Author Topic: The Perfect Role Playing Game  (Read 21330 times)

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khoras2

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The Perfect Role Playing Game
« on: August 13, 2005, 12:08:41 AM »
The Perfect Role Playing Game or What's Wrong with 2nd Edition AD&D

[Note: This is an old article that I wrote prior to the release of version 3.0 and the d20 system].

I am on a quest. To find (or create) the perfect role playing game...

I have played AD&D for almost two decades. And although I love the game, I have to admit that there are some serious design flaws in its fundamental structure. Most players I have met agree with me. The game is flawed, but itís the game we all love and grew up with and so we just work around the holes. We have all seen the endless parade of supplements to the game such as the Wilderness Survival Guide, Unearthed Arcana, the Complete Series, and a few million DRAGON Magazine articles. Lots of these supplements contain valuable additions to the game and new material. However, a large chunk of it is simple fixes and patches for a system that's never really worked that smoothly. Itís just too easy to poke fun at AD&D. I can think of a few rules that make no sense and situations that contradict reality. Itís time we stopped putting patches on top of patches and just rewrite the core rules.

Iíve looked at other game systems too. Some games are meant to be quirky and fun and donít even try for realism (Paranoia). Some games are so concerned with sticking with the movie or TV series that spawned them, that they willingly sacrifice realism and playability (all the Trek stuff, Star Wars, etc.).

Why not have one realistic gaming system that covers all genres? A game system that follows reality. Well, Steve Jackson tried that with GURPS. And I have to admit that GURPS is the closest thing we have to a universal gaming system that actually works. The only problem I have with GURPS is that it's a bit too complex. Especially for neophyte gamers. I like GURPS a lot and it has some great ideas. It just needs to be simplified and streamlined a bit. Also, I would love to see GURPS use a base 10 system (d10's and d100's) rather than d6. Then I think GURPS would be the "perfect role playing game".

Sword swinging fantasy is by far the most popular genre. Science fiction is the next most popular. However, in truth, genres really shouldnít matter. All role playing systems are trying to do the same thing Ė to quantify and reflect the happenings of reality. That is, real people in real situations. Of course, you might say, none of this is real. My wizard is fictional. My magic broad sword is fictional. Well, of course theyíre fictional... but within the context of suspension of disbelief, we allow ourselves to believe that they are real. When you are role playing, the events are supposed to be real with real consequences. Anyway, the point is that a gaming system should be realistic. If it can happen in reality, it should be covered by the game.

I would like to see Dungeons and Dragons become that kind of a game. A game that is real enough and flexible enough to handle any situation, any circumstance with ease. If a starship were to land in front of your party of adventurers, you should be able to get embroiled in a battle with laser wielding aliens and not miss a beat. The system should be able to keep up with the characters, no matter what they do.



This said, Iíd like to look at a few of the core problems in AD&D. Specifically, this is what I think is wrong with AD&D and could be greatly improved.

  • The first thing is the concept of character classes and their skills. AD&D should be a skills based game. Period. The idea of character classes and character templates that are used in some games is a bit limiting and unrealistic, especially if the game focuses on character classes. Basing the game on character skills is a much better way to do it. This is probably the single biggest improvement that could be done in the game. In real life, people may refer to themselves as accountants, engineers, pilots. But those are just titles. Beneath them is a vast array of skills. Some accountants might be great gardeners. Some engineers might be terrible at math. Some pilots might also have an extraordinary flair for music. The point is, we are what we can do. Everything you do every day is you using a skill.
  • Situational Modifiers. The second most important part. Everything in the game should be subject to situational modifiers. That is, some things are harder (or easier) to do depending on the situation. Itís very hard to do delicate work (like picking a lock) during an earthquake or when you are being attacked. Anytime you perform a skill check (that is, do almost anything) you could be subject to one or more situational modifiers. Every situation is unique and will be different. Situational modifiers should make sense and be controlled by the Game Master. AD&D already has situational modifiers and does a half way decent job with them. It should just be written up a bit better and made a more fundamental part of the game.
  • Talents should be included as a compliment to skills. Regardless of training, not everyone is born equal. Some people have a natural talent for some skills. Even before formal training. Either talents should be a complete and separate system that works with the skills system or talents should just be incorporated into the skills system from the start. Either way, the concept of talents should be acknowledged and accounted for.
  • Perception should be included. It should be a skill. I believe there was a Perception Skill article in Dragon Magazine a while back. I even once met the guy who wrote it. Anyway, perception should not be an "add-on". It should be fairly important in the game. Think about it. How many encounters and battles start off with a characters noticing (or failing to notice) something around them? Lots of them. Perception comes into play all the time. I think perception should be fundamental to the character. Like Strength or Wisdom, everybody should have a score listed in it.
  • Throw out alignment. Itís ridiculous to try to categorize everything as evil or good, lawful or chaotic. This is a pointless system. The world and everything in it (people, animals, intelligent magic swords, whatever) exist in shades of grey Ė millions of shades of grey. Not nine strict categories.
  • Saving throws, if you think about it, are basically just luck rolls. Why donít we just call it luck? And why are they subdivided into exactly five meaningless and arbitrary categories? I have read and reread the saving throw sections in the book. This seems to be a carryover from earlier days. I think it would be better to have one luck roll that covers all circumstances. This would even be backwards compatible. Any old module that calls for a saving throw would get a luck roll instead. In either case, saving throws as they are now are a bit arbitrary and vague. I'd like to see some new system to replace the old. Something that makes a bit more sense.
  • A point based spell system. This one is so obvious that there are literally dozens of variations and systems that do just this. Just about every dungeon master worth his DM screen has cooked up some sort of spell point system. I have always hated the rule that states that mages must pre-memorize their spells each morning. In effect, trying to outguess the Dungeon Master. This isnít the way skills work. It has no basis in reality. I have seen people try to defend this. I have read very awkward explanations. But it just doesnít make sense and it isnít necessary. Magic is a skill. You learn it. Once you have mastered a spell, it is not necessary to relearn the spell every morning. You donít magically forget a spell as soon as youíve cast it. A mage should be able to cast any spells in his arsenal as he needs them. If he fires a magic missile spell and then decides he should cast another one, he should be able to. A mage might want to study his spell books each morning to keep the knowledge in his head, but if he lost his books, I would still allow him to cast the spells he knows without penalty for a few days or weeks. Slowly, errors would begin to creep into his casting as his memory becomes faulty and he starts to forget minor details. And of course, there are limits to spell casting. A mage who has learned the fireball spell should not be allowed to fire them off endlessly. Spell casting is taxing. It tires the mage. Older, more experienced mages can muster more power and cast spells with less strain. So they would be able to cast more spells and more powerful ones than a young, inexperienced mage. Thatís where the spell point system comes in.
  • Experience points are a good idea in that we should keep track of skill improvement and general character development. However, experience points should be awarded for good role playing, use of character skills and team cooperation. They should NOT be handed out just for slaughtering creatures and amassing wealth. I do not believe that each creature should have a specific number of experience points associated with it that you get if you kill it. A strict interpretation of the experience point rules in AD&D would allow a thief to wander into the jungle, slaughter a herd of elephants and then go up one level and get better at picking locks. In reality, practice makes perfect. A skill should only be improved if it was actually used.
  • The hit point system needs to be improved. The definition of hit points is too vague. Can a 12th level human fighter really be physically tougher than a warhorse? After all, he is still just a man. In AD&D, hit points are supposed to be a vague approximation of the wellness of a fighter. Rather than counting every little nick and cut, a fighterís hit points go down with every dodge and parry and blow. As it stands, a low level character is not very skilled at combat and his hit points refer mostly to physical damage. A high level characterís hit points refer mostly to evasion and fortitude. At least thatís how it is described. Hit points should refer only to actual physical damage. And there should be realistic limits on how many hit points a character can have. Keep it in perspective compared to the physical toughness of real world creatures. There should be another set of "hit points" or some type of system that deals with fatigue and stun damage. These would be used up in general combat (dodging, parrying, evading, etc.)
  • Armor should absorb damage, not just deflect it. AD&D states that armor does not absorb damage. I think that interpretation of armor should be rethought. If you are wearing a solid metal breastplate and someone smacks you in the chest with a baseball bat, the armor will absorb most of the damage. And while weíre on the subject, why does the armor scale go from 10 to Ė10? That scale seems very arbitrary. Letís have a scale that goes from 0 up. Zero would indicate no armor and a higher number would indicate more armor. Let's keep the math as simple as possible in all areas. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify!
  • Character concept should be more important than number crunching. GURPS has an interesting system of bonuses, disadvantages, quirks, flaws and more. This isnít absolutely necessary, but AD&D might benefit from some sort of system like this. Characters need originality and variation, and this would certainly help. We canít have all thieves looking and acting alike.
  • Hereís a radical idea. What if we based the entire game system on a single scale. Perhaps a percentile scale. Every statistic, skill, or other quantified characteristic would be on a scale from 0 to 100. This would lend itself to quick calculation and more precise comparisons. Some scales could be on a 0-10 scale and that would plug right into a percentile system as well.


Since I wrote this article, Wizards of the Coast has released versions 3.0 and 3.5 along with the whole d20 system and everything that goes along with it. What I think of those systems will be the subject of another forum article.

Offline Kristian

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Re: The Perfect Role Playing Game
« Reply #1 on: August 14, 2005, 01:32:34 PM »
I remember reading that article (or something very similar) a long time ago one of the first times I was checking out Khoras.net. It was one of the things that made me want to check out the rest of the site, for some reason.

Personally, I've never really liked DnD. In my opinion the best commercia rpg I've ever tried is Alternity, which is now out of print. It's simple fast, and yet still capable of fullfilling all the needs we've had in our gaming group. The only thing missing is a better combat system, but I'm working on that. The rules we now use are a heavily modified version of Alternity, with Fantasy skill set, Perception as a stat, not a skill under Willpower, and a lot of other modifications. I'm working on a new combat system that's maneuver-based like a mix of Mike Mearl's Iron Heroes and The Book Of Iron Might, both published by Malhavoc Press. Also I'm trying to add some of the aspects of the combat system from The Riddle of Steel, which has, by far, the best combat system of any fantasy rpg ever.
- Kristian

Offline sid6.7

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Re: The Perfect Role Playing Game
« Reply #2 on: August 15, 2005, 11:54:09 PM »
you may laugh but i prefer the 3 original booklets for
traveller RPG...its basic...clean..simple...and generic
you can make fantasy,modern,cowboy type RPG's
with it...

come see Kramxel at  http://cruzan.info/kramxel

khoras2

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Re: The Perfect Role Playing Game
« Reply #3 on: August 16, 2005, 11:09:15 AM »
I remember those old Traveller books. In fact, that was the very first role playing game I ever played. There will also be a place in my heart for Traveller. But for pure game mechanics and structure, I really like GURPS. Very well thought out system. Although I have heard good things about Rune Quest, Riddle of Steel and other RPGs out there that I've never read. So much to look at, so little time!† :)† One of these years, I'm going to have to finally sit down and write my own role playing game.† ;D


Offline Kristian

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Re: The Perfect Role Playing Game
« Reply #4 on: August 17, 2005, 04:10:18 AM »
I never really like GURPS. Basically I think the machanics of the game are okay. But I don't like that whole "I need to be better at archery so I'll make my character ugly"-concept. I know that that's probably not the way it's meant to be played, but it's the way it's written. Or at least it felt like that to me when we played it.

As for The Riddle of Steel... Is has the best combat system I've ever seen. Nothing even comes close, in my opinion. But the rest of the game needs a serious overhaul. The magic and spell system seems like a good idea at first but when you get down to it's just impossible do anything with it. Also, I didn't like the way they make you prioritze at the beginning of character creation. Basically you have the letters A through F (or thereabouts) and you have to place one letter in each of the categories that your character's made of: skills, race, stats, proficiensies and so on. F is bad and A is good, so if you placed your A in stats you'd have a lot of points there, but if you put your F there you don't have as high stats. If you put a low letter in Race you're only allowed to be human, and you prioritze it highly you get to be a faen magician (or something like that). I don't think these areas should influence eachother like that. But the game does have some good ideas. Maybe the second edition will be better  :P
- Kristian

Offline sid6.7

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Re: The Perfect Role Playing Game
« Reply #5 on: August 18, 2005, 09:43:08 PM »
I remember those old Traveller books. In fact, that was the very first role playing game I ever played. There will also be a place in my heart for Traveller. But for pure game mechanics and structure, I really like GURPS. Very well thought out system. Although I have heard good things about Rune Quest, Riddle of Steel and other RPGs out there that I've never read. So much to look at, so little time!† :)† One of these years, I'm going to have to finally sit down and write my own role playing game.† ;D



cool dave, but khoras is so much like an RPG already! i love the generic way you've made it
and i promote that theme in my own world too. i've started a rpg called vsrpg, a clone of
traveller i called it vsrpg "very simple rpg" everything is done with just 1 6 sided die...
give it a try its fun...BUT SLOW...even trying to keep things simple you gotta to try
and cover everything...which can bog you down...but you kow..you've been building
this cool world for a few years now!...BTW did you get my mail donation okay?

come see Kramxel at  http://cruzan.info/kramxel

avisarr

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Re: The Perfect Role Playing Game
« Reply #6 on: August 19, 2005, 12:33:47 AM »
Oh gosh, Yes, I forgot to mention that.Sorry!  I did get that donation. Thank you very much. It was a total surprise. I loved it. Thanks!

It gave me an idea. I am thinking about putting a donation button on the site. I want to keep Khoras free and open for the world. Always. But if any gamers out there feel that Khoras is worth a small donation to cover the costs of keeping it online, then I want to give them that opportunity. So, I think I'm going to provide a simple "Donation" button somewhere. I'll get around to that eventually.


Offline sid6.7

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Re: The Perfect Role Playing Game
« Reply #7 on: August 21, 2005, 05:47:15 PM »
what i look at is does an RPG cover all types of systems or is it just
focused on one...fantasy,sci-fi....etc...i really like the idea of
generic RPG's i tend to avoid even looking at focused ones....

i wanna see a dragon fight a guy with a laser carbine, or a cowboy
lasso a bugbear, or villagers with pitchforks attack a tank...it makes
things a little more interesting...for me....

dont get me wrong i'm playing traveller right now and the campaign
i'm in is very sci-fi...but i tend to gravitate towrds gerneic places...

i dont have alot of rpg experince though maybe my ideas will change
i've only done 3 d&d games, 1 marvel hero game, 1 ringworld game
and 3 traveller...so i'm really a newbie...
come see Kramxel at  http://cruzan.info/kramxel

avisarr

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Re: The Perfect Role Playing Game
« Reply #8 on: August 22, 2005, 02:37:53 PM »
I agree. I also like game systems that are multi-genre. A system should be able to handle dragons, laser carbines, tanks and pitchforks. that's one reason why I kind of like GURPS. Even in sci fi games, you eventually go planetside and then you might be dealing with animals, primitives, locals with pitchforks, etc. So, you need to be able to deal with the low tech stuff even if you're usually running a high tech sci fi game. You can mix just about anything in GURPS.

Offline Kristian

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Re: The Perfect Role Playing Game
« Reply #9 on: August 23, 2005, 05:22:45 AM »
I guess it's more practical for an rpg rules system to be generic than to be focused. Nevertheless (is that really one word?) I tend to go with focused ones, because they've often put more work into the particualer genre than a generic will have. Of course it doesn't hurt if the system can also handle other genres, but in my experience the focused ones tend to be better.

I mean, how many times do you really get a medieval knight against aliens with lasers, or a zombie with a shotgun against an elf? I've never found myself in a situation where I needed the system to be able to tackle a whole different setting than the one we were playing in. And even if it does happen, I can't imagine it's very often. So I'd rather go for more detail. Also, most focused systems do cover all the basics needed to play most genres. Things like sci-fi close combat skills can often be used to cover medieval weapons, psionics can be converted to spells etc. And the other way around (though often with a bit more work).

That said, I realize that many generic rpg systems have very detailed descriptions for a lot of settings (GURPS being one with all the supplements) but generally, in a very overall way, and with exceptions, I like focused ones better.
« Last Edit: August 23, 2005, 05:24:23 AM by Kristian »
- Kristian

Offline sid6.7

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Re: The Perfect Role Playing Game
« Reply #10 on: August 28, 2005, 04:26:38 PM »
your right kristian, you wont find most RPG's where a knights fighting a cowboy......hehehe
i'm just a person with a warped sense of reality... ::) most focused systems really do get some
great detail and cover all aspects of its genre to make them very realistic. I can't remember the
name of it but i had a boxed version of an RPG (1986?) where it just really covered in detail
medieval europe, i cant remember its name but i think it had a castle on the box front. it
showed how to build castles etc..it was almost as if they had actually gone back in time and
were there to get that cool detail.

from what i see at the stores almost 99% of RPG's are focused there are few that are generic
in nature...i have'nt really done GURPS but i've heard it covers alot of genre's, but when you
look at thier supplements they always seem to be SCI-FI...at least around here..

cool!

come see Kramxel at  http://cruzan.info/kramxel

Offline Delbareth

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Re: The Perfect Role Playing Game
« Reply #11 on: September 02, 2005, 05:33:09 AM »
   First of all, I have to say that I'm positively surprised :). I'm not very aware of the RPG world, news, favorite games and things like that. But I was said that beyond Atlantic ocean, D&D was worshipped like a saint game :). And I'm very happy to see I was wrong, because I don't like this game :-\

   About the difference between generic systems and specific system, I agree with what Kristian said. But I found their is other deep problems. A system is always balanced and adjusted in order to obtain a specific game style (more magic, more diplomatic...). For example, if magic is powerful in the rules, it will make a magic-oriented game (obvious). If you want to build a generic system, you will enconter numerous problems of game balance because of what happens in the real life. The game style we wat is not always coherent with the real life. Then you will be obliged to force upon several points and eventuelly your game doesn't look like what you wanted.
   I don't know if I'm clear because it's not clear in my mind :-\. Some examples can help :
It could be fun to have a world where a guy can bought broadsword and rapier. And their isn't a great difference between the sword era and the rapier era. But in the fact, someone with a rapier will win without a doubt again someone with a so heavy weapon. In a few time, everybody (above all, all players) should buy rapiers and your game will not be like you wanted. And problems are more important if you compare some weapons more different (like spears vs tanks). That's why I prefer a system dedicated to a specific technologic/magic/other level. You know what you have, and you can adjust the balance of the game as you wish.
Delbareth
Les MJ ne sont ni sadiques ni cruels, ce sont juste des artistes incompris.

Offline Delbareth

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Re: The Perfect Role Playing Game
« Reply #12 on: September 03, 2005, 04:38:30 AM »
I would like to come back on some specific points of the David's speech.
Globally I agree with him on most of them. I really think that he points out some basic problems of D&D or RPG in general.

I am fondamentally opposed to the XP system. As David said, it allows to improve skills that were not used in the game. I use a system of characters evolution strictly based on the utilisation of a competence (you say "skill" in english?). Each time you have a success in a competence, you "tick a box" (I don't know how to say...) corresponding to this competence. After a certain time (at the end of a travel, an adventure...) you can try to improve each skill. The number of success represent the chance you have to obtain +1 (over 20) in the competence. For example, 5 successes means 5 chances over 20 to increase the skill. If you pass this test, your ticks are erased and you recommence. If you fail, you keep them until the next test (the next scenario). As each competence is treated separatelly, you only improve your skill in the domain you really use. That's the basic system I found in an old French game. It's very simple, but I have never found it in another game, and I have never found a better system in any other game.

Concerning the HP system, I think that the problem comes from the evolution of the HP max with the character level. But this evolution is the basis of the heroic game style. In a lot of games, max HP (or life point, or fatigue point, or...) are constant. If you are skilled, you have more chance to dodge attacks, but if you fail you will be wounded like a beginner. The blade will cut your flesh exactly the same way.

About situationnal modifier, I remember of a ridiculous scene. I played a young boy (8 years old) and I wanted to put an unconscious guy (90 kg) in a wagon. My DM asked me a strengh test with a modifier of -15 (over 100) only. My character wasn't very strong but I was "lucky" and I succeeded. It was completely stupid :-[. He should have given me a modifier of -60 at least. I often ask to my DM to be generous with their situationnal modifier, positive and negatives ones. Some of them are cautious and stay between -30 and +30 (over 100). In my mind, it should rather be -100 (practically impossible to succeed) to +100 (practically impossible to fail).

That was my 2 eurocents   :D
Delbareth
Les MJ ne sont ni sadiques ni cruels, ce sont juste des artistes incompris.

Offline Phendar

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Re: The Perfect Role Playing Game
« Reply #13 on: September 06, 2005, 08:23:40 AM »
I used to have an awesome DM. He was fair, open-minded, clever, and yet precise. He had every action of every citizen in a town laid out, just in case we wanted to visit.

.... ahhh... those were the good 'ole days.

  :-*
"The pen is only mightier than the sword, until I cut off your arm."
-Phendar

avisarr

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Re: The Perfect Role Playing Game
« Reply #14 on: September 06, 2005, 10:57:01 AM »
And for those who don't understand that last post, let me explain. :)

Phendar used to be a player of mine, long ago, back when I lived in Ohio. Those were golden years. :)  The early days of D&D. But since then I've moved out to Seattle, on the other side of the country and Phendar and I don't get to game together anymore.

I miss those early years of gaming.