Coming out of the primer on RPG character archetypes I came upon a deeper dive into a inner subject that I felt is a useful expansion upon the primer’s implications for political activism/reaction.
I’m not sure how generally useful it may be, but it felt like a good vocabulary to describe some of my biggest concerns in the current political climate. At least in that regard it seemed particularly useful to me, especially in that I’ve had something of a self-imposed ban on direct political blogging since way back in Ought Five. I could see a use in having an analogy vocabulary that could at least air some of my grievances without directly pointing fingers (or that much blame, hopefully).
In previous article, I discussed the three very large and looming archetypes. Similarly there are three main “damage knobs” that can be discussed as something of the next layer down. I’m going to refer to these as damage primarily, to keep things mostly simple, especially as I head towards analogy, but one thing to note is that healing is a direct dual (in most RPG realms) of damage, just with the signs reversed (adding health points instead of removing them) and the target audience reversed (allies rather than enemies). (Keeping in mind that there can be a duality there is likely useful, but not required, for the analogy work I expect to follow.)
- Magnitude/power is the amount of damage of a strike.
- Area of Effect (AoE)
- AoE is the area/space/number of enemies affected by a strike.
- Damage over Time (DoT)
- DoT is the duration of a strike.
It’s not entirely coincidence that there are three of these main knobs as well. Game designers often love the rule of three; it’s a classic magic number for both storytelling reasons and complexity reasons. Two opposed options, a binary choice, often feels too simplistic, but three seems to our minds to be the first point where things seem complex to our human brain, but actually dealing with the overall number of combinations is reasonable. Consider this the “Rock-Paper-Scissors rule of game design”. A lot of game mechanics feel like fancy versions of Rock-Paper-Scissors, because they in fact are. It’s an easy pattern for a game design to reuse, over and over, and get a lot of surprising to our primate minds complexity boiling out structures that are mostly just variants of Rock-Paper-Scissors all the way down.
I mention this because there is a tendency to think that these knobs, because they describe a roughly triangular map like the archetypes do, are essentially a “fractal” layer. These knobs have certainly been used that way. The easiest way to a simple nine class RPG system is to take the three archetypes and make one class of each archetype hyper-specialized with one of the damage knobs “turned to eleven” and the rest atrophied. There are plenty of RPGs that have done this, and it’s not a bad way to do it.
The thing is that the triangular map formed by these knobs isn’t isomorphic, it isn’t the same exact shape as the archetypes map. I’ve seen great arguments that it might be, but I think that is too narrow a view. In my mind though, I don’t think there are direct correlations between directions in the two maps, and definitely not enough correlation to draw the maps fractally on top of each other. If anything, the damage knobs more often seem to describe an orthogonal dimension (a third dimension to the map).
I think that that very simple 9-class “fractal” system of RPG at this point is seen as something of a simplistic throwback compared to modern systems. The thing that a bunch of modern systems seemed to figure out roughly all at the same time in fun convergent evolution, was that these damage knobs were often better suited to leaving to player tactics rather than class bound. In many modern systems, finding the balance between attacks that favor Magnitude over AoE, or attacks that favor DoT, can become a interesting matter of a player’s choice and situational awareness. Classes and often equipment often are still biased towards one damage knob or the other, some for obvious flavor reasons: a melee weapon often might struggle with AoE damage but deliver big magnitude strikes; on the other side, a melee weapon might be poisoned or on fire and deliver a very interesting DoT effect.
Another reason to avoid thinking of it is a fractal layer is that unlike the archetypes, in most games at least, you don’t necessarily need all three sorts of damage knobs in play to make a good team for the most difficult confrontations. You might be able one-shot enemies one at a time quickly with a “glass cannon” that might be extremely fragile but has huge magnitude strikes. You can AoE all enemies simultaneously to just take them all down at once. You can even, with patience and time on your side, DoT enemies to death. (I still have fond flashbacks to an old character of mine in a passed away MMORPG that had huge AoE and a very long duration DoT, but a tiny, tiny magnitude in strikes. Soloing was an interesting puzzle of patience and stamina with that character, but she was so welcome on teams, because in that AoE for that DoT the mobs were frozen [literally].)
Giant magnitude damage can often be mitigated with enough armor or the right kind of armor.
Area of Effect can often be mitigated by tactics: in games the AoE is often a geometric shape (a conic section of space project from the character, or a circular blast from a character’s choice of parabolic descent, for two examples), controlling the ground cover, flanking, grouping, and range on the battle field.
Damage over TIme can often be interrupted before it completes. (Douse the flames with water; stop standing on the floor when it is lava.)
The damage knobs don’t have as many clear-cut implications on their own like the archetypes do. There aren’t necessarily any strong, out-of-the-box, trade-offs between damage types like have been well established with the archetypes.
If there’s an obvious strategy advice in games, it’s an “offense in depth”: the more types of damage you bring to a conflict, the more prepared you are to adjust your damage to the necessary tactical situation of the conflict, the better off you likely are.
There are some subtle implications in the interplay between the archetypes and the damage knobs. A support character might need to plan heals differently if they know the primary damage of the team is going need time to act (DoT), versus quickly healing a “glass cannon” in between one-shots.
An Airing of Grievances
There are two particular issues I feel like getting off my chest: one is an AoE problem, and the other is a DoT concern.
An AoE problem
Social media, and especially one platform in particular, have been vexing me for a few months now, and I think the issue is one of the AoE of messaging across those platforms.
The AoE problem that a lot of people seem to complain about is the self-organizing “bubble” problem. At this point I think that problem is way oversold: that’s a solvable problem of essentially player tactics. If “bubble bursting” is an issue, you send in the Tanks. You bring in players that are willing to engage on the front lines, and you pick the front lines to fight. Both platforms even provide tools without needing Tanks to bubble burst if you can spare the cash. Of the two platforms, the advertiser sponsored “micro-targeting” of micro-aggression on one particularly concerns me because it is so ubiquitous and interleaved so much with other content. (I guess this could be a magnitude problem to complete the trio, in that yet again in human history, money buys undue amounts of power.)
The AoE problem that I think is often overlooked is a sort of “the medium is the message” problem. There’s the obvious surface level of this that the social media themselves have fancied themselves as unaligned third parties and almost simple dumb pipes. In trying to provide “no message”, they instead create outlaw towns full of micro-targeted micro-aggression. That is its own sort of message.
But just under the surface, “the median is the message”. Traditional media had very strong areas of effect: wide circulation and easy access to headlines. Social media gives the impression of a wider area of effect: it is certainly possible for a post to go viral and reach potentially millions or at least numbers that would make old newspaper circulation counts seem paltry in comparison. What gets swept under the rug, however, is the rarity of such an event (and on certain platforms as much a fluke of opaque software algorithms than a legitimate tactical human event), especially for anyone who isn’t already a celebrity. There is a very, very long tail of the area of effect of posts on social media. The median area of effect is much, much smaller than traditional media circulation. The median area of effect, I would even wager is probably below Dunbar’s Number (the theoretical tribal “maximum” that something of a bound of our social groups). To some extent, we might as well still be scrawling post-its on college campus telephone poles for comparable audience sizes, even “signal boosted”.
In this way, “bubbles” are also much more visibly a scapegoat. Dunbar’s Number suggests that even the best of us have a hard time with social networks above certain sizes. It’s a sad fact of our primate brain’s existence. We have an “American Dream paradox” at the heart of our social media: social media wants us to think that any of us might be temporarily embarrassed celebrities that everyone wants to hear our opinion, to keep our eyeballs, to keep our attention. They want us to feel that sensation that the next thing we post could affect millions. Surprise, we’ve all mostly just fragmented into classic human scale tribes. We aren’t allowing ourselves to be divided by bubbles, we are fragmented and using bubbles to make the most sense of fragmentation.
A DoT Concern
The Founders of the United States of America were very paranoid of fascism of any kind. They planned a lot of complex damage over time “spells” throughout our system of government. I find myself concerned these last few months that the spells don’t seem to be working, that they seem to have expired or been far too easy to interrupt or far to easy to avoid in the first place.
At least from the ground level, outside of the government, it seems like protections we expected to be in place aren’t working, and that is very frustrating and very concerning. I don’t know how easy that is to deal with.
I understand, however, that DoT spells take time, that maybe I need more patience with the systems. I still worry in the meantime how many layers will be broken after this; how much it will cost to recast the spells, to rebuild the “offense in depth” against fascism.