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Old 02-08-2018, 01:13 PM   #1
tbeard1999
 
Join Date: May 2013
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Default TFT Game Design Issues

This post was triggered by a reply I made in another thread.

Because we're all givers, we've very generously given Steve Jackson our advice on all the things in TFT that he needs to address. I'm sure he'll find some way to show his gratitude to us for such selflessness :D

However, we should bear in mind that time is a limited resource. Mr. Jackson, like all game designers, has a finite amount of time and energy to devote to this project. My guess is that he'll devote far more time and energy than can be economically justified, but the point remains.

A serious challenge for game designers is that good rules for typical cases very often don't work so well for extreme cases. (In the law, we say "hard cases make bad law").

The old Space Gamer feature "Murphy's Rules" highlighted this issue. And tellingly, many of the games mentioned were generally considered to be very good games.

Anyhow, the reverse is often true as well - rules that handle extreme and unlikely cases often work poorly for typical cases.

There's also a related problem - "writing rules by anecdote". We ran into that a lot on A Fistful of TOWs. The problem is that anecdotes are largely unverifiable and usually contradictory with other anecdotes. Our solution was to simply exclude anecdotes and require credible, written evidence before changing or adding a rule. And in general, we designed for typical cases. We also focused the most design energy on the most important (as we saw it) parts of the game - the combat system in FFT's case. Everything else was ruthlessly abstracted. The less important, the more the abstraction generally.

My point is that we can provide the most serious benefit by identifying the genuinely serious problems with TFT. Trivial or low probability issues just create background noise, though they are often fun to cuss and discuss. Besides, many of these issues (like absurdly high attributes) can easily be solved by a good GM, if he finds it a problem.

I don't mean to criticize any of the discussions here. But I, for one, will try to assess the importance of TFT changes that I suggest and state that in my post.

Just remember - every rules change will probably be evaluated and playtested. This takes time. We shouldn't expect Mr. Jackson to simply take our word that a particular rule change or new rule works great. So every change or new rule probably pushes back the day we get the new TFT.

Last edited by tbeard1999; 02-08-2018 at 01:26 PM.
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Old 02-08-2018, 01:26 PM   #2
JLV
 
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Default Re: TFT Game Design Issues

"...require credible, written evidence..."

I'll just say that in some cases, when dealing with a FANTASY role-playing game, you're going to find it very hard to maintain that standard. Is Dracula more "credible" than Interview With a Vampire or the St. Germain chronicles with regard to what vampires are, and what their weaknesses/strengths are? Why? Who gets to determine what version of a Gryphon is more credible than another?

I understand your intent here -- that combat should be more or less coherent with physical reality as we understand it. However, I for one, would be extremely displeased if everything beyond combat were "ruthlessly abstracted."
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Old 02-08-2018, 01:48 PM   #3
tbeard1999
 
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Default Re: TFT Game Design Issues

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Originally Posted by JLV View Post
"...require credible, written evidence..."

I'll just say that in some cases, when dealing with a FANTASY role-playing game, you're going to find it very hard to maintain that standard. Is Dracula more "credible" than Interview With a Vampire or the St. Germain chronicles with regard to what vampires are, and what their weaknesses/strengths are? Why? Who gets to determine what version of a Gryphon is more credible than another?

I understand your intent here -- that combat should be more or less coherent with physical reality as we understand it. However, I for one, would be extremely displeased if everything beyond combat were "ruthlessly abstracted."
Of course, we were dealing with a modern game of mostly hypothetical combat. Somewhat different from fantasy...at least we knew things like the mass of an M-1 or the horsepower of its engine. I wasn't really thinking about the nature of fantastic creations, though. The primary written sources are varied and often violently disagree with each other. And I'd wouldn't talk very long to someone who claimed to be a vampire...

Every fantasy RPG game designer has to reconcile contradictory sources on creatures, deities, etc.

I was referring to factual assertions made by people based on personal experience. In FFT's case it was things like "we were told that the M1's armor couldn't be penetrated by the XYZ system". Typically followed by someone who swore that they saw an M1 penetrated by that system.

With fantasy RPGs, SCA members often use anecdotes to argue for rule changes/additions. It's a free country of course. But everyone evaluates their personal experiences subjectively and there's no guarantee that the evaluations are objectively accurate. And even if they are, the experience may not be representative of the majority of cases. Indeed, that's a big problem with anecdotes. They're often remembered precisely because they're so unusual. So at the very least, I'd require multiple credible, corroborating anecdotes before changing the rules.

EDIT - I should add that the designer is well within his rights to use his own experiences as a guide. After all, the game itself is really nothing more than the designer's subjective view of a topic. Besides, it's good to be the designer. :)

In addition, game designers have to evaluate a rule's overall effect on the game. Abstraction/simplification of minor matters is often required for playability of major matters.

An example of "designing for typical cases" - FFT has a maximum range for tank guns. Yet we are aware of verified incidents where longer ranged shots were made. The problem is that these occurrences are extraordinarily rare and FFT uses a d6 to resolve hits. We'd need a d100,000 to account for event which will matter in only 1 game in 1,000 or so. So we don't allow such shots in FFT. A combat system that allowed this would prove very cumbersome in the other 99.9%+ of cases.

An example of "ruthless abstraction" - The FFT artillery system abstracts most aspects of calling in an artillery barrage - spotting, communicating, firing, observing where the first shot hit, calling in the correction, etc. At the end of the day, FFT player want to command tanks on the table, not artillery batteries. So the artillery generally arrives when it should and mostly acts like it should. But FFT doesn't simulate the major problems encountered by an artillery battalion commander; that's not its focus. We did a worse job simulating the problems of a signals officer. Yet the command and control system yields very reasonable results.

And regarding "ruthless abstraction", I didn't mean that we abstracted everything to the same degree. ALL games require abstraction to work. Think of abstractions in the TFT damage system for instance.

What I meant was that the less important something was, generally the more abstractly and simply it was treated.

TFT also did this - the combat rules in Advanced Melee take up about 1/4 of the total pages in the game system. Yet the rules for jobs take up only a page or so (and were considered very detailed for the time). Spells and talents have detailed descriptions, while rules for languages have only a couple of paragraphs. Hand to hand combat is highly detailed, while mounted combat is more abstracted. Etc.

To me, that's the mark of a good game design. Anyone can write a rule for everything. The hard part is deciding what to detail and what to abstract. And to what degree.

So I guess I'm arguing that we bear in mind the difference between "important" issues and "trivial" or highly unlikely issues. I would want Mr. Jackson to focus most of his time and energy on the major things and not get bogged down with rules that won't matter to most players and GMs. Even if they would matter to me.

Last edited by tbeard1999; 02-08-2018 at 02:56 PM.
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Old 02-08-2018, 06:21 PM   #4
Dave Crowell
 
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Default Re: TFT Game Design Issues

I suppose one of the first questions to answer is "What sort of a game is TFT primarily? It is a board game of individual combat (both melee and wizard combats), it is also a rules light role playing game.

Would it be best served by writing extended and more detailed rules for combat and all the various environments, weapons, and special cases combat can bring? Should it instead focus on all the out of combat stuff, skills, jobs, interpersonal relations, exploration, realm building and management, etc?

I think most of us will say the answer is "a bit of both". But where should Steve draw the lines?
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Old 02-08-2018, 06:53 PM   #5
Chris Goodwin
 
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Default Re: TFT Game Design Issues

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Crowell View Post
I suppose one of the first questions to answer is "What sort of a game is TFT primarily? It is a board game of individual combat (both melee and wizard combats), it is also a rules light role playing game.
There's no "also" to it. It's two different games that happen to share a system. The board game of individual arena combat is different from the roleplaying game. To some extent, even a series of one-shot arena combats is different from an arena combat campaign game.

Quote:
Would it be best served by writing extended and more detailed rules for combat and all the various environments, weapons, and special cases combat can bring? Should it instead focus on all the out of combat stuff, skills, jobs, interpersonal relations, exploration, realm building and management, etc?
The roleplaying game needs all of that stuff, while the arena combat game doesn't. Neither of these is the "true" TFT...
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Old 02-08-2018, 08:48 PM   #6
Steve Jackson
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Default Re: TFT Game Design Issues

In my own opinion: what Chris said.

And in fact there is material in "Advanced Melee," in particular, that I think should have gone into ITL.
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Old 02-25-2018, 06:55 PM   #7
Kirk
 
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Default Re: TFT Game Design Issues

I'd like to make a case for LTA, Leaving Things Alone. There are, of course, a few paste up errors (swimming? can't remember) and maybe a tweak or two to pole weapon double damage and Death (We use a house rule of a saving roll vs. basic ST modfied by the negative of current ST, so a character with basic ST of 10 who is currently at -2 ST needs to make a 3d6 vs. 8 to survive).

But in general, the system works very well for what it is, which is a great medieval adventure game with believable magic (with its own balanced logic) and a reasonably fast but tactically interesting "wargame".

Trying to add more detail, or altering Shift and Defend, or Engagement, or a defensive roll, or Space Combat, etc. will just weaken and cheapen a great game system.

Hopefully this opportunity to bring back TFT will do just that, and not another GURPS or Call of Cthulhu or Traveller or HeroQuest, etc.

A paste-up and type corrected rules set and additional well-written and balanced programmed adventures is what I look forward to, anything more is just to risk degrading a beloved game system to no advantage, IMO.
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Old 02-26-2018, 07:55 PM   #8
JLV
 
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Default Re: TFT Game Design Issues

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kirk View Post
I'd like to make a case for LTA, Leaving Things Alone. There are, of course, a few paste up errors (swimming? can't remember) and maybe a tweak or two to pole weapon double damage and Death (We use a house rule of a saving roll vs. basic ST modfied by the negative of current ST, so a character with basic ST of 10 who is currently at -2 ST needs to make a 3d6 vs. 8 to survive).

But in general, the system works very well for what it is, which is a great medieval adventure game with believable magic (with its own balanced logic) and a reasonably fast but tactically interesting "wargame".

Trying to add more detail, or altering Shift and Defend, or Engagement, or a defensive roll, or Space Combat, etc. will just weaken and cheapen a great game system.

Hopefully this opportunity to bring back TFT will do just that, and not another GURPS or Call of Cthulhu or Traveller or HeroQuest, etc.

A paste-up and type corrected rules set and additional well-written and balanced programmed adventures is what I look forward to, anything more is just to risk degrading a beloved game system to no advantage, IMO.
Actually, you know, you're right. Despite all the comments I and others have made about the ways in which you COULD change things, I don't know that I've heard too many really convincing arguments (including my own in many cases) that a lot of those things SHOULD be changed! ;-)

Sure, I think experience needs tweaked, and pole arms could definitely use a re-write, and possibly, I could see an adjustment to the DEFEND option to make it somewhat more attractive to use, but otherwise, correcting typos, maybe clarifying what was actually meant in a couple of places, and tightening up the actual writing of the rules somewhat would be all that's really needed here. This game was damn good when it first came out, and very little is necessary to make it perfect in my opinion. Lightning struck Steve when he originally put this game together, and it's going to be really hard to improve much on the original rules!
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Old 02-27-2018, 03:34 PM   #9
tbeard1999
 
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Default Re: TFT Game Design Issues

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Originally Posted by JLV View Post
Actually, you know, you're right. Despite all the comments I and others have made about the ways in which you COULD change things, I don't know that I've heard too many really convincing arguments (including my own in many cases) that a lot of those things SHOULD be changed! ;-)

Sure, I think experience needs tweaked, and pole arms could definitely use a re-write, and possibly, I could see an adjustment to the DEFEND option to make it somewhat more attractive to use, but otherwise, correcting typos, maybe clarifying what was actually meant in a couple of places, and tightening up the actual writing of the rules somewhat would be all that's really needed here. This game was damn good when it first came out, and very little is necessary to make it perfect in my opinion. Lightning struck Steve when he originally put this game together, and it's going to be really hard to improve much on the original rules!
Agreed. If I were the TFT Czar, I'd limit the changes to:

1. Correcting errors/misprints/typos;

2. Resolving ambiguities/inconsistencies (does the Missile Weapons DX bonus count for determining rate of fire? What about DX penalties for aimed shots?);

3. Fixing serious game balance issues (nerfing boomerangs, revising bolas, nerfing some pole weapons and charge attacks);

4. Polishing rough systems (maybe re-working the experience points a little; deleting or simplifying some peculiar weapons);

5. Clarifications (clarify whether halflings are 32 point characters for experience, or express experience levels as "extra attribute point 1-4; extra attribute point 5-8);

6. Nerfing cheesy exploits (making job rolls for 50 weeks just to build attributes; throwing wizard's staves at an opponent to cause it to explode for 3d damage);

7. A few Needful Things (a healing spell; alternate death rules; designer's notes);

8. Deleting and possibly fixing anything that just doesn't work (the TFT system for gaining experience probably should be revised, as it really doesn't capture the power differences between monsters - currently a 7 hex dragon is worth 74 ep; about the same as 3 ST12 DX12 myrmidons); and

9. Updating the rules organization and style to be more coherent and modern.

I'd leave additional attributes, talent points, new defense rules, etc., for future supplements. Because TFT has not officially existed for 35 years, there are a LOT of house rules out there that are probably far better conceived and playtested than typical RPG house rules. The problem is that they are often incompatible with other house rules that address the same issues.

Regarding "attribute bloat"... That seems to be the most common complaint, so I'd address it somehow. There are zillions of ways to go at the problem, so I'll only list a few.

Maybe the initial TFT RPG rules should flatly state "This game works best for characters with no more than (say) ten extra attribute points. More powerful characters will need the future T-BASE (the TFT Bad-Ass System Expansion)."

Or tweak the experience point levels so that characters with XX extra attribute points are almost impossible to get.

Steve might want to include some comments on how long a group should expect to play before reaching various levels of extra attributes. I.e., "you should expect to go through X normal game sessions to get to your 4th additional attribute point. Y game sessions to get to your 4th additional attribute point." Etc.

Last edited by tbeard1999; 02-27-2018 at 03:40 PM.
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Old 02-27-2018, 11:09 PM   #10
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Default Re: TFT Game Design Issues

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kirk View Post
Hopefully this opportunity to bring back TFT will do just that, and not another GURPS or Call of Cthulhu or Traveller or HeroQuest, etc.

A paste-up and type corrected rules set and additional well-written and balanced programmed adventures is what I look forward to, anything more is just to risk degrading a beloved game system to no advantage, IMO.
This has been my position from the beginning. If I want to play rich, complex, multi genre game, I will play GURPS. It is possible to make TFT do many of the things GURPS does, but it is pointless to do so. I want the 2nd edition Steve would have written in 1985.
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