Guest Post by Scott Krammer
Although the idea to make such an RPG had been sparked in my mind, it was still formless. I had the inspiration, but wasn’t prepared to act on it. Several months went by, and the idea receded to the back of my mind, as my attentions were diverted elsewhere. I was busy with college courses, video games, marriage, pizza delivery, and the development of other tabletop games of the strategic variety. This RPG was probably going to wait.
Did I mention that I was working on other tabletop games? One of these, in particular, was a tactical arena combat game, with a rather innovative system that I can’t fully take credit for. I found myself devoting a lot of time to developing the setting in which this game took place, having a mild case of “Worldbuilder’s Disease”. Before long, I had a detailed world with a variety of fantasy races, nations, cultures, and legends. Problem was — the nature of this tactical game I was developing was such that it could never showcase more than a tiny fraction of the world it was set in. It wasn’t the right medium for this world.
I didn’t wonder long, what I should do about it. The answer was simple — I should make an RPG.
So I did. I set to work developing an RPG that would be set in the same world as this tabletop strategy game. I came up with a fairly basic set of mechanics, and I modelled the race and class options after those found in the strategy game that this was all adapted from. Before long, I had a fairly basic RPG — working title Age of Legends — that was little more than a reskin of Dungeons and Dragons, sans any semblance of balanced mechanics. I was certainly not creating the RPG I had been inspired to create all those months earlier.
When I finally took a step back to look at it, I was disappointed in what I’d created. The mechanics were clunky, unintuitive, and lacking in any flavor. Something had to change.
My first decision was to get rid of grids. Grids just don’t allow for fluid, interesting combat. I went with Zones, instead, ignoring the fact that they really just amounted to a grid with fewer, but larger, spaces.
Next, I decided that, in addition to the combat-oriented class options, there should be non-combat class options. Better yet, each character is made up of both a combat class and a non-combat class. Rather than just being a Warrior with some knowledge skills, you were a Warrior Sage, with powerful abilities within combat and without. As the character further developed, they could gain secondary classes, so that your Warrior Sage could eventually become a Warrior Warlock Sage Diplomat. Who can honestly say that they’ve never wanted to play as a Warrior Warlock Sage Diplomat?
Later, I added in a complex “critical hit chart” to make things a little more interesting. This latter addition was largely inspired by such games as Rogue Trader and The Riddle of Steel, both of which did it better.
I added “Advantages” and “Disadvantages”, which functioned like D&D’s feats, though with a little more flair. Unfortunately, this flair came with a lot of baggage in the form of clunky mechanics.
Lastly, I incorporated a mechanic that, although I wasn’t thinking of it this way, was the first step in making this RPG into the one I dreamt of.
It was the “Interact with Feature” action.
Not a very creative name, no, but its purpose was to allow for creativity in combat. The mechanics for this action were written as follows:
“Effect: The player describes what they want to accomplish by interacting with a battlefield feature, while the GM determines what it would take to do so, and after an appropriate skill test, determines what actually happened.”
In essence, it was an action that allowed the player to make up what they wanted to do, rather than use a specific ability. This was going to be the game changer. This was going to elevate this RPG to a new level. It was going to be big.
Nobody used it.
In the first playtest I ran for this RPG, I enthusiastically explained this action to the players, emphasizing the versatility and creativity that it offered. They smiled and nodded, then proceeded to repeatedly use the same abilities over and over, not once attempting to “Interact with Feature”.
Maybe I should have given it a better name.
I was a little bummed, but I shrugged it off and kept going. Over the next year, the game continued to grow and evolve. I added new abilities, removed old ones, changed the class options, the skill choices, the way the dice worked. Every few months I’d run a playtest with my friends, some successful, others lacking. I wrote rules; pages upon pages of rules. At one point, the rulebook had reached nearly 200 pages, only to have 100 of those pages scrapped when I changed the rules again.
By the end of 2011, I had a nearly-complete RPG, with some interesting mechanics and ideas behind it, but it just really wasn’t anything special. Furthermore, the game didn’t play well. In an effort to make the mechanics unique, I made them overly complex, with too much info to keep track of. Although I’d made page after page of unique abilities for the different classes, there was still so much that the rules didn’t take into account; or worse, there were rules for things that didn’t need them. Looking back, I wouldn’t have recommended that RPG to anyone.
Everything up to this point, I’m going to refer to as Version 1.
Let’s all agree to never again speak of Version 1.
TUNE IN NEXT WEEK FOR MORE “MY HOMEMADE TABLETOP RPG”