Thursday, 29 September 2011

Optional Options?

This would be a shitty time to roll a 1.
I am the Warden!!

Busy, busy, busy, that's how it's been for the past week. Last Friday's playtest was perhaps one of the first in which the game was rather ho-hum, but more than reimbursed with the post-game discussion that proceeded it. In response to various breaks discovered in the Matrix playtest, I toned down some of the resources and went a bit too far. What followed on Friday was an interesting talk on probability and resources.

Since then, I've been plugging away on rewrites to shore up those gaps and fix up a few loose ends (particular stunts, which strayed too far off course from its original intention). What stands now may be the definitive first-draft release for Chapter 1; what's left are the individual dice groups and various character applications such as powers and skills. Any-who, I'm rambling and wandering away from today's post.

In that post-game discussion, the players offered their own take on some of the OSRPG's components. One of the reasons I chose these guys for initial playtesting is their experience in numerous independent games (especially Fraser Ronald from Sword's Edge Publishing). One of my goals for the OSRPG was to create an independent RPG with the range of a D&D-style game, hence the reason for a d20 as the base die. Fraser brought up a solid point I had not considered strongly enough on the greatest weakness to a d20: range.

During this last playtest, the characters could only apply a stat once per series and this had a dramatic effect on the game (which has since been fixed). The players were mostly relying on their base die to get the job done and that left quite a few active rolls biting the dust. Fraser's point afterwards was the risk of using a d20 to rely on your success: two 20-siders can result in a different of 19 points and that's a lot to make up for with every other die after the fact. "If I were designing a system like this, I'd ditch the d20 altogether."

Seeing as these guys drive for almost an hour to get here, I make a point to strongly consider every suggestion made at the table and spent a good portion of Monday and Tuesday tearing apart the base die for a non-d20. Unsatisfied with anything else (Fraser had suggested 2d10 instead, but the individual role of each die type would be sacrificed and the entire game would have to be tweaked), I started looking at how to overcome the range of a d20. It suddenly hit me five minutes before I promised my fiancee I would stop working and watch the Jets game with her. This became yet another example of how supportive and reluctantly understanding she is. Thanks, babe.

Surely a game called "The Optional System" would include additional options for playing the game. It doesn't have to remain locked in one design. If anything, it shouldn't remain locked. There should be an option (and by that, I mean "possibility") to try something else as a back-up, especially when you're rolling really crappy.

The Mysteries of Life All Rolled Up In A Single Ball of Plastic
The latest revisions acknowledge the gaps of the d20 as a base die for every roll and embraces it as the physics of this game. It represents all the variables of any given situation, those miniscule events beyond any character's control. You could be the most experienced warrior known from here to the elven kingdoms, but that doesn't make you immune to accidentally stumbling on uneven ground as you lunge with your sword and miss completely. It doesn't mean a sudden gust of wind shifts the bullet oh so slightly to the left and whizzes past your target. And what's to say you're having a hard time remembering the combination to the vault because you've got that damn song stuck in your head? To that end, using the d20 as the base die is perfect for the job because it's the same chance ALL CHARACTERS have to complete a given task. Every other dice which follows is your training, which can help overcome those gaps in judgement.

Such concepts can be little comfort when you, as a player, are having one of those nights where the d20 is more like a d10 with a -5 penalty. Players should have the benefit to gain an advantage every now and then to offset a bad dice roll, especially when their prized character's survival is at stake.

Drumroll, please.

Optional Rule: Improving the Odds
Nuts to rephrasing it, let's just post a quote right here, shall we?

Still, there are ways around the loopholes of a single base die, aside from boosts (see Boosts on page 19). Once per series, your character can attempt one of the following efforts. Certain events may prevent one or all of these optional devices; your Director has the final word on these matters.
Aid: Everyone needs a little help from their friends. An ally can aid your character’s attempt by rolling 1d20 base dice at the same time as your roll; you can substitute one of your base dice with the ally’s. Unless the ally uses an option with a listed range, he or she must be adjacent to your character. The ally gains a -3 minor penalty towards their next roll.
Default: Eager to avoid a low roll, you may choose to default a single base die to a result of 10. Your character gains a blunder(*).
Prepare: At the start of a new series, you can roll 1d20 base dice and record the result. This practice is known as preparing. You can substitute a single base die for your prepared result. You must use a Free option.
* A blunder is the cost of straining your character, commonly through exploding bonus dice and failing a stunt roll. When your character gains a blunder, one stat, skill, or power applied to that roll is nullified until the end of the fight or challenge.

Each of these possibilities come from actual suggestions made during the last couple months of playtesting. Since I couldn't pick one I liked more, I decided to use all three of them, though only one can be applied by each character. Aiding an ally comes with a minor penalty because this game is designed to encourage teamwork with few restrictions; preparing only costs a Free option because that stored d20 could still be a 5. Defaulting is a big cheat, IMO, and currently sits as the only time a player can say "Fuck it!" to change the result to something mildly higher. Not great, just higher.

What's to say there can't be another possibility? Maybe you want to roll 2d10 instead of 1d20. I've seen some people use a d10 and a d6 to substitute a d20... somehow. But these can be optional possibilities made available to certain groups who like their games a certain way or shudder at the sight of a d20 like Fraser does. If I'm going to create a truly universal system, these mechanics have to withstand the barrage of criticism and cynicism that's made the Internet famous.