Step 1: What do you want out of your game?:
Dungeons and Dragons and house rules seem to go hand in hand. I’m sure some people have house rules for Monopoly and Candyland, but by and large most people pick up the rules to these games and play them according to the rules. With Dungeons and Dragons, the Dungeon Master tends to start off with a set of rules variations and as he learns the ins and outs of the game often adds more and more house rules. This gives DMs and the group they play with a unique experience. Sometimes these house rules get so comprehensive that they rival the size of the original rules themselves.
Since I’m a RPG Orphan, and having finished running Pathfinder for the time being, I would like to attempt to create my perfect D&D game. Using 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons as my base, I’ll take all the house rules, all the other systems, any source I can think of, in a possibly foolish attempt to create the “perfect D&D game”. Since I plan to draw from many sources and it is a massive undertaking, the first step must be figuring out what I want out of my game.
Put the Role Playing back in RPG: This has got to be the most important consideration. If players are not encouraged to role play their characters, the game can easily deteriorate into XP grinding. I have to assume that if people are sitting down to play a table-top RPG rather than World of Warcraft or another MMO (notice how people don’t even bother calling them MMORPGs anymore?) that they are interested in role playing. Its hard to know from the outset how to promote role playing in the rules, but I feel there were more role playing opportunities before the detailed skill system of third edition D&D. Why role play out how your character intimidates the prisoner when you can just roll a die? This will be the hardest and most important aspect of my re-write. Every addition or subtraction from the game must be preceded by the question “Does this enhance the role playing experience?”
Low Magic & Unique Magic: Magic hasn’t felt special in my weekly games for some time. Magic can solve all problems and magic is by far the most effective means of combat. In Lord of the Rings, Gandalf seldom uses magic, and when he does its not particularly game changing or impressive; Its useful. When my players find a magic item, I want it to be this amazing special event. These days its more like “Another magic dagger?! (dropkick into the pond)”. Magic is an important part of the genre, and it certainly shouldn’t take a back seat to the rest of the game mechanics, but when I see the kind of spells available in most RPG’s, I can only imagine the world they live in as very different from the traditional sword and sorcery world. Why have castles if mages can fly over the walls? Why harvest crops when clerics can create food? Why buy a lantern when you can create light at will? I want magic to be special again, and I will make every effort to change the first night someone casts a fireball into a moment of stunned silence and awe, rather than prompting the question “How many more of those can you do today?”
Dynamic Combat: So often melee combat becomes very static and stale in 3.5. Dungeons and Dragons. You charge in and then just stand there, wailing away at each other. In fencing (something I know a little about) there is a lot of back and forth, waiting for an opening and moving at just the right time. I like the abstract feel of the current combat system in 3.5, as it can go towards good role playing so I’m reluctant to go with full detailed combat, but I want combat to move around more. I want positioning to be more important without worrying about necessarily facing. I want there to be more than tumbling and five foot steps.
No One is Born a Hero: One thing I really miss from my early gaming days was the sense that my character was trying to scrape a living as an adventurer, not that he was born an epic hero on an epic quest. I think there has been a change to the genre, from Sword and Sorcery to Epic Fantasy (but I’m not that good with labels). Most DM’s these days are sending their PC’s on quests that ONLY the PC’s can accomplish. I’m sure this makes for good stories, but what happens if one of the PC’s dies? I think the best heroes are made, not born. In terms of game design, this means a character that starts with a stat above 16 should be rare, not the norm. Recently in Pathfinder there were characters at first level with a 20 or better in some stats! But it’s not only about stats. Many classes also make you epically powerful with only a couple of levels under your belt. Like magic, it takes away some of the mystique if an 18 Dex rogue who starts with sneak attack and a +15 to hide in shadows is ‘garbage’. Any changes I make will be to make the PC’s a little more like the common man, and less like a demigod.
Simple Math = Fast Game Play: If 3.x (and as I understand it 4th edition follows the trend) does anything right over past editions, it’s simplifying the math and cutting down on the tables. Now I love a good table. But once its initiative I want all my players to look at the board and their character sheet and not to be flipping through books. Perhaps in some places the math has been little too streamlined and simplified, but I want to keep things fast. For the player, I don’t want them loosing interest in combat waiting for their turn to come around, and for the DM I don’t want it to take several days to generate a 12th level wizard. This might be the hardest goal to achieve, but I think it’s important.
Core Races & Classes: Up until 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, the core races and classes for D&D came from the same source material. Sure there have been some additions and subtractions along the way, but the basic cast has remained the same. I think one reason why some people are critical of 4th Edition is that the “Core Races & Classes” were incomplete until, what, Players Handbook 3? The house rules I hope to create will not omit a base class or race unless there is an amazing reason for it. I also don’t think I’ll be including anything too exotic. These rules will be meant to be a base Dungeons and Dragons game. So no robot warriors here, just the standard fare of Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes and the like.
End of Binary Condition: Funny title, simple idea. You know what the coolest thing about mageknight/heroclix is? Your character’s stats change the closer they are to getting knocked out. Up until 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, a character was exactly the same at full hit points and at 1 hit point. Same attacks, same armor class, etc. I think an average character should be impaired in some way the closer they are to getting knocked out. Its high time this kind of thing is added to the game.
Balance Shmalance: I’m not interested in creating game balance. I don’t care if the Monk sucks or if the Druid is overpowered. I am WAY more concerned about all of the above ideas than I am about game balance. After I finish my sweeping rules changes there are sure to be some winners and some loosers and I’m sure there will be a few broken combos before I’m done. I’m of the opinion that those types of issues will be discovered in play testing and shouldn’t be the focus of my rewrite. Second guessing myself all the time wondering if I’m dumping on the Wizard too much or making the Ranger too powerful will only lead to mediocrity when I’m shooting for excellence.
Hopefully these few personal axioms will keep me from wandering too far from my goals. In the end, a game that is fun for all involved is the most important thing. However, it is not the only thing. Too often rules are made or changed to ensure that the players are all having fun. Every time World of Warcraft is patched or a new sourcebook that makes everything before it obsolete is released it seems to be done in the name of making everyone happy. That is no way to create (or even edit) a game! So stick with me over the next few weeks as I go chapter by chapter in my re-write of Dungeons and Dragons. I doubt many of my choices will make everyone happy, but if you stick around for the final product you might really like the end results.