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Author Topic: (High Fantasy) First Thoughts for a new system  (Read 3304 times)
opsneakie
Member

Posts: 93


« on: March 22, 2012, 06:08:43 PM »

Okay, I'll try to keep myself organized, but this is my first post to the Forge in some time (last time I was posting in First Thoughts, which looks like it's gone now).

I'm interested in running a game in a setting that would traditionally be thrown into D&D. It's a high fantasy, swords and sorcery versus the bad guys kind of thing. I've run some previous iterations in a heavily modified D&D, and that has been... okay. Mostly, I have some very particular ideas about how magic should work in this setting, and it requires a more or less complete rewrite of the casting classes to make it work with D&D. I figure that at that point, I may as well work on something new that I like better.

So, here's what I know about my game.

• I want to do something kind of between clash and conflict resolution, which I've been calling 'clash resolution' for the meantime. The idea is to simulate a few hits at a time, generally speed up combat, and give it a better sense of a lot of things happening at once.

•Exhaustion needs to be somehow tied into the mechanics. Ideally, I want a spellcaster to have to make some kind of exhaustion check when they cast spells, and risk simply becoming to tired to cast anything more. Also, I want to be able to punish players for trying to push their characters too hard, and make something that keeps you from resting scary

•I want a player's equipment to be pretty important. I think it should be a big part of how things shake out. Artifacts and powerful magic items should be cool, and provide good bonuses.

So, the problem is that I've been trying to get a system in place for the very bare bones: how you roll stuff. I've been thinking of doing a success system, with a 'get x successes to win at stuff' kind of thing. The other thought I have been throwing around recently is a 'roll and keep' system, where you roll a number of dice based on your stats/weapons, and keep the best 1/2/whatever. Here's the issue I'm trying to think out (and hoping to get some inspiration for)

How do I make a single roll that covers hit and damage, and involves a character's stats, skills, and gear? Ideally, all of those should make a difference, but I also want things to flow quickly enough for combat to flow nicely.
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opsneakie
Member

Posts: 93


« Reply #1 on: March 22, 2012, 06:43:10 PM »

Also, bad form to post twice, but I didn't put a link to a document in, because I'm bad.

Here's the (extreme wip) doc.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1WP8V9HCTkoCTmxyFzXOUpWkv60rG8af8ssdsGCv-ZW4/edit
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: March 22, 2012, 09:01:34 PM »

Hey,

Good to see you again. I'm gonna dive right in in an unconstructed way, riffing off what you said and what I see.

1. Your phrasing interests me: "... it requires a more or less complete rewrite of the casting classes to make it work with D&D." Only of the classes? That's not much of a rewrite, is it? Shoot, you could just take the OGL and whip up whatever classes you wanted, keeping everything as squeaky-D20 as you'd like.

2. You should think carefully about the difference between mechanics and Color. Let me give you an old-school AD&D example. Now, everyone likes to bitch about and poke fun at those hit points, especially the way you're supposed to be a bad-ass veteran (first level) with 7 on a good roll, and then at 5th you're running around with maybe 30, and at 10th, say, 60 or 70. Cue all the japes about how the high-level characters get shot up with fifty arrows and don't blink, then and now.

My point is that all the jokers were and are morons. I've got plenty to criticize about every iteration of D&D, but that's one mistake the rules don't make. Instead, according to the AD&D Player's Guide (1979), what people mistakenly call "First Edition," Gygax is wonderfully clear about what hit points are. They are literally story armor (not his words), indicating that the same fatal damage inflicted on a minor character would not touch a higher-level character the same way, resullting in a mere scratch (his words).

My point (same one, I'm long-winded) is that those rules knew the difference between mechanics and Color. Color is, ultimately, what happens in the fiction. Mechanics are means to get content into the fiction. Those means are, effectively, "the rules." In this case, the rules say, hit point losses inflicted on a higher-level character literally do not do the same thing as they do to a lower-level character.

The wrong road to run down is the one that assumes that "the rules" mean the mechanics, period, and that narration (fiction, talking, description, communication, whatever you want to call it) is mere cleaner-upper, afterthoughts, to the mechanics. It's the other way around. The mechanics are good insofar as they inform narration well, as constraints.  But narration is bigger, and it is also the actual medium of play.

What I'm seeing in your writeup so far is that you want all the Color to be determined in every single imaginable way by some discrete mechanic. It's a design goal fervently sought again and again throughout the history of the hobby. RuneQuest sought it so thoroughly that I can't imagine anyone would ever try again, then along came Arms Law and Spell Law (ultimately Rolemaster), and Jesus spittin' baccy, boy, I'm not even up to 1980 yet!

Hero Wars finally taught me the lesson for good: it ain't going to happen. The wise game designer decides for real what aspect of what gets spoken as fiction (narrated, said, communicated, whatever you want to call it) will be incontrovertibly informed by the mechanics, and what will not. There are a thousand ways to do it, but not one of them is, "Do the mechanics and now you know what happens in every particular." Everyone's tried, including people older and meaner and smarter than either you or me.

You can stay quite close to the bone in this regard, I suppose "crunchy," being the annoying term of the day for that design approach. (We used to say "realistic," until all the fluid finally desiccated from that term.) If you go that route, then you should become a student of the Burning Wheel system.

3. So, here's one of my recurrent notions about game design. I think you might benefit from entering into a little dialogue, which starts like this (actually ripping myself off from another thread):

Let's start with Color. I mean, nothing but Color, just the fun and image-rich description of some topic or genre or whatever that you'd like to play. In fact, try to forget anything you ever knew about what role-playing games are about. Never mind dungeons, vampires, or anything of the kind. Never mind any sort of subculture you share with others and the way you may dress or talk when you're with them. Think instead about books, movies, comics, history, biography, sex, politics, music, humor, cartoons, advertising ... anything you like to experience as media. What's a topic that turns you on? Or for that matter, pisses you off to the extent that you'd like to do something about it?

I ask this because role-playing begins with Color, and it is effective only insofar as the content deep within the Color - a highly personal thing - finds expression through the processes of play. The essence of Exploration, or if we talk in terms of process, Shared Imagined Space, is giving the primal and initial Color some kind of weight among as a group of people who are talking and listening to one another.

Another way to ask the same question is, imagine the scene you'd like to be the genuine payoff for playing your game, not that what came before was bad, but now, this is not only good, it's better than good. What's happening in that scene? Who's opposed to whom, and about what? What are they doing about it, and what does that look like?

I promise that if you answer this, then I can address many specific mechanical issues you'd brought up, about exhaustion, equipment, and anything else.

As I said in the beginning, I'm merely riffing a bit, so I am OK with you picking up on anything in this post you'd like to run with, as you see fit, if anything.

Best, Ron
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opsneakie
Member

Posts: 93


« Reply #3 on: March 23, 2012, 03:29:48 PM »

Both reading what you have to say, and with talking with some of my gaming group about the stuff I'm planning, I realize that I somehow forgot that important bit of designing a game: Think of a scene you want to have, and figure out how to make the game support that. When I was working on Night and Day, I was thinking about how much I wanted players to have these big showdowns with the supernatural baddies, and draw a lot of party tension from that. In the end, the mechanics worked for that pretty well, in that the most versatile party ended up being one where the characters had strong alignment differences, which led to a lot of party tensions.

The scene I want here is this. I want the characters to be pursued, hunted across the night by some horrible horrible bads. They're running and running, but eventually, weariness takes its toll on them, they start to falter, start to trip up. At some point, they realize that whatever is chasing them is going to outlast them, and they have to turn and make a stand somewhere. I want a setting where the night is a scary place. It's the player characters against the myriad terrors that the world holds. Where the traditional D&D setting is about an age where adventurers thrive, this is at a time where the things in the night are still powerful.

Part of what that's telling me is that having stats might not be that big of a deal. I might go back to just having skills, and letting a character's strength, agility, or whatever be left nonspecific. The other thing I'm thinking is that I want combat to be at least a little more interesting than "i hit the guy with my sword," and I'm starting to be less concerned about the speed at which combat happens. While it's something my group has been unhappy about before, at a certain point, you have to make a trade-off between a realistic or 'crunchy' system, and a quick one.

I like the hit point thing, because I've actually waffled away from them, and now I'm back on the side of enjoying hit points pretty thoroughly, exactly as story armor. Although in some weird cases it got out of hand in D&D, it's not really a flawed system.

So I think it's better to pare things down to having character skills, and finding some way to slot items into there in an interesting way. Exhaustion I want to stay, since I really like the thought of having the characters simply drop from exhaustion at some point, just being too worn out to fight. It also means things can cost an exhaustion point, if I decide to have powers or something of that type.

I realize this is getting pretty disorganized, so I think I'm going to stop myself here and work on putting my design doc into a bit better shape. As always, someone on the Forge can point me in the right direction.

Thanks, John
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: March 26, 2012, 07:52:36 AM »

Hi! Thanks for your answer to my questions. I’ve been delayed by the usual constraints of my weekends, which don’t afford much chance for posting.

Quote
The scene I want here is this. I want the characters to be pursued, hunted across the night by some horrible horrible bads. They're running and running, but eventually, weariness takes its toll on them, they start to falter, start to trip up. At some point, they realize that whatever is chasing them is going to outlast them, and they have to turn and make a stand somewhere. I want a setting where the night is a scary place. It's the player characters against the myriad terrors that the world holds. Where the traditional D&D setting is about an age where adventurers thrive, this is at a time where the things in the night are still powerful.

Run don't walk, and find a copy of Sun & Storm, published in 1992, by Storm Press. It comes in two books, nominally one for players and one for GM, but it's really a single rulebook unnecessarily split into two. You've basically described it in what I quoted above. That's not to say, "It's been done, you're too late," but rather, yes, there are people out there who feel exactly the same way and would be jazzed by your description. I recommend it to you because I think it was a good example of thoughtful and idiosyncratic design, and so you can see that your ideal of play is shared by others.

Regarding attributes (what you’re calling “stats”) – yes, given what you’ve written, I suggest junking them. If you need any justification in your heart of hearts, then consider that someone with “Blacksmith” and “Greatsword” skills is basically being tagged as brawny already, for instance.

Having overcome the false dichotomy of “stats and skills,” however, you may still be laboring under another one: the idea that realism/crunchiness has a zero-sum relationship with speed of play. My take is quite different: first, that speed is not the issue so much as ease and coherence, i.e, that the mechanics make sense relative to the point of play, and are fun to do. Given that, then it follows that a sensible and fun system which enjoyably informs narration can have any degree of complexity. And a bogus system can too.

Therefore, what you want is good, not bad, and let the level of complexity take care of itself. All that matters now is talking about what is good for how you want play to go.

Regarding hit points (or whatever equivalent we’re talking about), the most recent games set in Glorantha are your best research tool for what hit points were sort of almost trying to become, at least as I see it. The games include Hero Wars (2000), then rewritten as HeroQuest (which I find unfortunately weaker in some ways), now there's a new version that I haven't checked out yet.

I’ll use the first one, Hero Wars, because I’m most familiar with it. In that game, Action Points are something you spend, and you have a certain amount based on the skills you happen to be using at the moment. They’re totally abstract during the conflict but become “concrete” right when it ends, in an interesting way. It strikes me that explaining them here could easily become a crazy essay, so I’ll hold off unless you’re really interested.

Regarding gear, and given what you’ve said, I suggest that you’d enjoy designing literally two resolution systems, or rather, two “families” within your game in terms of mechanics. Therefore instead of stacking gear’s effects onto an already-existing system (+2 to hit, e.g.), which typically only leads to boring mini-maxing, think of them as utterly orthogonal.

Quote
Exhaustion I want to stay, since I really like the thought of having the characters simply drop from exhaustion at some point, just being too worn out to fight. It also means things can cost an exhaustion point, if I decide to have powers or something of that type.

Have you thought about flipping it around, so that instead of an attached bank of endurance (the usual method), have a character's raw effectiveness (chance to hit, damage, whatever is the primary consequential mechanic in the game) be driven specifically by the effort put in? In other words, instead of doing X and therefore having to check off how much X costs, start by saying how much you’re putting into it, and that number sets up all kinds of things like chance to hit and damage, or even defense as well. You could even say that how much effort you put in even raises the risk of how much damage you could take …

H’m, let me brainstorm. My character has Endurance 20. I spend 5, which gives me a nice solid chance to hit + level of damage inflicted on hit, but it also means that if I get hit, I’ll take more damage than if I’d just put in 1 or 2. Never mind the numbers exactly, but I hope you can see how I’ve made effort and exhaustion the centerpiece of strategy – i.e., they simply have to do it, the question is how much – without turning the characters into total wusses, or forcing them to track secondary number pools. It basically lets the characters dig their own graves depending on how badly they want something, and includes the enjoyable effect that they’ll fight only when they really mean it.

OK, I’m bordering on becoming too creative regarding your project. Let me know if any of this was interesting.

Best, Ron
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opsneakie
Member

Posts: 93


« Reply #5 on: March 27, 2012, 10:50:52 PM »

Well, I'm not sure how to feel about spending your stamina/exhaustion up front - it's honestly something I haven't thought about, so I'll need to consider it for a while longer. I'm trying to decide if it would be too punishing to players, especially when they miss. It would instill some sensible risk-taking in them, though. If your potential for dealing big damage and taking big damage are linked, you don't want to overextend too hard, for fear of messing up and getting stomped flat.

I talked over the system with a couple of friends, and the system we were toying around with was this: Junk attributes completely, just let your skills be descriptive enough (pretty much exactly what you were saying about the brawny blacksmith), and instead of having skills and items both be a modifier, we were toying with keeping gear as a modifier, and having skills control the die size of a roll. So an unskilled peasant would roll a d4, all the way up to the greatest master of a skill rolling a d20. Meanwhile, most weaponry would give you a +1, while the greatest artifacts might give as high as a +5 or better. I'm wondering still about better ways to handle things.

Another one of the mechanics I have been thinking about is doing roll and keep stuff. I've always liked the idea of it, but never found a chance to slot it into anything I was playtesting. Maybe the quality of equipment could let a player roll their skill die a greater number of times, essentially giving you more chances to do well.

Sun & Storm looks really fascinating, but I haven't really had time to dive into it yet. I'm hoping to run a couple combat playtests, possibly with some of the different rule ideas you've brought up here. I think, when all's said and done, I'll have a really enjoyable system on my hands. I'll post back after I've tested out the die size skills with modifier equipment. If that doesn't turn out too well, I think I'll try the stamina pool up front spending next.
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Alfryd
Member

Posts: 118


« Reply #6 on: April 19, 2012, 04:43:09 PM »

2. You should think carefully about the difference between mechanics and Color. Let me give you an old-school AD&D example. Now, everyone likes to bitch about and poke fun at those hit points, especially the way you're supposed to be a bad-ass veteran (first level) with 7 on a good roll, and then at 5th you're running around with maybe 30, and at 10th, say, 60 or 70. Cue all the japes about how the high-level characters get shot up with fifty arrows and don't blink, then and now.

My point is that all the jokers were and are morons. I've got plenty to criticize about every iteration of D&D, but that's one mistake the rules don't make. Instead, according to the AD&D Player's Guide (1979), what people mistakenly call "First Edition," Gygax is wonderfully clear about what hit points are. They are literally story armor (not his words), indicating that the same fatal damage inflicted on a minor character would not touch a higher-level character the same way, resullting in a mere scratch (his words).
Speaking as one of these morons, I remain skeptical that Gygax's interpretation was remotely supported by anything else in the rules he wrote.  (To give but one example:  healing spells usually take *longer* to restore the ostensible 'cuts and bruises' of the veteran than they do the near-disembowelment of the hapless novice.  Never mind what happens when you immerse them both in molten magma.)  And I'm not sure sustaining fifty shallow grazes in the course of one duel strains credulity less than fifty arrows in the back.

I can agree with your contention that Hit Points could be seen as a starting point for the evolution of more abstract conflict-resolution mechanics (e.g, faction disposition in Burning Empires,) and I fully concur that trying to squeeze out every last detail of descriptive colour on a rules-only basis is staring into a bottomless, yawning abyss.  But I don't think the implications on colour made by ever-increasing, character-specific HP as a literal-minded survival-meter can be so easily glossed over.

How do I make a single roll that covers hit and damage, and involves a character's stats, skills, and gear? Ideally, all of those should make a difference, but I also want things to flow quickly enough for combat to flow nicely.
I seem to recall from the site review that Zero had a resolution mechanic that essentially settled everything by rolling 2d6 and multiplying them together versus a target obstacle, with appropriate mods for skills, gear, etc.  I imagine Ron knows more about it, though.
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Daniel B
Member

Posts: 196

Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« Reply #7 on: April 29, 2012, 02:45:50 PM »

Quote
Exhaustion I want to stay, since I really like the thought of having the characters simply drop from exhaustion at some point, just being too worn out to fight. It also means things can cost an exhaustion point, if I decide to have powers or something of that type.

Have you thought about flipping it around, so that instead of an attached bank of endurance (the usual method), have a character's raw effectiveness (chance to hit, damage, whatever is the primary consequential mechanic in the game) be driven specifically by the effort put in? In other words, instead of doing X and therefore having to check off how much X costs, start by saying how much you’re putting into it, and that number sets up all kinds of things like chance to hit and damage, or even defense as well. You could even say that how much effort you put in even raises the risk of how much damage you could take …

H’m, let me brainstorm. My character has Endurance 20. I spend 5, which gives me a nice solid chance to hit + level of damage inflicted on hit, but it also means that if I get hit, I’ll take more damage than if I’d just put in 1 or 2. Never mind the numbers exactly, but I hope you can see how I’ve made effort and exhaustion the centerpiece of strategy – i.e., they simply have to do it, the question is how much – without turning the characters into total wusses, or forcing them to track secondary number pools. It basically lets the characters dig their own graves depending on how badly they want something, and includes the enjoyable effect that they’ll fight only when they really mean it.

Interesting idea, Ron..

opsneakie, mind if I steal this? No guarantees I'll use it but I'd like it on my plate of options.

Daniel B
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Arthur: "It's times like these that make me wish I'd listened to what my mother told me when I was little."
Ford: "Why? What did she tell you?"
Arthur: "I don't know. I didn't listen."
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