Just over three months ago, my commitment to creating the Optional System truly began. It had been gestating for months before that and attempted at the table, though nothing had ever been written down on paper. The goal of this blog was to create a journal of progress, to motivate me to keep at it and think out loud when issues threatened to bring this game crashing down around me. To that end, it's been a rousing success.
I'd also be lying if I didn't admit to the need for attention to my work. Duh. To that end, it has been successful in meeting my first goal of playtesting: convince my friends. If my friends don't want to play it, what chance do I have of convincing strangers? I'd like to think I'm on course but I can't say for sure. Self doubt and all. Regardless, the game has evolved quite nicely over the last three months and there are parts of it I can't recognize compared to that first draft sitting in my mind.
To mark the occasion, I'm going to take a look back at the components of the Optional System and how's it changed since that first post on June 20th.
The Optional System arose from numerous factors, all of them what I considered "failings" of other RPGs. They had been thoughts lingering around in my head for the longest time - the predictability of predetermined target numbers and static bonuses, the speed of the game, and continuous actions in a single turn - had been there long ago. It wasn't until I was wheelchair bound and playing all my D&D online that it really began to hit home. When you play online (in my opinion), you're left with nothing but the game itself. Like waking up next to a woman you picked up at a bar; when the sun comes up, she's not as pretty as you remember. Sometimes, she's actually a dude. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
When I started forming the core values of the Optional System, I wanted a fast-paced game capable of handling any situation without the need for continuous add-ons. I didn't want one rule for this, one rule for that, and combat would work on the exact same principle as everything else. A player making a successful roll would get to make another one, and another, and another, until they failed. I wanted to flow of dice combat to run as smoothly at the table as it does in films and in my imagination.
Check, check, check, check, and check. While the pacing has been bogged down by playtesting details, I'm convinced these requirements have been met. More importantly, they have created a truly unique roleplaying game using the foundations of roleplaying we all know and love. I've been looking for another RPG similar to mind and I haven't found one. Maybe in some areas (exploding dice are nothing new) but not in any of these core values.
While I don't consider this a core value, it was always important to incorporate a lot of dice in this game. Because I'm a dice junkie and it sucks that only spellcasters get to drop 10d6 on the table. In the early phases of OSRPG, character abilities were divided into power sources (power dice, trained dice, master dice) but there was no consistency. Sometimes power dice gave you a d6, other times it was a d8. It wasn't until a month into the project when it dawned on me that some players will want to roll everything all at once and picking out a single die from the pile will just irritate things. Hence, dice groups. A power die is always a d8; if your power takes a half penalty, just find the d8s in your pile and cut them in half. Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy.
Those of you involved from the beginning know I'm not an equipment fan. So many games require your character to go shopping in order to keep up with others. As someone living below the poverty line in real life, this sucks. It's a little too realistic for me. Using money as a power broker always breaks as soon as you start to build another character or introduce another player, unless you allow that new guy to just have the exact same amount of coin as the rest. This rarely happens. "You can have 4 magic items of these levels, blah, blah, blah. The rest of you can go shopping with your 50,000 gold and buy whatever you want." Sucking balls.
I wanted to make a game immune to the needs and benefits of equipment. That was my original intent and I'm afraid that's changed since the beginning, but what it's changed into has been a pleasant compromise. The idea of a weapon allow you to hit someone better than an unarmed attacker never seemed right. It's not the weapon making the attack, it's the character, and that instantly requires glitches to make an infamous character like a monk work in your game. Using bonus hits for weapons and damage reduction for armor was always a given. The pleasant surprise came from gear.
What I'm still stuck on is the whole idea of equipment costs. Bleh. While many of my players like the simplicity of an exchange/purchase rate for all items, I'm still trying to think of something a little more flexible and interesting without trying to figure out how much gold or credits everything is worth. This may be the most debatable area still in development.
When this game began, the stats were always a bit off. They worked, but always with the addendum "for now." They would advance, they would change, the question was how to make them work in the right way which screamed perfection. I can tell you now I've spend the past week working on nothing but stats and admit this may just be the right way to do it. It's too soon to say anything, you'll have to wait a little longer. I'm still tasting shoe from previous times when I made announcements too early.
Success vs. Hits
In the beginning, there was only success. A good roll allowed you to roll again or pass to a friend. Ta-da. It didn't take long to realize having players roll massive differences (what is now called critical hits and devastating attacks) without rewarding them was a bit of a gip. Especially with the Spell option. And so the Optional System is now about the number of hits you roll and maximizing those hits to become an effective character. Attack rolls convert hits into damage, rolling a lot of hits in one shot allows you to complete an option faster, and reactions require more than just one hit per roll. There's also pools, resources where your character stores the hits from a single roll and applies them through a series. This change has altered the game for the better and is also one of those head-smackers you wonder how you didn't think of sooner.
I didn't want a minis game, use maps, or any other expensive/collectible handouts to make my game come to life. Like I said, I'm broke. Why should I expect other players to spend more money just to run one game when I can't do it myself? There's only so many times you can use the same tower map and substitute a goblin mini for every fucking character in your world!! I'm afraid there's been one exception.
The Tracker (AKA Project: Thing) has become an exponentially beneficial appliance to the game in light of the increased pace and the use of critical defenses and defensive options. The early games literally played out like this...
"OK, so I made that attack, got a bonus option, then failed, so I lost an option. Then passed it to Fraser..."
"Right, and I got four rolls in a row. So that gave us the Edge. That gives us another bonus option. But then I failed two more rolls in a row."
"Ummm, how many options does that leave us with?"Not any more! The Tracker has been a godsend and I have even larger plans for it. Am I going to share them now? Nope. I'm just going to tease you with the prospect of something better than before and leave you hanging. Hey, I'm an older brother. Teasing is what I do best.
Application (and An Announcement)
This brings us to the final major change that's happened since this blog first started. A setting in which to demonstrate the game itself. Up until now, the Optional System has been designed as a universal system to incorporate as many genres, themes, and settings as possible. And it's lived up to the demand so far, I must say, but there needs to be something more concrete. A specific example demonstrating how these rules work perfectly to create a unique, solid roleplaying game. Those of you who have been with this blog for a while know about Matrix: Restoration...
"Redpills". It will be free and it will be big. Not just a tidy little 30-50 page supplement featuring the material from the incredible trilogy, but large enough to look like you should have paid money. My goal is to create a minimum 200 page PDF and release it for free - that alone will be just one of the differences between this version of the Matrix and every other version out there. I'm going to treat this as if I have a contract with Warner Brothers and create the definitive Matrix RPG (without getting sued or slapped with a court order). There are still legalities and the like to consider and if I'm very lucky, it'll be out next year.
Redpills gives you the opportunity to play as operatives in the Matrix in one of three campaigns: after the events of the first film, after the events of the trilogy, and after the events of the Matrix Online MMORPG. You can play a monitor or an operator, even start the campaign as a bluepill. There's still a lot to develop and pin down, but the Matrix was a huge inspiration in the design concepts for the Optional System. It seems only fitting it become the first fully detailed setting for these rules.
So ends the 50th post and it's already time to start thinking about #51. I want to take this time to thank everyone who has taken a moment to read anything, share their thoughts, and roll dice with me. This project has become an obsession for me - in a good way - and has done tremendous things to help with my recovery over the past few months.
To those of you just joining us, strap yourselves in. She's going to get a little bumpy.