Hey everyone! I know it has been a while since I posted anything substantial here. For some time I’ve been kicking around an idea for a tabletop roleplaying game, and I’ve decided I’m finally going to do some design work on it. What’s more, I’ve decided that I’m going to do most, if not all, of this design work in public here on my blog. What I mean by that is: all or most of the work that I do on this game will be posted here in Design Journal entries. What you see is what I’ve done. This won’t be another Open Design project, but I will be interested in any thoughts you have on the game as I design it, and your ideas may influence the direction in which I develop this game.
So, to start with I’d just like to share some of my basic ideas and inspirations for the game. I first started thinking about making this game when I reflected on the idea that a tabletop RPG based on the Legend of Zelda franchise could be a lot of fun. So those video games will definitely be a major inspiration. Here are some things that I want to draw from those games when designing my own.
- A unique fantasy universe. The Zelda games take place in a universe that isn’t quite like any other fantasy world. I like that. I don’t want my game’s universe to be another variation of Middle-Earth or the Forgotten Realms.
- Heroic action. The player characters should primarily be heroic people, and their adversaries should be villains of the worst sort. This game will be designed to tell epic stories about good battling evil. Heroes should be able to save the entire kingdom, or sometimes the whole world, in the course of a campaign.
- Interesting fantasy races. I think I’m going to take the term “tribes” from the Zelda games instead of “races”, but the real point here is that Gorons and Zoras are more interesting to me than elves and dwarves. Don’t get me wrong, I like the more traditional fantasy races when they are used in games and fiction, but I don’t want to create another universe that uses the same archetypes.
- Mythology that matters. The mythology behind the Zelda universe is interesting, and it matters in the plotlines of the games. At the very least, most of the games make use of the Tri Force – that mythical relic that the three Golden Goddesses left behind when they departed the world. I want a similarly interesting and important mythology behind my game’s universe.
- Unique items. When you pick up a new item in a Zelda game, it usually has some entirely new function. It isn’t just another sword that does +1 damage, or whatever. I want to take this approach to items in my game.
As far as game mechanics go, I like a lot of things about the fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, so I’ll probably be taking some concepts from that. On the other hand, there are quite a few things I would rather do differently. I’m not going into all of those right now, but I’d like to mention just a few concepts I think I’ll use, and what they will mean in my game.
- Races. As I mentioned before, I think I’ll call them “tribes”, but I like the general idea of people being able to play as a variety of different types of creatures. I like how in D&D you get a few little perks in the beginning for being one race or another, and as you level up you can get race-specific feats, powers, and paragon paths that let you choose to emphasize your character’s race even more. I don’t know exactly how I’ll implement this concept, but I would like to work it in there somehow.
- Classes. Classes in D&D are a sort of strange thing. On the one hand, they imply a certain type of training and expertise. On the other hand, they often imply an occupation or a way of life. For example, rangers specialize in fighting with a bow, two melee weapons, a beast companion, or maybe one or two other approaches to combat. At the same time, a ranger is someone who lives on the fringes of society and keeps monsters and other threats at bay so that common folk can go about their lives peacefully. A rogue specializes in fighting acrobatically, sneakily, or with a lot of flair. They are also the scoundrels and the sneaks of society. The question I ask is: why couldn’t a sneaky burglar work with an animal companion? Or fight with two weapons? And why can’t a ranger be a really sneaky fighter? While I understand that certain professions or lifestyles might lend themselves to a certain set of abilities, I don’t want classes in my game to be so ridged. I would rather your class inform you of how you fit into the setting – a knight, a mage, a spy, etc – and for players to have more freedom to decide exactly what types of abilities their character uses in that role.
- Roles. Speaking of roles, the fourth edition of D&D has this concept that all player characters fall into one of four roles: controller, defender, leader, or striker. Controllers do nasty things to their enemies, or do a little bit of damage to a lot of enemies at once. Defenders absorb a lot of damage from enemies and protect the rest of the party from attack. Leaders heal and bolster their allies. Strikers do a lot of damage to one enemy at a time. I like the concept of this, but I don’t like exactly how D&D sticks each class into one of these roles. Why can’t a fighter be a defender or a striker? (Yes, with later supplements this is possible, but it isn’t how the game was designed from the ground up.) This also leads to the existence of multiple classes which are conceptually very similar but they are separate because they fill different roles. For example, conceptually, a fighter is just an experienced warrior and soldier. Conceptually, a warlord is the same. But they are two different classes because the fighter is a defender and the warlord is a leader. It is a similar situation with the barbarian and the druid, or the sorcerer and the wizard. Bottom line is: I like the idea of roles because it lets me know what my character will be good for in a fight, but I don’t want specific roles tied that closely to specific classes.
- Powers. In D&D each character gets a selection of powers as they gain levels. These are special abilities that let characters operate in unique ways in combat. I like this idea in general, but I don’t think it should be universal to all characters. For example, it makes sense for a wizard-type character to have a number of different powers, but a typical warrior is basically just hacking at enemies with his sword over and over again. Now, each warrior might know a handful of tricks that let him pull off some cool combat maneuvers, but these don’t necessarily have to be entirely separate powers. I think this one really comes down to ease of use. I think that some players look through a handful of powers that all seem like variations of ‘roll this, compare it to this defense, add this little bonus, do this much damage if you hit, and do this other little effect too’ and it is hard for them to judge the advantages of an individual power. A system of ‘make your typical attack and then choose one of these few different effects to add to it’ might be better for most types of characters. Of course, I could be wrong. This is an area of the design that will require a lot of further consideration.
- Levels. This is a really basic one. Some games don’t use levels, while a lot of games do. I don’t think it is necessary in D&D how so many different numbers on the character sheet change every time you level up, but I like the basic idea that you level up and get one or two cool new things to add to your character. This model is simple to understand, and it keeps everyone progressing at a similar pace.
- Tactical combat. I like moving pieces around on a map and it really mattering how you position yourself and which specific attacks you choose to make. I’m thinking about backing this up a little bit, though, so that a single square on the grid will represent a larger are than in D&D, and more than one character or creature will occupy the same square. Creatures in the same square will be considered adjacent to one another, fighting in melee. Characters in another square are too far away to attack with a sword, but you could attack them at range. Terrain will cover a whole square. The advantage of this is that you get tactical combat, but it isn’t quite so nitpicky. Also, it will be easier for GMs to create interesting battlegrounds without having to specify the terrain in every 5-foot-by-5-foot space. The result should be tactical combat that is a bit more abstracted.
OK. So, those are some preliminary thoughts about this project. I’m going to stop there until I can organize my thoughts a little bit more and decide where I want to start developing first. I know it isn’t much yet, but let me know what you think about these ideas. I hope to be posting more on this project very soon.