Just bear with me for a moment.
In writing a fantasy heartbreaker, or ANY old school style RPG for a combat heavy genre (Space Opera, Magic-Punk, Cyber-Western, etc.) I find myself approaching certain systems with design ideas based on my own experiences in gaming, and my exposure to other games and design theory.
One of the theory things I'm always trying to get at is "design the game so it does what you want it to do." God, that can be hard sometimes. You don't WANT the game to be tweaked or fudged in-play...for example, my Shadowrun-esque game fell down on its face for being TOO close to 1st edition SR, specifically with regard to the initiative/extra action rules, which allowed some cyber-roided (and physical adept characters) outshine all the non-wired kids in the party.
End result? A lot of disgruntlement and comments like, "my next character is going to make sure to have X, Y, and Z implants"...regardless of the player's character concept.
See, that's MY failing as a designer. If you build the game in a certain way, that confers certain advantages, then make those advantages necessary as par survival (due to a heavy combat style to the game)...well, of course, your game is going to devolve into a min-max twink-fest. Which is NOT what I was aiming for, by the way.
[and which is why that particular game needs a lot of work before being publishable]
Now I look at a game like Stars Without Number, which is a fine and dandy piece of work. For me, I can see it being used to play a particular style of space opera...something akin to B/X Warhammer 40,000. Why? Because the way the game is written player mortality is going to be exceptionally high. Character starting out with single digit hit points are going to get splattered by the weapons involved in the game. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is A thing...a thing that should be noted.
And yet, folks (including the designer) feel that with the right "massaging" the game can be used for most genres of space opera. I disagree...but then I prefer to play with rules as written, without tweaking or fudging or "drifting" to get the desired effect.
That's why I try to be ultra-specific in my game design.
SO...back to the original reason for my post: revisiting character death in RPGs. I find myself lately adding all sorts of "take backs" and metagame mechanics into my designs which will increase PC survivability. Something that irritates me to no end about myself. For a guy that totes "character death" as a FEATURE of the B/X game system, why would I get all wishy-washy with my own fantasy heartbreaker, adding things like "luck points" to the game.
Because not everyone wants to die.
I enjoy the challenge of a game where my PC might die...it's like playing imaginary Russian Roulette (at least I get to walk away from the table, even if my character doesn't). But the truth of the matter is, I spend much more time running games than playing 'em, and not everyone shares my weirdness.
In fact (news flash!) some people like to play fantasy adventure games because they like to imagine themselves as some sort of heroic fantasy character! Wow, you never would have guessed that, right? These people want to play a fantasy RPG, AND they want a simple fantasy RPG (like B/X or similar) AND they would prefer NOT to die.
Really. Really, really, really.
[I am repeating this for myself, folks, so I can wrap my head around it]
Role-playing is a type of entertainment, it's a method of social interaction, it's a form of escapism that allows us to shrug off the shackles of our mundane life for a few hours and pretend we're someone doing amazing things in incredible environments. And, no, the threat of death does NOT have to be present for players to get a charge out of it.
[...really, really, really...]
Now having acknowledged that, and acknowledged that some people might enjoy playing this game for nickels instead of going all-in with the family mortgage payment, shouldn't the ones willing to risk more get something greater in return?
Shouldn't we reward the folks with the balls to step into the death match?
In video games (a comparison to RPGs I hate to make but oh, well, there it is) you often see different game settings, like Easy, Medium, Hard, Suicidal, etc. Kind of like different degrees of spiciness at a Thai restaurant. How much heat can you take?
What about including a "Hard Mode" in role-playing games?
In my current fantasy heartbreaker project (up to page 8...I'll try to keep it under 64 pages), there are classes and levels (max 5, right?) and experience points awarded to track those levels. What if the XP awarded was determined by whether or not players were playing on Easy or Hard mode? What if level maximums were capped based on a player's chosen style of play?
I'm just throwing the idea out there...I haven't included anything in the book, yet (hell, I can always delete the wimpy "save your bacon" points if I decide to go "all hard"). But this is me tossing a bone to people who want to play fantasy characters in a fantasy world without getting bitten in half by a purple worm when they least expect (or want!) it to happen.
Here's what I'm considering:
- Default Easy: Players who choose to play on Hard Mode (no luck points, critical damage tables, instant death on failed saves, no re-rolls) earn DOUBLE the normal XP.
- Default Hard: Players who choose to play on Easy Mode (taking all the bennies listed above) earn only ONE-HALF the normal XP.
- Max Level: Players who choose to play on Easy Mode have their max level capped...possibly as low as 2nd or 3rd level. Without real risk, why do they need increased effectiveness?
What do y'all think? Am I talking crazy (again)?