Saturday, July 09, 2011

In Which The Warlock Ponders Parallelism...

It's no secret that I'm a writer.  I'm up to nearly 300 entries on this blog, to say nothing of my writing and editing within the gaming world.  But, even beyond that...I'm an English teacher full-time, with a full Bachelors' degree in English Literature.  What you may not know is that I got my start at revision while in undergraduate at Wittenberg.  As a member of the Wittenberg Writing Center, I worked part-time assisting other undergrads with their academic papers and the like.

As such, I had to be on top of my game.  One of the biggest offenses in most of their writing was something referred to as parallelism

Parallelism in math...
Parallelism in writing...
Any kid who's taken algebra or geometry should know what parallel lines are--two lines that continue on indefinitely through a two-dimensional plane, in such a way that they will never cross.  Parallelism in writing is similar, yet not quite so finite.

Under usual circumstances, parallelism comes on the individual sentence level.  To use the example from the Purdue Online Writing Lab,--one of the more pre-eminent writing centers in academia: 

My degree, my work experience, and ability to complete complicated projects qualify me for the job.
My degree, my work experience, and my ability to complete complicated projects qualify me for the job.

The 'correct' example uses the same structure throughout the sentence, which is more correct from a grammatical standpoint and is more appealing when read aloud.

Now, what does this have to do with gaming, you may ask?  Well, you see, while most RPG manuals are fairly well-edited, parallelism doesn't just stop at the sentence level.  Rather, it can (and should!) be continued on a paragraph and even on a piece-length scale.

But what about parallelism within actual game structure? 

4e D&D was unique for its verisimilitude between classes.  While each individual class received its own class abilities at level 1--Fighters got a Weapon Talent and Combat Challenge, Warlocks got Shadow Walk and Warlock's Curse--every class worked in the same manner:  2 At-Wills, Encounters on levels that ended with 3 and 7, Dailies on levels that ended on 5 or 9. 

Many gamers critized for 4e for this maneuver, saying that classes were "too similar", but from a written standpoint, the design was flawless.  But, it made me wonder whether parallelism in design could provide a driving force behind a game mechanic....which explains some of the reasoning behind my work on Cold Steel Wardens

Part of the "MAFIANAP" mechanic--the fundamental system that I'm writing to drive CSW is built on parallelism--players have 8 Vitals, four of which govern Mental faculties and four of which govern Physical ability.  The 25 skills are arranged into five groups of five--Physical, Investigative, Social, Knowledge, and Technical. 

But, what I'd like to consider the most crucial bit of parallelism to CSW is the "Strain" system.  Every hero can take a specific abount of Strain, before bad things begin happening to them.  This occurs in both the Physical realm (through fights, wounds, and physical exertioin), but also in the Mental realm (through stress, fear, and mental trauma). 

Don't reach your Breaking Point,
or you'll be taking a MAFIANAP!
In either case, every CSW Hero has a "Breaking Point" on each Strain track.  The Breaking Point represents a threshold, at which the Hero's resilience has finally broken down.  At the Physical Breaking Point, the Strain no longer represents"bumps and bruises", but rather broken bones, shattered ribs, and grievous bodily harm.  At the Mental Breaking Point, the Strain no longer represents everyday stress that can be wiped away with a good night's sleep, but rather damage to the Hero's psyche, resulting in psychoses or other mental disorders.

If CSW comes out as planned, the game should be streamlined and easy for newbies to understand, with mechanics that fade into the background during investigation and social encounters.  We'll see, though!  Next up:  Powers!


  1. Anonymous9:14 PM

    I think that, like in grammar, intentionally breaking parallelism if you have a reason to can produce better results than staying to them all the time. The issue is when you break them at inappropriate times that it becomes an issue.

    I find it interesting that a little over a month ago, you were lauding the fact that Arcane Backgrounds in Hell on Earth were mechanically different and the Deadlands Reloaded ones too mechanically similar. Perhaps parallelism is only one factor.

  2. There's a difference between parallelism and verisimilitude in my eyes.

    I like the idea of parallel mechanics, in the sense that they're easy to learn and that they all work the same way every time. I like that about 4e--a player who's played a Fighter knows exactly how a Mage is going to work, or a Rogue, or a Warlock. I think that's one of the reasons I didn't care for Essentials--it took the simplicity that 4e already had built, and tossed it out the window, in favor of simplicity of choice, which I don't like.

    The biggest reason that I like Deadlands, in general, I've found, is its uniqueness. Individually, I don't care for westerns, I can give or take steampunk, and horror...well, Deadlands really isn't a horror game, is it? I mean, it has horrific elements, but it's hard to be "afraid" when you have a Gatling shotgun or blessings from God.

    But, when combined? Whoo, man...I loves me some Deadlands! It's the combination of individual unique elements that makes DL 'click' for me. And, each character in Hell on Earth (and DL Classic) has their own 'niche'. It makes sense to me that a Doomsayer can blast the hell out of things with radiation, but a Syker's blast should FEEL different. The generic powers of SW didn't convey that enough for me...but with the proper trappings, it can.

    You're dead on in saying that parallelism isn't the ONLY factor in play. But, as I'm working on CSW, I'm finding that it makes the game much easier to understand and allows the mechanics to take a back-seat to storytelling and investigation...

    Thanks for the comment, brother!