Thursday, February 23, 2012

Some Games Getting it Right

There's an art to crafting titles. And I aint no artist in that regard. What my title means is that given the course of my recent discussions on crafting a game that allows for extensive players options and customizability, while keeping a rule system lite and flexible there are a few systems I think are getting it right. Maybe not spot on--but doing a good job at giving players a start.

Before I jump in I want to make one last point clear in what balance I think needs to struck if a game is to offer options to players and fight munchkinism. Options must be balanced by a commensurate level of sacrifice by the player. We must be cautious against offering options and therefore access to increased PC ability and or power. Such options and power-ups (as GURPS calls them) must be counterbalanced by an increase in difficulty or challenge in the campaign itself. Otherwise our game degenerates into a farcical melodrama of the superpowered against the rest of the worldly worms. So, with that in mind I want to talk about two systems that I think are getting this right.

Adventures Dark & Deep
The first is ADD by Joseph Bloch. I've already reviewed ADD, and make no bones about my love for this system. Joseph has cleaned up the Original AD&D system and using well crafted twists and techniques he here presents us with a very solid system, more rational than Gary's first, but still very firmly rooted in the original system. He has incorporated many of Gary's hints at what he might include in a second edition of AD&D were he to write it; and done so very well I might add. But what really captures our attention here is what he has done with the the skill system. In the ADD system skills are purchased with experience points. So a Player who wishes to develop or add skills to his PC must sacrifice hard earned experience towards a level advancement to get such skills. This is an elegant and just tradeoff in my opinion. Now, I vaguely recall Joseph saying at one time that his skill system was inspired by someone who did or wrote something similar, but can't now find the reference. The point here is that he has within a very finely retooled system, faithful to the original spirit of the AD&D game, a wonderful solution to PC customization and development question with his XP for skill system.

Not to mention Joseph also incorporated numerous new classes into his system that had been contemplated by Gary in the interim between 1e and 2e. These also offer options above and beyond what might normally be available. This would be sure to please players looking for new classes to play. And we also find here all the race and sub race variants to gratify the imagination of players hungry for new PC fields to plow.

Castles & Crusades
The second is another system I have raved about on my blog for some time now, Castles & Crusades. C&C has strong ties to the original system, but has chosen instead of sticking to the traditional system to embrace a rules lite d20 approach. This undoubtedly gives the game a very lite and fast feel, different from the original in important ways. But it takes all that is good in the d20 system and enshrines it within a very AD&D 1e feel.

And who can blame them for such an approach? We all have to admit that the original system was clunky, referent tables slow down game play, and noone could really call 1e lite. Very few of us, in fact played 1e as 1e. We used the combat and saving throw tables, but not alot else. d20 offers to the old school gamer a way to achieve that lite, fast and flexible feel like never before, and incredibly intuitive in so doing. And C&C takes this approach a step further with their Siege Engine or attribute based saves and checks. It is in fact in this that they easily resolve the skills based issue.

Recall in my post of February 22nd that I mentioned several possible solutions to this dilemma of giving increased player options while maintaining a lite system. How does one go about doing this? Two suggestions I made involved handing the player the reigns under GM guidance to make up the skills they can use. A sort of anything goes approach so much a part of the 0e game. Well, that is exactly what C&C fosters in it's Castle Keepers' Guide. On pg. 263 begins the section entitled "Role Playing Skills" and reads,

"The easiest approach to integrating extra character abilities is through role playing, allowing the Seige Engine, or the combat mechanic, to resolve any check or action the skill generates. If a player desires a certain ability for his character, that is not specifically written up for his class or race description in the Players' Handbook, attempt to accommodate it through game play. Discuss the ability with the player and determine whether it fits in teh context of the game, and if it is, determine how best to integrate the skill. often some type of sacrifice is needed, whether in experience points, weapons proficiency or other pre-existing trait. Once the skill is determined, assign the player character a bonus for making the roll against the Siege Engine."

And then the CKG goes on to explain how a player worked the swimming skill into her backstory and was awarded a +1 on swim checks. The marvelous thing about such an approach is that it leaves the creativity up to the player, and the GM gets to adjudicate based on the nature of the game. Both player and GM are empowered and neither are beholden to a predetermined rules matrix.

The CKG also describes how a GM (or in their case CK) can award skill bonuses based on the nature of an unfolding campaign. Say a campaign features lots of undead and necromantic magic. After a while of such adventuring, these players might be awarded an ability to identify certain types of undead, have +1 against such knowledge checks and even to determine weaknesses against new types of undead based on previous knowledge. 

And lastly the CKG offers an optional secondary skill table for players to choose or roll from. Such a table could also be used in the manner described above later in PC development if they are wiling to make large XP sacrifices. 

In my opinion C&C has managed to do several things in it's approach to PC development (and as another aside the CKG is literally full of other options for PC development at creation as well as over time). In embracing a rules lite core, very few additional rules have been introduced due to skill and PC option usage. It also has ecnouraged and preserved the original creative spirit in the game, keeping the ability of players and CKs to hold the creative reigns. Again, literally anything is possible in this system, and  you need very few new rules to make your vision a reality. And keep in mind that all of the CKG is considered optional to the C&C game. None of it has to be implemented; it is offered as an optional enhancement to play if you desire to use it. Which brings us to the last thing I wish to mention about how well C&C answers this question: options are optional. The Troll Lords offer numerous tools, and options and resource, but none of it is central to the game. None of it has to change how the basic game is played. You get to decide which of these opotions work best for you. And I love the consistent fact that the first option always encouraged and recommended by the Troll Lords is that which preserves the free, lite, and imaginative orientation of their game.

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So, having considered this issue carefully, trying to balance the GMs desire for the utlimate ion fast, lite flexible play which allows his imagination to go in whichever direction he likes--with the desire for Players to creatively develop their PC in new and exciting ways I think we have our answer.

For those of us who deisre a system very faithful to the original with a wonderfully designed skill system I would heartily reccommend Adventures Dark & Deep. While not as rules lite as some, it is certainly more well crafted than AD&D and should play more smoothly.

For GMs like myself who like lite flexible systems, and want to to hold creative power over their game i would definitely reccommend C&C. Though C&C abandons the traditional approach to a table oriented mechanic it's embrace of d20 lite offers better, quicker more intuitive play--and that can only be a good thing. As this game doesn't fall into the pit of many other d20 models that pile rule on rule until you simply can't play the game RAW by any stretch. C&C somehow manages to preserve the fast, loose and incredibly open creativity of 0e, while offering a well crafted system of guidance--not mechanics--in offering expansion to the game that so many players crave. In short both you and your players will be satisfied with what the Troll Lords have crafted for your gaming pleasure.

(By the way this is my 200th post! Hoody Hoo!!!)
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