#2 The Tome of Stuff You Should Know

By Shamus Posted Sunday Feb 24, 2019

Filed under: DM of the Rings 47 comments

There is nothing more destructive to your narrative than having a bunch of players who know the rules of the game you’re trying to run. They will usually demand you do things like understand and abide by the rules, and that’s almost as bad as letting them control the story.

The best way around this is to just change games as often as you can. When faced with a new system, sometimes players will be so ignorant that they won’t know which dice to roll and won’t understand any of the numbers on their character sheet. This is situation is known as the GM’s “Sweet Spot”.

Shawn Says:

One of the challenges we hit early on in collaboration was that Shamus’s previous comic was this huge sprawling thing where he really took advantage of the Infinite Canvas, and took the time and space to do these fun layouts that could go on forever and cram in all of the dialogue he wanted to tell his jokes. My previous comic was a detective story that was paced with a series of linear panels, each the same size and not a single word balloon in the entire strip, just narration.

To say we had to spend a bit of time accommodating our previous styles to each other is an understatement. I think we eventually hit our stride, and strip #40 is a perfect example of how well we eventually fit together, but early on I know there was a lot of wrangling to try and fit Shamus’s Wall of Text in to my idea of “Every Comic Is This Size, and Generally Just 3 Wide Panels Stacked On Top Of Each Other”. I think you see some of that here, in clunky flow. We were just finding our sea legs for the first few strips. The tricky part was we had to do it while several thousand people watched. ;)

I find it amusing that Shamus is now doing a comic that’s just equal sized panels stacked on top of each other, and I’m doing a comic with more of a comic book style layout. At some point we met in the middle, and then each went on to where the other one began. Shamus still takes as many panels as he wants to tell his jokes though, and I’m super anal that every Clockworks comic is the size of one comic book page.

Nothing else really to say here, aside from how much Chuck looks like a bad Garfield clone in that last panel.

Shamus Says:

The time I spent on DM of the Rings really did spoil me in a bad way. Apparently it’s easier to hit the “capture” button on a movie than to sit down and draw, ink, and color a scene? Who knew? I was used to being able to just take as long as I wanted to get to the point, because page space was free. This came back to haunt me when it stopped being free.

But learning brevity made me a better writer in the long run. I had to learn how to figure out where the joke was, and trim things down until I didn’t have more than I needed. It took a while, and in the meantime we got strips like this one.


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47 thoughts on “#2 The Tome of Stuff You Should Know

  1. Thomas says:

    This commentary makes me realise theres lots of mediums that I don’t want to be able to judge critically. For me, a web comic is a web comic. I have no idea about flow or panel layout and it didn’t occur for me to think about it in this strip.

    I just enjoy comics more or less with no understanding of why. I wouldn’t have liked to look at this comic and critique it.

  2. Scampi says:

    I can share the sentiment to not have players understand the rules to a P&P game too deeply.
    In the past, I had players who would, as all do, in character creation try to find powerful exploits that would annoy me to no end.
    In retrospect, I believe it’s better to not give players a view of the game system itself at all and teach them the needed rules as the game progresses instead of relying on them reading up on the rules if one can avoid it.
    As I was the sole proprietor of my groups’ RPG system sources in the past, I would have had the opportunity, as noone could ever be bothered to ever contribute in this manner.

    Today, hindsight considered, it may be best to have everyone in a room developing their characters simultaneously, give them the general choices as spreadsheets and leave the players in the unknown about the actual detailed possibilities. Also: No chance to go back on a decision once made. (“What’s the character you want to play out of rogue, warrior and mage?” “warrior.” “Well, warrior it is. That means you forego the abilities to use magic and disarm traps for being a really hard hitting arrow sponge.” “No, I want to have magic, I want something else now. That allows me to look for a way to screw the rules and hit really hard WHILE using magic…”)

    Example: In a system I played in the past, a specific character type with very specific abilities would be capable to create a reaction comparable to a nuclear blast using a combination of 4 abilities, none of which had any properties that would imply this in themselves.
    It was there, in the rulebook, including the difficulty to create it.
    Instead of having the players see this and abuse it (as I did, stupidly), I should have never let them see the potential of any of the abilities in the first place. It would also require them to become more creative about their skills and abilities instead of just knowing “doing X will give me an advantage of Y to accomplish feat Z”.

    Of course, this would imply the players trust the GM enough to have him be the sole arbiter of the rules and in what kind of universe would we be able to observe such a thing as a trustworthy GM, right?

    1. Droid says:

      Strongly disagree. You seem to dislike power-players, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a fun way to play the game. Just don’t be the GM of such a group of players!
      Not telling the players about the rules can make them feel powerless, because anything and everything they do is not THEIR actions resulting in great heroic deeds or pragmatic political power-plays, but YOUR story with some QTEs thrown in (I exaggerate, of course, but that’s a feeling that can crop up if the GM obfuscates their system too much).
      Of course your way to play the game can work, and if it does for you and your group, more power to you! But I think there is very good reason why, as the years went on, more and more rules were taken from the GM and instead handed to the players (other than “the GM has so much to do and the players too little”).
      Of course it’s terrible if one of the players is ruining your story or, worse yet, interferes in other players having fun. But establishing rules means your players have a good idea how they can communicate their actions and intentions to you, the GM, without having to fear that your idea of what’s going on and their idea of what’s going on could differ in just the right way to make the player attempt something that looks reasonable to them, but completely undoable to the GM; resulting in them trying and failing and probably suffering some consequences that fundamentally stem from a miscommunication on either your part – in setting up the scene and giving all relevant details – or their part – in reacting appropriately to the circumstances given. Both are probably not problems that their characters would have to deal with in the same situation.
      And, of course, if there’s a big enough disconnect between what you see and what your players see and they become discontent, without rules, they only have you to blame; so it’s a bit of an insurance on your part as well even if the “bringing together two points of view” part doesn’t work out.

      I’d recommend tinkering with the rules that are there in accordance with all affected players, and while giving them the chance to change the affected skills/stats/whatever for others if they no longer like the way they play.
      It worked wonderfully so far for us, and we’re a group with one dedicated min-maxer, one who focuses mostly on roleplaying, and three people in-between.

      1. Olivier FAURE says:

        Same here.

        I’ve had the chance of having players mostly interested in playing the game, not exploiting rules to make ridiculously powerful characters, but I think similar principles apply everywhere.

        I don’t think you should present choices to your player as a matter of statistics; it’s more interesting to talk about what kind of play experience they want (and make it clear you’re not going to allow them to be strong in every category, even if it’s allowed by the rules).

        Do they want to be a powerful wizard that unleashes terrifying slaughter at a moment’s notice, but becomes a dead weight as the combat drags on? A thief who can steal anything, but becomes useless as soon as she’s spotted? A barbarian who can defeat any enemy in single combat, but has to rely on his friends in social situations?

        (okay, for real though, never pick that last one; the barbarian player always end up doing most of the conversation while the supposedly “charismatic” players wait for the next fight encounter)

      2. Scampi says:

        It’s not powergamers I dislike, but the ones that decide to unilaterally force the GM’s universe to bow to them and take it.
        If I, as a GM, create cities and characters in droves for the players to overcome and there is an easily exploitable rule there that would, in-universe, make barely any sense for someone to find out on their own (who taught that 10 year old kid that it has the ability to create a city leveling explosion without it getting blown up itself?), that allows a single player to blast my entire campaign setting into the stratosphere, I’m pissed off, and I believe legitimately so.

        It’s not the powergaming. Our entire group at the time was mostly powergaming, and I never got tired of it in principle until I realized they were constantly trying to use really cheap workarounds to get away with outrageous stuff without talking things out with me.
        When they decided to play a couple of vampire hunters in Shadowrun, I didn’t flinch (I always allowed everyone to be whatever they wanted and tried to cater to their whims, though they would roll up new characters the next week anyways-NOT due to being killed or such). I did not like it, though, when they just arbitrarily decided that ultraviolet light was equivalent to sunlight and used lamps to discover them.
        They didn’t come to me to discuss whether that would work. Imho, it wouldn’t, as I believed in Shadowrun creatures with magical properties reacted to a kind of “mythical” properties as well. To make it clear: A vampire’s allergy to sunlight by THEIR logic was an allergy to the UV-part of the spectrum. In MY opinion, the same allergy was caused by a kind of mythical relation vampires had to the sun, which would not allow injuring them by holding a lamp to their face, thus an allergy to SUNlight, not to UV light.
        Noone wanted to play the decker, while everyone wanted to be a beefed up street samurai? Fine. I just have to make sure the challenges these guys are hired to face make sense for them. No decking, no rigging, just straight up combat challenges for the big dumb muscles.

        My players sadly prove to generally have little respect for the rules of the games we played, for the (weekly) effort I put into creating campaign settings and the feel of the universes we played in. It’s things like playing in a Mad Max-style universe and having players insist on running around in Fallout-style power armour that get my blood boiling.
        When I was a GM, I spent the time to come up with like double digit amounts of pages of “open world” for them to explore: Cities with rulers, stores, all important personalities and their close relatives, maps of every building they might want to explore (in detail) and the surroundings, places nearby, multiple quest hooks for them per city (thus the weekly effort: if they took a hook, I’d try and follow that strain for the next time with equal effort), and if it was a place that existed in the real world, I’d try to get real layout plans or ones that were as accurate as possible to the real one (luckily it’s just not possible to get the detailed layout of security areas of airports or such when you’re a teenager without relations to anyone in the business). This is the kind of effort I tried to put in my scenarios.
        And what was the thanks for that? Players blowing said entire thing up because I had shown them a page too much of the rules. Much wasted effort and no campaign setting left. If they were especially sassy, they’d afterwards complain that I always winged our games…how’d you like that?

        1. decius says:

          Just let the vampires respond to sunlight and UV light the way the rules say. There are rules for how vampires respond to sunlight, and no special rules for vampires and UV light.

          If you don’t have a decker or rigger in the party, you can put jacks, ‘bots, terminals, and all kinds of juicy things to hack and rig along their way and let them not be able to use them- just have a way through that doesn’t require that specific skill.

          Also: The consequence for going too loud (blowing up buildings to get one floor, killing thousands to get one person) is that you break the social codes that allow the dynamic to exist: Other runners not stand in solidarity with you, corporate security will start cooperating with other corp security (after all, there’s no telling which building you are going after next!), and your former fixer knows way too much about you.

          You aren’t likely to get hit by rods from gods, if you’re still in a populated area. But you are likely to be drugged and shot in your sleep after being betrayed by literally every NPC you encounter. If you go full GTA rampage, it ends the only way it can. Maybe the next crew will be a little less ‘mass murder’.

          1. Scampi says:

            So you’re saying I should have had the vampire slayers be really unsuccessful ones due to a faulty m.o., have a matrix terminal implemented for nobody to use etc.?
            It’s not as if I didn’t know my players wouldn’t ever have bothered with the more subtle approaches to problems. This, specifically (as long as I did) was a huge waste of time to even implement in the first place. It didn’t even bother them when they had seriously injured multiple civilians whom they mistook for vampires. In the beginning, I found it hilarious, but the longer it took, I realized they wouldn’t learn from experience.

            And if your players are of the kind that can’t take the kind of failure you describe (suffering consequences due to being a massive threat to their environment and fellow people around them), there’s a major problem, especially if the general approach to character “failure/screwup” is rolling up a new one because the old one is “unusable” now that he lost all friends due to being a major nuisance to them (where nuisance may mean “getting several of them killed, tortured for information about them etc. and not caring about it in the least”)

            1. Hector says:

              Well, in Shadowrun
              (A) You are right; there’s nothing in the rules whatsoever that implies that Vampires are harmed by UV rays. It’s defined as an Moderate Allergy (creature rules). Some in-character dialogue describes vampires as withering under sunlight, but it’s more of a severe sunburn and a definite annoyance rather than a dramatic death scene. And the designers would abolutely say if it’s UV instead of sunlight; they had no problem mixing the magic and mundane.
              (B) In Shadowrun, lunatics trying and failing to hunt vampires are nothing new, but they’re going to attract a lot of attention they don’t want. And in Shadowrun, there’s Always a Bigger Fish.

            2. Agammamon says:

              So you’re saying I should have had the vampire slayers be really unsuccessful ones due to a faulty m.o., have a matrix terminal implemented for nobody to use etc.?

              Yeah. WoD is pretty brutal about this with the Hunter line – you don’t know jack about the supernatural and your ignorance *will* get you killed. Its part of the gameplay. Similar to how the CoC campaigns pretty much end up with everyone dead, insane, or worse. Its part of the world.

              You can explain to them that there are rules to how the Shadowrun world works – and that those rules may not be the same as the rules in other media. UV light hurting Vampires is a relatively new development in vampire media – mostly starting around the time Blade came out. Depending on how old your crew is . . . And you can explain to them that Shadowrun is a world with literal magic. Not everything, indeed most things, will have a ‘scientific’ explanation. And that goes double for the social dynamic that allows people to live and run in the shadows – they exist because they serve a socially useful purpose. Create too much mayhem and they cost more than they’re worth. If that’s the way they still want to play – make them Corpsec/military the next time around. Those guys are more restricted but they’re also allowed, even expected, to go loud. Start an all-out inter corp war.

              As for adding in sidepaths that can only be done by hackers – that at least makes them think about what the setting is about and maybe they’ll at least try to hook up with an NPC hacker.

              Otherwise, gently suggest that maybe Shadowrun isn’t the game for that group.

              DMing can be a delicate balance between keeping players happy by giving them what they want in the short term and long-term appreciation. Still, some people are just in it for the loot – Munchkin might be more fun for them.

              1. Scampi says:

                Well, the problem kind of handled itself as I have barely seen anyone from that group for years since moving out of town.
                But don’t think I hadn’t tried to explain them the things you suggested.
                It was, I think, the moment when I realized they would never stop working problems out of character (and thus be a horrible fit for me as their perma GM), as if it couldn’t be they had an idea and the idea didn’t work. Everything had to go their way or nothing would progress.
                My big trouble was that I lived in a small town with very few role players and couldn’t afford being more picky about who entered my games.
                As I said before: I could barely keep these guys from just appearing with unannounced guests to the table and deciding they had to be a part of the group now.

          2. Syal says:

            I wonder how the players would have responded to an NPC using the doomsday blast. In the middle of a conversation, someone else unexpectedly blows up the city.

            1. Scampi says:

              That’s easy: They’d have called dibs on any useful remnants found in the ruins…

        2. Joshua says:

          Whether exploiting rules or not, it’s just extremely frustrating to me as a DM to deal with players who simply want to do outrageous things and have the DM cater to them by having the world/NPCs roll with their lunacy. Shamus once posted an anecdote about a player whose group was visiting the local monarch pulling out a Horn of Blasting and blowing it in the King’s presence for kicks (there was no way to explain this in-universe). It feels less like the players are trying to overcome legitimate challenges than trying to exert power over you by making you (the DM) respond in good faith to bad roleplaying.

        3. Droid says:

          Well, the solution you propose, taking all power away from the players and into the hands of the GM, does screw power-players way more than any other type of player, including the disastrously destructive types you seem to have put up with in the past. If they didn’t know the rules, they would probably just try to overwhelm you with stupid, incoherent shit until you relent to one of their 100 bad ideas. They sound like the kind of players who would take a mile every time you’d give them an inch, which would not be mitigated by muddling the line between what’s possible and what isn’t.
          It reminds me a bit of a parent trying to keep all dangerous things away from their kid(s): it works only as long as you invest way, way more time than they do and as long as you’re able to think of every possible outcome beforehand, which is not only very straining, but ultimately futile.
          But setting up rules and tinkering with them to your and your groups’ taste would allow you to at least stop the rampant bullshit like the terrible Doomsday Combo you mentioned. Of course it also requires a certain amount of maturity and good faith on your players’ part, which seems to have been the more fundamental, harder-to-fix problem (I hope I don’t sound like an armchair psychologist here, or like I mean any offense – I don’t, I’m just trying to make sense of your point of view, because from where I’m at, it seems somewhat bizarre).

          1. Scampi says:

            I guess you’re right there. When I made my original post, I mostly thought of the guys like Josh, who would begin their PC’s careers by grabbing the rules, looking for something absurd and borderline insane to abuse and make it the theme of their character. I think I overshot my goal there, but stand by the idea that there are often details in rulebooks that the GM better keeps out of player sight lest they become the weapon not the PC levels at the NPCs but the players level at the GM himself.

            Even in the mentioned Doomsday Combo, I did have less of a problem with the Combo’s existence (it’s really hard to perform, in general) and more with the players having gained knowledge about it (AND how to best abuse it, as there was a “semi-safe” way to create the result without repercussions) through meta-means instead of coming about it through in-game research or their own ingenuity.

            1. Matthew Downie says:

              Rather than the approach of, “Keep the rulebook out of Josh’s hands”, I’d rather go for, “Don’t play with Josh”…

              1. Scampi says:

                That would be optimal. But now imagine Josh comes in a package deal with one of your few BETTER players, i.e. you only get the good one if you take Josh to balance it out.

                1. Lino says:

                  Well, then I still wouldn’t take Josh – it’s the old 80/20 rule – if you have an amazing burger with a piece of crap in it, would you still eat the burger? Because I’d rather go hungry than eat a burger with a shit in it :D

            2. Sartharina says:

              For some people creating crazy combos with the rules like that is part of the fun. The issue is in toning it down – request they build around a less ludicrous gimmick, and try to be honest with them (And hope they’re honest with you)

          2. Kylroy says:

            Yeah, the fundamental problem here seems to be that the players wanted to do something completely different than their GM did. Disempowering the players solves the problem insofar as they can no longer be disruptive, but I don’t know that it results in a game they can enjoy.

            1. Scampi says:

              Honestly: If “being disruptive” is what the players came to the table for, I don’t know if there is anyone who would like to GM for them. Today I know that at least 50% of my players usually belonged to the “disruptive” kind and 25+% were tag-alongs who just followed, or worse, imitated the majority. I shouldn’t have bothered with them, but I couldn’t really be picky about my players.
              It was made worse by the inconsistent composition of my parties, where regularly players would rotate bringing random unannounced guys to the table whom nobody except them knew, have them roll up characters, join the game and never appear again afterwards. These players technically used to function as a kind of amplifier for their “host” player’s gaming style, making games way more unpredictable than they needed to be.
              I had a semi-solid base party that I might have found a way to run games for, but the regular replacement of random strangers at the table made it really hard finding common ground. Maybe I should have had a recurring dissociative personality disorder character or something alike ready for them.

        4. Moridin says:

          It’s not powergamers I dislike, but the ones that decide to unilaterally force the GM’s universe to bow to them and take it.
          If I, as a GM, create cities and characters in droves for the players to overcome and there is an easily exploitable rule there that would, in-universe, make barely any sense for someone to find out on their own (who taught that 10 year old kid that it has the ability to create a city leveling explosion without it getting blown up itself?), that allows a single player to blast my entire campaign setting into the stratosphere, I’m pissed off, and I believe legitimately so.

          Frankly, that’s not a problem with your players, that’s you being a pushover. Rule 0(“The GM can, at any time, choose to override the rules if the rules make the game worse or less fun in his opinion”. Exact wording varies by system.) exists for a reason and it’s perfectly fine for you to say something along the lines of “Yes, it works with the rules as written, but it’s clearly not intended and it would break the game, so I’m not going to allow it.”

          1. Scampi says:

            I agree that I was pretty much a pushover when it came to such stuff.
            I don’t agree that it’s not also a problem with the players, as not all players are equally susceptible to different kinds of abuses. Your rule 0 has its own problems, as I implied above when I referred to players trusting their GM (or rather, not doing so). If a GM just overrides rules without previous notification, players may lose trust in the GM as much as it can happen the other way around if players rule lawyer their way around a campaign/adventure. Both is very much hurting the entire relationship and I wouldn’t ban a rule without previous evidence that it needs to be.
            The problem with the doomsday nuke was, honestly, a problem with a specific player that I actually should have seen coming, but, as I mentioned somewhere above, he was sadly a package deal and would only play whatever exact thing had caught his destructive fancy. I usually had to rely on other people to rein him in.
            Also, as I said: I didn’t per se dislike this specific rule, just that I had been dumb enough to let the players see it instead of covering up such a destructive skill, as it could pretty much only achieved due to a very specific (and otherwise limiting) build in character creation. I didn’t foresee that the entire party would then begin using this character as a PMD from the start on.

    2. Zak McKracken says:

      Yeah, trustworthy GMs … I remember that scene where we were in a kind of dangerous situation involving a cliff, a rope and someone attacking us. I explained my action to the GM, something about swinging this or that way, he messed up the physics of it completely and stated that I am now in free fall to my doom. Any objections were met with “well that’s how physics work in THIS universe”, including the objection that maybe my character wouldn’t have done it if he’d known that conservation of momentum wasn’t a thing here …” He then saved my character by some other stupid deus ex machina contrivance but trusting GMs is hard, and I very much do like to know the rules as a player.

      However, as a player, I’m also interested in having an enjoyable role-playing experience, and that’s not helped by exploiting loopholes. I take care most of the time to keep my actions in character even if that means a disadvantage to the party (still love my barbarian who had to either go full berzerk-battle-to-the-death mode or nothing, and was unable to ask for help, or be anything but brutally honest — I just realize that he was probably autistic).

      1. Scampi says:

        Yeah, trustworthy GMs … I remember that scene where we were in a kind of dangerous situation involving a cliff, a rope and someone attacking us.

        Just couldn’t help thinking: “Oh my god, someone made him play a round of the “DM Bride”?”

      2. Gethsemani says:

        As a GM I can feel this sentiment, which is why I generally try to hash out what people expect from a campaign/system going in and what they can expect from me as the GM. When we played Star Wars: Edge of the Empire/Force and Destiny it was all about the heroics, and both I and the players were on the same page in regards to the fact that they would do borderline stupid stuff because it was the more heroic action and thus more in line with how we wanted Star Wars to play out (obviously you ignite your lightsaber and call out the Imperial Inquisitor instead of running away like cowards when infiltrating a Star Destroyer…). Similarly, when we switched over to Call of Cthulhu, I also made it clear that I would be much harsher in punishing player mistakes and that risky actions can result in tough situations, injury, madness or death.

        For all the discussions about group dynamics in RP, I think the discussion about expectations and preferred playstyle gets forgotten quite often. It is a super-important discussion to have, because it means the players can trust the GM to be consistent within the setting and thus allows them to at least somewhat intuit what might and might not work based on the mood and theme of the game (such as realizing that a swashbuckling rescue might work in Star Wars but would get everyone ultra-dead in CoC within 2 rounds of combat).

    3. Gautsu says:

      Out of curiosity what was the game and combo? Truthfully it sounds like you have a style as a dm/GM/st that doesn’t mesh with your players. Sometimes that happens. It sounds like you are much more interested in character diving and world building than your players. Just an opinion

      1. Scampi says:

        The game was a then recent indy post-apocalyptic game called “Endland”.
        It contained a class called elementalists, who were able to perform feats of “elemental manipulation”, technically your mage class of the game.
        To get access to the ability in question, you had to combine the correct race (human-you could pick that one), age (youth-you had to roll for age), learn all 4 individual elemental skills (which was only possible if you were a youth) and use a combination of all of them together.
        To turn the process into a safe one, you’d use the ability, which had a high fail chance due to a very high difficulty, as a kind of rune creation, which, if it failed, would (according to the rules) conserve the spell in a rune until you meant to use it (a simple decision to release the contained element) or, if you failed, release a delayed backlash reaction of equal strength to the effect intended (the backlash would happen anyways, but it wouldn’t really matter, as it was delayed long enough). If you only meant to blow something up really bad, the backlash rule was really just your ally (it was originally designed with something else in mind-it was a rather nice rule, but not for this specific skill). You cast your effect in the place you want to blow up, possibly gained a powerful rune, traveled someplace else and knew the town would burn to the ground behind you.
        This specific combo was kind of broken, as it allowed the character in question to gain an effect by failing a roll.
        I didn’t realize it back then, as I was just getting used to the game’s general ruleset (which I still like to the day for its adaptability).

  3. Joshua says:

    This article is making me think about the good times of playing games when first starting and not knowing the rules as well. I was pondering if knowledge of the rules starts allowing the players to focus too much on “build”, rather than successful play. There’s a whole lot of desire to build the ultimate build and just lazily stomp whatever the DM throws at you at the table. Is there any system that minimizes build opportunities but puts a lot of focus on what the player *does* during the game?

    1. ZekeCool says:

      Any system? There are a ton of systems like that, they’re just not D20 systems that won’t cut off the dead weight of D&D.

      Try Fate Core or Blades In The Dark or Apocalypse World.

  4. Polius says:

    Check out the Fatecore system. It’s a lot more narrative in its structure, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re playing around the table. My play by post group tried it for a super hero game and it’s just really designed for face-to-face games. Nonetheless, I recall it being a pretty flexible system for whatever setting you could prefer, and a lot of advantage you can squeeze out of it is how well you can justify your actions to the GM. If you’re in for Sci-Fi, I’d also recommend the Planet Mercenary Roleplaying Game. It’s based off of the setting of the Schlock Mercenary webcomic, but it’s also designed for more rough and tumble narrative style gameplay. The whole system is based in 3d6 and all of your rolls are just skill checks, so there aren’t feat-shenanigans or the like that players can abuse.

    1. Scampi says:

      Just to be sure: You’re talking about Evil Hat’s “Fate”, right? Or is there another system out there that I just can’t find anything about at all?

      1. Polius says:

        Yeah, that’s the one! I’m pretty sure “Fate Core” is just the base game now that I think about it and I just wasn’t being clear when I was typing. Sorry about that.

        1. Scampi says:

          It’s fine. I think I’ve thought about getting the core rules before, but couldn’t wrap my head around it (yet?).
          I think I only ever read “Fate Core Rules” or heard it spoken as “Fatecore” (as, e.g. on Fear the boot) but was never sure if it was, maybe, an obscure unrelated system.
          Might look into it, but I currently got other things on my mind.
          I’ve also never been too much into generalized systems.
          I know it’s kind of the wrong question to ask about it, but it’s important to me: What kind of games would you suggest it for (that wouldn’t be served better by a different game)?

          1. ZekeCool says:

            Basically anything really Pulpy is great for Fate Core. Anything where your protagonists are Competent, Driven and Hard to Kill. I like it for Detective games most, but I’ve done High Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Space Opera, Political Sci-Fi, Superheroes… It’s really flexible.

            The biggest loopholes I have found are that it’s not the best at Horror games or games where you move from noobs to awesome (the typical D&D progression). Fate Core characters are hard to Kill or damage severely without player buy-in, and start feeling more like 5th level D&D characters than 1st level.

            1. Scampi says:

              That sounds quite good. I may give it a try and see what I can make of it. Though I do prefer other systems for some of the genres you mentioned, specifically high fantasy and superheroes. I think I might still find a use for Fate.

              1. Sartharina says:

                Frankly, I don’t like Fate because it doesn’t feel like a roleplaying game… it feels like structured metagaming.

              2. Sartharina says:

                Actually, to clarify more on my previous comment that I submitted early and can’t edit… It feels like structured metagaming. In most TTRPGs I like to play, there are ‘buttons’ to push to interact with the world that are all clearly defined, and characters have comprehensive skillsets. Fate, meanwhile, has a pretty minimal skill system, with its big emphasis being on the two Stunts you get, five ‘character traits’, and lots and lots of haggling with the DM for Fate Points.

                I’ve heard some people say it’s “Unmunchkinable” – and I can say that’s bullshit. The munchkins just briarpatch for Fate Points (Oh, my brawler character’s abrasive personality gets us in yet another Big Brawl with an organization that I really can’t give two farts about but the other party members were trying to curry the favor of? How terrible) and do what they want.

                1. Scampi says:

                  Interesting…that’s exactly the type of behaviour I would expect from my former greatest problem player, even without being rewarded for it.

                  1. Sleeping Dragon says:

                    For a brief explanation of FATE: characters have aspects, one of which is specifically defined as “trouble” (typically either a character trait or something from their past) to make it something that is easy for GM to activate (“compel”) to cause a complication by paying a fate point to the player. Aspects are also meant to help players define and roleplay characters and there is a thing called “self-compel” when you call upon your own aspect (typically trouble) to cause a complication to (ideally) make the game more interesting but to also get a fate point. In a perfect world compelling is used to liven the game up, to introduce complications that are relevant to player characters and to assist in roleplaying.

                    But at the end of the day tabletop RPGs are always a cooperative effort (and I think this is the crux of the entire argument in this thread) and you may eventually encounter a player who makes up highly applicable trouble and decides that “milking it for fate” is his goal in life whether or not it makes the game more fun. I’d go so far as to say that FATE is in some respects more susceptible to this because it plays somewhat loose with the rules and so there aren’t necessarily as many reins to control player who’d exploit it. The main benefit, if your goal is curbing powergaming, here is that the fact the rules are loosely defined tends to discourage most powergamers from even trying the system but there is a very specific subset who BELIEVE themselves to be very good at the roleplaying aspects of tabletop despite effectively bending it to the needs of their powergaming.

                2. ZekeCool says:

                  I mean, every tabletop rpg is a social contract. No system stops a player who shows up at the table to be a disruptive ass, doesn’t matter how flexible or restrictive it is. Make sure everyone is on board for the kind of game you want to play.

    2. Joshua says:

      I should clarify this a bit more. I know there’s plenty of rules-light, narrative-driven systems. I’m thinking more about systems that are build-minimal, but decision-driven from a tactical viewpoint. Basically, a mechanical system akin to Chess for RPGs. You’ll have minimal ability to tinker with your beginning character from a mechanics standpoint, but lots of mechanical decisions to make in game-play that will affect your success.

  5. BlueHorus says:

    Yeah, this kind of player can kill games and D&D groups. I’ve seen it quite a few times.
    You can change up the rules and the systems all you want, they’ll just break the new game as soon as they can. They’re <i.there to disrupt the group and be the centre of attention. Any solution beyond ‘leave the group’, ‘kick out said member’ or ‘put up with it’ is probably just a temporary fix.

    Also related: Shamus, you mentioned this kind of thing in an installment of your ME Retrospective, and there’s a couple of broken links there that I assume led to the original Chainmail Bikini. They could be re-routed here now?

  6. shoeboxjeddy says:

    Anyone who seriously plays D&D like it’s Munchkin (aka, the kind of person that game was modeled after) is not long for a group that is not also all playing in that spirit. Players on that person’s team will want to team kill him after he tries to take all the glory, XP, and loot for themself and the GM will get tired quickly of that player treating the GM like they’re the console in a PC game (/killallenemies /Godmode).

    1. BlueHorus says:

      The problem is, you can easily end up in a loop. If Josh is smart (and he probably is, to have put the effort into breaking a stats-based RPG game) he’ll realise that favor is turning against him and work damn hard to ensure that no-one can harm him. Part of the point of his minmaxed character is that they’re untouchable and get to call the shots, after all.

      The only way to for players to compete is to minmax their own characters so that they can take him on, which they’re probably not as good as him at. He drags them down to his level and beats them with experience.
      The GM can of course bend/break the rules to thwart him, but man oh man will Josh bitch about it if they do.
      Either way, Josh has now successfully changed the game to be about him, and it’s probably a lot less fun for everyone who isn’t also a munchkin competing for attention.

      1. shoeboxjeddy says:

        The problem on a base level is that Josh (the Josh from your example, not any other Josh) is an immature jerk. He’s taken a group bonding experience and turned into an ego play starring himself and only himself. The proper (though perhaps very difficult) thing to do is address it directly and then cease inviting Josh if he won’t stop upon being told the strain his actions are taking on the activity.

  7. Alberek says:

    A game system is a tool, both for the DM and the players.
    If you want to pick a game because of it’s obscurity and unapprochable rules, you might as well be playing Calvinball (or maybe you really, really, really like the setting, like in Anima…then, I pity you).
    Players wanting to make strong characters is a given on games like D&D or Vampire were you expect your character to live out the campaign and fight demigods halfway to the end. It makes less sense when you are playing Call of Chtulhu were the point of the game is mostly the investigation and the gruesome deaths.
    In the end, the best you can do is embrace the system with all of it’s problems (any game has them, but at least you don’t have to waste time learning a new one that the players might not like)

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