Worse than Worthless

post by katydee · 2013-12-30T01:47:09.202Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 81 comments

There are things that are worthless-- that provide no value. There are also things that are worse than worthless-- things that provide negative value. I have found that people sometimes confuse the latter for the former, which can carry potentially dire consequences.

One simple example of this is in fencing. I once fenced with an opponent who put a bit of an unnecessary twirl on his blade when recovering from each parry. After our bout, one of the spectators pointed out that there wasn't any point to the twirls and that my opponent would improve by simply not doing them anymore. My opponent claimed that, even if the twirls were unnecessary, at worst they were merely an aesthetic preference that was useless but not actually harmful.

However, the observer explained that any unnecessary movement is harmful in fencing, because it spends time and energy that could be put to better use-- even if that use is just recovering a split second faster! [1]

During our bout, I indeed scored at least one touch because my opponent's twirling recovery was slower than a less flashy standard movement. That touch could well be the difference between victory and defeat; in a real sword fight, it could be the difference between life and death.

This isn't, of course, to say that everything unnecessary is damaging. There are many things that we can simply be indifferent towards. If I am about to go and fence a bout, the color of the shirt that I wear under my jacket is of no concern to me-- but if I had spent significant time before the bout debating over what shirt to wear instead of training, it would become a damaging detail rather than a meaningless one.

In other words, the real damage is dealt when something is not only unnecessary, but consumes resources that could instead be used for productive tasks. We see this relatively easily when it comes to matters of money, but when it comes to wastes of time and effort, many fail to make the inductive leap.

 

[1] Miyamoto Musashi agrees:

The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means. Whenever you parry, hit, spring, strike or touch the enemy's cutting sword, you must cut the enemy in the same movement. It is essential to attain this. If you think only of hitting, springing, striking or touching the enemy, you will not be able actually to cut him. More than anything, you must be thinking of carrying your movement through to cutting him. You must thoroughly research this.

81 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-01-03T01:23:25.290Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps you and your opponent were simply optimizing for different goals ? For example, it's possible that your goal was "defeat the opponent as quickly as possible", whereas his was "defeat the opponent while looking as good as possible (in order to derive maximum enjoyment from the task)" or "defeat the opponent whose challenge level falls within some optimal range, handicapping self if needed (in order to derive maximum enjoyment from the task)" . Your opponent may or may not have been aware of his true goals at the time.

My point is, it's kind of tricky to declare an action "worse than worthless" without having very detailed information about all of the actors involved.

Replies from: katydee
comment by katydee · 2014-01-03T09:38:26.442Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My point is, it's kind of tricky to declare an action "worse than worthless" without having very detailed information about all of the actors involved.

A fair point. Note, though, that my opponent said that his aesthetic preference was "useless but not actually harmful." This post is intended to show how such preferences can, in fact, be harmful rather than merely useless.

It is certainly possible that someone would care more about aesthetics than about winning and be willing to accept that tradeoff-- but in this case, the fact that it even was a tradeoff went unrecognized.

comment by VAuroch · 2013-12-30T02:24:21.143Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I am about to go and fence a bout, the color of the shirt that I wear under my jacket is of no concern to me-- but if I had spent significant time before the bout debating over what shirt to wear instead of training, it would become a damaging detail rather than a meaningless one.

Unfortunately, worrying about whether you should worry is also harmful for the same reasons. Luckily, that question should resolve itself more quickly, so it should be a net benefit.

However, in more difficult cases, worrying about whether your should worry is harder to resolve and takes more time than the worrying; when this is generalized to "how much should I worry", it can balloon to an absurd degree, and become far more harmful than the potential worst case of the worry. And correctly calibrating the appropriate amount of worry in advance requires knowing how bad the possible consequences are, which requires resolving the worry.....

In short: It is very possible to overshoot and become too pessimistic, and "how much should I worry" is a common manifestation of it. Or even shorter: Anxiety disorders are a bitch.

Replies from: Vulture
comment by Vulture · 2013-12-30T02:38:09.313Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My intuitive sense is that for most people, considering whether it is worth worrying about something which will come up regularly (especially with unknown frequency) bounds [amount of time wasted] from above with a constant, which should be beneficial in general. It sounds like an anxiety disorder could bloat this constant to the point of uselessness, in which case obviously the calculus would be different.

Replies from: christopherj
comment by christopherj · 2013-12-31T08:01:53.458Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The trouble is when you spend a lot of time thinking, "How much should I worry about this specific thing?" I don't know anyone who spends a significant time on "How much should I worry in general?"

Replies from: Vulture
comment by Vulture · 2013-12-31T15:25:05.802Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, sorry, I was trying to refer to "How much should I worry about this specific thing?" throughout; "How much should I worry in general" seems like kind of an ill-formed question, since worrying seems to take a lot of forms both productive and unproductive, and the optimal amount is probably highly dependent on circumstances.

comment by katydee · 2014-01-06T21:02:49.213Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Despite being at +13, this post has been somewhat controversial, with a positive vote ratio of only 73%-- I'd be interested in hearing what caused some people to downvote it.

My current feeling is that this comment should have been part of the original post-- I thought it was implicit, but evidently this was not the case. Therefore, I'm especially interested in hearing comments from downvoters who downvoted the post for reasons other than the above.

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2014-01-06T21:38:29.321Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, I didn't downvote it, but I did think it was using an unnecessary number of words to communicate the idea that opportunity costs exist.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2013-12-30T14:23:14.610Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've had many just such experiences in various sorts of gaming (World of Warcraft, D&D), attempting to teach less-experienced players how to play effectively. (I can elaborate if anyone wants.) I can attest that there's definitely a common attitude of "well, at most this is doing no good, and it's how I like to play".

In fact, one particular aspect of this is that people seem to place value on personalization — doing things their way. The problem is, if there exists some optimally-effective way of doing things, then most deviations are likely to make performance worse (quite often because, as the OP says, the modified/added action consumes resources or otherwise has an opportunity cost).

Replies from: AndHisHorse, christopherj, Locaha, EHeller
comment by AndHisHorse · 2013-12-30T15:50:47.707Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, but it would be silly to ignore that value added by personalization. If I can enjoy my character more by giving them a flaw which is detrimental to their tactics - always attacking orcs first because of some childhood trauma, even if there are more threatening enemies on the grid - that may be more valuable to me than the increased efficacy of attacking in the order most likely to result in the quickest resolution to the battle. Similarly, some of these "worse than worthless" things may be worth the value in style or sentiment that they lose in efficacy.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz, SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2013-12-30T21:19:39.752Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also, the question is not "does the personalization value outweigh the reduction in efficiency"; the question is whether the person recognizes the fact that there is a reduction. If you say "yes, I know this is strictly less efficient, but I choose to take the efficiency hit, because I value the roleplaying benefit more" — then fine. If you say "this isn't any worse! and I like it better like this!" — that's something else.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2013-12-30T21:16:38.900Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Always attacking orcs first" is not the sort of thing I am talking about; I am referring to the sort of thing that has no real roleplaying significance.

Replies from: AndHisHorse
comment by AndHisHorse · 2013-12-30T21:22:45.624Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Then might I ask for an example of the sort of behaviors you've seen? I don't deny that there are some which players may cling to out of a status quo bias, but I would guess that even in the counterfactual world in which the status quo bias doesn't exist/doesn't apply, there are some behaviors which seem worthless which are actually subjectively valuable. The person mentioned in the top-level post, for example - I wouldn't be surprised if he enjoyed his flourish because it made him feel stylish. (It may be possible that the flourish was such that it wasn't stylish at all, even from that fellow's point of view, and he was mistakenly attributing an aversion to the effort required to fix it to a preference for the flourish, in which case I withdraw my hypothesis). My point is that we should be cautious about such things, unless the portions of the utility function which deal with the consequences of this supposedly "worse than worthless" thing are clear enough to outside observers such as ourselves.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz, CronoDAS
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2013-12-31T01:38:03.371Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's an example from World of Warcraft:

In group content in WoW (i.e. teaming up with other players to kill big monsters — the high-end, maximally challenging game content), one of the key roles is the damage-dealer, or "DPS" (damage per second). One of the DPS classes is the hunter, a ranged attacker. The hunter's job is to deal as much damage to the enemies as fast as possible.

Like all DPS classes, hunters have a wide variety of damage-dealing abilities, with names like Aimed Shot, Arcane Shot, Serpent Sting, etc. Traditionally, damage-dealing classes use their abilities in complex, shifting sequences, called a "rotation", to maximize DPS. (The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this discussion.)

At one point, I was playing a hunter in high-end raid encounters, and consistently performing very well (doing significantly more damage than anyone else). I would often group with other hunters, who were not performing nearly as well. I often had conversations that went like this:

Other hunter: Hey, how are you doing that much damage?
Me: Oh, I just use Steady Shot over and over. Nothing else.
OH: Haha (they think I am joking)
Me: No, seriously. Look at the damage meters. Steady Shot over and over, never use any other ability. That's how you maximize DPS.
OH: That's dumb / that makes no sense / some other similar reply

OH: I still am not doing very much damage...
Me: looking at damage meter You're using Serpent Sting / Arcane Shot / thing that is not Steady Shot. Why? Just use Steady Shot. Literally never hit any other button. I promise you that is how I'm doing it, look at the meters if you don't believe me.
OH: But Serpent Sting does damage over time!
Me: ... it's less damage than just using Steady Shot and nothing else. I can show you the math that proves this, or you can just look at the fact that you are doing the thing you said and doing much less damage than me.
OH: Well, you can do it that way, but this rotation works for me.
Me: gives up

In short, I met many people whom I simply could not convince that the way to maximize performance was to just hit one single button over and over. They insisted on complicating things, gaining no performance benefit and incurring a significant performance penalty. Note that none of these people ever said anything like the following:

"Yes, I realize that hitting Steady Shot repeatedly would maximize performance; however, I find that boring, and so I prefer to hit various buttons, because I find that more entertaining, and I willingly incur the performance hit involved."

These were people who were denied spots in raids (and rightly so!), i.e. denied access to game content, on the basis of their poor performance. They had a clear incentive to improve, yet did not.

Replies from: Viliam_Bur, AndHisHorse, private_messaging, Bugmaster, Ante, None
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-01-01T18:01:22.350Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wonder what is the equivalent of the Steady Shot in real life that I keep ignoring...

Perhaps "exercise, go out to meet new people, and keep smiling"?

Replies from: Benquo, D_Malik
comment by Benquo · 2014-01-03T00:25:14.316Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You might want to try the munchkin and cheat codes posts in Discussion:

http://lesswrong.com/lw/h9b/post_ridiculous_munchkin_ideas/

http://lesswrong.com/lw/i3r/low_stress_employment_munchkin_income_thread/

http://lesswrong.com/lw/379/cheat_codes/

Those three things in particular all seem pretty obvious wins, though the analogy is limited - you wouldn't literally want to do only those three things.

comment by D_Malik · 2014-01-04T04:00:56.463Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Something along the lines of "plow field, plant seeds, wait, harvest"? Of course, in real life we can just build machines to mash those buttons for us.

Or, the buttons that people keep ignoring: getting enough sleep, eating right, taking supplements (fish oil, D3, piracetam, etc.), not wasting time, learning new things...

comment by AndHisHorse · 2013-12-31T17:20:56.698Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah. I see your point now, and I agree that the available evidence points to the conclusion that the people in question refused to acknowledge that their methods were detrimental, instead of making a conscious choice to embrace a suboptimal strategy in exchange for greater amusement/variety/other.

With that in mind, the lack of variety (on many scales, not just a single rotation) is one of the reasons why I left WoW. I'd be interested in learning what you, who have acknowledged that the most effective option is "to simply hit one single button over and over", enjoy about the game, if the best choice is so monotonous.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2013-12-31T18:00:21.129Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, one short answer is "not much anymore, which is why I hadn't played in a long time before coming back recently".

Another short answer is "I often say that WoW is a glorified IRC server; I mostly sign on to socialize with guild mates".

There's a longer answer, though, and it's this:

  1. Hunter is one class. I play others. Actually, I've always primarily played tanks, and tank classes have never been anywhere near so monotonous to play.

  2. Even in 2006-2008 (the period of the Burning Crusade expansion, when the "only hit Steady Shot" approach worked), to say that hitting that one button repeatedly is the only thing you needed to do to win was a bit of a simplification. True, your rotation was as simple as can be; but there are other aspects of correct play, both in-the-moment (DPS cooldown timing; mana management; positioning and other things to do with fight mechanics; pet control) and during-downtime (gearing; pet optimization; writing appropriate macros). I can honestly say that playing a hunter in raids at this time was genuinely and unreservedly fun (in addition to the aforementioned other aspects of play, this was partly because being the best at DPS was very satisfying and rewarding).

  3. The game content itself (story, characters, fight mechanics, etc.) is interesting (though this is less true recently, imo).

So, while I understand and acknowledge your reasons for not playing (and indeed they were my own reasons as well for a long time), I disagree with taking my aforementioned hunter experience as a strong example of WoW being boring.

Replies from: AndHisHorse
comment by AndHisHorse · 2013-12-31T23:01:33.099Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Acknowledged. I mistakenly assumed that your description of Hunter DPS mechanics was meant to be a current and representative example of the game.

comment by private_messaging · 2014-01-03T09:54:17.562Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

They insisted on complicating things, gaining no performance benefit and incurring a significant performance penalty.

But have you ever wondered why so many people are so biased to do something like this?

As a videogame developer.... In reality if you were to go hunting a mammoth, things you traditionally carry would be relevant. Games try to capture that, but this is difficult, and mistakes are made, and something ends up overpowered. Then there's also the health being single variable. In reality there would be different types of "health", which can combine super-linearly or sub-linearly. E.g. you have a ship, and you keep shooting at one section. You made a hole, it is flooded, ship didn't sink and you can shoot at this section all you want it is not going to sink. You need to shoot at another section. Or you can have a tank with reactive armour, that's the total opposite, you need to hit same spot twice to take it out.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-03T17:29:29.116Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm... not actually sure what point you are making. I don't think I disagree with anything you're saying, necessarily, I'm just not following the thrust of your comment.

I will note that playing a hunter in WoW is sufficiently abstracted from any realistic hunting of any realistic creatures that trying to apply such logic to gameplay is... misguided. To say the least.

Replies from: private_messaging
comment by private_messaging · 2014-01-03T19:36:24.356Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The point is, it's an adaptation. Also, my anekdote... I used to play Spring RTS (and did a bit of development for). The behaviour that you describe is almost unobserved - instead everyone's loudly discussing what single thing (out of an unit class) is the most OP at a given time/map and should be "spammed". But then, it's open source and hard to install, so maybe there's a cut-off on IQ or age.

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-01-03T01:31:46.351Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I quit WoW a long time ago, before Burning Crusade even, so I could be wrong. Still:

The hunter's job is to deal as much damage to the enemies as fast as possible.

This is, strictly speaking, true, but somewhat misleading. A more complete description would be something like this:

The hunter's job is to deal as much damage to the enemies as fast as possible, without causing the death of any players in the current party, including oneself (recall that dead players deal zero damage)

I have no idea how Steady Shot works, so the correction may not apply in this specific case; but in general, the more damage you do, the more aggro you draw. In the old days, it was entirely all too easy to deliver maximum DPS, thus grabbing maximum aggro, causing the boss to break off the tank and kill you in one hit (usually followed by the rest of the team). Because of this, some form of aggro mitigation was usually included in every DPS rotation, even if the mitigation was something as simple as "stop DPSing for a bit".

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-03T02:40:38.901Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your entire post is rendered moot by:

  1. Feign Death
  2. Misdirection

However, I'll take the time to respond in detail anyway.

This part is for WoW players:

Feign Death, for anyone who understands WoW but hasn't played a hunter, instantly clears 100% of your threat. Misdirection transfers[1] all threat you cause for the next several seconds to another party member (typically you'd use it on the tank). For these two major reasons, and a couple of minor ones, hunters don't have to concern themselves with pulling aggro by doing too much DPS (unless of course your tank is really bad, but then you have many other, larger problems).

[1] This is how it worked at the time I wrote about; it's a bit different now.

This part is for everyone:

Yes, you don't want to things that cause you to fail, such as (in this case) drawing aggro (i.e. causing the monster to hit you instead of the designated tank). If your relentless mashing of the Steady Shot button is causing you to do too much damage, then the answer is to stop mashing that button for a bit — not switch to some more complex and inferior rotation. Then, after some appropriate pause, you start Steady Shotting again.

After all, I didn't say that the correct rotation was necessarily "hit Steady Shot constantly; never take your finger off that button even for a second". My point was that using abilities other than Steady Shot was always inferior to using Steady Shot. Always. Steady Shot was provably the optimal ability to use, in 100% of cases where you wanted to be doing damage to the enemy.

It also goes almost without saying that the aforementioned less-competent hunters that I sometimes played with didn't have anywhere near enough damage output to have the slightest aggro issues. No, there is no construal of the situation under which their behavior was sensible in terms of effective play. They might have found their play style "more fun", while understanding that it was less than optimal — but as I mentioned previously, I've never heard anyone actually claim this as the reason for their behavior.

Replies from: Bugmaster
comment by Bugmaster · 2014-01-03T04:51:10.680Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For these two major reasons, and a couple of minor ones, hunters don't have to concern themselves with pulling aggro by doing too much DPS...

In that case, Feign Death and Misdirection essentially become a part of your rotation, so you're no longer just spamming Steady Shot. You say:

If your relentless mashing of the Steady Shot button is causing you to do too much damage, then the answer is to stop mashing that button for a bit

But in this case, there might be some other rotation that outputs more damage than "Steady Shot, Steady Shot, nothing". Or there might not be, I don't really know, since I'd quit WoW long ago, as I said. All I wanted to do was to point out that thinking along the lines of, "I'm a DPS class, my goal is to maximize DPS without looking at any other variables" is exactly the kind of thinking that gets you wiped (and it sounds like you agree).

In a more general sense, this ties in to my other comment on the thread: it's easy to say, "this action is worse than worthless", but it's not nearly as easy to say that and be right about it.

They might have found their play style "more fun", while understanding that it was less than optimal — but as I mentioned previously, I've never heard anyone actually claim this as the reason for their behavior.

Just because they did not claim this as the reason, does not mean that this was not, in fact, the reason.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-03T05:52:48.602Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In that case, Feign Death and Misdirection essentially become a part of your rotation, so you're no longer just spamming Steady Shot.

No... that's not what a "rotation" is. The term refers to a sequence of offensive abilities. I say in this comment that

... to say that hitting that one button repeatedly is the only thing you needed to do to win was a bit of a simplification. True, your rotation was as simple as can be; but there are other aspects of correct play, both in-the-moment (DPS cooldown timing; mana management; positioning and other things to do with fight mechanics; pet control) and during-downtime ...

You can have a rotation of Steady Shot, Steady Shot, Steady Shot, ..., and use FD and MD when appropriate. You can also have a rotation of Serpent Sting, Aimed Shot, Arcane Shot, Multi-Shot, ..., and likewise use FD and MD when appropriate. FD and MD do not take up "slots" in the rotation; they don't replace offensive abilities (because one is not on the global cooldown and the other is cast pre-fight).

But in this case, there might be some other rotation that outputs more damage than "Steady Shot, Steady Shot, nothing". Or there might not be, I don't really know, since I'd quit WoW long ago, as I said.

No, there is not, which has been my entire point.

In a more general sense, this ties in to my other comment on the thread: it's easy to say, "this action is worse than worthless", but it's not nearly as easy to say that and be right about it.

I don't agree that it's hard. It seems pretty easy, actually. If your complaint is that my statements were insufficiently precise ("Ah, but surely you have to hit your arrow keys to move your character! That's something other than Steady Shot!"), or "technically incorrect" in some other way, then... I think you're being somewhat pedantic, and missing my point. If you're saying that my claims are actually false, in the sense that the opposite is true, then... you're incorrect.

Just because they did not claim this as the reason, does not mean that this was not, in fact, the reason.

Granted. I find this unlikely, however. The people in question almost always maintained that their way of doing things was more effective, or at least least as effective, than mine (and blamed evidence to the contrary on having inferior gear, on bad luck, on other players... on anything but their own technique). Furthermore, as far as I could tell, said people never actually tried my way. (I say "my way", but it's not like I came up with it; all hunters in high-end raiding guilds used this approach.)

Here's another formulation of my hypothetical instructions to underperforming hunters that you might find more to your liking:

"If you're using Serpent Sting in your rotation, you're doing it wrong. If you're using Aimed Shot, Arcane Shot, Multi-Shot, Concussive Shot, or any other shot or sting in your rotation, you're doing it wrong. Any time you consider pressing any of those buttons in your rotation, don't do it; press your Steady Shot button instead. When I look at the damage meters after this fight, the only entry I want to see on the list of damaging abilities used by you is Steady Shot. So much as a single Aimed Shot showing up on that damage meter will tell me that you missed at least one opportunity to use Steady Shot. That is bad. You should have used Steady Shot instead. You would have done more damage that way, thus increasing our chances of success."

I believe that should avoid accusations of imprecision or technical inaccuracy. If I have misread the nature of your disagreement, please elaborate further.

Replies from: Bugmaster
comment by Bugmaster · 2014-01-03T09:17:06.988Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No... that's not what a "rotation" is. The term refers to a sequence of offensive abilities.

Fair enough; I always thought that "rotation" included any abilities, both offensive and defensive, but your terminology works too. That said, if you have an ability that builds up aggro faster than the tank can compensate for it, then you will end up either casting FD periodically -- and while you're casting FD, you're not casting Steady Shot. This is all that I meant. That said, I was unaware that FD was off the GCD; I don't remember if it was always like that or if they changed it at some point.

I think you're being somewhat pedantic, and missing my point.

Your original post made it sound as though you only cared about the final DPS readout, to the exclusion of anything else, such as aggro management. When I still played WoW, there were plenty of players who thought exactly that way; you couldn't throw a snowball without hitting one. These people were the leading cause of death in dungeons. I understand that you are not one of them, but I think I can be forgiven for misinterpreting your original post, given the prior.

That said, in the more general sense the DPS aggro monkeys were victims of over-fitting; and my point was that declaring actions "worse than useless" is often -- though obviously not always -- a symptom of over-fitting, or perhaps merely of solving different goals. For example, the fencer who ends every move with a flourish might have a very different goal in mind ("showing off", "roleplaying", "added challenge", etc.) than a purely competitive player whose only goal is "winning the match as quickly as possible".

From the point of view of the competitive player, his opponent is indeed performing "worse than worthless" actions; yet the assessment is still incorrect.

From your description of events in WoW, I understand that the above probably does not apply to those Hunters whom you'd described; however, I still maintain that it is often the case.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-03T10:02:24.175Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That said, if you have an ability that builds up aggro faster than the tank can compensate for it, then you will end up either casting FD periodically -- and while you're casting FD, you're not casting Steady Shot.

This is true, and in fact I have an amusing anecdote about this very fact (amusing in retrospect, of course).

I understand that you are not one of them [people who only care about DPS and not threat], but I think I can be forgiven for misinterpreting your original post, given the prior.

Granted. The prior is pretty strong there, true enough.

That said, in the more general sense the DPS aggro monkeys were victims of over-fitting

I'm not entirely sure what you mean here. Could you clarify?

From your description of events in WoW, I understand that the above probably does not apply to those Hunters whom you'd described; however, I still maintain that it is often the case.

Well, perhaps. I don't have anywhere near as strong an opinion on this once we broaden the context beyond games (even to games I'm unfamiliar with); you may well be right. I wonder if we couldn't try and break down the categories of activity in which apparently "worse than worthless" things can be reasonably construed as optimizations for different targets?

A couple of preliminary stabs at an answer:

  1. Whether the person understands that, and acknowledges that, their behavior is not optimized for the default target, should affect our probability estimate of whether the behavior is just a failed attempt at optimization, or successful optimization for something else.

  2. For our purposes, there's a difference between activities or aspects of activities that have a performance component and ones that do not; e.g. fencing (people are watching you) vs. WoW huntering (no one can see what buttons your are pressing on your keyboard).

Replies from: Bugmaster
comment by Bugmaster · 2014-01-03T23:18:17.345Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That said, in the more general sense the DPS aggro monkeys were victims of over-fitting

I'm not entirely sure what you mean here. Could you clarify?

Right, sorry, that was kind of a weird metaphor on my part.

Imagine that you're building a classifier (f.ex. a neural network or something) that tells you which houses are "good" and which are "bad". You have a bunch of features that describe each house; among them are longtitude and latitude. You feed some training data to the classifier, hoping that it will draw you some volume in the feature-space. Everything inside the volume is "good", everything outside of it is "bad".

Over-fitting occurs when you don't give the classifier enough training data, and when you punish it too severely for any errors. Thus, it either ends up drawing a really convoluted shape that fits exactly those 5 data points that you gave it; or it ends up ignoring most of the features because they didn't have as much of an impact on the outcome; or both. So, your classifier gets a perfect score on the 10 houses it knows about, and fails miserably at real-world data.

Similarly, these Hunters, and many WoW players in general, have been trained on low-level encounters, where the mobs are weak and the penalty for dying is small. They don't know anything about aggro management, mana conservation, bandaging, etc... All they ever look at is the DPS readout. Thus, when they get to end-game content, they fail miserably.

You can sometimes see the same pattern occur in other situations, too. For example, programmers who are used to working with microcontrollers typically end up writing really terrible host-computer code. Their code is extremely fast and uses very little memory... and is also impossible to modify or maintain. In a microcontroller, using 2x less RAM is the difference between success and failure; on a PC, using 2x less RAM is usually not even noticeable.

e.g. fencing (people are watching you) vs. WoW huntering (no one can see what buttons your are pressing on your keyboard).

You might be right about that, though every WoW move does have a corresponding animation that other people (as well as yourself) can see. I know at least one person who picks their characters based on how awesome they look, but I have no idea whether that is a common pattern or not.

comment by Ante · 2013-12-31T15:04:50.225Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Knowing someone designed the game is prior knowledge. So each element of the game probably has a purpose. So you just use them and it becomes a habit which rationalizes itself if needed.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2013-12-31T18:26:57.382Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have indeed also met WoW players who reasoned something like this: if X ability exists in the game, it must have a purpose! It can't be the case that it is useless and not worth using; why would the game designers do that? Therefore, the people telling me not to use it must be incorrect.

Of course, this reasoning is incorrect (I leave off the full, general justification of why it's incorrect), but one may legitimately hold the opinion that it points to a failure of game design. After all, shouldn't all abilities given to the player be useful? Shouldn't the aforementioned reasoning work? Why give me a button if I'm never to press it?

Well, there might be several reasons. The more fundamental one is what Monte Cook has called "ivory tower game design": a design wherein the optimal way to play is non-obvious, is possibly obscured or obfuscated by the fact that the purpose of abilities the player gets is not stated outright (only what the abilities do is stated), and further muddied by the presence of options that are not even intended to ever be optimal ("trap" options, or, less disparagingly, "flavor" options).

Ivory tower game design is usually written about derisively, but I am a fan of it. In gentler incarnations, it adds much-needed cognitive challenge to a game (and Blizzard's quest to strip the ivory tower out of WoW entirely has contributed much to the game's sharply decreased attraction for me).

Another reason one might be given a button that one is not expected to use is situational appropriateness. There may be abilities that are useful when e.g. fighting a monster solo, by yourself, but not appropriate when you're teaming up with other people. Other examples abound. Expecting every button to find an application in every situation is unreasonable.

Finally, it may be that whatever the game designers intended, what turned out was something else. A game like WoW is a very complex system. It's difficult to predict the effects of all variables, even when you have huge design teams and vast playtesting resources at your disposal. And so: the only-Steady-Shot rotation, designer intent notwithstanding. Believing that anything that exists in the game must have been deliberately thus designed is akin to another, larger example of teleological reasoning...

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-31T10:00:03.303Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That sounds like the same psychological effect as this.

comment by CronoDAS · 2014-01-03T06:56:24.251Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Replies from: Gurkenglas
comment by Gurkenglas · 2014-01-03T18:05:52.421Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Magic Online is an online version of the trading card game Magic the Gathering, a draft is a type of tournament between a fixed number of players, and 4-3-2-2 means that the first, second, third and fourth place get, as prizes, 4, 3, 2 and 2 "boosters packs" with more cards.)

comment by christopherj · 2013-12-31T08:07:20.593Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

~Goes and tries to teach people that the most efficient way to entertain yourself is to mash the "Steady Shot" button over and over~

comment by Locaha · 2014-01-01T19:24:39.302Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

GENERAL WARNING. World of Warcraft is very addictive to some people.

Replies from: hyporational
comment by hyporational · 2014-01-01T23:45:34.650Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So is tetris.

Replies from: Vulture
comment by Vulture · 2014-01-02T20:13:24.748Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Tetris is not as addictive as World of Warcraft, which is a highly advanced hyperstimulus

comment by EHeller · 2014-01-01T23:55:43.983Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've had many just such experiences in various sorts of gaming (World of Warcraft, D&D), attempting to teach less-experienced players how to play effectively.

In the context of D&D this doesn't make sense. "Optimal" likely depends very much on the DM and the rest of the role playing group.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-02T03:48:18.642Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, and what do you think I meant? Meeting people on the street, striking up conversations about D&D in general, and then lecturing them about how they are Doing It Wrong?

Less sarcastic reply:

While individual DMs and gaming groups may, of course, deviate from common practice to such an extent that what is outright detrimental in most groups is actually a direct path to victory in that particular group, such large deviations are relatively rare, in my experience.

In any case, by "play effectively" I of course meant "play effectively, given the circumstances". But some advice can be pretty general, such that "the circumstances" are so broad as to be almost any circumstances. For instance:

If you are a 10th level wizard, is it effective to take feats like Far Shot, Weapon Focus (crossbow), etc., and spend your actions in combat shooting at enemies with a crossbow?

No. It is not. Your performance will be sub-optimal in no less than three ways:

  1. You will be much less effective, will contribute less in combat, than your other party members (assuming that they are not similarly crippling their effectiveness). This will make your party mates feel that you're deadweight, and will make you feel useless.

  2. You will be much less effective than a wizard who specialized in proper wizard things, like casting spells. You will even be much less effective than a wizard who specialized in shooting things with a crossbow... and then cast spells anyway.

  3. You will be much worse at shooting things with a crossbow than a fighter who specialized in crossbows. You will even be much less effective than a fighter who didn't specialize in crossbows, and then used crossbows anyway.

Is it possible to contrive some convoluted scenario, some bizarre set of "house rules", DM-specific practices, and other quirks, that conspire to make the crossbow-wielding wizard optimal in any of the above ways? I suppose it might be. You'd have to work pretty hard at it.

The fact is, if someone says "being a wizard and shooting things with my crossbow is how I like to play; there's nothing wrong with it, so don't criticize me", 99% of the time they are, in fact, making the manifestly and grossly sub-optimal choice. Unless their DM has imposed some hilariously twisted set of house rules by means of which that choice becomes optimal, the problem is almost certainly that they simply do not understand how D&D works — so basic a concept as some classes being more suited to some combat techniques than others, for instance.

P.S. Responses of the form "now I am tempted to build an effective crossbow-specced wizard", while amusing, do not constitute a rebuttal of my points. ;)

Replies from: blacktrance, Bugmaster
comment by blacktrance · 2014-01-02T19:43:29.681Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unless I'm mistaken, this is conflating playing optimally in the sense of doing the most damage/healing/being the best possible wizarding machine/whatever with playing optimally in the sense of having as much fun as possible.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz, Nornagest
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-02T23:28:31.135Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I never said anything about what will cause you to have more or less fun.

This sort of response is a fully general counterpoint to any claims that there are more or less correct ways to play. "Ah, but what if instead of attacking the monster, I want to jump off the nearest bridge? What if that's more fun for me???"

Well, I guess you should go and do that, then. What am I going to say to that? "Don't have fun"? "You're having fun wrong"?

This is fine until you play group games. (Like WoW or D&D.) In such games, the goals of the group are usually aligned with the goals that form the core of the game system.

In WoW, almost all challenging group activities involve killing monsters. If you're bad at killing monsters (or tanking monsters, or healing people who are being hit by monsters), then you are bad at contributing to group success. If the group is not successful, the group members will not optimally have fun. This is true in at least 95% of cases.

D&D is similar, though with a broader focus. (We can have a whole discussion on what the core goals of D&D are, but the gist is the same: the game system focuses on certain goals; being good at contributing to the achievement of those goals is critical to group success.)

My advice on optimal play assumes that you want to be good at accomplishing the goals that the game places before you. If you don't, then the advice obviously does not apply to you. (You wouldn't object to a "How To Wash Your Car" guide by protesting that you like your car being dirty, would you?)

Finally, there's a crucial difference between deliberately choosing this or that play style, and just being bad at the thing you are trying to do. Nornagest's comment elaborates on this.

Replies from: blacktrance, Bugmaster
comment by blacktrance · 2014-01-03T23:48:29.236Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are more and less correct ways to play - the correct way to play is the one that makes the player have the most fun. If the fun of one player is incompatible with that of the group, either the group should leave the player, the player should leave the group, or, if feasible, the game should be redesigned. I've never played WoW, but I've played other games (DotA 2) where a bad teammate can ruin the game for the entire team. That's not fun, certainly, but that's why reporting exists. Ideally, there would be an "alternative play" queue in additional to the normal ones, for those who want to have fun in a nonstandard way.

As far as D&D goes, a good DM is able to reconcile the desires of all players, assuming the group is small enough (and good D&D groups should be small for other reasons as well). Given that the DM and players decide what the goals are, it's malleable and everyone should be able to have fun.

The point is, if someone says "This is how I like to play", you should leave them alone.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-04T02:08:25.620Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I feel like the counterpoint to your comment is already entirely contained within the comment of mine that you responded to, but in case anyone feels otherwise...

Said by me:

My advice on optimal play assumes that you want to be good at accomplishing the goals that the game places before you. If you don't, then the advice obviously does not apply to you.

If your fun depends on doing things other than accomplishing the goals presented to you by the game, then sure, go for it. My comments are not targeted at those people.

Said by you:

There are more and less correct ways to play - the correct way to play is the one that makes the player have the most fun.

Ok, so let's say I've determined that I want to have fun. I conclude from this that I should play in such a way as to make me have the most fun. What now? How does this help me? Where do I go from there? How do I translate that profound wisdom into actionable advice? What buttons do I press to maximize my fun?

Honestly, I don't know where anyone got the idea that I am arguing against fun. Here's my point: if you do things "wrong" (like trying to be a crossbow-wielding wizard in D&D, or using the wrong rotation as a hunter in WoW), then you will be less effective at accomplishing the central goals of the game than someone who is doing it "right".

You will note that it's phrased as a conditional: if X, then Y. Of course, if you don't care about the value of Y (i.e. you are not interested in accomplishing those central goals, or don't care how good you are at doing so), then the value of X will likewise not interest you (i.e. you'll have no reason to play "effectively").

So clarify something for me, please: are you disputing that the conditional statement is true? If so, why? If not, what is your objection?

The point is, if someone says "This is how I like to play", you should leave them alone.

If by "leave them alone" you mean "don't play with them", then I agree.

Replies from: blacktrance
comment by blacktrance · 2014-01-05T01:30:43.948Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok, so let's say I've determined that I want to have fun. I conclude from this that I should play in such a way as to make me have the most fun. What now? How does this help me?

This isn't the situation we're talking about, though, we're talking about you advising someone how to better complete the game's intended goals when they already know that they'd prefer to play less conventionally. In that case, it helps them because it tells them to not follow your advice because it would reduce the amount of fun they have.

clarify something for me, please: are you disputing that the conditional statement is true? If so, why? If not, what is your objection?

No, I'm not disputing that the conditional is true. My objection is that your top comment doesn't clarify what "playing effectively" means, and it seems that you think that players placing a value on personalization is wrong because it makes them less effective. It sounds like a case of Lost Purposes. You find out that someone's gameplay preferences are different from those of "optimal play", and you consider that a problem instead of an equally valid taste.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-05T02:43:50.105Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

we're talking about you advising someone how to better complete the game's intended goals when they already know that they'd prefer to play less conventionally

Where are you getting this? (The italicized part especially is something that is, as far as I can tell, untrue of the situations I am describing.)

and it seems that you think that players placing a value on personalization is wrong because it makes them less effective

This directly contradicts what I said here:

If your fun depends on doing things other than accomplishing the goals presented to you by the game, then sure, go for it. My comments are not targeted at those people.

Here:

Finally, there's a crucial difference between deliberately choosing this or that play style, and just being bad at the thing you are trying to do.

Here:

My advice on optimal play assumes that you want to be good at accomplishing the goals that the game places before you. If you don't, then the advice obviously does not apply to you.

And here:

Also, the question is not "does the personalization value outweigh the reduction in efficiency"; the question is whether the person recognizes the fact that there is a reduction. If you say "yes, I know this is strictly less efficient, but I choose to take the efficiency hit, because I value the roleplaying benefit more" — then fine. If you say "this isn't any worse! and I like it better like this!" — that's something else.

In short: I am not the straw man you are arguing against. I am a different person.

Replies from: blacktrance
comment by blacktrance · 2014-01-07T16:30:49.308Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Where are you getting this?

-

"at most this is doing no good, and it's how I like to play"

Meaning that they've found a way that they like to play.

I appreciate the clarification of your position. It seems at odds with what you said originally, though. Personally, I often play games in unintended ways, and I've often been told that the way I'm playing is suboptimal or wrong. It annoys me (significantly, if they're persistent), and I suspect that other unconventional players feel the same way. So, for future reference, I recommend that if someone tells you that they like to play the way they're playing, you should leave them alone - don't play with them (if your preferred method of playing is incompatible with theirs) and don't advise them.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-07T20:10:51.149Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok, I see where you got that perception of my view. (I apologize for what, in retrospect, seems like a somewhat more confrontational tone than I intended.)

The thing about the comment "at most this is doing no good, and it's how I like to play" is that the part of it that makes a factual claim about the world outside the speaker's head... is, in fact, wrong. The approach in question may be how they like to play — fine and well — but it's doing worse than no good. That's the bias described in the OP: believing that something is worthless, when in fact it is worse than worthless (where "worth" means "contribution to effectiveness" or something similar, not taking into account enjoyment value, etc.).

So what the person is saying is "I prefer this play style, which is not any less effective than the one you advocate". If that were actually true, then I wouldn't have any issues with it. I also (in a different way) would not have any issues if the person instead said "I prefer this play style, which I acknowledge is less effective than the one you advocate". But as it is, the person labors under a misapprehension, and it affects their decisions; and insofar as we are interacting in the context of D&D (or whatever game), it also affects me.

I describe in this comment what exactly "the problem" is with being less than optimally effective. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on that.

I think that we're actually envisioning two different scenarios, and I think that difference is behind a lot of arguments similar to this one. You are thinking (yes?) of an experienced player, who has found a play style he enjoys; is aware of the tradeoffs, but judges them to be acceptable or inapplicable to his play context; and who plays with people who accept (and even possibly share) his play style.

In that case, if someone comes up to you and says "Hey, you're doing it wrong! Your character could be doing better by selecting X, Y, and Z more powerful option!", your reaction, quite naturally, is to say "I know what I want out of this game and I'm getting it, please go away".

But that's not the situation I'm thinking of. Instead, I'm thinking of an inexperienced player (or someone who's less experienced/skilled than they think they are), who is not aware of the tradeoffs, possibly suffers from the sort of bias described in the OP, and, even more importantly, is playing with people in whose group the "alternative" (but actually just badly-thought-out) play style creates the sorts of problems I outline in my above-linked post.

My reaction to the former sort of player is to chat amiably about play style differences, and then not play with them. My reaction to the latter sort of player is to try to fix them.

Replies from: blacktrance, Lumifer
comment by blacktrance · 2014-01-07T20:34:09.530Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We were imagining different scenarios, and I recognize that an inexperienced player who's playing suboptimally can be detrimental to the team. It's good to be aware that the tradeoffs exist, though I personally don't like being lectured much about them. Even new players may not want to be fixed, either because they prefer to learn by themselves, or have already found a way to play that seems fun to them. Again to only speak for myself, when I'm learning a game and I'm not asking for help, I don't want any, and advice would be detrimental to my enjoyment. But you are correct in saying that it's good to correct misapprehensions. I guess this hits a bit close to home for me.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-01-07T20:47:33.025Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My reaction to the latter sort of player is to try to fix them.

I am not at all sure that all inexperienced players need to be "fixed" by minmaxing them.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-07T22:03:44.044Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have not yet become so advanced a gamer that I can min/max people. ;)

I didn't mean I try to fix their characters (although I do help them do that as well, if they ask for my help/advice). I mean I try to fix them; that is, explain how the game works, dispel misconceptions, etc.

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-01-06T21:47:43.129Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is fine until you play group games. (Like WoW or D&D.) In such games, the goals of the group are usually aligned with the goals that form the core of the game system.

I don't know what kind of groups you play with, but in my groups, the closest thing to a common goal people can agree on is, "let's eat barbecue for dinner", and even that is sometimes iffy.

Your posts on this topic sound perilously close to saying, "everyone who doesn't enjoy playing exactly in the same way I do is wrong", which is a mistake, because your optimization strategy does not apply to an agent with different goals.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz, SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-07T00:19:41.992Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your posts on this topic sound perilously close to saying, "everyone who doesn't enjoy playing exactly in the same way I do is wrong", which is a mistake, because your optimization strategy does not apply to an agent with different goals.

As I (and others) have repeatedly said, if your goals do not include being effective at solving the usual game-mechanical goals, then my comments do not apply to you.

There are a couple of reasons why it might be “bad” or “wrong” to be less than optimally effective at handling various game-mechanical challenges[1] in a group such as D&D. Let's explore them:

1. You have a vision for your character, but the stats on your character sheet do not support that vision. Frustration ensues.

Example: You envision your character as being a skilled, veteran demon hunter. In your character's backstory, he faces off against the fiends of the Abyss and wins; he is reknowned for his demon-hunting prowess. The game's plot and action also incorporates this assumption of competence.

However, you have built your character in such a way that he is not actually effective in battle against demons (or against anything else). Not because you've deliberately made him ineffective; you've just failed to make him good. So during the actual game, you fight demons and the demons win. Or, in any case, you just fail to do anything very useful in those combats.

So you get frustrated, quite naturally. You expected to be good at fighting demons, and roleplaying-wise that's what your character is built around, but the stats just don't support that. Disappointing.

If the problem is then compounded by your not realizing that the issue is your lack of character-building knowledge and skill, then addition problems may ensue. You might cast about for an explanation of your ineffectual combat performance; depending on your temperament, you might blame the DM (that encounter was unfair!), the other players (they were hogging the spotlight!), D&D in general (this game is stupid and sucks!), etc. Interpersonal conflict results; no one is happy.

Clearly, it would be better if you could just build a character that's as effective as you want him to be.

2. You're less effective than the other player characters. Resentment and jealousy ensues.

An example is hardly necessary here. If the rest of the party is contributing meaningfully to solving game-mechanical challenges — whether these be combat, social interaction, assorted noncombat challenges (“we need to cross this chasm”; “we need to infiltrate this castle”; “we need to figure out whodunit”), or anything else that is handled by game mechanics in any way (which in D&D is quite a large chunk of the things that make up the game) — and you, meanwhile, are not contributing anywhere near as much, because your character is built badly...

... then bad feelings are almost sure to result, and understandably so. No one likes to be deadweight. Even if your friends are very nice people, and no one is scolding you for being useless, or anything, most people who play D&D like for their characters to usefully contribute to the party's efforts. Again, this is quite natural.

Now, there do exist approaches that serve to mitigate certain aspects of this sort of problem. (The tier system for classes is a well-known one; it acknowledges that different gamers differ in the amount of effort they are willing to invest in optimizing their character's effectiveness, and empowers a DM to arrange things such that the overall effectiveness of all player characters ends up roughly on par.) However, such approaches do little to help those cases where someone thinks their character is built effectively, but is wrong; or where someone thinks they know what they're doing, but is wrong.

3. You're less effective than is necessary for the successful achievement of in-game goals. Failure and frustration ensues.

Example: Your party goes up against a Bad Guy. You're bad at combat, and as a result of your ineffectiveness, the Bad Guy ends up killing your party. Frustration ensues.

Or does it? Well, some people are of a temperament that can handle such failures, laugh it off, and find fun in defeat as well as victory. If your gaming group is entirely composed of such people, then your ineffectiveness is not actually a “problem” for anyone. Even so, while getting wiped out in a one-shot adventure may be cool, and may even make for a cool story (I’ve seen it a few of times), enduring defeat after defeat in a longer-running campaign is less fun. Even worse if it prevents you from progressing through the story/campaign/adventure path/etc.

If you intentionally make ineffective characters — or if you’re just aware that you don’t have the skill to make effective characters — and your fellow players are OK with this, then the onus is generally on the DM to provide challenges appropriate to the party’s capabilities. But what if the DM, and the other players, expect you to bring effectiveness to the table... and you don’t? Then, imo, it may rightly be said that you’re “doing it wrong”. Your lack of awareness of your own ineffectiveness is costing other people their fun. Not cool.

[1] This is not necessarily combat. It could also involve various non-combat skills, among other things.

Replies from: Bugmaster
comment by Bugmaster · 2014-01-07T03:30:20.925Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Example: You envision your character as being a skilled, veteran demon hunter. In your character's backstory, he faces off against the fiends of the Abyss and wins; he is reknowned for his demon-hunting prowess. The game's plot and action also incorporates this assumption of competence.

Ok, so what if you envision your character as a consummate diplomat, secretive yet suave... and all you have on your character sheet are stats like "stabbing people" and "being really strong, in order to stab people better" ? Would you say that such a character sheet "does not support the vision" of the player ? Note that the player's diplomatic skills would be absolutely useless in combat; and that, depending on the plot, it may be highly unlikely that diplomacy will play any significant role during the course of the game. In fact, in D&D specifically, combat is overwhelmingly more likely to occur than negotiations.

Are you saying that the player should never choose to play a suave diplomat with lots of points in diplomatic-type stats, because "bad feelings would result" ? I have anecdotal evidence to the contrary; though, to be fair, as a GM I do acknowledge that incorporating such characters into the overall campaign can be challenging.

...enduring defeat after defeat in a longer-running campaign is less fun.

I sure hope you never play Call of Cthulhu...

Replies from: SaidAchmiz, SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-07T04:49:12.234Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are you saying that the player should never choose to play a suave diplomat with lots of points in diplomatic-type stats, because "bad feelings would result" ?

Upon rereading your comment, I think I understand you here to be asking whether I think people should play suave diplomats with points in diplomatic-type stats but no competence in combat. Is that correct?

If that's your question, then I do indeed antirecommend such an approach. For one thing, as you say, it's difficult to incorporate such characters into the campaign (if the campaign features a good deal of combat, and the other player characters are built to be good at combat). In such a scenario, where the suave diplomat is ineffective in combat, bad feelings may indeed result. (Although they don't necessarily have to. It depends on the balance between combat and non-combat encounters; and on just how effective, or ineffective, the character in question is in combat encounters.)

For another thing, it's not actually necessary. One of the players in my long-term campaign plays a suave diplomat (he's the one who recently surprised me by (successfully) taking the diplomatic route out of what I expected to be a combat encounter). However, he is very effective in combat. There isn't actually any tradeoff here. I have indeed met people who've convinced themselves that there is such a tradeoff, and use this as an excuse for their combat ineffectiveness; but it's just that — an excuse; the tradeoff is not real.

Replies from: Bugmaster
comment by Bugmaster · 2014-01-07T05:08:03.580Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upon rereading your comment, I think I understand you here to be asking whether I think people should play suave diplomats with points in diplomatic-type stats but no competence in combat. Is that correct? ... ...but it's just that — an excuse; the tradeoff is not real.

I don't know which system specifically you are employing, but in most games, D&D included, there's indeed a tradeoff between diplomacy and combat (indeed, between most things). For example, if you want to kill the most things with a sword, then Str is your main stat, and Cha is your dump stat. If you choose to put points into Cha, you can still be effective in combat, but you will never be as effective as someone who put all his points into Str.

Even if you roll a Sorcerer or something, who is a Cha-based class, you still have a limited selection of Skills and Feats. Every point that you put into Diplomacy means one less point that you could've put into UMD, Spellcraft, or Knowledge: Arcana. And every point you put into Cha still means one less point toward Int or Wis, both of which are useful for a spy. Every time you memorize "Detect Thoughts", you are losing another spell slot that you could've used for "Summon Monster II".

If your gaming system allows you to be effective at everything at the same time, then I withdraw my objection, but IMO such a system removes too much challenge from the game, thus making it boring. Of course, that's just my opinion, it's not my place to tell you what to play or how to play it.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-07T06:21:50.861Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know which system specifically you are employing

D&D. (3.5 for the games I usually run, Pathfinder as a secondary diversion, which I also refer to as "D&D"; it's close enough for the moniker to be accurate.)

[stuff about tradeoffs]

Sure, that's all true. What I meant was not that there are no tradeoffs to make if you want your character to be effective at both combat and things that aren't combat. Rather, as I said, there is no tradeoff, in the sense that you do not have make a single choice between being effective in combat and being effective at other things. You can do both. You can do both very effectively, in fact, more than effectively enough to succeed at nearly every challenge you face, and negligibly different in overall effectiveness in either domain from your party mates. You might be a little less effective at combat than the purely-combat-focused character, and a little less effective at (that sort of) non-combat stuff than the purely-non-combat-focused character, but just a little.

Of course, the more you try to do, the less effective you get. But the fact is, there is so much low-hanging fruit in both domains (especially the non-combat domain) that you can sacrifice very little combat effectiveness for large gains in other domains. In fact, you might sacrifice nothing in practice; a lot of what you lose is potential combat effectiveness, which may or may not ever translate into actual combat effectiveness.

Anyway, that's getting a little far afield. The point is, if someone builds a character who is just really bad at combat, and justifies this by saying "but I'm a suave diplomat!", my question will be: how hard did you try to make this character combat-effective? Did you even try? Most of the time, it will be the case that a skilled player will be able to build a character that is at least as diplomatically effective, and still good in combat!

Because the even larger question (the one that started this subthread, three posts up) is whether someone should deliberately build a suave, diplomatic character who is bad at combat. My answer is no, they should not, unless being bad at combat is a specific goal. Otherwise, it's grossly unnecessary. Even if you're suave, diplomatic, and... acceptably competent in combat, that's still better. And it's so easy to make that improvement. So, so easy. There's no reason not to — again, unless you are specifically and deliberately make a combat-ineffective character. (In which case, as I said before, by all means go forth and play how you like.)

Replies from: Bugmaster
comment by Bugmaster · 2014-01-07T06:49:18.338Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What I meant was not that there are no tradeoffs to make if you want your character to be effective at both combat and things that aren't combat. Rather, as I said, there is no tradeoff, in the sense that you do not have make a single choice between being effective in combat and being effective at other things.

I don't understand how this can be true. Clearly, you've got to make a choice at some point. You could move that "effectiveness" slider toward combat, or toward non-combat, but you can't have it both ways, given that you have a limited number of points. I would understand if you said something like, "a 10% loss in combat efficiency is acceptable, given a 50% gain in non-combat efficiency"; is that what you're saying ?

The point is, if someone builds a character who is just really bad at combat, and justifies this by saying "but I'm a suave diplomat!", my question will be: how hard did you try to make this character combat-effective? Did you even try? ... There's no reason not to — again, unless you are specifically and deliberately make a combat-ineffective character.

That depends entirely on how you perceive the tradeoffs. Is a 10% drop in diplomatic efficiency worth a 50% gain in combat efficiency to you ?

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-07T07:11:46.468Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't understand how this can be true. Clearly, you've got to make a choice at some point. You could move that "effectiveness" slider toward combat, or toward non-combat, but you can't have it both ways, given that you have a limited number of points.

Well, one way it can be true is if there isn't just a single slider. There could be multiple sliders. (In D&D, for instance, there's the Skills "slider", and the Feats "slider", and the class "slider", and the spell selection "slider", and a number of others.) Not every slider trades off between combat and something else. Of those that do, not every one of those trades off at the same exchange rate.

For another thing, "non-combat" is not a monolithic thing (I somewhat regret using the term myself). Neither is combat, of course, but it's closer to being monolithic; non-combat is just literally "everything that isn't combat". Social interactions are non-combat. Travel is non-combat. Information-gathering is non-combat. Exploration is non-combat. Trap detection/disabling is non-combat. And so forth.

I would understand if you said something like, "a 10% loss in combat efficiency is acceptable, given a 50% gain in non-combat efficiency"; is that what you're saying ?

I don't think that's exactly what I was saying, but I would assent to a statement like that one (if not necessarily that specific statement).

That depends entirely on how you perceive the tradeoffs. Is a 10% drop in diplomatic efficiency worth a 50% gain in combat efficiency to you ?

Ok, let me try to concretize.

Consider some hypothetical D&D player, call him Bob, who is quite competent at character-building and knows the game system very well. Bob sets out to build a character who is well-nigh godlike in the diplomatic sphere; this character is to be so good at social skills that he could solve the Arab-Israeli conflict forever with naught but smile and a wink.

In pursuit of this goal, Bob pulls out all the stops, making use of every class feature, skill, feat, spell, in short, every last character-building resource he has, to make the character good at Diplomacy and such things. And he succeeds. Unfortunately...

He has nothing left with which to build in any combat effectiveness. Understandable. And any attempt to add combat effectiveness would subtract some diplomatic effectiveness, because every last ounce of character-building stuff has been used up in the social-prowess optimization.

My contention is that in almost all cases, the player who builds the suave diplomat, but turns out to be useless in combat, is not like Bob. He hasn't scoured the game system for every ounce of optimization power. He hasn't used up all available character-building resources in the most efficient possible way. Rather, he's just gone ahead and picked some social-interaction-boosting skills/feats/whatever, not given much consideration to combat ability (or tried, but poorly and incompetently), and called it a day.

Unlike Bob, who would have to sacrifice some power in his character's chosen domain for combat effectiveness, the average "I'm going to play a suave diplomat" player could sacrifice nothing, and be much more effective in combat, by just being better at building characters. He just has to recognize which of the options he's picked are "worse than worthless" — and usually, there are quite a few.

Even in those cases where a tradeoff legitimately needs to be made, it's generally small. It's not as large as 10%; it's often smaller. And the gains are often larger than 50%. If you're making a 5% sacrifice in one domain for a 100% gain in another, calling this a tradeoff may be technically correct (which we all know is the best kind of correct), but it's misleading. If both domains in question are useful, then for the purposes of maximizing your overall effectiveness, such a "trade-off" is a no-brainer.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-07T03:43:32.755Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok, so what if you envision your character as a consummate diplomat, secretive yet suave... and all you have on your character sheet are stats like "stabbing people" and "being really strong, in order to stab people better" ? Would you say that such a character sheet "does not support the vision" of the player ?

Obviously I would say exactly that.

Said by me:

game-mechanical challenges — whether these be combat, social interaction, assorted noncombat challenges ("we need to cross this chasm"; "we need to infiltrate this castle"; "we need to figure out whodunit"), or anything else that is handled by game mechanics in any way

Also said by me:

[Game-mechanical challenges] is not necessarily combat. It could also involve various non-combat skills, among other things.

So, I'm not really sure what you're objecting to. Are you under the impression that I was advocating just being good at combat, and being bad at everything else? Regardless, even, of how much of the game consists of combat? I'm not sure what I said that gave you that impression.


Some minor notes, don't take these as anything but tangents:

Note that the player's diplomatic skills would be absolutely useless in combat

You'd be surprised... there are some builds out there that do crazy things with "non-combat" skills.

depending on the plot, it may be highly unlikely that diplomacy will play any significant role during the course of the game. In fact, in D&D specifically, combat is overwhelmingly more likely to occur than negotiations.

Depends on the players and the DM. For example, just recently, in my aforementioned campaign, I was all set to run a combat encounter, but one of the PCs instead negotiated his way out of it. It happens.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-07T00:41:18.496Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know what kind of groups you play with, but in my groups, the closest thing to a common goal people can agree on is, "let's eat barbecue for dinner", and even that is sometimes iffy.

Out of curiosity, what does this even look like? I suspect you are exaggerating a bit... If not, I am envisioning something like this:

DM: You find yourselves before a dungeon. You have heard that there is treasure inside, but also monsters.
Player 1: Ooh, treasure! Let's go in!
Player 2: No! Let's travel to the sea and embark on a life of piracy!
Player 3: I want to go back to town and open a bar! Look, I have ten ranks in the Profession (small business owner) skill!
DM:

Replies from: Bugmaster
comment by Bugmaster · 2014-01-07T03:40:55.891Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's almost exactly like that.

Fortunately, our GMs (self shamelessly included) are usually too canny to say anything like "you find yourselves before a dungeon". That's a really boring introduction to a campaign, anyway. Instead, it's usually something along the lines of, "Your smuggling days are over, as the law finally catches up with you, bringing overwhelming force... Ok, you want to fight them... Ok, now that you've lost, you find yourself in a securely locked dungeon. The next night, the chief of secret police comes to your cell. He has an offer for you..."

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-07T03:55:19.797Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's almost exactly like that.

Well, That Sounds Terrible.

Instead, it's usually something along the lines of ...

That Also Sounds Terrible. (Holy railroading, Batman!)

In all seriousness, though, that does indeed sound like a very different play style than anything at all I've ever seen (though I've certainly heard of people with similar styles). And that's fine. There's nothing actually wrong with it, if you and the people you play with enjoy that, which I assume you and they do.

However, I don't think anything you're describing contradicts my point. Ok, so you're put into a situation where you have to fight whoever. Presumably, the goal of the party is now to fight and beat these people. Ok, the chief of secret police comes to your cell and makes you an offer. Presumably, you all accept his offer (or else are not participating in the rest of the plot), and now have some series of shared goals.

By "goals" I don't mean that one guy wants to take over the world, one gal wants to save the princess and defeat the dragon, while the third person wants to go back to town and open a high-end boutique for the discerning adventurer. I just mean "we all want to defeat this encounter / solve this challenge before us / get out of this situation alive". I'd be pretty surprised if it was regularly the case that the PCs did not share such immediate in-game goals.

Replies from: Bugmaster, Bugmaster
comment by Bugmaster · 2014-01-07T05:00:05.075Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I just mean "we all want to defeat this encounter / solve this challenge before us / get out of this situation alive".

Actually, I should probably elaborate on this point. As far as I can tell, your planning goes something like this:

  1. Anticipate upcoming challenges
  2. Create a character with the highest possible expected probability of beating these challenges.
  3. Win.

There's nothing wrong with that, but there is at least one alternative:

  1. Determine what would be an interesting character to roleplay as, given the game setting.
  2. Create statistics for this character that reflect the fictional character's fictional background and goals.
  3. Play, and possibly lose while still having fun.
Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-07T05:58:22.239Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Indeed, "at least one" is correct, because here's another:

  1. Determine what would be an interesting character to roleplay as, given the game setting.
  2. Anticipate upcoming challenges.
  3. Create statistics for this character that reflect the fictional character's fictional background and goals, as well as result in the highest possible* expected probability of beating these challenges.
  4. Play, and win**, while having fun.

(1 and 2 can be reversed, as well.)

*Or as high as you like; perhaps you wish the character to be less than optimally effective at beating some or all expected challenges. If so, build the character to whatever specification (i.e. expected probability of beating challenges) you like.

**Or possibly lose. See previous footnote.

P.S. In general, the idea that roleplaying and game-mechanical effectiveness trade off against each other is well known as the Stormwind Fallacy.

Replies from: Bugmaster
comment by Bugmaster · 2014-01-07T06:37:36.210Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Create statistics for this character that reflect the fictional character's fictional background and goals, as well as result in the highest possible* expected probability of beating these challenges... ... the Stormwind Fallacy.

You have not adequately addressed the issue of tradeoffs, as I described them in my previous post. Strictly speaking, in most gaming systems (including D&D/Pathfinder) you can be a maximally effective combatant while still ropleplaying to the fullest... But only as long as your character concept is along the lines of, "maximally-effective combatant".

As I said above, however, each time you spend a single point on a non-combat ability, you are sacrificing a point that could've made you a more effective combatant -- assuming, that is, that you are actively employing the game's built-in non-combat mechanics. You don't have to do that, depending on what your GM will or will not allow. For example, in Pathfinder, if you are roleplaying as a diplomat who is trying to charm his way into the Grand Vizier's good graces; but your character is a Fighter with 20 Str, 7 Cha, and 0 ranks in Diplomacy or Bluff; then your GM may still allow you to succeed based on roleplaying alone.

While there's nothing wrong with this playstyle, it does require the GM to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the rules (which, again, is always his prerogative). A GM who followed the rules would make you roll a Bluff or Diplomacy check, with a high DC, which you would make at a fairly high penalty. You might succeed, but you will be far more likely to fail.

Furthermore, if your character sheet is indeed supposed to represent your character's upbringing in some way, then one might question how he graduated from the Diplomacy Corps with 0 ranks in any non-combat abilities.

Thus, I still maintain that, due to the tradeoffs, a character built for roleplay will always perform worse in combat (on average, that is) than a purely combat-oriented character, unless one of the following is true:

  1. Your gaming system provides few, if any, non-combat mechanics; these are supposed to be taken care of through free-form roleplaying,
  2. Your GM chooses to disregard the rules (as is his right), thus reducing your system to (1), or
  3. The character concept that you are roleplaying is explicitly centered around nothing but combat.

Note that I said that your character will "perform worse", and not "fail utterly". This is an important distinction.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-07T06:50:52.105Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thus, I still maintain that, due to the tradeoffs, a character built for roleplay will always perform worse in combat (on average, that is) than a purely combat-oriented character, unless one of the following is true:

You seem to be equating "roleplay" with non-combat capabilities (social interaction skills, specifically, it seems; I note that there are other sorts of non-combat capabilities...). That's unwarranted. Roleplaying is not the same as, nor directly tied to, nor dependent on, being strongly effective at social-interaction mechanics. They are, in fact, largely orthogonal, except insofar as any particular character concept should* be mechanically supported. (This orthogonality is indeed the subject of the Stormwind Fallacy.)

*"Should" in the sense you outline, i.e. your character sheet representing, ideally, your character.

Strictly speaking, in most gaming systems (including D&D/Pathfinder) you can be a maximally effective combatant while still ropleplaying to the fullest... But only as long as your character concept is along the lines of, "maximally-effective combatant".

This is just false.

Finally...

a character built for roleplay

is a fairly nonsensical concept. Perhaps you meant "a character built for prowess in social interaction", but that's not the same thing.

Replies from: Bugmaster
comment by Bugmaster · 2014-01-07T07:24:18.890Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

is a fairly nonsensical concept. Perhaps you meant "a character built for prowess in social interaction", but that's not the same thing.

Social interaction is just one example; I picked it because it is the most common. That said, I would argue that making a character with zero social skills (in order to put those points into more combat) would restrict you to a fairly narrow subset of roleplaying opportunities.

The key to my point, though, is something you said: your character sheet should, ideally, represent your character. This is less apparent in D&D, where most of the mechanics are combat-oriented; and much more apparent in other games, e.g. the old White Wolf system where you have explicit ratings in things like "Bureaucracy", "Law", "Resources", "Contacts", "Allies", and even "Performance", IIRC -- alongside the more combat-worthy stats such as "Firearms" or "Dodge".

However, even in D&D, there are ways to represent your character's non-combat abilities which, unfortunately, compete for points with the combat ones. Here are some examples:

  • Story Feats
  • Feats and class/racial features whose parameters can be chosen suboptimally (in terms of pure combat). For example, consider the Ranger's "Favored Enemy" ability, or a caster's "Spell Focus" Feat.
  • Spells with little to no utility in combat, such as "Memory Lapse" or "Continual Flame".
  • Skills such as "Profession" or "Perform".
  • Stats besides those that directly influence your class abilities, such as Charisma for a Fighter.

Is your character a self-appointed prophet ? Well, then you should probably take "Spell Focus: Divination", as opposed to something more battle-worthy. Is your character a skilled craftsman ? Then you should take a bunch of item creation Feats instead of going deeper into the "Power Attack" tree. Were his parents abducted by crab-people ? Then the crab-people are probably your racial enemy, despite being incredibly rare.

Are any of these tradeoffs crippling ? No, but they do add up, and while you are now better at crafting arms and armor and making money doing so, you are no longer as good at cleaving things or (e.g.) swimming as you could've been.

Of course, you could reply with something like, "only a fool would make crab-people a part of his backstory; just make your parents be abducted by humanoids, instead". If you do, see my objection #3 in the previous comment.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-07T08:20:05.673Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Social interaction is just one example; I picked it because it is the most common. That said, I would argue that making a character with zero social skills (in order to put those points into more combat) would restrict you to a fairly narrow subset of roleplaying opportunities.

I disagree. (As a side note, it's actually not very easy to put skill points, specifically, into "more combat", with a couple of exceptions.)

Is your character a self-appointed prophet ? Well, then you should probably take "Spell Focus: Divination", as opposed to something more battle-worthy.

No, I don't agree with this at all, even granting the premise that you have decided to pick feats/etc. based on story. Unless, of course, you look only at the barest surface features of the options you're selecting, without delving even a bit deeper.

Spell Focus: Divination is a feat that sounds like it generally "makes you better at divination" or some such. What it actually does (as you know) is make those of your divination spells that have saving throws harder to resist. Now, since most divination spells have no saving throws (certainly those spells most appropriate to prophecy, which are presumably most central to your character concept, do not), picking SF:Divination doesn't make any sense mechanically. Would your character "select this feat" (i.e. work toward developing this capability)? I don't see why. It's not like the "feat" has this name "in-game-world"... and your character presumably knows the "feat" by what it actually does. Why would he work toward an ability that has nothing actually to do with his chosen vocation (prophecy)?

So in this case, selecting Spell Focus: Divination would only make sense if you were trying to build a character that, on casual inspection, sounds like he would be a good prophet. It would not make sense if you were trying to build a character who was actually good at prophecy, game-mechanically; nor, on the other hand, would it make sense if you were trying to "organically" build a character who, in-character, tried to be a good prophet.

Is your character a skilled craftsman ? Then you should take a bunch of item creation Feats instead of going deeper into the "Power Attack" tree.

This likewise makes very little sense, not least because it's a rare character indeed who both would normally select Power Attack and its descendants (a selection usually made by martial characters), and would even qualify for item creation feats (which require one to be a spellcaster). Furthermore, item creation feats give you the ability to create magic items, i.e. imbue items with magic power; they have little actually to do with being a skilled craftsman, as such (that's better handled by the Craft skill). Once again, you would only make this connection if you were going by shallow surface associations. (You may, of course, interpret a feat such as Craft Magic Arms & Armor as representing your skill at crafting the arms and armor in question, even in the absence of ranks in the relevant Craft skills. In such a case, my first objection applies. If, in fact, you are a martial (or semi-martial) character who does nonetheless qualify for item creation feats, then that means that they are probably not actually bad choices for you. That's how the game is structured. Craft Magic Arms & Armor, by the way, is in most cases a more effective feat than Great Cleave is.)

Were his parents abducted by crab-people ? Then the crab-people are probably your racial enemy, despite being incredibly rare.

This doesn't really follow; it may make sense, but then again it may not. The reasons why it doesn't make sense have more, I think, to do with how story and world building is shared between the DM and the players, and so I think I will eschew this particular tangent unless you ask me to elaborate.

Thus far, I take your comments to be evidence against the claim that there are meaningful tradeoffs between roleplaying and effectiveness, not for it.

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-01-07T04:54:14.824Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That Also Sounds Terrible. (Holy railroading, Batman!)

I didn't mean to represent the technique as 100% railroading; my example was rather an extreme case. Instead, we attempt to engage the characters in a plot on a personal basis. Saying, "ok, you are in front of the dungeon now" makes sense for a purely tactical dungeon crawl, but it's a terrible way to start a story.

Instead, we usually offer each character something that he really wants. Sure, sometimes this can be as simple as "the city is under attack, you've got to help or you might die"; and sometimes, the hook can be as simple as, "do this or rot in jail, you sociopathic smuggler", or "go into the dungeon and get rich". But every character has a backstory, and usually that comes into play as well, which makes for a more interesting plot. I do acknowledge that this style of play is not for everyone, and I'm not claiming that it's the best style in the world or anything of the sort.

Ok, so you're put into a situation where you have to fight whoever. Presumably, the goal of the party is now to fight and beat these people.

At that point, it's kind of too late to re-roll your suave diplomat into a grizzled killer.

By "goals" I don't mean that one guy wants to take over the world, one gal wants to save the princess and defeat the dragon, while the third person wants to go back to town and open a high-end boutique for the discerning adventurer.

Why not ? Taking over the world is a long-term goal. Players can work together until that is accomplished. The would-be tyrant would need a strong economic base, after all; so why shouldn't he get in on the ground floor of that nascent boutique business ? And meanwhile, political bribes and retail space rental prices don't pay themselves, so if there's work to be done, the tyrant and the merchant better go and do it... And of course, if the evil Necromancer destroys the kingdom, there would be nothing left to rule and no customers left to sell amulets to. That sounds like a sub-optimal outcome for all concerned...

comment by Nornagest · 2014-01-02T20:16:21.126Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've never played WoW, but game design assumptions, and common practice among gaming groups, both vary quite a bit. Sometimes this simply won't be an issue; it's hard to imagine what an optimized Toon character would look like, for example. But a lot of games and scenarios are designed mainly around tactical challenges, including many of the most popular ones; and when a group finds itself in such a scenario, problems tend to arise if it includes both highly optimized and highly suboptimal characters.

It's one thing if we're talking about a deliberately nerfed character built for comedy or storytelling potential; most groups handle that well, as long as they're not populated entirely by munchkins. But a character that's meant to be effective and just happens to have taken some really weak choices... that causes real problems. The player running such a character usually gets frustrated because they aren't doing as well as they think they should; players running more optimized characters tend to be resentful because they have to pull more of the weight. In the worst-case scenario it can even break the balance assumptions that encounter generation is built on, endangering the entire group.

A competent GM can adjust for this by creating house rules or modifying encounter difficulty or tailoring challenges to their group's skills and preferences. But these are all workarounds, not fixes, and they only go so far.

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-01-06T21:43:11.316Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

While D&D evolved from a strategy boardgame, it is still a role-playing game. As such, it includes storytelling elements, which, depending on your GM and the players' desires, may weigh far more heavily than monster-slaying.

Some GMs prefer to run their games as a straightforward dungeon crawl: encounter enemies, kill them, repeat. In this case, the optimal character would be the one who is maximally effective at slaying monsters, or supporting fellow party members who do so.

Other GMs introduce logical puzzles into the mix. In this case, while your character may be perfectly balanced for combat, it is still possible to lose due to failing to figure out the puzzle.

Still other GMs prefer to tell a story. In this case, the game is less about killing things, and more about pretending to be a person living in a magical fantasy world... A person who, on occasion, kills things. In this case, the optimal character is the one you enjoy playing. You could make a crossbow-Wizard (perhaps he flunked out of Wizard school, and spends his days fuming at the injustice, shooting other Wizards with crossbows to prove his superiority), a fat lazy Fighter (he used to be a Gladiator, but now he just sits around drinking ale all day, reminiscing about his trophies), an honest Rogue (the prison changed him, for the better), etc. The GM is not, of course, obligated to keep you alive; but at least your game will be interesting.

All of these styles of play are valid. Yes, your crossbow-Wizard won't be effective in combat -- but what if the game is not primarily about combat ?

Replies from: Jiro, SaidAchmiz
comment by Jiro · 2014-01-06T22:36:25.447Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a difference between saying "my character is less effective at combat, but I think that's a good tradeoff for something else" and saying "my character is not less effective at combat".

This is about the latter case. When someone doesn't even believe that their character is less effective in combat, even though the math shows otherwise. They're not making a tradeoff between effectiveness in combat and greater ability to roleplay--they're just refusing to recognize that there is any reduced effectiveness that has to be traded off at all.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz, Bugmaster
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-06T23:00:55.732Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a difference between saying "my character is less effective at combat, but I think that's a good tradeoff for something else" and saying "my character is not less effective at combat".

This is about the latter case.

Exactly. I'm not sure why I am having to state this distinction again and again, but yes, that's precisely it.

Replies from: Bugmaster
comment by Bugmaster · 2014-01-06T23:08:16.094Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Exactly. I'm not sure why I am having to state this distinction again and again...

I think this is because you keep leading with, "here is the best strategy to be effective in combat, and anyone who doesn't follow it is worse than worthless", and only later do you follow that up with, "...oh, but if you're not going for combat efficiency, then it's cool".

I think you could communicate your point more clearly by stating up front, "There are many ways to play that do not prioritize combat. However, if your primary goal is to be maximally effective in combat, consider the following: etc.".

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-07T00:27:14.316Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Noted. I led with that because of its direct relevance to the OP, but it does seem to be getting me pattern-matched to people who disdain play styles other than "kill everything as efficiently as possible" (although I think that most people who allegedly hold such views are, in fact, straw men).

I don't, however, think that I ever said or implied that the people involved are worse than worthless... in the OP, "worth" in that phrase refers to effectiveness value of actions, not... people.

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-01-06T22:48:55.203Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When someone doesn't even believe that their character is less effective in combat, even though the math shows otherwise.

Agreed, that is a clear example of mental bias.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-06T23:18:15.991Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Jiro has already responded on the central question (with a point that I had already made, but it bears repetition, and apparently keeps being missed when I say it, so my thanks to Jiro). The following is re: other issues mentioned in your comment.

Other GMs introduce logical puzzles into the mix. In this case, while your character may be perfectly balanced for combat, it is still possible to lose due to failing to figure out the puzzle.

Yes, but how does being ineffective in combat help you figure out the logic puzzle? Answer: it does not. Therefore: a character who is effective in combat, played by a player who is good at logic puzzles, is strictly superior to a character who is bad at combat, played by the same logic-savvy player. In other words: in this scenario, being more effective in combat makes you more effective at D&D. (Unless there is literally no combat. Ever. In which case, why are you playing D&D? Other systems are far better suited to your needs.)

Still other GMs prefer to tell a story. In this case, the game is less about killing things, and more about pretending to be a person living in a magical fantasy world... A person who, on occasion, kills things. ... The GM is not, of course, obligated to keep you alive; but at least your game will be interesting.

The long-running campaign that I DM is heavy on roleplaying, plotting, and political machinations. I haven't run a straightforward dungeon crawl in that campaign in a long time (I generally reserve that for one-shot adventures). We sometimes go a session or two without combat entirely; combat is certainly not the central focus.

However, all of the player characters are heavily optimized and frighteningly lethal in combat. If it comes to it, they dispatch enemies with ruthless efficiency.

Why?

Because roleplaying effectively, or having your character be interesting, in no way precludes being effective in combat. Being combat-effective loses you nothing as far as logic-puzzle-solving, story-telling, roleplaying, being interesting, etc., etc. And because even if combat is not the only challenge, or the most common challenge, it's certainly a challenge; and being less effective at solving certain challenges... makes you less effective overall.

Again: if you do this knowingly and deliberately, and you and your party-mates are ok with that, fine and well.

Replies from: Bugmaster
comment by Bugmaster · 2014-01-06T23:31:56.695Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Because roleplaying effectively, or having your character be interesting, in no way precludes being effective in combat.

This is not, strictly speaking, true. Most gaming systems -- even D&D -- encourage you to tie your roleplaying to your stats at some point. For example, our hypothetical crossbow-Wizard might take Point Blank instead of Spell Focus (or some similar Feat); this is a real tradeoff, since the number of Feats you can take is limited. A Rogue (or, indeed, any character) might spend his points on Diplomacy, Appraise, Knowledge and Profession instead of the usual Disable Device, etc. -- to reflect the fact that he settled down as an honest gem merchant after prison (presumably, only to be pulled into that One Last Job against his better judgement).

Of course, there's no rule that says you can't play a suave diplomat who has zero ranks in Diplomacy and Sense Motive and a Charisma score of 7. You can totally do that, if the GM allows it.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2014-01-07T00:35:30.321Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If we're being strict, then you're actually arguing against the converse of what I said — whether being effective in combat negatively impacts your roleplaying or interestingness. Which I also don't think it does, but it's a distinct point.

My actual point, in any case, is that there are many ways to roleplay. You can roleplay well and be interesting with a Charisma of 7 and zero ranks in social skills, and then again you can roleplay well and be interesting with a Charisma of 18 and maximum ranks in social skills. You'd be roleplaying different things in those two cases, presumably; but, you can have an effectively-built character in both of those cases as well. (The former might be a wizard, or a fighter, or a rogue, or something else; the latter might be a sorcerer, or a paladin, or a different kind of rogue etc. etc.)

It is an accepted truism among all the veteran D&D players I know, and have spoken to in various online gaming communities, that a good roleplayer can create an interesting character concept, and roleplay it well, to fit pretty much any set of game stats. My experience with many excellent gamers supports this. Given that fact, and D&D being a team game, it seems almost a no-brainer that you should pick game stats that make you game-mechanically effective, and build your interesting concept on top of that. (Or, conversely, make up a cool concept and then built it into an effective character — which is also eminently doable for the experienced gamer.)