Rules for what?

I have this cunning plan to write an RPG system and setting. It’s been a plan for about 20+ years, and never really happened. Due respect to those who have done this, especially if that writing includes actually getting a book into market. Published game writers are Gods among dreamers.

Recently I got interested again and in the pursuit of that lofty and torturous goal I’ve been trying to reconcile the the need for rules light vs rules heavy RPG systems.

It took to me to a question:

In RPGs what do we actually need rules for?

To take a light approach one GM I knew used the rules only for actions directly involving the PCs against each other. All other activity was based upon their stats, but heavily weighed by discussion and story.

In another way – Rules may be used for different purposes according to the system, need, and goals of the group. I think there is a continuance for every mechanics to be written in RPG systems, where rules light discussion and story drives outcomes are in one direction, and the fully calculated results for each proposed micro-action taken within a mock physics engine are hanging in the extreme of the other. Within that range the systems are as complex as the designers felt they needed to be, so that the players are granted the ability to be entertained while role-playing.

That is, the players are supposed to be entertained by the game, and the system helps in that delivery. I am not sure mechanics for the sake of mechanics are beneficial at all, but they sometimes have a place (see desired clunk below)

So to take a more abstract view – I think “the rules” form the basis by which a group of people can resolve and agree the outcome of an action, sequence, or circumstance. Aww, how bloody fluffy.

But then I see rules for which the outcome is slightly divorced from the method, where the method itself is as much part of the elegance (the desired clunk) of the system itself. A mechanic which represents the lore is actually quite a wonderful and rare thing. If you know the horde mechanics in DeathWatch, that is what I’m thinking of. The lore of the game has these huge hordes, and the hordes have their own way of “moving” around the setting, being shot at, and defending. I guess any unit based controls in may systems probably have the same potential (except the old BattleSystem rules which were about as clear as the 1st Ed DnD DMG, after being translated into janglish).

So in amongst the paradigm of events for which rules help, here area few of the classics I thought noteworthy points to be differentiated from a direct answer; which is everything.

(a) Firstly combat. We as players sitting around a table cannot resolve a battle any more than we can experience the weightlessness of space. It is hopefully well beyond the group dynamic to try to really smash heads in.

(b) Inter-player social leverage. Like combat there are times when the characters will interact and behave differently from the players, and the character’s limitations or abilities far exceed our own. That leads to events where players will need to manipulate and interact with each other “inside” the story. Being intimidated by another player is probably not possible often, but two characters might have a relationship based upon intimidation, whereby the players use rules to resolve how often and how well the ongoing manipulation occurs.

It is where many “lite” systems just start having the players act and drop the dice altogether.

(c) Cohesive character generation. A game as a shared experience works best when the goals and expectations of the players match. Mix a bastard lying prick in amongst three noble hearted characters and you’ll have some dramatic tension in the short term , but eventually the nice guys might leave the bastard by the roadside. Or a team full of bastards implodes well before the plot is found.

Keep the toons within a respectable range of similar ethos, power level, and story tone. No point having a silly jokester in a game based in a grim-dark setting.

(d) Wealth, travel, and the burdens of life. This deals more with having parity and consequences.

In the list above I have left the interaction with NPCs off the critical list, as I think they are secondary to the interaction between the players, and also mirror the dynamics that are used between player characters. Once the rules for PCs are resolved the NPCs just re-use them. Yes, the King might be an impressive guy, but he’s no different from any other NPC in the setting – a lever to move the story, and a few stats to support it.

(e) Ignore the rules? As group dictates?

There is also a point at which all the talk of a good or bad, or even the right rule-set becomes irrelevant, which is when the players switch around with it within the game. Deciding to ignore the rules for the benefit of the story is something that I support, but there is also the players who will support the rules as a final arbiter over the story – and either is fine depending on what the players want.

So yes, it is darn tricky. Once those areas as sussed the rest of the mechanics are likely resolved in the same manner with slightly different stats.

When I get around to posting what choices I make, and thrashing them – you’ll see it here.

Advertisements

The way we view a Bag of Holding…d20m

The great web comic d20 Monkey has a cartoon up on the Bag of Scolding which reminds me exactly how we treated the bags of holding in the old days.

i.e. Stuff all the things in that thing noaw!!!! Bags of Holding were fantastic little toys in the game world, not only because it meant we had somewhere to put the wheelbarrows pull of gold coins, but also because we could threaten to stuff NPCs into them.

Or stuff the portable hole into the bag of holding and tear time-space in half with a divide by zero error.

It makes me miss the silly and irreverent way we played roleplaying games. We were not critically interested in story, or character progression, or continuity; it was all about silly fun. Even better when other players were the butt of a joke.

Another I remember well was one character wishing that another character had never owned anything in his life. Ever. (boom, wish granted) The game world re-wrote itself instantaneously so that the wish was true. All the gear was borrowed, all the meals were charity, all the achievements were all on someone’s stolen nickle.

That would cause hell to the mental state of the poor character who now has nothing to their name, must have borrowed or stolen all they have. It sucked for the player but oh how we laughed. What bastards.

Keep only 10 RPG books

Distractingly good blog questions: If you could only keep ten of your printed RPG books, which would you pick? Well darn it, that is hard.

Not so much picking 10 systems, that is easy. But 10 books is hard. Consider too that I’d also say none, as I am getting happier every season with using digital versions of RPG books.

I feel like the guys in the film High Fidelity – top 10 songs to ……

  1. Ars 5e core book.
  2. DeathWatch core book.
  3. An ArM5e source book, but I cannot choose which as yet. Probably the Bestiary.
  4. Ars 4e Grimoire, as it contains a stack of stuff that was great for its time, but failing that then probably the Ars 4e core book.
  5. DnD 4e DMG. To be frank I think I’ll be able to buy a copy of any edition cheaply, so keeping a 3.x or any of the expansion books is probably a waste.
  6. DnD 4e PHB.
  7. Shadowrun core book. I have an edition from the late 90s and am keeping it for the flavour.
  8. Cthulhu core rules.
  9. GURPS core rules (I don’t care what edition).
  10. Rifts core rules. Many folks hate Rifts, and in some part I understand that the system is a bit janky. That said it contains as much lore and fluff to make 10 great games in every book.

Vampire core rules almost made it except it would have been only because of the fun history, not the actual value of the system. Heroes Unlimited is darn good too, but there are many hero systems out there that can compete. I have an old Earthdawn copy somewhere, and a copy of Rus too – both read but never played.

via Untimately: Only Ten.

Ars Magica Computer Game Kickstarter

Its no secret that I’m a huge fan of Ars Magica and also of computer games, and  now an agreement between Atlas Games and Black Chicken Studios is seeking to combine those two wonderful hobbies.

Black Chicken Studios, working under license from Atlas Games, is delighted to present a new simulation role-playing game for the PC. After 25 years and 5 editions, Ars Magica will at long last be paid tribute in a single-player, turn-based video game.

Authentic to the original, this is a faithful, beautiful, and accurate depiction of covenant gameplay and the RPG’s legendary magic system during a dangerous century in the Stonehenge Tribunal. With your help, we’ll bring Ars Magica: Years of Conquest and its tapestry of wars, intrigue, invasion and, above all, magic to life!

The Ars Magica – Years of Conquest game is seeking backing via a kickstarter campaign.

I can only rave about how passionate Atlas Games are about Ars magica, and really hope this concept gets through to reality.

If you are a fan of either, spread the word.

Comment and nod to Kicked in the Dice Bags

The Fear the Boot community spawned a sub-podcast called Kicked in the Dice Bags. Its a darn good show. Episode 38 had an interesting discussion (well lots of them) on “why a new dnd”, and it moved into the theme of separating setting from mechanics. ie. Would it have been better to publish many large detailed settings, and so on. Have a listen. Continue reading

I is for Impossible

Impossible, yes sir and madam, I say impossible!

The April-Post-a-Day challenge is crushed for me, and given how little time I’m getting to post I was in hindsight silly to expect to be able to post a few items each day to catch-up. A delusional dream that I enjoyed for a time.

That said, I’m going to keep slowly writing blogs about the alphabet until I complete the A-Z; but not worry about completion by end of April. These posts will instead be intermixed with other posts, and the savvy and smart folks out there might take bets on which month or year I get to Z. Maybe by next year I’ll have a full set.

Part of the Blogging A to Z initiative, is to create an A-Z list of some sort, and I’m posting what ever random thoughts pop into my head for each letter of the alphabet.

E is for Experience

E is for Experience.

In my (somewhat not very) humble opinion experience rewards should be:

  • related to successful story objectives, rather than kills, dice-rolls, or dumb luck.
  • rewarded extra for clever ideas.
  • rewarded extra for great roleplaying (a.k.a. acting).
  • rewarded for allowing others to enjoy the game too.
  • I’m not a fan of XP penalties, it seems counter intuitive to offer a disincentive to a hobby activity.

The rewarding for “good” roleplaying is a tough one. Giving one player a bonus for being a solid player is good, this might affect other players, where they see they cannot compete and therefore not try. That is a tough situation, and done best by (a) making the extra reward difference between players very small, and (b) perhaps not doing it initially to allow the players to warm-up.

Another thought I have, although I’ve not tried it yet is keeping the characters on exactly the same XP always. This removes the incentive for rewards, but also removes the penalties if a player cannot play for a reason. The team advance together. I really wish to try this in a game that is sympathetic to group advancement.

Part of the Blogging A to Z initiative, is to create an A-Z list of some sort, and I’m posting what ever random thoughts pop into my head for each letter of the alphabet.