In Gaming, Never Tell Me the Odds!

This game is a simulation. Simulations have rules. Some rules can be bent. Others can be broken. A few need to be ignored completely.

This game is a simulation. Simulations have rules. Some rules can be bent. Others can be broken. A few need to be ignored completely.

I promised that I wouldn’t go raving about the Henshin Mystic again. And I won’t.

Normally I also space out my posts to allow stuff to sink in and not to hog the OurDDO blog feed.

But a recent post in the thread that discusses why the Henshin Mystic class should be revamped led me to a curious epiphany about DDO and the players that inhabit it that I had to write about.

Here’s the post’s content, so you needn’t click on the link unless you’d like to (re)read the entire thread.

So, I was considering a crazy max Wis DC-based Monk. Henshin of course. Before I took the plunge I put together a spreadsheet outlining my DCs…it was very eye opening.

With a 50 Wis, which may not be MAX, but is pretty damn high…some real deficiencies are highlighted (I probably got some of these a little wrong):
Ki Bolt, Reflex, DC 50
Incinerating Wave, Reflex, DC 50
Cauldron of Flame, Reflex, DC 50
Various Finishing Moves, Fort / Ref / Will, DC 53

That’s it?! PLUS the Henshin ones are Reflex so will be Evaded…? Ugh.

Ok, well, I’ll have to be GMoF for those Ki blast ability thingies too:
Orchid Blossom, Reflex, DC 48
Drifting Lotus, Reflex, DC 48
A Scattering of Petals, Fort, DC 58
Everything is Nothing, Fort, DC 58

Ok, cool…ASoP and EiN I can work with of course…but damn, really?! Another two low DC Reflex abilities? For crying out loud…

Why would I bother when I could:
Quivering Palm, Fort, DC 64 (with an Improved Sunder prep for +3 more DC)
Stunning Fist, Fort, DC 68 (maybe with Improved Sunder for +3 DC)
Kukan-Do, Will, DC 59 (with only a 20 Cha)
Unbalancing Strike, Ref, DC 64 (Sneak Attacks! Works on bosses!)

Yeah, I’m really gonna need a solid way to get another +10 DC on those weak abilities before I can consider using them.

I commend Spencerian for actually playing it through, but I looked at those numbers and just had to walk away…

I’m not centering that poster out. But it’s a good reflection of the sentiment or mindset that gets overused in the game of late, and seen quite a bit in the forums for both the right and the wrong reasons.

Let’s break things down to three kinds of DDO player that I see here.

The Button Masher

This player might come from a console or arcade gaming world where you have limited but powerful gear while playing a protagonist or anti-hero, roving here and there, destroying and/or solving things to achieve a goal. Such games emphasize what the gear does as a device in the game (“Use boomerang to activate switch”) rather than the object’s specific caliber or metric as it relates to damage. Player characters don’t generally grow in power except from acquisition of gear or key quest objectives. Action is continuous and strategy and puzzles are common. Examples include The Legend of Zelda series, the Halo games, and the Metroid series.

When these players are introduced to RPG games like DDO, they initially enter in with a mix of confusion with things such as ability stats. After punching in some numbers, they have great enthusiasm to play at first. But their joy turns to frustration quickly when simply bashing your sword against something isn’t enough to survive, much less succeed, as their ability and skills are improperly set to the increasing challenges of the game.

Button mashers don’t initially comprehend the analytical knowledge in character design and gear mechanics as well as game mechanics and strategy common in all RPGs until they decide to ask and study for themselves.

The Pen And Paper Tactician

"Your character is the sum of a remainder of an unbalanced equation inherent to the programming of this game. You are the eventuality of an anomaly, which despite my sincerest efforts I have been unable to eliminate from what is otherwise a harmony of mathematical precision. While it remains a burden assiduously avoided, it is not unexpected, and thus not beyond a measure of control. Which has led you, inexorably, here." Like the Architect, some ignore the WHY and ignore the human element.

“Your character is the sum of a remainder of an unbalanced equation inherent to the programming of this game. You are the eventuality of an anomaly, which despite my sincerest efforts I have been unable to eliminate from what is otherwise a harmony of mathematical precision.” Like the Architect, some underestimate the magic and unpredictability of the human element.

This player has played one or more desktop table games quite a bit at some point in their lives. If they aren’t playing Dungeons & Dragons, the board game, they’ve latched onto many, many other pen-and-paper games where flashy graphics don’t exist and the internal visualization of imaginations around a table, surrounded by fellow players, runs at maximum density.

With a dungeon-master (or game master) guiding the players and setting the stage and environment, the players create characters from a wide selection of traditional roles with ability scores, skills, attacks, and gear.

During adventures, they use dice to determine success and failure based on difficulty saves to skills and abilities such a high Strength or Dexterity. (Most of us who play DDO can feel a very familiar pattern here, naturally.)

While DDO’s game mechanics rely heavily on similar principles from its pen-and-paper version, there’s a point where this tactical precision causes a dissonance when pen-and-paper information becomes some odd sort of oracle that predicts success or failure based only on the difficulty checks or a few variations of abilities, while ignoring the unique human element found in live-action gameplay and not in turn-based desktop play. Character planners. Crafting planners. Puzzle solvers. Wikis. Forum threads that crunch the numbers. Messages of dissent and condemnation (without ever rolling up and playing that character live) come from queries that illustrate the poor statistical odds of your spell power and difficulty checks. Portents of doom are given to you that predict that your character will be gravely underpowered in high-level play.

OH NOES.

You see where I’m going here.

My gameplay style fits my character class. It’s all about balance to achieve enlightenment, stability and, of course, perfecting that superior mystical practice of kicking ass. Many others that play, too, realize that we should follow a middle path.

The Gamer

The gamer has been around. They’ve played consoles. They might have played arcade games if they’re old like me. Dabbled in pen-and-paper games once, perhaps, or have played them quite a bit. All in all, they enjoyed something from each. They surely have generated a preference to a particular type of game or game style, or might find their fun in the diversity.

The gamer has learned that mashing buttons wildly on a console game won’t work, but mashing buttons in a specific pattern gets results. When they roll up a pen-and-paper character, the gamer might find it more important to have a good team of friends that don’t take the specific character stats too seriously or question the dungeon master’s campaign too harshly.

When things go pear-shaped, he loves the fun you get from the fallout, especially if the dungeon master takes the cue, gives the party an out to save themselves, even if it’s going to cost them their loot, experience, or their dignity. PnP gamers enjoy the adventure over the number-crunching and the odds.

Most importantly, while the gamer never goes in unprepared, he’ll never shy away from an opportunity. Despite the odds based on other player calculations, the type of folks in the party or the difficulty of the fight ahead, they sometimes just go with the flow and see what happens.

The gamer’s experience means that they’ll likely take a character that should not survive in a high-difficulty quest, based on probability demonstrated in the many variables one could roll up,  and (with good resource management and teamwork) not only survive but emerge triumphant.

It’s a Game, Silly

Never tell a good gamer the odds. They'll only defy them.

Never tell a good gamer the odds. They’ll only defy them.

I speak from a bit of authority. I have a Bachelors of Science in Parks and Recreation. Yep. I have a college degree in playing.

It’s important not to overdo the math in game play. When the math goes overboard in the right way in recreation, you get the scariest but safest roller-coasters that pull more G’s than some jet fighters, making you feel like death is coming around the next drop but leaving you safe and sound at ride’s end. That’s a principle known as apparent risk.

When the math heads in too draconian a path, you get stoic, Vulcanized probability, devoid of the human dynamic, which is often naturally unpredictable. The flavor of the gaming moment, the sense of adventure, is lost in over-number crunching, of application of tactics without regard for what trouble the party’s rogue can stir up, despite being in a quest where combat is more prevalent than trapfinding.

While it’s important to study the numbers in DDO to ensure you have enough of this and enough of that, nothing in number crunching will ever substitute for experience and certainly not in simply trying something out. I’m not only speaking of the experience in confirming that a tactic will work reliably based on the math, but sometimes just going into an adventure and telling the numbers to go frak themselves.

In that mindset, LEERRRROY…JEEENNKIINS had it right. He had a damned good time (although he went about it in the wrong way) and he even had some good chicken while in play.

While Leeroy did move before thinking, his party showed a bit of dispassionate overthinking. Not in their expected goals, but perhaps in a distillation of that very moment before play, and even during the chaos that Leeroy started. Gaming is not just measured in success or failure, but in the pleasure of the moment.

I have a personal example. Some time ago, my guild had just completed a Shroud run and were looting the chests. As I completed looting one chest, I hear a distinctive whine I’ve only heard in a couple of quests–the sound of something charging up and not in a good way.

One of our guild’s most reliable, enjoyable and incredible players, who specializes well in party healing, had decided to drink a Potion of Wonder. These things have random effects. Recently, the devs thought it was funny to add “detonation pack” as one effect.

Most of the party was blown to kingdom come by the Shroud altar. It took a few moments of confusion before the party realized what happened and erupted. Not with anger or threats or rage, but bursts of laughter and disbelief.

No amount of cold calculations can anticipate the fun our party experienced by getting blown up real good. As a reward that all of us took back that night, none of my other guildmates will EVER let that player live it down during later raids while we buff up, eternally memorializing his decision by reminding all players to drink future Potions of Wonder at a minimum safe distance.

I’m determined to go back to that thread with a video or a completion screenshot with my Epic Mystic, triumphant in some Epic Elite quest, with a significant amount of slain enemies and few to no deaths of my own. I’ll have Quintessica dance a jig.

But I’ll have a smile on my face as well. Not because I showed up the naysayers, but because I had a damned good time trying not to die, or managing to win despite the odds.

Win brilliantly. Die gloriously. Fun, always. Hope you get blown up good real soon.

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14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kavatch2.2
    Oct 10, 2013 @ 10:27:36

    I hoard wonder pots so i can chug all of them at the end of CitW.

  2. John B.
    Oct 10, 2013 @ 21:58:34

    It’s a thin line to cross indeed. Enough numbers to keep your keyboard from going through the monitor, but not so much that you have a separate screen for eying spreadsheets on EXP/Minute.

    I’m usually guilty of doing that myself to casters. “I don’t have ED’s, None of the fun packs, may as well not even roll a wizard, DC will never be high enough.” I did, however, recently roll up a fire savant. I like burning everything. That’s fun, despite seeing the saves pop up from time to time.

    • teachersyn
      Oct 10, 2013 @ 22:19:21

      DCs cannot fully thwart luck and guile! Persistence pays well. Strategy, more so. Rolling a 1 is inevitable. Sometimes the min-max philosophy sucks the joy and the challenge out of playing. It’s why I like to stay in one class and not blend roles together to make some uber smoothie. Not knocking other’s fun, till some knocks mine.

  3. Jordan
    Oct 11, 2013 @ 08:45:17

    I’m not a fan of your description of the “Gamer”. Some of us happen to fit into that category and the pen/paper tactician. (I’d be lying if I said I don’t have any/all lives planned out well before I get around to them – however, blame the education system. If learning was more fun, I’d spend less time building.)

    Using a standardised attack speed (because Turbine is incapable of giving us neat values, I took the avg) and some math, I know each and every lives DPS (assuming auto attack+buffs), DC of feats/spells (if relevant) and stupid amounts of other data.

    Doesn’t stop my trying to kill people in EE quests with grease. (Or better yet – Get red DA, then drop diplomacy near your party. Be nice and get their soul stones later)

    Doesn’t stop my trying terrible ideas, either. My wraith form monk did juuuust fine in EE stormhorns, aside from self healing. (ah well, if they’re dead I’m safe!)

    However… Even I’m sitting here thinking those DC’s do need a buff for endgame. Yes, I most likely could do it, but.. 50 DC on those abilities? I’m expecting a fail before I even get started on the ass-kicking. It won’t stop my trying when I get around to doing a staff life (that’s pencilled in, right after my THF sorc), but I won’t have many expectations of those abilities. (On the other hand, a monk that I can FINALLY use in Fury of the Wild? Woo!)

    Tl:dr; math is fun, doesn’t stop me having fun with killing teams/playing weird builds, those DC’s do need a buff for endgame.

    • teachersyn
      Oct 11, 2013 @ 09:27:27

      That’s cool. My descriptions are obviously clear generalizations of thinking modes common to gamers, and there is (and has to be) quite a lot of overlap in what mode is more dominant (or co-exists) in each player. I’m not a sociologist, either, so this is anecdotal observation (i.e., educated experience) that’s still, in the end, RGI (rectally-generated information, that is, pulled out of my ass). 🙂

      We can’t ultimately play DDO without understanding the numbers as D&D roots run deep. But when we use the numbers too strongly to determine if we’re going to have fun at playing before even giving it a go?…now that’s weird. Fun gameplay allows for the weird and encourages the “this MIGHT work, but it might not” approach. The uncertainty drives the fun home for me, not always the reliability of statistics. As they say, your mileage may vary.

      • Jordan
        Oct 11, 2013 @ 09:50:57

        I don’t use numbers to determine fun (although, I did come up with a formula I use to determine how boring a given school day will be – education system: 0. Me: 1.), but viability for EE… We are different players, I have noticed in your posts.

        I found a 68 DC stun to be just viable for most content. I don’t even want to know how mystic DC would hold up when my stun is letting me down. :\

        Of course, each to their own; but for me to see those abilities as EE endgame worthy, them being stepped up would be brilliant. (Technically, a 5%, or a mob rolling a 1, constitutes “might” work.)

        If you have weirder builds than unarmed palemasters and THF sorc’s, please, let me know. I’ll attempt to make a weirder build, lest I lose my title. But again, I really would like the DC’s to be buffed to make it viable for epic elite. For EE>, it won’t matter that much – should land just fine. But seeing a “reflex” or “evade” >50% of the time is pretty frustrating.

        • teachersyn
          Oct 11, 2013 @ 11:10:52

          Totally understand. A Monk’s saves are their armor. If I don’t get my own saving throws up to 40 or better, and my fortification at 140 or better before entering EE, no amount of enthusiasm is going to compensate for the ass whooping I’m going to suffer. EE is designed to test all you’ve got. So I’m not trying to be flippant about it’s importance. My point is that some things can be done that can limit it’s importance. A Shadowdancer with an opportunity to Dominate the toughest enemy in a room of EE baddies, using that charmed guy to clear out the room for a party, rather than risk slaughter–THAT is one example of many of how to outsmart a quest rather than fight it through brute force. It’s a matter of play style. Many of us succeed without min-maxing in general, but some min-max principles are needed for EE, even if you don’t multiclass in general, like me.

          • Jordan
            Oct 11, 2013 @ 20:51:55

            I’ve found saves of >50 to be needed, though at least fort only need 100% against most mobs.

            And yes, many people do outsmart EE mobs rather than brute force. I do the same, depending on what build I am. (Not much a str based fighter can do to outsmart things, just hit harder!) My point was seeing the mystic lacking DC’s being annoying – yes, you can get around it. It’s just frustrating that it, and DC’s in general, won’t land. (Only a few builds can reliably stun now.)

            • teachersyn
              Oct 12, 2013 @ 08:58:07

              The key to my points that I might have danced around in clarifying…the Mystic isn’t a stun-machine as other Monks tend to be. They aren’t typically unarmed. They spread mass damage. They have to be played quite differently. I keep seeing posts that suggest the opposite, and are summarily and logically disappointed.

              • Jordan
                Oct 12, 2013 @ 10:03:03

                I know, I know – I’m not insinuating they are stun machines – just highlighting that the ki abilities will fail, making them somewhat flawed. With lamaland up, I tested it just to see. Pretty much what I expected. A nice change from the norm, but constant failing of abilities sapped the use of the tree, making it just nice for that niche staff build. (By a change from the norm, well… I have a habit of doing lives I don’t like as 12/6/2 pastlife/monk/arti or 9/9/2 pastlife/monk/arti (depending on use of past life)) 😛

                • teachersyn
                  Oct 12, 2013 @ 19:42:05

                  It’s not failing for me, but then, of course, its a matter of beta vs. live as well as gameplay. I can see much more to improve on the class, but it is playable and dynamic. Nothing saves too well that I don’t expect from any attack I’ve done thus far. My disapproval can come from those who criticize without rolling one up. In a couple of updates, I hope a few folks take another look. I’m sure they did with the Monk class itself as it was way different then than now.

  4. erdrique
    Oct 16, 2013 @ 15:52:56

    This is an excellent write-up and is pretty much what I have observed in the game and in the forum community. I think some people put a little too much importance on the raw numbers and the number crunching. I remember a few years ago when we were running The Haunted Library in House Jorasco and and our caster got killed. One of my guildies picked up his soul stone and started to take him back to the shrine.

    The caster was confident that he wouldn’t be able to get back to the shrine because we had already passed the area with the broken staircase. He was adamant that our guildie wouldn’t be able to make the jump…I mean who would put those points in jump? Well, my guildie proved him wrong, got him back to the shrine and the caster finished the quest in stunned silence.

    I feel the “flavor” of the build and character is just as important, if not more so, than the actual numbers of the build.

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