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Game Design Basics  (part 2)

2004 - Randal Snyder

This article takes a look at some common game designs and compares them to others. On to other subjects of gaming Theories...

The eternal struggle: Levels vs. Skills - The d20 model has been around the longest, using character levels to determine how potent a character is. Like it or not, this is the "simplest" way to see how much of a bad ass your character is. (I'm level 10... yeah, well I'm level 18, take that!) The problem with levels is how they create ability plateaus or a stair case effect. Every level, the character's abilities spike then stay there for a time then spike again at the next level. Skill based systems such as GURPS, Shadowrun, and others have a more natural progression on skills since the PC must first gain the experience then spend their points on their abilities, one at a time. Players will save XP points to boost up their weakest skills/atts and gives a smooth transition in skill levels.

Class vs. Templates - The next major step is to decide how your characters can reflect the types of characters the PLAYER wants. If you go by a Class as d20 does, they give you very narrow definitions of what your character can be. Sure you can combine classes, but by doing that, it complicates the character and the advancement model. On the other hand, if you provide templates, or suggestions on how to reflect the "common" themes of the game, then the Player will have more freedom to tailor that character to how they play and what they need. Both work, but IMO, a template makes things simpler and more fluid since you aren't creating static rules.

Dice Pool or Single Die Roll - How many dice do you need to play? In my opinion, the fewer the better. For one, if you have to roll for three things in combat, and need to switch dice, it slows things down. Then again, it can be equally silly if you have to roll two handfuls of dice to resolve something. Also keep in mind that the more dice you use, the narrower your random margin is. Each die adds to the AVERAGE roll. Thus rolling 1d6 is even odds of rolling any single number, but rolling 2d6 means you are MOST likely to roll a 7. 3d6 puts that average center point at 10-11 and so on. The more unique your die roll system is, the more likely you will get recognized for that type of system (ie - d20, WEG d6, SEG d5).

Alignments - good vs. evil - though the concept is simple, it tends to push a player into a vice. All too often, the line between right and wrong are blurred and crossed. In my POV, its not worth trying to justify a character's actions to some vague concept of what is good and evil. Killing in self defense is not evil, but charging into battle and slaying "innocent" evil denizens, IS EVIL. If that basic logic was used by gaming groups, EVERY "good" character that charged into battle to kill the "evil" ogre, before the ogre even posed a real threat, would instantly have an alignment shift... I mean come on! Would Jeffery Dahmer be any less evil if he only killed and ate other serial killers? No! He was evil because HE KILLED without conscience!!! My point, eliminate alignments. Instead focus on the character's personality and what is important to the character. Let the player's choices determine the PC's fate.

Advantages - Though they seem cool on their own, they tend to complicate things. Particularly the d20 FEATS. If you do choose to have an advantage list, keep it simple. d20 suffers from having too many feats and too many books. In my personal belief, advantages should not be duplicated by other traits such as Attributes and Skills (see my rant earlier on D&D Feats). Thus, advantages should be kept as unique abilities, such as flying, high speed running, astral projections, combat "phasing" etc. Thus, those kinds of advantages would really only work in a superhero type of game though some could be used in fantasy as well. Also, Advantages should be expensive or hard to get.

Disadvantages - Just as Advantages get abused, so do disadvantages, and too often, they don't affect game play enough to warrant the bonuses granted for character creation. Personally, I think any "disadvantages" should be paid out in Role-playing experience. Thus if you play your character well, and keep the GM aware of your disadvantages, and are able to effectively role-play scenarios where your PC is negatively impacted, you get a reward for Role-paying the disadvantage. It makes no sense to me to give a PC more points to create a more powerful character just because they're addicted to CRACK!!! If anything, the opposite should be true. Something on the line of "Pay for this disadvantage because in the long run, you will get your money back and then some." 

Though that's my POV.

Anyway, hope my mental ramblings have proven helpful or opened new ideas...


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