RPG Games built on sand

Most RPGs I read, and videos I watch about RPGs entrench old and flawed systems that only work from a laughably limited, and often juvenile, perspective -- failing to explore anywhere near the liminal areas of the hobby. I’m sick of stupid, unimaginative people controlling the conversation, thinking that their decades of doing the same thing, thinking about things the same way, and following the crowd with pre-packaged assumptions, amounts to anything more than shaking a kaleidoscope. The kaleidoscope in this metaphor is the role-playing systems that are popular -- shiny plastic beads of dice tricks and arithmetic trapped in a hollow mirrored tube. The images that you get are pretty, shaking the tube gives you new experiences, and adding new beads is fun. So, why change? Maybe you want more control of the images. Maybe you are getting bored. Maybe you think that there is something else.

There is a better roleplaying experience out there, and it is achieved by giving gamers resolution mechanisms (I’ll just call them tools going forwards) that pass a four-fold test. Is the tool simple, easy to understand, and easy to implement? Is the tool translatable? That is can you translate it from the narrative to the tactical, or from the tactical to the narrative with ease? A gamer who lives in the narrative can transform what they describe into a rule, while a wargamer’s tactics are clearly translate into the narrative. Is the tool extensible? Can it expand and contract to meet the needs of the situation? Can it get the hell out of the way when we need it to, and can it bring clarity to those edge cases and strange situations? And finally, can the tool be customized. Does it have the plasticity to be made in the image of the gamers who will use it?

Dynamic action. A game that can go faster, has a quicker, more frenetic, more engaging top speed, is usually better and more fun. But that’s just the top speed. We don’t just go faster, but we can control the speed. We can match the pace of your game, turn down the dial and go slower, and turn up the dial and go faster. By dispensing with turns and rounds and using an action engine, something unique to our system, we make things simpler, less complicated, and more accurate. The action engine is your first tool.

Asynchronous action systems are the darlings of the wargamer – these are the systems that turn the attention to an event, resolve it, and then examine the next event. These systems require that there is paralysis, or near paralysis, of other events and creatures while the events of the turn are resolved. We give the moderator the power to control the length of these pauses, and just like the way a movie camera creates motion from a series of still pictures, a game with this approach simulates action with a series of turns. The more pictures per minute, the more detailed and smooth the action.

The flaw in those other systems is that each participant adds a turn to the sequence. More tokens or miniatures on the field of battle, means more turns gets squeezed into the timeline – a supposedly fixed timeline. That’s not how reality works, and the more you bend time, the more players begin to feel like their characters have had some unseen hand cast a slow spell on them, although they don’t know its source, can’t articulate its effects, and are unable to dispel it.

Synchronous actions systems are less popular but still exist in the genre. These models of action have the moderator poll each player with “what are you doing?” Once each actor has described their actions, all events are resolved simultaneously. We subsume this methodology into our system, because once the moderator changes the dial on how large the chunks of time are, simultaneous actions become inevitable. By recognizing that speeds are frequencies and giving the players and moderator a tool the sequence them, we demystify who goes next.

Actions: The game gives you an action mechanism that is simple and fast and contains four basic actions that map directly to your character’s talent with that action. There is never more math than adding two numbers and comparing against a difficulty.

Effort: Effort is the concept that powers action. A player can choose how much effort is used to power an action, and how much effort is left in reserve. For each one of three effort tokens a player can roll an additional die on an action or reaction.

Tools: Tools like weapons and books are powered by skills and proficiencies to greatly enhance our basic talents. Tools impose a shift on the type of dice used to resolve your actions.

Success: Success is measured in STARS. If an action exceeds the difficulty, it is a one-star success. If it doubles it, it is a two-star success. With every action measured on a scale of three skulls to three stars, we have a more dynamic set of results to describe the events in our world.

Effects: There are four basic effects. While actions are powered by effort, effects are powered by the stars of success. From four basic effects tied to four basic actions we have at our disposal sixteen maneuvers without the trouble of learning sixteen maneuvers to play the game. We can have our character learn tricks – special effects that are powered by the stars of success, exponentially increasing our options at the table, while keeping things simple and fast.

Conditions: Conditions are the final piece of the puzzle. Conditions impose a rule over which dice you must count when adding your two numbers together. Do you have to count the lowest dice? That is a penalty. A condition is anything in the game that has a bearing on the check being performed. A wounded character has a condition that makes moving harder… well, they take a penalty when they go to move. Yep. Conditions come from effects – not just the four we already know about by every effect. Conditions can come from the environment, from rain, snow, or sun. Conditions can come from your character’s background. You can change the condition of your sword by sharpening it. You can change the condition of your sword by leaving it in the rain or using it to dig a ditch.

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