Sunday, October 18, 2009

Simple Rules

As I've gotten deeper into the design of my new roleplaying game, which I currently call "System X", I've begun to think about the goals I have in mind. Recall, I believe that today's games are too complicated, and require too much time investment, which prohibits people from picking them up. I certainly understand what I call the "simulationist" style of play, which calls for complicated rules in order to mimic reality. But returning to an old example, imagine if playing Monopoly required you to read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged before you could play.

While visiting George Vasilakos last week, I was discussing some of my ideas for the rules system. He asked me, quite curious, why it had to be a level-based system.

Primarily, I believe level-based systems, with their random-generation of characters, to be easier to use. I've played GURPS and Vampire: the Masquerade, and it always took us two hours to build characters. And that's what you're doing in these games: Building a persona. This appeals to those who like to maximize their point expenditures, and those who like to find hidden (often unintentional) "efficiencies." But it takes a God-awful long time to start playing the game.

I once had a player who actually continued to "build" his character each week, by asking if he could drop this to buy that, because it made more sense for this character concept, yadda yadda yadda. So the character was perpetually in creation, and he'd change things on his character sheet even if I said "no" to some of his suggestions. This is point-build taken to it's horrific, logical conclusion.

I recall playing AD&D (no 2nd or 3rd edition, either), and rolling up a character in a matter of minutes. You could be playing in about 15 minutes once you memorized the rules. It was like deciding whether to be the shoe or the race car; Roll your attributes (with a bit of fudging for horrible dice rolls), pick your race and class, roll hit points, and you're off!

We didn't seem any the worse for wear. We didn't seem to be having less fun than gamers of today. The kids, so they say, turned out all right. (Moreover, most of us designing RPGs these days actually started out playing this way, so I'm not sure why random character generation has such a bad reputation).

James Malisewski points out on his blog, Grognardia (which you should read, by the way, as he tries to plumb the mysterious origins of our hobby), that the difference seems to be between "building" a character and "generating" a character. I largely agree with him that, with the latter, you are stuck with the character you randomly generate, which leads to greater creativity (since you have to make sense of the randomness). Sorry, James, if I mangled your thoughts in paraphrasing them.

Finally, I've found that with point-build systems I never get the character I imagine in my head. There are never enough points to spend to get what I want. And if I get enough points, say by being allowed by the referee allowing a "high-level" campaign, I find there's no where to go with the character. Character advancement becomes meaningless. Or, I end up taking so many disadvantages that I end up with a retarded hunchback with a drinking problem (but who can totally kill everything in sight with a lightsaber). I don't want to play my awesome, badass vampire before be becomes his awesome, badass self. I find I'm not creating a character to play, but a character for a novel.

Therefore, with System X, I'm going with random character generation and a level-based system.

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