Wednesday, December 16, 2009

System X Update

It's been awhile since my last posting (perhaps that's why I don't get much of a following?). This doesn't mean I haven't been working on System X. Quite the contrary. I've worked out a combat mechanic I like. Ditto a task resolution system. I've got a handle on the elements that make up a character (i.e., what appears on the character sheet). Eventually, I've got to start plugging in numbers to see if it all works.

As I write, however, I discover there are a whole host of issues I never even considered. As is characteristic of a modern game designer, I find myself fretting over every little detail. I have this urge to be complete, to cover every possible aspect that might arise during game play. I also find myself defining every game concept. These tendencies expressly violate what it is I'm trying to do. I've over writing, when I should be sticking to an economy of words.

For example, when it came time to design the task resolution mechanic -- the rules governing your character's action, for you non-gamers out there -- I created a whole list of possibilities. Combined tasks. Extended tasks. Resisted tasks. Additional attempts at failed tasks.... Some of those things are necessary, but others are not. Particularly, I can see a Ranger trying to pick up the trail of something he's tracking through the forest (an additional attempt at a failed roll), but not so much two Thieves working together to crack a safe (combined tasks). I think the rules have to make certain assumptions, what's allowed and what's not allowed, simply by what's in the rules.

Moreover, I think by now it's safe to assume that gamers know what hit points are, and how they work. You just have to tell them how to calculate hit points, how you lose them, and how you recover them. The same can be said for initiative. And attributes. After over 30 years of gaming history, is there anyone out there who doesn't understand these concepts? (Among gamers, I mean).

And while I'm over thinking some issues, I'm completely forgetting others. I have yet to consider experience points and leveling, which are sort of key to a level-based system. I haven't thought about movement during combat, either. Or myriad things like fire damage, the effects of poison, falling damage, and on and on. As I tackle the big issues, such as combat mechanics and saving throws, I find there's a lot more to do. Ever more narrow, or fine, elements of game design.

Another issue I've run into is organization. Do I put all the hit point rules in one place, or in their appropriate sections? This means the difference between putting the healing rules alongside the hit point rules, or putting them in a Gamemaster's section (since he's the one who's going to rule on healing). In general, I'd like to put all the player-specific rules in a player's chapter, and all the Gamemaster-specific rules in a GM's chapter. But this may not be feasible.

So far, game design has been like peeling back the layers of an onion. You peel one layer, only to find another layer; you peel back that one, and there's (you guessed it) another layer.