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Teaching RPG game design

 
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OgreBattle
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 12, 2017 1:46 pm    Post subject: Teaching RPG game design Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

So I'll be teaching a tabletop RPG game design class for college students starting January in Thailand as part of Thamassat's game design program. It's mainly focused on video games but tabletop games are seen as foundation skills. Most of the students haven't played tabletop RPG's before as they're mostly from a video game background.

So how should one go about teaching RPG design? Not just talking about "fixing D&D" but the very concept of role playing.

Here's a bunch of discussions I thought were particularly good on here:
OgreBattle wrote:
Here's some of the writings from The Den that I've found useful in designing games. They're mostly for a d20 type game:

RPG design flowchart:
http://tgdmb.com/viewtopic.php?t=31521

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Math that Just Works
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Scaling bonuses in a level based system:
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Steps of designing an RPG
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Resource management & Class
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Multiclassing method: Subclasses
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Solving Power schedule conflicts in Hero/Paragon/Epic tier systems
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10 levels of Same Game Tests
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10 levels of adventure challenges
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Best designed monsters in D&D3e (and why)
http://tgdmb.com/viewtopic.php?t=53456&view=next
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What Evocation should look like:
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Combat/Noncombat Roles & Class Design
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Modifiers and the RNG (and how not to fall off)
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Effects should all end at the same time in any given turn
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What kind of Monster Roles should there be?
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Making a balanced 40k-esque skirmish/war game
http://www.tgdmb.com/viewtopic.php?p=399380
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shinimasu
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 12, 2017 2:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I don't know enough about the subjects to offer useful insight bit if I were attending a gaming workshop/class some topics I might personally be interested in learning more about are:

- Different dice probabilities and how they affect the feel of the game. The difference between 3d6, counting hits, or mechanics that add extra dice to your pool. And how they differ from rolling one die plus modifiers. I remember there was a post here that explained for example, why dice pools were better for heavily social systems. But I can't remember which thread that was on.

- How much crunch is prohibitive vs. how much is needed to make the game feel like a game. How crunch is used to facilitate the kind of play you aim for when designing the game. What systems encourage what kind of play from the players and maybe some examples of systems that tried and failed to maintain a certain way of doing things (WoD comes to mind)
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erik
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 12, 2017 3:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I think you need more basics and less dnd. Bell curves and RNG could easily be a whole section. Meeting expectations of success. Epicycles.

Id have a good introduction on setting goals for gaming experience as first step in design. Rules as a way to facilitate that experience should flow from those goals.

Less can be more. Examples of over complicated fuckery making predictions and expectations untenable. One Roll Engine comes to mind. Unknown Armies as well.

Explanation of MTP. What it is good and bad for. Rolls for resolution. What they are good and bad for.

Collaborative vs antagonistic systems.

Ripping off other systems. What mechanics are right for your game? Good sources of mini games (often are tabletop games).

Game design project. Make a simple RPG by ripping off a tabletop board games rule set as the main engine.

[edit: typoes from phone posting... ghosts I hate the new keyboard after updating to iOS11, and it seems to have lost all my autocorrect history as an added insult]


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angelfromanotherpin
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 12, 2017 3:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Since your target audience is complete tabletop RPG novices, I think lesson 1 should be about Magical Tea Party. MTP is the most basic rpg activity, and whenever the rules are incomplete, inconclusive, or dysfunctional, MTP is what is going to happen. More importantly, any time a system is added, the question needs to be asked 'how is this better than MTPing?' So understanding the strengths and weaknesses of MTP is really crucial.

Start with a no-rules setup where two people just tell a story cooperatively, and then demonstrate where that breaks down (irreconcilable disagreements). Introduce some of the solutions that have been developed: narrative currency tokens, turn-taking, spheres of influence, formal negotiation, and at the end of all that introduce e.g. Munchhausen's use of rock-paper-scissors as a very simple RNG resolution system.

That can lead into a whole segment on RNGs, how they've become the expected method of resolving uncertain outcomes, and how different kinds of RNG function. But do MTP first.
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brized
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 12, 2017 9:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I agree with more focus on fundamentals. The good part is, you can draw on lots of funny examples where designers failed on the fundamentals and what kinds of weird outputs resulted:
    Killer cats in D&D
    High-level characters always botching on miss in oWoD
    Skeleton armies or a bunch of hired goons killing dragons in D&D 5
    Call of Cthulhu incentivizing ancient, hideous, potentially blind PCs with maxed out Listen
    Stupid shit that results from d100 roll under
    Bear World
    FATAL
    And so on

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Aryxbez
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 12, 2017 10:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

shinimasu wrote:

- Different dice probabilities and how they affect the feel of the game. The difference between 3d6, counting hits, or mechanics that add extra dice to your pool. And how they differ from rolling one die plus modifiers. I remember there was a post here that explained for example, why dice pools were better for heavily social systems. But I can't remember which thread that was on.

Might not be what you're looking for exactly, but Here are some Dice stuff that I had saved years back.

I definitely would be interested in this class, always seeking to see an angle I had not considered and such.
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Chamomile
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 12, 2017 11:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I spend enough time lurking (and occasionally calling people stupid) on /r/rpgdesign that there's a couple of issues that newbie devs tend to have a lot. I don't know if people taking a video game design course will be as prone to these things as people trying to make an RPG, since the RPG dev community is focused way more on pretentiousness and way less on "yeah, but will people buy it on Steam?" Hopefully it's helpful anyway.

-The desire to make wacky new dice systems indicates that a lot of game devs have no idea what a dice system is for, so explaining things like bell curves and such is probably a good place to start.

-At an even more fundamental level, a lot of people start trying to design a game without having any idea what they want it to look like at the end. There's a lot of "I want it to be like Dark Souls" or "you can be pirates!" and then the mechanics are nothing like that at all. Probably best to explain how different mechanics produce different kinds of stories and that choosing d20+mods over dicepool can have serious impacts on the kinds of narratives your game can tell, not just the kinds of math you do to produce them.

-I'm pretty sure this last one is mainly symptomatic of Reddit being awful, but: If you take making a low-budget, indie-style art game as an excuse to half-ass everything, you are going to end up with a bad game. Thomas Was Alone was a pretty decent game designed by one guy teaching himself Unity, but he still put in effort. If you are making twelve-page microgame (or the video game equivalent) not as a creative challenge or because you have a narrowly focused, single-purpose game that really doesn't benefit from more rules, but rather because you are too lazy to commit to a full-length 100-200 page core book, your game is going to suck.

-Conversion difficulty. This is something that manifests in different forms whether you're making video or tabletop games, but the root problem is the same for each. Ultimately, the issue comes with converting another product - video game to tabletop, tabletop to video game, movie to either - and either blindly applying whatever mechanics the developer is most familiar with to the surface elements of what's being converted (possibly with the serial numbers filed off) or blindly simulating the thing being converted without doublechecking to see if it's any fun. Second one comes up an awful lot whenever anyone is making a historical mod for a game. If you're making an Ancient Greece-themed conversion mod for Mount and Blade, you should not give Athens and Sparta dozens of villages and fortifications each to represent every single known population center of the era, nor should you bother having Egyptian, Libyan, and Roman factions clinging to distant edges of the map because they were in some level of contact with the Athenians and Spartans. If you are making a Dark Souls tabletop RPG, you should not be taking what is, in the original games, a test of player skill, substituting a d20 roll, and calling it a day. If you are making an Aliens game, you should not just make a shooter where the bad guys happen to be xenomorphs. Rather than blindly copying the style to whatever mechanics you happen to already know or trying to copy every last detail, drill down to the important elements of the thing you're converting and figure out what mechanics will communicate those elements and which details are necessary to them.
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Mord
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 12, 2017 11:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

brized wrote:
I agree with more focus on fundamentals. The good part is, you can draw on lots of funny examples where designers failed on the fundamentals and what kinds of weird outputs resulted:
    Killer cats in D&D
    High-level characters always botching on miss in oWoD
    Skeleton armies or a bunch of hired goons killing dragons in D&D 5
    Call of Cthulhu incentivizing ancient, hideous, potentially blind PCs with maxed out Listen
    Stupid shit that results from d100 roll under
    Bear World
    FATAL
    And so on


I would describe most of these less as "failure on the fundamentals" and more "unexpected interactions of conflicting assumptions." The lesson from this is that, even if you ultimately accept (or tolerate) a particular weird manifestation of an edge case where your systems interlock, you do have to know where they interlock and what those consequences are.

The 5e bounded accuracy clusterfuck is not a fundamental failure. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with making a game where all actors remain on the same RNG across all levels, and there's nothing intrinsically wrong with the math that supports that. Nor is there something intrinsically wrong with giving players the ability to summon hordes of minions. The problem here is that no one ever thought ahead hard enough to realize that putting those elements together creates a shitty result.

My favorite example of ridiculous consequences of unexamined interactions is from FATAL, where your rolled maximum anal circumference can be less than your rolled minimum anal circumference. There's nothing wrong (structurally) with having one or more anal circumference rolls, but if you're going to have two of them, they can't be designed without thinking about how they will interact with each other. It could be a matter of adding your minimum circumference to your rolled value for maximum, or of using non-overlapping RNGs for the attributes (e.g. 1d4 for minimum and 5d4 for maximum).


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Judging__Eagle
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 13, 2017 2:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Fundamentally, the "parts" of the game that are used by the players have to result in the desired gameplay.

If you are making, for example a monopoly-clone trying to depict the life experiences of a wolf; then the mechanics of the game, the choices that the players make, and the aspects of gameplay presented to the players need to actually depict that goal. I think I was 8-9 when I hammered together my memories of playing "Finance" (a monopoly precursor) during rainy spells with my siblings & cousins at my great-uncles cottage up in the 1,000 lakes region of Ontario, with the broad facts I had researched about the animal I was going to create a boardgame about. I can't recall how I handled the properies (or really much about it), but "meat" was the currency of the game, and the "in jail" was a form of territorial exile.

Likewise, when creating "party" based games, there have to be actual reasons for the members of the party to work together; and not simply split ways once they leave the bar/deathhouse/Nakatomi plaza. The intended gameplay (the players controlling characters who cooperate towards a goal) has to be supported by the game's rules.

An other way of looking at it is that the "endgoals" and "milestones" of the final product need to be established before the logic-gates for the game mechanics, or the routes of presented/example gameplay are presented to end-users.

Now, for digital games, there's a lot of stock held in "emergent gameplay" by actual game programmers. Emergent gameplay is an interesting aspect of having all sorts of interlocking and wargameable digital game mechanics, but at the same time can lead to strange & unexpected results in games.
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Zinegata
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 13, 2017 2:37 am    Post subject: Re: Teaching RPG game design Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

OgreBattle wrote:
So I'll be teaching a tabletop RPG game design class for college students starting January in Thailand as part of Thamassat's game design program. It's mainly focused on video games but tabletop games are seen as foundation skills. Most of the students haven't played tabletop RPG's before as they're mostly from a video game background.

So how should one go about teaching RPG design? Not just talking about "fixing D&D" but the very concept of role playing.


If you want to teach people how to do something effectively, then a key principle to remember is that it's better to show rather than tell.

For instance if they have never seen an RPG session then it may be a good idea to show them an actual video of a session, such as Wheaton's Fiasco game here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXJxQ0NbFtk

Note that Fiasco actually won the Diana Jones gaming award, which means that it's actually an approach that's getting a bit of traction in the industry.

I would also caution that many of the Den articles you linked are already very structured - which is fine if you're talking to people are very familiar with the concept of RPGs but would very likely be indecipherable for those who aren't; and would be dangerously constraining in terms of creativity.

For instance saying that you need "An action resolution system" would very likely fly over their heads. You instead need to show someone declaring an attack, rolling the dice, and applying results.

Many modern designers moreover instead focus first and foremost on the concept of play experience. A designer must be able to define what kind of "play" a game should achieve.

Eric Lang, in a design article for Portal Games for instance (Boardgames that Tell Stories Vol 2), once elaborated his own design philosophy as figuring out "Who is the character and what do they want?" - and that his design was an outgrowth of the answer to that question. Indeed I would argue that this simple question is a much more useful and broader starting point for designing any game than immediately constraining them under the idea of classes and parties.

[Tangent: Note that I do realize that Lang is a proponent of top-down design, and that there are those who prefer a bottom-up approach. But in the case of RPGs, which are primarily story-telling experiences, I feel that a top-down approach is one that is more likely to achieve good results]


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OgreBattle
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 13, 2017 8:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

erik wrote:
I think you need more basics and less dnd. Bell curves and RNG could easily be a whole section. Meeting expectations of success. Epicycles.

Id have a good introduction on setting goals for gaming experience as first step in design. Rules as a way to facilitate that experience should flow from those goals.

Less can be more. Examples of over complicated fuckery making predictions and expectations untenable. One Roll Engine comes to mind. Unknown Armies as well.

Explanation of MTP. What it is good and bad for. Rolls for resolution. What they are good and bad for.

Collaborative vs antagonistic systems.

Ripping off other systems. What mechanics are right for your game? Good sources of mini games (often are tabletop games).

Game design project. Make a simple RPG by ripping off a tabletop board games rule set as the main engine.

[edit: typoes from phone posting... ghosts I hate the new keyboard after updating to iOS11, and it seems to have lost all my autocorrect history as an added insult]


Yeah the suggested curriculum does begin with a very rules lite MTP style game.

I'm wondering what order everything should be taught in
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 13, 2017 11:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

angelfromanotherpin wrote:
Since your target audience is complete tabletop RPG novices, I think lesson 1 should be about Magical Tea Party. MTP is the most basic rpg activity, and whenever the rules are incomplete, inconclusive, or dysfunctional, MTP is what is going to happen. More importantly, any time a system is added, the question needs to be asked 'how is this better than MTPing?' So understanding the strengths and weaknesses of MTP is really crucial.

Start with a no-rules setup where two people just tell a story cooperatively, and then demonstrate where that breaks down (irreconcilable disagreements). Introduce some of the solutions that have been developed: narrative currency tokens, turn-taking, spheres of influence, formal negotiation, and at the end of all that introduce e.g. Munchhausen's use of rock-paper-scissors as a very simple RNG resolution system.

That can lead into a whole segment on RNGs, how they've become the expected method of resolving uncertain outcomes, and how different kinds of RNG function. But do MTP first.


Best suggestion so far. It doesn't make sense introduce a lot of D&Disms ("how evocations should work") before people can see what exactly RPGs should be about.

MTP ("cops and robbers")
structured MTP
RNGs
genre simulation
At this point, I'd present Frank's RPG design flowchart
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 15, 2017 3:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Frank wrote:
rolling a d8 +25 is lame sauce


Is there a more solid explanation behind this thought?
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angelfromanotherpin
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 15, 2017 3:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

When the RNG is too small a contributor to a total, it feels meaningless (and often is).
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 15, 2017 3:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

GnomeWorks wrote:
Frank wrote:
rolling a d8 +25 is lame sauce


Is there a more solid explanation behind this thought?

As angelfromanotherpin said, the roll is pretty much meaningless. In that specific case, your average roll (4.5) accounts for less than a sixth of that total, and your maximum roll (8) accounts for less than a quarter.

So, even if you roll an eight and get excited... it really didn't matter. You could roll nothing but ones and you're still doing 88% of your average damage.
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deaddmwalking
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 15, 2017 4:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Expanding on this -

Lets say the roll is a damage roll (since in 3.x, they tend to be along these lines). If your opponent has between 34 and 52 hit points the roll cannot matter. If you roll maximum damage on your first attack (33), you'll still need to hit him a second time. If you roll a one on your first attack (26 damage) you'll still have to hit him a second time. In either case, you're assured of taking this opponent down in two hits but never one and never three.

In fact, there are relatively narrow bands of hit points that matter (27-33) where a high roll could potentially make a difference between dispatching the opponent in one blow or two.

If you imagined that hit point totals from 1-54 were uniformly distributed, the specific hit point totals might be relevant in 7 out of 54 encounters (13%) and were otherwise indistinguishable from counting hits 87% of the time.

There are reasons that you might favor increased randomness (6d6 damage) or reduced randomness (20 damage). This is simple obfuscation.
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 15, 2017 11:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

RobbyPants wrote:
You could roll nothing but ones and you're still doing 88% of your average damage.


So in JRPGs, in my experience, a given character's damage output is relatively stable - there is some amount of variation, but not a lot, for a given set of level/gear/whatever.

Ignoring the precise math at play, why does that work for JRPGs and not TTRPGs?
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 16, 2017 12:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

GnomeWorks wrote:


So in JRPGs, in my experience, a given character's damage output is relatively stable - there is some amount of variation, but not a lot, for a given set of level/gear/whatever.

Ignoring the precise math at play, why does that work for JRPGs and not TTRPGs?


Does it work in JRPGs? Or is it just a conceit that is generally accepted?
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angelfromanotherpin
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 16, 2017 12:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

In a computer game the math is done behind the scenes at lightning speed, so you don't have to look at it or waste your time and energy rolling and adding oft-meaningless amounts. That counts for a lot.
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Chamomile
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 16, 2017 1:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

The length of a combat round is also short enough, and the number of characters controlled by one person large enough, that you can have a character fall back on a predictable standard attack because there's nothing better for them to do and it's fine. A character in a JRPG can plausibly have "hard to kill" as their primary combat schtick, where they do nothing but make standard attacks until the party gets hit by a deadly multi-target boss attack, at which point they use a phoenix down on the white mage. The player's decision is in choosing to bring that character in the first place and what to do with the other two round by round. In a TTRPG, that character is someone's entire game.
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 16, 2017 9:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Certain JRPGs also have other gimmicks that keep players engaged in what's going on so what would otherwise be pretty boring combat feels more engaging.
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 16, 2017 11:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Chamomile wrote:
The length of a combat round is also short enough, and the number of characters controlled by one person large enough, that you can have a character fall back on a predictable standard attack because there's nothing better for them to do and it's fine. A character in a JRPG can plausibly have "hard to kill" as their primary combat schtick, where they do nothing but make standard attacks until the party gets hit by a deadly multi-target boss attack, at which point they use a phoenix down on the white mage. The player's decision is in choosing to bring that character in the first place and what to do with the other two round by round. In a TTRPG, that character is someone's entire game.

Two important things about that:
-In your typical jrpg, the " mundane fighter"'s auto-attack works against pretty much everything-including flying enemies when the party is walking and whatnot. In your average TT game, the "mundane fighter" can easily end up unable to reach the enemy at all.
-Your typical jrpg has varied cheap consumables that can be used on others. So the "mundane fighter" can indeed fill in as healer or whatnot as needed. In your typical tt, something like a phoenix down will probably be quite expensive.

So basically if your TT "mundane fighter" could easily stab even flying enemies while being immune to kiting at all levels and had a backpack filled with cheap useful items for every situation, they would probably make for a pretty solid PC.
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Dogbert
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 16, 2017 12:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

My two cents:

Given how this game design course in theory should already be giving them Game Theory then statistics isn't something you should worry about.

Instead, I'd go for:

1) The tabletop narrative: similarities, and differences with passive media (books, tv/cinema, videogames)
2) Immersion and the importance of world building.
3) Players and their expectations in tabletop.
4) The role and functions of the GM.
5) Playtesting for tabletop vs. playtesting for a videogame: similarities and differences.
6) Magic Tea Party: Friend and Enemy.
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 16, 2017 5:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Chamomile wrote:
A character in a JRPG can plausibly have "hard to kill" as their primary combat schtick, where they do nothing but make standard attacks

MGuy wrote:
Certain JRPGs also have other gimmicks

maglag wrote:
In your typical jrpg, the " mundane fighter"'s auto-attack


Would it be safe to assume, given these answers, that if you had a system in which your damage didn't vary much (so using dice expressions similar to "d8+25"), but had more options than just a standard attack (maybe something like Bo9S), that the tactical options presented would make up for the fact that the damage expressions are less... engaging?
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 16, 2017 10:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

GnomeWorks wrote:
Would it be safe to assume, given these answers, that if you had a system in which your damage didn't vary much (so using dice expressions similar to "d8+25"), but had more options than just a standard attack (maybe something like Bo9S), that the tactical options presented would make up for the fact that the damage expressions are less... engaging?


If you're going to have the standard attack be a boring backup when your interesting tricks run out, then you need to 1) make it flat damage so that the pointless die roll doesn't consume table time and 2) make sure all characters have a resource schedule where you can guarantee they have something else to do more often than not. A wizard with finite spells or non-replenishing MP, for example, is a non-starter because once they get reduced down to their basic attack, they become boring to play, whether or not the rest of the party needs a rest to replenish themselves.
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