Those people who play with me soon realise that I have an obsession about the rules. Not in the sense that I am a stickler for the published rules, or that I know all of them inside out and have every single rule book going. Pretty much the opposite, in fact. I like games where the rules are easy to use and fade into the background – rules give the game structure, but the game should be dominated by role-playing and storytelling, rather than the minutiae of rules and rolls. That is one of the reasons why D20 works for me as a rule set – it a nice straightforward mechanic (Roll a D20 and add your modifier) that allows a Player to Role Play the event – especially in an online environment. For example …
“George ducks down behind his shield as he advances on the dragon, hoping it will provide some protection from the monster’s fiery breath. Then, peeking around the side, he swings his longsword towards the dragon’s neck. ” (OOC rolled D20+11 to hit – total 13. Whoops.)
“Brianna teeters on the edge of the ledge as she tries to dodge the axe, then a loose stone dislodges under her foot and for a moment she hangs there staring at the ground thirty feet below her …. Then, somehow, she manages to throw herself backwards, flicking herself onto the roof of the tower again. Relief floods through her, until she turns to see the half-orc raising his axe again.” (OOC Reflex save. Rolled d20 +14 = 34! Yay!)
Note for people that DM me: I wish I could remember to write like that all the time. 😛 Few people write like that every time – but I love it when I do see a post like that. It works particularly well when players know what they need to roll to succeed – as they often do in the later stages of a battle.
However, the rules also define the basic style and structure of the game. Chivalry and Sorcery has a very different feel to Runequest, which feels different to GURPs or D&D. And, much as I love both systems, I can’t imagine playing a medieval fantasy game using the rules that came with the original Marvel Superheroes or Classic Traveller.
And that is how I finished up playing Dungeons and Dragons based games, rather than other systems. I quite liked the feel of the original rules, Tolkienesqe, mythological overtones – and the Monk thrown in for good measure! Flexible enough you could build your own worlds and cultures with it if you wanted to. There were lots of different settings, of course, but none of the guys I played with really invested in any of them – so we played very much within the original rules and maintained the feel of the game. Actually, I probably have a few hundred pounds worth of AD&D books – but they were always addition reference books, something to browse through at leisure and pick out one or two bits to help personalise a character.
Then came the 3rd ed – it took me a while to move to it – but I did eventually, thanks to playing Neverwinter Nights of the computer. I am still slightly uncomfortable with a character generation system that encourages complex planned builds – IMO carefully constructed builds might make for very powerful characters, but they often lead to one dimensional, one trick ponies. I like good flexible characters who engage with my world and react to the world. I would rather DM players who are prepared to build their characters on the experiences they get in game, rather than to a plan.
And the internet makes it worse. With easy access to on-line rules sites every single rule that is published becomes available to everyone. Every player can discuss builds with other like-minded players around the world. And some build discussions on the Paizo forums (I have switched to Pathfinder) are incredibly complex and convoluted. Mining skills and feats across a range of publications and settings, skilled builders can build characters that are significantly more powerful than those that anyone else plays. Does that matter, I hear you ask. And the answer is yes – because as a GM I have to manage combats and scenarios that suit all the characters and let all of them play a significant role. If the party has one Uber Character that is significantly more powerful that everyone else – it gets boring quite fast. Well it gets boring fast for everyone else but the player of the Uber Character.
OK. Rant over. I have nothing against that style of play – but it doesn’t suit my style of GMing, so not in my games 🙂 However, it does bring me to the point of this blog entry.
My ‘Stolen Lands’ game on RPoL has been running for about three years and has between 12 and 18 players at any one time. As always there is quite a high level of attrition. Players come along play for a while and decide the game isn’t for them (that’s cool. I do the same thing), real-life happens, and they take a break, or move on to other things. That is life for a long-running game on a play by post site. But it means that I get have to keep going through the “No, you can’t have that” process quite regularly. Ah, and yes – there is lots of guidance about what people can, and can’t, use. But they miss stuff, I miss stuff and then …
So I have been thinking about making a D20 reference website that just covers the rules I allow. That then made me wonder how I could make the rules better for RPoL style play. For example, initiative works differently in Online Play – combats take long enough as it is, but if everyone waited for their initiative before they posted, they would be even longer. In a one post a week game – effects that are calculated over a number of rounds can be a pain – poison, disease, alchemist’s fire, and I am sure there are others. What if we could pull those effects into one round? That would certainly make it easier and less intrusive. I am certain there are others as well …
I wonder ….