Sunday, November 8, 2009

Warts and All

The central purpose of this blog is to provide myself with a place to think, out loud if you will, about game design. I want to share the process with you, and hopefully spark some interesting conversation. There's also an element of self-promotion here, to be honest, to design "in public." So I'm going to take you through my thought processes, warts and all. Today, we start with a quote from a friend, from an interview he recently gave.

"I had been doing a lot of thinking about the roots of RPGs and how the games have changed over the years, and I had started writing notes on a theoretical class and level fantasy game based on my analysis. It was really just a thought exercise..."

I've made no secret of the fact that I want System X to be a class and level game. But just what are the benefits of just such a system? What is it they accomplish?

Level/Class systems reduce the choices the player has to make. As James Cambias pointed out offhandedly, this kind of system compresses many aspects of an RPG. Your decisions by-and-large consist of selecting a race and class, which shuts off all the other avenues to you. Once you choose to be a thief, for example, you don't have to worry about selecting magic spells or naming your warhorse. Those elements belong to other classes. You are a thief, and that's that.

Benefit 1: Simplicity. This makes character creation easy. You make your choice of profession, write down the relevant information about the class, and you're done. Nowadays, we look at this as supremely limiting, as it railroads you down a particular path. In the interest of versimilitude, we broke down these barriers by allowing players to choose whatever they want. Thieves can select spells, if they choose to be wizard-thieves. All elements are broken out into a smorgasbord of creativity, allowing the player to create whatever he or she wants. But this makes character creation more complicated.

The counter-arguement is that a class system is inherently limiting. What if I want to create a fighter-thief (but don't want to go through some cumbersome "combine the classes" process)? Also, all thieves end up having the same relative potentcy; every first level thief has X percentage to sneak, for example. Maybe I want my thief to have specialized in sneaking, to the detriment of picking locks? In the name of expanding player choices and indulging his creativity, we went in a more simulationist direction. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but it's inherently more complicated.

Character improvement, the level part of the equation, occurs at discrete points. That is to say, when you reach a specific number of experience points, your character automatically improves in specific ways. Your "to hit" number improves; your hit points increase; your abilities rise.

Benefit 2: Measured Growth. The process of levelling occurs at a measured pace. You know you need 1,000 experience points to "level up." It doesn't occur at some capriciously determined time, such as when the referee tells you to, or based on some skill improvement system (as the one used by Call of Cthulhu). At 1,001 points, your skill at picking locks goes up. Also, the process of improvement is predictable. At level X, my sneak skill goes up by Y value, or I get to choose Z number of spells. There isn't a lot of choice here, either. You don't have to spend skill points or allocate anything.

Again, the counter-arguement would likely be that this limits player creativity. It also goes against common sense. A thief who happens to never use pick lock between levels wouldn't logically have the ability to improve that skill; he hasn't used it. It's not "realistic."

Pramas again:

"There is a tendency these days to look back on the games of the 70s and early 80s and pat ourselves on the back about how far we've come from such primitive beginnings. I felt like there were still important things we could learn from those games..."

I wonder what those things are. I wonder what other benefits to a class/level system I haven't even considered yet. And I wonder if perhaps the boundaries of a class/level system can be expanded.

No comments:

Post a Comment