Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Breaking the Rules

So, having decided on 3.5 as the rules system, I promptly set down to start breaking it.

Why?  Because all DM’s have control issues.  We do.  Seriously, all of us.  That guy who just said “not me” is full of it, and is probably lying to himself as much as you.  Anyone who decides “I’m going to create my own ‘world’” has a need to control something he felt he wasn’t getting in someone else’s world.

Now Billy back there just stood up and said “I run Forgotten Realms”.  First off Billy, no one likes you.  Second off Billy, are you ‘really’ running it?  Or did you change that part you thought they screwed up?  Ignored the Elminster in Hell, or Dritz, or refuse to let your players go to a certain crappy setting in the world?  Do you only play in the un-explored areas?

I’m not saying every DM is a control freak.  But they have some nugget they want to make their own.  Right here, right now, before you get to into things, is the time change things and make your physics feel ‘right’ to you.

The nice thing about 3.5 is it’s really easy to make new classes, and in doing so, change the whole feel of the game.  So, that’s what I sat down to do.  First thing I did is kick sorcerers, barbarians, gnomes and Halflings to the curb.  It’s generally a personal thing with me, but there you have it.

I changed how skills were handled.  I hate that you need someone to raise their levels to raise their blacksmith skill.  Just because fighting goes up doesn’t mean I make a better horseshoe, and vice versa.  Instead I took a rule I was incorporating into my RPG system.  You gain a point (1 per night/adventure/etc) in a skill when you fail a roll.  This detached the skill system from the level system

Now, to keep points for skyrocketing out of control, I removed skill points awarded from level gain.  I am still deciding between awarding 1 or awarding your int modifier per level for ‘private study’, and exactly how that will work, but I got a few minutes left.

I know, as a purist, as a hard ass GM, I should like the D&D spell system.  But it just doesn’t make any sense to me.  It seems… contrived.  It always breaks my immersion, so I decided to go with spell points.  And not the Unearthed Arcana spell system, instead it’s just like a HP system, where you roll dice and add your int modifier depending on your class.

D10 for mages
D8 for clerics and druids
D6 for rangers and bards
D4 for paladins

Each spell takes a number of MP equal to its level.

Ok, I’m almost done, I have the classes I like, the magic system doesn’t feel broken, and skills feel more organic to me.  We just have the ugly gorilla in the room… alignment.  Those who listened to me on the podcast have probably figured out, I have no love of alignment.  I feel it pigeon holes characters and ends up being a hammer the DM uses to keep characters on plot, instead of a yardstick for players to decide how their characters behave.

But, I don’t want to walk away from it completely.  I feel there needs to be something to help define the character’s moral compass, etc.  So… I picked 3 things to work with:

Honor, taint and sanit.

Characters will probably not worry much about sanity.  I’m going to use it for chaotic based spells, dealing with aberrations, or certain ancient lore.

Taint, is a way to have characters who do unspeakable evils feel some effect from the game world.  It’s also a good enemy for characters who want an evil to fight against, taint is a good recurring issue, without it taking away from different villains.

And finally honor.  I’m going to introduce honor codes for paladins and clerics.  Other characters will have benefits if they choose to take an honor code (chivalry, etc), but won’t have to take one.

Thinking about that I decided to break one more rule, removing MP dice each level for divine magic, instead I tie their max MP directly to their honor score.  Live by the code, do deeds associated with your class, raise your power.  And vice versa.

So, in recap:
-         no classes or races that break my feel for the world.
-         Skills grow organically and don’t tie to level.
-         Magic is unhooked from the weird memory system, gives low level mages more power, but balances back out on the high end.
-         Divine classes have their power tied to their deeds, not how many things they whacked in the head (unless their god measures such things).
-         Alignment is more reactionary and sliding, while having an effect on the characters and game world.

Now, after all that, it’s time to start building the game…

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Method to the Madness

I've decided to start posting my thoughts on game design here within this blog.  So for those of you that knew me from my tables.. Hi again.  For those that knew me from Grimm Studios Podcast... hey.  And for those of you that are new here, welcome.

Alright, that stuff out of the way, lets talk about where to start when designing a campaign.  Many people jump right into setting, but in reality, the choice of rules system should  be your first pick.  There are a lot to choose from, many are not so good, and of course there is always the option of just writing your own.

The rules are the 'physics' of your universe.  Writing stories before you've decided how the physics works, leads to plot holes, where characters can't do the things you're describing the NPC's as having done.  Not always, but usually.  It's better to start with the bones of the world and build out, then try to break them to fit your story later.

Additionally, when you do need to break the rules, you can then break the rules for everyone.  You'll know that you don't want priest spells to work a certain way, and can warn the players ahead of time, rather than surprise them when they go to cast their first healing spell, turn undead, etc.  All variations on the rules, and the physics, should be made clear to the players before they sit down.  I can't stress this enough.  They may grumble about unlucky dice rolls, or over powered monsters, but they won't accuse you as a GM of cheating if everyone is using the same rules.

Originally, my intent was to start a new RPG system.  Since I already had a good set of them done from another attempt at a system using 2d10 and skills, it wasn't hard to start piecing it all together.  Where this fell apart is, I'm looking for a new table of people to play with.  Meeting new people is stressful enough without one of them holding all the cards about 'their' rules system.  It's really difficult to get strangers to sit down with you, and rarely goes well when you do.  You're better off modifying an existing rules system than trying to work in a new one.

Well, I'll be honest, like most, I have no love of 4e.  Sorry folks, I don't.  It's too... something.  Call it mazes and magic, and it's a passable RPG.  Call it D&D, and you're really doing a disservice to the legacy.  D&D is a cultural icon, and while there is no law against the owners adding things to it that they think are 'improvements' you can 'improve' the soul right out of something.  (For other examples of this see:  Midi-chlorians).

So, looking through the prebuilt games, I narrowed it down a bit and eventually came down to my three finalists.

D&D Original Edition
D&D 3.5

I decided against Hero-System, because I just didn't know enough people up here who played it, and would run into the same issues I ran into with building my own.

I decided against D&D Zero because most people just couldn't get their hands on a copy of the rules, and the advantages of the system I feel I can bring into play through my DMing.  So, I chose 3.5, and started building my campaign.

I didn't end there though, and we'll find out more in my next post:  Breaking the Rules