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17 April 2013 @ 09:23 pm
Dungeons & Design 1: Why?  

That's the question, isn't it? I mean, in addition to the main D&D editions and Pathfinder, there's a ton of retroclones out there. There's the grandfather of them all, OSRIC, there's Swords and Wizardry, there's "what if" versions like Adventures Dark and Deep (get it? get it?), tweaked versions like Blood and Treasure, or big departures like the point-buy Wayfarers. With all that available, why do I want to make my own fantasy heartbreaker?

Well, part of the reason I eventually dropped D&D and left for other systems is that I love stuff like unified mechanics, point-buy systems, a separation between character and player skill, and a complete lack of class and levels. I also love tactical combat, gritty injury and wounds, low magic, meaningful choices, and mechanics robust enough to be interacted with during play. Everything I listed, and that I know of that's D&D or d20-esque, fails on one or more of those accounts. Most of the retroclones deliberately involve very light mechanics. Swords and Wizardry, for example, is a clone of OD&D, and that fails everything in that first list I put there right away.

So, why don't I just modify 3.5 or Pathfinder and make it all point-buy? Well...here's the problem. When D&D 3.0 was designed, it was baked with the concept of system mastery--i.e., that it was possible to make a better character by knowing what to take, and that some choices were "traps" that were deliberately worse than others. Therefore, taking some feats made one a better player than taking other feats. To pick two examples, compare Toughness, which gives you a one-time +3 HP bonus, to Improved Initiative, which gives you a +4 bonus every time you have to fight anything. I briefly considered just using a uniform point-buy for adapted 3.5 based on the SRD, but I'd have to go through and re-write, re-cost, or just eliminate a bunch of the feats anyway, so I may as well take inspiration from them and from Wayfarers and write my own system.

I don't want to just use Wayfarers, even though there's a lot of other neat stuff in it, because it fails the low magic and gritty tests. Especially low magic--it is, in its own way, even worse than D&D3.5 for LFQW, because it's a point-buy system that doesn't charge wizards to learn their spells. They do have to pay a lot to learn new spell levels, or to learn how to cast spells in the first place, but on the other hand, warriors have to pay to learn how to disarm or stun or use whirlwind attack individually with each weapon group, so I'm pretty sure wizards come out ahead, especially since they're still on the standard D&D wizard paradigm where their power level caps at "do anything."

Social skills are also a huge thing for me. I really don't like the approach which is rather uncharitably (though accurately, in my opinion) described as "Mother May I?" or less flammably, "convince the DM, not the character." On the other hand, the listed rules for the Diplomacy skill in 3.x lead to utterly ludicrous outcomes when the character has a high enough skill--like, "convince the king to give you his kingdom" outcomes. Now, there are real con artists like Frank Abagnale, so that kind of thing should obviously be possible, but typically, people are going to dig their heels in, and convincing people is a lot more about convincing them that the social cost of agreeing with you is less than that of continuing to disagree.

So, yeah. I want a point-buy D&D with tactical combat, where wizards are lower powered, fighters have interesting options out the gate, social skills are well-regulated and useful, there aren't trap choices, and there are plenty of mechanical ways to interact with the system. So does everyone, I know, but I'll lay out my thoughts in future posts and we'll see how I do.

Edit: I should add, the reason why I don't just play Runequest is that I hate percentile systems.

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