Friday, September 10, 2010

Anti-d20 #1: Introduction

Welcome to the Anti-d20 Roleplaying game system! While posted on a blog for the time being, this will, when it's complete, be collated and gathered together into a pdf document, probably with pretty spartan layout and formating, and posted somewhere for anyone to grab if they so choose.

The impetus to develop Anti-d20 can ultimately be tied to my own dissatisfaction with the roleplaying games available to me. Now, don't get me wrong; I've played many games, and enjoyed most of them, but all of them had something that frustrated me; something that just wasn't quite right. Sometimes it was the environment that I played the game in (playing via Pbp introduces a number of challenges that face to face tabletop gaming doesn't have, for instance) but in most cases, it was simply my tastes that were a poor fit for some element of the game in question.

What is a roleplaying game anyway? No game system, it seems, can resist the call to answer that question in the introductory session, and it seems Anti-d20 will crumble before that peer pressure as well. The answer, of course, depends on whom you ask and what they want out of the game. At its heart, a roleplaying game is a game in which the players (or at least most of them) take on a role; a character other than themselves, and tell stories about this character and his adventures. For some people, roleplaying games are akin to method acting; getting into character is what roleplaying is all about. For others, it's about exploration of believable, simulated fictional environment. In addition to roleplaying, roleplaying games are also games and what many people enjoy is tactical manuevering. Few indeed are the RPGs that don't have conflict of some kind (usually violent combat) as an important component of the experience. Some gamers want to be mentally challenged, and solve mysteries and puzzles. Others find that activity frustrating and boring, and want to show up, relax, kick some butt and take some names. Most gamers like all of these things to some extent, so a good roleplaying game has to scratch all of those itches to have the maximum potential appeal to the most players.

For me, though, I've also approached roleplaying games with an authorial perspective. So to me, the most important thing that a roleplaying game is is a collaborative storytelling process. I want engaging characters and engaging plots. I want to create my very own pulp action or horror serial or novel right there at the table. Not literally, of course (I don't novelize the adventures of my characters, for one thing.) Nobody is the author in this process. Everyone contributes. Each player brings their own character (the Player Character, or PC) and they decide what that character will do, not an omnipotent author. One player, in lieu of that, becomes the Gamemaster, or GM, and provides everything else: the environment in which they adventure, the adversaries, allies and bystanders that they encounter, and all that that entails.

The paradigm by which I cobbled together Anti-d20 was one, therefore, where I wanted a very quick and easy system, very fast and easy to understand, without a lot of rules and without a lot of complications, that I could use in multiple environments to facilitate the kinds of games that I most enjoy. While I, and most gamers, mostly play in a face to face environment, with the GM and the other players all sitting within easy conversational distance from each other and rolling real dice, I also want a system that doesn't bog down and become cumbersome or difficult to use in other environments. With the spread of the Internet in the last couple of decades, play-by-post, play-by-e-mail, play-by-Skype, and other forms of gaming have become more common, and I've even dabbled in them with some success myself. One thing that I noticed is that such venues are extremely hard on games that require a lot of complexity or a lot of tactics. Since neither aspect of gaming is particular important to me personally, I thought I'd tweak some stuff up myself to make a game that not only gives me what I want in a traditional environment, but is also optimized for use in some of these newer, non-traditional environments.

And… credit where credit is due. I'm not really a game designer at all, even in an amateur sense. It's not my strong suit, and I don't care for game design overly much, honestly. So I'm not really doing anything new here. Rather, I'm taking some tried and true games that I know of that are already similar to what I'm looking for in some ways, kitbashing the best elements of each together, and then smoothing over the corners a bit to optimize the rules for my own personal goals. Therefore, the authors of The Window and Savage Worlds get a major shout-out, because Anti-d20 will bear some obvious similarities to both (as well as equally obvious differences from each.)

The core conceits of Anti-d20 are 1) to create a consistent, easy to use, easy to remember, and easy to adjudicate mechanic that can be applied to practically every situation that might come up in the game, 2) create an extremely rules light yet robust system framework that "disappears" in game, and 3) provide just enough detail that players can feel like the mechanics of the game and their character concepts work well together and support each other, and give them at least a little something mechanical to "bite onto" in terms of getting a handle on their characters. After all, many times players still don't "know" their characters very well yet when a game starts, and they develop over time and with play and practice. Having a few cues from the get-go can greatly speed up and facilitate that process.

In roleplaying games, we use dice. Dice are great, because they provide randomness. We're not actually authors (even if, like me, you approach it from an authorial standpoint) and the fact that success or failure often depends on the random nature of dice tosses creates the tension and friction that make roleplaying games so much fun. Anti-d20 uses all of the dice in a typical RPG dice pack set except (appropriately enough) the d20.

The core mechanic of the game is to roll dice and meet or beat a target number. This target defaults to 4 for basic tasks. Anything less than 4 probably isn't worth calling for a roll, because it's insuficiently challenging to create any sense of tension, and it bogs down the game with tediousness. Which die you roll to beat that target depends on your ability to meet that specific challenge. Dice with more sides are better, because they have access to higher numbers, and have a lower probability of rolling numbers below the target. A four-sided die (d4), therefore, represents a completely unskilled die roll. A check for someone who has no aptitude for the task he's attempting. But he can attempt it anyway. And if it's not particularly difficult (i.e., his target is 4), he might even succeed if he manages to roll a four (he's got a 25% chance of that happeneing.) If he's got some basic skill and can roll a six-sided die (d6) then his range of possible outcomes increases, and his chance of hitting at least a four jumps from 25% to 50%. If the character is incredibly apt for that particular task and can roll a twelve-sided die (d12), then his chance of successfully completing that task increase to 75%.

And that, right there, folks, is the core of the system. For my next post on this topic, I'll get into the specific rules of how this core concept is implemented. While my goal is to be rules light, it's not rules free by any means, and it'll take me several posts to put this system completely together. And when that happens, I'll start happily playtesting it and using it. Feel free, if you like, to do so too.

Upcoming topics (or chapters, if you will--since eventually this will be collated into an actual document) include.

• Character creation
-- Traits
-- Skills
-- Description
-- Races (if applicable)
-- The Group
-- Advancement

• Task and conflict resolution
-- Target rolls
-- Opposed rolls
-- Health rolls
-- Other rolls (magic, sanity, luck, armor, etc.)
-- On the consequences of failure

After that, I may expand it even more with settings, examples, adventures, adversaries, or who knows what, but at that point, the rules, at least, will be done and the game will be complete enough to be useable.

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