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10 September 2016 @ 02:38 pm
My Perfect Fantasy RPG  
I have no idea if I'm ever going to actually put any time into this--probably not, considering all the already-written RPGs I want to run games of--but I've been thinking a lot lately about what my perfect fantasy RPG would look like so here are some characteristics it would have:

Dice Pools and Counting Successes
There are plenty of dice pool RPGs, and plenty of fantasy RPGs, but the don't mix all that often. And even when they mix, it's usually roll under like GURPS or roll and sum like Legend of the Five Rings. Other than Exalted, I can't think of that many RPG that's specifically designed as a fantasy game that involves counting successes, and while Exalted has a great setting and the system works fine in other settings with some tinkering, it's not a generic fantasy game at all. D6 Fantasy can be relatively easily modified to count successes, but it doesn't come that way out of the box. Burning Wheel uses counting successes, but I've read bits of it and I don't really want to actually run it. Looking around, there's a few RPGs that do it, but most of them are setting specific and aren't designed for D&D-esque fantasy, which is what I would want.

I don't think this is the objectively superior dice mechanic or anything, I just like it the best.

Broad Attribute Spread
I know Attributes and Skills are essentially arbitrary and there are RPGs without one or the other--OD&D has no skills, the Song of Ice and Fire RPG has no attributes--but I like the breakdown. I like it a bit more differentiated than the traditional D&D list, though.

Of published RPGs, I like Shadowrun 4e's the best--or L5R, because it's essentially the same thing. It's the D&D attributes with Dexterity split in two, one for whole-body movement and one for fine manipulation, and with Perception added. That allows a finer differentiation in combat, with Dexterity to hit, Agility to dodge, Strength to do damage and Constitution to take damage, and a similar split for magical ability, with Perception to hit (this can be substituted for Dexterity for ranged combat too), Intelligence to do damage, Willpower to "dodge," and Constitution to take damage.

The hole here is Charisma. I'd be a little tempted to split it into two stats, something like the Charm and Command that Reign has, but it might also be better to just leave that up to skills. I like the traditional Persuade/Lie/Intimidate/Social Perception skill split for RPGs and I'm not sure it's possible to have a robust set of social rules without PCs ceding over more control over their characters than I like for this kind of game (see all the debates about social skills being mind control in Exalted), so one attribute might be fine. One also helps prevent the tendency to consider social skills the dump stat, since it's easier to invest in compared to other avenues.

Opposed Roll Combat
In general, I like combat with two rolls, one from each of attacker and defender, and everything determined based on that. Letting the defender roll helps the feeling of agency--I've seen plenty of players get annoyed when they feel like attacks just happen to them and there's nothing they can do to respond--and counting successes on each side provides randomness. Then add damage, subtract armor, and there you go.

There are plenty of RPGs that have two rolls, but it tends to be attack and damage with no defender rolls. And then there's oWoD, with attack, defend, damage, and soak, which is just way too much rolling. I do like how my version of Exalted allows a wide range of damage values because rolled damage helps to randomize it downward, but it does take up more time than I like and the only reason I kept it in is because reworking Exalted's system for fixed damage would be far more work than I wanted to put in.

Limited Magic with Specific Themes
My favorite magic system in any RPG is the one in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e. A Bright Wizard is the best choice if you need things blown up, and then can even do some other fire-adjacent activities like inspiring courage, heating food, or healing by cauterizing wounds, but if you need someone to predict the future, cure a disease, conjure up fresh food, or disguise a fugitive with an illusion, you're out of luck. This prevents wizards from being batman and overshadowing mundane characters all the time, and also allows people to pick the kind of wizard they want without always been funneled down specific paths. Players who just want to blast away have a choice, people who prefer support rolls have a choice, magical thieves have a choice, etc.

I also just like the feel it brings to the world when there are different magical orders with different spell sets. One of my favorite parts of designing Warlords of the Mushroom Kingdom has been coming up with different groups of sorcerers like the Auspicious Orators, the Treesingers of Taira, the Bloodspeakers, or the Warlocks of the Circle of Xhamekh, each with their own specialty and reputation. And it makes it easier for the PCs, too, when they can look at a wizard's white hair, blue eyes, the spring in her step, and the way her clothes seem to billow in unseen winds and decide that this is an air elementalist and they need to adjust their tactics accordingly.

I tend to try to adjust the RPGs I have toward these goals, I've found. I added opposed defense rolls in Exalted, I added a Perception attribute to WFRP, and I'm probably going to run an upcoming Cthulhutech game using Shadowrun 4e's system with some modifications. I occasionally think of working on my own game, but my players seem happy with with what we're playing now, so it'd be a lot of effort for not that much return. But that doesn't stop me from thinking about it.
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