Monday, 22 July 2013

Down To The Core, Part 1: Construction Begins

I am the Warden and this is my 200th post!!

In times gone by, I've made a point of marking these milestones with a review of the previous 49, 99, or 149 posts before. Over the past few weeks, I've been juggling back and forth between carrying on with tradition or forging a new path. There's a lot to talk about over the last 49 posts, from the Kickstarter to the ENnie award, but my mind is looking forward once more and the ideas are far too fresh to get caught up in the past. Today, I want to talk about the future of the Optional System and the evolution of the Optional Core.

I've used the name "Optional Core" before to describe a planned project where Directors could create their own customized version of the Optional System and provide an open system for use in multiple genres, settings, and styles. In a sense, that has not changed, but the application is currently undergoing significant revisions. My original plan was to keep working on these revisions privately and without making a fuss out of it, but we are talking about a special milestone and this blog was fundamental in the creation of the Optional System and Killshot. Denying that fact is denying my creative process. AKA why fix what's not broken?

Remember when I talked about quick-start adventures as a possible product line? Optional Core would be that product line and the system powering it. A kind of condensed and simplified version of the original Optional System from which each adventure can expand and amplify as needed. Existing primarily as a series of quick-start adventures, it could also exist as a series of free, promotional rulebooks for willing and/or experienced players to take the rules beyond the game, create original characters, and expand the adventure into a full-on campaign.

At this point, it's concept only and a very feasible one, but it's nothing unless the mechanics can back it up and that requires a major overhaul. What needs to remain from the original system to remain similar to the Optional System and work in a learn-while-you-play format? Another way of looking at it is to ask what is the "core" of the system and how can it be extracted to created an alternate, open-ended version?

Over the coming weeks, I'll be hard at work stripping apart the original engine and reconstructing a new one. Just as I did during construction on the original Optional System, the process will be documented on this very blog and will focus on three key phases.

Faster Dice Pools

It wouldn't be the same game without the dice pools, but these can become incredibly cumbersome for a quick-start game. Based on some feedback from original Optional System players (particularly Jacob Wood), I want to contain the average size of the dice pool and simultaneously simplify how modifiers, gear, and other dice groups are assigned during play.

HINT: While the original system frequently applied all the standardized dice sizes from d20 to d4s, this will likely change for Optional Core. Particularly the frequency of the d20.

Hit Counts

Creating a quick-play system requires major streamlining to keep the rules to a minimum and one of the essential elements to change is the way scenes are built. In the original Optional System, there were two types of scenes: fight scenes and challenges. If fight scenes were built like challenges, wouldn't that just simplify the game? That's exactly what's on the table as fight scenes will be constructed with a hit count (a total number of successful hits from all Heroes) rather than a collection of individual hit points assigned to every opponent.

Story-based Character Advancement

You couldn't go anywhere in the Optional System without training points, but it's a provision that complicates the desired format of Optional Core. Unless you limit players to select choices to advance their characters during play (and that's just teasing), training points simply create an unnecessary burden. Plus the fact that a quick-start game equals pre-gens, it's safe to assume character advancement can also be pre-generated. The trick is unlocking those advances.

One of the major alterations I want to create with Optional Core is a stronger story-based mechanic encouraging creativity and roleplaying rewards for rewards. By providing character advancement within the adventure itself, the Director can provide players with concrete outcomes measured right on the character sheet.

Building a Development Team

Effective today, my work begins on making Optional Core a reality and it will involve months of intense writing, playtesting, and development to ensure the mechanics can hold up to the promise of this line. To make this happen, I have the great fortune of stepping into this project with a larger Team of fans and gamers to test this sucker to the fullest and there's always room for more. There's still a lot to organize over the coming weeks, but there are two ways you can join the Development Team.

There will be two Google+ communities established for communicating with interested playtesters and fans, each of which will play its own role in building and cementing the Optional Core mechanics. Originally set up to support the Killshot RPG, Killshot Online will work on testing out these mechanics to support gritty and realistic adventures using Optional Core within the Killshot "universe." If you were part of the Killshot Reloaded Kickstarter, this is the future you've been wondering about.

But I want this game to be more than an extension of Killshot and modern gaming. To ensure it can handle the craziest demands we can come up with, the Optional Core community will spearhead the system's development for fantasy, science fiction, steampunk, and other genres. From here, we'll be looking at the system's flexibility, strengths, and weaknesses to provide an easy-to-comprehend and easy-to-start RPG.

Along the way, I'll be documenting the entire process on this blog, so even if you're not interested in joining any communities, there'll be plenty of opportunity to contribute to the process right here. Just look for the Down To The Core posts. So let's get started, shall we?

What do you look for when you play a quick-start adventure? What do you wish was a standard for quick-start adventures, if any?