Last week I was a little self-indulgent in my posting and also quite unproductive. With the impending revelation that is the D&D Next playtest starting this week, I’m worried that I’ll have a lot to write about next week as well… so this week I’m going to devote some posting time to writing about my own gaming project.
First off, just to get this out of the way, the game I’m working on is a diceless RPG. It’s going to function as smoothly as possible with as little “rules” interface as I can get and still call it a game. (Honestly, I’m not really sure I care if people call it a “game” or not as long as they get fun out of it.) That said, I think of what I’m creating more as a framework for interaction rather than a true set of “RULES.”
At it’s heart, the game I’m working on could be said to fit into the genre of Romantic Fantasy. I actually prefer the term Hopeful Fantasy (because romantic fantasy can be interpreted to be Twilight… or…) because Hopeful Fantasy better describes what I want from my heroes in the game. Life may be hard, occasionally unfair, and even downright dangerous… but heroes still strive to bring hope into the world — even if it’s just one small corner of the world. And heroes have to make hard choices…
Prince Lir: Do something. You have the power. I will kill you if you do not do something.
Schmendrick: I cannot. Not all the magic in the world can help her now.
Molly Grue: Then what is magic for? What is the use of wizardry if it cannot save a unicorn?
Schmendrick the Magician: That is what heroes are for.
Prince Lir: Of course. That is exactly what heroes are for.
— The Last Unicorn
And right after the Prince says his lines he strides off to face a horrible monster, unarmed, and meet his death. And it was his most “optimized” action in that moment. (Yeah, yeah, I went there.)
The point is, choice is powerful. And not the choice of what combat maneuver to use, or what spell to cast, but hard choices, about the lives the character’s lead. And I know… those choices — like the Prince’s choice above — are campaign specific, player specific, etc. How can one make such choices a viable part of the game mechanics? Well, first of all, by having less game mechanics that marginalize such choices. When the heroes can always beat the monsters because they’ve always got some fancy power it’s a lot easier to NOT have to make those choices (which is at the heart of my dissatisfaction with many other games lately, I think.)
Choice is powerful when there are consequences and choice is powerful when those consequences are not known but also, choice can be more powerful when consequences are known and are accepted willingly.
So I’m building my game around a few concepts…
The first is a concept of Relative Advantage (or just Advantage). As a game, there needs to be some framework for adjudicating actions (especially actions less epic in scope than the death of a hero). Advantage is my answer to this. Players will use their heroic traits to build a level of Advantage for an action and this is then compared to the difficulty (or opposition — though in this game every test is against opposition in one form or another) and the relative advantage of the hero helps determine success or failure.
The second game concept is consequence. Players may accept consequences on some of their actions to change the relative advantage in a situation. (That does an incredibly poor job of explaining what I’m doing but it’s enough for now.) This “system” comes into play most in tense combat situations and in the use of magic but it could apply in any situation a hero ends up in.
At the core of this whole thing is a simple rule set and the power of choice. Choices made willingly, choices with real consequences are the most powerful thing in the world and for me, that’s the goal. And this goes hand in hand with my feelings on investment — both player and GM. Hey, you know, sometimes you just want to kill stormtroopers — I get it. But this game is for me, and honestly, for me, what’s the point in running/playing unless you really want to?