One reason to start a blog is to take a jumble of things inside a head (preferably one’s own, but there are always circumstances), hammer them into some kind of order that will be embarrassing to look back on, and then broadcast them into the ether for zero or more people to consume. One category of ideas I want to organize are the ones around designing a tabletop role-playing game.
I’ve been asked before why I’m designing a game, and what I’m trying to get out of the experience, or what specific purpose the game is supposed to suit. I’ve never had a good elevator pitch answer to this. Instead, I would ramble about what I wanted, or mostly what I didn’t want. The game has become its own creature, but a refined motivation can help keep the game true to what it’s meant to be.
With this in mind, here are the things I look to when thinking about how the game should play.
As a PC gamer, the original Skyrim is not the true Skyrim – Skyrim is for the modders, not the Nords. For my play experience, there is one critical mod worth discussing: Frostfall. Instead of teleporting gleefully across the map from quest objective to quest objective, travel requires preparation, dedication, improvisation, and the ability to resist attempts by beast, bandit, and weather to do their level best to kill you. The story lies in the journey, not just the destination – something I want to capture in a game.
- Dragon Age: Origins
I’ve got no experience with the subsequent games of the series, but DA:O has interesting combat techniques, spells, dangerous dungeon crawls, and the ability to customize character progression in several different directions while building off of a few core models. Sounds good.
- The grand-daddy of our illustrious hobby
One afternoon, in the back room of the local hobby shop, a few months after I discovered this wonderful game called Magic: the Gathering, I got roped into a pickup session of some make-believe game with my one friend and several total strangers. A few hours later, my first-level wizard had stabbed a werewolf to death with his silvered dagger and escaped from the small hamlet cursed to the mists, and I can think of few single events that have so strongly shaped the course of my life.
The whole current endeavor started when I was playtesting D&D Next with my group, and didn’t see the provided materials lining up with either the things I wanted to do in gaming these days, or some of the lofty promises on offer from their promotional blogging. My play history has several years devoted to each edition beginning with AD&D2E and finally bowing out in those Next tests. I could go on about what any given edition of the game has taught me (and maybe that deserves its own post), but they’re all there somewhere, or just as tellingly, the absence of any particular facet.
- Dungeon World
The first time I read through the DW rules, I said to someone I was gaming with that it was an expert system whose purpose was to produce an in-game description of what early-style D&D would have played like. This didn’t illuminate anything, since I don’t game with people who know what expert systems are. I’ve played a few sessions, and run one of my own, and if I weren’t writing this thing I might be happy with DW as my fantasy delving system of choice for a long, long time.
- Fate (Core + Accelerated)
Fate taught me a lot about letting players make things up themselves, having systems that work together well in several combinations and different levels of abstraction, and the fun of having bennie points that you can throw in to accomplish something cool.
- The OSR generally
Sad to say, I’ve never really gotten to play any OSR games (unless you adhere to some school of thought that places Dungeon World in the OSR). But, since they’re games that set out to self-consciously recreate the way that early D&D was played by people who played early D&D, I have read lots of systems (OD&D clones, B/X clones, Rules Cyclopedia clones, even AD&D clones). I’m not intending to put myself in the OSR tradition, and I doubt anyone would sit down with this thing I’m cobbling together and mistake it for OSR, but I like some of the principles of play that were missing when I learned the hobby.
- Legends of the Wulin
I didn’t anticipate needing to cite this as a reference, but looking back it does belong on the list. As a combat principle, never having to sacrifice ending the fight (via making an attack that deals damage) in exchange for doing something interesting or complicating the opponent’s life is something that belongs in more games.
- Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine
What an unusual game to include on a list like this! I played this with an online group and had an immense amount of fun. The major lesson here that I can think to apply to D&D style gaming, is to codify the Quest in such a way that players and the GM are talking about the exact same thing, and allowing that to guide both the GM’s prep and the players’ play.