Dungeons and Dragons has long used a morality system called “Alignment”. It describes 2-axis, one axis is law-chaos, and the other is good-evil. One problem with the system, through all 6 editions, is that alignment has been ambiguous with respect to characterization. While it has successfully acted as a light guide to the general morality, it’s largely failed as a more specific guideline. So, what we’re going to do here is we’re going to define these axis more explicitly, recalibrate them, and look at how they apply during play.
For the most part this blog deals with RPG mechanics, but today we have to go down a slightly different path.
A recent Fail Forward blog post has seriously agitated the RPG world with a whole bunch of energy focusing on how RPG’s do or don’t remarginalize those already marginalized in our society. This post is damning to rpgpundit and Zak Smith. It focuses on how these two individuals were paid consultants for 5e Dungeons and Dragons, and supposedly engage in misogyny, transphobia, and homophobia. I can’t speak to how accurate these claims are; in fact so far as I can tell, no one can since they all come from anonymous sources. What we can do however, is see that this article is presenting these facts in a hyperbolic way with an agenda. Which I will show later.
Why is that a problem? Because it is an attempt to weaponize trans* people to forward a personal agenda. Which means it’s the Fail Forward article, not Dungeons and Dragons, that is problematic.
I’m going to mostly be looking at the accusations against Zak, because I know more about him, and it’s easier to get information about him than it is about RPG Pundit.
I first became aware of Zak through his series involving pornstars playing Dungeons and Dragons. I was hugely impressed because the rights of Sex Workers is an important issue to me (Zak himself is a sex worker), and it was a hugely important in terms of humanizing Sex Workers (in this case pornstars).
As far as their RPG philosophies; word on the street is that they are both major proponents of Old School RPG’s (thus them being hired as 5e consultants) which is going to make me agree with them about as much as I agree with Ron Edwards; as in… not much.
Nearly every game has some sort of fixed list of things a character is capable of doing. Sometimes that list is attributes, other times it is skills. The design goal in these cases is to have a fixed point reference to make checks against to determine success.
So when I wrote up Constructing an Ability List I was working from the same premise.
Here were going to explore those assumption, deconstruct the idea, and investigate an alternative.
RPG Design is a particularly unrewarding endeavor for one to go into. It’s unimpressive to tell someone you’ve designed your own game system, the market is over-saturated, and even if one successfully publishes and makes sales one is likely to face criticism from a fickle market.
Along with that, an RPG requires both the talents of a good game designer, and the talents of a good writer. This combination is unfortunately rare, so designers tend to be substantially better at one of these things. Naturally system designers are inclined toward generic systems, and writers toward genre games. The writer in this scenario is the More Valuable Player; because a Genre Game will always beat a Generic System.
Why is this? Why are Genre Games better? Why does D20 outsell GURPS? The reason is that Generic Systems must always be too complex. Genre Games, on the other hand, provide a User Interface that enables gamers to understand and utilize the system with ease.
One of the things that D&D does well, and that a game like, say, GURPS does poorly is sufficiently staging the complexity for players. GURPS, has to a lesser extent remedied this by releasing GURPS Lite, and they smartly made it free. In that vein we’re going to want to start with a set of minimal rules that can be expanded upon without violating those minimum rules. This also lets us spin up a game we can start testing sooner, and makes future rules modular.
So what do we have to do to get to Living Myth Lite?
This site will feature a current rules set and development of a new RPG. I will feature ideas in posts, interesting mechanics, and design decisions. As I come up with semi-workable rules, I’ll make pages to feature that rules set.