7/25/2010

Published on 7/25/2010 Written by 25 comments

Help me make a game system that doesn't suck

While working on my current project titled - "campaign world that will eventually be released to the public in the hopes that they will like it and not ridicule me, and my hard work will pay off and people will use it, and have fun with it." (That's the working title) - I realized I needed some sort of system that would fit the world. At first I just figured I would be system neutral, but after some thought I realized that developing an actual game system was the way to go.

Of course after the realization that I wanted to create a game system, came the immediate realization that I had absolutely no idea what kind of system I wanted to create - which of course led to a lack of confidence, self-loathing and eventually beer. After a few beers my confidence miraculously returned, and I was ready to go.

I have always been of the opinion that what most people want in an RPG is not tacked on originality, but comfortable familiarity. And if you can somehow take that familiarity as a template and innovate it, you can create a very appealing game. This is easily seen in the design of 3e/4e and in the various retro-clones of earlier DnD editions. I would attribute their success to the fact that they are based on familiar systems, and while innovative they don't step too far away from what people expect of them.

I just don't dig the forge styled Indie games with "unique mechanics" that go something like: throw a bunched up t-shirt into the air, and if it lands with the ironic slogan facing the ceiling you get 1 narrative point that can be used towards control of the storytelling experience. That's just such a drag compared to a simple dice roll to hit a monster. And ultimately I am not interested in creating a shared narrative work of art, I am interested in creating a game. A game implies chance, not talking about stuff without any risk - and chance is what makes a game fun. I'm not saying Indie games are all bad, far from it, it's just that if you crave narrative control write a play, not a game.

I have worked out most of what I'm looking for in a game:

- I would like it to use one system mechanic
I have absolutely no problems with a one mechanic to rule them all approach in game design, in fact I prefer it. As much as I love ADnD and ODnD, I find the use of multiple mechanics somewhat irritating. There are some old school bloggers out there who might want to have a fight at recess over this issue, but to me it's just a matter of taste – and my taste in recent days is leaning towards one mechanic.

- There has to be classes
I have always preferred classes over “the make your own adventurer” style of character design. The main reason being, that left to their own devices most players will generally create the same guy each time. You know him, he's either pretty good at everything or REALLY good at one or two things - he can't read, has no real skills of any kind, but he can throw daggers through walls, and kill people by stamping his feet.

- It can't turn a simple mechanic into a bloated and hideous monster
That's right DnD 3e I'm lookin' at you, with all yer' feats and fancy pants character building, and soul crushing mathematical corpulence. It's like adding a beer belly, a giant mustache, and some type of huge ridiculous anime sword to Michelangelo's David. 4e may have lost a bit of the weight, but it's still out of shape and gets winded going up the stairs.

After considering the above criteria I've narrowed it down to three possible ideas for the overall system.

- A super slim and trim D20 or Retro Clone Based System
The Pros – It's a simple system, roll a d20 beat a number, I like that. There is a tremendous amount of support for d20 and retro clones. It's an easy to adapt system. And the truth is the vast majority of people play or have played this type of game, so it already has a much wider audience than every other game system out there.
The Cons – We need another d20/Retro clone like we need a kick in the junk, and all the cool names have already been taken.

- Some type of “Old School” style system that isn't DnD, but is still "Old School"
To avoid the possibility of starting an OSR fight I won't define what "old school" means, or explain what mechanics I might use - or in any way refer to old school as a feeling. I will only say that it has something to do with the Freemasons and the Illuminati... and possibly James Raggi, and pretty much everyone on his blogroll.
 
- A d100 based system
The Pros – I've always liked the you are x% good at something, and away you roll. This system is also easily adapted, and most people are familiar with percentage based systems.
The Cons – The primary problem I've always had with the d100 system is levelling classes and doling out the points. There must be a streamlined way to do this, but I have yet to find it - although I haven't really been looking or trying that hard.

These ideas are definitely subject to change, but it's what I have for now.

I would really appreciate any suggestions and ideas you might have.

25 comments:

  1. How about a 2d6 system like barbarians of lemuria. Its all 2d6 plus a modifier and target number is 9. Im a fan of simple d20 systems but the more I design the more I want a bell curve.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Have you heard of the i20 system? Heroic Journey Publishing used it for their game Bounty Head Bebop, which released some time back. Basically, you roll a d20, and if it lands equal to or beneath your target number, it's a success. So, you don't have to deal with adding modifiers to your d20 roll. Instead, all modifiers modify the target number, aka the DC. Then, they also incorporate the "X-roll", which is just the ones digit of whatever you rolled. That serves as an extra randomizer.

    ReplyDelete
  3. There are some old school bloggers out there who might want to have a fight at recess over this issue

    No, only if you made some statement that a unified mechanic is somehow inherently superior to specialized mechanics. "It's a matter of taste" is fine with us.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Have you looked at Castles & Crusades? Sounds like almost exactly what you're looking for, minus the percentile mechanic. But then, you could just multiply the d20 numbers by five and call it a day...

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for the ideas everyone, much appreciated.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Have you considered Fudge? (or should I call it FUDGE?) It is less granular than a d100 system, but there are suggestions on how to add to it.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Whatever you go with, I suggest making it a little more abstract than simulation, and make sure you have only limited modifiers. You'll go berserk trying to balance twenty million modifiers, and with simulation games you'll have more player/GM arguments over physics.

    Sorry if that's not what you're looking for, but that's my two copper pieces.

    ReplyDelete
  8. @Charisma - I definitely like abstract and limited modifiers, they are going on the list.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Regarding classes, I've always been a fan of 2 step the approach taken by the 1st edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Once chooses from 4 very broad classes with limited mechanical effect, and that choice informs a choice of various careers which are thematically grouped under that class.

    IMHO, Warhammer is somewhat under-used as a template for old-school revivalism. The mechanics of the first edition are about 25 years old now, so could use some streamlining, and I've been kicking around the idea of a warhammer-like, career-based system using an updated dice mechanic - something based on opposed rolls + stat modifiers + other modifiers as a universal mechanic.

    Since d20s are both widely used and, in a system based on universal opposed rolls, a bit swingy (up to a 39 point spread between opposed d20 rolls, enough to overwhelm the effects of most reasonable modifiers), I've been looking at a d10 or d12 based system as an alternative.

    Contra Dogrodeo, I'm not a big fan of the bell curve (no offense intended). I feel like the uncertainty f a linear distribution of results is a plus, since a lot of the fun in an RPG (again IMHO), is in letting the fates hang on the balance of fickle fortune.

    Like Charisma, I'm also a big fan of abstraction, and generally feel like most things should be abstracted into attribute checks, with skills/talents/knacks being add-ons that have a lesser effect but highly various, and for the most part are a result of emerging complexity resulting from play.

    As you might be able to tell from the above, I'm also bending my brains in the direction of a more or less generic system as the platform for my nascent campaign ideas. If you like the direction my ideas are pointing in, I'm up for a bit of collaboration or mutual sounding-board-ism.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Use a d10 system, something akin to white wolf or AEG's design, it allows for limited/abstract modifiers, gives players of the game the chance to field a little of their artistic side, has enough "crunch" usually to satisfy the pallet of the math nerds, and is underused as a template for dice rolling mechanics in my opinion.

    A design I once considered was an attribute/skill system that linked the two limited the highest number by your attribute rating and used D10's to determine outcome keeping highest dies rolled

    Example: Bobs strength is a 5, his skill in 'fisticuffs' is a 4, he tries to throw a punch and rolls his 4 dice they come up 7, 4, 3, 5.
    Because bobs Strength score is a 5 the seven is reduced to a 5 and the total is added up 5+5 =10 and this is vs a defense score of the oppponent. (keeping an AC feel which I always felt was important because it helps fuel a fun and fast combat instead of everyone chucking three or four different dice rolls for their character each tun.)

    Anyways...yeah, just my thoughts

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks again everyone. Sorry for the late replies.

    @dogrodeo. I am not a fan of the bell curve in anything but ability scores.

    @Carpe Gultarrem. I just downloaded Bounty Head Bebop intro to check it out.

    @Mark. I haven't really investigated FUDGE enough, I'll have to check it out.

    @Joseph. I am a fan of castles and crusades, but it isn't quite what I'm looking for.

    @frijoles junior. I am a fan of the "class as a broad templates" idea that's found in warhammer. I use that idea in my current game.

    @Ajay Pollarine. I like the d10 system idea but my biggest problem with it is conversion to other systems (which is something I'm pretty big on). It's fairly straightforward when its roll x to beat x, but when you enter into the dice pool zone it gets more difficult.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Take a look a Timeshadow's Urutsk: World of Mystery RPG at her blog, "The Grand Tapestry." I had the opportunity to play it for 3 days when at NTRPCon in June. Seamless, fast, integrated, dynamic in the sense of what you can do with it as an ongoing application to the rules/game/world merger. Note that hers is designed specifically TOP-DOWN along with her world but could as easily be fit to bottom-up designs.
    RJK

    ReplyDelete
  13. Thanks Rob I will check that out.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I don't know about the content but I think the working title is brilliant.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Take a look a Timeshadow's Urutsk: World of Mystery RPG at her blog, "The Grand Tapestry." I had the opportunity to play it for 3 days when at NTRPCon in June. Seamless, fast, integrated, dynamic in the sense of what you can do with it as an ongoing application to the rules/game/world merger. Note that hers is designed specifically TOP-DOWN along with her world but could as easily be fit to bottom-up designs.
    RJK

    ReplyDelete
  16. Thanks Rob I will check that out.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Use a d10 system, something akin to white wolf or AEG's design, it allows for limited/abstract modifiers, gives players of the game the chance to field a little of their artistic side, has enough "crunch" usually to satisfy the pallet of the math nerds, and is underused as a template for dice rolling mechanics in my opinion.

    A design I once considered was an attribute/skill system that linked the two limited the highest number by your attribute rating and used D10's to determine outcome keeping highest dies rolled

    Example: Bobs strength is a 5, his skill in 'fisticuffs' is a 4, he tries to throw a punch and rolls his 4 dice they come up 7, 4, 3, 5.
    Because bobs Strength score is a 5 the seven is reduced to a 5 and the total is added up 5+5 =10 and this is vs a defense score of the oppponent. (keeping an AC feel which I always felt was important because it helps fuel a fun and fast combat instead of everyone chucking three or four different dice rolls for their character each tun.)

    Anyways...yeah, just my thoughts

    ReplyDelete
  18. Regarding classes, I've always been a fan of 2 step the approach taken by the 1st edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Once chooses from 4 very broad classes with limited mechanical effect, and that choice informs a choice of various careers which are thematically grouped under that class.

    IMHO, Warhammer is somewhat under-used as a template for old-school revivalism. The mechanics of the first edition are about 25 years old now, so could use some streamlining, and I've been kicking around the idea of a warhammer-like, career-based system using an updated dice mechanic - something based on opposed rolls + stat modifiers + other modifiers as a universal mechanic.

    Since d20s are both widely used and, in a system based on universal opposed rolls, a bit swingy (up to a 39 point spread between opposed d20 rolls, enough to overwhelm the effects of most reasonable modifiers), I've been looking at a d10 or d12 based system as an alternative.

    Contra Dogrodeo, I'm not a big fan of the bell curve (no offense intended). I feel like the uncertainty f a linear distribution of results is a plus, since a lot of the fun in an RPG (again IMHO), is in letting the fates hang on the balance of fickle fortune.

    Like Charisma, I'm also a big fan of abstraction, and generally feel like most things should be abstracted into attribute checks, with skills/talents/knacks being add-ons that have a lesser effect but highly various, and for the most part are a result of emerging complexity resulting from play.

    As you might be able to tell from the above, I'm also bending my brains in the direction of a more or less generic system as the platform for my nascent campaign ideas. If you like the direction my ideas are pointing in, I'm up for a bit of collaboration or mutual sounding-board-ism.

    ReplyDelete
  19. @Charisma - I definitely like abstract and limited modifiers, they are going on the list.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Have you considered Fudge? (or should I call it FUDGE?) It is less granular than a d100 system, but there are suggestions on how to add to it.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Thanks for the ideas everyone, much appreciated.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Have you looked at Castles & Crusades? Sounds like almost exactly what you're looking for, minus the percentile mechanic. But then, you could just multiply the d20 numbers by five and call it a day...

    ReplyDelete
  23. There are some old school bloggers out there who might want to have a fight at recess over this issue

    No, only if you made some statement that a unified mechanic is somehow inherently superior to specialized mechanics. "It's a matter of taste" is fine with us.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Have you heard of the i20 system? Heroic Journey Publishing used it for their game Bounty Head Bebop, which released some time back. Basically, you roll a d20, and if it lands equal to or beneath your target number, it's a success. So, you don't have to deal with adding modifiers to your d20 roll. Instead, all modifiers modify the target number, aka the DC. Then, they also incorporate the "X-roll", which is just the ones digit of whatever you rolled. That serves as an extra randomizer.

    ReplyDelete
  25. How about a 2d6 system like barbarians of lemuria. Its all 2d6 plus a modifier and target number is 9. Im a fan of simple d20 systems but the more I design the more I want a bell curve.

    ReplyDelete

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