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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.