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What an RPG should be: An Opinion

   Posted by: Avaril   in RPG

Every system and edition has its strength and weaknesses.  In particular, D&D 3.x was good at individual optimization, and 4e is good at group optimization.  But, it still seems that there is room to better simulate what is possible in real life, without getting bogged down in details, tables, and dice rolls.

So, Wolfgod and I came up with a few things we would eventually like to see in a game system.  These may be eventually made into a system; we’d have to hash out some statistics first.  For now, it is just a pipe dream.  Here’s a smattering of our ideas:

Levels?  Classes? - Why are we still dealing with the Level/Class construct?  We have neither in real life, so why do we need it in our games?  We advocate a XP spending system something like what GW’s Dark Heresy uses..  It would look something like this:

50 XP buys one of the following:

  • 2 skill points
  • D6 HP

100 XP buys one of the following:

  • One Feat
  • D8 HP
  • 1 Ranger/Bard/Paladin spell/day

200 XP buys one of the following:

  • D10 HP
  • 1 Special Ability (Rage, etc)
  • 1 Cleric/Druid spell/day
  • 1 Point of Base Save

300 XP buys one of the following:

  • D12 HP
  • 1 Wizard Spell/day
  • 1 point of Base Attack

This would allow you to build whatever you need to.  It seems that it may be a good idea to require a feat (or a few feats) before you could buy either wizard spells or cleric/druid spells, just to keep players from picking whatever spells are the most powerful and completely robbing themselves of any “flavor”.  It’s hard to cast spells, it would take a lot of preparation.

This system better emulates real life, where you might either dabble a little in this and that, or you may concentrate on one thing to do it well.  There’s no reason why a wizard or cleric needs to be unskilled in thieving skills, for example.

I think this would require some 4e culling of skills, so you’re not spending the same amount on useful skills like ‘Spot’ or ‘Hide’ as you are for ‘Knowledge: Geography’ or ‘Rope Use’.

This also prevents the sudden increase in power that a ‘level’ system uses.  Every time your character adventures, they gain XP  which they spend at the end of a session or during downtime in the session to get better.  Moreover, it removes all the restrictions of a ‘Class’ - if you want a spellcaster who is extremely perceptive or a thief who has no social skills, you only have to buy what your character gets good at.

Magic should be malleable - So far, in D&D, we’ve really only seen magic as a fully-formed entity.  Spells do what they do, and not much else.  In reality (or, rather, ‘in fantasy’), magic should be scale-able.  What would this look like?  Well, for starters, there is no fireball.

For example, A caster might learn a basic Fire spell.  When first learned, it can light candles or kindling or make a small light.  Learning this would take a Feat or something (probably a Feat which depends on several others, in order to make casting arcane magic challenging).  Once learned, more Feats would allow expanded range and damage - for example, the basic Force magic line would allow you to project the fire away from you, and a third area of magic (Air for example) would allow you to cause the Fire spell to ‘bloom’.  Now you can throw a ‘fireball’ - but it took a series of feats/spell areas in order to project that kind of power.  Want to thow lightning?  Different area of specialization.

Some example fields of study might be elemental (fire, air, water, ice, electricity), and some may be physical (force, teleport).  These can be combined for many effects.

Magic Systems - Magic comes from many different sources.  These include the divine systems, which draw from a deity or nature itself, and the arcane systems, which draw from mystical forces of the world around us.  It may also be useful to include a power source of the casters’ energy itself, for inexperienced or ‘wild’ casters who haven’t mastered the arcane power sources.

Years ago, we played a homebrew Cyberpunk game using the wounds/vitality system.  The catch with being a caster in this game was that it took vitality points to cast (magic wears you out physically).  When you were out of vitality points, you could keep casting, but it cost wounds.  It was a particularly interesting visual; casters would get exhausted from casting, and eventually wounds would open up on them from the extreme amount of force channeled through their bodies.

Right now these ideas are more theory than system - but it would allow maximum customization of characters and flexibility to the players.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, October 16th, 2008 at 10:25 am and is filed under RPG. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

7 comments so far


First of all good article.

Why do we need levels and classes?
I see this brought up a lot, normally in references to computer RPG’s where classes have been abandoned. To see this actually being used, check out Oblivion.

Classes give players a useful starting point for building a character. Especially new players. Everybody understands what a fighter is, what a wizard is, etc. It is the use of stereotypes that make the game easy to pick and play. Classes are also easy to balance and their limitations easily accepted, like their strengths are.

Classes are useful for *roleplaying* too. When you start with a totally blank canvas, you put a lot of onus on the player to come up with how his character works. Classes give him a very definite, defined starting point as classes are essentially stereo types.

The downside to not having classes is that although it opens up characters to being made that are very different from each other, you remove the player incentive of playing something *very* different - in a different style - to a previous character. While nothing really prevents a player from trying anything in a classess system, they likely will not try anything as radically different as a mage to a fighter when playing in a class system. By this I mean that the limitaitons of playing a mage are accepted when choosing the class; in a classless system, the player will try to minimise any penalty from skill selection (in fact - there may not even be any penalties!).

To sum up, classes are good as they give new (and old) players variety and a starting point for kicking the game off. If you like agonising over skill choices then classes probably aren’t for you; but if you just want to roll a few dice and start playing - they really are.

October 19th, 2008 at 2:21 am

Excellent point. I would propose to use classes as a social guideline, however; something along the lines of ‘Aruthien Duellists are famous sword-fighters; to qualify as one of their members you must have X, Y, and 10 ranks of Z’. That might give a player a template to shoot for without too much confinement.

October 19th, 2008 at 7:02 am

That could indeed be a good compromise for a skills based system.

October 19th, 2008 at 3:14 pm

You may want to check out the new World of Darkness Mage magic system. It’s close-ish to what you described.

October 20th, 2008 at 4:52 am

Nice post! I’ve often toyed with the idea of a classless RPG - but my players have been resistant. Now with 4E D&D, it seems easier than ever to implement. Not to plug myself here, but I wrote about this same issue back in July and I thought the post and comments people left might also be germane to this conversation.

Thank you for the post - you’ve stirred this issue up once again for me. =D

October 21st, 2008 at 4:06 am

Why bother making a hodge-podge by trying to convert a class/level system into a classless system. Why not simply use one of dozens of classless systems already on the market.

For example:
GURPS Fantasy/Magic
Fantasy HERO

October 21st, 2008 at 10:43 pm

When last we played Warhammer Role Play I really enjoyed the class advancement system. I could see a modified version of that being a great way to customize a character. However, I could also see it becoming a very complex set of skills and feats for the wizard or mage type.

Complex enough that a DBase would better suit the skill selection.

Think of it as a Skill “wizard” (bad pun I know) but it would ask you basic questions or allow you to select the class you are looking for as a template. One template you would offer would be “Complete Custom” or something like that…

Others would be like Ranger with x skills and ranks, another might be scout, like ranger but with fewer pre-reqs. etc…

Play testing and getting balance would also be a very long process.

But that could be part of the fun too I suppose.

November 25th, 2008 at 8:32 am

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