Friday, August 27, 2010

Practice Makes Perfect

I've been contemplating the rules vs. imagination 'conflict' in RPG's and feel the need to weigh in briefly. I think that rules can serve two functions: to define the possibilities of an expansive world (D&D, GURPS, etc...) or to encourage a certain type of play (Asylum, Paranoia!, Vampire, etc...). Which of these do I prefer? Neither, really. As a GM, I use the rules as a guide to help players make decisions, but I'm not often satisfied with them fully. I drop rules out when I need to, ignore things for the sake of cool and make fast calls when I have to. Rules are just another toolset to aid a GM with storytelling, as far as I'm concerned.

And so now I have found myself contemplating the creation of my own RPG, which will in turn lead me to creating a rule set. My goal is to make the rules fun, fast and with minimal complexity. Clearly the details have yet to be carved out. But my thoughts tonight turn towards character creation, always one of my favorite parts in RPG's, and one that is often mishandled.

Though character creation isn't exactly what I mean. More, I mean a leveling system. While skimming RPG Bloggers early, I came across an article that linked to this article: Just One More...

The article itself is a rant about WotC and 4E, which is less pertinent to my topic. But in the article, the author links to another rant of his: Reward Made Easy

The second is an analysis of what video games have done right that tabletop rpg could learn from, and he makes some interesting points. Namely, the "practice makes perfect" mentality present in games like Dungeon Siege and the Elder Scrolls series. The more you use a skill, the better you get with it and the more it helps to increase your attributes.

How can I implement that in my Savage West? I'm tempted to try and heist the mechanics straight out of Elder Scrolls, but that seems an overly complicated conversion. This keys in to character creation though, and a functioning rules system. I need to decide how detailed the skill/attribute list will be.

I'm thinking something like the attribute/skill system from 7th Sea combined with a leveling mechanic akin to the Elder Scrolls, something that will eliminate EXP all together. Mmm. Brain food.


  1. Hi,

    About a reward-mechanic that allow skills to increase from their usage, I've seen some different approaches, that might be of interest:
    BRP (e.g. Call of Cthulhu, Nephilim) - when a skill is succesfully used, you add a tick next to it. After the adventure, you may attempt to increase it, by rolling over your skill.
    MERP - IIRC then you tick a box next to your skill, whenever it is succesfully used. After a certain amount of boxes are checked, your skill increases.
    The Burning Games (Burning Wheel, Burning Empire, Mouse Guard) - whenever a skill is used, you add a check nect to it. In order to increase a skill you must both succeed and fail a certain amount of times (moving frem 3 to 4 requires four successes and three failures IIRC).
    LEF - You roll 2d6 for your skill checks. When rolling certain doubles, the skill increases (for low skills a pair of 3s, 4s 5s and 6s increases the skill, for extremely high level of skills, only a pair of 6 increases the skill).

    I'm not familiar with Elder Scrolls, but it seems to me, that some games already utilizes the kind of mechanic, you're looking for.

  2. In my percentile skill based system the players get ticks for every time they use a skill. 1 for a failed roll, 2 for a success and 3 for a crit. For every 10 ticks they get 1 percentile increase in the skill. It's quick and easy and gives session by session levelling. I also give out awards for good roleplay and for defeating minor and major adversaries.

  3. 1- I like the new design. Much easier to read.

    2- I know you stated that Deadlands wasn't quite right for you. What about Savage Worlds? 7th Sea will share a LOT of similar features with it but in my opinion SW is simpler, easier and much more flexible.

    My husband quit trying to do a fast, flexible system after SW came out- someone else had done all the work for him.

    I do like the practice makes perfect idea, but it makes it difficult to learn a new skill, especially if the GM requires in-play justification/action. Fumbling through violin lessons, computer tutoring, gun ranges or other "lesson" oriented sessions can get boring pretty fast.

    I've played a no-XP game with a weird leveling mechanic. It was frustrating because I was playing a pretty fickle rogue type, who was averse to sticking to any one project for very long. It would have been great as a fighter or cleric, or other more solidly settled type.

  4. Wow, I didn't really anticipate my rant would lead to this discussion. But if it causes us all to re-think our own systems, then it did its job and I'm glad it didn't just get ignored.

    More to the point however, I'm not really familiar with Elder Scrolls, so I can't really speak to that reference, but if you like where I headed with the concept, you could take a look at how my own system KORE does this. The guidelines are free to download in pdf format from my site. They're a work in progress, but are more than complete enough to handle 2 separate types of character improvement by use, as well as 3 types of character improvement by study.

    Alternately go to a more mainstream source and pick up any BRP system (specifically Call of Cthulhu was where I really saw the beauty of this mechanic.)