Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Picking a System

No, this does not mean a full-on return to the weekly features, although I'm not ruling it out. But I've been doing a lot of reading and thinking about gaming lately, partly because of this guy (with whom I agree on very little, and yet I enjoy his blog, and not just because it features porn stars--he writes with a lot of intelligence and passion about D&D).

But basically, a couple of months ago, inspired by Sargon's Steampunk Atlantis campaign, I came up with a concept for a role-playing game world that I thought I might want to run. It's developing very slowly, but one of the real stumbling blocks to putting together anything concrete is simply that I haven't decided what rules system I want to run.

Basically, here's the deal. The game I've played most is Champions/Hero System, but I acknowledge that it's a hard system to learn and elements of it can be cumbersome to play. Character creation, especially, while it gives you great freedom and crunchy detail, can be a bitch of a chore and daunting to a newbie. The speed chart also, though I love the unique flavor it gives to a game with superheroes, can be a pain in the ass when running a large group and a waste of time when running a Heroic group where everyone is speed 2 or 3.

That being said, what do I love about it? I love the basic attack roll mechanic: 11 or less on three dice, plus attack value, minus defense value, with a few other optional modifiers thrown on top if conditions warrant. Easy to figure out with no chart to consult once you've memorized the most common modifiers. I like that hit points are divided into stun and body, so that you don't have to kill someone to defeat them. Dying sucks for player-characters, and it shouldn't have to be their first option against enemies, either. I like that you only use six-sided dice, and that success checks against different stats are all computed the same way; once again, simple mechanic with no charts.

So I looked around to see if anyone had put out a simplified, old-school Champions-style system without the layers of later-edition dreck that have accreted over the years. And no such animal exists.

But I did find a system called OpenD6, which is an open gaming license product based on the system used by West End Games when they designed the original Star Wars Roleplaying Game (which I never played). It's d6 only, apparently fast to run without a lot of charts, and character creation looks a lot simpler than Hero.

Problem is, I've never played it, so I don't know how fun it would be. The characteristics are expressed in number of dice, rather than a simple number, so where a Hero character might have a strength of 18, a d6 character would have a Strength of 3d. It may just be an aesthetic thing, but the character sheets just look weird with all those tiny numbers with d's next to them.

And there is a central mechanic called the Wild Die, which basically allows you to roll frequent criticals or fumbles. And while it sounds cool in theory, in the character-on-character combats I've test run, that fumble can be devastating, and it happens way too often.

Another problem with OpenD6 is that there are several variant rulesets out there. There are a few old West End Games products, and then another group has put out something called MiniSix, while another company is putting out something called Cinema6. And while they all have something to recommend them, none of them really hits me where I live.

So I'm currently going back and forth between three options.

1) Try designing the game for OpenD6, which is a proven rules system with a dedicated group of fans, even though I still know little to nothing about how it runs in practice, let alone trying to teach it to other players who've never played it.

2) Just bite the bullet and design the game for Champions, using an older, simpler edition of the rules to minimize problems and confusion.

3) Design my own rules system to keep the elements I like about Champions gameplay while simplifying character construction and speeding gameplay.

That's when I'm not questioning my own insistence on d6-only rules systems and looking at Paul's Franken-Chaosium rules or GURPS or something.

But I'm looking forward with this. If the game runs well, I may decide to publish, and it would be easier to publish with either an OGL ruleset or my own system. The advantage of the OGL ruleset is that it's less work and it comes with a presold audience that already knows how to play it. The advantage of my own rules is that I own them and that I might enjoy playing them more than the OGL rules.

And all this assumes that I ever actually end up running anything at all.

Oh yeah, and remember when I posted this pic in my discussion of Villains & Vigilantes 2nd Edition?

Well, it just so happens that Jeff Dee and Jack Herman have formed a new company and released a new edition of V&V that they're referring to as 2.1, and guess what's prominently featured on their free preview?

Yeah, look, they've fixed the formula so that now it matches the one written in my old book by hand. Better (18 years late) than never, I guess.

Although seriously, as much as I rag on V&V, I actually did have fun playing it. Not as much fun as Champions, but really, if you're looking to buy a superhero game to try playing now, you can pay 70 bucks for Hero 6th Edition Core Rules plus $45 for the Champions sourcebook, or else pay $45 for Mutants and Masterminds, or $50 for Wild Talents, or pay $7.50 (that's SEVEN-FIFTY!) for Villains and Vigilantes. It's a good deal.

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