Thursday, 8 October 2015
10th Anniversary Classic Rant: REAL Intelligent Gaming
Over on theRPGsite, I'd been arguing lately about what geeks consider "intelligent"; and what you can consider "Intelligent" gaming.
To me, its not "intelligence" to be able to fiddle with numbers like some kind of Rain Man, anymore than it makes you "educated" to have read every "Forgotten Realms" and "Star Trek" novel ever published. These are just different kinds of quasi-autistic obsessive-compulsive activity, that for some reason far too many nerds misinterpret as "intelligent".
When I want an RPG to be intelligent, I don't mean that I want it to be one where you are rewarded for diddling with the rules, anymore than when I say that I want people to be kind to animals I don't mean that I want someone to get a prize for fondling a goat.
There's nothing intelligent about a situation where intentionally ignoring all considerations to setting, character, or emulation of genre actually PAYS off, so that the sucker is the guy who plays the archetype. One thing I hate about 3.x as it stands is that if you have a guy who plays a straight Fighter, a regular Joe Orc-killer, he's going to be penalized for it.
Its a given fact that regular Joe Orc-killer (and his player) will be utterly eclipsed by the fucktard who made a halfling warrior/rogue/bard/orcslayer combo, took the special "orc slaying" feat-combo and maxed out his "knowledge:cooking" skill to take advantage of Obscure Synergy Bonus #3897 that effectively ends up giving him a +39 to Orc Slaying.
So suddenly, the guy who trusted that having a trusty fighter was pretty much the definition of the guy who was going to be killing orcs in the party is faced with an assmunch who's playing a halfling whatever-the-fuck-class-it-is master-chef that's making Joe look useless, and Joes' player's fun is ruined.
There's nothing intelligent about that.
So what IS an intelligent game? Obviously its not diddling with the rules, and you can bet that I'm not going to say its "sophisticated story" or "narrative theme" or any of that bullshit. No, an Intelligent Game is one that rewards not mechanical cleverness and trying to "break" the system, but one that rewards clever ideas in play.
I've tried to embody this concept of intelligent play in my own Forward... to Adventure!
FtA! is certainly not a pretentious game in the sense of being about some kind of arrogant psuedo-intellectual or "artsy" subject, but in practice it almost always leads to some really clever game play. The reason for this is simple: I took away from the D&D format almost everything that allows you to try to "break" the rules (no multiclassing, no secret bonuses, no feats, no prestige classes) and in its place I put mechanics that reward careful tactics and clever risky ideas into the actual system.
This is done with the combat system, where each class (archetypal classes as they are) have their own particular role to fill. Everyone has their thing to do, and you have to think as a team. The collective nature of combat means that any single PC can't end up outshining the others, and that numbers of combatants becomes very important. Positioning becomes very important too, you can't get into a fight with 8 orcs and have your 4 PCs just pile all together on one of them at a time, confident that the others won't be able to do enough damage to matter.
If you're in an 8 vs. 4 combat situation, unless you're massively higher level than your opponents, your first priority in FtA! will be to try to position yourself in a way that you get as close to 4 vs. 4 as possible (ie. so that 4 of the 8 orcs won't be able to actually hit you, and thus won't participate in the combat). Taking down any of those 8 orcs before they can participate in melee could make the whole difference in the game, so a wizard or an archer becomes very important. If one of those orcs is a "leader" of some kind, you'll want your rogue to try to "Stunt" him (more on that later) to keep him from participating. And so on; the point won't be what funky feats you've bought, it'll be how you actually structure your team in combat against the other guys.
The other part of the intelligence behind FtA! is in the stunts. Instead of having Feats that you buy to give you ways to cheat the system, you have a built in mechanic to let you try to make some kind of special maneuver, any kind of maneuver, in order to give your side a temporary bonus, give their side a temporary penalty, or even disable one of the opposing side without directly fighting him. So FtA! becomes an intelligent game in that it encourages your PCs to be clever in the moment of the actual play, rather than in how good they are at making a maxed-out "character build".
(Originally posted August 20, 2007)