Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Big Picture Part 1 - RPG Systems and Concepts

While the story and idea of a game is critical, I feel that in many ways a tabletop system is the strongest influence on the feel of a game during actual play. Start with a tactical, rules and numbers based system like D&D 4e, and you will likely end up with a game that is big on tactics and rules. Start with an ultra rules-like game like Amber Diceless, and it will be storytime.

For this reason, we chose to focus development around the FATE 3.0 system. Our version includes some major changes, and as of right now I'm calling the variant "FATE 2D". This system contains a number of features we think are key to reach our various goals for the game.

Story is about Character. The Aspect system creates a game where well-defined character-heavy play is rewarded mechanically. It also helps create interesting scenarios by bringing character traits into play as flaws, without making a player feel picked on. This leads to a game that is about characters and their stories without becoming bogged down in lengthy exposition.

Characters should be defined by what they do, now how they're built. By not tying skills to higher-tier attributes, unorthodox skillsets can be combined into unexpectedly interesting characters. We actually playtested a FATE variant that utilized attributes, but found it stifled creativity by locking people into the classic RPG archetypes: The strong warrior, the agile rogue, the smart wizard, and so on. Now we end up with the doctor assasin mage, and the gunslinging swordsman poet. Much better.

Brevity is the soul of wit.
Conflicts need to be resolved quickly to maintain interest. The FATE exchange system means twice as many character actions get resolved with each dice roll. Additionally, almost every roll has an active result. (Compare with D20, wherein almost 1/2 of all actions miss and do nothing) Combined with a small number of "hit points", fights are fast paced, furious, and never boring.

Variety is the spice of game. FATE is a system in which the way one goes about doing something has concrete mechanical impacts on play. "I hit him" is not the same as "I drop onto him with a flying leap from atop the stairs!". This helps to avoid "fighter syndrome", where certain types of characters are stuck with very limited options in any given conflict. Additionally, the idea that multiple skills can apply to the same action means that characters can be useful even outside their defined role.

All characters are created equal. The simplicity of the mechanics behind FATE mean that gaming the system is difficult. With no derived statistics and very straightforward rules, it is difficult to "min-max" or create optimized characters. The "strongest" characters usually end up being those with the most interesting aspects and traits, which is something any player can modify during the course of play.

Those are just a few of the basics of the FATE system that are key to making the Ireta RPG feel the way it is written.

Coming soon, Big Picture Part 2 - What in the World: Basic Concepts of Ireta.

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