Balance encounters assuming the party has only a couple of the buffs; if they have more than that, then they have an easier time with that encounter.

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  9. I keep coming back to several of your articles. The synergy concept sparks my imagination and makes me think of two characters from League of Legends. One character is a naga with a single-target spell that resets its cooldown if used on a poisoned enemy. She has abilities that poison enemies, but opponents can dodge them with quick reflexes. However, there exists two close-range characters that can poison enemies, naturally synergizing with the naga. There’s also a wind samurai who possesses a powerful, high-cooldown ability to immediately fly at an enemy that’s been knocked airborne (stun condition in the game) and execute a cool mid-air sword combo. He possesses a knock up ability, but it’s unreliable, so he does well in a team of characters that also possess knock up abilities. Tabletop RPGs possess many more tools for this kind of fun interaction, like maybe a class whose powers get amplified when under a morale bonus. I could see players creating thematic parties around them. For this reason, I really look forward to see what Five Moons has in store for this.

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      • A whole game/class system around those interactions sounds like very exciting stuff. It also makes me wonder if certain interactions become inherent. For example, I always found it strange that PF/3.5e rules imply that no fire ability can set something on fire unless the ability specifically says so (nevermind the fact that the “on fire” rules seem to get repeated as well).

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      • Well, just because something is hit with an instant blast of fire doesn’t mean it’s automatically ignited and burns on its own. Otherwise, lighting a campfire with a single match would be easy, you wouldn’t need tinder, you could just hold a match to a log for a second and the log would catch of fire… but obviously that’s not what happens. Likewise, hitting a person with a torch usually isn’t enough to ignite their clothes (and that assumes they’re not wearing leather or metal armor over those clothes, which are harder to burn than cloth).
        As for repeating the language, yeah, 3E was really redundant with repeating some rules (like re-describing the grab rule in every single Monster Manual monster that has it), and that set a precedent for later 3E design work, and PF picked that up… but it’s not necessary to do so.

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      • Good points there. On reflection, I suppose there’s many ways to cause “fire damage” without shrouding the subject in flame, such as the heat metal spell or dumping boiling water on them.

        Redundancy bothers me way more than it should because 1) it runs counter to my instincts as a software engineer, and 2) the authors of 3e tried to write as a reference document. I wouldn’t mind a rulebook written as a reference document if it actually consistently followed that style. Repeating rule might work for a convenience tool, like a 4th Edition-styled card. I liked how Numenera put the page number of referenced terms in the margin. Though, it made me wonder why not give a brief summary or the definition itself, in addition to the page number, if space permits?

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      • Well, the more lines you spend repeating existing text, the fewer lines you have to better-explain more difficult concepts. And you run the risk of changing the wording in location A and not updating that change in location B (which is why the PF Core Rulebook went through 3–4 printings with contradicting definitions of what spell-like abilities can and can’t do). It’s better to decide that some rules are common enough that they need to be defined in the glossary or appendix, and while it’s okay to give a short summary of that rule when you first mention it, you should set an in-book precedent of “explain that this is a summary, and for all actual rules questions you should use the master definition in the glossary/appx.” In other words, “don’t use a summary to make rulings, use the actual definition.”

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      • Perhaps setting a standard with something as simple like “(see page X)” at the end of the summary, suggesting to the reader that the entire rule is described elsewhere? It could also double as convenience for editors. If they make a change to a given page, they could do a simple search for references to that page to check for contradictions.

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  10. Thanks for directing me to this post, Sean. As I mentioned on the main page, this is something that I only really noticed while designing an item recently, and saw a “blind spot” that I thought would be great to fill. I’ve always been a fan of the Teamwork Feats in Pathfinder- and as I recall, there was something similar in 3.5 in either Dragon or the splat books (or both)- but they’ve always required a feat tax or something that typically put them out of reach of anyone but classes like the Fighter with its plethora of feats, which meant they only really synergized with other classes of similar type. So I wanted to see more of this sort of thing, and I’m glad it appears I’m not the only one!

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  11. Hi.
    I have to say I’m really impressed with many of the things you are suggesting for your game. And that’s a great compliment, since I guess I could be described as an optimizer myself. I think many of us (optimizers) like to push the envelope for interesting ideas, to see what’s possible, and to create the characters we like, without being left behind. Your comments here say that nobody is left behind if the whole party is unoptimized, but I beg to differ, because the party CAN be left behind by the game math.

    For example, let’s say I want to roleplay a flashing, charming, daredevil fencing master. I could go with, say, a fighter, and take a rapier, the dodge feat, and weapon finesse. I could go and take str 10 and dex 18, because it fits my character concept. I’m not going to be the best character in the group (“best” meaning “having the better % of succeeding at certain tasks”, but I’ll be playing the concept I want, so that’s cool. Maybe the rest of my group isn’t optimized as well, so I’ll be more in line with them, or maybe they are, so I’ll be left behind, but I can live with that, because I’m playing with the charcter I want.

    However… there’s something that CAN left me behind. The game math. If a 9th level character is supposed to fight CR9 encounters, and if CR9 encounters have a certain level of AC, Damage and Saves, then I’ll fail. If we suppose I want to play a *failing* swashbuckler, that can be fun, for comedy relief. But if we suppose that I want to be the swashbuckler who jump acrobatically, balance in a candelier, and disarm the enemy (instead of the swashbuckler who fail to jump, miss the candelier, and fall short in front of the enemy), then I *need* to find a way for my character to be able to hit the required DC for jump, acrobatics, and CMB/BAB/however disarm is used in the game. And that’s why I search in the books, and try to find some class or combination of classes that let me to do so. Maybe a Fighter/Rogue has a better chance to hit that acrobatic. Maybe I could be a Swashbuckler, or a Duelist Prestige class, or I might build an Urban ranger with a rapier, or maybe a Magus. The thing is: my character will be the same (my character is NOT a “fighter” or “rogue” or “duelist”. My character is a daredevil fencing master. “Fighter/rogue” is my class, not my character). I optimize, because as writen, the game present me a lot of “trap” options, which when grouped with “expected encounter level” and “WBL” and “challenge rating”, leave my character in the dust, unless it’s one of the very few “standard supported character concepts” that the game supports from the get-go (An elven archer ranger called “Legoles”, a fighter in heavy armor and sword&board, or the quintaessential DnD wizard)

    I say all of this, to explain my position, and provide a background.

    That said: your game looks awesome. And looks awesome because if you retire the spotlight from “beating encounters”, people can focus in other stuff. It’s awesome, because if you try something crazy, and it doesn’t work, you can retrain, which makes trying unoptimized stuff more forgiving. It’s awesome, because giving freedom to take what you think you want for your characters, avoid players to take things thy don’t want just because it’s the only way to get them (like a druid who take 2 levels of monk because they want evasion and some sort of “intuitive dodge” like WIS to AC. It’s weird, and convoluted, and much easier to do if you can just be a druid wich takes evasion) It’s awesome, because “team play” WILL encourage optimization, but TEAMWORK optimization. People WILL try combos, and sinergies, but they’ll do so in group, which help to diminish the darker effects of optimization (which is that an optimized character will outshine other party members). It also distribute the sense of acomplishment to the whole group, instead of individuals.

    I’m VERY interested in your game. And I think that’s important, because I’m not the “target” for it, which means it’s appeal is broad.

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  12. Pingback: Bard Stuff! | Five Moons RPG

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