When Nothing Else Will Do

I play a lot of games. Like, a lot; both video and otherwise. I’m excited about some of the changes being made to current MMOs and some of the new MMOs making debuts, but time and time again I return to things like Pen and Paper gaming, as well as board gaming just to have a break from the ol’ comp. I’ve actually been doing it quite a bit lately, probably splitting my time 50/50 with video gaming, which is new for me, but I like it. In fact, I love it. I love it so much so that it’s prompted me to start down the path I laid before myself many months ago: designing my own PnP system / world.

See, I have this idea that … if I create my own world with its own history and lore, rules, mechanics and systems, that this world can transcend any one type of media and propel my ideas into new mediums like video games … if it ever gathers enough interest that is. Anyway, it’s a dream, but it’s one I’ve finally begun working on. And what’s it like designing a whole new world with new systems? I shall tell you

First off, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with systems like Dungeons and Dragons, GURPs, anything by Palladium, etc. These are all fine systems and still provide me with entertainment even to this day. But all things change over time and sometimes you grow out of things. Hell D&D is in its 4th inception now, which is actually like what, its 8th release or something like that? There are always changes to be made (sometimes even for the better!). But when nothing available fits exactly what you want to be able to do or matches the ideas you have in your head, what do you do? Well you can modify the current systems to work, which is usually simple enough … or you can make your own, which is decidedly harder as I’ve come to find out.

This new game is actually being co-developed by myself and my buddy Jon. We have so many ideas thrown around all the time that we decided it was just time to sit down and write it all out, ditching what didn’t work and making use of what did. Luckily we have a large group of friends, all of whom love to PnP game, so getting play testers wasn’t ever an issue. I just didn’t realize what it would take to get to the point where you could run a single days’ worth of gaming, let alone a single full campaign. Our overall vision is that the game should flow smoothly, both in and out of combat, but present enough of a challenge that people wouldn’t just fly through it, accruing massive weapons and fame easily. To that end, we made a few decisions:

1. Combat would be easy, but deep. There would be a way to judge consequences of a singular action without having to roll a bunch of different dice. This keeps the turns going.

2 Combat would be fun and interactive. Just rolling dice to swing a sword gets boring, so we redid the way melee, ranged and spell combat works. It still requires dice rolls, but things like gestures, tactics, counters and interrupts trump the normal initiative stranglehold on combat order.

3. Activities outside of combat would be engaging such that people weren’t completely bored actually following the story. Truth be told, there’s a lot more to that statement that weighs heavily on good storytelling, but the addition of many tradeskills along with a different means of progression other than experience boost that.

4. Character creation and progression should be completely based on what the player sees their character as, not trying to fit them into a particular class’ stats. So we did away with experience and levels. I know, I know, you can translate almost any progression into levels / experience if you want to, but to the players, there’s so many more options without things like classes and levels that they see it as being more open and the player enjoyment is what we’re after.

5. Difficulty should always be a factor. In our world, we want people to team up, talk tactics, keep each other safe. Our world is dangerous to the point where wandering off by yourself is almost certain death. However, being allied with others doesn’t necessarily mean you’re faithful to your immediate party which is where factions come in.

6. Have character actions weigh in with status and faction. This is easy to do in a PnP game, but we wanted a system that would translate well to other mediums as well, so a heavy focus was put on factions and their meaning in game. There are places you simply can’t get into without some renown and others that will let anyone in.

Those are a few of the overall areas we wanted to tackle and set out doing so, initially writing up many pages of documentation on how we thought it would all work. Jon and I work in an odd (to me) way though. We do our documentation separately, so as not to be influenced by the other’s thoughts while dumping ideas. Then we get together and spill everything, comparing what we’ve written. If we have opposing viewpoints on something, we weigh each of them and in most cases try to include points from both sides, if possible. If not, obviously the better idea wins out, but neither of us is discouraged about it if it’s not our idea. We know, for the good of the game, some things have to be left on the cutting room floor.

So what’s our path through this mess? Our first mission was to flesh out combat. Combat takes into account magic, melee and ranged combat, so it was pretty hefty. Considering our game doesn’t use spells, magic had to be worked on quite a good bit. Magic is also a major focus of the world for reasons described in the actual campaign 😛 Melee and ranged were focused on a little more, I think, because we didn’t want magic to dwarf either of them. Magic is so powerful in our world that fighting with a sword and shield could seem daunting, but we didn’t want that. So iteration after iteration was done and we finally came up with a system that grows with the player.

The game will start as many other PnP games do with their systems, but over time as the player advances in skill, things like initiative will take a back seat to skills, tactics and combinations. We really want parties to be sitting around the campfire analyzing the combat they’ve gone through during the day and figuring out what to do better, what failed and what could potentially kill them if they don’t change it. It’s downtime like this that holds a lot of progression potential for our system, as things like skills, while being available in a tree-like fashion, can be earned by simply doing something new. Since our progression system is open, the skill trees exist as simply a guideline, with the ability for players to come up with their own skills and abilities by experimenting. When a new skill is discovered that may not be in the player’s tree, it is written in where it best fits, is slotted for the proper amount and the player can begin practicing that skill as they wish.

I want to mention a short bit on some combat related items like tactics and combinations and … the ever important, consequence dice. To me, a rigid pecking order that’s given via an initiative roll is archaic and, well boring. Sure there’s abilities in today’s PnP games to alter that, but really it’s just about the number of attacks and rolling a dice to hit with your weapon. You can’t really expand beyond those basics of combat at that level, but what we’ve done is introduced abilities and skills that will let you chain attacks based on successful attacks, parries, dodges, etc. We’ve also implemented a system that will let the players design tactics for certain situations so when they recognize an opportunity, then can execute that tactic, trumping initiative position. It also works for ambushes, protecting party members and even saving someone from a deathblow. The consequence dice is a system built off your standard “critical hit” system wherein you normally just do double damage or are alloted another attack based on the fact that you crit. What the consequence dice does is give you a table, based on weapon type and skill that gives you the option to roll again if you get a crit, to inflict some major damage. It ranges from using say, a 1d4 all the way up to a 1d20 so you go from having 4 potentially deadly consequences to 20. It’s random, obviously, based on your roll, but what we’ve allowed is for people to slot their dice tables with abilities and skills they learn, so the table is customized to them.

After we dealt with combat basics, I really wanted to focus on magic as a whole system. I’m tired of spells and mana so … I did away with them and built on a type of people devised by Jon many years ago. Basically these people filter magic through a device they wear on their hand and are attuned at a young age to a particular element. They can have a sub element, but it requires more training and a pilgrimage to another monastery. I’m sure that doesn’t make sense to you now, but it’s ok. We actually have 3 magic systems in our game: Natural, Elemental (filtered) and Divine. Natural magic is reserved for beings attuned to nature (dur, right?), but is mostly defensive or utility-based. Elemental magic is only usable by one type of person and these people gather together to protect that blessing. Divine magic is used by followers of a chosen god. All three forms of magic function quite differently from one another and, I think, impart a sense of fun and differentiation between seemingly similar party members.

Elemental practitioners make use of gestures and their filtering devices, seeing the magic happen in their mind and associating that vision with a physical hand gesture. The effect can be modified in speed, size and physical composition to make it faster, hit harder or have different effects depending on the make up of it.

Divine magic functions as prayers and uses a favor system governed by faith. The more a player does in the name of his / her god, the more favor they will gain and the larger the blessings will be.

Natural magic functions on a concentration system, calling forth the forces of nature to a certain extremity (it’s actually a lot like EQ2’s concentration system they use with maintained spells). Natural magic practitioners can also interface with nature via any living connection (it sounds like Avatar, but trust me I’ve had this idea for years and years so no, I’m not copying :P) and can control natural entities within a certain area by doing so. They can also commune with nature to take on the essences of plants and animals.

Tradeskills – We really wanted people to develop their characters outside of the traditional combat visage, so the introduction of actually having tradeskills in the PnP game came about. While characters can basically do anything they like and call it a tradeskill, there are set trades in the game, like smithing and alchemy, that will serve the party, not only in gear acquired, but when tactics become prominent, will help there as well.

I used to picture myself sitting in some kind of meeting room with a large whiteboard furiously writing ideas down for things like this, but in all honesty, most of this has been done on our own, in our own time, over Skype when we have a free minute, or over lunch either at a restaurant or the classic gaming situation of ordering pizza. It’s been a LOT of fun figuring stuff out, even if every day we find something new that postpones our actual campaign starting. I was hoping to start this weekemd, but we still have basic skill trees to do and finish work on a very interesting group of people who are in the business of mage hunting. I really wanted to start, but then I realized … wow, we haven’t even mapped out the world, or the area they’ll be starting in … haven’t placed any dungeons or ruins, etc. However, here’s how I envision things like that:

By having players play the game, they make themselves part of the canon and lore. We only have to make a small area at a time and let them adventure there. Sure it may have repercussions thousands of miles away, but we can work with that between sessions. What we’re doing is letting our friends build the world around them, possibly even writing themselves into the world’s history books as heroes or villains. Sure we have an idea of how we want the world to actually look on a broad scale, but making it up as you go along is a LOT more fun that pre-planning, sometimes 😉 We’ve also made time at the end of each session where each player will make entries into their journals, so we have a written account from multiple perspective’s on the day’s events. This time is also counted as reflection or meditation time, where the player will think about the happenings of the day and their achievements will make themselves tangible (read: skill ups, etc). It’s a nice wind-down activity, I think … and helps tremendously in keeping a record of every little thing that happens from everyone’s perspective, including the GM.

For the first campaign I think Jon and I are going to co-GM it, then we’ll alternate weeks or entire campaigns. I’m excited to play the game, but I’m more excited to see other people play it and this time, I’d much rather run the game than be in it. Not sure why as I’ve never GMed a PnP game before, but this being my baby … I really want to see what the players come up with, since our group of friends has a nasty history of really messing up worlds.

Anywho, I’ll end this extremely long post here, but I wanted to expand just a tiny bit on the “building while playing” idea. Personally I think it’s great fun to watch the world be built and the lore written in front of your eyes with your friends. It’s how Dragonlance came about, if I’m not mistaken and it really adds a random element to something that could be made completely bored and plain with too much planning / thinking. To that end, my buddy and I had an idea where we’d have people who actually lived elsewhere test the game, run a campaign or two with their friends, in different predetermined areas of the world and report back to us after each gaming session. This would provide the element of a world that is changing and expanding even beyond what our players know so that the world we’ve created would be changed by the time they got there, if they ever went there. It also leads into having an online gaming session with people around the world if they two groups ever met up in the same place, which I think would be fun.

It’s been a long post, but hopefully those who chose to make it through to the end were entertained. Please, leave comments as you see fit, constructive criticism is always welcome. I’ll be fully chronicling the development of the game at my new site: Digital Lemonade Studios so if you’re really intrigued, the specifics of the systems and whatnot will be placed there as they unfold (and as I have time, since there’s nothing there really right now :P). Thanks for reading 😀

Oh and by the way, the name of our game / world is Godsworn 😉

Posted on April 27, 2010, in General and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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