I’ve always thought of system as the bit where people say ‘and here comes the science part’ in the advert (and the character dying as the ‘because you’re WORTH IT’ bit), but system is one of those things that I understand well enough to design, but probably not well enough to explain.
System is complicated, it’s scary, and it’s strange. So why is it, exactly, that I’m trying to reinvent the wheel designing my own? And worse than that, encouraging you, gentle GM to do the same?
Simple – if a system doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work for your players either. Partially broken systems lead simply to “munchkinning” (where a player designs a character that deliberately breaks the rules) and the only person that doesn’t really enjoy that is well... everyone, there’s no harm in it, right?
Well, right. And wrong. Because if you’re one of the blessed few that can do better, then you should.
Designing a system comes down to ensuring that something is not only balanced, but works in ways that would work, whether you remove the optional parts. It works, whether your player is lower level or higher level, and is balanced to make sense in your universe. It can be a very difficult thing to do – because balance goes beyond players and NPCs and means that if there’s a cause and effect style event, that the rules cover that too. I remember play testing a game once and discovering that for even marginally unlucky to even kinda lucky dice rolls, we had to change the system because tripping and falling off the curb killed!
While you don’t think about that, the important thing when designing a system with balance is to remember that even after play testing, you have to find and apply errata. There are various game companies out there and there are frequently errata issued, so that’s OK. Whether this bothers you or not is your choice, but after extensive play testing you’ll still find something that you haven’t thought of. Which is why system designing becomes more and more complicated as time goes by – and each iteration can introduce complications – so it’s important to build a base system underneath that works. Once you’ve got the ‘solid’ base, it should bend but not break.
Whether it’s diceless, one dice or several dice types, find a system that works for you, then you can quantify – it doesn’t matter what dice you use, as long as it makes some measure of sense.
This week, Kai is getting angry at MS Word’s rigid spell check – munckinning is a word dammit!