As some might surmise (after careful reading of this blog) I am much more adept at tweaking existing rules than inventing my own from whole cloth. I realize that this is not the case with everyone, and it may indeed be “all in my head” but, hey…that’s just how I roll. Much as I’d like to be a “premier game designer” or some such (that’s just my ego talking, pay it no mind) spontaneous creation/inspiration just doesn’t come all that easy to me.
I mean, sometimes it does, but not nearly as often as I’d like…and a lot of times, organizing my thoughts/feelings into something coherent to others is a real bitch.
So saying that, I might as well admit that I often get stumped right from the get go when trying to develop RPGs…regardless of whether it’s something that’s going to look like the wargame descendants of old (Boot Hill, B/X D&D) or something that’s going to be a bit more ephemeral (think indie/Forge games), it’s always tricky trying to develop the engine for the vehicle.
(interesting fun fact: I can drive a car, but I wouldn’t know the first think about tinkering about under the hood…well, maybe enough to tighten the screws)
It’s one thing to develop theory after all…it’s quite another to implement it and have it run smooth. I mean, the wheels may turn, but will the car purr along or will it clunk and belch smoke in a semi-ambulatory fashion?
But even the IDEA of fixing the engine is putting the cart before the horse (sorry about mixing metaphors). Here I am saying it’s tough to develop a decent, coherent system…sure that’s a tough balancing act for most anyone. But to be perfectly frank, for ME there’s a matter of pondering “which the hell place do I start first?” to worry about long before the ‘system as a whole.’
I mean, should one develop a method of character generation first? Or a combat system before anything? Or a spell list or monster inventory? Or (God help me) some sort of skill system?
I am, after all, a great believer in system design in aid of the game…that is, ONE system does NOT fit ALL games (sorry D20, GURPS, etc.). This harkens back to Axiom #1 of course: one’s game should not contain anything more or less than what is necessary for its play and enjoyment.
For instance, the last two game design ideas that popped into my brain (space opera and supers) were both based on the B/X D&D system. Easy enough to see why…I’ve been thinking/blogging about B/X a lot the last year or so, and in addition to being much beloved of Your Truly, its simplicity and rugged abstractness readily suggests itself to action-adventure RPGs like…duh…space opera and/or supers.
But even so, there’s a LOT more present in B/X than what is necessary, or even appropriate, to a Star Wars or Marvel type game. And I’m not just talking about magic items and wandering monster tables…I’m talking about the Big Six ability scores!
[SIDE NOTE: I forgot a THIRD B/X-based game idea from recent days: a re-imagining of the Mutant Chronicles. Like I said, it’s hard not to imagine using it for anything with lots of abstract combat]
Now the Big Six ability scores aren’t any particular sacred cow pour moi. Sure, like every true “Old School” player they are engraved on my heart in the following un-wavering order:
from hours upon hours of hand-writing character sheets (remember the days BEFORE personal computers?). No need to alphabetize or organize by “physical vs. mental.” Best to put them in their order of importance (you better believe it!).
ANYway, I do NOT have too much attachment to the Big Six ability scores. I’ve played too many games over the years and seen far too many different stat lines: from Traveller’s UPI, to Palladium’s ugly eight, to Star Frontiers’ 4/4, to White Wolf’s nine, to Marvel’s FASERIP. And more…every new game system appears to feel the need to redefine how we define our characters.
Which, as I said, is totally fine and dandy by me…they ARE different games, after all.
However, I have myself become much more of a minimalist over the years. Six is pretty much the absolute maximum number of abilities I want to worry about when creating a character. Which, by the way, makes it all the harder when I see a brilliant new entry into the stat line, like Terminal Space’s Technology stat.
See, I want more abilities like THAT: multi-purpose abilities. Technology at once determines: degree of sophistication/civilization, social standing (money), even level of education vs. superstition. Hell, if D&D wasn’t intrinsically a game where “higher is better” (for ability scores…not Armor Class!), I’d be tempted to chuck Intelligence as a stat and file the magic-user’s Prime Requisite right into Technology…in its INVERSE that is (in other words, MUs would receive an XP bonus for having a LOWER Tech ability score…i.e. coming from a more primitive culture). But that’s just me…in some campaign worlds I’m sure the argument could be made for equating a higher Tech score with greater MU ability (access to books, alchemy, forbidden science or whatever…primitive cave men would know nothing of the "Greater Rituals" and “Dark Arts” except its effects on ‘em).
The point is, six random ability scores is about all I can stand, and really seems like they’re one or two too many in my book. Right now, I’m floating the idea of limiting abilities in the supers game (the one I’ve been obsessing over the most this week) to FOUR (4). I had been thinking three…kind of a body, mind, spirit thing…but decided it really wasn’t enough. Plus I wanted enough ability scores to give each class its own Prime Requisite.
Also having three ability scores would be a little too reminiscent of Tri-Stat, and I want more meat to my game…not to mention I’m dumping anything resembling a “skill system.”