Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Folly of the Universal Die Mechanic

I've been reading through my various gaming books and I think I've figured something out.  I'm not a huge fan of "universal die mechanic" systems that have become the rage for almost all the new RPG's coming out.  I just bought and read through a used copy of Legends of Anglerre and I realized while the idea of relating nearly everything to an Aspect or Skill or Stunt is an incredibly flavorful idea at first.  I can dream up nearly anything (just like in the old FUDGE system that FATE is based from) put it to words, put it on the Terrible to Legendary ladder and roll on.

However, I think while this is really neat for short term games, the fun can wear off quickly...  suddenly you realize there is pretty much no mechanical difference between a fighter and a wizard or a noble.  One skill is treated almost exactly the same as all the others and all the powers a balanced under an elegant system.  Blah.

Maybe one of the reasons that original AD&D was so popular is that it was a massive tackle-box of all sorts of little rules systems.  It pretty much had all these "little games" inside of the big game.  All these different rules mechanics in the game gave all of us gamers things to love, but also things to disagree about.

In fact some of the early adventure modules took it so far as to have elaborate spot rules for handling chase scenes, maybe a little game mechanic to handle a siege combat or a ship on ship naval battle that would occur during the adventure.

Related to this I'd also like to chat a bit about my favorite game I've seen come out in a long time.  The DCC RPG by Goodman Games.  It is awesome.  I don't think I will ever actually play the game because the "inherent" game world and ethos implied by the rules isn't really the flavor I'm looking for in my fantasy games.  However, reading through the free BETA rules the thing I liked the most is the complete lack of any "universal die mechanic".  The game is a beautiful mess of jumbled rules systems and random effects tables.  In reading through it I was able to recognize the things that got me into this hobby in the first place.  No vanilla jazz music here people, just finger blistering heavy metal rock.

As wizards of the coast gears up to make 5th edition, maybe they should go back and review the obtuse and contradictory, jumbled rules systems that Gary and Dave came up with.  Maybe they should eschew elegance and embrace chaos.  Fourth edition made all the characters the same, and made nobody special.  Maybe this time around they should think like a 13 year old, figure out what makes each class or character unique.  Scream out the names of the nine lords of Hell!  Roll your d20's!  Make each class or profession special!  But then again, maybe I'm just crazy.      

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