Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Damn...Wednesday already?

Hate to say it, but the week has been flying by with little productive action from me. I'm working on a little something-something that I hope to have in "test-able" form for tomorrow night...but we'll see what happens.

In other news: a quick search of the web found that Five Ancient Kingdoms has been talked up in a couple places, though the only new review I've found was on a French forum. Those who can parle francais are welcome to check it out here. It's fairly complimentary (thanks pseudo!), with his main gripes being A) the resolution of the artwork, B) the blandness/unoriginality of the introductory adventure, and C) the changing of proper names from their original (real world) analogs....especially irritating to folks who already have to translate the game into their own language (e.g. from English to French).

Regarding that last complaint...sorry. At my own table, I generally stick to the actual proper names, but for the 5AK game I wanted to emphasize that the setting is fiction, not historical. I'm sure there are folks who would take umbrage with painting certain cultures with an unflattering brush...but a fantasy game requires fantasy antagonists, you know? It's like my other adventure game (only play-tested once) that makes all the fine folks of Portugal to be heinous villains because...well, you know the justification for that is really a separate post topic. But there's a reason I haven't put that one up as a free download.



In completely rewriting the whole "fantasy adventure game" concept from the ground up, I find myself branching into territory that I have (for years now) been avoiding: namely the realm of gaming divorced from the concepts of "class" and "level." Ugh...gross. I like class and level, and I use it in most everything (Cry Dark Future and Clockwork being notable exceptions...but then, they're based off other RPGs that don't use class and level)...even such random concepts as DMI, post-apoc, and my supers game. Hell, even CDF has levels if not actual classes.

The problem with ridding oneself of classes and levels is you rid yourself of two very useful design concepts: an archetypal shorthand (chargen made easy) and a golden carrot (reward system). Unless you're trying to design a one-off (or otherwise short-lived serial) story game (i.e. premise addressing RPG facilitating the narrativist creative agenda) then all you're doing is setting up a sim-style game in which PCs just piddle around, in which the GM is either a dancing monkey for the players' enjoyment or a railroader extraordinaire. Neither of which I was shooting for, by the way.

Oh, and no...there's no "skill system" in the game. Get that out of your head!

So, I've been working on a different style of bean-counting reward system (literally...the mechanic is currently referred to as "beans" in the draft notes). In some it feels like I'm trying to reinvent other "chip-counting" systems like FATE or Savage Worlds...except that I'm not and the system feels a lot different from those (other than the beans).  Still...classless. The whole thing makes me decidedly uncomfortable. What's to keep players from making all sorts of random, dumb-dumb type characters?

The rest of the rules, natch.
; )

Well anyway...that's just what I'm working on this week. Who knows? Maybe it will all be scrapped by the weekend. At this point, I'm still shooting for something around the size of Holmes Basic.


  1. no classes and levels... get it.
    no skills... get it.

    both in one system?

    how do you determine what a character is good at?

  2. I've run both classed and non-classed games and I've come to believe that non-classed games are usually a mistake. Character classes are a vital foundation for roleplaying in my experience. Without them players tend to either spend ages building their characters in an attempt to minmax, or just throw a bunch of random stuff together and "piddle around" as you aptly put it. One definition of insanity is repeating what's already been shown to fail. This old DM says: don't be crazy!

  3. @ Shlomo:
    Hey, you still have ability scores.
    : )

    @ Shadow:
    The additional reasons you list (including min-maxing) are all reasons I generally steer clear of classless games myself. Player "creative expression" can still be found in class-based systems, I don't need GURPS or HERO system.

    But I've got some ideas...I'm going to try 'em tonight, in fact (testing).

    1. i seriously doubt that will be enough. i wonder what your players will have to say.

  4. To each their own but my experience has largely been the exact opposite.

    I can't stand Class and Level games at this point. After years of playing games that don't use them, playing one now feels like a step backwards. Shadow's implication of them being 'shown to fail' must not aimed at...

    Ars Magica, Champions, Cyberpunk, Mekton, Mutants & Masterminds, Shadownrun, Star Trek (FASA and Last Unicorn) Star Wars D6, the entire World of Darkness and many, many more.

    Granted, some of those games are no longer in print but in most cases its not because they didn't do well (but that's industry talk for another time).

    Champions is in its 6th Classless, Level-less iteration, Shadowrun on its 5th I believe. Numerous fan favorites like Marvel Heroic, Mouse Guard, Paranoia and even Traveller don't use that format.

    You could, if you wished to stretch a point, say that some of these games do use Classes of a sort but really, very few. The Careers of Traveller are nothing like the Classes of D&D and its ilk. Mutants and Masterminds has Levels but no classes.

    Classes and Levels are great ways to introduce new comers to gaming I suppose but I've never really liked them. They have always felt arbitrary, limiting and simply not relevant once you start looking at them closely.

    My favorite example of this is that for at least a half dozen of my favorite characters of classic Fantasy literature, D&D classes don't work. Unless you 'Multiclass' and what a cluster-bleep that is.

    Elric of Melnibone'.Wizard? Sorcerer? He fights, wears armor and has a sword. The Gray Mouser. A thief who casts spells and was once a wizard's apprentice. Easily buildable in point based games, hard to pull off in classic D&D (which sights Fritz Lieber as a major inspiration yet!). Wizards don't use swords...unless you're one of the two most iconic Wizards of all time, Merlin and Gandalf.

    For me, a happy medium is achieved by Last Unicorn Games' ICON System. There, Species/Race Templates give you a baseline, Overlays give you something akin to a Class and than background packages adjust things, giving you quick, versatile customization.

    Best of Both Worlds if you really feel like you need to have something that implies Classes.

  5. I don't care much for classless systems, but doing away with levels could work. Consider that in D&D, you're rewarded for recovering/spending loot with level advancement. Why not just tie those improvements directly to the loot? One might drink potions for more hit points, gain new spells from scrolls, etc. Most advancements, like saving throws or attack bonus, could be tied to magic items. The only downsides are that pure gold is no longer rewarded, though it's still useful for hiring henchmen and improving your demesne, and certain class abilities wouldn't make sense to receive from magic items

  6. I'm amazed that you have read my review JB. Especially written in a french forum.

    I hope I didn't sound too harsh, and I want to reassure your followers that the few negative points mentioned are far outweighed by the sheer brilliance of your mainy fixes to the glorious ancestor.
    Your rules are very elegant and I think I will use them for every DnD game I'll master from now on.

  7. @ Pseudo:

    My French is a little rusty, but that's why we have Google Translate, n'est ce pas?

    I welcome and appreciate's hard to develop or grow (as a writer or designer) in a vacuum, sans feedback. And most of your words were very complimentary. Merci!

    By the way: you are the first person who's stated the intention of incorporating the 5AK system into your normal D&D game, which pleases me very much. The system was designed so that it could easily be inserted/adapted to D&D with minimal adjustment. Drop me an email and let me know how it works for you!