On Cognitive Load


Prerelease Discussion


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Designers, while you are working on PF2, please bear cognitive load in mind.

Having options is great! But the more options you have, the harder it becomes to remember all of them in play, and more difficult to choose between them.

Some people are quite adept at this; one player I know routinely builds complex characters with three or even four different point economies to track, and uses them to great effect -- once he makes up his mind about which of his many options to choose. Having more options presents a greater opportunity for analysis paralysis, but he generally does fairly well at avoiding it.

Other players struggle to operate a single-classed PC with no bells or whistles. This is particularly true of new players. Because they are not familiar with the system basics, running their PC takes a lot of mental work, and they are thus prone to forgetting options that are available to them. I tend to steer such players towards feats and equipment that grant static bonuses. Things that get added and figured in once are things you don't have to remember from moment to moment in the game, which tends to make running the character easier.

So, please try to strike a balance between game elements that add new options and those that improve existing options. Players should be free to build PCs that suit the cognitive load they are prepared to bear, whether that's low or high.

Crap, I wrote a five-paragraph essay with an introduction, three body paragraphs and a conclusion. Somewhere, my English teachers are cackling.


No party wants to have to carry The Load.

Makes it too easy to blow Their Load of daily resources under the increased Workload


you don't have to remember everything. you can write it down and look up later. or go straight to the source and look it up there. it's a game, not a test. you are allowed to use cheat sheets


And here I thought cognitive load was going to be another new mechanic


Planpanther wrote:
How about a sidebar that says play vanilla fighter if you cant handle the load?

Because new players should be able to play what they want. Forcing new players to play as a vanilla fighter tramples on their agency, and signals that the community is not welcoming.

I am hoping that in PF2 it will be possible to make a "vanilla druid" that is simple and easy to play; and also possible to make a "neapolitan fighter" with a wide range of options and abilities to choose from.

Hytholodeus wrote:
you don't have to remember everything [...] you are allowed to use cheat sheets

That's true, and a useful technique for managing complexity. But players should also have the option to reduce complexity by choosing baked-in options. The two techniques work side-by-side.


Dunno why people say Fighter is easy. They always had to pick the most feats form the biggest least.

Swashbuckler is the easiest, they get no variety.


Archer is the easiest, and the simplest Archer is the Fighter (though I'd likely build them a Ranger so they feel skilled and have a better & distinct non-combat role).

That said, maybe have a page with a simple layout of options. It might even be as a flowchart. This might be more of a beginner box thing though, where the classes don't have their full options in play and there are fewer general options.
PF2 might be simpler though, despite having more options, especially if those options are mainly at the build stage. The "3 action" format solves a lot of issues when trying to describe timing to new players, at least issues I've seen with the dozen+ newbies I've taught.


The beginners box is for straight newbs. I do support a vanilla version of every class too. Strategy guide version 2. There are a number of ways to spread the load.

Paizo Employee Designer

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We're keeping it in mind for sure. That's one reason we've rejiggered the number of bonus types, altered the action economy to make choice clearer, and (at least mostly) made it so you have options for static feats instead of only giving options to expand your list of actions. We'll see in the playtest whether that mix is right.


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I feel like there's also the matter of "different things are hard for different folks"? Like I'm overcome with choice paralysis any time I play a prepared caster, but I took immediately to the Occcultist and the Kineticist which are two classes a lot of people say are "difficult" or "complicated".


Planpanther wrote:
How about a sidebar that says play vanilla fighter if you cant handle the load?

What about those of us who want the Fighter to be as compelling and deep as a caster?


Tinalles wrote:
Planpanther wrote:
How about a sidebar that says play vanilla fighter if you cant handle the load?

Because new players should be able to play what they want. Forcing new players to play as a vanilla fighter tramples on their agency, and signals that the community is not welcoming.

I agree. A group did this to me in a game of AD&D a long time ago. Also, the character was level 1 while the others were around 5. One of the most boring evenings I ever had.


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Tinalles wrote:
Planpanther wrote:
How about a sidebar that says play vanilla fighter if you cant handle the load?

Because new players should be able to play what they want. Forcing new players to play as a vanilla fighter tramples on their agency, and signals that the community is not welcoming.

I am hoping that in PF2 it will be possible to make a "vanilla druid" that is simple and easy to play; and also possible to make a "neapolitan fighter" with a wide range of options and abilities to choose from.

Hytholodeus wrote:
you don't have to remember everything [...] you are allowed to use cheat sheets
That's true, and a useful technique for managing complexity. But players should also have the option to reduce complexity by choosing baked-in options. The two techniques work side-by-side.

I have never read anything gaming related that I disagree with more.

To play a wizard, you have to read through a chapter of spells(a spellbook of sorts), accumulate knowledge and learn how to put that knowledge to work. It can be a tortuous and slow process. In short,to play a wizard YOU HAVE TO BECOME A WIZARD. This is sweet and immersive.

I agree that there should be more newbie friendly classes, maybe even a warlock style go-all-day blaster that makes magic approachable. But to reduce the science that is spellcasting to a newbie friendly rules light frolic is to embrace mediocrity for all.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

One way that the cognitive load for new players could be reduced is to propose "packages" of feats and other choices, so they don't have to go through the whole list of options.

For example a sword & board fighter might have one list (covering several levels of advancement) while an archer fighter might have another list and so on.
This wouldn't prevent a player from going "outside his list" but would give new players a ready-to-play package without actually limiting them to an iconic or other pre-rolled character.

Aside from new players, I don't see any problem with excessive cognitive load. I mean, one of the main reasons we choose to play PF over other PRGs is for the complexity and ability to customize our characters.


Arachnofiend wrote:
Planpanther wrote:
How about a sidebar that says play vanilla fighter if you cant handle the load?
What about those of us who want the Fighter to be as compelling and deep as a caster?

This is a good point. I think that the fighter class should have depth and several design choices.

I also think that the new Core Rulebook should provide a vanilla archetype for every class for the players who want a simple character. The vanilla archetype should trade away choices, including overriding built-in choices, such as, "For your second-level feat you are required to take Precise Shot. You do not need to satisfy the prerequisites for Precise Shot."

The vanilla archetype for wizard could be a graduate of a Hogwarts-like school of wizardry with a clear spell list built around potions, flying, and protection from the dark arts (battlefield control). The vanilla archetype for cleric could be a necromancer that also can heal well. The vanilla archetype for barbarian could be an Ulfen (Viking) raider. And so on.

Wheldrake's package of feats proposal could accomplish this as well as an archetype, but one ill-spoken statement about, "You may chose better feats," could send a newbie into a panic that for each feat in the package a better feat is hidden in a splatbook somewhere.


I agree. One of the worst things about a game is having to put the entire game on pause so we can look up a rule.


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bookrat wrote:
I agree. One of the worst things about a game is having to put the entire game on pause so we can look up a rule.

One of the most fun things about the game, IME, is getting to explore a new section of rules, so pausing in the middle is usually a positive and exciting thing.


ChibiNyan wrote:

Dunno why people say Fighter is easy. They always had to pick the most feats form the biggest least.

Swashbuckler is the easiest, they get no variety.

Yeah, but once that's done they get a lot easier:

What do you want to do --> Move and power attack --> Please make sure you can't just 5-foot step and power attack
|
\/
Stand still and power attack
|
\/
Congratulations, you made the only viable choice.


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the nerve-eater of Zur-en-Aarh wrote:
bookrat wrote:
I agree. One of the worst things about a game is having to put the entire game on pause so we can look up a rule.
One of the most fun things about the game, IME, is getting to explore a new section of rules, so pausing in the middle is usually a positive and exciting thing.

...While everyone else is just sitting around waiting for you to finish up reading on the rules.

The time for that is outside of game. I've only got a few hours a week to play a game, and I really don't want to waste it sitting around while someone else stops the game to look up a rule. And another rule. And another. And another.

It also slows down the game, extending the number of sessions needed to complete an adventure. And with Paizo's fast release of new APs, I never once actually finished an AP. We just couldn't get through them quick enough because of all the pauses looking up rules.

Unfortunately, we didn't learn that lesson until after moving to 5e, where the system is designed to simply have the gm make a judgement call to keep the game moving and look up the rule later.


bookrat wrote:


...While everyone else is just sitting around waiting for you to finish up reading on the rules.

IME, they're listening to you read out the rule, and asking intelligent questions about what it might mean for what they are doing, and that kind of thing, and generally taking the opportunity to become more skilled players.


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the nerve-eater of Zur-en-Aarh wrote:
bookrat wrote:


...While everyone else is just sitting around waiting for you to finish up reading on the rules.
IME, they're listening to you read out the rule, and asking intelligent questions about what it might mean for what they are doing, and that kind of thing, and generally taking the opportunity to become more skilled players.

I'm glad its working for your group (or groups), whenever I get together to play with people, we want to tell a story together and have an adventure, no philosophize about the rules.

And when rules have to be looked up, the most ideal case is that the wording is clear-cut enough to remove any doubts or questions, or the room for interpretation leads to an argument about how to rule it. Either way no one really has had any personal growth from the experience, and all it did was stop us from doing what we met up to do.

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