Tuesday, January 17, 2012

An End to Lamentations

If you're been reading my posts for these last few weeks, you know my focus is as splintered as a tree after a lightning bolt. But, like Roy did with his splintered tree, I'm hoping to take the heartwood and make Wonderboy.

I've played a lot of games over the years. I mean a lot. But not a single one has ever let me fully play the character I saw (at least without starting at the equivalent of 10th level or so). I'm no munchkin or min-maxer, but when I have a kick ass concept and I can't play him because even though an ex-Navy SEAL is allowed, the meager build points at start means he'll shoot like crap, can't sneak up on anybody, and is more likely to blow his own hands off than set the claymore right. I can say my first level dwarf is a grizzled veteran of the Orc Wars, scarred emotionally by seeing his entire clan destroyed, but when the dice hit the table, he's still a 1st level fighter.

Now, look, I know the rag about role playing. I can play him like a grizzled veteran, sure. But when we run up on a group of orcs and the thief has as much chance to kill one as I do, it falls a little flat. It is a difficult thing to reconcile, though, because just throwing levels/development points around willy-nilly is like trying to kill a mosquito with a Stinger missile. Sure, It'll be dead, but the collateral damage will be bad.

So, yesterday I rediscovered a game I had a minor interest in a few years ago. I spent a little time with it, and layed it aside. The game is Risus. It is very minimalist, as far as rules crunch is concerned. Which means it doesn't have a lot of rules to get in the way. Best of all are the Cliches. They are things used to describe a character, the things that really make up the character. They're not really skills, although they do give an indication of what the character is capable of. For example, I could have a guy with Battle Axe (4). So, he's a real terror with a battle axe. But it is more than that. This guy knows battle axes. That Cliche also would cover things like appraising them at the weaponsmith's stall and keeping his axe in good order. But consider this, more evocative, twist: Axe-brother of the Blood-fist Barbarians (4). He's still every bit the bad-ass with the axe as the first guy, but the Blood-fist are known for their ferocity in battle, so his dice (4) for this Cliche could also be used to resist fear effects, check moral, and possibly intimidate opponents.

Another thing I like is that Cliches can be applied to items as well. I despise it whenever I picture a fighter in formed boiled leather armor, looking all cool in my mind. Then I note his AC on the character sheet and it is a freaking 7. Well, he's supposed to be a fighter, and fighters go toe-to-toe with the meanest creeps around, right? So, an AC7 is out of the question. I have to bury my vision under 50 pounds of steel. My choices are to compromise my imagination -OR- have a new (better armored) character ready for when this one gets gnawed to death. In Risus (at least as I see it) the material of the armor is window dressing, or possibly important when considering environmental factors (lightning vs metal armor). It is the dice in the armor that matters. Same goes for weapons, a Dagger (3) is every bit the weapon a Claymore (3) is. It is more about imagination, vision, and role play than it is about number crunching, weapon vs armor, and damage comparisons.

This may ultimately be "empty calories", fun to eat, but not really satisfying. I don't know, and to be honest, I probably never will, since my lack of a group is a common theme in my posts. It is fun to think about though, and the idea that designing for Risus is akin to designing system-less is very liberating. I have a hard time maintaining my conceit when it comes to design. I tend to find myself having my design choices answer to the rules, rather than twist the rules to my designed "reality". If Risus frees me from that hang-up it will be well worth the time spent.

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