If I were design a totally conventional role playing game (GM and Players taking the roles of characters in a directed ‘scenario’ and defined setting, in comparison to a GMless shared narrative story telling game), it would have the following characteristics:
- Character overview defined by Clichés. Risus pioneered this view. A character can be defined by a few sentences that give a colourful portrait of what they are and what they do. The clichés for Knight, for example (Riding, Lancing, Sword-swinging, Heraldry, Being Chaste), convey a pretty clear picture in very few words. D&D, in its earliest forms, had the cliché system down pat: Fighter, Cleric, Thief, Magic User.
- Character capabilities become apparent by verbal reference to the defined clichés. The character can do whatever fits into the clichés you set up at the beginning. So a Fighter can do anything a Fighter would be expected to be able to do. I don’t need to define that he can swing a broad sword and a short sword and list every other piece of hardware he can or cannot use. All of this comes out as the players talk through the action.
- In other words: no specific Skills. Skills, Proficiencies, Feats, or whatever are limitations. Their specific job is to limit what a character can do, not enhance – and that just throttles a story. A bigger skill and more detailed skill list just implies that there is a whole lot more you cannot do. All it does it focus the mind on tedious rules detail.
- Baked in system for rewarding narrative play. Verbal description of events should be immediately and concretely recognised, not just a speed hump on the way to a sterile dice roll. FUDGE and FATE have this covered beautifully with the system of Aspects. In many ways, these are very similar to the character clichés. However, the full Aspect system allows you to invoke these personally and generally to places, objects, and events, and this ‘tagging’ concretely affects the direction of the play. The goal, basically, is to ensure that every player is involved in creating a shared adventure, and not just a passive receiver of imagination magic from a god-like GM.
- Unified mechanic. Much as it pains me to say, the new SRD d20 mechanic is unified, consistent, and works just fine. Rolling a d20, adding and subtracting factors (each of which are in 5% increments therefore) and comparing this to a target success number, is OK. Buckets of dice, dice pools, funky dice, d% are all very clever. But do they really add anything to play? The dice are there to resolve only unexpected events. Dice and system mechanics slow down play – I want less of them, not more – and a unified system is one way to cut down the dice play by building ease and familiarity.
- Seamless integration to miniatures. In truth, my wargaming and my roleplaying live in two different portions of my brain. When I roleplay (story tell) I don’t use miniatures. But I do also wargame and sometimes try to insert a few limited roleplay (story) elements. Savage Worlds is by far the best integrated system. The exact same set of rules for the miniatures game applies to the roleplaying game. Despite D&D’s wargaming origins, this is something that is not matched there.
- Aside from these major considerations, in a fantasy setting I would probably take the spell list from 2nd Edition AD&D including Cantrips; The hit location table from Runequest (Basic Role Playing); make Hit Points static (not incrementing as they are in D&D because that makes no sense to me).
I have spoken about this in a previous blog entry.
The 1st ed. Advanced and Original (AD&D, OD&D) games grouped skill clusters into Classes. This allows for a story driven style of play because you can elaborate around these themes without being tied down to mechanical detail.
This model is most simply expressed in Risus (the free Anything RPG) where characters are described by general cliches. If you have not looked at this system, regardless of the system you play then you must do yourself a favour.
FATE has an elegant extension of this called Aspects, and have built a clever system that allows you to ‘tag’ items in the game world as a whole with cliches.
For now, in my own private solo OD&D game, I am using the simpler, comedic, Risus interpretation. The setting is based on Classical Greek artistic and cultural sensibilities, though a fantasy geography. The time is an undefined number of generations after the Titans have been ousted by the Olympian young gods, with all the same names and descriptions used. Predating the current civilisation is an older culture that was Titan worshipping that has Meso-American and Khmer architectural sensibilities. Human sacrifice and all that it implied was part of this collapsed elder civilisation and their ruins litter the land, as do the remaining artefacts of power.
I developed the character thumbnails using a card driven system that I will describe in a different post. From these descriptions I derived the cliches.
In the adventuring party we have:
- Lycophon, a fighter whose cliches are: being a physical jerk, showing off, gambling
- Triopas, a philosopher (magic user) whose cliches are: reading, writing, meddling in things man was not meant to know, being a pompous ass, having a chip on his shoulder
- Dardanus, a priest of Athena whose cliches are: praying, bandaging, pontificating, buying his way out of trouble
- Octyos, a thief whose cliches are: climbing, burgling, intimidating, skulking, cussing
- Epicydes, a philosopher whose cliches are: being corrupt, reading, writing
- Chrysaor, a thief whose cliches are: lying, cheating, stealing, telling inappropriate jokes
The Enquiry Table has been one of the mainstays of our story-jamming activities. We use it for miniature wargames as well, and it would have easy application for a conventional role-playing game, though this is not something wedo any more.
Its last use was for the Strange Seas game at the Nunawading Wargames Club where I unleashed it on a totally naive audience. My impression is that it was received well. It certainly received questions and requests for copies.
Through repeated use I have found room for improvement. The original nine categories were derived from Mythic. When used, this seems to cause a brain freeze for many people as there seems too much choice. Often, the selection of category was either in the middle (50/50) or the extreme (million to one). The intermediate categories are so similar that they are redundant.
Reducing the number of categories to seven greatly improves this situation. Million to one, to Long shot, to A possibility, to 50/50 is an easier progression. Another advantage of the seven point scale is that it fits perfectly into a FUDGE/FATE interpetation, and I have added those alternate words for alternate use at the bottom. I used Steffan O’Sullivan’s new interpretation: VG (Very Good) FUDGE, as I think it is a superior and intuitive scale.
Below that I find that the seven point scale elegantly fits our Silhouette dice system, and below that the Savage Worlds dice system as well.
Technically, this tool covers everything required for a role-playing, story-telling, and wargame system. And it has built in conversion to the published systems that I admire.
The picture at top is just for illustrative purposes. Get a nice version here: enquiry resolution table v11