Writing Rules

Let’s get one step ahead and see what we can come up with.

To paraphrase:

  • Incorporate time and space.
  • Produce more than one possible path to success.
  • Spread out the dice rolls.
  • Produce a reward that encourages participation.
  • The rules should simulate the real world without bogging down the game.

I probably don’t fully grasp these concepts or I’m focusing on just one facet of each. Really, go read Alexis’ post before proceeding here. I’m trying to elaborate on his concepts by providing an example and it’s best to have a good understanding ~ especially since you’re likely to catch something I missed.

Right in the first session of a new game, the players did what players will do. They’re new ~ like, never-opened-an-RPG-book new ~ so I offered them three choices and emphasized that we’d handle it like the game was in a “tutorial” mode (i.e. I’d take as much time as necessary to explain how the rules work in each situation they come to). Of the three “paths” before them, the first was the obvious one with a full dungeon and adventure; the second was focused on getting to know the people in their immediate surroundings (performing small jobs, etc.); and the third had the least details and the greatest level of danger.

Guess which path they took.

This presented me with a question: how do we handle wilderness exploration?

I made up a rule and kept the game going. Afterwards, I had time to think about it and refine it. Now, we’ll apply these five rule-design rules to see where they take us.

First, we need to understand the ‘why’ in our situation. Why are the players venturing out? Where are they going? What is their goal? If the intent is to simply travel to the next village, then they get there (and they consume some resources on the way; water, rations, hit points due to travel conditions, etc.). If the intent is to locate something and they don’t know exactly where it is, then there’s a chance of failure. If there’s a time constraint ~ they have to find the troll’s burrow before it eats the kidnapped children ~ the potential for failure might have a significant impact on the game.

With this in mind, let’s address our principles in order. Time and space apply when we look at base movement rates. Assume two miles per hour for the average, unencumbered person. If we want to get detailed with this, we can adjust up or down for factors like individual strength and training; terrain, elevation and weather conditions; and encumbrance. All of this assumes that the character knows the path he’s traveling ~ he’s following a road or similar, well-trodden route; or he’s intimately familiar with the landscape such that there’s no real chance of getting lost. If he’s unfamiliar, isn’t following a path or there’s a reasonable chance of getting lost ~ and that result would impact the character in a meaningful way ~ then we can incorporate ability or skill checks.

We already have more than one path to success. A player can choose to follow a known path, set out into the wilderness, hire a guide, spend the time to get familiar with the area or play a character with appropriate training. We might include a system for learning new skills but that would have to apply equally to all skills (and would likely be so time consuming in-game as to discourage players from taking advantage of it).

For the dice rolls, we need to know when to roll. My on-the-spot ruling was a Wisdom check at half ~ so take half your character’s Wisdom, and that’s the score you need to roll under or equal to. Upon reflection, I think a standard Wisdom check is fair. Most characters in the world will have an average Wisdom, within a few points of 10 or 11, so your average individual should succeed about half the time. And as indicated above, the roll is only necessary where the circumstances suggest a chance of failure. Regarding frequency, I figure one Wisdom check per day, with success (and failure) being measured in the difference between the roll and the character’s Wisdom, as an expression of progress made toward a goal.

So the party decides they’re trying to reach a mountain range that they can see in the distance. Specifically, they’re aiming for a particular peak and they want to get there as quickly as possible. They don’t have a path to follow and they don’t have a guide or a trained pathfinder (like a ranger or druid). The players pick one character to act as the lead; he will make a Wisdom check each day of travel. They decide not stress themselves physically and since it’s overland, no trail, a few hundred feet of elevation changes (potentially) with sparse trees and underbrush, we’ll say they maintain the average travel speed. The party lead has a decent Wisdom at 14. The first day, he gets a 12; that’s a success with a difference of 2 points, so let’s say the party is able to manage 20% of their intended distance. Remember, there’s no path and the characters are unfamiliar with the terrain; they’re effectively trailblazing. The next day, the lead character rolls a 3 and the party manages 110% of their intended distance (maybe they found a ridge between hills going in their direction). On the third day, the roll comes up a 20. The party makes no appreciable progress toward their goal and they might get lost; the player rolls percentile dice, with 0-40 indicating they go in circle and 41-00 indicating they’re lost, traveling in a random direction for the day. (The values are based on the difference between the roll and the target score, so 6 * 10% is the chance for a major setback.)

Of course, none of this takes into account the chance for an encounter during travel, but that’s a separate element we can bring in as incentive to not spend too much time wandering the wild (unless, of course, that’s the party’s goal).

The reward component, I think, is self-evident: when the players get to their destination, they’ve succeeded at their task. Along the way, we have many dice rolls that represent progress toward that goal. Failure in one instance does not indicate total failure at the task, only a loss of time and other resources. I don’t know that the system necessarily encourages participation; I think that would be more of a situational thing, depending on the players’ stated goal. Perhaps, if I can figure out how encounters should work, I can introduce a reason to explore the wilderness beyond simply getting from point A to B (and taking a little damage and earning a little XP along the way). In fact . . . that is now a goal of mine, to design an encounter system that accounts for monsters, NPCs, special events and the discovery of dungeons. In other words, a system that offers a variety of choices for the players, which aren’t available anywhere except beyond the borders of civilization.

Throughout all of this, I’ve attempted to keep to the final principle: simulating the real world without bogging the game down in minutiae. So far, the test cases have worked for us but my experience is biased because the players are learning the game as a whole; I won’t know if these rules need to be streamlined or improved until I can get feedback from experienced players. They seem to be acceptable ~ we’re only making checks when necessary and only once per day ~ and the players have options to avoid making checks entirely.

Well. That’s it for now. Certainly looking forward to see where we go from here.


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