Thursday, March 26, 2009

Coming Attractions

As I continue to slave away in the spare 15 minutes a day I have to create the next great set of RPG rules to change the world, I have wrestled with how to provide a simple play test rules sample with out giving away the whole thing.

I may have figured it out. Pocket Mod allows you to turn up to 8 written pages into a one page pocket sized fold up booklet! Kind of like origami for nerds.

But what to include? I think the basic resolution engine, some sample spells/ skills/ basic equipment and character creation can all be condensed into a free, simple 8 page booklet.

One problem solved, only 99 to go!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I'm not classy...

D&D created the standard of hit points, levels, and classes. One of the kludges that AD&D introduced was multi-classing. My own opinion is this grew out of folks uncomfortable with the limiting nature of playing fighters, or thieves, or clerics. People wanted to play an archer, or a magic wielding thief, or a specialized killer assassin or a myriad of other dwarven barbarians, or elf monk ideas they had. In fact one of the remaining issues with D&D is all the variant specialized classes that must be duct taped together in order to play to folks specific character concepts. So classes are in a way limiting to the potential enjoyment of the game and by multi-classing or creating new ones, it may even “break” the game.

On the other hand, a strength of the idea of a character classes is it gives a player a pigeon hole from which to begin the game. If I’ve never played an RPG before a class list lets me pick a clever thief, a ancient wizard, or a battle scarred fighter to start. In addition as a veteran player, if I am exploring ideas for what kind of new character to play, a listing of classes and their description gives me a chance to explore other variations in a simplified format.

Contrast this to the open ended creation of something like GURPS. You need to have some sort of concept of character type before you step into the wilds. Once you figure your stats, then advantages, then disadvantages, then skills you do have a unique character! The issue is the daunting amount of information one must research and know prior to beginning play. For a new player I think it is too overwhelming and it relies on an expert to help guide you in your concept and building of a character to fit that concept.

In the end that’s what character creation boils down to, creating a concept. D&D is limiting in what you can be while GURPS may be too wide open and in trying to provide everything, it becomes overwhelming.

As I work on my own RPG I have taken what I hope to be a middle road of sorts. I do not claim this is unique in anyway, just that it seems to fit into my concept of what makes good gaming. Instead of classes, characters will have a background, maybe call it a career, prior to their current adventuring. This could be anything from wandering wizard, cutpurse, miner, sailor, fisherman, farmer, soldier, town guard, priest, woodsman, or other ideas. I believe this will be similar to the WFRPG idea but it won’t have the idea of migrating into 4 different higher level jobs. The characters had a previous career, then became a full time adventurer. What they end up becoming is whatever they and their GM come up with.

I believe this fills the need to provide a pigeon hole for basic character generation and concept, while allowing a player to become whatever they want through skill purchasing and experience as they play the game.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Are you not entertained?

Over at Ode to Black Dougal, Patrick made an interesting post about a campaign with a cap level 3 for the players. You can read it here. This is exactly the kind of gaming I enjoy.

In the comments I found an interesting one of note:
from Badmike...
good luck finding a handful of players willing to game for 30 or so sessions to get their characters to 3rd level! I think the IDEA is intriguing and would make a great pick-up or convention type setting (no one higher than 3rd level in the campaign world); however, the actual application would be very hard to implement. I'm still waiting for the brave soul(s) who are willing to devote a year or so to this endeavor just to prove they could. Just imagine the look on the poor Joe's face as the 2nd level ftr he has been playing for 2 years gets killed by the thrown axe of a kobold warrior, or a fall into a pit trap, or the bite of a good sized war dog.... I won't even mention the absurdity of a "god" that a decent sized troll could work over like a pint of beer at a biker rally....

I guess, because of my own bias on what makes gaming fun, I just don't get it. Is losing a 2nd level character harder to a kobold's axe than losing a 10th to a giant's sword? A loss is a loss. Is it the issue that in gaming for a year you raised one level and that's the problem? Or is it that you only made it to 2nd in that year so you feel cheated? But going from 8th to 9th and then dying is just fine? I don't see it.

I think the difference boils down to what makes gaming fun. In the early levels, kobolds, rats, bugs, goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, skeletons and other creature serve as opponents. The characters progress in levels, gain abilities making them more powerful and they gain new magical items to play with, again making them more powerful. This raises the stakes so the challenges become tougher, and the rewards greater..and this forces the cycle on...and on...until the characters fight gods or become immortals.

Sure that is a rarity and probably a lot of folks top out at say 15th-20th level or so. That's my point. If the game is only about leveling up and rewarding players with more gold and more magic it comes to some point where the characters have a veritable swiss armory of magical items, they've slain multiple dragons, demons, liches, vampires, etc. and there are no new worlds to conquer. There is nothing left to fear or fight except gods or and army of dragons or some such silly idea.

When I think of games like this it reminds me of the ending scene of the D&D movie. The sky is FILLED with dragons, ridonculously filled with dragons. Its not scary, its not exciting, its just laughable and goofy! Unfortunately, that's what I think high level gaming devolves into.

The ONE dragon in The Hobbit or Dragonslayer is far more exciting and filled with adventure and wonder then a sky filled with dragons flying in echelon formations. In an odd way Stalin summed the idea up quite well, " One death is a tragedy, a thousand deaths are a statistic." In a gaming sense, fighting one dragon at low levels is a harrowing and rewarding experience. Fighting 5 or 10 or 100 at a high level is just, well, let's say not as rewarding.

At some point no amount of gold is enough to be exciting, the powerful quest weapons and high level spells lose their magic, and no amount of dragons flying is challenging nor army of demons frightening enough.

This gets to the core idea of why do you play? Is it for power? glory? gold? super weapons? higher levels? or is it for fun?

Was exploring the Caves of Chaos or the Village of Hommlet a tiresome bore because you were low level? Did the game only become fun when you ventured into the Tomb of Horrors?

Don't get me wrong I think there is a lot to be said for the challenges of higher level adventures, but there is no reason that these are somehow intrinsically better than those found at lower levels. Regardless of level the challenge is one of risking life and death in fantastic situations against villainous foes for cash and prizes and fame and fortune. Whether they are kobolds or gods the challenge is essentially the same, and no number arbitrarily representing my level nor pocket full of kryptonite+5 really changes that for me.

The higher the character level, the more super powered the treasure, and the outlandish and numerous the foes become the less magical the game is.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The mega-mega dungeon city world adventure

So with old school mega dungeon FEVAH sweeping the globe, it got me to thinking about Avernum.

Avernum is a series (5 now) of old school style CRPG's from Spiderweb software. The world is split between the surface, and the underworld. The underworld is where enemies of the state are banished and forced to live and fight to survive. There are bandits, temples, rivers, boats, oceans, magic, mayhem, and lots of adventure to be had. In fact some of the adventures involve fighting to get back to the surface and some various adventures up there.

In any event, I wonder if a complete underworld might be in the offing at some point. If mega dungeons are passe, Maybe make the mega dungeon into an entire realm, a complete dungeon about a character escape to the surface and free the underworld? what happens if that happens? All the terrors released from the underworld along with the all prisoners?

Could be escape from New York kind of mad house land of criminals and monsters? Maybe various races have formed warring tribes? PERHAPS the surface world is just a myth? options options options, what more could a referee ask for?

Yes I know there was under mountain, and menzo-bore-anzan, and undoubtedly others,but I have not seen this underworld setting come up as part of the current Renaissance...should it?

Friday, March 13, 2009

How much is too much?

I never really enjoyed the overly structured character creation in Traveller. The alpha numeric universal code stats seemed too Dewey decimal system, and the flow charts one had to roll on to determine a characters background and skill choices seemed overly programmed. .

While I am a big fan of Traveller in general, we only used the charts to sort of get a character back ground ideas and pulled from where we liked to make characters.

So as I develop my own RPG, I have come to what I hope is a happy medium. First, I am creating charts with 36 different entries per chart. There will be one for Dwarves, one for Elves, one for villages, one for cities, one for the wilds, one for wizards and one for priests...and maybe one for dire elves. I dread that I probably won't stop there and will probably do one for fighters and one for rogues as well.

Use of these charts will be completely optional, a player may pick one appropriate chart, and roll one time. One little two sentence background will be a hook for a player to use as a bit of back story. It could include a stat bonus, a skill, a special item, or a negative impact event.

So only a dwarf can use a dwarf chart...but he could also choose almost any other chart to roll on if he liked. With one roll at the start of character creation, you may find a unique character (or back story for the GM to use) comes to life. With over 300 possible back stories, and a less than 3% chance of rolling any one on any one chart, it should provide lots of unique backgrounds. My hope is that small seed could grow a players imagination and concept for their character.

I sometimes question why I am working on adding these charts that are strictly optional and unnecessary to overall game play...except that it seems like a fun option, and in the end aren't fun and options the hallmark of good game play? I guess time will tell.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Welcome to Gyradis!

As I develop my own RPG it made sense to create a campaign setting in case players or GM's wanted one to place their adventures in. So I finally mapped out my home brew world and will start filling in some details. My goal is to use the Wilderlands style of brief possible points of interest that players could use to generate their own adventures.

I always liked the Judges Guild approach of creating an outline through points of interest and then letting players create and fill out the actual story lines on their own. I don't think I will ever get down to mapping cities, creating every shop in a city nor every NPC in a shop. I have a number of city books, but really never used them beyond their "history and politics" section. Those parts of city books gave me ideas on how the city should be portrayed and what players might find in it. It was a kick-off point for me to create my own. In the end that's what I hope to provide to players.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Antiquus Academia

I am a proponent of the retro-clone movement. Not because Oe or 1e are the end all be all of game design, it is the spirit and imagination of RPG's being re-discovered by the movement that I find exciting. Having played 4e a number of times now, I can see what the fans of the system love, and old school folks do not. In talking to the the fellows at the gaming table (all life long RPG players) about why they enjoyed 4e, here are the snippets of their responses:

"It makes my character unique" "I am not just a meat shield, I'm a meat shield with special abilities" "If I get a special ability I don't like, I can trade it in on one I do" "I don't have to wait around for a cleric to help me, now I can just self heal" and I think the most accurate comment "It's just like an on-line RPG's now."

It is the last comment which I believe colors exactly why I do not enjoy it. When you think about early computer RPG's, they used pen & paper D&D as a basis for development. This transition took a lot of the book keeping, chart rolling, and details of pen & paper task resolution and adventure creation, then made it weightless. It was weightless in the sense that one needed only to type a key, or phrase, or just hit space bar to resolve any element in the game. You didn't worry about all the books, charts, manuals, and spell effects. The computer simply did all the heavy lifting.

Now the pendulum's swung the other direction and pen and paper RPG's are copying their electronic brethren. That is the problem. The weightlessness of ERPG's instant point and click resolution becomes hundred's of pages of min/maxing convoluted gaming when translated to the written page. No offense to the fan's of 4e but I am uncertain why you play it at all? If you desire all the elements of an ERPG, then why not simply play one?

Back in the day, one played ERPG's when you didn't have a group to play with. It scratched the itch, but was not a replacement-it was an alternative. Certainly with the rise of computing power current ERPG's are stunning to look at and are a lot of fun in their own right. Possibly that is the route RPG's must take now, an alternative to their more popular ERPG cousins.

That being the case, shouldn't the role of an RPG be to provide an alternative experience, something unique to its format, to ERPG players? Think of it, Zelda games have RPG traits, but benefit from the immediacy of ERPG design, simple immediate resolutions and unique game play. So too, RPG's by the nature of their shared storytelling and group dynamics must also strive to build upon its unique presentation of an RPG experience.

In the 4e game there was little "adventure" or "storytelling" instead it was about using all the different abilities and feats in combos to over come monsters. A picture perfect recreation of ERPG's. The battle in analog took about an hour, versus the 5 or 10 minutes it would have taken online. It left me wondering why not just play on-line if that is the style you want to play.

My hope is in the retro movements rise, the core elements of playing around a table and sharing an adventure waves as the banner that draws folks to it. It must play to its strength and revel in what it does best when creating an RPG expereince. Pen & Paper trying to mimic the ERPG experience is an exercise in futility. Lessons can be learned from ERPG design to improve the pen & paper experience, but it should not seek to emulate it.

(side note: I hate the term MMORPG-it is needlessly grand and self important. ERPG (electronic) or CRPG (computer) seem more accurate and less like an arrogant advertising scheme)