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Old Jul 13th, 2021, 09:28 PM
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Outplay 2021 Feedback Thread

This is a feedback thread designed to help the organizers of 2022 Outplay. Believe it or not, the first step of planning outplay every year is to pull up and review the previous year's feedback and use it to help make changes.

Please note that the goal of this tournament is to reward the best PLAYER. This includes all aspects of PbP, including effectiveness, ingenuity, character development, and writing skills. This is the one thing that will NOT change from year to year -- and we would ask that any recommendations made have the tournament goals in mind.

This is not to be used as a complaint thread. Any posts that contain disagreements with the decisions of the GM's or the judging will be deleted from this thread. However, we are definitely open to ideas and suggestions on things we could do to improve the experience of the tournament.

We are asking that each person submit no more than ONE post on this thread, although it could be as long as you would like it to be and you may edit it as you see fit. Both players and readers are welcome to put suggestions here. Feel free to place feedback you would rather not have in public in a secret block.

There will not be any responses to recommendations from the organizers on this thread.
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Old Jul 13th, 2021, 10:17 PM
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I've enjoyed this system a lot and I have a lot of positives I can say about the tournament so far. I think the organization was very well executed, at least it seemed that way to me. Most of the information we needed was out there at the start and Q&A was both helpful and responsive.

I bet I could say many more positives but currently I have the negatives more strongly on my mind, so let's get those written down instead. I will expand this feedback post as more comes to mind.

1) System balance. There is something to be said about having a simple system and again, I think I have mentioned it before, but I feel like this system's design is pretty perfect for a competition like this. However, since there is the defined goal of crowning a winner and that invites optimization, I have a problem with the current way how the CN works. I've gone into this before, but CN 2 is easily the best because of a superior amount of SM (5 instead of 2), closely followed by CN 5. Compared to them, the lower probability to succeed that CN 3 provides seems strictly inferior, though the added amount of SM compared to CN 5 helps somewhat. The one problem child I see though is clearly CN 4, which has worse probability, no extra SM and also forces you to make one of your SM into a KS that you are actively worse at compared to any other SM you could imagine.

For one, I disliked that the imbalance of this system made me have to choose between optimization and flavour. It may be appropriate for the sake of a competition like this that the class system is supposed to be gamed, but I'd prefer if the different CNs were closer to another in mechanical strength. Especially CN 4 is terrible in comparison to all the others and I think that we've notably seen inside the 1st round how stochastically bad it is. Not everybody can have godlike fortune like Rocky.

I don't have many ideas how the system could be balanced better, but possibly it would be enough to allow for KS to be possibly used for Rolling Low. The Rolling Low events were a perfect way to optically nerf CN 2 characters, but in actuality being moved to a location inside the scenario that you don't want to be barely has the chance to reflect on your mechanical score, whereas always having 3 Outplay dice ready for the type of Outplay rolls that you are good at really helps. This also might make buff spells a much too valuable option in any situation, but maybe I'm being petty there.

2) Mechanical point distribution. I understand why those make up 50% of the score and while I support that choice for the reasons that were outlined by the organizers, I'm not very happy with how the distribution of them worked during play. While I haven't seen the scores yet and am not fully clear about their impact on the total score (roughly 1 mechanical point is worth 3 jury points by my count), I would still prefer if there was a metric that cared more about achievements than stochastics. Losing the scenario accounted for the same relative point loss as having one bad roll on a single Outplay day (luckily that never really happened to me) and this simply is unsatisfying from a player perspective. If possible, I would want the story objectives, not necessarily the scenario objectives, to count for a whole lot more than rolls. After all, failing a roll should also result in the character being hindered to complete their narrative objectives, as should uncreative ways to move the story forward (although that is a point that already gets rated by the jury and with our roster of players didn't really happen). I get that failing the scenario is meant to not be too punishing because a single player's decision was able to ruin those, but I feel like there should be a metric somewhere where actual in-game decisions matter more than the probability of wrestling the narrative into applying as many Outplay dice as you can (SM, buffs and Help actions). I think this would make the play experience more meaningful. This is absolutely not a critique towards the play experience being bad, I for one enjoyed feeling like the stakes were high during any day of the 1st round. And still, while I enjoy wrestling the narrative into giving me the most amount of dice too, as the criteria of mechanical performance I feel random rolls are probably the most unsatisfying to reflect mechanical success, especially with this being the system that it was. Success was almost entirely based on CN and chance, at least for those players that knew how to consistently play to their character's strengths.

3) Extra Outplay rolls. After seeing those in action, I feel like any scenario played within this system should have those. They throw a wrench into the players' plans and force them to react outside of their comfort zone and it's also one of the only ways to make CN 2 more balanced. However, as a player, I had a serious problem with accomodating the Extra Outplay roll into my post. Essentially the dice result was meaningful (which it should be), and this ultimately means that based on the outcome, the post's narrative is forced down two entirely different paths. But with the 1h edit window, this means I either have to have both adventure paths completely written out or to finish writing any narrative that happens after the Extra Outplay roll is resolved in a single hour. The latter is simply impossible for me (and hopefully this isn't meant as a challenge in speed writing), so I had to do the first solution of writing everything out. And while others might have a different creative process and different word output than me, the extra workload this forced on me during that day of Outplay was immense. Now this might be a problem only pertaining to me and others who feel the need to write much to get their narrative across, but with how those Extra Outplay rolls work they are a serious detriment to my kind of writer. Possibly the competition is meant to favour a particular style of storytelling (which would be fine if there actually is intent), but if that's not the case then I would like to see this work differently in the future. My only idea was allowing for 2 posts on a day that has extra rolls (with each a 1h edit window) or simply a vastly bigger edit window. While the first already seems slightly impractical, the latter idea seems completely bad for the sake of this competition. Either way, the workload was suffocatingly big for me on that single day (accounting for IRL commitments as well, but the writing I had to do was about 50% bigger than on any other day) and I very much disliked it. It stretched the border between challenging and fun to become actually stressful for me at least.

4) Dice roll thread. Others have proposed a dice roll thread (I think HenryLockwood was the first). As a main staple on RPGX, that seems like a great addition to Outplay as well. With the degree of collaboration that was allowed this year, the variability between dice outcomes really only makes for a time-killing roadblock in front of the players as they decide on the narrative together. Having the rolls inside a private no-spoiler thread could improve both coordination and let the players focus on writing after they've decided on a course of action. I think realistically, most players only start writing their posts after they've figured out what they want to do mechanically. I'm not sure that having to react to a roll inside a 1h window is representative of any other games that are happening on this site.

5) Spell categories. I have already moaned about buff spells being mechanically imbalanced in my entries above and after thinking about it, revising the existing spell categories might be the easiest way to solve all of that. In the 1st round damage spells were used to create utility, buffs were spammed to farm Outplay dice and some utility spells were able to copy any of the other effects of other categories while losing nothing in versatility. Since this is already a rules-light system, leaving spells as only limited by their flavour text seems like it wouldn't make anything worse. I'd understand if there is something that has to be selected for a spell to be allowed to heal or to buff, but I'm not sure that the current list is the way to go about it. For example, during play I've seen no mechanical difference between debuff and utility spells, both can be spun into a narrative for no other purpose than overcoming an obstacle. Possibly the debuff denominator forces the caster to only use that spell on people, but that seems like a difference that's too small to make the distinction worth it. That said, this is mostly an observation, and spell categories might serve a purpose that eludes me for now. Either way, if my suggestions in point 6 were to be followed, then the healing spell category seems like the only category that is special in what it can mechanically achieve, compared to all other categories. But then again, what kind of spell should be able to heal should be possible to interpret from the spells descriptor, so I'm not sure if that is enough to warrant the inclusion of spell categories into the system.

6) Buff effects. At first I wanted to include this in point 5, but then I decided it deserves its own headline. I think buffs are mechanically superior in a way that they shouldn't be. True, if there are no more allies around a buff spell seems like a less likely option to help to further the narrative, but personally, I would do away with how buff spells and the help action grant additional outplay dice completely. With the way this system has played, I think in the future it might be better to make it special action, where the character declares trying to create an event or a scene effect, just like the Rolling Low events or other conditions that savoylen incorporated during his rounds. This would make help actions more versatile because they can now affect multiple players, thus giving CN 5 characters a competitive option to buff spells. On the other hand, the buff spell category could then excel because it allows for creating a beneficial condition inside the scenario without being reliant on environmental factors, which any physical help action or utility spell would need to influence the scene in a meaningful way that helps other players. I'm not sure if the best way to balance the system would be to allow those conditions to grant a Bonus/Penalty (probably not because those make it impossible for either CN 2 or CN 5 to fail the roll), but it's possible to tie the "helpful condition" to the amount of Outplay roll successes that the action which created the condition achieved. Something like: "Creating this condition resulted in 3 successes, so the next 3 players that choose to benefit from this condition are allowed to add 1 more Outplay dice to their next Outplay roll". This would still make creating conditions the most OP thing a player can do (just like casting a buff is in the current version), but this would at least level the playing field in granting every CN the ability to use such an action. And buff spells are unique in the way that they don't need any support by the narrative to create their beneficial condition. Effectively this makes the current Help action into a buff spell, which I have loudly spoken against before, but for the sake of balancing it might make the most sense. Also, creating persisting conditions that can be taken advantage of seems like a standard mechanic in various rules-light systems I've known.

@edit:
Now those might read like complaints, but I feel positive that this is constructive feedback. At least I hope that it is.
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Last edited by Mindsiege; Jul 14th, 2021 at 02:46 PM.
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Old Jul 13th, 2021, 10:34 PM
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Chipping in with the notice that I'd like to help out next year.

Also had a few notes about balance for this system if you use it again in the future - but Mindseige got there first and pretty much covers it.
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Old Jul 13th, 2021, 11:42 PM
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I love the creative latitude of this system. For constructive criticism I agree with Mindsiege regarding days with extra rolls. I personally don't write very long posts usually, but the if/then scenario on the extra roll day still consumed an entire RL day and made coordinating helping actions among teammates impracticable. Allowing two posts on those days would allow for better creativity and narrative.
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Old Jul 14th, 2021, 12:25 AM
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As I've said before, I really enjoy rules-lite systems in general and this one in specific. If I were to seek out criticism, though... more feedback on the mechanical limitations of abilities as we were playing. Maybe we'll see this reflected later in the judge's results, but reading over the threads I saw a few different points where a player was asking if an ability would apply. There were also a few places where we players were obviously 'pushing it' to work our gear and/or skills into a post so as to roll more dice — and thus get a better score. I liked the 'event roll' and I don't know if really necessitated a second post... it absolutely derailed my plans for the day, but it also added a real roadblock for what was otherwise a fairly forgiving week.

The only other 'bone' that I've had to pick so far was that in the initial competition timeline, it said:
Quote:
Round 0 Character Sheet Reviews: Friday June 25 to Friday July 2
Adjustments to characters finalized: Saturday July 3 and 4
It really seemed that players would be able to make adjustments and/or refinements to their character blocks based on the judges' feedback based on that description. Judges made feedback about a few characters being limited, poorly formatted, etc. and those characters may have had a better chance to shine if the players were able to respond to the feedback accordingly. They may have also been able to vary their gear, etc. so as not to feel like they had to find a way to force the same peg through each hole they encountered.



Quote:
Originally Posted by HenryLockwood View Post
Operations
The "1hr to edit" clause is generally a very good thing. However, I sometimes like to narrate what happened based on my dice rolls. I'm wondering if there's a way for players to have a dice-rolling thread, with the flow:
1. Decide what you're going to roll, and make the roll: dice posts must be appropriately titled e.g. "Using known spell Heal Wounds, and my holy symbol, to cure wounds on Bob the Fighter, Sneaky Sam the Rogue, and Harry Potter the Wizard, in that order of priority", and cannot be edited.
2. Write your narrative post - this can then take into account the number (or lack) of successes you achieve.
3. No more than 1hr to edit the narrative post.
I like this thought. It could also help address the problems brought up with the 'Event Roll' writing limitations. The issue I see is that the order of posts going in can be an issue for certain things. If one person is casting a buff spell on another, rolls their dice for it ahead of time and succeeds... the other player might post their action before the Buffer has a chance to post. *or* if a player fails a roll, then a team member can use that meta knowledge to start planning around their failure.
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Old Jul 14th, 2021, 12:58 AM
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agreed I really thought we would be allowed to refine and finalize our chs. on 3&4 before being told if allowed in round 1. So after initially posting I left the ch sit waiting for that.
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Old Jul 14th, 2021, 01:02 AM
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MechanicsRules-light is really new to me, in general. But I want to piggyback off what was already said in thread. I imagine this will run differently next year regardless, but this seems like discussion worth having.
  • Like in D&D, spellcasting is something of a problem here because it can do anything you want, including things that physical characters should be better at. A CN5 character can take a combat ability and roll 3d6 in combat, but at the cost of much of her chance to pass a Perception or Diplomacy check. A CN2 character with a blasting spell gets the same 3d6 for damage, with the same favorable odds, but also get optimal success math for the non-physical actions.
  • The fact that spell creation was largely freeform doesn't help either. On top of that, spells -- and only spells -- were described as having options to buff or debuff. A lot of players wrote what I'd describe as "spontaneous caster spells" -- powers that you'd take on a Pathfinder Sorcerer, for example, because they are broadly described and have versatile uses. That's not a dig on any player, mind you. It just demonstrates that the magic system provided is vastly superior. In contrast, I'm playing a CN5 character, and wrote one of my techniques essentially implying it should work like a party buff. But as written, I'm not sure the system allows for that.
  • Another "freeform" element that causes balance issues is that players are given free reign to approach each post's problem however they want. That makes for fun scene-building, certainly. But it means that (especially for CN2 and CN5 characters), players are strongly mechanically motivated to author actions that use their best rolls. Perhaps some typical games work that way, but in my tabletop experience, if a GM wants a Athletics check to climb, the party wizard isn't going to get very far by saying, "No, I'm going to make an Investigation roll to find an easier way up and get to the top without any physical challenge!". Situations where GMs forced a roll-low or roll-high check would improve the lot of CN3 and CN4 characters, which are intended to be generalists, but are actually just mechanically inferior.
  • Honestly, the fact that two successes are needed to have a "successful" roll makes many of these problems worse. If you're CN2/5 rolling favorably, you can actually get that on average on 2d6 (because of crits). CN3/4 characters really need that 3rd die to have any reliable odds of 2 successes, and CN2/5 characters rolling against type shouldn't be expected to reliably hit 2 successes no matter what. In reality, that means your dice rolling "mechanical success" is really a test of how broadly applicable you authored your powers to be. That feels contrary to the Outplay goals; good players shouldn't be encouraged to write themselves Batman effects that can be usefully applied no matter what the actual situation is.

The constructive part of constructive criticism: how I'd adjust things. I'd... do something to tighten the spell creation guidelines so that CN2 magic can't entirely duplicate physical actions. I'd make sure that physical actions can produce at least some of the broad categories of mechanics effects (buff, debuff). Sure, nothing you do with a sharp stick will let you teleport or summon extra-dimensional horrors, but it's a place to start. I'd make CN2 and CN5 characters have the same number of powers, and let CN3 and CN4 have 1-2 more, split between the categories as appropriate; that's compensation for their poor "accuracy". And I'd engineer the GM side so that players had to make some fixed roll-low checks, some fixed roll-high checks, and some freeform approaches, probably in roughly 25%/25%/50% ratios.

I think that still makes CN2 stronger than CN5 (and 3 stronger than 4), just because of the open-ended versatility of magic and its ability to effectively convert roll-low challenges into roll-high spellcasting checks. But I don't have an answer to that without building a more complex system...
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Old Jul 14th, 2021, 03:54 AM
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Getting my placeholder in here!

System/Mechanics
I agree with the comments so far. Magic, especially CN2, seems mechanically stronger. Since the number of successes on the dice is a part of the score, this feels like people with CN4/CN5 characters are at a small but measurable disadvantage.

Plot
Round 1: A nice simple (on the face of it) scenario, with an open-ended challenge. I really enjoyed the different approaches different groups took.
Round 2: TBC. Either "here's my genuine thoughts", or "how can you possibly dream of not taking Aegaras through to Round 2; now he's going to come and talk to you at great length until you repent!"

Operations
The "1hr to edit" clause is generally a very good thing. However, I sometimes like to narrate what happened based on my dice rolls. I'm wondering if there's a way for players to have a dice-rolling thread, with the flow:
1. Decide what you're going to roll, and make the roll: dice posts must be appropriately titled e.g. "Using known spell Heal Wounds, and my holy symbol, to cure wounds on Bob the Fighter, Sneaky Sam the Rogue, and Harry Potter the Wizard, in that order of priority", and cannot be edited.
2. Write your narrative post - this can then take into account the number (or lack) of successes you achieve.
3. No more than 1hr to edit the narrative post.
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Old Jul 16th, 2021, 11:44 PM
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Old Jul 23rd, 2021, 11:08 AM
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