Thursday, 15 December 2011
The Year of Experimentation
The year is coming to a close and what a dramatic year it's been. While I could easily get into all the personal trials and tribulations of 2011, we'll stay on topic and talk about how the Optional System finally went from being random thoughts assembled from countless dog walks to an actual work-in-progress which has consumed my life. Looking back on this past year, I prefer to call it "The Year of Experimentation."
On January 2nd, the very first dice were rolled for the Optional System with my good friend, Kieron, volunteering to make the trip up here specifically for playtesting. We kept it simple, an undercover drug deal gone wrong with our lone, intrepid hero caught in the crossfire. There were no rules written down and Kieron's character sheet was a collection of scribbles, corrections, and amazing sketches (Kieron's an amazing artist - go to Links and check out his work from there). Oh, and he died twice. Like I said, it was a true work-in-progress.
Since that day, hundreds of pages and thousands of words have been written in the name of creating a new generation of old school roleplaying games. That may be a bit over-hyped, but I'm really starting to feel as if there's something to this system. I'm a particularly retrospective kind of guy, always looking back at what my life was like one year prior, five years prior, all that. Flipping through the pages of my various playtest drafts and looking at how each component has evolved over the past year has shown how each rule and character component has stretched the limits of what I've experienced in over 20 years of unplugged gaming.
Simultaneously, my work on the latest Under the Hood column for Roleplayer's Chronicle has given me a renewed sense of accomplishment. I've been writing about two different forms of RPG mechanics I like to call "representation" (simple dice roll mechanics where the chance of success is demonstrated on the character sheet) and "simulation" (where the character sheet provides you with modifiers to roll against an unknown target number). Representational mechanics are much more abstract and remain a staple of old-school design philosophy where the emphasis is on the individual GM to take what's given and make something of it, versus simulation mechanics that tell you exactly what happened through complex interpretations. Over the course of writing this article, I've come to realize how the Optional System is a representational game befitting those original trailblazing games.
My point is not intended to be egotistical. When you look back at the mechanics for D&D - I mean, the original 1000 copies of D&D - they're a bit sloppy and unbalanced compared to what we see nowadays. A good start, but sloppy nonetheless. Regardless, those mechanics inspired generations of roleplayers to create simulation mechanics and that's how the early days of roleplaying games left such an impact on us. I know it did with me. It showed there was a way to play an incredibly versatile, complex and yet simplistic game where there were no limits to what you could do other than think it up and explain it clearly.
When I set out to design the Optional System, I wanted to prove there was a means of recreating the chaos of combat through a dice mechanic and build an inherent system of strategy while keeping the pace sharp and exciting. With a few bugs yet to be worked out, my faith in this system remains stronger than ever and I know it will turn the standard RPG on its head. All it needs are a few believers.