Thursday, June 2, 2011

7K - Strengthen the core

The first thing you need when developing an RPG, after a grand concept, is a core mechanic. That informs so many other parts of the system. It also is largely responsible for dictating how the RPG will feel in play.

I still want this to be a d20-style game. So, the basic die mechanic is d20 vs. DC. A single die roll, plus or minus modifiers, versus a single target number (in d20 parlance, a difficulty check). It has a lot of advantage in simplicity. It does have a couple big disadvantages. First, it is pretty "swingy." That is, random chance plays a very big role in determining the outcome. The range of 1-20 is pretty big compared to the modifiers, especially at low levels. And, because it is a single die, the flat probability distribution means that there is no bell curve of results tending towards some norm. Second, a single die roll can't give you a great deal of information, just one number. Dice pool games have an advantage of being able to not only give you a single number for determining success or failure, but several additional numbers that can be used to flavor that result. At some point, I do want to design a game with a richer die mechanic. For this project, though, I will keep the d20 mechanic.

We need a conflict resolution mechanic. I'm going to still go with the d20 trend and keep stat + skill. That means that the basic (and generally largest) modifiers to any roll will include one inherent ability (the stat, which generally changes little during the course of a campaign) and one learned ability (the skill, which generally increases steadily with experience and is tied to the type of character involved). These ability scores are simply added together, and then added to the d20 roll. Again, a major advantage in simplicity. It also has a good feel to it, that generally mimics our real life experiences reasonably well. The primary disadvantage is that it is fairly linear. Every character will want to maximize both stat and skill in order to succeed at the most rolls. Systems in which your modifiers interact in more complex ways are often more interesting (at least, to those of us who enjoy tinkering with them).

Basic character structure is next. One of the things that first drew me to D&D 3.0 was the class-skill-feat system. There are a lot of great moving parts in there, that interact in fairly obvious ways. Those three mechanics also serve three different roles, and it is usually fairly clear which mechanic should be used to represent a certain ability or package of abilities. Yes, the line between class abilities and feats is blurry, especially when you take feat chains into account. But, once you've tinkered with the system for a while, you get a real feel for the difference. So, I definitely want to keep that. I also like the work I've done on the origins, so we'll keep that race/class style split. I'm going to look at changing up some of how classes work. I'm also going to look at changing a bit of how skills are bought and used, probably bringing in a bit of the generic system used in Star Wars Saga and D&D 4e.

Combat is going to be a major divergence from the standard d20 style. In d20, combat is very much a tactical process, with a lot of influence from both the RPG hobby's wargaming roots and modern video games. Given that this game is supposed to reflect the much more fluid and stylistic fights of the swashbuckling genre, I want something different. I wrote this post a while back, and I think I'm going to try and develop that idea.

I want the special effects (superpowers, magic, etc.) to be very strongly feat/skill based. Ideally speaking, I'd like to not create any kind of subsystem for them. They would just use skill checks to accomplish tasks, even though those tasks are fantastical.

I want to strongly enable the use of the skill system, including the dramatic conflict system roughly described in that combat post, to handle non-combat situations. In my opinion, that has always been one of the real strong points of Spycraft: you can run a fun, intricate, and mechanically supported session without ever getting into combat. I see one of the failings of D&D 4e being an attitude that combat and non-combat interactions are two entirely different beasts, and that combat benefits from intense mechanics while non-combat benefits from extremely light or non-existent mechanics. Though, that said, I do want to steal the concept of skill challenges from 4e.

What else is core? I think that about covers it. The rest is details. Of course, that's where the devil lives, isn't it?

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