Friday, February 15, 2013

Gaming Romance (Redux)

Happy (belated) Valentine’s Day!

That is to  say, I assume this will be belated since I’m writing it on February the 14th (in my home) and my internet connection is currently disconnected…so you are probably reading this on the 15th.

[I hope this is posted by the 15th]

[***EDIT: it is still the 15th...barely...took more than 24 hours and two calls to India but I'm back on line...finally***]

Anyway, my original plan was NOT to be blogging, but instead to be playing…that is, play-testing…the new game, 5AK, my version of D&D Mine and one hell of a fantasy “heartbreaker” (appropriate for Valentine’s Day, ja?).

Unfortunately, for some damn reason all my players had plans with their wives or families tonight. Go figure.

My family ended up going out for pizza (yes, yes, my wife received flowers and a nice card, but we’re going to do our “romantic thang” on the weekend, when it’s easier to make reservations). And now here I am blogging.

Funny enough, I’ve been working on the “romance” rules for 5AK all afternoon. This really had nothing to do with the holiday…it just happened to be the thing I was working on. Romance and romantic entanglements play a large part in fairy tales and fantasy, so it’s important to have rules that model this in a fantasy adventure game (which is what I’m writing).

Yes, I realize that many folks don’t bother with such things in the standard dungeon crawl campaign, and the closest thing to romance in the AD&D books is Gygax’s “wandering harlot” table. To me, this is just another example of the unfortunate fashion in which D&D was designed (i.e. a perfectly fine dungeon delving board/war game that morphed into “something bigger” and had additional stuff “tacked on”). You’re welcome to disagree, of course…but I’d bet there’s a lot of cold and lonely Name level characters shivering in their strongholds and wishing they had a Valentine!
; )

Anyhoo, as a starting point I’ve gone back and read this old blog post from a couple years back (said reading being done earlier today, prior to coming home and finding my internet down). The brief rules therein are good enough for a standard (i.e. “semi-generic”) B/X game, but I need something a little “beefier” for my Arabian Nights-flavored setting, where social class distinctions are semi-important. Also, I have this “thing” about wanting “game content” to be open at all levels (not just waiting till you reach high levels in order to “do neat stuff”), so that has to be taken into account.

And, oh yeah, there’s that part about my game just using D6s so I have to work out systems that DON’T involve the use of percentile dice.

Still, it’s coming along (play-testing, of course, will be needed...*sigh*). I’m toying with the idea of making different systems depending on player character gender; I have a pet peeve with fantasy games that make all genders universally interchangeable.

No, I am not talking about imposing AD&D-style “ability score limits” and their thus consequential class/level limits. THAT, to me, is pretty dumb given the role and abstract nature of ability scores and class/level.

In fact, let me (briefly) go off on a tangent for a quick moment: in my game, “class” is short for “classification;” it’s not a career path or some apprenticeship program, either of which might be limited by the social mores or patriarchal (or matriarchal) laws of a given setting. Male or female, player characters are “adventurers;” that is their profession and its open to anyone. Now, what is the manner in which you go about adventuring? If your tendency is to wear armor and hit things with a sword, you get classified as a “fighter.” If you use magical arts (regardless of whether you were taught at a wizard school or by the witch/wise woman down the street) then you are a “magician.” Get it?

This is why you won’t see arbitrary armor and weapon restrictions in my game. You’re an adventurer…you can use whatever is available. Of course, some things require training/practice to use them more effectively, and some maneuvers (like free-climbing a sheer cliff) might preclude the wearing of bulky armor, but that’s just sensible to what I'm trying to model. And, no, there is no “skill system” in sight…the abstract classification still provides a description of the “skills” your character knows/practices. Duh. It’s just not a “job,” per se.

[and ability scores measure characters’ effectiveness against themselves, by the way, not against others…so an 18 strength means someone is very large, strong, and fit for their gender, but doesn’t necessarily mean she’s bigger and bulkier than the 7’ hulk with the 14 strength. Just means she’s more effective at using what she’s got. I can get away with this because ability scores have very little effect on in-game effectiveness…it really is a throwback to OD&D in this regard]


Back to Valentine’s Day and romance…having said all that, there are still some gender differences, mainly setting related (the non-setting ones concern childbirth which does NOT need a game system to model, by the way). Being based on Arabian culture there is, for example, the bride price that needs to be paid by the potential groom. There is no reverse “groom price” that a female adventurer would have to procure in order to tie the knot…and in fact if she can expect to receive a big fat wad of cash from whatever dude happens to get ensnared with her feminine wiles. Then there’s the issue of concubines and marrying your slaves (the latter was permissible for free women, but frowned upon) as well as the (small) differences regarding inheritance and titles.

The game is not actually meant to be a snap-shot setting of 8th century Arabia…I’m sure GURPS has probably put out a book for that already. This is a fictional land (a la Al-Qadim) modeled on our real world one and with the traditional fantasy ramped up a, you won’t find elves and dwarves and orcs (sorry), but you will find more necromancy (undead) and dragons then your average Arabian Nights tale. And the Underworld (from OD&D and Holmes) IS a part of the game setting, though it doesn’t share the prominence you find in D&D. Instead, it is just another realm to explore, alongside the Wilderness and the Palace.

By which I mean: it’s important that there ARE rules for romance, and having gender differences add to the game setting, but it doesn’t have to be a perfect model of the historic real world. ‘Cause it’s not. It’s a fantasy adventure game, perhaps steeped in a little more “real world” stuff then, say, Krull.

Now, I’m still debating whether or not to include tarnsmen…er, “roc riders"…or not. Maybe that should be the “secret weapon” of the Arabs even as the Byzantines pull out their fewer (but terribly potent) “dragon knights.” Cool or not cool?

Later Gators!


  1. Very interesting! I like how you have classified all Classes as Adventurers without arbitrary restrictions on equipment use. I have done a similar thing with my own setting as equipment use is only limited by one's Ability Scores -- and using equipment without the minimum Ability Score is still possible, but less effective.

    I like your inclusion of game elements (romance) that add to the flavor of the setting, as well. Cheers, Dane

  2. One thing that I like about D&D is that, because of how it was invented, it is really, really easy to bolt things on. For instance, Jeff Rients came up with some romance rules a while back that add on to D&D easily. D&D is a simple but robust framework that can handle just about anything with a little effort. Sometimes, you have to pare back things that other people have added (such as getting rid of everything but "Fighter" and "Magic User"), but that's usually easy to do, too.

  3. @ Rev:
    Thanks for the kind words!

    @ Faol:
    Man, you seem to have a "thing" for romance mechanics in were enthused by my idea back in 2011, too!
    ; )

    In all seriousness, I appreciate the link. However, having read it (and the Kirk system on which it's based), I have to say A) it is too "fiddly" a mechanic for what I want, and yet B) too abstract/non-specific for my purposes. Talk about the worst of both worlds! A slow, complex system that provides very little 'meat' to your game! But for some folks, I'm sure it does the job. And it's always good to see other people's ideas, too.

    Thanks for your interest!

  4. "Man, you seem to have a "thing" for romance mechanics in were enthused by my idea back in 2011, too!"

    I do!

    Actually, if I were to put together a set of romance mechanics (now that I am thinking about it in more detail right now), I would probably start with the ones in Pendragon, which are pretty neat, if a little tightly constrained to the very ritualized ideas of Romantic Love of the troubadours. It is perfectly applicable to the milieu of Pendragon, but less useful for the sort of gritty fantasy (or science-fantasy) that I prefer. Still, I think that there's a useful seed there, with its stages of seduction.

  5. Sounds awesome. Gender differences could be really interesting if handled tastefully.

    One thing: I would be wary about redefining words as core as "class." People have very specific expectations when coming to a D&D-like game, and it might be less confusing to either cleave to those expectations or choose a different word.

    For example, the use of "saving throw" in 4E is pretty disastrous (the concept modelled is totally different).

  6. By the way, I also interpret the OD&D equipment limitations very liberally; that is, there are virtually none, other than for magic equipment, which might remain inert or even curse users when used by members of the wrong class. D6 or class-based weapon damage make this especially easy to implement without lots of unintended consequences.

  7. romance "rules"...?


    romance "rules"...?!