There are days when I feel torn apart between finding a RPG I feel truly comfortable with and writing it myself. And most of the time both goals are equally far away.
For many years I have been looking for that special game, a game I could pick up and play anytime. Sometimes I think I’ve found it, but more often than not I quickly move to the next one. There are days when I think I should “just” write that game myself, but this feat is even more daunting.
My fantasy RPG “Warrior, Rogue & Mage” has been praised by many fans and critics alike, but for me it hardly feels perfect. I am pretty sure there are hundreds of people who got more enjoyment out of this game than me. Yes, I tend to be my worst critic.
Recently I started working on a Scifi RPG – again – just to reach a point where I would rather start from scratch than carry on – again. I guess the fact that I am a perfectionist when it comes to such things doesn’t really help.
At the moment I am trying to find out what I am actually looking for. I want a game which is pretty rules-light, but which also allows interesting and varied characters. The game should also not focus on combat and have support for scifi settings.
Other Worlds and HeroQuest are at the top of my list at the moment, even though I have the feeling that I don’t fully understand how these games are supposed to work. I also looked into a few other games with strong narrative focus. I am pretty sure a lot of people will at this point recommend Fate Core which has a lot of strong points speaking for it, but it seems I am just not meant to get comfortable with it. The system Over The Edge uses also sounds awesome on paper. It seems that at the moment I am leaning towards pretty freeform systems which feature player-defined traits.
I also looked briefly into some Cortex Plus games. Leverage looks pretty cool even though I haven’t watched a single episode of the TV series. But I guess it should work for any game focused on heists. It should even be possible to hack it into a cyberpunk game. The Firefly RPG also looks pretty sweet, but I am not sure how easily hackable it is.
The thing is I am looking for a different experience in RPGs right now and I also want to find something generic or hackable enough to use it for various settings and genres – even though I would love to run a Scifi game next. Sometimes being a GM and wanna-be game designer is very hard. Especially if you are also a perfectionist of sorts.
One thing I noticed while reading RPG rules (and even while writing them myself) is that combat rules often make up the majority of rules. Even in rules lite games, combat rules are usually more complex and deep than the rules needed for non-combat activities.
Even in games which are not focused on fighting monsters and taking their stuff, combat seems to be of vital importance. I don’t think I know a roleplaying game without any combat rules – although I am sure there do exist a few out there. Regarding the history of roleplaying games it’s no surprise that combat rules are so important. Everyone’s favorite fantasy RPG Dungeons & Dragons pretty much started out as an extension to a miniature combat game.
Some games – especially modern indie games – replace the rules focused on combat by conflict resolution rules which can be used for social conflicts as well. Having a game where combat is handled by a single dice roll are pretty rare. The whittling down of hitpoints by exchanging blows (or shots) is much more common.
Recently I noticed that this focus on combat starts to bother me. Combat often takes a lot of time and because of all the details involved a couple of combat turns can take hours of real time (Shadowrun is especially bad when it comes to this). Non-combat actions are usually handed by just one roll, but when the guns (or swords) are drawn, we switch into tactics mode. Is this really neccessary?
There’s also another problem. If your only tool is a hammer everything starts to look like a nail. In most roleplaying games the characters are no people I would like to spend time with. Often they are more likely to bash your head in than to start a pleasant conversation. Conflicts tend to be solved by violence because that’s what characters are usually optimized for.
I don’t know if this is really a problem that needs solving. I am just thinking out loud here. It’s just something I noticed. So, what is your thought on the matter? Do you think combat is a vital component of any RPG or do you know of any games where the emphasis is on non-violent solutions? What about games which solve conflicts with a single roll? Share your thoughts below!
Recently I had the chance to create a character for Catalyst Game Labs’ latest Battletech roleplaying game “A Time of War”. While the core mechanic is a pretty simple and straightforward “roll 2D6 + bonuses vs. difficulty level” mechanic, character creation is rather quirky.
You start out with 5000 points to spend. At first you pick your Affiliation, then your Early Childhood, followed by your Late Childhood, and so on. It’s basically a Lifepath system where each step of your development consists of one or more modules you have to buy which grant you with experience points spent in various attributes, skills, and traits. Yes, that’s right, you don’t get ranks directly, but the XP to buy them.
In some cases you get bad traits or maluses on your abilities that you can later buy off. The whole process takes a lot of time, especially when you are new to the game. And some of the modules you pick or the traits you get XP for have prerequisites you have to fulfill at the end of character creation. The “Nobility” early childhood module for example gives you the prerequisite of having Rank 5 in either Title, Wealth or Property. If you don’t make sure you got enough XP to buy one of those traits, you couldn’t have picked it in the first place.
Luckily we all had more than enough XP to basically create the character we wanted to play. But for most of the character creation process I had pretty much no idea how my character would turn out. At the end you’re allowed to make some optimizations. If you – for example – have 26 XP in a skill, you can either pay 4 XP to raise the Rank to 3 or take Rank 2 and spend 6 points on other abilities. It’s definitely a novel way of doing things, but I am not sure if it’s really worth all the hassle.
But regardless of my criticism of the character creation mechanics the process was pretty satisfying in the end. My character turned out great and I am extremely excited to actually play the game. We decided to start the campaign shortly after the arrival of the Clans. We might even be working with the Kell Hounds when they first encounter the Clans. Let’s just hope we don’t get our asses kicked too bad.