Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Character Builds and Differentiation in Remember Tomorrow

   In yesterday's post I discussed our recent play of Remember Tomorrow, a rules-light cyberpunk-genre RPG.  I found it entertaining, but structurally a little odd. I'm tempted to give it another try, to see if the counter-intuitive stuff would shake itself out with a bit more experience.  Before doing so, though, I thought I'd take a peak at the math behind the mechanics of the game.

   Specifically, I was curious how the various character creation options stacked up against one another. In Remember Tomorrow (hereafter shortened to RT), you have three character attributes: Ready, Willing, and Able. These stats are effectively interchangeable, as every time a conflict comes up you roll 3 dice and assign them after the roll each to a different attribute. At character creation you split 12 points between the three stats, with no attribute being above 8 or below 1. At first blush, it seemed obvious to me that a stat block of 8 3 1 was better than a block of 4 4 4... but would the math actually support that gut reaction? Is there in fact one character build that outperforms the others?

   I made a list of all the possible stat combinations for a starting character (8 3 1, 8 2 2, 7 4 1, 7 3 2, 6 5 1, 6 4 2, 6 3 3, 5 5 2, 5 4 3, and 4 4 4) and ran some computations on success rates and probability. Not surprisingly, the versions with the highest number (and beyond that, the greatest spread of values overall) have higher chances of scoring a single success. 831 gets a successful roll 87.4% of the time, where as 4 4 4 only succeeds 78.4%. Honestly though, that variance in performance was a little less than I was expecting. Ultimately, this is a system that says "yes" more than it does "no", and the odds are in your favor for getting a successful roll no matter what your initial stats are.

   Of course, rolls in RT are not simple binary pass/fail rolls. Most are opposed rolls, and even the times where your roll isn't being compared to someone else's there's still the benefit of additional outcomes scored for a high margin of success. That's where 4 4 4 makes up for its initial obvious shortcomings. Stats of 8 3 1 will only get a triple success in 2.4% of all rolls, but stats of 4 4 4 will result in the triple success 6.4% of the time. While that seems like a small difference, in terms of impact on your average roll, it perfectly makes up for the increased chance of a single success. The mean roll is 1.2 successes (assuming no Edge dice or P-Cons) for all the possible character builds. There's none that is clearly better than the others. Those that are less likely to fail are also less likely to score big.

   So what's the best build? That depends on what you're after.  If you're expecting to make a lot of contested rolls, then the flatter distribution of stats will be of benefit, as it results in more chances of getting a triple success. So those who play very aggressively and antagonistically will be best served by starting stats of 4 4 4.  If, on the other hand, you're instead planning on playing a little more cautiously, relying on deals (and your initial introduction) to get early rewards without conflict, then you're better off with an 8 and using early successes to bump up your lower stats.  Either way, the distinctions are pretty minimal, with a particular build being only very slightly better than any other for certain purposes. So don't sweat it.

   Note however that having a 1 can be dangerous if you expect other players at your table to be very aggressive with Factions. If the notion of having to make a new PC mid-session is very unappealing to you, you might want to avoid having any 1's out of the gate. Personally, I'm leaning towards an 8 2 2 build and an early Deal scene, but it's hard to argue conclusively for any particular build when all the options are so balanced.

   At this point I'll just observe that yes, I'm aware of the vaguely munchkinly weirdness in doing a mathematical analysis of character builds for a rules-light highly-narrative game where one can swap PCs mid-session. I'll even grant that it's sort of missing the point of the system. But I wanted to know if the rules even worked mathematically, and I was pleased to discover they are indeed quite balanced...

   ...almost too balanced, honestly, since character differentiation just doesn't happen mechanically. Ready, Willing, and Able are all rolled for every situation. There's only one in-game factor that favors a particular attribute, and as long as you roll low (good) at least twice per episode, you can all but ignore it. The description of the attributes has only very shallow cosmetic impact (if any) on narrating your results. These facts combine to make all characters feel pretty much identical during the game. There is no concept of "character niche" in this game, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. That one character can be "Armed" with a mono-katana and another be "Armed" with the truth is on one level extremely cool, but also a little sad in that it sort of makes the flavorful stuff (including the tech and brand charts) less meaningful. The non-traditional structure of the game probably circumvents the usual troubles of character overlap, since the PCs will be operating mostly alone or in conflict, not in concert. As long as the fiction / narration is solid, this potential "problem" should be easy to work around.

Attributes0 SuccessesSome Level of SuccessExactly 1 SuccessExactly 2 SuccessesExactly 3 Successes
8 3 112.6%87.4%57.2%27.8%2.4%
8 2 212.8%87.2%57.6%26.4%3.2%
7 4 116.2%83.8%50.4%30.60%2.8%
7 3 216.8%83.2%50.6%28.4%4.2%
6 5 118.0%82.0%47.00%32.0%3.0%
6 4 219.2%80.8%46.4%29.6%4.8%
6 3 319.6%80.4%46.2%28.8%5.4%
5 5 220.0%80.0%45.0%30.0%5.0%
5 4 321.0%79.0%44.0%29.0%6.0%
4 4 421.6%78.4%43.2%28.8%6.4%

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