So I recently ran across a list of questions for DMs to answer about their RPG settings and/or house rules. By “ran across” I mean “read here;” please note also the link to his source. I kind of feel like the questions alone are worth reading just for the glimpse they give into the history of the hobby.
Anyway, as you may recall, I’m currently in the throes of trying to develop a gaming system of my own, so I thought I’d give the questions a shot.
(1). Race (Elf, Dwarf, Halfling) as a class? Yes or no?
–No. To be honest this seems kind of silly to me. There are various ways people go about trying to justify the idea, but it strikes me as nothing more than lazy Planet of the Hats syndrome. Perhaps expedient in terms of design, but when possible I’d like to avoid sacrificing verisimilitude at the altar of mechanics.
(2). Do demi-humans have souls?
–Sure. In fact, I’m taking a page from Jewish mysticism here and saying that everything has a soul, or perhaps layers of souls. Rocks and rivers and so on have animistic spirits; every living thing has that plus a “plant soul” which provides the simple spark of life; anything with a certain minimum of neural activity has all that plus an “animal soul” which provides basic self-awareness, and anything sentient has all of the above plus a “people soul.”
(3). Ascending or descending armor class?
–Ascending. In fact, I replace AC with a set of defensive rolls to choose between, treated defense as an opposed roll between attacker and defender.
(4). Demi-human level limits?
–No. I haven’t really thought about imposing strict level limits, much less arbitrarily placing them on any given subset of play. (Consider also that the “demi-human level limit” was one of the less popular, more-ignored rules in old D&D, and got dropped from later editions.) I suspect that I would rather design rules to encourage characters in high-level play to follow certain career tracks and eventually retire.
(5). Should thief be a class?
–Yes, although not by that name. I really like the idea of Lamentations of the Flame Princess‘ “Specialist” class, so I’m borrowing that, and updating it to be less a “thief” or trap expert and more of a general utility class.
(6). Do characters get non-weapon skills?
–Very yes. I’m a big fan of non-weapon skills. I do want to find ways to encourage players to role-play their exploration and problem-solving rather than just “roll to check for traps, roll to disarm traps,” but I also want to explicitly encourage lots of activity outside of combat, and I’m of the opinion that including mechanics for other kinds of activities can help with that.
(7). Are magic-users more powerful than fighters (and, if yes, what level do they take the lead)?
–Yes, and always, but there are trade-offs. In a one-on-one fight between a fighter and a spell-caster, it’s simple: if you start at arm’s length, the fighter will win. If you don’t give them much time to prepare, the fighter will probably win. The more time and distance are available, the more likely the magic-user is to win. Again taking a page from LotFP, warriors are going to be far and away the best at fighting, with lots of easy access to combat skills. They’re also going to have the most hit points. Sorcerers will definitely be delicate artillery pieces; they can cause a lot of mayhem, but require careful preparation, logistical support, and protection in order to function effectively. Priests will be less vulnerable, but their supernatural powers will be more finicky.
(8). Do you use alignment languages?
–No. I don’t feel the need for alignments, and no cosmic alignments means no cosmic alignment languages. I saw a post a while back that explained the use of alignment languages, but while fascinating in a historical/design sense, it did nothing in terms of making me want to use them.
(9). XP for gold, or XP for objectives (thieves disarming traps, etc…)?
–All of the above, but no XP for gold directly. I’m strongly considering XP for an array of objectives (killing monsters, defeating puzzles or complex traps, exploration and discovery, surviving the session, etc.). If a little more complexity seems acceptable, I might add class-specific bonuses: warriors get more XP than other people for defeating enemies, and so on. But the bulk of XP will probably come from finding treasure, hauling it back to civilization, and then spending it. I might even take a cue from “carousing” rules some people use and give different mixes of rewards for different kinds of expenditure, with plain GP-to-XP conversion being “pay an expert to train your skills.”
(10). Which is the best edition; ODD, Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, Rules Cyclopedia, 1E ADD, 2E ADD, 3E ADD, 4E ADD, Next?
–It depends on what you’re interested in, mostly. 4E seems to be a great computer-based tactical-skirmish wargame, but crap at anything else. 3E is a great RPG, but relatively complicated and time-consuming. Old-school D&D is a quick-and-simple dungeon-bashing game, but without extensive house rules, its war-gaming roots keep it from having the breadth and depth that later editions supported.
Bonus Question: Unified XP level tables or individual XP level tables for each class?
–I’m leaning toward the former, for the sake of simplicity. Perhaps if I get to actually play-test the thing and it seems like some tweaking is needed, I’ll give each class its own table, but for now “balance” is not that high on my list of priorities. A good DM should be able to balance the needs of the players just fine without it being imposed mechanically.