First off, I’m very busy this week, but I don’t won’t to postpone this any further as I’m going to be out of the country next week (so this blog’ll probably be slower than usual), so you are going to get this very unedited (not that I generally use much time to edit these) version of my thoughts on the reactions my previous posting on 3:16 has evoked. This means I’m probably going to ramble even more than usual.
For those who are not familiar with the game, sorry about this. You probably won’t get anything out of reading this.
Now, this is a screenshot from our usage data. Guess which one is the day I posted the review?
People misunderstand creativity. Its not only about originality, even in arts, where originality is especially valued, creativity still has other components. You still need to work within a framework and part of being creative is finding the right limits to what you are doing.
Even in arts, where this isn’t necessarily appreciated, this is actually very important part of the process. If I’m producing a movie, I don’t want my casting director going outside the perimeters, but I do want him/her being creative with the choices. If I’m publishing a newspaper, I want the cartoons to be creative, but they still need to fit into the area I’ve designated for them. Even if these kinds of pressures don’t exist, artists will make them for themselves. Most online comics will use the same format for their comics all the time.
All creativity is actually based on limits. Even if you are starting a project, you’ll generally have an idea of what you want to do. You usually know the medium you are going to use. That’s a limitation right there. Once you get going, you are building more and more limitations. You are establishing characters, places and so on. You are making decisions on what the names look like on your fantasy world, or which corporation runs the chain of cozy diners in your cyberpunk world.
Those limitations are important mostly because they push us into unexpected directions. Lets look at Calvin & Hobbes (which I’ve been reading lately). The strips for Monday through Saturday are all the same general size for strips, but within that limit, Watterson finds great flexibility. Most of the strips are three or four panels, but sometimes less, if needed. This is why he was so great. He knew what being creative meant. He knew how to use the limits he was working with.
For a group of people to be able to work together, they need to have common limits. The system used is one of those limitations. So…
System as Communication
The most important part of a roleplaying system is what it communicates. The number of dice you roll, the stats, the damage tables, these should all serve the purpose of telling everyone at the table what we are working on as a group.
Every game should have a feedback system. That’s the major way the game communicates what its about. We know D&D is about tactical combat, because that’s what the feedback system tells us to do. There are other ways of getting XP, but that’s the major way.
Does 3:16 do this? Its definitely telling us that killing is important. It doesn’t go much beyond that. It isn’t giving you anything else.
One of the criticisms of my post was that I don’t seem to be getting it. Maybe. If this is the case, that’s a problem of the system. I can clearly see what the system is telling me. So, if I’m not “getting the point”, the system isn’t doing a very good job of showing me.
“Don’t Use the Mechanics” Is Not a Valid Defense of a System
Every game has corner cases which the rules don’t and shouldn’t try to cover. However, if the system simply disregards all problems by just waving a hand, that isn’t a solution. That’s just telling eveyrone that this systems sucks, live with it. Of course, invoking the creativity and roleplaying card makes this an attractive proposition, but clearly, this can’t be the supporting structure of the system. If it is, why are we using this system? Again, we need to lay out some common rules for the game, and this is clearly just dismissing that idea.
We do use the rules systems for a reason. Again, they are actually helping us be more creative. By not giving us that component, the system is basically worthless.
There’s a Distinction Between the Game and the System
As far as I can see, people have different interests in the game. Some people apparently like to parody the US military, some people like to kill aliens en masse. There probably are other less apparent reasons as well, and of course we have the more casual players who don’t really care.
In any case, the defenses of the system seem to be based on liking the game as a whole, not the system. The system seems to get a bunch of excuses, because people like the theme, whatever they think it is.
Now, this is wrong. Obviously, this system is specifically designed for this purpose, and I don’t know of any other, but this doesn’t mean it works. The concept of the game can be good, but the system can fail in its goal of presenting the themes.
In this case, if the the real goal is just to be an effective alien-killer, I’m guessing you could argue its doing a pretty good job (although it isn’t). If it has any other goals, its doing a very lousy job. Well, unless its trying to piss me off.
The Value of NFA
My assessment of the NFA as worthless seems to be getting backlash.
Than again, it is. No one has been able to present an actual case for it. Yes, I rolled NFA on some occasions besides the dominance rolls. None of those rolls mattered. Yes, at some point some of the characters were out of breath because I jogged them to our next destination. Did this affect them in any way? No. Did they even roleplay it? No, because it didn’t matter to them, because they were there to kill aliens.
… and again. If it actually had a purpose in, say, gathering intelligence or formulating a plan, the benefits are reaped by all players and therefore, as I said before, I’m basically sacrificing my character for the good of the whole, as my strengths are in an area which benefits us, whereas the other players, who put their emphasis in FA are benefiting mostly themselves.
Actually, I lied. There was one NFA roll which had actual benefit for me. In this case I tried to find ways of using it, so I used my turn to give out orders and get the men organized. The GM gave me a +1 on the next FA roll. Based on this, my 8 in NFA is actually worth exactly 0.8 in FA, if I use a whole turn. Basically worthless.
The Random Advance
A couple of people have defended the system by saying that I can get advances randomly. This idea seems very condensending to me. Basically, the designer is saying that I can’t actually earn those advances, so he’s just giving me a random chance of getting them. I’d much rather be able to earn them.
Why does this even exist? Because the designer knew the weakness of his system and threw this in there to cover it up. He knew very well that the system would favor the corporal in a huge way, but didn’t bother to actually fix that.
One Final Thing
The role of the sergeant has been overly emphasized in these texts, since I played that role in the game. However, looking at the whole, I think the other characters, those who actually thought about how much points they’ll put into each of the stats, are actually in a much worse situation. They have a very hard time competing with the corporal and if the sergeant starts messing with the others for his own benefit, those characters will feel the brunt of it just the same as the corporal.
I think that’s actually much, much worse. Those players, who actually tried to make something more than a one-dimensional asshole, are being punished by the system much worse than the sergeant. In our group, Peetu, who put 4 in FA and 6 in NFA is probably in the worst position. Because he did put some thought into these stats is never going to advance through kills, will never have access to the same weaponry the others have and so forth. And this is basically a punishment for actually caring.
What does that say about the system?