My Play Origins and How it influences my game design

Started by Ayyavazi, March 24, 2009, 04:38:57 PM

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Greetings all,

This is my first actual play post, so forgive me if it isn't up to snuff. Also, if I don't seem to have finished with a given post, that doesn't mean you shouldn't respond. I'll address questions and concerns and still add more in each post. Hopefully, this will all provide context for when people help me design my game.

First, I'll talk about my game experience.  I've been playing RPGs for about ten years now. The interesting thing is I didn't playing published games until about five years ago. For the first five years my friends and I would make games up in a matter of days and try them for a session or two (maybe 2-5 hours) before discarding them, making a new game, and starting the whole process over. I initiated this whole way of doing things in my group when I fell in love with Lufia II for the SNES. I had heard about AD&D in the Boy Scouts, and only knew that a pen and pencil RPG (to which I only had my video game experience to work with) was possible.

So for that time we made all sorts of games. At first they were Fantasy games complete with unmanageable statistics, mathematical conversions, and dice rolls that we had no idea of managing. Probability didn't matter. We just knew you needed stats, dice, and paper.

After that time, it fell to me to start a formal game when a friend failed to follow through on doing the same. So I started to run a D&D 3.5 Eberron game that ran for about a year and a half. I had never dealt with a published game or game-mastering one, so it was a real eye-opener. I then became involved in two or three D&D games here and there, and cycled through about a dozen different campaigns. Always my fondest memories were of my Eberron game, and the same was true for my players as well. Ultimately, I found the thing that broke a game more than anything were inconsistent personal attendance. Once we got a group together that attended, we always had fun.

Does that mean there was no discord? Of course not. Two of the players (myself and my failure of a friend) were rules-layers. So, we bickered about rules constantly. A year or so after the game had ended due to member change, I learned all sorts of techniques that made me a better game-master (less rail-roading, less strict adherence to rules, more house-rules, more DM trust).

Beyond my D&D experience, I played a game of Spirit of the Century, with another friend running it, for one session. It was a real change of pace for me. The game was almost nothing like D&D.

I'd also had brief stints with Kobolds Ate My Baby (about two-four sessions), and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (Actually finished the entire pre-made line of adventures).

Warhammer wasn't much different than D&D in style and concept (sure it was more lethal and gritty), but was radically different in one area. The number of rules disputes and the handling time were drastically lowered. Maybe it was GM skill, (still another friend ran this one), or maybe the rules were more fluid. I support the more fluid opinion myself. It was a lot simpler than D&D, but that didn't make it less fun. If anything, it made it easier to get down to "real role-playing" as I had termed it. I loved making a character and figuring out how he would act and think, and then putting him in these little fantasy worlds. With fewer rules to worry about, I was more easily able to do this, and focus less on charts, tables, and obscure grappling rules.

As time went on, and I was forced to leave my Warhammer Fantasy behind, I moved into yet more D&D 3.5 (my groups would not play anything else, with the exception of a couple of sessions of Star Wars d20, 2nd ed). I also ran a game of Mutants and Masterminds 2nd ed that was wildly successful, but taught me way too much about winging it (which made me a much better D&D GM). When 4th edition came out, us fanboys got on board and bought the books and started playing. There were fewer disputes and more exciting fights. The power gamer in me came out in 3.5, the well-rounded gamist came out with 4th. But there was one glaring problem. Even though the simpler rules meant fewer disputes and more time for role-playing, the group was doing role-playing.

To understand, the 4th ed group has a couple of bitter gamers, people who need people and systems like them to fully enjoy themselves. Anyhow, the combat descriptions were pre-supplied by the game. This made everyone THINK that there was more flavor, but what actually happened was that combat became an exchange of numbers and dice rolling. The flavor was assumed, and because of that, it became non-existent except when I forced it to happen.

Since then I have read many different systems (Riddle of Steel, Polaris, Legendary Quest, Donjon, Paranoia, 3:16, Ninja-Burger, Fudge, and Pathfinder). But I haven't been able to play them.

All in all, the role-player I was and the role-player I am have significantly parted ways. I now am interested in creating interesting stories about the characters and villains co-operatively, while still imagining my individual character's thoughts and actions, allowing a GM to handle the maintenance of the shared world, and desiring to be able to "win" in a sense, and feel as if my character is getting better at doing his thing.

So, the game I'm trying to design is meant to cater to all that. Its meant to allow story development to be shared, GMs to be optional, play that allows "winning", and play that allows a person to get in-character.

I realize after reading so much about the GNS and RPG design that this all works different ways for different people. So, I want to design a modular rules set that allows players to deside how to play as a group, and then do so.

So, do you guys need any specifics, or is this enough to work with? How do you suggest we solve the common problems with a given resolution mechanic? That is, how do you reduce handling time? How do you encourage descriptive action and shared story-telling as opposed to the Impossible Thing Before Breakfast? How do you integrate it all and still allow for in character stances? How do you preserve keep the game world physics realistic (in the sense of similar to the real world) without experiencing rules bloat? Is realism of that type even necessary, so long as the mechanics are coherent?

I am interested to anything and everything you all have to say, as well as suggestions for what/how to play.

P.S. I also have about a sessions worth of experience in each of the white-wolf games, though this didn't affect me much.

Marshall Burns

Hey, cool! I'm not the only guy who started roleplaying by inventing games because he didn't have any!

Quote from: Ayyavazi on March 24, 2009, 04:38:57 PM
After that time, it fell to me to start a formal game when a friend failed to follow through on doing the same. So I started to run a D&D 3.5 Eberron game that ran for about a year and a half. I had never dealt with a published game or game-mastering one, so it was a real eye-opener.

I'm interested in hearing more about this. I've lost track of what my impressions were of published games were after doing my own thing for so long (although I remember finding certain features stupid at the time). Can I get you to elaborate on how it was an eye-opener? Were there things that surprised you about it? What about things that made you go, "What the hell is this thing for?" And other such things.



Hey Marshall,

I'm glad I'm not the only one who has done this!

Anyhow, to answer your question.

First, I knew I was dealing with a real system because it was way more developed than any of my own had been. The layout was professional (but I had expected that), the rules were very specific (quite different than my vague designs), the world setting was extremely detailed (again, expected), and I saw a lot of commonalities between my designs and 3.5.

Most important I understood initiative, to hit, damage, and almost all conflict mechanics. The style was very similar, which isn't very surprising considering I was basing my early models off of video games. Then again, there is probably a healthy amount of revisionist memory there. I think it was similar when it might not have been. Most of my early games needed conflict engines because games always, and I mean ALWAYS broke down into player vs. player. This probably had to do with a lot of bad GMing habits I had in addition to not having enough pre-established enemies. Without something to provide conflict, the players sought it all amongst themselves.

The problem for me is that once I had discovered a formal system, I never looked back at my old creations. I never thought, "Did I do x, y, or z better?" I just assumed they had got it right. By the time I started encountering actual problems during play, I just patch ruled a lot of things to make the game work. These patch rules were probably sub-consciously influenced by my early creations, but I wouldn't be able to tell you.

As for "What the hell..." I had a few of those moments. For example,  I wondered why the "d20 system" involved so many other dice. Sure, my games involved lots of dice, but they weren't named after one of them. And I wondered a lot about the spell system. It seemed so unwieldy. But, I figured it must be unwieldy because of the complicated nature of supernatural systems, not because it was a faulty design. So, instead of doing an overhaul, or making my own system, I just house-ruled lots of spells to make them work without breaking the game-flow.

I also hated the ridiculous grapple rules, which seemed to rule out classic encounters of surprise choking, and never got over all the problems with Overrunning, Disarming, Sundering (Why can't you sunder armor while it's being worn?!). And I also hated the double-mindedness of the whole thing. On the one hand, the rules were trying to make sure that any character option was balanced against any other, but then would turn around and try to inject realism with a series of penalties and bonuses that delineated a clear one or two ways to do things. (Two-Weapon fighting and two handed weapon fighting come to mind). And the layout failed sometimes. For example, except for once, I could never find the damage to equipment chart in less than five minutes of book-flipping. Plus, the idea of destroying equipment in the system seemed stupid, since there were clear guidelines about how much wealth the characters should have and what happens to underequipped characters. If I had ever sundered the fighter's weapon in the middle of a dungeon, the party would have probably been completely sunk. Then again, maybe I was just a soft DM.

Beyond all that, the game seemed to pull in two directions at once. It wanted you to role-play and discover a world with characters you cared about, then made low levels way too dangerous. And character creation was complicated enough at low levels (especially for novices and even more so as more supplements were released), and downright scary for anything above fifth. One of my players actually explained to me that character creation was the worst part of the game, and that if their character had died, they would rather stop playing than make a new character!

I know there are plenty of solutions to the things I've mentioned. But the point was that I never doubted the system was superior to my own creations because this was PROFESSIONAL. Once I started discovering new systems, this perception melted away, and I started tinkering more and more. I even remember a very brief failed campaign where I tried to 4th edition-ize 3.5 before 4th was released based on my interpretations of the brief explanations given by the designers on their blogs. That was an eye-opener in and of itself.

Thanks again