The other day some of my friends (Suichi and Mike B., with some help from Tim) went crazy brainstorming possible stuff for Slime Quest while I wasn’t around, and then laid out everything for me as best they could. They came up with some really intriguing ideas, though I’m kind of at a loss for what to do with them.
The core Big Idea is to speed up combat by getting rid of attack rolls (and defense rolls). Characters would have attacks and defenses of varying potency, and when an attack comes the onus is on the target to provide a sufficient defense and not take damage. Classes would thus be differentiated by the kinds of attacks and defenses they have, and how often they can use them. A tanking fighter could have defenses that let him defend against several enemies at once, a mage could be adept at making barriers to protect from magic, a leader could give allies boosts to attacks or defenses, a rogue might be able to lower or ignore a target’s defenses, and so on. The actual damage would be random, and more like in a typical RPG, with the difference that higher-level attacks get damage bonuses when they prevail against lower-level defenses. Teamwork also can become very important, since multiple characters working together can jump up in attack ranks to affect enemies that would be basically impossible to harm otherwise.
This cuts out several steps from typical D&D-style combat, but it also means adopting a new brain-bending paradigm of combat, and figuring out how to actually balance it so that characters have the right level of competence and challenge. Balancing resource-based stuff is that much harder, especially when you use the resources for typical RPG things. I like resource-based mechanics in RPGs, but I do feel that when you put them into places where they can determine success or failure they can create perverse incentives that are hard to properly manage.
It also raises the question of what to do with the rest of the gameplay. It would be a bit weird to have this system of static attacks and defenses for combat and then traditional die rolls for non-combat conflicts. But then it runs even more headlong into the matter of how to balance resource-based mechanics with traditional RPG imperatives. I could see turning conflicts into a variant of the combat system (replace HP with Resolve and do the same basic thing), but it’s still a huge design challenge, and it’s the part that I just can’t picture clearly enough in my head to move forward right now. I like the idea, right up until I try to figure out a good way to have attacks and defenses for basically everything that isn’t combat.
I need to think about this more, but right now I feel like it’s a great idea that I’m not yet talented enough to properly realize, and I don’t know that Slime Quest is the game I want to do it with. I’m much more confident that I can do a good enough job with the game the way I’d originally been planning to approach it, and find less revolutionary ways to speed up combat and such.
Gear is kind of a tricky thing, because for most any game with any trace of D&D in its DNA the loot is part of the appeal, but too much shuffling items around can get tedious. I also want to avoid making characters excessively gear-dependent (as happened in D&D 3rd and 4th). My friends’ idea was to make gear mostly provide enhancements/procs for existing abilities, rather than mere mathematical bonuses or entirely new powers. There could also be a simple crafting system, so that every monster fight is an incremental step towards an upgrade. Their idea was that there would be a few simple, broad categories of monster parts, so for example a salamander tail and a flamehog spine would both count as “red” materials of varying potency, and different items would list off recipes and such.
Another part was what Suichi called the “social system.” The idea is that leveling up depends on renown and social contacts, so the reward cycle would depend on adventurers doing great deeds, gaining fame for them, and through those things and other talents being able to get the training they need to improve. I like how this would force PCs to be engaged in the world, but I’m leery of letting PC advancement get too uneven. My experience with Dragon World so far, for example, has been that having XP key off of die rolls (in the manner of standard Apocalypse World) can just really… distort player behavior, and not in a good way. I actually like the simplicity of level-based advancement, especially coupled with the idea some people have been throwing around that the GM can just announce that PCs level up whenever it seems appropriate, but on the other hand the “training” rules in D&D that I’d usually disliked seem more appealing when coupled with an incentive for PCs to interact with the world.
Other Other Bits
Even setting aside all this possible new stuff, I definitely do want to do something different in the way of handling initiative, because the WotC-era D&D version really isn’t working for me, and the somewhat simplified version I came up with for Slime Story is still a little cumbersome. The new Marvel game has the thing where you just let the current player decide who goes next until everyone’s gone once. There’s also the method where initiative is per side, and when it’s your side’s turn you go in whatever order you like. Either one seems much faster.
Each character has a card. You shuffle the cards, and certain things let characters move the cards around a bit. Once you start combat the GM flips through the cards one at a time. When yours comes up, you take your turn, and then the GM flips to the next one.