Roleplaying mechanics



NearbyGamers General
world+mechanic = game
2007-03-13 21:52:07

Okay, Harkins wants me to start posting, so here are some of my thoughts on a handful of the more popular mechanics out there. Don't be offended if I don't like the mechanic that you like or I like one that you hate. My goal with this post is to get people talking about what they want from a mechanic so we can all enjoy games a lot more.

We all know what game mechanics are...the system of rules that turn a fantasy world into a game world (i.e., they let you create a character and participate). Since the mechanic is the protocol you use to create your character (which is, for all intents and purposes your avatar) and make that character interact with the game world, it can go a long way toward helping or hurting your gaming experience.

So, how does the mechanic help or hurt your gaming experience? It alters the feel of the game world. For instance, if the mechanic has watered down difficulty numbers, the game won't feel realistic. If the mechanic has magnified difficulty numbers, the game will feel grittier and more realistic. If the game doesn't have a fear system, your character will seem more heroic. If the game doesn't have a sanity system, your character will have nerves of steel. If the game doesn't have a weather system, weather will have no effect on the game world. The examples are endless.

I'm not going to say that a mechanic needs to have every conceivable system (although some mechanics try to go that route), because that's not the case. All a mechanic needs is the ability to create suspension of disbelief. A good mechanic should leave you convinced that things in the game world will happen very much the same way as they happen in real life. It helps you immerse yourself in the storyline. There are always gaps...ways in which the mechanic lets you down or goes against what's intuitive, but a good GM can go a long way toward smoothing out those rough edges (since the GM is the final arbiter of all mechanics, and can create or disallow rules at will). So, having gone over the basics of what I'm going to talk about, let me give you my thoughts on a few popular mechanics.

D20: It's hard to make any blanket judgments about D20. It's become so pervasive in paper and pencil gaming that saying you don't like D20 is roughly analogous to saying you don't like to eat mammals. With the sheer number of mutant varieties of D20 and optional rules variants, it's a good bet that there's some version of the D20 system out there that you would find acceptable. I'm not saying that it's impossible for there to be "vegetarian" types who absolutely cannot accept a d20-based mechanic, but usually that kind of blanket rejection of d20 is more about non-mechanical concerns (e.g., "I hate Wizards of the Coast, so I must make a big show of disliking their game system and all its derivatives lest I accidentally support their evil empire").

D20 is principally concerned with physical effects, especially combat and magic. I'm not going to say this is a bad thing, but it limits your options for roleplaying. It can work if you have a versatile GM and at least one player who wants to talk to NPCs. However, there's no question that the system got its start in tabletop wargaming.

The big mechanical problems I see with D20 are hitpoints and classes/levels.

Hitpoints: Hitpoints are usually taken to be a character's "health" (if you think in terms of videogames, like I do half the time). However, hitpoints are a lot more abstract than that. The first thing you'll notice about hitpoints is that they increase over time. That really isn't the case in reality. If you listen to the great proponents of D20, the increase of hitpoints over time allegedly represents your character's increasing experience and ability to avoid damage in the first place. When you get down to it, this really doesn't make sense...why not increase the AC instead? Is a middle-aged man really capable of taking twelve arrows to the chest when a twenty year old can barely survive two?

Now don't get me wrong...I'm not saying that it doesn't make sense to have a hitpoint system in your mechanic. If you're playing a heroic game, it makes perfect sense. I think what D20 fans mean to say is that the increase in hitpoints reflects the character becoming increasingly important in the game world. For example, if you're reading Lord of the Rings, it wouldn't fit in with the game world if Aragorn slipped on a banana peel, fell down the stairs, and broke his neck. So, why not just give more dramatically important characters the ability to soak more damage, even if it isn't realistic? Since realistically vulnerable heroes would hurt the feel of the game world more than the loss of realism from having the hero get smashed in the face with a sword and live, you can justify using hitpoints. And again, a good GM can help you gloss over the lack of realism by artfully describing solid hits as glancing blows, shallow cuts, or stunning blows that got blocked by armor, etc.

However, if you want to run a gritty, realistic campaign that captures the uncertainty and danger of real steel on steel combat, hitpoints will just frustrate you. Mid-level players will get in fights with elephants or whole units of cavalry, and generally flaunt their increasing ability to soak damage. Predictably, bad GMing doesn't help, and players will come off looking like Marv from Sin City at best or the Black Knight from Monty Python at worst. But again, there's nothing wrong with that if that's the feel you're looking for, and it very well could be (some friends of mine and I made and played a Warhammer 40K roleplaying game from D20 where that was the perfect feeling to capture the game world, and we all had ridiculously powerful characters).

Classes/levels: Like hitpoints, classes/levels are something you'll love or hate depending on the feel you're looking for. Fundamentally, these are part of a very black and white game world where your interests and abilities are tightly restricted to those that are stereotypical to your profession (e.g., fighter, rogue, ranger, etc.). Let me just say right now that I can anticipate a lot of responses to what I've said so far (which is pretty clearly biased against classes/levels).

People will say that classes are only umbrella classifications for a whole spectrum of subclasses and different distributions of feats and skills. A fighter could be a pirate, a mercenary, a castle guard, etc. You get the idea. Well, what that's really saying is that you're capable of making two characters that are fighters that are different. My opinion is that a mechanic owes you that level of customization from the getgo anyway, so it's stupid to try to pretend like it's a feature.

As far as different sub-classes go, any cursory look at d20-based systems will reveal a proliferation of custom classes and/or prestige classes. There are more of these every month. Personally, I take their existence to be proof that all d20 players still struggle with and dislike the restrictions of classes/levels. And to be honest, the generalization of classes (e.g., strong, tough, fast, etc. rather than fighter, ranger, etc.) that appeared with d20 modern leads me to believe that the concept of classes/levels is finally being recognized as a failure. I also think attempts to give players the formula to balance the classes (as in the D20 Call of Cthulhu game) and tell them to make class design part of character creation are a similar admission of the stupidity of classes/levels.

There may be cases where you want to use classes/levels for whatever reason, but I honestly think the reason they're so popular is that the D20 mechanic is so well known. As I say, even D20 enthusiasts are constantly trying to find ways to tweak or cicumvent the class/level system. Feel free to debate me on this, but I would always opt in favor of a system that allows a totally free-formed buy of all attributes and skills over time (7th Sea, Legend of the Five Rings, D6, and GURPS are all good examples). Although, to be perfectly honest, a purist will tell you that mechanical differences between characters (e.g. skills, feats, special abilities, etc.) are irrelevant, and it's the roleplaying of a character by a player that really customizes them. And if you know a player that actually believes this, make sure you invite them to all your games.

Regarding the actual use of a 20-sided die, the probabilities behind all these mechanics are a complex enough issue that I'll set them aside for a later, separate debate over mechanics. On to another major mechanic.

White Wolf: White Wolf's D10 system is essentially the ultimate roleplayer's system. When you're dealing with abilities that run on a 1-5 scale, you can tell you're definitely in Kabuki theater mode. It's a roleplaying intensive system, and physical interaction definitely has a "do we have to?" feeling to it. It almost moves in the exact opposite direction as D20 (which, as I've said, is the classic hack and cast, dice-intensive mechanic).

Combat in this system is probably best run with a Shakespearean flavor, like the lightsaber duels in the original Star Wars movies...more about soliloquys than combat (e.g., trade some blows, banter a little, trade some more blows, banter a little bit). Also, the tiny scale for both attributes and skills (1-5 in both cases) makes for characters that are writ large, but either not particularly believable or not very powerful.

When you take the system in combination with White Wolf's poorly thought out game world (the World of Darkness) this can be a GM intensive system. At least, that's how it is if you do things right and run a serious, complex game. If you have a shallow, adolescent, power fantasy game (e.g., Lord Dark and Night Ass are locked in a struggle for who gets to do nothing with his secret control of the world while assorted female characters walk around making seduction rolls), White Wolf's mechanic and game world are totally sufficient without much, if any, effort on the part of the GM.

Before I go off on a rant about game world design, which is inevitable when I talk about White Wolf, let me just say that this is a barebones system in terms of physical interaction. In the interest of fairness, I'll say that White Wolf's system has a more complex mechanic for social interaction than D20, which is more evidence of the system's bias in favor of roleplaying over violence. To put it as simply as possible, D20 is about violence...White Wolf is about threats of violence.

Another place White Wolf's system does well is character design. They have a sort of middle path between totally free-formed characters and a class system. Typically, a White Wolf game will break down characters into a handful of categorizations (e.g., clan, tribe, etc.) and then give you free reign in skill selection and advantages/disadvantages (which puts it head and shoulders above the extremely narrow feat and skill customization of D20).

GURPS: Unfortunately, I don't have enough experience playing or GMing for GURPS to properly evaluate it. What I've seen, I've liked.

Shadowrun: For my own purposes, the most impressive system I've seen is whatever 4th edition Shadowrun is working off. It's a D6 based system with character free-forming. They eliminate a lot of foolishness by saying that the level of zero in a skill is equal to "the average man on the street." This is definitely open to interpretation, but I think it produces better characters. Also, the clear delineation of what each level of skill constitutes is a nice feature (basically, a list of examples of who has a skill level of 1, skill level of 2, etc.). That, in combination with a similar scale for attribute levels, makes it easy to see where your character stands in the world (and ensure that your character is the character you thought you were making). The system's big weakness is an oversimplified roleplaying mechanic, but it's still about as complex as White Wolf's, maybe moreso.

In any case, I'm just trying to get some discussion going about mechanics. And again, this doesn't even discuss the relative merits of different dice, or other...less traditional methods of randomizing results (like rock, paper, scissors while dressed as a vampire).

Gamers posting in this discussion

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Bear Gamer, GM & Player for 20 years
2007-03-14 18:15:58

I agree that d20 and WoD are the best systems out there all around. I espcially like the Star Wars (2nd Rev) version of d20. The Defense, Vitality and Armor = Dmg Red (All optional rules from Unearthed Arcana) rules work great for a heroic type of game. The one thing I don't like about d20 is their lack of thought put into mundane uses of Magic. Examples: there is no spell available that would allow you to make a copy of a (mundane) book, analyze the components of a foriegn metal, etc. WoD magic has much more to it than just the Hack & Cast d20. As a disclaimer, the genesis of d20 was dungeon crawling so things like Passwall and Fireball had a very tangible use. In the modern incarnation of roleplaying I would like to see more depth in the spell lists associated with d20.

world+mechanic = game
2007-03-14 22:48:28

Well, I don't know if they're the best systems out there, but I've definitely logged enough hours on them. They're good, and they're popular, but I think either one of them could be tweaked to make a better system depending on your needs.

In any case, I think you hit the nail on the head. D20 definitely still wears its heritage on its sleeve. Nothing wrong with that if you've got the old battle board out with clearly delineated inch by inch squares. However, for younger gamers who have never painted a model in their lives, the magic system can be damn limiting. Spells per day is another thing that never rang true...either you can perform a spell or you can't, and that's more a matter of an attribute-linked drain system than a flat quota. You should be able to keep casting a spell until you go comatose from the makes for better dramatic situations than "damn, I'm it's up to the sword."

I've seen a couple attempts to allow players to design spells, but it's usually more limiting than the as-printed grimoires in the sourcebooks. I don't know...maybe chalk it up to the instinct to create a balanced mechanic (the ultimate check against the power gamer). I think your best bet is to freeform something out of your ass...that's pretty much my answer to everything in D20. If it works, document it, and when the players break it, disallow it or create some terrible, unintended consequence.

I'll tell you what I really want to see...a magic design system that uses some kind of Empedocles/Captain Planet/Chinese elements to do alchemical spells. You know, distill this and combine that, get a predictable spell effect. That would be a great magic mechanic.

And yeah, Unearthed Arcana was awesome. I think a book like Unearthed Arcana along with something like the DM's Toolbox are all you need to make whatever D20 fantasy game your heart could possibly desire. Fantasy Flight has a lot of really good D20 expansions as well, some of which Wizards has tried to mimic.

As far as WoD, I can't make any blanket statements about them. Most of the magic I've seen in there was thaumaturgy, rituals, glamour, or something like that. I liked their effects, but I'd have to see and play Mage to have enough information to have a proper opinion.

chronic game designer
2007-03-15 18:32:41

Grin, it seems that our experiences are exactly reversed. My experience with WoD is fairly limited - I've only actually played four or five sessions and watched one or two more.

However, my experience is that a decently built vampire or werewolf is pretty much indestructible. While the game _was_ one of my strongest and most memorable role playing experiences, any time combat happened, we may as well have just ignored the dice and cut to the chase that we slaughtered anything that opposed us. How many 10's do I need to throw now? Hmm, can I borrow 5 more of your dice? I seem to have run out.

In d20, my players have dealt with recovering lost artifacts of a purely cultural significance in order to prevent a war between city states. They've been caught by sandstorms and locked themselves in closets (well, only one player got locked in). They've had to care for an orphaned little girl that they rescued from a bandit camp. Yes, we pulled out the grid and moved little markers around, determined distance, and min/maxxed the placement of fireballs.

Back in 2nd edition D&D, I ran games where not a single weapon was drawn. Players built (and rebuilt) cities. They outed corrupt judges through intrigue and dialogue. Sure they had super powers, and occasionally fought off opposing forces that outnumbered them 20 to one. But it was part of the story. It was easy to understand and easy to play.

I don't think the numbers in the rulebook make a difference when it comes to whether or not you want to role play or tell a story. It's the group and the DM who decide what kind of experience you'll have - the individual system really is immaterial.

I like d20 because it is simple and flexible. If I want to have a purely social game, I can, and I'll award people for role playing in stead of for combat. If I want to have a purely combat-oriented game, I can do that as well. Roll up some throwaway chars, drop some minis onto the table and hammer away.

If you're worried about your characters being too super-powered and want to kill players off, don't let them cheat. So the group of five lvl 10 characters honestly and sincerely think they can rid the countryside of the dragon that's been eating sheep here for the last 50 years? Let them try. And then don't hold your punches. They can and will die against an intelligent enemy of similar or higher power.

Sure, the 20-year-old lvl 1 cleric will have trouble if he gets hit by two arrows, but so can the 25-year old lvl 10 cleric (who presumably has a bit of battlefield experience) if those arrows are fired by a lvl 10 rogue who gets the drop on him (and thus applies all sorts of evil multipliers and bonuses to the damage inflicted). Maybe the sniper was smart enough to poison the arrows or is using enchanted ammo. You can always one-shot something if you hit it in the right organ with the right persuasion of pointy object.

But what if you don't want to kill your players off, you just don't want them to feel invincible? Don't put them into situations where they'll come out feeling godlike. The lvl 5 party can probably handle 500 baby kobolds storming a bridge w/o breaking a sweat. Don't let them. Ok, so they have 50 hp? Inflict 30-40 damage on them in one hit some time. Don't give them a chance to rest and recharge spells, etc... there are plenty of options.

As far as your argument that character classes are dumb... well, I agree and I don't agree. I am a large proponent of skill-based systems. My biggest project over the last several years has been just such a game.

However. Character classes serve two major purposes.

1) They give you a quick and easy way of describing a character's tactical abilities.

What's easier to say: "sorcerer" or "arcane spellcaster with a limited but flexible and powerful selection of combat-oriented abilities, usually focused on inflicting direct elemental damage on one or more enemies in a short amount of time"?

2) They evolve naturally from a skill system.

Give enough players enough options and a good set of rules to govern their choices, and you will discover that certain trends in character builds emerge over time. There will evolve a direct analogue to the traditional evocation wizard, a sneaky assassin type, a front lines meatshield, etc...

At this point, the all-encompassing skill system becomes a burden and not an asset. Being forced to manually define your character's abilities one at a time becomes the ultimate exercise in number chasing. Want a system where players are encouraged to role play? Do NOT give them a 50 page checklist of abilities to allocate points between. Because they'll do it.

Character classes serve a very valuable purpose as standard accepted core templates - from which any good system (like d20, to get back on topic) will allow sufficient customization and variation to give you the options you need w/o having to consult the multi-page character sheets full of skill ranks to determine exactly which obscure modifier should be applied when trying to persuade their horse across an invisible bridge.

— i can still kill you with my brain
world+mechanic = game
2007-03-15 23:48:54

Hey, I can't argue with that. A group of players that want to roleplay will roleplay, and a group of players that want to thump skulls will thump skulls. And I definitely agree that D20 campaigns can be heavily social. You don't need a mechanic to interact socially (you can even do without bluff and diplomacy if you wish). After all, all you're doing is talking.

It sounds like your experience with White Wolf was more similar to mine than you might think. I wasn't saying that it wasn't a system you could fight in. I'm just saying the combat mechanic doesn't have the complexity of D20, which is fundamentally a standalone combat system.

In any case, I've definitely seen cases of a mechanic becoming too complex to use. 7th Sea springs to mind. They had a million great little sub-rules (mostly from the expansions) that made perfect sense, but if you tried to use them all at once, you'd choke on them. I mean, they had a courtly intrigue system that could make a party as dice and graphite intensive as a mass combat.

You're totally right though. A game within any system is what you make of it. I still stand by my original judgments regarding what sorts of games those systems are best for, though. If I wanted to run a game with mass combat, I'm probably not going to go for a system like White Wolf (even though any good GM can quickly cook up either a mass combat system or expand on an existing system within the mechanic).

Ex-gamer who wishes she could find a group
2007-03-16 19:16:50

It's been far too many years since I've roleplayed at all but regarding the "spells per day" system of D20, in AD&D there used to be the "Spells and Powers" book which had an alternate system where you would exhaust yourself. It was a much better system and a damn shame they didn't move keep it when they went to the D20 system.

world+mechanic = game
2007-03-16 22:33:50

Well, no reason not to create one, assuming there isn't already a D20 variant for one (which is a big assumption...I'm sure we'd find one if we looked hard enough). I assume it would run off of the will save or off the raw constitution modifier. Any hot ideas on how to generate and modify DCs? I personally vote for a DC scale that changes with level (so doing a cantrip at first level is as hard as a high level spell at a high level). Ooh, and a failure on this system seems like a great place for a table of catastrophic results (both magical and medical).

2007-03-18 05:02:08

A decently built vampire or werewolf is indestructible? Were you playing oWoD's Apocalypse? I can't say anything about Vampire, because I've never wanted to play a bloodsucker. However, in nWoD Forsaken, a starting werewolf can get severely mauled by some of the regular animals in the nWoD setting. I wouldn't call that indestructible.

If you were playing with experienced characters, then your ST was throwing mooks at you or something. The opposition wasn't scaled up enough to present a challenge.

In my group, the characters have learned to use pack tactics and terrain to their advantage. Before they learned, every encounter resulted in several dead packmates. They also learned that diplomacy and a level head can save more lives and win more battles than the mightiest klaive wielded by the war form.

world+mechanic = game
2007-03-18 22:13:35

Well, by the same token, a smart GM doesn't need a powerful enemy to take you out...he just needs to have NPCs that use pack tactics (a good GM in any system can make you flee from three dogs, but not all mechanics reflect that). I'd reserve it for a separate thread, but the trick to White Wolf GMing is using very professional teams of hunters that realize their own vulnerability...none of these lone wolf, nothing to lose, Simon Belmont types.

I'd say if you're having trouble with overpowered White Wolf groups, use a hunter group modeled after Robert Deniro's crew from Heat. That'll make them keep their heads down. Anyway, let's keep it to the thread. Player and GM tactics can be determined by the mechanics, but they're really a whole different can of worms.

Diceless, anyone?
2007-03-31 09:13:13

If you want a different take on some D20 mechanics, you should check out the True20 line by Green Ronin. Still runs off the D20 basics, but pared down. Attributes are only the attribute bonus (-4 +whatever, 0 being normal person), and lots of other tweaks along the lines of what's been mentioned. Green Ronin also had a great drain system that could be adapted to magic in The Complete Psychic's Handbook. Those GR guys seem to feel the same way most of us gamers do - "Hrm... fun, but it sure could use a fix or two."

Diceless, anyone?
2007-03-31 09:16:35

edit to previous - that book is not in the Complete line, just The Psychic's Handbook. sorry, early hours brain fade.

2007-03-31 18:49:34

"(since the GM is the final arbiter of all mechanics, and can create or disallow rules at will)"

Umm... No. I have a huge problem with this mindset. The fact that you included it as a parenthetical aside indicates just how prevalent the problem is.

No one owns the game. Remember, this is a hobby. GM doesn't mean 'Golf Master.' No other hobby requires a group of friendly acquaintances to acquiesce to one of the group. The game belongs to all the players as well as the GM. Everyone should have a reasonable say in how the mechanics work. A GM is not a GM with out players.

The GM owns the story, but only to a point. How often does a GM hand out characters and tell you 'this is your back ground, like it or leave?� I know it happens, but thats a specific type of game and should not be used as an exemplar for the whole. The GM owns the story they are telling, nothing more, and nothing less. The players have an equal stake in the game and should have an equal say. Often people will say “But I need to ambush my party!� or some other nefarious excuse to claim total control over the rules. Thats B.S. Even a mediocre GM does not need to twist the rules to abuse the players.

This is the biggest hold over from the 'bad-old-days,' and we really need to get past it. The totalitarian view that GM = God is wrong and has no place in a functional game. GM's that need total control to such extremes probably should examine their own life, and consider seeking help. The game is best served when everyone has a say in it. Players get to control their characters actions, they should also have a voice in the mechanics.


world+mechanic = game
2007-03-31 20:55:25

It sounds like you may be traumatized by one too many red-faced screaming arguments with bad GMs who don't care about the rules. Well, so are most of us.

Every gamer I know has at least one story about a tyrannical GM and his total disregard of (or contempt for) the mechanic. My worst one was a GM who required a heroic dex check to remove an item from my character's pocket while lying prone, and only because he knew I was going to use it to kill one of his central NPCs.

However, I stand by what I said. The GM is the final arbiter, like it or not. You can throw your dice and storm off all you like, but that GM-isn't-a-GM-without-players idea swings both ways. Anyway, how a GM handles that power is a different matter. I've known GMs who used it subtly, and in the interest of the storyline. Rules were tweaked subtly, with none of this "THE MIGHTY HAND OF GOD STOPS YOU" stuff. Alternatively, I've also known GMs who were hamfisted and clumsy about it, using their final arbitration to compensate for their inability to improvise (which accounts for most of our horror stories).

Anyway, I suggest we create a new thread to discuss this, because it's always been a hot button issue, and I'd hate to this beautiful discussion of mechanics turn into the middle eastern knock knock joke (i.e., "knock knock." "NO, IT IS YOU WHO ARE WRONG!!").

2007-04-05 20:36:21

"It's become so pervasive in paper and pencil gaming that saying you don't like D20 is roughly analogous to saying you don't like to eat mammals."

I love this analogy, just because as a vegetarian it makes me feel much happier about being into indie RPGs.

world+mechanic = game
2007-04-09 18:35:49

Yeah, that was exactly the case I was thinking of when I spun that one off. Glad it held true for someone.

Games designer at Zen Zombie Games
2007-04-09 22:22:39

My take on the D&D/D20 system.

I laughed when I read allaryin posting "D20 is simple and flexible". I can't call to mind any game in the last 10 years that is less simple. Flexible, perhaps - but it's all relative. I shudder to think what a D&D game would actually be like if you used all the rules. I'm not sure the human brain can actually contain all that information :-)

2007-04-25 17:00:00

The bulk of this conversation - while certainly not all of it - is focused on roleplaying as an activity where the GM Keeps the "story" and the players "act" in the story by several different means, e.g., dialogue, tactics, risk taking, etc.

What about players creating the story? The GM willingly releases the story to the players to create by simply providing a setting and introducing a premise on which the players can build. This is a roleplaying mechanic too. The GM - while still the final arbiter of minor rules decisions - doesn't present a strory, they live in it with the players and are an equal partner in the story creation. In this approach the GM is not defined by her arbitration rather her contribution which is - by the way - the same measure of the players.

Players focus on who their characters are and what they do vs. what skills and/or proficiencies they have mastered. The GM focuses on how the "setting" reacts to their decisions while giving them free will to take the "story" where they wish.


2007-04-26 14:54:20

Personally, I think I am the biggest fan of this style of play when I am the GM. I have run quite a lot of World of Darkness games and found myself repeating the same story lines to each new group of players. So, eventually, a few friends and I sat down and created an entire town, New Stratford, and all its surrounding areas. We created character from all the different games and put them into the setting. Then, we put together a full time-line of the entire city. This was a whole tonne of work, piles of papers, character sheets.. the whole lot. But in the end, this became the all encompassing 'world' that all the players I've been a GM for were desiring. For each game that I start up, night one is creating their characters and putting together a back story for how or why they are in New Stratford. From there, the players are free to roam the entire city and do as they wish. Perhaps the Vampire group with discover the plot of Mac Bethos to kill Prince Duncan, and take over the city. Another Vampire group may find themselves needing to forge an alliance with one of Sheriff Lionne's childe: Gonerille, Reagan, Deliacor. Perhaps a werewolf troupe will get caught in the schemes of Rotsen and Sessylu to convince Sellihca to abandon his peaceful ways and help bring down the latest in industrial growth of the region. And on and on go the plots that continually twist it's way through the city.

But anyway, back to your post. What this allows me to do is sit back, and just poke and prod where needed, but for the most part, the players have free reign of the city. Interaction from the GM is really there just to keep the story moving when the players hit a dead-end, or to adjust the time-line or location of NPCs as needed. The players create their own stories, I have just given them the set, stage, etc.

Now, I may get flamed for this, but this is where I like the White Wolf rpgs over the D&D style systems. I prefer to 'role'-play instead of 'roll'-play. In WW style games, there seems to be greater focus on story and plot. D&D focuses on the next boss kill, the next cool item, and raising one's stats. I can play WoW if I want to kill dragons and 'roll'-play, but video games just can't replace the character depth of 'role'-playing games

2007-04-26 20:52:01

I certainly can't disagree with you that for many D&D is played like a linear video game, but in the end its the players who decide to employ the mechanics to explore tactical challenges rather than some other focus.

Most games can be played with focus on narative or tactics/game although I agree some seem to facilitate tactics/game more readily than others.

I think the key is to look at the game one has chosen and ask, "does it promote what I want to focus on?" And, just as importantly talk with the other players in your group about the collective *want*. If two players like tactics/game and two like collaborative story building... theres gonna be heartbreak. Either that or everyone meets in the middle and just tolerates the game rather than enjoying the game.

Looking for more players live or via skype
2007-04-27 21:45:45

Golly, this is a long post. I'll keep mine brief. For me, any system that I have to look up rules for (with rare exceptions, ie some rare spells) or use rule books to make a character with, etc is not one I personally enjoy using. I like a quick clean system. Combats that take 15-30 min tops are nice. More story, less rules. I use a heavily modified BRP system (if you don't know what that is, look on Wilkapedia).

Looking for RP'ers in IL!

2007-04-27 22:11:56

I've never tried using a significantly modified system before. I guess its because my perception is that it would be difficult to engage others interest in the system. It would seem to me -- although I'm clearly speaking from ignorance -- that a potential player would first have to read and understand the system and then understand which parts of the system would not be used and why. Perhaps this approach works best when there is an established group thats understands the modified system and then individual new players are added over time so the new player simply integrates into the group dynamic so you have this peer pressure dynamic going on.

Does anyone have an experience to share selling a modified system to a brand new group? This seems like a tall order given that the only thing gamers love more than gaming is complaining about gaming rules... LOL.

On a related note about BRP... I'm a big Chaosium fan. I buy their stuff just for the pure enjoyment of reading it not to mention using it as gaming materials.

I use The Omni System as a genre generic universal system. Its very rules lite as well. I prefer this type of approach when actually gaming but I love to read specific titles for creative inspiration.

The gamer that runs this site
2007-04-28 05:08:20

logan9a: Please edit your post to remove your ad, it's off-topic. I'll provide a way for you to better-advertise for players soon.

Looking for more players live or via skype
2007-04-29 05:36:51

You will?


The gamer that runs this site
2007-04-29 14:46:59


Looking for more players live or via skype
2007-04-29 15:12:16


Looking for more players live or via skype
2007-05-02 00:49:25

All that whining and no more posts.

BTW - is it soon yet?


The gamer that runs this site
2007-05-14 22:29:20

It is now "soon". In the personalized links that slide open, you can post a discussion and mark it with a location.

RPG player
2007-05-17 04:57:58

Okay... just got caught up with this thread. So... where to begin? D&D has evolved into d20, and the system is improving with it's newer incarnations. I hate randomly generated attributes, which means some players may get overly powerful characters while others get the shaft. The idea of hit points needs to go, and the Star Wars D20 system with wound and (whatever they call stun) is a good replacement. Here's a 'for instance' of why the hit points thing doesn't work: You're a first level fighter with 12 hit points (let's assume a con bonus), you take 6 points of damage, half your health, and your cleric friend casts cure light wounds on you, curing 6 points of damage. You are completely healed. So now you are a 12th level fighter, and you take multiple wounds equal to half your health. Now, suddenly that Cure Light wounds spell can't seem to do jack for you. And if you go by the notion that a lot of your hit points are luck, skill, etc... then a cure spell actually repairs your ability to dodge?

While classes TEND to allow what a character wants, the more detailed and exact you get, the more horrific getting exactly what you want becomes. A lot of the stuff put out by third parties makes the d20 system fairly usable, but only those that eliminate class altogether really work for me.

As for WW... the mechanics of the game just utterly kill me. Keep in mind, I played the previous version. Moreover, I hated the setting and the entire premise (of Vampire: the Masquerade). Wanna play a giant leech? Umm... thanks, no. I simply can't buy into the romantic notion of vampires. The mechanics of s system where your success is determined by the number of successes you roll versus the number of failures where adding dice doesn't change the percentage chance of success or failure makes me want to scream. What, then, is the point of 'improving' your character? Hey, feel free to tell me if the new version of the game is different. I wouldn't mind giving some of the other WoD settings a try... maybe... if I can get the horrid sour taste from my last experience out of my mouth.

I've played a great many years in various versions of the Hero system, which might be the best system for supers games. However, as I get older, I find the massive effort for even the least result, particularly when trying to create NPCs is so painfully time consuming it makes me want to just use RISUS.

I've played a good deal of 7th Sea recently, and love the system personally. I agree that adding all the available expanded rules could get boggy, but we haven't run into any problems yet. I got a 'Legend of the Five Rings' book for a friend of mine for his birthday. It's the same 'roll and keep' system as 7th Sea.

I've also played a deal of Serenity, and the 'cortex' system it uses may mature into its own in the next iteration (for the Battlestar Galactica game). We'll see.

As I get older, what I want is a simple, elegant system (7th Sea, minus expansion stuff), that is well supported (like d20). I can dream, can't I? :)

I started running D&D games in 1983 or so, and hack-n-slash play versus ROLE playing is simply a matter of style. The older systems might seem to have fostered hack-and-slash, but I read the same DM guide everyone else did. I self-taught game mastering, and I ended up a reasonable story-teller. So, It's not just the system. It's how the system is used.

I reserve the right to post later on my thoughts about GMs as Gods of their game.

2007-05-17 15:20:20

Check out Morrigan Press. I would describe their universal system [The Omni System] as simple and elegant and they have published a great deal of support/setting material as well. I hear very good things about Atlantis: The Second Age.

Anyways... I just had to chime in w/you on hit-points. HP and healing spells are the mechanic that drove me from D&D, never to return. Regardless of the mode of play one might like to focus on in-game [naratavism, gamism, simulationism] the HP/Healing mechanic will drift you into gamism every time, it can't be escaped. I would locate at about 8th level as the point of no return in d20 where regardless of your intent [as GM or player] the game drifts into a series of tactical encounters interupted occasionally by "thin" narative. Why "thin" narative? There is no time for anything else, combat consumes larger and larger chunks of each session and all except gamism is lost in the process.

Can you eliminate this viscous cycle from your d20 game - of course, but then why not play something else?

PS - I have never heard anything bad about 7th Sea except from this one guy whose playing style I found irritating so in the end it was an endorsement ;-). I'll have to wedge myself into a game one day.

ARE there Bolton gamers?!
2007-07-19 10:55:21

Hi folks, first Post. Been reading the stuff on RPG mechanics. I am way out of date, never played D20, began with 1eD&D in the 80s but played CoC, traveller etc too. I own some systems but never had the chance to they them. I like the sound of 7th Sea, the genre/milieu has always appealed to me, makes for less hack & slash even in combat when there's no armour! And there's no individualist to beat a Pirate! Ian

world+mechanic = game
2007-07-20 22:35:01

Well, true enough, but that's just the game world. The mechanic isn't necessarily an integral part of that.

Anyway, I have to agree with the previous post...I think a 7th Sea style system gives me everything I need. A few months ago, I was trying to set up a good Arabian Nights world to plug the 7th Sea mechanic into.

Indie RPGs
2007-08-02 17:30:21

I've had enough walking on egg-shells, so let me start this off by saying I probably disagree with you. If you're still willing to read my opinion, then that's awesome.

Mechanics are the building blocks of the game. You can run any type of game in any system, but you cannot run it effectively.

If your system is built to reward killing, and the only rewards are "getting better at killing" then you will not have any role-playing. But besides that, the basic conflict resolution mechanic speaks volumes about the game.

In a standard d20 mechanic, there are only 20 outcomes to any situation. There's a set difficulty number, there's the skill of the person taking the action, and there's a d20 roll. Difficulties can range from 1 to infinity. There's no cap on the difficulty level. There is a great pressure to accumulate more skill points, but no matter how many you get, you always have a 5% chance of succeeding and a 5% chance of catastrophic failure. (A "natural" 20 always wins, and a "natural" 1 always botches.) So you're constantly in an arms race to get a bigger bonus than the difficulty.

Lots of things wrong with that.

Rolling multiple dice helps even out the odds. When the dice are additive, you get a nice bell curve to the expected outcomes, rather than a straight line. It's far more likely you are going to roll a 9, 10, or 11 when you roll 3d6 than it is likely that you will roll a 3 or an 18. You move from that 5% chance to around 1 in 216. But the problem with bounds still exists. Depending on the game, of course, difficulties can range up to insanely hard numbers, and the only way to get better is to roll that perfect 1 in 216, or to accumulate a ton of skill points.

"Exploding dice" attempt to make this better. When you roll the highest value for that die, you re-roll and add the new result to the old one. So any value is theorhetically possible, but the odds of beating, say, a 36 on a d10 are 1 in 500. Some systems limit the "explosive" effect to just one (called the "wild die") but the effect is the same. This is a leap and a bound better than the linear d20 "automatic success on a 20" system if you want some realism, and it keeps power-gamers in better check sometimes.

But there are other games out there. Amber's dice-less mechanic works on cost. Anything can be achieved through strategy and trade-offs. The greater the effect, the greater the toll to pay. Zorcerer of Zo has a similar mechanic of cost, as you take damage to your skills and abilities until you can atone for your failures.

Deliria works on a (slightly modified) deck of cards, that feels like playing with a d50, but they define failure as "not quite achieving the goal" rather than having zero affect. On top of that, the deck of cards isn't re-shuffled until you hit a King, so you can get a feel for what has come and what is yet to come.

Sanguine's systems (Usagi Yojimbo, Jadeclaw, Ironclaw, Albedo) bound the possible outcomes to just 12 values. No matter what dice you are rolling, you will never achieve a result lower than 1 or higher than 12. Abilities are not numbers, but dice. (A d8 in Body, for instance.) Difficultues are dice types as well (Average being 2d6, Impossible being 4d12.) Any test you set out to do involves you rolling all your appropriate dice against the difficulty. Only the highest die is important. If you rolled 2d8 d6, and your results were 4, 2, and 5, then only the 5 is compared. You want to roll bigger dice (so you can achieve higher results) and more dice (so there's less chance you get a low result). These systems keep skilled characters from botching nearly as often, but they still allow for failure at higher levels, and for success at lower levels.

I try to match the core mechanic to the story. If the characters are hopelessly doomed, then I go with a d20 and make the difficulties too hard. If they need a glimmer of hope, then we need a system with an "exploding" die. If I want a mechanic that won't get in the way of the story, I do with Deliria or Spirit of the Century. If I want something fantastic that feels like a story and not a hack and slash, time to get out Jadeclaw.

You can avoid d20 without taking the "I just don't like WotC" approach. I have for years and I've never been happier. The mechanic you chose will limit how the players act and it will limit your options at the table. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something.

2007-08-09 23:27:24

My God! I haven't read this much nonsense ever.

Let me establish something here: There are people who NEED to know every detail about the outcome of every single action performed. There are people who just want to roleplay.

Just play the system YOU like the most and let other people do the same!

(whew!) sorry, I DID read all the stuff back there and my head was spinning well before I even read half of it.

Look people, d20 is a system meant to keep everything under control ( if that's even possible) by making all characters comform to different classes, power levels, etc. and to pit them into a world of mechanical order to avoid several abuses that ocurred on previous editions (that gave birth to power players).

Now, some of you are at odds at this mechanical encyclopedia (yes, endless as it is) and just want be able to roleplay as much as possible.

#1) I've been a DM (yes d20) that have played several sessions without a goddamn die being rolled. The rules have nothing to do with roleplaying. Players and GMs do.

#2) For Christ's sake: You'll never prove that your favorite system is better saying others' faults. The reason Vampire has been praised here is because it lets focus on roleplaying instead of mechanics. Say only that and shut it!

#3) We are the consumers. I know for sure that if there's something I'm not comfortable with, I'll scrap it and make some fixes according to my need. Yeah, I'd like a system faster than d20, but more robust than Vampire. ('Cause this is my taste for RPG's)

If you like that way, it's not how bad X system is. The problem lies in your tastes.

Now, I've heard people would like to play a-la Vampire, without being a blood-sucker.

Tinker your way out of it. after all the system is simple enough to apply it on us poor mortals.

Anyway, I've come to understand that the better you are as a GM, the less problem you'll have using any system. Take what you need from a game and leave the rest behind you. I bet that if one thousand people did that, there would be 1000 different systems... (hey! I'm just posting! Don't shoot!)

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