Friday, September 04, 2015

Disadvantages, Disadvantage, and EXP

In an attempt to make RPG characters mechanically unique, there was a trend in the early years to include lists of disadvantages you could take for your characters. The first game I came across that did this was GURPS in the mid ‘80s but I can’t say another game didn’t do it first.

Typically, these gave you additional points to buy better stats, abilities, or advantages during character creation. After that, it was up to the GM, largely, to keep track of your disadvantages and apply them during play.

This is, obviously, a clunky system, adding extra burdens on the GM to not only be certain to apply the disadvantages but to do so fairly. Certain disadvantages might not show up much at all because of the nature of the campaign (for instance, being unable to swim in a campaign set in deep space) while others might cripple a PC due to the themes and preferences of the GM (like arachnophobia in a campaign where the principle villains are drow).

More recently, people have been experimenting with flaws that reward the player when they penalize the character. You can see this kinda-sorta in Numenera with its GM intrusions mechanic.

I’m thinking of adding it to my D&D toolbox as follows: every time a flaw is invoked to cause serious disadvantage to the PC and most especially if it actually causes them to roll with disadvantage (roll two d20s and take the lower roll, as per 5e), the PC gets EXP equal to 2% of the difference between the amount needed for next level and the minimum they needed for their current level.

Now, I haven’t playtested this at all yet. I’m guessing that a flaw that comes up more than 5 times per hour (or 20 times per session) probably needs a serious looking-at. But this puts the burden of using it largely on the player, and incentivizes them to invoke it.

That said, I’m not sure I’d use it during character creation. Instead, I’d probably use it in conjunction with something like a Table of Death & Dismemberment (such as losing an eye causing disadvantage in to-hit with missile weapons) or mutation tables. I could also see using a system like that in conjunction with mental instabilities like those found in Wrath of Demons or Kingdom Death.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Steve Wieck Sows the Wind

Ok, yeah, I think I understand. Controversy is scary, and I can’t imagine that OneBookShelf isn’t living close to the bone. Still...

First, this is just opening the door to more controversy and fights. If you think the proposed tool isn’t going to be abused next time the RPG world has another slap-fight, you’re living in a fantasy world. Mr. Wieck is in for a world of busy-work, staying on top of this.

Second, Mr. Wieck has suddenly made his opinions important. Before now, nobody needed to care what Mr. Wieck felt about the divisive issues of the day. Now? You’d better believe Green Ronin cares what Mr. Wieck’s opinions on homosexuality are. What about furries? What about tentacle monsters?

By declaring himself the arbiter of “offensive,” Mr. Wieck has painted a big, giant bull’s eye on his back. This will mean more controversy, more Twitter fights, and more heat on Mr. Wieck personally. If he’d endured whatever boycott the offended could have mustered, he’d have found smoother sailing after the storm. As it is, he’ll be dealing with this issue frequently and personally, for as long as he’s at OneBookShelf, if not longer.

Then there’s the issues with publishers, which Mr. Wieck summarizes quite succinctly himself:
Publishers who offer content on our marketplaces will understandably say to us, "We can't invest in creating RPG titles only to have DriveThru arbitrarily ban them, so if you're now banning titles for offensive content, give us guidelines for what titles you will and will not ban."

To which, I have to say, "I hear you, but I don't know any better way." A work often has to be considered as a gestalt to know if it is offensive or not.

Really? That’s the best you can do?

Moving forward, we’ll probably see a chain of events we’ve seen before. We’ll see Mr. Wieck beg publishers to pull stuff that causes scandal and hope they voluntarily choose to do so, as happened with “Tournament of Rapists.” I suspect that will be Mr. Wieck’s go-to maneuver for now. It allows him to have his cake and eat it too; he says he found nothing personally offensive in “Tournament of Rapists” beyond the title and blurb, and in the end he’s not responsible for pulling the title off OneBookShelf. Win-win for him.

Until someone fingers one of Raggi’s titles, or another publisher tells him to man up or shut up.

Before that even happens, I suspect we’ll see a two-tier approach to issues of “offense.” Big publishers will be immune; no matter how much someone complains about a WotC, Pathfinder, or FFG, we won’t see their titles pulled. (And don’t think it couldn’t happen. Remember all the fuss-and-bluster over Hook Mountain Massacre?) Green Ronin is probably safe, as is White Wolf. Probably…

But the small-time and one-shot publishers will be easy prey for folks looking for someone to abuse, or those who don’t want the competition. How many flags will it take before Mr. Wieck has one of these talks? And if a publisher wants to be able to list future titles on OneBookShelf, well, that means “voluntarily” pulling the title.

And that might have been how things shook out. Except, while Mr. Wieck might not be willing to invoke any bright line rules, James Edward Raggi IV is:
If one of my products gets pulled, or if the products of my peers are pulled without their consent, I am taking every LotFP product off of that site, which will be something of an economic armageddon for me and a hardship from everyone on my roster getting royalties from sales.

It’s not an entirely one-sided Armageddon, either. As Raggi points out, he’s a top 2% seller on OBS with “over $100,000 gross sales over the six years [he’s] sold through the site…”

It’s only a matter of time before the mob is howling for Raggi’s blood (and probably Zak S’s or Jeff’s or any of the many others he publishes). So we’ll see how it goes. Raggi’s gone out of his way to offend before. Hell, his marketing relies on it, so I’m sure we’ll see the policies put to the test sooner or later.

Dyson Logos, someone I have a lot of respect for, himself has much respect for Mr. Wieck. By putting himself directly in the crosshairs, Mr. Wieck is clearly attempting to get ahead of this issue. I’m sure he’s got his heart in the right place, but when good intentions are your paving material, your road usually ends up only one place. Whatever he intends to have happen, people will attempt to abuse the system. Whether or not they succeed is entirely on Mr. Wieck’s shoulders. Maybe he had no choice; maybe he had to step into the middle of this. I do give Mr. Wieck props for not hiding behind passive-voice corp speak; he painted this target on himself. I just don't see how he did himself or OneBookShelf any favors by doing so. As he's sown, so shall he reap.