Sunday, March 28, 2010

Too Many Systems, Too Many Settings

I'm back today to re-read my New Year's resolutions. It seems I've strayed from the path.

The big two projects of the past couple months (aside from working on my dissertation implementation more than in the past) has been zilch and Caligo.

zilch (which deserves a better name, but stands for "Zach's Implementation Lies Cold & Hoary") is what the domino die mechanic idea turned into. It's a sort of board-game-style dungeon crawling RPG. It's actually pretty sweet. You represent characters with 4 playing cards (one of each suit), roll d6s for skills, use dominoes for an exchange/stance-based combat, track details with poker chips, and use Scrabble tiles to track and cast magic spells.

Yes, I finally have a decent Scrabble-based magic system! This time I started with the ~600 D&D spells and distilled them down to 26 schools/tiles, rather than starting with the noun/verb approach of most rune-based system. Tiles are often still combined to produce the more powerful spells, though.

Anyway, the intention of zilch is to have a lite, "paperless" play style for one-off dungeon crawls or short campaigns.

Caligo (the Latin word for misty darkness) started a week or so ago when I got a free PDF version of World of Darkness from a DriveThruRPG sale. While overall I found WoD to be yet another standard, solid, reliable table-top RPG system, there were a few little rule nuggets that intrigued me. I started putting together ideas from DRYH, QAGS, etc, pulling together a very lite, narrative-focused system for descents into darkness.

As you can see, I've drifted from my goal of "no new threads."

In other news, today I bought a Warhammer Fantasy Grotek and Felix omnibus. These stories are good fun! As I've mentioned before, I often get overwhelmed in the bookstore: so many great stories, so many worlds! How do I play them all? How do I build something better myself?

Upon waking from my nap, I realized I don't have to. As GM, we often rely on pre-packaged adventure scenarios. Why don't I allow myself to expand the use of such aids to include other creative works? There's all these great adventure short stories out there--recently Conan, Elric, and Grotek & Felix for me. What's wrong with "borrowing" those? Or maybe blending a couple together? Roleplaying is not a public presentation; it's a private, intimate sharing of tales. If my player's haven't read the stories themselves, the ideas are new to them.

I know this is certainly not a new insight. In fact, I'm sure I've read it a number of times in DM advice chapters: take ideas from your favorite shows or books! But I guess today I was ready for it, open to the idea that I am really only obligated to provide a fun afternoon for myself and my player(s), not produce a whole new creative vision for the world.

And this insight spills over into the rule design too. I'm getting overwhelmed here too. There are so many systems out there when you look past the handful of large publishers. And each one has some novel, intriguing aspect to offer. Yet there is no way to combine all these little gems, because each works because of it's home system. Lately I've been coming to appreciate even the advantages of different die mechanics. So many cool things are possible with only certain die mechanics; yet, each also has its drawbacks. But, in the end, you have to pick only one of them and play it.

It seems we all want, to some varying extent, to produce our own system: to tweak, to touch, to make the rules we play by our own. But, taken to excess (as I am always wont to do), this becomes divisive, producing a babel of systems so that players cannot move from game to game because each requires its own system. Obviously, there is a balance here. There must always be a bazaar of ideas and system options available; but it can be hard to decide to work towards system harmony and synthesis, rather than just throwing out one more discordant voice.

So, once more, I come here to put in writing: I need to focus my efforts on what I already have going!