RPG Firewalls | KingSpoom's RPG Design & Theory Junkyard

RPG Firewalls

There are a lot of things that can get in the way of having a great time while roleplaying; some of them are outside of the system, but some of them are inside. One of these things, for me, is player knowledge. Specifically: giving the player knowledge he must keep separate from his character's knowledge (firewalling). The three main offenders are:

1). Mental attributes that dictate how you act in a non-mechanical way. By this I mean an attribute in an area like "combat intelligence" would probably be fine, whereas one that covers everything under "intelligence" is something will probably cause problems. Not only is it difficult to accurately portray a character with a notable difference in intelligence, but it's also difficult to judge such a difference as authentic. Instead of a rough attribute governing smarts, different areas can be split into knowledge and/or other skills that show understanding (or lack thereof) in specific areas.

2). Alignment that has a mechanical effect or is used in a restrictive manner. By this I mean a general attitude or philosophy on life that is categorized and dealt with as a property during play. Often times a character will be pigeon-holed into a category and the details of what happens and when are often left entirely to the GM. This becomes difficult mostly because of the grouping. It could also be used to predetermine actions or undermine other characters (PC or otherwise). Instead of a vague set a rules, a hard-coded set of actions and the consequences of such actions (or, perhaps, a set of actions linked to personalities) avoids this problem entirely.

3). Monster Manuals that define monsters beyond the fluff. By this I mean a book that lists a monster (troll) and gives you direct mechanics to use trolls (they must be burned to die). I understand the basic goal of the book, I think, which is to shorten the time it takes to prepare a challenging battle, but at the same time provide an interesting and unique encounter. The problem is that it becomes a giant cheat-sheet for players who have either been around the block or want an edge-up on the competition. They also tend to group a race or species into one lump, which is the opposite of what PCs and major NPCs, tend to be. Instead of a statblock set in stone, I think some good fluff with some thought-out guidelines for statting monsters quickly would be much more helpful.

That isn't to say the problem players can't be the source of all your troubles, but sometimes people are just encouraged to do things. You can never really know if Bob pulled out his cold arrow to get rid of the last one, because he dropped an ice-cube on his leg, or because he had read page 156 of the monster manual last night. However, you can always be sure it's not the last one if no such thing existed. Such a task is not to be taken without forethought, though.


Ravyn said...

The firewall moves in all sorts of different directions, I think. On the one hand, I've had trouble with players who drew conclusions from outside knowledge--particularly one who still defends his rather jumpy conclusion despite the fact that he hasn't really shown that much skill at coming to conclusions when he didn't get the answer from the rulebook. On the other hand, there are my own build issues; I've gotten to the point where I will have a minimum of X rating in Y abilities just for the sake of not having to put on the brakes when I'm getting good ideas--or just so I can use my entire vocabulary and my full range of wit.

Alignment, as well--I tend not to know my characters' true personalities, particularly not where they'd fall into alignment boundaries, so having to declare this stuff up front drives me up the wall. And don't get me started on mechanics that screw around with people's personal-motivations-turned-game-stats--ew. Stop playing my character, indeed.

Excellent post!

Muk1000 said...

Er, hey. It's Muk. I was wondering where you were, given you haven't been on AIM in months. Glad to see you're still hard at work.