Tuesday, 21 June 2011


Day 2. The initial rush of yesterday's fateful decision has passed and now it's time to get started. Let's build a system, shall we?

There are three goals in creating the Optional System: create a fast-paced RPG capable of handling any action or combination of actions without the need to develop exceptions, provide players with an endless variety of options usable in countless combinations, and provide a combat system able to replicate action like we see in the movies, video games, and all other modern media. Bit of a handful, n'est pas?

I should clarify there are several concepts for these goals already in mind, but this is the first time I've posted them publicly and put it out for discussion. By posting them here, I'm looking for CONSTRUCTIVE feedback. If you think there's no way it can work because on convention, say so. Just don't disregard it completely - you'd be surprised how well some things work when you try.

Initiative Blows
I've never like initiative. The concept works for what's needed, but the application of it compared to real combat has never truly worked IMO. It's too orderly, too precise and predictable. Once the first round of combat has run its course, everyone knows who goes when. And if you want to co-operate on an opponent with an ally, you have to shift around your initiative order, take penalties, and perform other rule requirements to make it work... and all of that depends on your initiative result being higher than everyone else. If you roll last, you're always last. In short, you need exceptions to change up the order of combat. Like I said, it works for a game, but does little to inspire on-the-fly combat.

And so we start with an example. Just over two months ago, during one of several D&D campaigns I play in, we were in heavy combat with trolls in an underground temple. Trap doors opened up to a pit containing more trolls beneath us, but as long as we stay on the main level of this chamber, we were fine. And for some reason, the trolls wanted to push us down to be torn apart by their more ravenous brothers - some nerve, huh? Our shaman was pushed off the edge of a trap door and hung clinging for dear life. Someone needed to step up and save her before the troll's next turn. There were 3 characters with a higher initiative result than the shaman, but neither one of them was able to step aside from their own trolls and make it there safely in time.

The problem with the standard rules for initiative is that they are very individualized. Each character rolls on their own to act amongst a crowd of other characters trying to act on their own. What happened to being a party of adventurers working together to fight evil? By relying completely on the dice to determine when you act in relation to others, you lose an element of control in your actions. This is one of the first problems I need to tackle before any characters in OS can take actions.

The Solution?: Part... Of... A... Team
In the Optional System, all character group themselves into Teams based on association and distance. If you're in a party of 5 heroes, you can form a single Team of 5 characters and share your actions together in whatever order you want. It's your Team that acts together. You can also break down your characters into smaller Teams (one Team of 3 and another Team of 2, for example). It then comes down to which Team goes first. Once your Team steps up to the plate, all players on that Team choose the order in which they roll their dice until they've run out of actions to attempt and dice to roll.

Take this solution back to our helpless shaman. So long as any allied Team (it could be her own Team or another) acts before the trolls do, any one of her comrades can take an action to reach over and pull her up. Or she could do it herself.

Teams, like I said, are determined by allegiances and proximation. You can't join a Team if they're trying to kill you. Or push you down a trap door towards a horde of angry trolls. You also cannot join a Team if you don't have line of sight to a Team member. Sharing actions with a Team requires some form of contact, whether it's a visual out the corner of your eye or shouting a quick command to an ally. If a wall suddenly slams down in the center of the room and separates your Team in half, you must now form 2 Teams amongst those on the same side of the wall as yourself.

Going Solo
Remember when I said OS can't have exceptions. What I mean by that is any addition or alteration to the game requiring new rules, alternate character creation, or anything else not standard to the ordinary style of play. This was a lesson I learned while working on Break & Enter's stealth encounter system for 4e; in order to allow PCs to move quietly in and out of a terrain and dispatch enemies with just one hit, I needed to rewrite rules and create a new encounter system to pull it off. I don't want that for OS - the core rules must already be in place to allow for such an alteration.

Solo characters are one of the biggest alterations to most games. Even if you create a character using the standard rules, you need to play in specially crafted adventures (most of them, but not always, I will admit) suitable to being one guy in a field of angry orcs. So how do Teams work with solo characters?

The exact same way. You can choose to be a Team of one and take all that Team's actions for yourself. You may even do so when you play with other characters. This has been one of the greatest differences between how I imagine my character in combat and how it actually plays out - it's rare to have the opportunity to take on my enemies mano-a-groupo. My hope is that this Team structure will allow for just that style of play.

So Which Team Goes First?
Good question... and I'm going to be a prick and put that off until tomorrow. We'll talk about surprising your enemies, reaction times, and more for those moments when you find your character staring down the dirty end of a toilet bowl.

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