Thursday, April 26, 2012

Revising my opinions about point-buy systems and other stuff

Before I get started with Yet Another Rant, let me clarify precisely what I mean by "point-buy" systems. I'm not talking about a system like the Star Wars RPG where you add points to an existing template, nor BRP which requires the assignment of skill ranks. That's basic character customization, occurring in every game. Even in really old school D&D fighters picked different weapons and armor and not every wizard had the same spells. What I'm talking about is a game like GURPS or HERO; characters are designed from start to finish, each detail purely the choice of a player. I'm starting to dislike these systems quite a bit...

Oddly, I like GURPS 3rd edition, but not 4th. Don't ask why, perhaps it's simply layout (seriously, I like the old appearance much better). Maybe my brain is wired with a certain expectation, and deviation from that expectation is met with apathy; so much for armchair self-psychiatry. In the same vein, HERO 4th was fine, 5th was a little unwieldy, 5th Revised was annoying and the 6th edition is no longer a game in my opinion. How they managed to turn a superhero game into an exercise in mathematical optimization is beyond me. It certainly doesn't resemble a comic anymore. And the comic rpgs are what spurned this post. I made a post of an excessively ranty nature (way beyond usual) about the new Marvel game, and in turn went back and looked at the older rpgs. DC Heroes is a great game, but honestly the fact that it's point-buy means there's a lot of upfront investment to get started. If we're playing Batman and Superman, we can just use the existing write-ups, so that problem is alleviated. Creating new characters, though, takes time. I'd still play it, but the lack of randomness during character creation doesn't really emulate the comics. Sort of exactly what I already said before.

I do not hate point-buy, I just don't like how long it takes to make a character in most of the systems that use it. Over The Edge is essentially point-buy, and you can create a character in around one minute if you have a solid concept. Even using the Character Builder, a 4th edition GURPS character can take half an hour to create. That's ridiculous. I'm surprised that I say that, because I'm the guy who once spent three days using GURPS Vehicles to create a bunch of starships for use in a scifi game that never got played. If you treat making characters and building crap as a game in itself, it's fun. But that's far too long to spend on a separate game. A lot of people dislike pre-gens, but if you just want to play, that's what you get. Randomizing character generation means it's quick to get started and there's actually some mystery involved. People tend to get comfortable playing specific character types, clerics for instance. Random stat generation can force them to choose another type due to a low roll in one area. Whatever, you get the point. I know a guy who only liked to play thieves in every D&D game and got pissy when he rolled a low DEX. He pretty much refused to play the character as it would be out of his comfort zone. That is boring as hell. I can understand as I get older that gamers play much, much less and want a character they can play for a long time (the reason being a shitty character not being much fun to play). Still, it's a game, not improvisational theater, no matter what the hippies say. This isn't necessarily related to point-buy, but specifically point-buy encourages players to create a character they want to play, which in turn means they optimize said character to be exactly what they want. Boooooring. Not to mention slow. And that guy who only played thieves was me for around a year...then I realized I was being a dumbass. I still prefer thief-type characters but the obsession is now simply a preference.

Looking at the Marvel RPG once again, I've changed my mind. Before, I thought the system wasn't that good, but now I think I made a mistake. Seriously, fuck granularity. I don't understand why I wanted more differentiation in the heroes, but in retrospect I was wrong: this system is great. As an experiment I rolled up a few characters just to see what I'd get, one using the base system, the other using the Ultimate Powers Book. The first guy turned out to be some sort of Iron Man clone. Not bad at all. The second guy, however...normal human with every stat either Typical or Poor, except Reason which was Excellent. Resources were determined to be Incredible. Only two powers, randomly rolled True Invulnerability at rank Incredible...which counted as both. Okay. So a super rich guy who cannot really be hurt by anyone besides the heaviest hitters in the Marvel universe and conversely can't really do anything himself. Totally awesome. I envisioned this character being a wealthy man of leisure, funding a group of real heroes, getting involved in the adventures due to boredom. The ultimate punching bag, he could go toe-to-toe with most villains, distracting them enough for the others to take him out. I certainly would not design a character like this in HERO, but honestly he looks pretty fun to play. I imagine he'd be extremely reckless due to his power, starting fights for fun. A philanthropist who donates most of his money to charities, and sometimes purchases a new Ferrari which he promptly crashes into a rampaging robot hell-bent on destroying downtown. You're not going to get this guy from a point-buy system because he's so ineffective in fights, but he's pretty much exactly the sort of character that would be fun to read about in the comics.

I should probably revise this post for clarity, but I won't because it's a blog and no one reads this tripe anyway. However, in closing, the old Marvel RPG is great and I'm sorry I ever doubted it. My new goal is to run it as soon as I get the chance, all characters rolled completely at random.

1 comment:

  1. You get the same thing with Villains & Vigilantes, which also has random-roll powers. There's some minor optimization (and the option for the Referee to allow a completely designed character, just as MSH does), where you roll one more power than you'll end up with and have to drop one of your choice, but you're still given a list largely chosen by the dice.

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