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Friday 20 May 2016

Classic Rant: Three Sources of Awesomeness

People have, over the years, made much of the nature of D&D as a game where you start out very weak, and end up very powerful. Perhaps because of D&D's influence, many other games tend to follow this same format; but I believe it's not just due to D&D's influence, but also to the nature of such a game at creating a system where you can play a long-term campaign that doesn't get boring quickly, thanks to the game over time mutating into different styles based on the growing power level. It could also be said that this encourages player satisfaction as they watch their characters grow mighty.

You could call this structure of system the "awesomeness through experience" model. But its not the only model out there.

There are three ways for a PC to be (or become) awesome: through talent, through training, or through experience. In fact, every successful game will combine these three elements. D&D, for example, has "talent" in the form of base ability scores, which reflect how powerful a character's raw potential is. It has "training" in the form of starting Class and abilities. And "experience" in the form of the level system.

Other games begin with other considerations. Palladium's system is often considered to be a mere D&D-clone (albeit a fairly heavily house-ruled one). But in fact, it begins with rather a different premise. "Talent" is considered important in Palladium only if characters demonstrate extreme giftedness (having an attribute of 17 or higher). "Experience" is still important, in that a character grows as they gain in level, but the curve is much much more shallow than in D&D. A 1st level D&D character has virtually no chance of defeating a 15th level D&D character, but a 1st level Palladium character stands an outside chance of defeating a 15th level Palladium character.
In the Palladium system, the most centrally important model is "Training"; that is, the starting class skills and abilities (and in the case of many of its games, the gear) that a 1st level character receives. 1st level Palladium characters start out already considerably more powerful than their D&D equivalents.

In designing an RPG, I think its important to keep in mind how you would want to distribute the spread between talent, training and experience in terms of what is most important. I think that the reason some licensed settings seem to fit perfectly with certain systems, while others not so much, is because of this issue; if the basic genre of the license matches the basic assumptions of the game system in terms of how characters are awesome, then the result will be good. This is also why superhero games in particular are not very suited to the D&D-style model. In the superhero genre, talent and training are usually much more important than experience.

So likewise, one could say that its important to consider this factor of the different ways to model awesomeness when you are choosing which system to use to run your campaigns.


(Originally Posted December 9, 2010)

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