Monday, August 6, 2012


As I've been going through the various paper and files I've accumulated over the last year or so as I've worked on From the Ashes, I've started dividing them into two camps - Mechanics and Universe.  The mechanics have changed to a certain extent as I've gone along.  Initially a Gamma World retroclone, I included such old-timey concepts as THAC, Hit Dice, Armor Class, and even toyed with breaking out the borrowed-from-Marvel-Superheroes-Action Chart.  As it's evolved, I've moved away from some of those concepts, and kept others (I won't get your hopes up - the Action Chart was discarded).  At it's core, the system that has emerged is simple, even elegant, if I may be so bold.  I'm still working through some of the kinks, trying to figure out what I haven't thought of as I try to break the rules.  So far so good.  The biggest challenge I have had was in regards to my last big post, where I decided to scrap the entire idea of random mutations.  What worries me about this is mostly that it requires trust in the players, and to a certain extent, the GMs who run this game.  If it's not done right, it could be not-fun.  If it's run right, I'd see people custom designing off-the-wall mutations and using them creatively.  If it's done wrong, you'd end up with a samey group of Alpha Mutants wandering the wastelands nuking things with their mind.

Which has gotten me thinking - that sounds not-fun to me, but maybe to someone else that sounds like a great time.  So for whom am I building this game?  To a certain extent myself, but, like all of my writing, it's more of an "excorcise the demon" type of thing, get it down on paper and get it out get it out get it OUT!  I'm building the game that I want to play.  Of course, RPGs are not single player games, so I have to make a game that not only do I want to play, but others want to play with me.  I love DCCRPG, I love what their doing, but the introduction, where it says that the game was created for on person, always struck me as a bit of chest beating that had little bearing on actual game design - like a Conanalike barbarian holding aloft a dripping sword, newly fashioned, still glowing from the forge and proclaiming, "Do you see what I have wrought????"

So if you accept you're not building a game for yourself, who are you building it for?  Do you cast as wide a net as possible and risk being bland and forgettable, target a niche market within our niche market and risk missing a tiny tiny target, or walk the line between the two and risk ending up as palatable to neither?

The broader the net you want to cast, the less important the Universe stuff is.  White Wolf had it's target demographic nailed to the wall with their Storyteller Series, and I don't imagine that their market share has grown considerably - they know who they're selling to, they know how many of them there are, and they know how many books they'll buy in a year, so they write their books for those specific people.  Nobody at White Wolf is wringing their hands and trying to figure out how to break out of their niche - they OWN their niche - why leave?

It seems the broader the net you want to cast, the less specific you want to be - you don't want to alienate people that hate playing elves by building an elf-centric product.  A big part of D&D's success was that it was almost literally just a set of rules that you could hang just about any type of game on.  Sure, you got Greyhawk as a suggested setting, but if you didn't like it, you could start your own world of Hawkgrey, where things were completely different.  You had the broad remit of, "A game of adventurers battling monsters", anything beyond that you brought to the game yourself. 

The only way to top that is to build the better mousetrap - if you're playing D&D and you're happy with those rules, why switch systems, unless you find a better set of rules?  You're not invested in anything that the company has given you, beyond the initial idea. 

My bragging earlier as evidence to the contrary, I'm not confident in my mechanical design skills to go head to head in that kind of battle, but I do want to have a game that others will play, so that means finding some sort of halfway point between the System and the Universe.  Enough to let people "see" my vision, while leaving them room to dream their own dreams.

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