A new RPG system


Design Decisions: Equipment and Economics

I think a lot of designers struggle with how to balance equipment in role-playing games. Designers aren’t economists, and being an economist isn’t really a requirement as the level of detail most games require would obscure the added “realism” from modelling based upon actual economic theory. However, many games also have weird (immersion breaking) artifacts from the designs they choose, because they’re not grounded in anything realistic. For this entry, I’m going to talk about what elements are involved in designing economic mechanics, the two most common systems, and how I’m deriving the system in Living Myth.

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Design Decisions: The Core Mechanics

I really hoped to wrap up the rest of characters, but I realized that in order to understand the rest of the design decisions I made for characters you needed to understand the design of the core mechanics.

This comes up a lot when considering the layout of RPG books.  You want readers to only get concepts which have previously been defined, but you also want related things to stay together.  The character’s skills and attributes are referenced by the core mechanic but aren’t really understood until you understand the core mechanic.

Here, I’ll discuss what makes a mechanic “core” and what problems I was trying to solve in designing the core mechanic, and how I felt it wasn’t addressed by alternatives.

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Design Decisions: Skills and Skill Lists

Part 2 of my Design Decisions series flows nicely from part 1.  In Part 1 I broke down how I chose the attributes to use for the Living Myth RPG system, and here I explain the choices I made regarding the skill list.

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Design Decisions: Attributes

Living Myth is going through some Alpha testing right now.  It seems to be working well, and I consider many of the aspects of the game to be “finished”.  So, I am going to be making a series of posts exploring different elements of the game and why I mad the design decisions I made.  If you are a designer, this may help you in your own design considerations, but it’s important to note: my design is not your design.  By this I mean, that the reasoning I use here may or may not apply to the sort of game you are designing.  Thus this should not be taken as a proscription to what the “best” design is.

Furthermore, as I go through the history and reasoning behind these design decisions, I may give the impression of an overly simplistic process.  Real world design involves jumping back and forth between various elements of the game system and making sure they work with each other.  It also involves modifying the design, testing, and modifying again based on what does and doesn’t work.  In this first post, I’ll explain the decisions I made regarding character attributes in the game system, and why I made those decisions.

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Design Advice: How do I choose my Dice Mechanic

So you’ve decided to design your own Role Playing Game.  You now want to figure out the best dice mechanic to use.  You ask yourself “Should I use a d20, or a dice pool?” or some variant of that question.

How do you decide?  I’m here to guide you through that decision process.

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RPG Theory: Living Myth vs Forge Theory


Several of my posts have received plenty of praise, but also a fair amount of criticism.  A large portion of the criticism levied against me came from two groups, both of which tend to be blights to reasonable discussions about RPG’s.  These two groups seem to have decided that all the thinking about RPG’s has already been done, and so levy their criticism from that vantage point.

The first of these two groups is the OSR’s.  If you don’t know already, OSR stands for Old School Roleplaying, these are people that like a certain style of play and are the sworn enemies of Forgers (which I’ll get to in a second).  From the OSR’s the criticism was mostly along the lines of suggesting that my proposed mechanics were somehow ‘cheating’.  Which of course relies on the myopic belief that the way they like to play games is “how games should be played”.

The second of these groups were the Forgers.  Forgers are people who adhere to an incomprehensible RPG Theory that is largely centered around a cult of personality names Ron Edwards and his online forum designed to perpetuate his ideas.  The criticism from this group was generally along the lines of “The Forge (or story games) already figured this stuff out.”  or “You aren’t going far enough”.

I’m not going to address the OSR’s here.  I’ll save that for another time, because honestly their the less annoying of the two groups.  Furthermore, before I continue, I want to state that there are awesome people in both groups, and I’m going to try to focus my criticism here on theory instead of people.  Finally, the take away from this should be an explanation of what I’m trying to accomplish with Living Myth.

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Handling Player Character Death


Today, I was thinking about death mechanics.  I was thinking about Character death and how unsatisfying the mechanics presented in various systems are.  To my pleasant surprise I discovered that I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about this recently.  There are two other RPG Blogs that I am a huge fan of: The Angry GM, and Gaming Ballistic.  If you aren’t already familiar with either of these blogs, you should stop reading mine and go read theirs for a while.

In any case, I was pleasantly surprised to see a write up from The Angry GM about Player Character Death.  If you don’t feel like going and reading the article, the summary is “Death is important for games and stories, and so it is appropriate that it sucks.  If you really want to avoid it, here are some alternatives”.  I agree with this sentiment – I’d go so far as to suggest Resurrection be removed from D&D.  However, The Angry GM’s arguments for how death sucks involve a lot of meta-game pain for the players, as opposed to in game pain for the Characters.  That in itself is something I tend to want to avoid, but beyond that I always favor mechanics that increase player choice.

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Fixing Social Mechanics and the Player Information Gap



I need to talk about two seemingly different problems that are actually closely related.  The first is the disparity between what the player knows and what the players character knows.  The second is the general problem of social mechanics.  These problems have generally plagued games, and game systems have repeatedly tried to address them with a bunch of different mechanics, none of which seem to get it quite right.

I once played a game where my character was an “infiltration expert”.  Fortunately the party was confronted with the challenge of infiltrating something.  Unfortunately I am not an infiltration expert, so I proceeded in the worst way possible.  My actions as a player were out of step with what had been established at the table, and it disrupted every part of play.  Part of the problem was that I didn’t think to ask questions, part of the problem was that the social contract at the table didn’t establish how to ask questions; a big part of the problem is that the mechanics of the game had essentially zero rules about player character information.

This character was also had high social skills.  As a player I often want to maximize my Charisma, but often find the results at the table disappointing.  I’ve played a lot of different systems that have tried to address this problem specifically.  I even made a system with social mechanics (with metaphor to combat).  As far as my play experience goes, there has never existed a game with good mechanics for social intrigue.

Recently I had an epiphany.  Social mechanics, Player Character information, and Roll to Fail mechanics are all related.  Once I realized that, I knew that fact could be leveraged for rules that fix all three.

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Don’t ever Save or Die (okay, sometimes)

There is a mechanic that is prevalent in RPG’s.  It is most obvious in its namesake mechanic from Dungeons and Dragons.  It’s Save or Die.  An example is the “Finger of Death” spell which kills anyone who doesn’t succeed at a Fortitude saving throw.  Here I mean it in a much more general way.  I’m going to call Save or Die any mechanic which hinges on a single die roll and results in a failed adventure.

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Adding Fate Aspects to Any Game

Fate is an RPG that is centered around a particular mechanic it calls “aspects”.  It is designed as a game that encourages a Director stance (excuse my use of GNS terminology please) and is focused on simulating a narrative.  The Fate mechanics work by creating a rubber-banding of narrative tension, and while it seems like a direct port would work, there’s a better way to incorporate them into more traditional RPG’s.

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