Monday, August 5, 2013

Breaking the World Because I Care.

Murphy.

Cruel god of statistics, or test engineer who gave us rules to live by.

Roleplaying games are not perfect. Their mechanics are designed to simulate a narrative, tactical, or simulational of the environment the designer wanted us to play with. Which is all fine and good, but a lot of RPG writers rarely bother to stress test the extremes of what their game can and will do. What am I talking about? BENCHMARKING.

You see when I pick up a game system I like to build a generic character. Let's call him Pete Tester. Pete's been a Bard, Barbarian, super hero, Solar, Lunar, Street Sam, you name it. There is very little special about Pete right away. Most off Version 1 of Pete tends to be as average an PC as I can build him. Middle of the road required stats, just enough abilities to handle a session, and a spattering of generic skills.

Then I kill him.

Over and over again until I have the lethality of the system down in my head.

Oh, the WAYS I kill Pete are creative. I ram TIE Fighters into im a full speed. I've dropped him off of...well just about everything. Spaced him. Inserted him into acid, lava, hostile nanties. I've fired SO many guns into him a full auto. Let him taste Superman's fist. Accelerated him to sub light at walls. You name it. It gets weirder when I do things like infect Pete with all sorts of mutating plagues and then expose him to things like insanity melting monsters. But I digress.

Why do I kill Pete so much? I need to know where a game breaks. Specifically if he combat system handles the ways it says it should. Short and bloody? Slow and pondering? It matters. I also go looking for exploits. Little 'beaks' that power gamers latch onto when building characters to make them unhittable and unkillable. They're everywhere. Most happen when you can work out exploits like Shadowrun 1E's Truck Stomping Trolls thanks to how armor and godly physical stats work. Or weird stuff like GURPS acrobats being able to foot dance through APC armor. Etc, etc.

So what happens after I finish killing Pete? I invert the issue and build Pete to the excesses of character gen will allow...then I let Pete have his revenge. I use him to Break the Setting and System. Uber Troll Shaman, check on that 10 drain manaball. Or run him around with super speed and flurries in Aberrant. Or what happens when I layer defences vs the strongest attacks in a game? Or can he jump unpowered over things? (This is how we discovered that normal humans in Exalted and HERO system could make mutli meter jumps with ease from standing!) Especially if there ARE powers involved with a system. I look for how the can be abused. How long does it take Pete to turn NPCs into jelly?

Again, I'm looking for system breaks.

At the end of the day of running Pete through some mental gymnastics and die rolls he goes back into the box and I look a the results. Could he wrestle 8 guys at once? Just how big a foe could he defeat? Etc. These establish for me a quick and easy benchmark on the rough power leve in a game. I know where some of the worse system breaks are, and how to avoid them. And usually if I'm the mood and like a game despite it's flaws this is where my house rules list comes from.

It's also why I have problems with more narrative focused games like Smallville. The PC's don't 'touch' the setting in a way I can measure easily. I feel like Pete's made of Jello. It just makes me feel weird. Doesn't mean I can't test raw combat with Pete, just means I can' tell how much he can dead lift. Etc.

I also use what I learn from Pete on creative ways to 'bend' a game to make later session fun when playing. I rarely go out of my way anymore to break a setting. But impressive in game mechanic stunts are aways fun to pull off.

Then I pick up a new RPG book, and poor Pete starts dying again.

Ain't I a stinker?