RPG system-building: Statement of Intent

In my very first post on this blog, I mentioned that I was – like many people in the hobby – working on my own gaming system.  And like many creative projects by many people who have yet to be paid for their creativity, it has stalled.  So here I am, going over it from the ground up in an attempt to see how much I can actually create when I’m putting it out in public.  This first post is about the abstract aspect and broad goals, a statement of intent, if you will.  Posts to follow will deal with the mechanical nitty-gritty.

Constructive comments and criticisms are very welcome, of course; most things will show up first on the page because they sounded about right at the time.  Number crunching and research for real-world comparisons can come later, and I’ll probably need all the help with that I can get, given my level of experience in the field.

I suspect that I’ll be drawing influences not just from a spur-of-the-moment “that feels about right” intuition, but also from a number of published gaming systems that I’ve played in and/or read the rulebooks for over the years.  These may include, but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu, a percentile-based system.
  • Dungeons and Dragons – almost all of it, from the “original” and its various modern clones to AD&D, 3.0, Pathfinder, and perhaps even 4.0.
  • The Lord of the Rings RPG, based on 2d6 and including a number of interesting features.
  • Rifts, because it would be hard to produce that much rough without accidentally including a diamond or two.
  • The “SAGA System,” as used in the Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game and Dragonlance: Fifth Age; these are card-based games that could theoretically be played with a normal deck of playing cards.  I plan to go with a dice-based system because I like dice, so I’m not sure how much of an influence this could be, but still.
  • The White Wolf “World of Darkness” gaming system.  I’m only really familiar with the particulars of Mage and Changeling, but in the broad scope they’re all the same.

For comparisons I’ll probably be referring to D&D most often.  It has the most users and the most name recognition among non-users, and I’ve played it the most myself.

So, what are my starting goals with the system?

  1. I want it to involve rolling the standard Platonic Solid random number generators, preferably a variety to keep things interesting.
  2. I want it to have a relatively simple substratum of rules, upon which layers or modules of other rules can be added in accordance with elements used in the campaign.
  3. My primary intended setting for use is a fantasy world of my own devising, but the system itself should be easily enough adaptable to a range of other settings.

Finally, there’s the question of what to name it.  For most of its history, the system I wanted to write was called “Twilight,” – the original name was “Tenebrae,” because I liked the sound, but later changed on account of how it made no sense – but given the associations of that word these days, it seems a change is called for.

This may change again later, of course, but if you look again at the first post in this blog, you’ll see that my fantasy setting has four distinct “realms” or worlds.  So the provisional name for the project is “Four Realms.”  Thoughts?

About Confanity

I love the written word more than anything else I've had the chance to work with. I'm back in the States from Japan for grad school, but still studying Japanese with the hope of becoming a translator -- or writer, or even teacher -- as long as it's something language-related.
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One Response to RPG system-building: Statement of Intent

  1. dudecon says:

    My main thought (as one who has done a deal of world building and system building as well) is that you might be well advised to keep your system and your setting as orthogonal as possible. That is to say, when developing your game system, try to keep it free from the assumptions of the Four Realms setting. This way, other world-builders who wish to may easily map your system on to their worlds. In the same way, attempt to develop the Four Realms in such a way as to be independent of the specific mechanics that you design to simulate the world. This will allow you to test the setting using a variety of different game systems (Pathfinder, as you are doing, or others) without dragging your own mechanical assumptions into it. The current practice of packaging a game system and a game setting together seems ill-advised, in my mind anyhow. You can always publish them together, and even have cross-over for example’s sake, but attempt to distinguish (and improve) each independently.

    On the other hand, there is a great deal of interesting content to be had by forming the mechanics and the world together at the same time. Mapping deities on to different classes, using kingdoms to demonstrate the different character stats, various planes of existence as exemplars of local maxima in the game space, etc. If you are going to lock the system and the setting together, be sure you are exploiting this symbiosis to the fullest. Make the setting nearly impossible to adequately represent in another rule-set, because it is so reliant on the mechanical implementation and implications. Make the rules require the details of your setting. Make them inextricable.

    So, there you go, do one or the other. Either make your setting and system totally dependent on eachother, or totally independent. D&D (and many other RP systems) too often have one foot in each camp.

    Best of luck! I look forward to seeing more thoughts on this system in the future!

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