I know we all like to complain about the game design of our “favorites” but I’m not here to downplay anyone else’s work… I’m here to sympathize. Working out the specifics of a game is maddening.
Ever since I moved away from supporting the Adventurer Conqueror King System, I’ve had this hole in my life where old school D&D style play is concerned. I’ve looked at some of the others out there (okay, a LOT of the others) and I haven’t found any that really suit what I’m looking for. So I started tinkering with my own ideas a little bit. Maybe take some old design I’d worked on with Ryllia, mix it with all that I’ve learned since then, and work to apply it to a relatively low-magic, human-centric OSR-style game.
It only took me one afternoon to decide that I hated everyone and was probably going to have to throw my computer out a window and burn down a village to properly vent my frustration.
Why so serious?
It mainly comes down to trying to create a dice system I’m happy with… No one, in the history of gaming, has actually been happy with base-d20 systems (I’m sure I’m wrong, but I haven’t met those people). And looking at ideas like 2d6, 3d6, or even 2d10 introduces all kinds of other concerns about curves, etc.
But it’s not even that. It’s something deeper. Something that keeps me awake at night when I think about the games I play and what happens in the lives of ordinary people in those worlds. It’s about the guy who repairs your dryer.
Difficulty and Escalation are the two main issues. In order to have a system where heroes can grow and advance they have to be able to improve mechanically. Their “stats” have to get better.
But this is a real issue for me. Because I want difficulties to track in such a way that the guy who repairs your dryer – the baseline NPC with an appropriate professional skill – has a better than average chance of actually succeeding at fixing the dryer. Or at least correctly diagnosing the problem.
The problem becomes though – unless you go the route of Pathfinder and D&D where difficulties artificially scale along with PC growth – that you run the risk of having PCs who are vastly outclassing everyone else in the world to the point where they don’t really care about difficulties and just breeze through challenges. Restrict the range too much though and everything gets sorta muddy and just looks the same.
Now, the dryer guy… He might be at your house for hours. And making time a factor can certainly be interesting. I mean, even the professional is going to check for the simple stuff first, then run a few tests, then poke around in the innards of the machine, etc.
Time is a tricky beast in RPGs though. When it matters, it really matters, but when it doesn’t matter? It really doesn’t matter. So using time as a factor of difficulty, while it seems like a good solution, it really isn’t. Overall, wanting a pretty bounded range of capability seems incompatible with PC advancement in a world where the “norms” should also be competent.
Or maybe I just care too much about making sure that my dryer gets fixed?