The Battle of Everway, part 1: Preference

I’ve reviewed and discussed several bits of RPG combat system, because I like to run combat in games, and quite a few people like to play combat. However, all of this focus on the “perfect combat system” has so far been a quest for the perfect rules. This fixation will inevitably lead to flawed conclusions.

In his System Does Matter essay Ron Edwards says that

A new RPG system has no excuse simply to rely on the old paradigm of (1) roll initiative, (2) roll to hit, (3) roll defense, (4) roll damage, (5) check for stunning, etc, etc. This is a leftover from wargaming and is strictly Simulationist + Gamist.


p>Fine, although he also acknowledges different preferences for different kinds of player. So let’s consider rpg combat as an exercise in information gathering (specifically as Myers-Briggs‘ second dichotomy, Sensing vs Intuition). The result of any combat will be one or the other side wins, regardless of what the dice say, but what is crucial to player experience is how that information is gathered iteratively.

Now consider the classic stereotype of the teenage boy gamer: attention to detail and strong feel for system (with the incumbent science aptitude and difficult social interaction, etc). Strongly Sensing, they prefer literal and tangible information, possibly presented sequentially.

Of course there are plenty of Ns who roleplay – I’m one of them. We like abstract and theoretical information, to consider the “bigger picture” and wider context, and future possibilities. I may be rather over-simplifying it – and apologies if I offend any psychologists – but I see this dichotomy as bottom-up vs top-down.

And if we’re talking about Myers-Briggs we should also talk about the other functional dichotomy, Thinking vs Feeling in decision making. Thinking is highly objective, logical and consistent whereas Feeling is highly subjective – making decisions based on situation and the best consensus and fit to the needs of the people involved. It could almost be the two poles of a Simulationist vs Narrativist dichotomy. (discuss).

For the record, I’m INTP (a long time ago I was INTJ. I think becoming a manager changed me). As an amateur game designer it could explain my love-hate relationship with simulationist-gamist systems: I like objective truth and consistency, but have little tolerance for detail and prefer an overview.

What’s the point of this diversion? Of course the Roleplaying community has different people with different preferences – that’s obvious. And of course the traditional rpg as described by Ron Edwards caters to a specific preference (at a guess I’d say ISTJ – discuss!).

Going back to that “perfect combat system” I titled this post the Battle of Everway because I think the modern detailed systems – like Burning Wheel, Riddle of Steel and Exalted have got it wrong in terms of simulation. More detail causes the system to diverge from the “realism” some of us crave. And perhaps to make a system more realistic, we don’t need more rules – we need to pay attention to players’ preferences regarding how they get information and make decisions.

So I was considering a game with hardly any system at all. Could I make a decent combat simulation using Everway? I’ve already talked about the Elemental Mind, and my plan for part II will be to build on those concepts while remaining faithful to Jonathan Tweet’s Karma, Drama and Fortune method.