About games and gaming thereof!

Crafting a Forum RPG Ruleset

I apologize for my posting schedule being rather unsteady lately. I’ve been preoccupied by various things as of late, one of which is an RPG ruleset I’ve been working on for a little forum that I won’t be linking to today.

It took me until now to realize that crafting a forum RPG ruleset might actually be a worthy topic of discussion on a gaming blog.

Activity has been down at this nonspecific forum lately, and I figured I’d do some sort of event to make people post again. And of course, this event would have to involve games, because remember who you’re talking to.

I’m sure I could probably just look up some forum RPG template online, but fuck that, I want to flex my creativity glands.

Anyway, the first thing I did was come up with some base stats. Every RPG has to have base stats, from D&D to Fallout to Diablo to Final Fantasy. You’ve got to cover the baselines for a character’s abilities to determine what they’re good at and what purpose they ought to serve.

I gathered the usual list: Strength, agility, intellegence, endurance, etc. Then I started to feel like I was ripping off of Fallout just a bit too much, so I decided I’d change up the names to give it a sense of newness.

After some fiddling with a thesaurus, I came up with stats corresponding with the letters ABCDEF: Aptitude (Intelligence), Brawn (Strength), Charm (Charisma), Discernment (Perception), Endurance (couldn’t think of another E-word) and Finesse (Agility). Strip the name changes away and this is precisely Fallout minus Luck, but whatever, at least it has the illusion of being original.

Then it was time to devise a combat system.

Messing with grids is fine in a tabletop setting, but in forums it can get very confusing. But I didn’t just want a scenario where anybody can attack anybody. I wanted some sense of spatial location so that the players could use strategic placement and teamwork.

I ultimately came up with a 1-dimensional line in which a limited number of party members (probably 3 or 4) can occupy one block. You can attack adjacent blocks with a melee weapon, and you can shoot two blocks away with a ranged weapon (or more, depending on what weapon type you have).

So if we were using D&D classes, a decent general setup would be this:

Like Fire Emblem, if everyone lined up in one row. Sort of?

Looks face-slappingly simple, I know. The idea is that it would become more complicated and more interesting once I introduced more elements.

Then it came time for the actual meat of the ordeal: the numbers. I had to come up with skills, weapons, attacks, special abilities, and numbers to account for all of those. And to make it more complicated, I decided early on that I wouldn’t restrict everything to classes like in D&D and so many others. I wanted a more freeform character creation system like the one in Fallout, where you can feel like your character is your own person with his own unique talents.

Eventually I ran into a few roadblocks that caused me to rethink the entire system.

1. This is a small forum consisting largely of non-gamers and casual gamers. A lot of them probably have never played a number-crunchy game like this, and would feel rather intimidated if I dropped this all on the table.

2. I don’t have experience with this sort of thing. The only tabletop game I’ve played is Dungeons & Dragons. (Well, two if you count editions 3.0 and 3.5 as different games.) Granted I’ve played quite a bit of it, but I’ve never DM’d a campaign, save for a few silly one-off sessions, much less created an entire ruleset on my own. Balancing a classless system is hell, especially when you’re only one guy who hasn’t made a game before. Best not to jump into the deep end with the sharks when you haven’t tried swimming yet.

3. A forum RPG consists of much more than combat. In fact, combat would most likely be a very small part of the actual campaign, which would largely consist of dialogue, exploration and problem-solving. Unlike most major video and computer RPGs which are mostly about murdering and looting, forum RPGs are much more about actual roleplaying. If I want my game to be any good, I should divert my focus away from the combat and toward, you know, everything else.

So I decided to drastically simplify the entire concept. I scrapped the combat system, took the ABCDEF base stats and ran with them. In the game I’m currently envisioning, all the dice-rolling is limited to those attributes. Each one functions like a skill in D&D, where you’ll roll a stat check whenever you try to solve a problem. Accomplishing tasks would result in leveling up the associated stats.

“I use Brawn to break the door down!” “I use Aptitude to hack the computer!” “I use Charm to take off her bra!” Etc.

This stone kills all three birds. There’s no number-crunching to tangle with, it’s easy for me to keep up with and manage, and it’s simple enough for non-gamers to jump in and play.

Then I realized that if a stat is only used when a player chooses to use it, Endurance and Discernment are rarely ever going to be used because those are very passive attributes. Endurance would be used to calculate hit points and environmental resistance, while Discernment would be used to see if the player managed to hear a distant noise or spot a creeping predator.

So I reduced the stats to ABCD: Aptitude, Brawn, Charm, and Deftness.

It was at this point that I realized my game no longer resembles Fallout so much as it does Echo Bazaar. I’m alright with this. Now I need to think of a name. And a setting, and a story, and characters.

Say, does any of this interest any of you? If not I’ll go back to complaining about old games.

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26 responses

  1. Huzzah! finally a RPG not a combat game with RPG elements! just give me a place and time and ill be there!!

    For a name, without knowing the setting and story how bout The Den?

    Best of luck, happy to help in anyway i can

    April 9, 2012 at 8:49 AM

  2. This sounds like a great series of posts. I can’t wait to read more. I really like how elegant your system sounds, it seems like it would be easy to pick up and minimises statisical fussiness in favour of person-to-person interaction.

    One question though – In removing the Endurance and Discernment traits, how do you plan to track how well a character can take hits and spot/search for stuff?

    April 9, 2012 at 10:24 AM

  3. krellen

    I created a similar system, but I called it SPIRIT, because I apparently have access to a better Thesaurus than you. ;)

    What sort of die basis is your system?

    April 9, 2012 at 11:29 AM

    • JPH

      That’s actually something I haven’t decided on yet. What would you suggest?

      April 9, 2012 at 11:31 AM

      • krellen

        Depends on what you’re after in terms of balance. The larger the die base, the less value each point of bonus provides (and, conversely, the more you can fine-tune difficulty). With a d20 system, each point of bonus is only 5%, so things will generally be harder, but you could likewise award bonuses more often because they have lesser effect.

        Mine’s a d10. I wanted to keep it pretty simple, and I figured the 10-sider was a good balance between flexibility and ease-of-use.

        April 9, 2012 at 3:03 PM

        • JPH

          Yeah, I was thinking either d10 or d8. My plan is for the players to order their characters’ stats from best to worst (ACDB, for example) and then give bonuses incrementally based on that (A+4, C+3, etc.). If I went with a d20 there would barely be any difference between the characters.

          April 9, 2012 at 3:07 PM

          • krellen

            I give out points (between 4 and 8, depending on campaign power level) to assign to the stats. If you’re going to do a +4/+3/+2/+1 scale, you might want to opt for a larger die or higher difficulties (I based my d10 system off a basic difficulty of 6 – 50% chance for a completely mundane person to pass). With your system, a default of 6 would probably be too low, unless you’re intending PCs to be extraordinarily gifted.

            April 9, 2012 at 3:30 PM

            • JPH

              That’s a good point — the +4/3/2/1 system would mean 10 points total, which is an awful lot for only 4 stats. +3/+2/+1/0 would be better, since that would equal 6, but that still might be a bit excessive for mine since ABCD is 2 less than SPIRIT. +2/+1/0/-1 could be a bit too crippling, though.

              Hm. I’ll have to put more thought into this.

              April 9, 2012 at 4:10 PM

              • krellen

                A simpler solution would be to use a larger die-size; a d12, perhaps. Or, since this is a forum-based game, you can use fictional sizes too; a d14 or a d16.

                April 9, 2012 at 7:08 PM

                • krellen

                  d12 is actually probably a good fit for the 3/2/1/0 model. Standard difficulty of 7, the +3 stat gives players a 75% chance to succeed at a task of standard difficulty (making them 50% better at that thing than average).

                  April 9, 2012 at 7:13 PM

                • JPH

                  Yeah, d12 would fit just about perfectly. Huh. Thanks for the advice.

                  April 10, 2012 at 1:34 PM

    • Jarenth

      Since I’m lazy and sans thesaurus, what do the letters in SPIRIT stand for?

      April 9, 2012 at 4:24 PM

      • krellen

        Speed, Prowess, Immunity, Resolve, Ingenuity, Talent.

        April 9, 2012 at 7:08 PM

        • JPH

          The only problem I’d foresee is that having two stats that start with I might get confusing. Otherwise, that’s pretty cool, and it doesn’t appear to be a direct ripoff of D&D/Fallout/whatever.

          April 10, 2012 at 1:32 PM

          • krellen

            I generally refer to the stats by their full names, so it’s rarely a problem. I just like cute acronyms.

            April 10, 2012 at 2:50 PM

        • Jarenth

          Followup: what would you say is the difference between Prowess and Talent?

          April 13, 2012 at 4:09 PM

          • krellen

            Prowess is physical force, Talent is mental force, more or less. (They’re Strength and Charisma analogs, respectively.)

            April 14, 2012 at 4:53 PM

  4. I like the idea of combat takes place along a one-dimensional line, and if you’re going to scrap that idea to make the game simpler, then I think someone else will have to follow up on that idea. Hey you know what that one-dimensional line reminds me of? Actually you could probably already guess, but I’ll say it anyway.

    In most Final Fantasy games you could put your characters into the front row or the back row. What exactly this meant for gameplay varied depending on which Final Fantasy but it usually encouraged you to put melee people in front row, and people with ranged weapons or magic users in the back row.

    Except this idea goes a step further than Final Fantasy, because rather than each team being stuck in only two rows you can extend the one dimensional line as far in either direction as you please, and you can advance forward as you slaughter enemies. Yes I really like that idea.

    April 9, 2012 at 3:58 PM

    • JPH

      Yeah, I’m definitely going to keep the concept in mind in case I ever decide to do some sort of tactical combat-centric RPG on a nerd forum somewhere.

      And yes, I forgot to mention it but Final Fantasy was definitely on my mind when I first came up with it; specifically the fights in FFX in which there are multiple waves of enemies.

      I think FF6 also had some fights when you’re flanked. I’d have to add rules for how flanking would work in this game.

      April 9, 2012 at 4:01 PM

  5. Bubble181

    The 1D-fighting is actually more reminiscing of card game duels, to me. There’s some out there that work along lines like that – your and the opponent’s creatures are cards that move to and from each other in a line, each attack has a specific range, etc etc.

    Anyway, sure I like this sort of discusison – though I likely won’t contribute all that much. Not that I ever do :-)

    April 10, 2012 at 12:26 PM

    • JPH

      You totally contribute! Sometimes.

      April 10, 2012 at 1:33 PM

  6. Sumanai

    “I use Charm to take off her bra!”

    “Her bra seems unimpressed by your flirting.”

    April 12, 2012 at 5:09 AM

    • Jarenth

      “Being an inanimate construct, the bra is immune to mind-affecting abilities.”

      April 13, 2012 at 4:10 PM

      • Sumanai

        “Trying to hit on her bra, her shirt thinks you’re talking to it and flustering tells you that he doesn’t swing that way. But is very flattered.”

        April 16, 2012 at 6:10 AM

  7. Fang

    These posts are interesting, please do some more. But this sounds like it will be an amazing forum game, wish you luck!

    April 15, 2012 at 5:50 PM

  8. Pingback: Game Maker: Round 2 « MaxFF's Blog

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