And now even more blather about Dragon World.
Guts and Falling Down
My major new innovation is what I’m tentatively calling “Guts points.” The idea is that players have these points that they can spend to avoid falling down (and for things like enhancing die rolls), but any time you do you have to roll with Sanity, and on a failure you have something like a Maid RPG style Stress Explosion.
Dram/Plot/Story/Fate/whatever points aren’t a bad mechanic, but I think they tend to be bland too, and they would feel doubly so next to the level of flavor you get in a typical AW-derived game. I like what I have so far with Guts points for how they have obvious risks and feed back into the fiction in an interesting way.
In recent years I’ve had mixed feelings about advancement and rewards in RPGs in general. On the one hand people do genuinely just plain enjoy getting and using shiny new things for their characters, but on the other hand it can create weird incentives and makes the game that much harder to design for. There’s also stuff like how, much as I enjoy D&D4e, some improvements are in an important illusory. You gain more HP with each level, and +1 to just about every die roll at every even-numbered level, but level-appropriate monsters tend to grow at a comparable rate. One of the many, many brilliant things about the Sacred BBQ RPG is that hit points and accuracy are static and super-simple, and leveling up simply gives you more and better powers to use.
Anyway, I mentioned in my last post how the default Apocalypse World advancement rules are a very poor fit for my gaming group. For Dragon World players will simply get to “gain a level” once per session. This has to be between scenes, and it nets the character a Guts point and an AW-style advancement. With D&D4e in particular my friends and I have found levels to be first and foremost a pacing mechanism, and actual experience points are more important as a way to budget balanced encounters than as a thing to hand out to PCs, since it’s easier and equally effective for the DM to just periodically tell the players to level up. That way the DM is basically saying, “Okay, now it’s time for you guys to do Level X stuff.” I’ve never really liked having individual characters advance at different rates, and tying it to character advancement is, at least for my group, much too strong of an incentive.
I basically tossed out the AW Hx/History mechanic because I find it fiddly and misplaced in Dragon World. But what I love about it is that it creates a story and history between characters, so I’m keeping some semblance of that even if it doesn’t have mechanical force behind it. One thing I’ve been thinking about (and ranting about on Twitter a bit) is that part of why RPGs have traditionally allowed for the risk of death is that they’ve also traditionally been poor at providing tools to help come up with other things that can be at stake. At one extreme there’s old-school D&D where your starting character is, like, a guy with a sword and no particular connection to the world. At the other extreme is something like the Smallville RPG, where PCs basically only die if the player allows it, but they’re bursting with connections and affiliations, and the GM/Watchtower’s main job is to mess with those.
My idea for Dragon World is to take the History concept and extend it a bit beyond History/Connections, though not as crazy as Smallville’s Pathways system, because while there’s a lot to like about Pathways, I really don’t want to have character creation take a full session. The concept I’m going off of is to have something like the Bonds in Dungeon World (where you fill in the blanks of sentences with names), except that the players come up with a short list of NPCs and other elements that can also go into the blanks. This is going to be a fair amount of work of course, and I’m finding that the stuff I wrote for connections/Hx feels a little weak sauce for “story threads.” So, that’s another thing I get to rewrite 11 times over.
Space! Wanna go to space!
Yet another idea that’s been floating around my head that I won’t be actually getting into any time soon is to basically make a sci-fi version of Dragon World, in the vein of stuff like Vandread, Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Tenchi Muyou!, Space Pirate Mito, etc. (Also maybe a little bit of Ryo Kamiya’s Infinite Universe mini-RPG, though that one is ludicrously over the top.) It would of course face the issue that sci-fi doesn’t have nearly as many clear cliches as D&D-ish fantasy, plus I think I’d have to address vehicle combat in some way. I definitely want to give it a name that doesn’t quite make sense, like Universe World or Galaxy World.
Also, I’m looking forward to making a “space cat princess” class that’s a cross between Eris from Asobi ni Iku yo! and Di Gi Charat.
On the other hand everyone concerned tends to forget that you really don’t have to use level-appropriate challenges all the time in 4e. One of the coolest things in the Dark Sun campaign I ran was the PCs escaping with a paragon-tier monster in the form of a skill challenge.