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What is the point of the roll checks in the Interplay Fallout games?


koifish
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I've been playing Fallout recently (no spoilers please, I just started!) and I'm not sure I understand why the game uses roll checks for much of anything beyond combat results. I understand, tabletop RPGs have used roll checks for skills since the dawn of the genre. I'm certain that the Interplay devs followed in that great tradition when making Fallout, since it was ultimately an adaptation of a tabletop game to the computer (a true CRPG).

That said, I have noticed a trend in my playing of Fallout. Maybe I am just too new and ignorant, but in my experience, the places where I see skill checks are rather meaningless checks, because there is not a wide range of possibilities, but instead a binary set of results. Let me give some examples to illustrate what I mean:

 

1. I am a thief character. I attempt to steal from someone. If I succeed, I walk away and get their loot. If I fail, they shoot me and I die.

2. I am captured in a locked room. If I attempt to pick the lock and fail, I suffer no penalty, so I just pick it over and over again until I succeed. If I roll a critical failure and the lock is jammed, then I will never be able to escape this room, and the game is effectively over as nothing else seems to change the situation.

 

In case 1, what is the purpose of this event using a roll check for result? I know that in the tabletop world, there is no other system. What I'm saying is that the difference is that a DM can possibly create nuance on the fly between a bad steal roll and an "almost" steal roll. In Fallout, it pretty much boils down to two situations: steal and be fine, or fail and die almost immediately. There's basically no middle ground unless you find the seemingly rare target who has no weapon but also valuable goods to steal.

But then it gets worse to me, because the manual recommends that the player save very often whenever they are about to go somewhere new or dangerous, or do something risky. If you are basically told to save before attempting risky or dangerous things, and stealing has the risk of death, then the message seems to be "Save and then Steal" with the result of "if you die, just reload until you live". At that point, why even bother rolling at all? Just say whether or not you can steal from them and save everyone the trouble. Is it maybe more realistic or sim-ish to say that you need to try and find out? I suppose so, but is it more immersion-breaking to say that you can steal or not, or is it more immersion-breaking to save and reload over and over until you get the perfect result?

In case 2, I was in a locked cell. I waited around a bit and nothing else happened. I resolved to pick the lock, and I tried it a few times. After several tries, I was able to do it. A few times, however, I jammed the lock, at which point I assume that due to my low lockpick skill, it would be impossible to fix (in hindsight, maybe fixing the lock is a repair check). Either way, let's assume I was wrong and that it's a repair check to unjam the lock. What is the value to the end user of making them try over and over to pick the lock and/or try over and over to repair the lock, given that there isn't actually any fallout from failure here beyond the same as in case 1, which was "oops, reload your save!"? If the entire result is that you reload and waste time, then what does this experience offer to the player? I mean, maybe in that situation, the message is "remember when you did X? Yeah, that was a mistake, don't do that." I have been coming around to the idea that some RPG routes and choices should just be "you screwed up, bad ending, try again". I think it's just a struggle for me to see why things that have blatant black or white results need to be decided by luck, especially when one result is inherently necessary for success or even just continuing the game, or when one result just means reloading and trying the exact same thing again until you succeed.

If you made it through my long post, then I'd appreciate you sharing your own experience with CRPGs and maybe help me to understand this design element of the genre. Maybe I'm just missing the point here, so I'm open to your ideas or explanations. Thanks for reading and I look forward to your responses.

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To your early point, I think it most likely has to do with the game just being from a slightly "older-school" design theory. The idea of introducing the skill checks comes from that emulation of table top RPGs. The "you can try to do anything you want but you won't always succeed". Of course, as you pointed out, in games with a proper GM, there's a certain "soft enforcement" there that allows the GM to find other ways to let the players progress, even when they foul up the most obvious opportunities. For obvious reasons, a computer can't recreate that kind of flexibility.

But, once you've come to terms with the inherent limitations, I've always found the old-school CRPGs to encourage a sort of "freedom through experimentation". The idea is that the player doesn't know what actions are optimal and which are problematic and, since the computer obscures the hard factors behind some of those decisions, it can even prompt the player to "challenge" the system.

It's very different to the modern RPG sensibility of either "this is a sandbox so everything is equally possible and balanced" or "this is a linear adventure so you can only do what we permit". In the old-school, you make your decision and you take your lumps. Yeah, sometimes that means you reload a save...and that was yet another staple experience of many older games, which has its own kind of charm. I tend to prefer save states over auto-save 90% of time. But, the trial and error approach makes you, the player, have to come to terms with the world and systems bit by bit and I think it reinforces a certain sense of discovery that is unique to the format.

Fallout 1 & 2 are some of my all-time favorite CRPGs. They are certainly rough around the edges in that old-school way. There are good choices and bad choices and not everything is evenly balanced. But they create an undeniable sense of adventure and ownership by the player.

Edited by Webhead123
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If you are quick saving/reloading just to avoid negative outcomes (other than game over) thats kind of against the spirit of traditional rpgs.

#1 seems pretty straightforward- are you willing to risk a fight to steal whatever they have? If you fail and always die you are probably too low level for your intended target? 

#2 is trickier, possibly a game over event if you cant get out but fallout was pretty good about having more than 1 way to do something. You can maybe blast the door open with explosives, or just attack it if you're strong enough. Its been a while since i played og fallout so i don't remember for certain.

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Fallout was originally based on GURPS, a tabletop roleplaying system.  They lost the license part of the way through development, which is where SPECIAL came from (as they were originally using whatever stat system that GURPS uses/used).  That should explain why it feels like a tabletop RPG system, since that's what it basically is under the hood.

As for why you're feeling the way you are...I'm baffled.  Have you just not been playing RPGs that long, or not many (now) older ones?  I haven't dug into many new RPGs in recent years, so perhaps this change is something new?  The idea behind non-combat checks is basically to make RPG video games feel like the actual tabletop roleplaying games that they're emulating.  You don't automatically succeed every time you go to steal from somebody just because; even at the highest level of skill, there's still the possibility that you'll mess up, so checks are done.  If newer RPGs aren't doing this sort of thing, I'm kind of glad that I've inadvertently stayed away from them, as that possibility for unexaplainable success (low skill level succeeding on high difficulty task) or totally unexpected failure (high level skill dramatically failing on low difficulty) should always exist in such an environment.  It's meant to mimic the "real life" experience of whatever setting it's in, and if it just puts you into "god mod" outside of combat, that definitely takes away from the immersion.

If you really want to get driven nuts with things like this, go play Wasteland, which Fallout semi-officially comes from.  There are multiple different ways to do lots of things in the game, some of which have a low level of possibility even with the highest skill levels involved.  It's incredible when you pull off one of the "hail mary" methods, though.

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It depends on how much you want to properly roleplay and treat it like a CRPG version of a tabletop roleplaying rule set (the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system was originally inspired-by/adapted-from another pen-and-paper rule set)

If you're going to save scum, then it doesn't "matter", other than the tedium of scumming.

 

If you're going to play by the "spirit of the game", then there are a lot of places where it steers your progression through the narrative.

There are relatively few do-or-die places in Fallout where only one method works.

In your  example #2 -- if you fail the lock pick... you can usually blow the door with dynamite.  If you didn't come prepared...well, sometimes you have to accept that a "game over" scenario has occurred (like total-party-kill in a game of D&D)

 

On the pick-pocketing example -- you can get even more creative than just TAKING things -- you can ADD things to someone's inventory -- like activated explosives.  (i.e. you can sometimes assassinate a character without triggering combat at all)

 

 

Overall -- think about the Fallout games as more of a CRPG manifestation of tabletop gaming.  And accept that there are things you can do that make it unwinnable -- by design -- because the game developers give you the ability to kill ANYONE AND EVERYONE, along with a variety of ways you can manipulate the environment.

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On 11/24/2020 at 11:55 AM, Webhead123 said:

But, once you've come to terms with the inherent limitations, I've always found the old-school CRPGs to encourage a sort of "freedom through experimentation". The idea is that the player doesn't know what actions are optimal and which are problematic and, since the computer obscures the hard factors behind some of those decisions, it can even prompt the player to "challenge" the system.

Yeah, I should have said too that I'm conflicted about my feelings, because while it sometimes just feels like scumming is the only way through (I rationalize it as replaying levels of super mario bros until you can beat it, except you're in the 2nd person and watching someone else try to do it), I really like how it puts you in a world and tells you to find a solution. You rarely feel like there isn't a path through. I think my problem might have just been less expansive thinking about what you can do in this game. There were tasks I wanted to do in-game that I died attempting, because I was a poor level 1 with no money. Playing as a thief character who struggled against any encounter seemed to imply that I should steal from people to get armor, so that I could do the things I wanted to do, but there wasn't much of anybody I could steal from that wasn't either 1) broke, or 2) well-armed. From my perspective, it wasn't really a tenable situation. That said, some other posts here seem to shed light on ideas I hadn't even thought of, so like I said in the first post, it could be my newness or ignorance that fueled my frustration.

@arch_8ngel I understand it's a tabletop adaptation, and I appreciate and even like that there are unwinnable scenarios you can get yourself into. I was simply expressing disdain for what seemed like a pointless time wasting element when taken into a computer system. I do have to ask though, that if a guard is watching the door, then why does it reason that blowing up said door with dynamite would not immediately draw their attention? Maybe that's just one of those funny things in this game, like how I once got an NPC to start blasting at me because I bumped into him twice, which then brought upon 10 turns of "walk 10 spaces toward exit grid and wait" followed by me returning and his forgetting I ever existed.

@darkchylde28 Can't tell you anything about how old or new RPGs differ on that kind of thing. In this case I'm a new player of RPGs, and only picked up fallout because I was sick and didn't feel up to playing action games. Before having an RPG-fueled existential crisis, please reconsider my first post; I know why dice rolls are used, but at least in tabletop it seems to make a difference what you roll. Where's the thief check where the guy doesn't blow your head off instantly on a slight failure? At least in the lockpick situation I know now that there's more options, so I'll take that one on the nose. Sometimes I think parts of this game are just there because of tradition, and that they work better with a human that can think on the fly than with a computer game which locks in certain results for necessity of simplification.

On 11/24/2020 at 12:40 PM, Lincoln said:

If you are quick saving/reloading just to avoid negative outcomes (other than game over) thats kind of against the spirit of traditional rpgs.

#1 seems pretty straightforward- are you willing to risk a fight to steal whatever they have? If you fail and always die you are probably too low level for your intended target? 

#2 is trickier, possibly a game over event if you cant get out but fallout was pretty good about having more than 1 way to do something. You can maybe blast the door open with explosives, or just attack it if you're strong enough. Its been a while since i played og fallout so i don't remember for certain.

I guess I don't really see the difference on #1, if you're a thief char and you successfully steal about 40% of the time, and the result of failure is "reload your last save" then what does it really matter? It's not like you're reloading a hundred times so that a character with garbage steal score can manage a successful steal anyway. Feels like the only difference is how much time you think is okay to waste on reloads. Granted, I am expressing this as an ignorant new player, who doesn't know every in and out of fallout yet, and doesn't always know the next step. At the particular point I was scumming, I just didn't know any other path, and didn't want to start the game over so long as something still seemed doable. #2 was me being ill-prepared, and perhaps not knowing, but again, if it seemed like an answer and the only cost was a few reloads, then was it really that different from reloading an even earlier save and figuring out new solutions? I guess it is, thinking as I type, but it comes off as annoying more than interesting. But then, I guess sometimes immersion means being annoying and not enjoyable, and doing it on purpose. Though that feeling may also stem from the feeling that the "world" you immerse in here is mostly one-line character dialog spam mixed with people whose only value to the player is to give them another leg-up in finishing the game. Perhaps my "clear the game" mentality is too pragmatic and callous to appreciate CRPGs and I should go back to dungeon crawls.

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@koifishdisagree whole-heartedly that it is "time-wasting".

Think of it this way -- you have X% chance of success.

YOU get to decide whether you want to risk failure in that moment, or whether you want to try something different, or return later when you've improved skills.

YOU get to decide whether you want to amp yourself up with steroids to better assure a strength challenge pass.

YOU get to decide whether you want to get hopped up on mentats to boost int-related skills.

 

All of those options carry risks, and part of this style of game is managing those risks or deciding to gamble and go for it.

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11 hours ago, koifish said:

@darkchylde28 Can't tell you anything about how old or new RPGs differ on that kind of thing. In this case I'm a new player of RPGs, and only picked up fallout because I was sick and didn't feel up to playing action games. Before having an RPG-fueled existential crisis, please reconsider my first post; I know why dice rolls are used, but at least in tabletop it seems to make a difference what you roll. Where's the thief check where the guy doesn't blow your head off instantly on a slight failure? At least in the lockpick situation I know now that there's more options, so I'll take that one on the nose. Sometimes I think parts of this game are just there because of tradition, and that they work better with a human that can think on the fly than with a computer game which locks in certain results for necessity of simplification.

In tabletop RPGs, the guy not immediately attacking you (and possibly killing you) when you get caught trying to steal his stuff is the DM's discretion, not something that's a rule, tradition, etc., in any game book I've ever read.  In a situation where anything you lose could immediately lead to your death/downfall/etc., wouldn't you be immediately whipping the ass of anybody who tried to take your stuff outside of a fair trade?  The dice roll is to give you the chance to get the stuff outside of having to just kill the guy outright and take it.  If you're dying immediately upon failure, you're obviously not high enough level or properly equipped to be fooling with the NPC's you're stealing from.  The chance of success or failure and the appropriate reactions to those outcomes is both something that's there from tabletop RPGs as well as something to enhance the realism of the world you're supposed to be immersed in.  If you either succeed or fail automatically, you might as well fire up Rogue, as that's got the same level of depth that the type of back-end game functionality you're talking about has.

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