Created: 28. Apr 2015 21:33
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Two years ago, we sat in the local pub and spontaneously decided to start an RPG session. We had nothing except for some slips of paper, a pen, and a six-sided die. So I came up with a very simple RPG rule system to get the story going and the rules ‘out of the way.’ We played the story for over a year and stuck to my improvised rule system, refining it while playing.
Recently, I sat down and ordered all the notes and scribbles that made up the system, wrote everything down neatly, and christened the rule system SpartanS — The Spartantic RPG Rule System.
I pulbished it on the Dungeon Gazette: http://www.dungeon-gazette.com/rule-systems/spartans
I hope somebody else finds it useful. I am happy for every bit of feedback, either here in the forum our via e-mail. I will start creating a campaign using the system and will publish that one, too.
Have a lot of fun!
We happen to play a lot of DSA lately since I'm leading a campaign in Aventurien, DSA's world. For those who don't know the abbreviation, DSA stands for "Das Schwarze Auge" (en. "The Black Eye"); it's a german RPG. It is fun, and Aventurien is a wonderful world. However, the system has a consistency problem. It's not the layout, which is fine, or the art and drawings, which are mostly black and white but nevertheless nice, and it isn't that a core rule book says this and another contradicts it. No, DSA has a problem with what I'd like to call Implicit Consistency.
Implicit Consistency happens to be when one can reason some part of the rules from the rest by taking an educated guess.
Take, for an example, penalties applied to actions. In DSA, a fighter can aquire several feats. One among them is the power attack. With it, the player can voluntary take a penalty to his liking on the next attack, and if he succeeds, this penalty will be applied to the damage caused by his weapon. The DSA-style power attack has a mandatory penalty of +4 which isn't added to the final damage. (With DSA, the lower the numbers, the better, so a penalty gets added to the final dice result.) For example, if you want to cause 5 additional points damage, you have to take a penalty of 9 = 5+4.
Other feats work in the same way; you take a +4 penalty and gain something extra for it. They are, basically, special maneuvers you can exercise during combat. For some of them advanced version exist; the power attack is followed by the hammer blow, beeing a more deadly variant where the final damage is tripled. The player can, as with the power attack, take a voluntary penalty, and also the hammer blow features a base penalty. Here, it is +8.
Judging from the feats one gets the following idea: Many special maneuvers come with a +4 penalty, more advanced action even with +8.
However, looking at the distance classes, this assumption isn't true any more. DSA employs distance classes to make weapons of different length useful. Somebody carrying a pike is able to deliver a possibly deadly blow earlier than the attacker that merely has a knife, but if the knife-bearer is finally able to underrun the pike's length, the defender will be in dire troubles. A battle always starts in the outermost distance class possible. In our example, the pikeman is the one to fight in the ideal distance class. The fighter with the knife has to make an attack to get nearer. The knife-bearer's player has to take a penalty, of course, since it's a special maneuver. One would think that getting into the next nearest distance class is an attack +4. But it isn't; instead, the attacker takes a +6 penalty. He who guesses is wrong.
Different scene: Skill checks. Of course, DSA features advices on how a game master could apply penalties to actions that are harder to accomplish than normal. The penalty table goes like this: 0/+3/+7/+12/+18/+25, so the penalties become worse by 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 points. That will be hard to guess if the game master doesn't know it from memory!
Why is it important? Simple answer: Because one doesn't want to spend minutes over minutes studying one of the several core rule books searching for whatever penalty applies right now during the session. While playing, the whole group usually has better things to do than consulting the rules, like fighting. It destroys the precious atmosphere.
"Why then," I hear you ask, "doesn't the GM just apply the penalty he deems appropriate?" It's a true question, and I'd normally do it that way. The problem is with the beginnings: Newbies do not yet have the sense for the particular system's finer mechanics. How does a newbie know whether +4 is apropriate? It could be too much, thus ruining it all, or it could be too little, thereby making things to easy, and again spoiling the fun. We've all started as newbies ─ we all depended on those pieces of information like "how much penalty should I apply to this action that isn't hard, but not common?" And, besides that, for other things, this isn't possible: The hammer blow will always come with +8.
This problem arises in many ways, not only with penalties to dice rolls. Whenever it comes to numbers, neither game masters nor players usually want to cram tables just to make the game play fluent. Taking an "educated guess" should be the appropriate solution to all those problems ─ and players and game masters alike should usually be right with their guess.
Now what's the solution? Introduce "difficulty classes" that come with a static penalty. Something is ordinary: +/- 0. Everything else means a stacking +4 penalty. Difficult: +4. Hard: +4+4 = +8. Even harder: +4+4+4, +4+4+4+4, and so on. I guess you get the idea.
Of course, this is very specific to checks and penalties. Generally spoken, if you, dear reader, were about to create a RPG rules system, you would make sure you have a pool of decent numbers. Whenever you brood over a rule and catch yourself out on thinking of a number: Stop it. Concepts must be simple. Some few but basic meta-concepts must exist that span all rules. Having common numbers is one of them.
While I often unconciously wondered about those things, I haven't concretely thought about them until one of my fellow RPG mates, Sven, brought it up during a session of DSA. Thanks, Sven.
And one final word: Aventurien is great. Don't think I cannot stand DSA just because it is the leading example for this entry. :-)
Many role playing systems make the mistake to include a skill or attribute called "knowledge," or similar. This is just plain wrong: Knowledge is an abstract concept. Knowing something means knowing a distinct, particular thing. Which means: You don't just know, but know something. The value a character has in its "knowledge" skill tries to describe that. But it completely fails at that since it's too abstract.
Let me precise this with an example. Suppose some guy named Jern, thief by "profession" has a value of 80 in knowledge. Fine. Now what does that mean? The question obviously answered is "how much does he know," but that doesn't help: During the game, the question obviously asked is: "What does he know?" and more precisely: "Does he know XYZ?" Ok, so there's an ancient artifact with hieroglyphs all over it, and Jern wants to find out what it is. He get's to roll a knowledge skill check, makes it, and finds out that this artifact will cloak him for an hour. Good for him! Some hours later, Jern has just broken into a library, looking for valuable books to steal. He gets to roll a -- you guess it -- knowledge check, which he not-so surprisingly pulls off. That rare book describing a forgotten, powerful teleport spell from that famous magician over there in the shelf is his now, thanks to his high ranks of knowledge!
Quite obvious is that the "knowledge" skill completely fails at what was its sole intention: Figuring out what a character knows, and figuring out whether he has a clue what's going on in a particular situation or not. Because it's abstract, but has a concrete value.
Enough of the ranting, I think it's clear what I am trying to express. More interesting is how to overcome the problem. First of all: Make that "knowledge" thing something concrete. If you don't want to change your character sheets, assume that "knowledge" is actually knowledge about a character's main field of interest. If it's a wizzard, it's knowledge about magic. If it's a warrior, it's knowledge about battle tactics, weapons and fighting skills. That makes a warrior a good member in a CSI team, by the way. In any case, whatever a character could know but isn't covered by her profession or interests means rolling a check against a penalty. The less it has to do with her profession, the higher the penalty gets. General knowledge works the same way, but the penalty is a fixed value.
However, that also means that there's more trouble ahead. Sleek as it sounds, consider this: Suppose you decided to apply a -20 penalty to all checks for general knowledge. Also consider Grungh, an orcish warrior with a knowledge of 20. Poor Grungh seems to know nothing except wielding his weapon. Which is probably wrong, too, since everybody has some general knowledge. Grungh, too, will know about the deities of his folks, something absolutely not connected with his warrior profession. This will lead the game master to make an exception of his rule and allow Grungh's player to roll dices without the -20 penalty sometime later in the game when it comes to that strange weather phenomenon. But any rule that needs exceptions isn't well thought of.
I, personally, like the idea of having a "general knowledge" skill and some more, specialized knowledge skills for the character's professions. For each and every character, unless monstrously tuned, this will result in about two to four skills. They don't necessarily need to get enhanced separately, but can be interconnected in some way, since they are interdependent. Let's say three points more in any knowledge skill raises all other by one. Of course, that's only a proposition.