I’ve been thinking a lot about fantasy RPGs lately. Maybe it was spending time at the Carolina Renaissance Festival or some research for an upcoming project creating 3D models of small castles; either way I’ve been missing the genre. Working with RPG Maker, most of what I’ve been doing has centered around fantasy themes, likewise much of my art and the models I’ve been making in Blender have also had a fantasy theme. Its gotten me thinking about what kind of table top RPG I want to write. Previously, I’d written about creating a sci-fi mash up that had some elements of fantasy and cyberpunk, but was essentially hard sci-fi at its core. I still want to write that, but I’m realizing I also want to write a lot more. Beyond just a game system, I also want to write fiction and perhaps even novels based in those settings.
Once solution is to write a core game system, one that is flexible enough handle different settings, from a pseudo-medieval fantasy setting to a modern cyberpunk setting to far future sci-fi. Its been done before, perhaps one of the most notable examples is the GURPS system by Steve Jackson Games. But for my own tastes the GURPS system core mechanics are too simple. There are only four attributes, which makes for a very simple system but I wanted more; yet describing what “more” means isn’t easy. Part of my challenge will be figuring out what that “more” is. I’ll also have to design a system that can include the supernatural and magic, or work just as well without it.
Developing a core system is one challenge. The second will be writing a fantasy setting. One of my favorites is the Hârn setting originally written by N Robin Crosby. The level of detain in Hârn always impressed me, as did that of Tolkein’s Middle Earth. I have always loved richly detailed settings, as though the author were writing about real places and people and events even though they are fictional. Creating characters in such settings was, for me, easier because there was such a wealth of background to draw on. Stories seemed to almost write themselves. My hope is that I can create the same kind of setting that inspires and fires the imaginations of others, the way others have inspired mine.
Of course some aspects of writing such a setting will have to wait until I have the core system worked out. Magic will be one sticking point, since any such system will have to have rules that govern the limits of what magic can do, that would affect any fiction I wrote. I do want to write fiction based in the fictional settings I create, and I don’t want the characters in that fiction doing anything not possible according to whatever RPG system I create. Magic in RPGs is something I’ve always enjoyed, and I tend to like richly detailed systems of magic that have a lot of internal consistency (I especially like those that give thought to how magic works and its limitations). Some favorites have been the magic rules in Shadowrun, especially the rules for spell design. I’ve already mentioned Hârn, I liked its “low-fantasy” approach to magic and generally liked the back story and system. I just wish Hârn had included more examples and rules on spell design and examples of higher complexity spells. Ars Magica also fascinates me, and it has a very developed story for magic within the game. I actually never played Ars Magica much (it was hard to find other players) but I enjoyed what little I did get to play; spell casting in Ars Magica is very different from most other game systems. While I loved the setting for Fading Suns, both the VPS system and how the Arcane / Occult were handled frustrated me endlessly; for me its an example of what not to do in rules. One thing I realize is that it would be very easy for me to focus too much on magic in my own game system and end up with it being “out of balance” with other aspects of the game. However, I think starting with just the core rules and sorting out how attributes, skills, combat and crafting work will help me in balancing the role of magic in the system.
Regardless, I do know I want this system to focus on story telling. While I may include more “numbers and rules” than most story telling games (which tend to be rules light as many people tend to feel the rules get in the way) I think rules can support story telling and creativity, if they are written with that goal in mind. So having more attributes would go towards making each character a unique individual with their own blend of strengths and weaknesses that can be explored during play. The same will be true of the skill system, magic, perks and flaws, and so forth. I also want to include game mechanics for things like fear, insanity, and mental instability; things that can result from trauma or encountering horrific things. One of the things I liked best about the Traveller rules (any version from CT to MGT) was the career system that was almost a mini-game in itself. You could develop a pretty detailed back story for a character using it and I’d like to develop something similar for my own rules. Likewise, Fading Suns had a much simpler system for character creation that allocated points at different stages such as “upbringing” and “early career” which encouraged players to think about what the character’s childhood and early life were like.
There is a lot to consider and do, but its a project I’m enjoying working on. I’m also wishing I’d started this about 25 years ago. Better late than never though!
That’s it for this post. I’m working on wrapping my construction project up and so should be able to focus more on my art, 3D models and RPGs soon. I’ve got some fragments of poems and several unfinished art pieces I really want to get finished. Things have been a little chaotic this year. I’m hoping the new year will be more organized with more progress made, I’m certainly going to be working to make it so.
As always, keep being creative!