I like Pathfinder, which is why I’ve always been a vocal critic of it. It has a lot of problems; in many ways it falls short of my ideal game. I’ve often tried to improve upon the flaws with house rules, and I’ve been open in discussing the flaws which can’t be fixed. Over the past few months I’ve read through a number of other RPGs as well. Aside from my well documented perusal of the original Dungeon Master’s Guide, I’ve been looking at various retro clones created by the OSR community, some modern Pathfinder alternatives, and some games in completely different genres. More and more I think that I won’t be happy until I produce my own sourcebook.
It’s not something I think I’ll be doing anytime too soon. I don’t think I’m ready for that kind of massive and involved project yet. But thinking about how I would design a game has got me thinking about what I want in a game. So I’ve compiled a list. And, since this list undoubtedly says a lot about this blog’s perspective, it seems useful to share.
I want rules which can be memorized. This doesn’t mean they need to be short enough that I can learn them by rote, it just means that they need to be logical enough that I can quickly deduce any I forget. If I need to spend a few sessions looking things up after we play, that’s okay.
I want rules which don’t try to establish mechanics for every possible action players might take. Instead, I want rules which guide me in coming up with my own mechanics for those situations, and which help me make those rulings without unbalancing my game.
I want more rules directed towards the GM than the players. There should certainly be rules that players can learn, but none or very few which they feel forced to learn. Nothing dissolves a budding player’s enthusiasm faster than telling them they need to buy a $60 rulebook, and read 300 pages of it before they’ll know how to play.
I want more supplements geared towards GMs than players. I understand why this hasn’t been the case in recent years: for every GM, there are probably three or more players. And since GMs will buy books anyway, it’s obvious which type of book has more potential customers. But never forget that the GM is your best salesperson. I can think of eleven people off of the top of my head who would probably have never picked up a tabletop RPG if I hadn’t invited them to my games. None of them bought supplements, but a lot of them bought core books and dice.
I want characters that can be created quickly. I don’t want to feel as though I’m sentencing players to waste eons every time I kill their characters. And I don’t want to force new players to sit through a bunch of obtuse character creation nonsense before I have a chance to show them how fun the game can be.
I want characters that can be customized and specialized endlessly. Character class is a fine starting point, but if my players want to make choices then I want to be able to offer them. If a player sets a goal for something they would like their character to be capable of, I want that goal to be achievable.
I want deep, tactical combat which forces players to think beyond a mundane exchange of blows. Combat where making a plan and knowing how to work together can mean the difference between life and death. Combat which none the less encourages players to take risks. Combat where being clever about your environment can turn the tide of a losing fight. Combat which is fun every time.
I want combat that doesn’t need to take an hour.
I want mechanics that engage players beyond a die roll. Rolling dice is a great way to resolve some types of action–but not ALL types of action. If every problem is solved with a die roll, then we might as be playing around a craps table.
I want mechanics unburdened by vestigial adherence to tradition. Just because past games have always done things a certain way doesn’t mean modern games should. The past exists for us to learn from, not to mindlessly emulate.
I want a game which doesn’t ignore history. If Gary Gygax or Dave Arneson figured out how to handle a situation amazingly, there’s no reason modern games should simply handle the same situation passably.
I want a game that equally supports many modes of play. A game which is just as engaging in tasks such as exploration or political intrigue, as it is in combat.
I want a game which explains not just the rules of the system, but the spirit which those rules support. One which explains why rules exist, and how certain mechanics improve play. I want a game which helps Game Masters make the leap from learning rules, to running a campaign.
I want a game which is supported by online tools, but which recognizes that if a game relies on online tools, it is a weak game.
I want rules that don’t need to be bypassed because they pointlessly add unnecessary work.
I want a game where the rules are designed to support me, not a game where the rules waste my time and frustrate my players.
I want a game without ‘traps,’ intended to impede a character’s build. Honestly, I want a game which doesn’t support even the concept of a ‘build,’ but instead promotes mechanical customization.