2013-12-10 Writing Your Own RPG Rules

I started thinking about it when Johnn Four said on Google+ that he was interested in designing his “own little OSR game”. Like Joseph Bloch, I wondered. It doesn’t sound like Johnn really wants to run and play an OSR game. He’s just interested in designing the rules? There are already so many of them out there! All these Fantasy Heartbreakers...

What is a Fantasy Heartbreaker? I learned about the term from Ron Edward’s essay. They are “truly impressive in terms of the drive, commitment, and personal joy that’s evident in both their existence and in their details” and “but a single creative step from their source: old-style D&D.” Since I like classic D&D, that’s not a problem for me.

Here’s how Ron ends his essay:

They designed their games through enjoyment of actual play, and they published them through hopes of reaching like-minded practitioners. [...] Sure, I expect tons of groan-moments as some permutation of an imitative system, or some overwhelming and unnecessary assumption, interferes with play. But those nuggets of innovation, on the other hand, might penetrate our minds, via play, in a way that prompts further insight.

Let’s play them. My personal picks are Dawnfire and Forge: Out of Chaos, but yours might be different. I say, grab a Heartbreaker and play it, and write about it. Find the nuggets, practice some comparative criticism, think historically.

Get your heart broken with me.

This essay, I think, mentions all the important parts:

I also like to read the design decisions somewhere, on a blog for the game, perhaps. Why add skills? Why drop Vancian magic? Why drop descending armor class? Why use fewer saving throws? Why add bennies? Why rework encumbrance?

As for myself, I’m basically using Labyrinth Lord. I’ve been thinking about skills, magic, spells, armor class, saving throws, bennies, and writing about these issues on this blog. And as I’ve said on Johnn’s post: “I just kept running my game and started putting my house rules on a wiki. Then I copied the missing elements from the book. Then I put it all into a LaTeX document. And I keep running my game and I keep making changes to the rules. And that’s it.”

For a while I had an English and a German copy of these rules on a wiki. After a while I abandoned the wiki and the English rules and moved the German text to LaTeX.

I think the important part was thinking about the rules, writing about the rules, changing the rules, reassembling the rules, having something to show others, a place to collect the house rules... and with all that achieved, there’s just nothing to do but make the occasional update. I’m not trying to convince anybody else to use the rules. But if you’re looking for something a bit different, perhaps you can find “those nuggets of innovation” in my rules, too. :)

• 💔 •

What are those those nuggets of innovation you ask? I think the only thing that’s truly new is how I write the document making full use of a sidebar to comment the main text. And I keep track of my player’s reputation with the various gods of the setting. Everything else I have seen somewhere else: Death & Dismemberment, using 1d6 for thief skills, using a d30 once a night, using 1d6 for weapon damage, limiting the repertoire of arcane casters... Nothing new under the sun. But I’d be happy to pontificate talk about all these points.

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Comments

Thank you for all of this. It’s very validating.

Dither 2013-12-10 20:43 UTC


Great points, Alex, thanks.

– Johnn 2013-12-18 19:58 UTC


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