Wednesday, February 23, 2022

I am, of course, designing my own ruleset

As the title says, I am currently in the process of designing my own ruleset.  But why, you may ask, do we need another ruleset?  Allow me to explain:

Situation-based vs character-based roleplaying

Early D&D editions (and most osr games by extension) are designed for what I call situation based roleplaying.  In this style, you are presented with a situation, and you have to decide a course of action that gets you the best outcome.  Your character is functionally just an avatar for yourself.  Sure, you can pretend that your character is actually an elf who loves rabbits or whatever, but that's irrelevant to the game itself.

This stands in contrast to what I call character-based roleplaying, which is where you imagine a character, then get inside their head and do what they would do.  I prefer situation based roleplaying most of the time, but that's just a matter of taste.  I think that people who prefer character-based roleplaying aren't always aware that situation-based roleplaying is a thing, and tend to assume that games designed for it are just bad games.  But they aren't, they're games that have different design goals and succeed at them quite well

But why not design a game that does both situation-based and character-based roleplaying?

Cognitive load

Games always have a certain trade off between interesting characters and interesting worlds.  Trying to engage with an interesting, weird fictional world takes up about all of the average person's brain power and attention.  At the same time, trying to get inside the head of an interesting fictional character ALSO takes a player's full attention.  This means that you can't really play a game that simultaneously has complex, interesting characters and a weird, fascinating world.  I've tried it and it just makes your brain overheat like an old laptop with too many programs running.  

I think this is why a lot of character-driven games are intentionally wedded to a specific genre, established fictional setting, or type of story.  Familiar tropes are necessary to reduce cognitive load and therefore allow people to dive in complex characterization.  I think that cognitive load also explains why "fail forward" games such as PbtA and Burning Wheel have trouble handling the really weird stuff that OSR does so well.  Fail-forward games force the GM and players to invent complications on the fly for each failed roll, which means the facts of the fictional universe change rapidly based on dice rolls.  This is mentally taxing, and leads these games to rely more on tropes and genre conventions to the detriment of really creative stuff.  OSR/adventure games, meanwhile, start with simple characters to allow for the players to engage with a more complex world.  However, this means that characters tend to be rather one-dimensional, instead of changing and growing like real people. 

In light of all this, idea occurred to me: why not create a game that allows you to switch between those playstyles in a systematic way, using the same characters.  A system that has the mechanics to facilitate those switches.  You play some traditional dungeon crawls, then you take a break from that and play out some character drama, then you go back to traditional adventuring.  That's the project I'm working on right now.  Will I ever finish it?  Maybe, maybe not, but I'll drop bits and pieces as I can.  

I promise it will be painfully sincere and utterly tasteless.

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I am, of course, designing my own ruleset

As the title says, I am currently in the process of designing my own ruleset.  But why, you may ask, do we need another ruleset?  Allow me t...