|Image originally from Big Fish Games|
|Whoops. Wrong "Heartbreaker".|
So, I figure that, for now, I can just discuss where I see that project going. I'll describe the systems that interest me and why, give an overview of some of my initial thoughts, and throw it all out so that you readers can see something of how I think about gaming. It's not really a work of staggering genius - I am, after all, just thinking of ways to tie together the disparate designs of others in pursuit of an experience that I think I'd like.
The comment that got me thinking about that today, was in a YouTube comment thread (now incorporated into Google+) on a video that rehashes the old "D&D combat isn't realistic because armor shouldn't make you harder to hit" chestnut. I started out by giving the normal rebuttal "D&D combat is abstracted in these particular ways", and a couple comments later noted what I'd like to see in a roleplaying game's combat system: "I'd like a combat system that incorporates the detail and tactical choices of GURPS (including some of the high-detail options like 'The Last Gasp', which regulate the pacing of combat in an emergent way), the naturalistic scales of Swordbearer, and the descriptive wound system of Hârnmaster."
|This is your last warning.|
It's my opinion that, even if a point-buy design system is available for characters, a random system should also be available that is neither significantly better nor worse than any design choices available. I have a slight preference for the random generation to be the primary method, with point-buy being a modification of that. That said, any character "skills" or similar abilities should be given some measure of decision on the part of the player. My thinking is that innate attributes should be under less player control and learned skills and abilities should be under more player control.
|OK, one more warning.|
My current thinking is that innate attributes would be things that can be simulated for the character, rather than abstract things like "reasoning" that can't really be measured and are more of the realm of player ability. I'm considering a list of attributes that includes Physique (strength, toughness, size, and so on), Coordination (precision of movement), Health (resistance to disease, rate of healing, cardiovascular fitness, etc), Empathy (or "Sensitivity"; the ability to discern motivations and emotions of others), Willpower (mental durability), Perceptiveness (ability to notice or find things), and Leadership (natural talent with getting others to follow your lead). Obviously, these aren't revolutionary, but I think that they are a useful set of fundamental character descriptions.
The next part of character creation is the set of learned abilities, usually called "skills" or the like. I have gained a new appreciation for limiting skill lists, even folding them into a single "class" or "template" for ease of character creation. I do confess, though, that I would prefer a template-style system, in which the character class would be designed from a set of options, allowing the player the choice of taking the pre-made template or building their own. I think that the best presentation of this would be to give the templates first, then provide a section or supplement that describes the method of putting together custom templates.
I have another potential system in mind which could be presented as a generation template, though it would be more difficult to implement. That would take the idea of treating a template as "previous experience" in the given profession and give a slightly flexible number of "hours of training" or similar measure of time spent improving skills, and then plug that into the normal training rules. I don't know if that would really work as well as I'd like, though. Maybe for a computer game. Still, I'd like to play around with the idea to see if I could get it to work.
A lot of skills should have default levels. Depending on how detailed I want the skills to get, that might either be only to a fixed number or it might be to other skills (so that "short sword" skill could default to "sword" skill at a penalty). I might divide combat skills up by stylistic considerations such as linear vs circular footwork and the like. Not really sure yet.
In addition to regular skills, I'd like to have special abilities. These would be similar to the Feats of WotC-era D&D and follow-ons or the Perks and Advantages of GURPS (or, for that matter, like the special abilities in Kits from 2nd edition AD&D, or even class features from all of the D&D editions). These would probably be treated as similar to skills, but with a specified training time (that would probably be modified by innate abilities, and maybe even skills). Another game that used a similar system was Top Secret, though not until some Dragon magazine articles and an official release with the Top Secret Companion. Those were the "College Courses" of that game.
I'd like to have "special use" systems for various activities. Social interaction, domain management, crafting/inventing, and combat come immediately to mind as areas that could use detailed presentations. The goal is to give the players options that they can use to tune their characters' approaches to events in the game.
|Waterhouse does magicians|
better than anyone.
One reason that I'd want a detailed approach to social interaction is that I intend that the magic system should be subtle, extremely so. The only "supernatural" element would be the existence of spirits, which would be independently-willed NPCs that the magicians would have to convince or coerce into acting as the magician wishes. Other magical abilities would be things that Rolemaster called "adrenal skills" and that FuRPiG (PDF link) called "patharchy". These are things like boosting strength or endurance, or the ability to make Sherlock Holmes-style inferences based on subtle cues. I'm not sure if I want to include "subtle influence", such as pushing someone to do something without communicating with them, but I might. I'm also not sure if I want to give powerful magicians the ability to communicate with animals and plants, similar to the way that Gandalf whistled up Shadowfax or communicated his captivity to the Great Eagles by moth courier (in the film version, at least). Two other magical abilities that I am considering but haven't decided on are the ability to become invisible (or at least less conspicuous) and the ability to travel astrally. Chances are that I will end up including all of these, suitably limited to keep them from being magical replacements for technology. In any case, I want to have "conversational hypnosis" and the like (having been on the receiving end of this, I am certain that it is a real thing), which could be used to good effect. Some other abilities that I want to include are visualization (a special ability of mental preparation), harmonious action (the ability to make temporary and limited apparent use of skills that the character doesn't actually possess by acting in harmony with the world), spirit perception and channeling, various sorts of probability alteration/luck, the gift of foresight, the ability to access ancestral visions, and the ability to sense the history of objects or places. There may be other, similar abilities of the sort that could be explained by other means or explained away. The main point is that magic should be largely about knowledge, influence, and relationships, not (for the most part) power and control - though control over self seems appropriate.
As for magical influence over growing crops and the like, I give you this quote from John Michael Greer's excellent book, Green Wizardry:
"The wizard of the early Middle Ages was a freelance intellectual whose main stock in trade was good advice, though that came well frosted with incantation and prophecy as needed. He had a working knowledge of astrology, which filled the same role in medieval thought that physics does today, and an equally solid knowledge of ritual magic, but his training didn't begin or end there. According to Picatrix, a wizard needed to have a thorough education in agriculture; navigation; political science; military science; grammar, languages, and rhetoric; commerce; all the mathematics known at the time, including arithmetic, geometry, music theory, and astronomy; logic; medicine, including herbal medicines and poisons; the natural sciences, including meteorology, mineralogy, botany, and zoology; and metaphysics - in effect, the sum total of scientific learning that had survived from the classical world."So, a lot of "magic" is just judicious use of normal skills. Basically, the main difference between magic in my Fantasy Heartbreaker and a materialist rationalist's concept of the world will be the definite existence of spirits (and maybe, perhaps just for drama's sake, nonphysical and nonlinguistic communication, but I am going back and forth on that; it's also possible that I will include such things as an option for higher-powered games).
Some of the works that I am consulting in designing how magic will work include, but are not limited to (and in no particular order), Invisibility by Steve Richards, Enchantment by Peter Paddon, Astral Dynamics by Robert Bruce, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance by Ioan Couliano (aka Ioan Culianu), Scientific Magic and Putting on the Wolf Skin both by Wayland Skallagrimsson, Naturalistic Occultism by IAO131, Postmodern Magic and Magic Power Language Symbol both by Patrick Dunn, The Science of the Craft by William H. Keith, Jr. (yes, the very same author and artist of many Traveller adventures, articles, and other material), A God Who Makes Fire by Christopher Scott Thompson, The Science of Dune edited by Kevin R. Grazier, pretty much everything I can get by Claude Lecouteux that has been translated into English (though I still haven't gotten a few of his books), Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits by Emma Wilby, How to See Fairies by Ramsey Dukes, The Magician's Reflection by Bill Whitcomb, Religion and Magic in the Life of Traditional Peoples by Alice and Irvin Child, The Secret Commonwealth by the Rev. Robert Kirk (in two editions found in other works, The Secret Commonwealth and the Fairy Belief Complex by Brian Walsh and Robert Kirk: Walker Between the Worlds by R.J. Stewart), the blog The Well of Galabes,* various grimoires and similar books I have access to, and The Lord of the Rings (which has some excellent descriptions of magic of the sort I want hidden in plain sight, as it were). In addition, I am looking at, specifically, the ways that some related ideas are handled in GURPS, especially GURPS Low-Tech and the three Low-Tech Companions (and most especially GURPS Low-Tech Companion I: Philosophers and Kings). Spirits are difficult to get right, but looking at RuneQuest (mainly the 3rd edition from Avalon Hill, but also Nash and Whitaker's Sixth Edition from Moon Design Publications, as well as Cults of Prax and Cults of Terror written for the 2nd edition) and Dogs in the Vineyard are giving me some ideas for ways to handle them. There are also some ideas in GURPS, such as in GURPS Spirits for 3E, in the Creature Feature supplement for Chill from Pacesetter, and in a few other games and gaming supplements that I think I can use.
There are three main sources that I am interested in adapting and integrating: the wide range of player options in GURPS, as well as various specific elements such as GURPS Technical Grappling, "The Last Gasp" (an article covering short-term fatigue that informs emergent behaviors resembling actual fights), and the like; the natural, human-scale measures of Swordbearer (based on the pace of 2.5 feet/30 inches and the instant of 4 seconds, though I may or may not use those specific measures); and the descriptive wounding system of Hârnmaster. I'm also looking at ways to incorporate the subtle differences between various weapons, such as between a backsword and a saber or between the various pole weapons. I am especially interested in morale systems and systems (such as, perhaps, fear checks) that push players toward morale-style decisions in an emergent way. I'm also pretty set on incorporating ideas from Dave Grossman's studies on violence, such as On Killing (which is excellent up until that last chapter where he wrings his hands over videogames), to limit players and NPCs from indiscriminate murder sprees (though, as he notes, some people are sociopathic or psychopathic and can commit violence with fewer mental constraints - but I want the players to understand that such characters are, in fact, sociopaths and psychopaths; as well, there are known ways to "trick", as it were, humans into killing each other).
The problem with this, of course, is that it promotes combat to a centerpiece of the game, since a fight takes time and generates considerable interest (in opposition to the early D&D philosophy of just getting it over and out of the way as quickly as possible). That is mildly concerning, but my experience is that players (and I include myself here) tend to find an enjoyment in combat as its own end regardless of the emphasis or lack thereof in the rules. Combat is a significant feature of adventure stories for good reason, as it is dramatic in a character sense, carries significant narrative weight, has notable consequences, and so forth.
Combat should interface neatly with any other rules for physical activity and perception, as it shouldn't be relegated to a distinct and separate "combat game" that has little direct bearing on the rest of the game. Jumping, climbing walls, noticing concealed persons or objects, acrobatics, and so on should all be usable as easily in combat as out of it. Similarly, the injury rules should be available for falls and similar physical failures and integrate neatly there.
I have mentioned before that, in my very first roleplaying game session (AD&D 1st edition, back in the summer of 1979), I played a Magic-User. The stingy DM required that, since I was new, I must start at 1st level. This was, as it turned out, unfair since he was running the adventure as an expedition to the Tomb of Horrors, but I didn't know anything about that, I just had a sheet of paper with some numbers. I couldn't figure out what I might want to buy with the 2d4x10 gold pieces I was given (I don't remember the exact number, but I think that it must have been on the high end), outside of the basics like clothing, so I asked if I could hire people to help my character out. The DM had never had such a request, so looked it up in the Dungeon Masters Guide and discovered that I could hire mercenaries. I spent the majority of my money on that, and to make an already lengthy story short my character was the only survivor of the expedition because the DM didn't know how to handle NPCs in those numbers and I was able to just send soldiers into every trap. Good times.
The point of that story is that I have never lost my appreciation for holding the reins of power. One of my criteria for deciding if a game is good, or at least complete, is if it has systems to handle my characters running an army or nation. I loved the Birthright setting, the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, and the series of articles in Dragon magazine that rationalized the economics of the D&D game's domain management rules. Chivalry & Sorcery included extensive notes on running a manor, and similar concepts are in some of the Hârnmaster supplements. GURPS, in the Low-Tech series, has included extensive, useful notes on the topic. I've reviewed Realms of the Unknown, which is a game centered entirely on the domain management level of play. So, I have a lot of ideas to draw upon for including a domain management level of play. One thing I hope to do is integrate the domain management with the rest of the game, so that a physical feat that can be performed by an average character is also the basis of larger-scale domain activities. If a character can dig at a certain rate, that should also be the basis of the actions of miners digging for resources. If a character can make a sword in X amount of time, that should be the basis of domain-level smiths making swords. Those things just need to be averaged out and so abstracted to a usable level to handle dozens or hundreds of swordsmiths.
Relevant to domain management, as alluded at the end there, is the ability of characters to build things. I'll confess that this is the area I have thought through least at this point, but I hope to include a method for determining how quickly objects can be made, at what cost in resources, and with what final quality. The systems should be able to be scaled up to uniform industrial manufacture without requiring it (so that the process of building at lower levels of technology can be replicated as well). Large and complex items, especially, should be individualized, so that one ship is not identical to another (even if generally so), a spacecraft might have particular quirks unique to it or to its design, and so on. The smaller and less complicated an item, the more ability to replicate it relatively uniformly (coins are largely the same even in the iron age, but ships - even ones of the same nominal class - are uniquely individual up into the 20th century at least). That leads me into the invention rules, which should allow a character to come up with a concept, build a prototype, and determine if it has any design flaws that need to be addressed (or which can be tolerated) in further prototypes, then transfer that design to the crafting process. Again, this should cover time and other resource expenditures. To a great degree, many of these issues are addressed in GURPS, so I imagine that I'll be drawing on that game for much, though other games like Hârnmaster cover other areas that are mostly ignored in GURPS, so I'll probably be drawing on those as well.
The final major area of the game is the interaction of one character with another in ways that aren't physical or violent. This is going to be the strangest section of the game to work on, since it will be the one with the most admonitions to ignore it in most cases. A lot of what will be included should be worked out by roleplaying, but on the other hand I also want to be sure that players (and Referees) understand clearly that combat is not the only way to interact with settings that use the game rules. One of the reasons, I am told, that players tend to resort to combat is that extensive combat rules imply that combat is a major function in the game. So, I want to include similarly extensive rules for social interactions, since I want to imply the value of nonviolent interaction as well. Happily for me, most of this has already been written (in GURPS, naturally, as the Social Engineering series of supplements), so I can pretty much just work through those materials and adapt them to the specifics of my game system. I'll need to include a reaction table, of course, since that is central to any social interaction game system.
If you've read this far, thank you for paying attention to my ramblings. It's actually taken me a couple of days to write this out, which sort of annoys me, but I think that I needed to do it. I'm presenting it to be read so that I can justify it to myself, and also for comment. Is there anything I missed? Are there other gaming issues than Character Creation, general Skill Use, Magic, Physical Feats/Combat, Social Interaction, Crafting/Invention, and Domain Management? (Offhand, I just thought about families and dynasties, which are a somewhat separate issue than Domain Management, but I think that I can fold that area into that section and perhaps character creation.) Do you like where I'm going with this or is it something that you'd hate, and why? I mean, not that I am demanding that anyone answer but I invite the discussion, assuming that there is (or can be) anything more than just "It is/isn't my cup of tea". Certainly, one of the weaknesses is the potential relative complexity of including so many elements, but I want it to be as comprehensive as possible while still allowing for situational rulings. I think that it should be obvious that the whole project could be described as "GURPS with random character creation, descriptive wounds, and a more robust and usable domain management", and that is a great part of my interest here. I do like GURPS, and I like the idea of it even more, but the lack of any way of easily making characters randomly (especially, but not exclusively, for NPCs) annoys me on an aesthetic and practical level. As well, the descriptive wounds of Hârnmaster (and to a much lesser extent, the old BTRC "house system" of TimeLords, SpaceTime, and Warp World) have spoiled me for hit point-based systems forever.
|What a real-life "superhero" fight looks like.|
Phoenix Jones in the news.
*As an aside, you could do a lot worse than that list of books and blog if you were interested in learning what magicians in the real world think they are doing, and if you wanted to learn actual magic. The first two or three in the list and the William H. Keith, Jr. one, along with the Robert Kirk editions, are perhaps a little more controversial than the rest, but magic is nothing if not transgressive. In fact, on the transgressiveness of magic, I'd recommend Apocalyptic Witchcraft by Peter Grey.