I'm starting to come to the conclusion that it is much better to start small and simple than elaborate and grandiose.
This may appear to a be a "no brainer" to most folks...certainly, it would seem to be wisdom that I myself already know (or can certainly grasp)...it can just be difficult to actualize it, and it's certainly a challenge to execute it without losing the nuance that you want.
And here I am specifically talking about game design. I started writing up a typical, long-winded post yesterday describing the actual play events from Thursday's play-test of the new game. But as I formulated my thoughts on how to describe what happened, I began thinking more and more about what worked and (much more importantly) what didn't.
So I didn't get around to finishing the post. Instead, I was up till 3 in the morning figuring out how to get more of what did work into the game, and where I needed to cut "the other stuff."
There was a lot left on the cutting room floor...including most of the magic system as written.
That's pretty shocking considering the fact I had the magic chapter (and system) sewed up weeks ago, and completely finished (as far as text goes) even before LAST week. And even more shocking considering there has been almost ZERO magic use in the entire play-test.
One enemy mage cast one spell. It did some damage. End of story.
And NOW the system is getting the axe...or rather, it's getting a sever hatchet job. Charisma, as an "all powerful stat" for magicians has had the rug pulled out from under it.
And why exactly is that? Well, the reasons are actually a lot more complicated than the solution. Here are the problems that arose in the game:
1. The planning and "communicating-plan-with-GM" phase got completely bogged down. That was the biggest drag on the whole evening (in my opinion). As I said in my last post, I now see the wisdom in having a "Caller" for any group larger than three or four...and probably even for those sizes. More Moldvay scouring is definitely needed, as well as a few scratch rules on how it ought to work.
2. Though the problem hasn't arisen yet, issue #1 gives rise to one of the first reasons to change the magic system. If the Caller is (generally) the character with the highest Charisma score, that's going to make the party magician the defacto Caller more often than not. Why? Because cybernetic implants destroy a character's Charisma (one becomes "more machine than man") and Charisma is the lifeblood of magicians (determining their power level), making it double likely that they will have the highest CHA in the group...and I don't WANT that to always be the case. I want sleezy magicians and corrupt magicians and irritable, unlikable magicians to all be possibilities. Not every wizard needs to be "jolly old Gandalf," for goodness sakes!
3. Combat needs to be even more streamlined than it already is. It's not "bad," per se, but it's got too many moving parts. This was silly of me. I ended up skipping or glossing over or forgetting several of those "moving parts in our play-test in the interest of pacing, and the fact of the matter is that I want the game to move along briskly and not get bogged down in minutia...one of the reasons I started designing this game was because I was frustrated with Shadowrun (and other games of the genre) bogging down when the theme of the game often involves wham-bam action on top of the intrigue and double-crosses.
My main mistake in this regard? Trying to write Shadowrun in terms of the "B/X system." What I ended up with is pretty much that, right down to having two separate damage tracks (Hit Points and Endurance Points mimicking "Physical and Mental Damage"). Ugh. Guess what...we're scrapping Endurance altogether. Damage is damage, and it's all going into Hit Points.
4. And because of THAT I needed to re-write the fatigue rules for casting spells. *sigh*
5. Skills needed re-vamping. Here's a place where I tossed out a terrible system (Shadowrun and most other "skill based systems") and put in a re-vamped but not-all-that-great system (namely, B/X thief skills with their ascending percentages). Unfortunately, the latter is dumb...there's just too much chance of failure at low levels, and applying it across all skill areas (computer use, demolitions, vehicle piloting, etc.) makes the characters all look like a bunch of incompetents. In the play-test we had the computer expert failing to hack very routing, non-secure systems, and a demolitions expert incorrectly building a bomb for another character (with the expected results of such a SNAFU).
This is NOT what I want to see happen. I now have more of an idea why the "real grognards" HATE the addition of the thief class. If characters formulate a decent plan and carry it out, success shouldn't based on the single roll of percentile dice under a 25% or 30% chance. Hitting a guy with AC 3 isn't even that hard for a 1st level character (especially with an ability bonus). I've got a couple different things I'm considering for these skills (including junking "percentile rolls" all together...do you have the skill? or not?). But I haven't decided yet.
6. Speeding up combat (again): I've decided I'm going to implement some of my "mook rules" from my B/X space opera game...at least with regard to certain combat traits. I'm also thinking that my rules for shock/stun need to be greatly simplified (duh)...as well as finding a way to distinguish between lethal and non-lethal damage while only having one "damage track" (hit points). I think I've got it worked out, but it'll be needing a bit of play-testing.