So I’ve joined a play-by-email RPG group and we’re trying to decide on the best game system for that style of play. I figured I’d ask the Internet! Does anyone have any experience playing this way, and if so what is the best system to use?
A long time ago I decided to make a move from the standard D&D-style collection of actions to a system based on Action Points, or AP. Instead of having different slots of actions–Major, minor, bonus, move, etc.–I wanted players (and myself) to be able to choose a wide array of potential actions on their turn without being locked in to categories. Sure, a normal round using AP in Shattered Empire still may have the superficial look of One Move, One Attack, Drink One Potion, but there will be tons of times when it doesn’t. You can use your AP in any way you want, which means that some characters will attack multiple times instead of doing anything else. Situationally, you may take three move actions on your turn instead of attacking at all. You might sit back and save up AP for the next round, unleashing a giant combo, or make a skill check, read a spell-scroll, and then fire a crossbow. You have a max amount of action points to use, and depending on the situation you may use them in any number of ways. It lets strategy and variety rule over combat encounters.
But, lets be fair. It can slow down a turn.
Some players are really good at keeping numbers in their head, thinking about actions before their turns, and making quick decisions based on context. And some players will inevitably ask “How many AP have I used this turn again?” It might take a little training to get the flow down perfect, and it might even take the GM urging a certain player to pick up the pace. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a better one.
My favorite thing to shake my head at is when a player realizes they still have AP left over, so instead of just ending their turn they take a superfluous action. They may have put themselves in the perfect position strategically, performed every action they planned, and had great results, but by-the-gods they are not going to waste 2 AP. “I’ll move five feet to the right.” There. A nice even 0 AP.
But, to be fair again, those slow players are going to be slow no matter what system they use.
Perhaps the biggest reason AP wins over Actions is in spellcasting. Varying AP costs for spells encourage combos and synergy. All too often in RPGs the Standard Action is used up when you cast a spell, and there’s no way to cast another one. With that type of system, how often does a Controller or Leader say “screw it, I’ll just attack” instead of casting a buff or debuff? They don’t want to “waste” their Standard Action on granting their ally a bonus to attack. They may entrap an enemy with a spell, but by the time their turn comes back around and they are able to attack it the effects may have already worn off. I’ve watched it happen over and over. With a rich AP system, you can make those combos where you cast a spell that makes an enemy vulnerable to poison and then apply poison to your mace and attack them. You might not be able to move that turn, or maybe you sacrificed some defense in order to save up AP…but there is a path to your ideal actions.
AP also introduces the concept of situational value to a spell or power. Different powers cost different APs, so you might choose one or another based on the other actions you want to take that round. You can stack powers because they aren’t all “Standard Actions.” You can put your head down and run all the way across the battlefield instead of going one “Movement Action” per turn.
Weapons too can be affected in a different way because of AP. You might be able to take two stabs with your little knife, dealing minor damage to two targets instead of swinging your giant halberd and dealing massive damage to only one target. AP effectively grants an “attack speed” to different types of weapons; an attribute that is completely missing in so many tabletop RPGs.
Does using an AP system cause more bookkeeping? Technically yes. But it’s so marginal that it doesn’t matter. Usually your AP isn’t going to change outside of leveling, and the system is easy. There is no need to physically chart your AP usage every turn. You can quickly and easily track it in your head, and it resets every turn anyway.
Finally, AP resets at the END of your turn. This allows for multiple actions to take place during the round, even if it is not your turn. Reactions, interruptions, extra defense…You spend AP on these, so if you are willing to limit your actions during your normal turn you can perform more actions during someone else’s turn in the round. This adds another layer of strategy and gives a feeling like things are happening more in real-time and in response to multiple other players and NPCs, instead of just having a “Reaction Action” slot.
If you are interested in an AP system, check out the BASE12 system or shoot me a message to playtest the Shattered Empire campaign setting!
BASE12 isn’t for everybody; no game system is. The wide spectrum of playstyles dictates the vast array of systems and variants on the market, and that’s a good thing. Imagine if you had to play every game, regardless of setting, using the same game system? Would you really want to roll a d20 to see if you successfully charted a course for your starship? How could a complex figure like a secret government agent be summed up with only three stat categories?
The gaming boom of the aughts brought a new hurdle for developers. With a flood of new gamers–or return gamers that were away from the hobby for sometimes decades–RPGs in general took an approach of “Easy and Accessible.” It was important that newcomers not be deterred by overly complicated rules and structure. “Make it broad and approachable,” the developers thought.
The early twenty-teens saw many systems go a step further: into simplicity. It seemed reasonable that in our fast-paced/low-attention-span age that gamers would want to jump right in and game. Little setup, little structure. Just quick, easy, simple mechanics and let the role-playing take over from there.
And that, too, is a good thing. It’s especially good for pure role-players, and those that would rather meet and tell a collective story with friends than actually game.
But it’s not the only way.
I have always wanted a little more, and since I missed the boat on Pathfinder during my twenties I never quite found a system that let me dig in and get that math-crunch adrenaline rush that I craved. I wanted complicated.
And that’s why I made BASE12. I wanted a complicated, deep system. That doesn’t mean it’s hard to learn or slow to play; complicated can still exist beside quick and easy. It’s just that simple word that I wanted to get out of there.
So, yes, BASE12 is complicated. There are 12 Attributes for your character (compare this to 6 in D&D, or 5 in Savage Worlds.) This depth in defining your character’s attributes would allow you to create any type of character you can think of, and fit it into any genre.
Skills are tied to Attributes, so having more Attributes allows for more precision and variety in Skills.
Derived stats (Hit Points, Stamina Points, Action Points) as well as things like movement distance and initiative come from Attributes as well, giving greater control over minutiae.
Is it crunchy? For sure. It has depth enough for mathematicians, character tinkerers, and level-planners. But it’s still easy to learn, and quick to play.
Wanna try BASE12? It’s free under a Creative Commons license that even let’s you create and sell your own games designed for it.
Here’s a link: Base12 RPG System
As I move into the final stage of playtesting before starting a Kickstarter campaign for Shattered Empire, I’ve decided it’s time for people to test it out and give me feedback without me sitting at the table with them.
If you are a GM that has access to a group that would like to playtest a Strategy RPG in a High Fantasy setting and are willing to give feedback on mechanics and documentation clarity, please send me a message or email me at LegendaryDropCast@gmail.com and I’ll send the penultimate draft of the game documents to you.
Looking forward to taking this thing to the next level!
(to get an idea of the crunchiness of this system, here’s what the Character Sheet looks like…)
Making your own game for your friends to play raises problems that you never anticipated, but you essentially know where you want to go in the end. It’s just for you and your friends after all.
Preparing a game for the public, however, brings up a whole new list of problems that must be solved.
If something is a little unbalanced when I run a session as a GM, I just tweak it. I’ve talked about this recently: fudging. A couple extra hit points here, a smaller die size there…and like magic we’re back on track and balanced. It’s an important skill to have as a GM. But should it be expected?
Is it reasonable to ask someone playing your game to use common sense and improvisation to keep it running smoothly? Or is this a cop out, essentially releasing a broken game and asking someone else to fix it?
I’ve been building combat encounters and trying to playtest for balance, but sometimes there are so many variables that I can’t account for everything.
“Yes, this WOULD be a balanced Level 5 encounter, except they found that chest of magic maces last session, so now it’s a steamroll.”
I’ve had to learn the hard way in comedy and screenwriting to trust my audience. Have faith that they can follow. Don’t treat them like idiots, don’t spell everything out for them. Know that they’ll get there without you. Maybe it’s the same theory here?
Or maybe this is completely different, and requires a different approach.
What do you think?
Being a GM is rewarding hard work at best, and a nightmare of record-keeping, crowd control, and floor-mopping at worst. But at its core, the role of the GM is to make the game fun. It’s not always about knowing the rules, or keeping the players heading in the right direction to tell your story. In fact, if you are only there to tell your story then you are probably on the wrong side of the GM screen.
Combat and skill checks are two of the most basic mechanical ways for the player to interact with the gameworld. So what happens when the dice don’t go their way? What happens if they stumble upon an encounter that is too far above their level? What if a lucky shot or an unlucky break causes the entire campaign to fall flat on its back?
Let me talk about FUDGING.
This can be tender subject, both for players and for game masters. There are probably endless opinions about the subject–one for each human asked–but for the sake of this thought experiment I’ll stick to the three most obvious and straight-forward: Do It, Don’t Do It, and Sometimes Do It.
First, a quick definition: Fudging, as in “fudging the numbers,” is when the GM takes a creative interpretation to the results of a roll, for good or bad, that is usually in direct opposition to the literal results of the roll. This could also be accurately called “cheating.”
Let me set the scene: Your adventurers are pursuing a character that they will later discover is the “big bad” of your campaign. For now, they don’t realize that this NPC will be pushing the story and creating tension for weeks to come. All they know is that he stole something from another NPC. You’ve set up a terrific chase scene, with brilliant mechanics, difficult traps, a gripping cinematic eventscape…And then one of your player’s says “I use Psionic Reach knock the boulder off the ledge onto his head.” You grit your teeth, because you didn’t really foresee that trap being used against your own antagonist, but fine, you’ll roll for it. Damn. It’s a 1. The boulder crushes his skull, killing the NPC, and essentially ending your campaign before it starts. Right?
Of course not. That’s why you roll behind a screen. “Ooh, sorry, the boulder crashes down just to the left of the fleeing suspect, narrowly missing him.” “What did he roll for defense?” a player may ask (and that player is probably a trouble-maker at the table for questioning the GM in the first place.) “A 9,” you reply. “Just enough to dodge.”
Fudging. It’s cheating, sort of. But is it wrong? Is it the wrong decision for your game?
1. DO IT.
First of all, let me get this out of the way. I fudge. I don’t do it often, and I don’t like to do it at all (it makes me feel guilty.) But sometimes it necessary. The real question is: How do you know when it’s necessary?
The answer is: “When it’s fun.” That’s what we’re here for. To have fun, to enjoy ourselves. To tell incredible stories, to forge friendships, to use our brains and imaginations in a way that no other thing in the real world would let us. I’m not going to let one random dice roll stand between my players and I and fun.
2. DON’T DO IT.
There HAS to be some amount of restraint on fudging. Player’s have to feel like their decisions matter, especially if they are taking an action that they know is a long-shot. Luck is a fun element when it’s on your side. I’ve had players ask to do something completely outrageous and unlikely, and instead of saying “no” I’ve told them “roll the dice.” Boom. Natural 20. You just defied the odds. That’s a memorable experience that will stay with that player forever, and I’d never DREAM of taking that moment away from them. This is not the time to fudge. If you railroad the story, fudge every roll, and never let the dice fall where they may–especially if your player’s become aware of it–you’re going to lose the table. It won’t be fun. Fudge in moderation.
3. SOMETIMES DO IT.
What’s even better than fudging in moderation? Making sure you put yourself in situations that you won’t HAVE to fudge. Don’t set a pivotal plot point at the mercy of the dice if you don’t expect to abide by that dice result. Why do that? Don’t go into a situation knowing the outcome. There’s no reason to bother with pointless skill checks and asking player’s for their opinions if you are just going to “move the story along” however you see fit, no matter the outcome.
When is a good time to fudge? When it’s fun. FUN. Fun is why we’re here. Has your Barbarian just missed six turns in a row? Did she decide to spend every last bit of energy she has on this one final attack just at the hopes of getting a little piece of the damage-pie? Did your Skeletal Knight just roll a defensive tie? Fudge it. It wasn’t a 12 after all, it was an 11. She hits. It was fun. She won’t quit playing the game now. And you know, it makes sense in a story about heroes performing great deeds that a dramatic moment like that would succeed anyway. It’s relevant to the game.
So do it when you must, and don’t feel bad. Don’t do it too often, and don’t let your players know. Don’t fix broken mechanics with fudging, fix the broken mechanics instead. Don’t not do it, just because you want the universe to decide everything. That’s what most of us are here to escape from, after all.
And always remember: There’s a reason that we as GMs make our rolls behind a screen.
I’ve never been very fond of those blog posts–or often more accurately, those clickbait articles–that try to tell you that there are X types of people, and you should load this page and grant a hit to our advertisers to find out which kind you are. BUT, there is something to be said about identifying different personality traits and patterns and preparing for those in your gameworlds. For the sake of this very unscientific and non-exhaustive post I’ve going to describe three different gamer types when it comes to race selection, because its worth examining play-styles. If nothing else, figuring out which one you identify closest with might grant you the opportunity to purposely try out another play-style (which really is the very definition of gaming in my small personal sphere of experience.) WARNING: This probably seems pretty biased, but I’m making fun of all of us equally, even me.
You already have an idea of the kind of character you want to create. The mechanics and documentation of the game you’re playing will dictate which race you’ll choose, depending on which benefits your character the most. If your character is a big brute that hits stuff hard with a large thingy, you immediately find the racial bonuses that grant the largest Strength modifiers. Any other bonuses or penalties don’t matter. Why does a master swordsman need history knowledge or communication skills? We’ll just carve up anyone that opposes us. Maximizing the preconceived abilities of your character is paramount; it would be STUPID to do anything else. Your roleplay will just have to fit into this character, which is probably going to be pretty one-sided. But by-gods, you’ll get the results you are looking for, and you will rarely fail. You have gamed the game.
You flip through the pages until you find something that makes you say “Oh, that’s cool!” This becomes the foundation for your character. Mostly, you just compile things that seem cool to you, with no consideration to whether there is any synergy between the powers, traits, and bonuses. As long as it seems fun to do, you’ll do it. Win or lose, fun is all that matters. Sure, your Priest doesn’t have any Wisdom because you wanted to be “really super fast,” but that’s not the point. The point is you have a crazy-fast Priest. That’s fun.
You look closely at the “person.” It doesn’t matter what the bonuses and penalties of a specific race are, you just want to make a connection with them on a personal level. This type of creature has dealt with something that you relate to, so you can instantly jump into roleplaying them. You are more equipped to play this character than anyone else, because you understand them. The Laroon were created to serve the High Elves, but they fought for their independence, and you can relate. You don’t have to be an actor: you just act. The abilities and powers of the character don’t matter, because you are just here to bring them to life, and you’ll deal with whatever they must deal with.
Do you find any of this to ring true? Have you ever examined your choices in character creation before? What brought you to your decisions? Would actively going AGAINST those tendencies make for a more interesting experience? I’d love to hear your feedback.