Thursday, November 19, 2009

On Systems and Skills

So lately I've been jotting down notes for a new setting and discussing dice rollers for a Wave game with potential players and generally doing the things one does when one has a mind to run a game. I won't be able to really get it rolling for a few weeks at least -- no time until after finals -- but I've been thinking about it regularly and it's starting to sound like a viable idea.

The thing that I'm currently hung up on, besides matters of time, is system. I did something unusual, for me, and started sketching out a setting system-less, (Took a page out of Trollmyth's notes and started with themes, in fact.) and while I'm pleased with the results so far it means I still need to figure out the mechanical side.

While I haven't gotten quite down to the level of what the player characters look like and do, I know I'm going to need at least some kind of jedi-knight analogue, a mutation system, and some way to handle magical tattoos. I'm also considering a cyberpunk-ish or otherwise somewhat post-modern tech level. So Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord, which otherwise are my go-to systems right now, aren't a completely natural fit. I can crib Mutant Future's mutation system, but I'd also kind of like something that's more forgiving of acquiring them in play, in addition to your existing class/race. And I might be able to make clerics work as the jedi-guys, but depending on where I go with those I might need to make a full new class (which is something I've wanted to do for a while, so that wouldn't be too bad) and then I'd need to figure out what else to do with clerics, and healing in general.

But LL and S&W are my go-to systems for a reason. Right now, they do everything I want out of a system and nothing I don't: fast, deadly combat, magic with for interpretation and additions, a save system, and a couple of other odds and ends. None of the other systems I've used before or have the books for quite fit that bill; I was considering new World of Darkness for a while, but discarded it before I really got serious about the setting. I don't have any use for most of its skill system as implemented (in particular the social stuff; while I can understand the arguments for mechanical supports for certain kinds of characters, with the way I've been playing lately those skills would just get in the way) and I'm similarly suspicious about how the morality system would interface with the kinds of gaming I've recently gotten used to. While I still want to try Vampire, Mage, and all their ilk at some point, that game will have to wait.

One system that has caught my eye, however, has been BRP. I've been looking for an excuse to pick up that book and take it for a spin ever since sirlarkins started posting about BRP, and it has a reputed flexibility that appeals to me: I suspect it would be fairly easy to tweak its character power subsystems to support the character types I have in mind. It does have a lot of dependence on skills, but I'd feel more comfortable ignoring or downplaying certain parts of that system if it didn't mean tampering with some platonic grid of ability scores, and it might do me some good to have a skill system to mess with again. I've gotten perhaps too suspicious of them lately.


  1. BRP is probably a good choice for what you're looking for. At its core it's a fairly simple system, with options for more detail in specific areas (if you want), and it's fairly tweak-able, overall.

  2. You might also look at Blue Rose or True20. While they also have a skill system, the "please kit-bash me" vibe of True20 invites you to toss stuff you don't want, and its skeleton is d20.

    When I was with Doom & Tea Parties about where you are with whatever this new campaign is, it was going to be True20. I decided not to use True20 primarily because Mr. Maliszewski had convinced me to take another look Moldvay/Cook D&D, and because if I really wanted to go where I was thinking about going, it would have required building a magic system from scratch, and I felt I didn't have the time to do that well.

  3. Oh, and while I'm blabbing, yes, I heartily agree with ditching Old School D&D and it's clones if you want something cyber-punkish or post-apocalyptic or trans-humanish. My biggest frustration with the game is its inability to gracefully handle missile weapons. If you insist on 10 second or, even worse, 1 minute rounds to combat, that either should allow you to empty entire quivers/clips of ammo in one or two rounds. Trying to graft that reality onto D&D causes all sorts of problems, and makes missile weapons insanely powerful. Which is why you can only fire a single arrow every 10 seconds (and the in-game excuse is because it's assumed you're firing into the swirling mess of melee, and that's just how many shots you can manage to line up in that much time.)

  4. Hero System is flexible enough to handle almost any genre (and they've got the campaign books to prove it). I've used it for a superhero game for 25 years and over the time have added magic, fantasy, and giant Mech elements to my campaign using ideas from various supplements. Might be a bit more complex than most Old School systems, but I'm happy with it.

  5. I am having the same problem right now. I am working on a steampunk/horror campaign and I just can't decide what system to use. I may finally have to create my own system, which might be fun.

  6. Savage Worlds may be what you're looking for. Fast, furious, fun...easy to hack, and cheap!

  7. Shadowrun 2.

    Spell drain should be (Force)X instead of (Force halved)X. This cuts down on the power of Magicians so they're usable.

    Melee weapons should use (1/2 STR)X instead of (STR)X. This lets people play Troll Physical Adepts who don't immediately kill everything.

    Use the Edges and Flaws from one of the sourcebooks, I forget which, to simulate mutations.

    Your jedi kind of dude is a special kind of adept. Not hard to figure out.

    System handles automatic gunfire decently, vehicles cursorily but sufficiently, and still leaves room for people who want to specialize in melee or magic or computers.

    And actually, unless you want Car Wars level vehicular rules it does a fine job at that.

    Let people inscribe magical tattoos with various powers up to the limit of their Essence. Installing cyberware reduces Essence. So you can get some of both but you can't max out either.

  8. Odyssey -- after playing Savage Worlds heavily for the last six months; I can't recommend it high enough. Out of the box it has a great system for mitigating social interactions - without much of an impact on speed. Seems like it would be a good choice - and probably would work great in a text based game. Any game that doesn't require miniatures (sure SW is supposed to played with miniatures, but we never use them) seems like it would work for a Wave game.

    Oh.. and as far as cyber punk... there are a couple of Savage Worlds / Shadowrun conversions and, over on, I believe there's a SciFi/Cyberpunk toolkit for SW.