Lately I’ve been poking at Slime Quest a bit, and it has me really wanting to get into working on it in earnest. Of course, I have a bunch of stuff I need to get sorted out for Star Line Publishing, the Golden Sky Stories Kickstarter, and Raspberry Heaven. Still, I want to do a blog post to blather a bit about Slime Quest, which will probably include some stuff I’ve posted about before.
Slime Story is an idea I came up with around 2006, a world like ours except with the addition of magical portals spitting out MMO style monsters that people have taken to hunting for fun and profit. In some parts of the world corporations or warlords control the portals for the marvelously useful bits of monsters, but in suburban America monster hunting is mostly something teenagers do for fun. The system, which I think of as the “Slime Engine,” owes a lot to Japanese tabletop RPGs like Arianrhod and Meikyuu Kingdom, plus a bit of Dungeons & Dragons and a drop of Apocalypse World. Making an anime fantasy game with the same rules was a pretty natural thing to do (and if I ever develop both enough you can be that the mystery of the portals in Slime Story will have something to do with the Slime Quest setting), but because it forces me to make the math a bit more rigorous I may end up finishing it first.
Slime Quest as a project has evolved into me trying to put together my perfect D&D replacement. I’d like to think it’s distinct enough to not be a fantasy heartbreaker, but we’ll see. I’m a big fan of D&D4e, but there are several things that it could do better for my purposes:
- Anime and JRPGs have more resonance with me and the friends I play with than D&D’s literary roots. I have an easier time standing on the shoulders of the likes of Slayers and Final Fantasy than I do Lord of the Rings and Conan. That’s not to say that I dislike fantasy literature, or that D&D is a good simulation of such in the first place, but still.
- I like the unified mechanics for character creation, but I want the game to be better at giving PCs interesting options out of combat, and to make it so that you don’t have to sacrifice combat for non-combat or vice versa.
- 4E combat is fun, but could be quicker and simpler without totally tossing out the balance and tactical depth.
- 4E’s skill challenges are a great idea that’s half-baked. I can put together something more like Mouse Guard’s checks and conflicts to better handle non-combat stuff.
- I want some indie-style character-oriented stuff a la FATE Aspects.
My goal for character creation is to give every character distinct and interesting things they can do in and out of combat. My current plan is for characters to start with three major choices: Race, Trade, and Class. These in turn determine what Talents you can get, and Talents vary somewhere between Feats and Powers in D&D terms. (Or, they’re the equivalent of Skills in Arianrhod.)
The races are the typical fantasy thing, but with a very anime spin, so they include Arcadians (ancient living humanoid artifacts), Eidolons (people with otherworldly power), Ogrekin (big bruisers, done anime-style), Flaum (little furry magical critters), and Wild Folk (a primitive but vivacious race of people with animal traits; so you can play a catgirl), plus humans of course. Early on I had been thinking about including elves and dwarves, but I realized they just weren’t at all necessary. Pretty much everything they might represent is already covered in one or more of the other races I came up with. Each race has a few Talents to choose from, which serve to both give your character an extra trick or two, and let you develop your character as some subject of the race you picked. If you want your rabbit wild folk to be good at jumping, there’ll be a Talent for that, and if you want your eidolon to have elemental abilities there’ll be a Talent or two for that as well.
“Trades” are along the lines of Backgrounds and Themes in D&D4e. They give each character a place in normal society (even if they’ve since abandoned it for the adventuring life), and interesting non-combat abilities. That to me was the key shortcoming of Themes in 4e. I like that I can take a thing to make my character a Noble for example, but it’s kind of lame that what that gives me is an encounter power to let allies shift a bit in combat, especially when it could give you stuff to have contacts in high society or leverage your social rank to get out of trouble. I don’t know if “trade” is quite the right word, but my list of possible trades currently includes stuff like Laborer, Artisan, and Performer, plus some oddities like Artifact (if you want to play an Arcadian that someone just pulled out of a stasis pod or some such).
Classes are pretty typical fantasy RPG fare. Since I still contend that the Warlord is the Best D&D Class Evar, there’s the equivalent in the Commander, and I like my spin on the Bard (someone whose creativity is so powerful as to be magical). There’s also the Soldier (a warrior who uses firearms) and Mystic Knight (who mixes melee and magic). Religious characters are divided into Acolytes and Shamans. Acolytes are basically D&D clerics, except that they’re specifically followers of the One God, while Shamans follow the ancient animistic beliefs. I don’t know if the Engineer class I started on (which can veer into being more of an alchemist if you want) will make it all the way to the final game, but I like the idea at least.
I also want the game to both textually and mechanically give some weight to the formation of the adventuring party. I got a little inspiration from both Arianrhod and Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play 3rd Edition with the idea of having a shared Party Talent, but I haven’t yet developed the idea fully. I’m also including a section mostly of just ideas to help the players figure out what the PCs are actually doing, since it’s been my experience that one of the more important yet difficult parts of setting up a D&D campaign is figuring that stuff out.
The base setting I’m working on is the continent of Galania, and it’s kind of a soup of anime/JRPG fantasy cliches, plus some other stuff that I thought would be neat. It’s nothing spectacularly special, but I like the spin I put on religion (with traditional pagan beliefs and an upstart monotheistic church) and the inclusion of ancient sci-fi-like artifacts, plus quirky weirdness like the Happy Slime Club.
I have a vague notion of having a place in the world with jianghu/wuxia stuff going on as seen in some Asian MMORPGs, a bright, colorful, loose fantasy China with mystic martial artists running around, but it would be a ton of work for something with a limited audience, plus it would be tremendously easy to mess it up in a million ways. (I am at least lucky enough to know some folks who actually know about Chinese culture and such.) I also want to eventually put the D&D cliche stuff (like stats for elves, dwarves, and halflings) into a supplement for people to use, even if I’m not interested in putting them into the game’s default setting.
The very core mechanic is a pretty standard 2d6+Stat vs. Target dice mechanic, and in a lot of places the game is kind of like D&D with the 2d6 instead of a d20. The four attributes are Hunter, Warrior, Priest, and Sage, which are purposely a bit abstract and broad.
Characters have Skills, which basically let them use their full attribute rank for pertinent skill checks. Skills can include standard stuff like Stealth, but some characters can get magical skills like Elemental Sorcery or Runes. If there’s a wall of ice in the way, your mage can melt it with a successful Elemental Sorcery check, assuming he has a Talent for a fire spell. There will be more complex stuff for extended conflicts and challenges, but that’s the basic idea.
Combat uses the abstract “battlefield” concept I originally got from Meikyuu Kingdom (but which also appears in Agon, Nechronica, and apparently some versions of Traveller). Basically instead of a square or hex grid map, combat takes place on an abstract map with seven areas arranged vertically. Especially with the ability to give areas special properties, you can get a lot of tactical variety without having to put together an entire grid map. There’s definitely going to be some kind of rules for stunts too.
One of the major things I’ve been having trouble with for RPGs in general is figuring out how to design one enemy to be a credible but not overwhelming threat to a group of PCs. In Magical Burst the youma have a set number of selections for abilities specifically for fighting multiple opponents at once (like multiple turns, area effect attacks, etc.). For Slime Quest I’m thinking of having monsters rated by both level and “Monster Points,” where 1 MP is a basic monster and 4+ MP is what would be a Solo in D&D4e terms, and scaling up HP and “spread” powers accordingly.
The other major moving parts of the game, which are a variant of what I did with Slime Story, are the Hope/Despair points, Beliefs, and Achievements. Hope is a currency you can use to help yourself out and use more potent abilities. Despair is basically negative Hope, and building up too much of it activates your character’s Limit Breaks (need a better name) that give you penalties by triggering your character’s neuroses. Beliefs are basically a kind of FATE Aspects that relate to Hope points. Achievements are a lot like video game achievements, representing your character’s renown for accomplishing things, but you can cash them in for Hope.
One thing I’m still trying to work out is how to make characters gaining levels work properly. I like how in 4E they’re a pretty reliable measurement, but there’s also stuff like how gaining an even-numbered level means rewriting just about every number on your character sheet. In terms of combat I’m thinking levels should escalate damage more than accuracy, but not escalate either too sharply.
I definitely want to avoid the 4E thing of needing level-appropriate magic items to keep up mathematically (to say nothing of the treadmill of gear you get in video games). Plus, in 4E if your character gets deprived of his one weapon with an enhancement bonus, proficiency bonus, and specialization feat, you could be out 5-10 points of accuracy.
I’m toying with an idea for “advanced classes,” kinda like Prestige Classes/Paragon Paths/Epic Destinies in D&D, or for that matter the Advanced Classes in Arianrhod. So for example your Cleric or Fighter could become a Paladin at Level 10 (or whatever the threshold is).
The Culture Wars
I’ve said it many times before, but it remains true that every time people get really fractious about D&D it makes me want to get Slime Quest up and running that much more. Granted, I’m lucky enough to have a stable group of reasonably open-minded friends to game with, so as long as I’ve got the game I want, “network externalities” aren’t a concern. There are lots of things I like about D&D, but there are things where I know I can do better, at least for my own tastes. I’d like to see an anime-inspired D&D setting for example, but I really wouldn’t trust WotC to do a good job on it. (But that’s a whole other rant that could fill up a whole other blog post and then some.) Moreover, some people freak about stuff being too “anime” or too MMO at the drop of a hat, and against that I’d just as soon plaster a catgirl with glowing shoulder pads on the cover as a litmus test.
And which I want to do some other games with and possibly make an open system if it ever truly comes to fruition.
D&D has in many ways been inspired by prior D&D stuff for a while. The ranger class is now informed by Drizzt at least as much as Aragorn.
In Slime Story the attributes are Hunter, Warior, Guild, and Wiki instead.
Early on in developing Slime Story I had something much like the AWED powers setup, but I changed it to having all Talents be of roughly equal utility, but the more powerful ones carrying a Hope cost (or rather an Awesome cost in Slime Story terms, since the currencies are Awesome and Suck).