Roleplaying Posts - Personal Posts - The Airath Wiki - Clockwork Realms Posts
My friend and his work buddies has started work on this website game project called Clockwork Realms. I've volunteered to help on the project, though I am not sure my programming skills are up to their level. I'll do what I can; meanwhile, I am attempting to design gameplay elements. I hope I am not stepping on too many toes! Exciting stuff. I'll be blogging about it more when I can. Not too much though - I don't want to kill the suspense!
Topic: Clockwork Realms
Every iteration of D&D I have always run has been in the same world in my head - Airath. The basic land has been with me in: 1983 redbox (aka BECMI D&D), 2e, 3.5e, and starting next year, 5e. After ending my 3.5 campaign 2 years ago (and running a very modern Werewolf: the Forsaken game in the meantime), it wasn't long before I sat in a very clear reflection of whether I wanted to get into some super serious worldbuilding or not.
Each time I start a game, it follows the same pattern - spend an inordinate amount of time creating a richness of setting, then skimp from week to week as I make up the next adventure on the fly 5 minutes before game time. I did my best with Werewolf - I had multitudes of huge events happening, that the PCs could be present for and affect, or not. Much effort and cool plot necessarily went to waste.
My friend suggested a wiki for the Werewolf game, and I feel that that is a great solution for Airath, the world I know I will put way more time into. Is it just for me? Sadly, possibly yes. No one is going to delve into the wiki of a created world except to gain the bare minimum of knowledge needed to put his character in a situation. That's what happened to the Werewolf wiki. I put tons of hints into the wiki that maybe one person read. So I have also thought of running a RP forum on this site, tied to the wiki. That's a lot of managing people though.
Art such as this can be a curse. You are torn between doing the thing for the love of it and/or the joy of sharing, but so infrequently does it want to get shared beyond a cursory glance, especially after video game RPGs decimated tabletop gaming. Both dice-rolling and improvisational acting trample setting underfoot. Getting players invested is the hardest task, and also the most important, of any DM.
So, the link for the wiki of my own personal D&D world is at the top of the page. Over the next few weeks and months, it will be populated. Eventually it will be referenced for the 5e game I will be running. Also possibly a forum. My ambitions are great. Game on!
Topic: personal, roleplaying
Looking at the D&D Next playtest rules makes me happy not to need homebrew rules...possibly. There's tons of changes from fourth edition. They all but admit 4e was a mistake, or at least, that 4e didn't sell well. I like that they are catering to me. I'm using my old school privilege like a 1950's white man at a Walgreens counter.
The official D&D forums on the Wizards of the Coast website are filled with the usual suspects - an even mix of game theorists and Tourette's sufferers, with a few honest, pleasant casuals thrown in. I've said my 2 cents in several categories, been agreed with a few times, called ridiculous in others. Some well thought out opinions changed my mind, and hopefully vice versa.
In other personal news: I mentioned to my friend (who is going to be in my eventual 5e game in 2014) about the Roll20 site, and he disliked it, as did several other of our group. They like the tactileness of game pieces, but I would save so much time and money doing Roll20. I've thought about doing multiple games - one tabletop for them, one Roll20 for anyone interested, but there aren't enough hours in the day. My better half said she'd help, but I don't even know what to delegate yet. There's some time left...some. Thankfully fall is a very productive time for me. 2014 approaches.
Topic: personal, roleplaying
This entry will be focusing on the categories of things a character can do in roleplaying systems. The simplest of games gives one level of categories to determine outcomes in a combatant - the monsters in Magic: the Gathering have Attack and Defense, for example. These monsters don't have a skill list or list of spells they can use. There may be some cards with multiple effects on them, but there's only so much info you can cram onto one card. Each card may represent a hero or villain with a rich history, whose character COULD be spelled out in 5 pages of stats, but is not.
Now take the other end of the spectrum. Pathfinder, for example, has classes, attributes, skills, feats, specials, and class-specific features (spells, rogue talents). That's 5 or 6 categories, depending on the class.
Also, let's look at World of Darkness. The World of Darkness has classes (clans, tribes, etc), attributes, skills, powers (which are also sometimes broken up, such as Werewolf's gifts and rituals), and merits/flaws. That's five separate categories.
I mention classes because there are classless RPGs that involve the distribution of skills that anyone could potentially achieve, a la carte, but most RPGs do not do so. Why is that? Why not just give healing spells and a code of conduct a la carte to a medeival peasant and call him a cleric; why must there be a category to be chosen? On the Wikipedia page for 'character class', there are some criticisms for classless gaming, mostly having to do with game balance. This also brings to my mind the free reign of min-maxers who would avoid buying tangential but important to dramatic roleplaying skills - pretty much anything non-combat oriented. Whether the "roll-player" is conscious of it or not, having secondary, non-combat abilities could inject the seeds of thoughts of characterization.
In the end, I would give the edge to class-based categories. It's traditional, and most importantly, it allows people to stereotype characters in a safe environment. Much like watching action movies, such easy, 2-dimensional classification is brain candy, and make the game more fun.
So we've now give a bit of justification to the first of five categories in WoD. I would think that the justification for attributes is self-explanatory - it is the baseline for rating a character.
The rest of the categories become murky. Think about the difference between magic and skills. They are both learned. They are both things a player does that require things - a roll, an action or round, perhaps the right accoutrements. They don't have to be in separate lists, but there are three reasons why they should. First, due to the nature of the exclusiveness of magic - this class can do it, this person can't - it could be justifiable to separate them Second, magic can use different systems than combat or even skills. Magic fuel measurements (mana pools, points of Essence, number of spells per day, etc.) usually put limits on magic in a way swinging a sword will not. Components of a spell and effects make magic usage a unique experience within a game. Lastly, the scalability of difficulty within a game allows new or casual players to play non-magic characters with ease.
This last point has been very important to me personally. With new roleplayers, choosing the right system is very important. Almost every game I have run involves first-time, inexperienced, acting-heavy, or casual roleplayers. Systems that force you to learn complex systems are not the best for these people, and sadly, complex RPGs are what is being pushed today, with D&D being the 500 pound gorilla in the room.
Yes, I think that D&D is too complex. A simple search on Google of "Is D&D too complex?" finds you many hits. I don't want to fall for confimation bias, but this poll shows what I think is true: that the current D&D/Pathfinder paradigm is out of control. Many other systems fare no better - some of the most wondrous settings are mired down by new and seemingly pointless minutiae.
The best RP system will have the ability to have a few classes that can opt completely out of more complex systems if you wish. D&D used to be that way. Early editions of D&D made fighting incredibly easy - only the basic combat need be learned, with skills and spells added on if you had that kind of character. This is one of my main gripes about feats in modern D&D systems - aren't many of the fighter's feats simply added bonuses to traits or combat in certain situations? At least, can't that be combined with skills? Being a fighter in early editions of D&D allowed players to be important to the success of a party without having to devote tons of time to learning the system. This is true of fighters in modern D&D, but they have to learn 5 systems instead of 6 - still a huge amount of categories.
So, let's recap a second. 1. Attributes are necessary. 2. Classes are better than classless systems, for the most part. 3. Non-magic and magic categories of abilities are best kept divided. 4. Games need an easy mode character class.
Let's look at another category type: goodies you start with and have a hard time picking up later on. This means Merits in WoD; how much steady income (day job, investments, etc) you have is a Merit, and in spite of mercenary adventuring, it is hard to raise your set, minimum monthly income.
Do we need this sort of division? Say skills and merits were combined in WoD. The experience point expenditure isn't vastly different, though the means of gaining them in game is. Merits aren't usually purchaseable willy nilly after creation, but what if the limitations were spelled out in the description? Or what if merits were simply a subset of skills, with some of its own rules, but still keeping the skill-ness of it? What you can do, who you know, what you know - is this a description of Skills or Merits?
Let's look at Pathfinder combat feats. Armor proficiency, Blindfighting, Weapon proficiencies - why are these not skills? Even worse, many of the feats are merely bonuses in other skills. Acrobatic, Alertness, Animal Affinity, Athletic - these skills merely give boosts to skill checks, and we're only in the A's!
It's hard to find a system that is a good balance of comprehensibility and complexity. And homebrewing a system is hard work. I thought I'd be able to slim down D&D with minimal rule changes, but I see that is not the case. This is going to take longer than I thought.
Question: what is the best way to represent attributes on a character in a RPG? The obvious answer is: it depends on the game and the attributes that are central to the genre. However, games like GURPS and Savage World try to be universal, encompassing every genre, so I feel that some objective ideal of an answer has at least been attempted to be given as an answer.
Below is a chart of several select RPGs I know, crossed with what attributes a character possesses in said game. There is an obvious persistence of the most commonly used attributes: strength, agility/dexterity, intelligence. After that, things descend into a mire of similar attributes, as every system defines traits in a separate way, sometimes due to the style of the game, sometimes due to avoiding similar terms with games owned by sue-happy corporations.
I'm going to compare every system's unique attributes to d20, simply because it is the most well-known system. This doesn't mean that I personally think it is more or less appropriate or fun than other systems. I am simply going to take certain attributes that games have, compare them to d20, and see if they are better for a general system.
- Call of Cthulhu: This is the classic, original example of specialized attributes for the genre. Sanity is the most fun attribute to lose in a game. Also interesting is the Education attribute; it is usually a secondary trait such as a skill in most games, and usually divided into fields of study. I want to believe that the creators meant to imply that education is a prime descriptor of a character in this game, however, the fact that they also included a Size trait means that they might have had a wild burr about the stats they wanted characters to have, in comparison to other games.
- D&D 1st Edition: Ah, the Comeliness trait. It is seen, as Appearance, in four other systems. Should it be used? I have read on similar RPG (and science) blogs that health is beauty. Power is beauty. The separate parts that make up the Comeliness trait (appearance, attitude, fertility, manners) can be derived from more essential attributes or skills. This blog puts forth a system to make Comeliness a derived stat (for D&D). I would tend to agree with it. Attractiveness is a borderline necessary stat, but I'm all for secondary or derived stats. Doing the math isn't a problem as long as it doesn't get unnecessarily hard.
- GURPS: This one only has 4 attributes, and everything else is a secondary trait or a skill. I know GURPS is supposed to be streamlined. Is having less attributes, but more derived traits, a more streamlined way to play? For example, charisma is a bought advantage in GURPS, not as integral to a character's core - the same way that education is downgraded in everything but Call of Cthulhu. I have to ask the question again, in a lightly different way: do the attributes a player possesses dictate the mood of the game? In the cases of Call of Cthulhu, yes. In the case of GURPS, maybe not. You can do charismatic activities in GURPS, it's just buried in your advantages list.
- Ironclaw: This is a very different game. You have Career and Species attributes. the career attribute shows how good you are at all parts of your job simultaneously. (Mental note: make a blog entry about character classes versus individual skill acquisition.) Since this game involves walking talking animals a la Disney's Robin Hood, the Species attribute determines how bestial and instinctive you are. The higher the Species attribute, the better (for example) a dog person can follow a scent trail. Ironclaw attempts to recategorize traits (and invent new ones), but for the moment I do not see an improvement, only a reorganization.
- MERP (Middle Earth Roleplaying): Here we have standard attributes. Interesting to note that Presence in MERP is analogous to Charisma, while Presence in the new World of Darkness is part of the whole of a person's charisma. We'll get to that in a moment.
- Rifts/ Palladium Fantasy: Ugh, what a mess. Many games change names just to be different or avoid copyright, but Rifts takes it to a whole new level. Still, most of the attributes are standard fare. One could even say that the dividing of attributes into proto-categories (Physical Endurance of Constitution, but Mental Endurance for Willpower) preceded White Wolf's 9-attribute matrix by one year (1990 vs 1991).
- Savage Worlds: another streamlined game a la GURPS.
- Shadowrun: Generic stats.
- Star Wars (West End): this is the oldest of the Star Wars tabletops. It used a D6 system instead of a d20 system. It was extremely streamlined, and the most fun I ever had when casual gamers were in the group. The attributes are also very specialized (both a mechanical and a technical attribute), accenting the technical aspect of the genre. Perfect for the niche, bad for general gaming.
- World of Darkness (new): Let's skip the old WoD and go straight to the new one. Here's the game system that keeps nibbling in the back of my mind. Its attribute system is innovative. It is also more complex than d20. There are nine attributes arranged in a 3x3 grid. The categories of one axis are mental, physical, and social, and the other axis is power, finesse, and resistance. It makes an attribute chart like this:
Each attribute is based upon what part of yourself you are using, and how you want to use it. Need to power your way through a social situation? That would use your Presence attribute, how well you can "wow your audience". Need to finesse your way through a mental challenge? Use the Wits attribute.
There are plusses and minuses to this system, coming from the standpoint of comparing it to d20's original system. Is it too complex? The matrix conception is elegant and (to my eyes) beautiful, but it can be confusing to new players who still are confused at how a 13 Wisdom is "above average" in d20. Yes, I said earlier that additional math wasn't a problem for me, and I understand the matrix perfectly, but I'm thinking of that "easy learning curve" I mentioned last post.
What about merely having additional stats? (There were 9 stats in the old WoD too: perception, appearance, and charisma were eventually replaced. In fact, the matrix only had columns - mental, physical, social - so the concepts of power, finesse and resistance did not exist in classic WoD.) The 9 stats of classic WoD didn't have to be too complex. Rifts had 8, but its terminology was unnecessarily complex. (I get the impression that they had to make the names very different to try and grab a share of the market, or avoid copyright claims, or what have you.)
And back around to the beginning again: is anything above and beyond d20 unnecessarily complex? oWoD has Intellgence, Wits and Perception while D20 has Intelligence and Wisdom (and a handful of perception-based skills based on Wisdom). This has been touched upon multiple times: Education, Comeliness, specialty attributes in a niche game.
Let's state this in broad terms. We're gonna have attributes and derivative (secondary) traits. Attributes are fundamental, and derivative traits seem unavoidable, even in games with large numbers of attributes like WoD games.
Is d20 the best selection of attributes? I don't know. Can we objectively say changing them will improve upon any given game? No.
To paraphrase Winston Churchhill, "d20 is the worst game for attributes, except for all the others." Except I won't even say that. d20 is simply the most well known system, and none are any better, though some could be worse, as far as attributes are concerned.
I was an avid tabletop roleplayer in the 80's and 90's, with D&D 2nd edition being my first, main focus, then being swallowed up into White Wolf when vampires were the in thing. I took the 2000's off, mostly. I came back to tabletop in the past three years, first re-running a D&D 2e campaign I created (updated for 3.5), then running a Werewolf: the Forsaken game for another crew, then playing in an Ironclaw game.
I sat down one evening pored over D&D 4e rules, immediately disliking it, but thinking that 3.5 wasn't much better. When did 2e become "not enough rules"? Do people who have had a GOOD DM with a fluid system really prefer the straightjacketed, yet prolific rules? Or, more fundamentally, was spelling every rule out (like I feel later versions of D&D do) the best way to give players agency?
I intend to find out for myself. I won't be answering it patly. I'm an armchair game theoretician, so I have the conceit that there's a better way: simplicity in the beginning, gentle learning curve, agency for the players, comfort for the DM, perfect balance of ease of use and desired complexity.
I stress that last one due to a post I read on a RP forum; I don't remember where it was. Someone stated that a reward for rules mastery was one of the good things about D&D 4e. I am initially of the mind that a comprehensive RPG is going to be complex enough to show benefit to someone who has mastered the rules, and that that should not be used as an excuse for overcomplexity or a difficult learning curve.
I'll be making this attempt with an eye on creating house rules, or even something based upon the open source D20 license. I do think I can make a better mousetrap, or at least discover why I can't.
I've had all manner of websites and blogs and social media accounts over the years. I've decided that I need to keep a website up and going; my own, all my own, and not keep it any one thing. Just...splat. Here it is. Ideas, blog entries, media storage, pictures, etc. It's all good here.
I'm going to implement as much as I can on here from scratch, for practice: CSS, php, tags, comment sections. Forgive the slow development of the site. I have a day job and a night stalker named Kelly. They happily preoccupy most of my time.
About the Author
Engineer, tabletop enthusiast, programmer, game theoretician, musician, composer, audio engineer.