Like many people, the first RPG I played was Dungeons and Dragons. For much of the market, D&D remains the only way to fly, which is why D&D will always be the market leader. It’s also a pretty well known fact that I wrote a bunch of stuff for 3rd edition D&D, as well as even more material for the D20 system, which was compatible with 3rd edition D&D. I wasn’t a fan of Fourth Edition, which is why we parted ways shortly after it was released. More recently Fifth Edition came out, and I think they really outdid themselves by coming up with a system that stays true enough to the classic system to be identifiable as the same game, introduces some cool new mechanics, and maintains a level of compatibility with older versions of the game. I really like 5th edition, and I hope WotC keeps it around for a much longer time than the past couple editions.
As much as I love D&D, and respect the new version, I’m working on my own RPG. I’m doing this for a few reasons, the first of which is that I’ve always felt that for a game designer, making your own RPG is like the final exam. Make a good game and maybe no one will play it, but you can at least say that you actually made a game as opposed to simply adding to someone else’s game. Second, I’ve always had my own ideas for how a good RPG should be designed, and what would make it fun to play. I want to explore these ideas and make a system that holds to my design philosophies.
So, what am I up to?
I’ll go ahead and spell out the basics.
First of all, it’s a D% system. Now, one of the big criticisms of d100 systems in general is that they tend to be over-complicated, where the game designers micromanage modifiers to the point where the game becomes a matter of accounting. There are some good examples of this, but that’s not the game I’m making. Aside from breaking out the percentile dice to handle the core resolution system, my belief is that the best RPG systems are streamlined, with the most minimal degree of complication of possible.
In its current form, the key six attributes are bought with a point buy system at character creation. These attributes can range from 10 (you can go lower and gain some extra points to spend on other attributes by doing so, but you pick up some serious disadvantages if you do) to 40 at character creation. You also get one attribute point per level, and attributes can be advanced to a maximum of 50. The system is classless, which means your character concept is based on which attributes you sink the most points into, the skills you pick, and which special abilities you pick. Skill points are Intelligence based, and you can allocate them as you like, with a cap on them per level. The skill is added to the appropriate attribute to determine your skill level. The maximum skill + ability score is 80, and as a d% system, your goal is to roll under the number. This number is further modified by its Difficulty rating, which ranges between Routine to Nearly Impossible. Each of these classifications has a standard bonus or penalty associated with it, which is then applied to your skill check. Combat is handled in the same way as skill checks, with the attack roll being modified by the opponent’s Defense score. Armor subtracts from your defense but gives you an amount of damage reduction.
The advantages of this system: It’s easy to understand, and it’s streamlined. Your abilities don’t need modifiers-they’re simply added to the function in the game to help determine the number to beat. Rolling low is always better than rolling high (with one exception, which is when you have to do a skill roll-off with an opposed skill check). Difficulty ratings are easy to calculate because they’re given a simple difficulty descriptor along with a numerical value that’s always the same (there are some additional modifiers, and GMs are allowed to add or subtract ad-hoc modifiers to fit the circumstances.
Potential problems that could be uncovered during playtesting: Skills might prove too difficult for characters who don’t specialize in those skills. Right now it looks good on paper, but only a thorough playtest will prove this out. If the math does prove problematic, the best possible solution would be to either change the difficulty numbers associated with the varying degrees of Difficulty, or to increase the number of Attribute points you get to spend at character creation.
This is a lot of work, and as I do it I’m constantly evaluating difficulty and playability against realism. Very likely, roadblocks will be uncovered through the playtesting process. Maybe leveling won’t scale well. Maybe skill checks will present a problem. Maybe combat will have hiccups. I won’t know this until people are actually playing it, and at present, the game isn’t even close to fully designed. In fact, I have a lot of work ahead of me just to get it to a state where it’s playable.
After seventeen years as a freelancer in the field, this is the final exam for me. I think I can pull it off and this game is going to be a lot of fun. If not, then I’ll have learned something about myself and my ability to design roleplaying games.