perjantai 21. joulukuuta 2018

Punching down

I had my first gaming session on the third grade. At that point, the label ”role-playing game” was only vaguely familiar to me, something associated with anime-inspired graphics and item inventories.

The game was a homebrew creation of an equally oblivious stablemate. I suspect him to have been inspired by the early installments of Final Fantasy and the like.

The core system was dead simple. Each character had but one stat: Toughness. When two characters battled, the one with lower Toughness died. Each time a character defeated an opponent, their Toughness increased by one. No random element was involved; it was diceless role-playing at its finest.

We were enthralled by the game. We split into cliques to play the game at home and grind our scores to the heights; the next day we would compare our stats to see who was the best.

The fun ended quite abruptly when the children in possession of some real-life toughness declared us gamers ”Indians” (as in the Wild West — don’t ask), and the sole game-designer of our class renounced his creation.

Rules-wise, the game was abysmal. But the core mechanic haunts me to this day — not because my campaigns have been above similar tendencies, but because they have not.

Honestly — I bet there is no gamer who has not participated in a campaign with exactly the same premise. Punch down to grow more powerful to have more critters to punch down. The entire third edition of Dungeons & Dragons was built around the premise, and the fourth edition took it even further with its carefully balanced fights designed to challenge — but not to jeopardize — the player characters.

Players love to be the bullies. They cherish the Dionysian heat of combat, but abhor the idea of losing their beloved alter egos. Kicking the dog is almost as fun as taking chances with the three-horned dragon king, and considerably less dangerous.

Some players enjoy impersonating great white hunters, killing monsters for sport. I detest that sort of action. It offers no challenge whatsoever, and becomes awkwardly dull after a safari or two.

Therefore I have come to believe that all combat encounters should be designed to leave player characters with less than 50% chance of winning. All monsters would have a trick or two that made them a grave danger to even the most powerful player characters. Powers like dragons’ breath weapon or ghouls’ paralyzing touch.

As for ordinary folks, I’ve began to understand why their ”numbers appearing” amount in hundreds. Why not? Only the murderhobo of murderhobos would want to grind through 300 zero-level peasants. Even if the fight was winnable in theory, it would require such a nasty amount of book-keeping and die-rolling that no sane person would be willing to slave through all the accountancy.

1 kommentti:

  1. A campaign where every monster is giant, near-unbeatable, and yet oh-so-tempting to fight anyway? I kind of like it. I'm imagining a high-fantasy game world of poor villages lorded over by giant monsters, and our heroes, the liberators, are brash young would-be giant slayers.



This monster originates from ancient Persian mythology. There is no particular story behind this one, other than that I thought the vermin...