Monday, October 24, 2011

Unexpected revelation

I'm actually getting fairly far into my design and so wanted to transition back into posting some discussions about abstract topics. We'll get to the more concrete stuff eventually....

Some incredibly brief background
  1. I enjoy most of 4e but I really miss 3e style multiclassing. I had a good idea on how I could overlay multiclassing onto 4e and keep most of it intact, but a few hiccups and general ambition pushed the redesign a bit farther.
  2. Eventually, it went far enough that it wouldn't overlay 4e very well and I realized a lot of new content (i.e. powers) would have to be produced. If that was the case, might as well slaughter a few sacred cows....
  3. The changes I made were pretty cosmetic in the grand scheme of things (it was still very much a D&D-esque system) and it was serving my basic design goals.
  4. Then the unexpected revelation hit. It bummed me out. It led me to a redesign. 
The unexpected revelation
One of my design goals was to have a really robust mathematical underpinning to the game so that the foundation would be stable enough to handle just about anything people wanted to introduce. Make it stable, and they can shake it as much as they want! It was great in principle, but it turned out boring in practice. The decisions and tradeoffs ended up feeling artificial. They were really well balanced, could be easily interchanged, and were infinitely versatile, but they were also basically all the same.

I eventually realized that this was the same issue I have with 4e, just expressed differently. In 4e, if you assign your 20 to dexterity you make sure to attack with dex and are +5 attack and +5 damage and increase your AC by 5. If you assign it to strength, you are +5 attack and +5 damage and wear Chainmail. You sort of end up the same with only cosmetic differences. Even worse, 4e probably did it better than me.

Now, I don't want to be too critical. To some extent, you need all characters to have around the same attack bonus and the same defense bonuses or else the dice don't cooperate and the game breaks down. But when you build a system on outrageously robust math (like 4e and like I was trying to do), it is really easy to see through the cosmetics and becomes bored.

The new path
On my redesign, I sort of just let the game go wherever looked like interesting ground. I think it is still very much in the spirit of D&D, but it is no longer strictly a D&D clone. I really have no idea if people will like it or if it would even be fun to play since I'm not there yet.

One of the things that I think is really neat, though, is that I made the math even simpler and the decisions you make even cleaner, but clouded some of the outcome certainty. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense out of context but it should become clearer over time. So far it has been pretty enjoyable to work on and it feels like it will be quick and punchy in play. Regardless, it certainly doesn't feel boring.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A modest (stat) proposal

I got into a debate over abilities in 4e and my continued opposition to the drive of 4e to consolidate in one (or a few) abilities. The output of the debate was to try a carrot approach instead of a stick and see where that gets us.

The following would probably find its home under the "1. Ability Scores" section of Leveling Up in the PHB.

Ability scores
There are two types of ability increases: heroic and paragon. A heroic ability increase can increase an ability score to a maximum of 18 and a paragon ability score can increase an ability score to any value. Two heroic ability increases can be combined to gain a single paragon increase and a single paragon increase can be traded for two heroic.

At 4th and 8th level, gain two heroic ability increases.
At 14th and 18th, gain a heroic and a paragon ability increase.
At 24th and 28th, gain two paragon ability increases.
At 11th and 21st level, increase all ability scores by 1 regardless of score.

The results
Depending on your game or your goals, you could adjust the limit of the heroic ability increase to taste. The impact would be that a player who wanted to focus on a single ability would be able to without interruption but would be rewarded if they were willing to split paragon increases up and focus on lower abilities. This would make the character more versatile overall (one of my goals) without mandating or foreclosing the "all in one stat" approach.