Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Modular RPG

Through my 30+ years of gaming I definitely see from the mistakes of the other gaming companies (TSR and Wizards of the Coast), and I can see these and other what things really works well.  Then expanding on the different ideas that I've learned from the multiple game types within the single HitDice game system, here is what I'm thinking about when it comes to the campaign style RPG.

The game needs to maintain the modular feel, somewhat the way that the old GURPs system was developed, but more so in terms of rules, and not so much in terms of genre (but it seems they would be just as plug-able).

In 2nd edition AD&D I liked the "Complete" series of books, but at the same time I didn't like the cost, as the collector in me had to have them all.  I largely skipped 3.5 and PathFinder  from the stand point of having to own everything, and the in 4E I was back at it, and pretty much have every book, even though I have many problems with the game system...Which is sort of why this blog started with me having to "fix" all the issues I had with 4E missing many of the RP elements of an RPG.

Anyway, back to what to keep and what to throw away...The "Red Box" set was great, it gave you Fighter, Magic-User, Thief, Cleric and even gave you Elf, Dwarf and Halfling as classes, but it only gave you 1st to 3rd level.  On top of this is gave you and adventure and monster stats for only the most basic and common creatures that one could expect to encounter from 1st to 3rd level.

I do like this idea, and I'm thinking that the above, combined with the "Iron Heroes" style of "The One Ring" has even a better idea.  This way it leads to sort of the ultimate in simplicity and streamlining of play.  By removing the Arcane, Primal, and Divine archetypes from the game, players still get to choose from Fighter, Barbarian, Ranger, Archer, Rogue, Thief, Assassin, Martial-Artist and Knight type characters, again leaving out the advanced abilities of these archetypes to keep the rules lean.

Items can still possess magical properties, and so can creatures, but GM's can opt not use these and simply play an "Iron Heroes" campaign, or if GM's want to allow the Arcane archetypes, that supplement can be used to add spells, wands and potions to the game to give the Wizards, Summoners, Alchemists, Warlocks and Sorcerers choices within a campaign...Then Divine, Psionic and Primal would have additional supplements that would fully wrapper the rules that encompass these types of archetypes.

The game system is not one that is "Level" based, it's a skill based mechanic, such that the levels found in D&D and Pathfinder don't exist, however the game-play style is what you would find in these systems from about 4th level to probably what a 10th or 12th level character would be in Pathfinder (those more familiar with 4E leveling it would go from about a 6th level character to probably 18th or so).

So with that leveling scheme in mind the "Basic" books in a supplement would essentially start a hero about 4th level and allow them to progress until what they might look like around 8th (or just about paragon in 4E language).  Then the advanced supplements would allow the heroes to achieve what one could do in the next level range.  To me there would be little advantage in explaining beyond that, as so few players even get to that range.

Thus characters are "Heroes" right from the start, they can hold their own in most situations so long as the battle is 1:1 or something that is seems a "Hero" should be able to deal with, such as a ruffian in a tavern, or goblin ambush.  That said, there is no such thing as an "easy" battle.  In HitDice, with the exploding dice mechanic, any attack roll can seriously mess up a hero's day, but same can hold true of the hero's attacks.  Combat is almost like double the damage with half the hit points compared to other D&D like games, but armor essentially adds temporary health to a hero.  So, battles typically have fewer combatants than other RPGs and they typically end faster, and the surprise is often a major factor in the out come.

On top of this, with the game being a "Skill-based" game there is no traditional "Class", so your defined by your skills, and each hero would begin progression in 3 to 4 Pathways, so even with the basic "Iron Heroes" lists, there would probably be 15 different Pathways of which you would start with 3 or 4 of, and the degree to which you master these essentially determines your Archetype, as does your Attributes.  So even if you were playing what might be a Fighter, you'd really be a Sword master, Armor Proficient, Tactician with arena experience.

Additionally there would be a campaign supplement that would aid in giving depth to a character, this would essentially a campaign world guide for the player which would grant them the choice a species, a background, and a career, all of which would broad the choices for the players of how to develop their hero, as well as to make them more unique.

Something that I see as a must for the initial box-set is a set or character templates with essentially all decisions made to create many classic hero archetypes, such that people can literally "just pick and play", much like pre-gens at a con.  Advanced players can use a point-buy system to alter these or start from scratch, but these and the next few choices in each Pathway for hero advancement would all that the basic game would require.  These become essentially the "classes" even though this is a class-less game.

I've discovered that so many people don't want to create a character when trying out a new game system, they really just want someone to make the choices for them and give them a recognizable archetype to play, and then they can determine very quickly if its something that they are interested in continuing.

Also for GM's...Who remembers the Monstrous Compendium?  Another awesome idea, that was so poor executed it failed in my option...What they did was to publish monster on 3-ring binder paper, so that you'd only need to bring the required monster to the play session.  What they did however was to publish different creatures on the front and the back of the pages, such that you'd end  up with scenarios that were impossible to alphabetize after a while (they published many differ monster sets) so you'd end us with many pages that had a "Ca..." creature on one side and a ""De..." on the other, then you'd get a "Da..." and "Ea...", or a "Bo..." and "Do...".

Great idea!  The implementation just sucked...So, I'd publish monsters on a two sided card, say 5x7, image and main stat block on front, details and ecology on the back.  Some creatures like "Lycanthrope" or "Dragons" may require separate cards for more background or miscellaneous information, but these will be organized too as "stand-alone" cards, such that alphabetizing will remain intact.  Additionally, the creatures would be organized in such a way that you'd get common creatures in various packs, and then themed creature packs such as "Swamp and Jungle", "Caves and Dungeons", "Dragons" and "Undead and Spirits" that the first monster book you get isn't half filled with Demons and Devils, especially princes and lords that really no one actually battles and never really needs a stat-blocks on.

With all these "supplements" one might complain about having to carry so many different booklets around to track all your hero's abilities, but I think I'd alleviate this with "Power Cards".  I know that many gamers complained about 4E's use of cards, and that it was a detraction from play...but I think that power cards would be the perfect reference material for players.  I admit I'm more of a card junkie though, and understand that making these a "requirement" of play may be going too far, but I think to allow players a reference deck is better than carrying multiple source books around, and trying to remember what ability is in which book.  So I think each supplement would either come with or allow the purchase of a separate reference deck.

With the cost of even low volume cards less then $0.25 per card, $10 might include all the cards in a given supplement, but with print on demand or self print PDFs, players can print their own cards and crop them in a card sleeve at pennies per sheet of nine cards.

Not to blast Wizards of the Coast again, but I could never understand how the company that pretty much re-invented artistic gaming cards create such shitty cards for 4E.  In my option, if they would have done up the power cards with special symbols and cool layout they would have sold like wild fire.

I too like the idea of "Item Cards" where all the card really has is an image on it, and the description or powers of say a magical effect would be on a separate card.  This would again allow mixing pictures with various magical effects, and not allow players to instantly recognize a previously found magic item from the image they had come across in another campaign.  These I definitely see an optional, but I can't help but want to try them in a campaign...

So in summary I'd like to hear the thought from any readers about the ideas that I'm pitching here...which are essentially a narrow scoped initial box set that gives you everything you need to start an Iron Heroes type campaign with minimal reading, and then small inexpensive supplements for players, and the GM would have monster packs or adventure kits that would come with new monster cards, and come with or allow special adventure kit cards for items discovered in the module.

The box-set will cover basic game play, core mechanics and basic GM information, but it is the adventure that will append the core rules with what ever they need to enhance game play.  These will be separate from the adventure and describe the rules in a stand alone manner, possibly with alternate optional rules.

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