Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Sharing (AKA Teamwork, Part 2)

Couldn't sleep a wink last night. I really wanted to and spent all night lying in bed or on the couch in the hopes of actually falling asleep, but it never happened. You know that kind of night where you have no energy to do any work and just lie there like a zombie? Now I'm struck with a tremendous surge of energy and just might pop out two of these today. But I digress...

Back to Teams! Yesterday, I talked about the concept of Teams in the Optional System. Everyone groups together and splits their actions amongst each other. Now I'd like to talk about how that works exactly, the sharing.

Options: The System Core
It struck me around 3AM that I should have explained something else first, perhaps the penultimate essential to this system. Options. All actions, those requiring dice or a simple description, are called options and hence the name of the system. There are 5 basic options available to all characters the moment they make their dramatic entrance: Attack, Move, Quick, Free, and Pass. Most of these are rather self-explanatory at the moment (and I will get into them, rest assured, because you can learn a lot more than five!) but for now we're going to look at the Pass option.

Each Team starts with a minimum number of options equal to 1 + the total number of characters on a Team. Play with a Team of 3, they all have at least 4 options between the lot of them. A Team of 4 has 5, 5 players get 6, and so on. At the start of your Team's turn, choose one player to start the ball rolling OR have each Teammate roll 1d20 and the highest goes first.

When you roll dice to complete an option, you gain a bonus option transferable to any other option available to your character. So when you attack an enemy and hit, you gain a bonus option. You can use it to shoot/swing again, move out of the way, draw another weapon, or pass that bonus option to a Teammate. The Pass option translates the use of that bonus option to another character on your Team and allows them to attempt something on their own. If that second character succeeds on a dice roll, they gain a bonus option and can pass it onto to the first character or any other character on their Team.

Passing grants a Team incredible flexibility on their turns and easily allows players to work together through more than just marching order. For example, you want to push an opponent off a cliff in the heat of a deadly swordfight but haven't a good Strength score. Your ally does have the muscle, however, and will give you a hand. By passing your bonus option to the ally, the problem can be relieved without having to worry about your opponent striking first, a common concern in most RPGs.

Which Team Goes First?
An excellent question! Each fight, encounter, scrum, or whatever you want to call it starts somewhere. These areas are known as danger zones and commonly occur as a specific area, location, or character in which a fight has clearly begun. For example, you smash through a locked door into an antechamber; once you pass through the door, you discover armed guards waiting for you on the other side. The door is the danger zone and the fight begins as soon as you pass through it.

The Team closest to the danger zone goes first; their proximity to the danger gives them a chance to act faster and respond to the danger at hand. If the danger zone centers on a character, say the heroes are chasing down a thief and finally catch up to him, the character would act first as soon as the first pursuer reaches him. If only one Teammate is the closest to the danger zone, he represents the entire Team for proximity.

Surprising your enemies is one of the fundamental requirements of any combat system and watching players strategize how they will get the jump on your enemies. For the OS, any character who declares an option in advance (I call them "defensive options") can roll 1d20 against any Team granted the first turn. If we go back to our fleeing thief, a player can declare a defensive option before the start of the fight such as "As soon as I get close, I'm going to use an Attack option to tackle him to the ground." He intents to act before the thief can. He rolls 1d20 against the thief and if he wins the roll, the chasing character gets to act first, along with the rest of his Team. He then gains a bonus option from winning the dice roll and the turn carries on from there.

More Options, Please
As stated above, options are the core of this system and it's time we got into those. Another day. In the meantime, I think this post was just what I needed. I've yawned by way through this last paragraph. Thanks for reading.

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.

Monday, 20 June 2011


I Am The Warden!!

But that means nothing to you, doesn't it? No matter what we say about the Internet - its variety, its ability to turn ordinary mortals into infamous idols - each of us remains in obscurity at the start. That's exactly where I stand right now. Obscurity.

Not more than two hours ago, I shut down my pride and joy for the last 8 years: Emerald Press PDF Publishing. Dozens of projects supporting D&D for the last two editions, thousands of hours spent typing away with one hand while the other bashes my skull for a better idea, are now gone. But never forgotten, ever. It's been my absolute pleasure to have experienced EP as a contributor when Shane Garvey started it up and I took over the reigns as Head Honcho (I hate titles). I've worked with numerous people on many sides of the publishing spectrum, including some ENnie award nominees and winners, and had a blast doing it. My time poured into EP got me through a divorce when I needed the distraction, pushed me to change careers from retail management to graphic technology, and gave me drive when an oncoming car almost wiped me from the face of the earth. But the time has come to give that pursuit up.

That's not what we're here to talk about. We're here to talk about the future.

This blog will be my creative outlet as I move into new territory: developing a new RPG system. That's right, another one. The market definitely needs another homemade system to stand in an already crowded subway car taken by only a small percentage of the population, doesn't it? That's not the point. And it's not just about scratching that itch and trying it for myself. 

Games are designed wrong. I know it, I can feel it in my bones. Something's always been missing in every game I've played. And I know you do to. We've settled for what's in front of us and tweaked it along the way. House rules have come and gone from every system we've ever tried because we were never truly happy with what we had. Every time I've created a character, he's never played out exactly as I imagined. Not because the dice rolled poorly (though that's never helped), but because we've been so limited in what we can do. 

Think about it: does your character kick-ass like your favourite movie or novel? No. When was the last time you fought off 4 guys simultaneously on your own while your allies also took on an entire bar full of drunks with pool cues? Does he just take a swing, wait for the other guy to slash at him, then swing again? Does he have only one defensive method, standing there just holding out his shield in the hopes it will deflect the next attack? Never. That's just stupid. No one would fight that way. So why do we settle for this in our RPGs?

Bragging is something I hate to do, so please know I am not trying to brag. But I am confident this issue can be resolved and I think it's time to invest in this idea. To create a roleplaying game where you can play out the role of a universal hero (or villain) just like we've read about and watched on the screen with every dice roll representing every single slash, push, kick, and trigger pull. Over the next several months, I'm going to write about this process as I work out the individual details necessary to build what I call the Optional System. And that's all I'm going to say right now. The rest of my night will be spent toasting the last 8 years and raising a glass to Emerald Press.