One of the common complaints with FS3 is that it encourages min-maxing because it has linear chargen costs and exponential XP costs. This article addresses why it is this way and what you can do to ensure that it doesn’t get taken to extremes.
I’ve studied RPG systems for decades, and FS3 embodies elements from my favorite systems. Two things that my favorite systems have in common:
They don’t punish you for being good. I don’t want to play the teenage adventurer just starting out in life, or the one-dimensional ace fighter jock. I want a system that lets me play someone who’s good and decently well-rounded.
They have a quick and easy chargen. Nothing aggravates me more than having to shift points around like: “Well, if I just shave this rating 5 to a 4, I’ll have 3 more points that I can put over here…” It makes me want to pull my hair out. I just want to run down a list of skills and pick levels that fit my vision for my character.
Key Point: These two design goals naturally lead you to a system with a 1-1 point/rating cost in chargen, with no penalty for having some skills at high ratings.
Of course you could do it differently. Any number of systems do, by having tiered skill costs, or skill costs tied to attribute ratings, or whatever. But each of those systems runs contrary to the two goals stated above.
Why not make XP also 1-1 to make it “fair”? Slow XP gain combats the MU “dino effect” where veterans end up way ahead of new characters. Also, if you allow people to start out awesome and advance quickly, they’ll rapidly achieve untouchable levels, making it harder to invent challenges for them.
When you have a 1-1 point/rating and exponential XP cost, you see behaviors like:
This min-maxing is a natural and forseeable consequence of the system, so what’s the big deal?
Consider two characers: Bob and Jane.
Bob plays the min-max game and starts with Firearms:6, Melee:5 and 4 points in lower-rated secondary skills. He doesn’t bother putting points into anything he thinks he can get by without.
Mary tries to make up a more balanced and realistic character, starting with: Firearms: 4, Melee: 3 and 8 points in secondary skills.
Fast-forward six months. Mary has been pumping XP into Firearms and Melee, but her ratings haven’t budged yet because advancement at the higher levels is slow. Meanwhile, Bob has picked up a few extra secondary skills. Now it looks like:
Some people think this is terrible. They think that Mary is being “punished” for trying to make a more balanced character. They think that it’s hideously unfair that Bob has such an advantage over Mary.
The first thing to realize here is that the Bob/Mary example is working exactly as designed. “Wait, what?” you might say. But it’s true.
If FS3 were a level-based game, the admin of the Bob/Mary example basically allowed Bob to start off at level 5 while Mary was still back at level 2. It doesn’t matter how Bob and Mary spend their XP. If they’re earning XP at the same rate Mary will never catch up to Bob because she started behind him from the get-go.
Key Point: FS3 does not strive for power balance between characters. Some may be more “powerful” than others depending on how they spent their points.
Why does FS3 allow unbalanced characters? It is intended for co-operative PVE games. It’s a system that allows the grizzled combat veteran to co-exist with the fresh-faced yet talented new recruit – a cook alongside a figher pilot. Everyone has equal opportunity to make a powerful character. Whether or not they do, though, is up to them.
FS3 relies on game admins to keep players from going to extremes and making up stupid, one-dimensional, maxxed-to-the-gills caricatures.
So how can you, as a game admin or as app staff, enforce balance?
You can choose how powerful you allow characters to be. You can force them to be well-rounded by making them take points in secondary action skills and background skills. You can set a total point cap, to prevent somebody from being good at everything no matter how many XP they eventually accumulate.
By adjusting these limits, you effectively limit how much min-maxing is even possible. There will still be characters who min-max to the maximum allowable extent, but your limits ensure that even that maximum is tolerable.
Another way to minimize min-maxing is to make sure your secondary Action Skills are actually useful. Don’t bother having Drive or Swimming or Persuasion if you’re not actually going to let people use them in meaningful ways. Save those things for background skills.
Having useless Action Skills is a sure-fire way for people to skimp on them in order to buy things they think are actually going to come up. And it really does penalize people who take Drive and never get to use it. Don’t do it!
One common complaint about disparate power levels is that the generalists feel overshadowed in plots. “Why even bother showing up if Harvey can do everything I can do, only better.” There are a number of ways you can combat this issue.
FS3 is not set up for the traditional Hero’s Journey. If you have someone coming into the game expecting that, they’re probably going to get frustrated and disappointed. It’s better to set clear expectations from the start.
And it’s okay to be flexible. If somebody messed up their points in chargen and realizes they’ve hamstrung themselves? Let them fix it (within reason). If someone’s doing something special, like an intensive 8-week crash course in Viper training? It’s okay to give them some bonus skill ratings outside of what the XP system says.
Always remember - the system is there to help you tell stories, not to stand in your way.