What I Want

Quite hilariously, a young child dives eagerly after a kitten as though the creature is of great value to the child. 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.

A squirrel incidentally makes a strikingly humanlike gesture as it reaches for a peanut. The effect is that the animal is incidentally anthropomorphized, which can be seen as hilarious!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.

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9 thoughts on “What I Want”

  1. I’m curious, what are examples of games that have traps intended to impede character builds?

    That sounds like a great list of qualities. The only thing that I would add is that “promotes mechanical customization” and “characters that can be created quickly” are likely always going to be in tension, because the second rewards system mastery and the first is dependent upon not rewarding system mastery.

    1. I forget who specifically it was, but the developers of D&D 3rd edition have publicly admitted that there are certain feats and skills which are intentionally sub-optimal. The idea, apparently, is that building a character is no fun if you can’t do it wrong. It’s a flaw both D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder inherited.

      I think mechanical customization and quick character creation can be reconciled, though. It might not be easy, but if designing games was easy, then why is anybody getting paid for it? =P

      My current thoughts on the issue is to have a “default” character progression, which can be modified. Or, perhaps, having a game where you level up very frequently, but each level offers only 2-3 minor character improvements. So as to never overwhelm you with choices.

      1. Zack S. when he was writing up his dream “Type V” posts drafted up an idea (to enable the play of old school D&D with new school) wherein on leveling up, you were given a small list of choices that basically amounted to specific awesome powers/feats, or less awesome but more general character advancement. That way experienced and “power gaming” players could choose their cleaves and great cleaves, while inexperienced or non char-op players could choose the general path while still keeping place. I think the idea was something like (in very simplified form) when your fighter levels he choses cleave, or a better to-hit. Cleave lets him keep hitting, while obviously the to-hit makes sure he hits more often.

  2. -“I don’t think I’m ready for that kind of massive and involved project yet.”

    Do it. Just start. Don’t look at the project as a whole, that would be too daunting to think about doing by yourself. Just consider the individual sections and then break those up into subcategories. Consider how many pages and words you’ve invested in this blog, you’re obviously quite capable and knowledgable enough for the task.

    Besides, I’d love to see what you’d come up with. That is all. Good luck.

    1. This ^ Totally this.
      I started working on my own sci-fi tabletop some six months ago and it’s nearing a point where it could actually undergo testing. I didn’t get to this point by thinking ‘I’m going to build a tabletop game’, I got to it by changing rules of other games until eventually I’d scrapped so much and rewrote it so many times I’d created the beginnings of my very own system. Keep copious notes, divided by rewrite/version, and always remember to read back the older notes to see where you might have strayed from what works best. I found that a game system is something that evolves, not something that follows a regimented design.

  3. Again you captured my opinions to a letter. In fact I have a system started dealing with this style of game play. It has elements of A song of ice and fire, tristat dx, and a few other games. And is strangely inspired by Final Fantasy class systems specifically the Tactics system combined with a license/sphere/crystarium grid.
    If you want I can explain further. It might help you.


    1. DCC RPG is fuckin’ awesome, and has a lot of great things going for it.

      I wouldn’t say it’s everything I want, though. The spells system comes to mind, though it’s been awhile since I picked that sourcebook up, and I never did get all the way through it. (I have terrible ADD when it comes to reading).

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