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01 December 2013 @ 11:12 am
On Extraneous Information in Games  
Today I was correlating a list of the thaumaturgical rituals in Exalted for a possible game (about which more later), and when I was flipping through all the books and looking for every ritual I could find, I saw this one:
First Greeting (1, Perception, 1, five minutes): This simple ritual is practiced in countless Threshold communities to name newborns. It must be performed within one day of an infant's birth. Beseeching the Maidens for their wisdom, the thaumaturge intently examines a newborn child, attempting to discern the name that would most fit the plans destiny has laid out for it. While it is debatable whether Heaven cares what any individual mortal is called, success on the ritual‟s activation roll grants the practitioner a flash of insight and a name. If that name is granted to the infant, the child enjoys a +1 bonus on all Resistance rolls for its first year of life.
On the one hand, that's fantastic. Assuming your generic child has Stamina 1 and no Resistance, then a five-minute ritual of prayer doubles their resilience against disease or other calamities. Even counting rampaging gods or man-eating dinosaurs, that means that the infant mortality rate in Creation is probably a lot lower than it was in pre-industrial Earth, which explains why the population can be approaching one billion even though the technology in most places is still bronze or iron level.

On the other hand, no PC would ever take that, especially if they're Exalted. Even in a God-Blooded or mortals game where one of the PCs is a village healer or wise woman... Well, I guess they might take it for backstory--I've spent XP on abilities or skills that I knew I wouldn't use because it was reasonable that I would possess them because of my character's previous history--but otherwise, even at only 1 XP, it'll probably never be bought. It's just a hunch, but I expect that the number of GMs who called for Stamina + Resistance rolls from the children in the characters' village to resist Bonebreak Fever is as close to zero as makes no odds.

I'm still glad it's there, though. Even if it isn't ever going to be bought by a character, its existence implies that NPCs have it and use it, and helps explain how the world works.

As another example, take Mass Effect (1, because that's the only one I played). As you're traveling around the galaxy, one of the sidequests you can do is scan planets for usable resources and survey them, and then send the data back to Earth for later use. Some of the planets let you land on them and roam around in a tank looking for minerals, but a lot of them you just scan them and check spectrographically for minerals or valuable gasses and then leave. The thing is, all the planets have an entry in the codex, even if it's just a paragraph. There's even a summary of planetary conditions for each planet, with entries like atmospheric pressure, orbital period, orbital distance, surface temperature, and so on. Here's an example:
An enigmatic terrestrial planet, Zayarter has a hazy atmosphere of nitrogen and argon. The surface is scorching hot, and mainly composed of calcium with deposits of sodium. Three times in the last century, ships stopping to discharge at Treyarmus reported geometric patterns of lights on the dark side of Zayarter. Attempts at further investigation proved fruitless; the lights disappear when ships approach the inner system.
Pretty much useless in the scheme of the game, since you can't land on the planet and certainly can't investigate the lights. There was no need to write blurbs like that for most of the planets, and surveying would have worked just as well without them, because that's how it worked in Star Control II. But having them makes the world feel more real.

There's also the fact that occasionally as you're surveying planets, you find ruins, or a layer of glass several meters down over the entire habitable surface of the planet, or overlapping rings indicative or massive asteroid bombardment. Here's one:
Helyme is thought to be the homeworld of the arthenn, a spacefaring species that disappeared approximately 300,000 years ago. Precisely what happened to Helyme is still under debate. It appears a global extinction occurred, wiping out all native animal life forms more complex than zooplankton. Plant forms were not affected, but the lack of oxygen-breathing life caused oxygenation of the atmosphere. Plant life was reduced after lighting storms ignited global wildfires.
Like Helyme, the examples always occur in multiples of 50,000 years, but it's probably just a coincidence.

How do you feel about content like this? Is it wasted space that should have been spent on rituals that the PCs would be likely to take, or more development time that should have been devoted to making the Mako sections more interesting? Poll included!:
Poll #1945980 Extraneous Game Info poll

How do you feel about information like this in games?

I love it! The more the better.
It's nice, but I admit I sometimes skip reading it.
I could take it or leave it.
The occasional bit is fine, but don't clog up the game with them.
I never read them and would rather the time and effort be spent elsewhere.
Special snowflake.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Current Music: Black Tape For A Blue Girl - Chanukkah, Oh Chanukkah
q99q99 on December 1st, 2013 06:29 pm (UTC)
I like stuff like this, but in cases like the Exalted one, I do prefer it if they gave you a way to access it without trading away limited combat-skill resources.
dorchadas: Pile of Dicedorchadas on December 1st, 2013 07:01 pm (UTC)
I'm surprised more games haven't adopted the Shadowrun 4e-style separation of combat and non-combat skills. SR4e only does it in character generation, but I know the Project Eternity people were considering doing something similar. Like, killing d00ds gave you kill XP and talking your way through problems gave you talk XP. That was months ago, though, and they may have changed their minds.
q99q99 on December 1st, 2013 07:40 pm (UTC)
Yes, quite.

Heck, for skills, White Wolf's system gives you X number of points for skills in each particular category, so you'll always have some points for social no matter how combat monstery you are, they just didn't think to extend that to rituals, charms and the like.
marianlhmarianlh on December 3rd, 2013 04:29 am (UTC)
SR3 also had the skill split; it didn't start with 4E. All my SR3 PCs got to have some skill points in "Interests", like Goblin Rock Bands or Romance Visual Novels.
dorchadasdorchadas on December 3rd, 2013 04:36 am (UTC)
My mistake. (^_^;) I have SR3 on my shelf, but I don't know that I've ever read it all the way through. For all practical purposes, I jumped straight from SR2 to SR4.
marianlhmarianlh on December 3rd, 2013 04:27 am (UTC)
Put me down for "The more the better". ^_^ Like I said in my LJ awhile back, it helps me with immersion. The more detailed my imagining, the more it feels like I'm really there.