Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Devil is in the Rules

In my last post, I discussed my preference for simple rules, in order to lower the barrier to playing the game. As I go through the necessary components of the rules, however, I find myself asking the question "am I trying to reinvent the wheel"?

Let's face it, there are a lot of rules systems out there. Each has it's strong points, quirks, and good ideas. But each is just a variation on rolling dice and determining a result. Do I hit or not? Do I successfully sneak or not? Do I survive the dragon's fire?

Most variations between rules involve character creation. You spend points on character elements, with the difference being what you can select and their cost in points. Obviously, the next big difference is in the dice rolling mechanic, whether it's Basic Role Play's percentile system, White Wolf's dot system, or Coda's Target Number. There are few ways to handle character creation and task resolution, and I think by now we've pretty much exhausted them all.

So why not simply use an existing system? Since rules systems cannot be copyrighted (only the expressions of the rules), I could rewrite the BRP system, or swipe the Coda system, or use whatever rules set tickles my fancy. Isn't this, basically, what Paizo did for Pathfinder? George Vasilakos mentioned that Decipher was selling the rights to the Coda system for a silly amount of money. He suggested perhaps licensing a rules system, too. For me, this is odious, because I'm a game designer and I should design the damn game myself.

On the other hand, I find myself cobbling together elements from other rules sets that I like. For example, I've always liked the Palladium system of combat, where the attacker rolls to hit and the defender rolls to parry/dodge before accounting for armor class. I like the idea of "class skills" from which a player selects his character's skill set (from BRP and Palladium). So is it wrong to create a BRP/Palladium/Coda/Unisystem hybrid?

God, I feel like such a hack.

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