Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Worldbuilding: Game Design Loops and Mechanics

Here is a picture of a man preparing to hit his hand with a spiky hammer.


I was going to write about mechanics and class, but we'll get to that in a bit. First I wanted to mention that I had another thought about how to plan this setting's theme since I wrote about it last post.
It's not too surprising. I always thought designing settings and adventures worked in loops: You plan some things out, then you build on that and move on to other things, and in the process you get ideas that improve and refine whatever it is you thought you were already done with. At least I'm getting this one early.

Earlier, I got hold of a copy of The Neverhood, an extremely awesome point-and-click adventure game from 1996. It has been one of my favourite games for a while, despite being unable to beat it when I last had it because I was using XP and it refused to run the bloody thing without crashing a short way in, but whatever.

While beating a fourteen-year-old game it occured to me that one of the reasons I liked the game was the strange, alien setting. Then it occured to me to look at some of my other favourite games, and in no particular order:

  • The Neverhood - A game made entirely in claymation about a clay man called Klayman in a pretty clay world. The setting has a backstory about demigod-like creator beings and the worlds they create out of clay, which is 25,000 words long and written on an extremely long clay wall (which the game makes you cross twice, just to be a jerk).
  • Oddworld - A series with anti-corporate overtones set on a strange alien world, populated by strange humanoid aliens. The artwork is amazing, from the vast dirty factory environments to the mystical jungle temples. At least, it was in the first two games. Never got around to playing the Xbox ones.
  • Creatures - First game I ever owned, actually. An artificial life series where the player raises and cares for the Norns, creatures inhabiting the edge of a disc-shaped planet left behind by an alien race which managed to map out their own genome and fix all their genetic errors before inventing the wheel.
  • Team Fortress 2 - Pretty much an excuse for teams of people to shoot each other, but TF2's backstory is being slowly fleshed out. It is also completely, pants-on-head ridiculous. In an awesome way.
  • World of Goo - Help sentient blobs of goo form structures to lead other blobs of goo to pipes so a faceless corporation can suck them up, and then you get trapped in the Internet or something. Apparently a metaphor for working at EA or something. (EA had me as "suck" and lost me at "up".)
  • The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom - A newer game I picked up recently and really liked. A gentleman thief in a Victorian-themed city goes on time-travelling adventures and causes time paradoxes while chasing a magical flying talking pie. Or something.

I could list more, but the emerging pattern is obvious - all of these games were clearly written by awesome people who should probably not be allowed to take certain kinds of drugs.

Anyway, it's pretty obvious that I like weird, offbeat settings that don't necessarily make sense if you think about them too much. I should probably take note of that when working on this one.

Anyway, mechanics.

A while ago I tried making a "collaborative setting" after getting the idea from a copy of Dragon - basically a bunch of people getting together to craft a setting. It didn't go very well, usually because people were more interested in making sure a handful of things they liked made it in than designing the rest. In fact I tried it twice with similar results each time (a feeling that smacking myself with a spiky hammer would have been more fun, mostly).

Mechanical issues were rarely touched on except by about one person per group. One was focused on statting up a suspiciously powerful PC race, which wasn't much of a problem, and the other one would mostly talk about how we should consider what system to use and whether we should come up with an entirely new one first until people got annoyed,

The whole thing taught me several lessons. One, I ahould probably do most of the design myself if I want to be completely happy with it. Two, demons will appear in everything I ever make unless I avoid them on purpose. And three, give some serious consideration to the mechanics you're going to use in the early planning stages.

I already use 3.5 Edition Dungeons & Dragons when running this setting, so that is what I will use (unless I decide to switch to 4E sometime). Bam. Done. In hindsight that was a lot of words for such a fast conclusion.

Anyway, now that I've done that, I should probably decide what races, classes, books, etc. to allow in the setting.

First, I should note that since this setting started as a generic thing that anything could go into, there probably won't be many restrictions on race, class, etc. In the past I've allowed a lot of things provided I can find a way to work it into the setting myself, with much success (except for the guy who made up a nation for his elf subrace and then two neighbouring nations after I told him not to, and the one who rewrote my setting's history to accomodate their homebrew race. I promise to tell that story sometime). So for now, let's put races aside and come back to it after I've settled on class mechanics and such.

Are there any classes I want to ban or alter? I won't consider prestige classes, because that makes the list of things I need to consider way too damn long. Sticking only with 3.5 base classes, then, we narrow it down to:

Archivist, Ardent, Artificer, Barbarian, Bard, Beguiler, Binder, Cleric, Crusader, Divine Mind, Dragon Shaman, Dragonfire Adept, Dread Necromancer, Druid, Duskblade, Erudite, Factotum, Favored Soul, Fighter, Healer, Hexblade, Knight, Lurk, Incarnate, Marshal, Monk, Mystic, Ninja, Noble, Paladin, Psion, Psychic Warrior, Ranger, Rogue, Samurai, Scout, Shadowcaster, Shaman, Sha' ir, Shugenja, Sohei, Soulborn, Soulknife, Sorcerer, Spellthief, Spirit Shaman, Swashbuckler, Swordsage, Totemist, Truenamer, Warblade, Warlock, Warmage, Wilder, Wizard and Wu Jen.

Son of a bitch.

First, let's say no to incarnum. I have never seen anyone use Magic of Incarnum except for one guy, and he only wanted a couple of feats for powergaming reasons. I'm sure it's alright, I just can't be bothered. Second, all oriental-themed classes can go back to the obligatory Far East mishmash country I will almost definitely have lying around somewhere. Third, let's just forget about all the optional base classes from splat books for now and allow them as needed.

Except binders, anyway. I am currently running a campaign which introduces binders to the setting as reviving the magical practices of a dead civilisation, so I know how they work already.

Do I want to alter the base classes at all to flavour the setting a bit?

It's a good idea, though I'm not sure where to start. Now that I've written this far I feel this probably deserves its own post, maybe two. I'll get around to it later, then, but first I'll mention a few ideas in my head:

  • Clerics. I'd like to be a bit more specific in what they can and can't do. Allowing them to be devoted to ideals and concepts is all well and good, but once you've seen someone make a cleric that doesn't worship anything in particular and somehow place it in the upper ranks of a church in its backstory it starts to get silly.
  • Rangers. What the hell are they for anyway?
  • Wizards. For a bunch of smart guys they sure don't get many skill points, but I tend to portray wizards as sages and scholars. Maybe I should let them take more Knowledge skills, I don't know.
  • Magic. It's used a lot in this setting and if there's anywhere I could mix things up a bit, it's in the magical realm. That just gives me more work to do, but whatever.
  • Paladins. I don't know, I really like them. Is there a way to improve them? They seem all right to me, but then I don't try to make paladins trip for shits and giggles.
  • Seriously, what the hell are rangers for?

I'll try and get back in a few days with more stuff about classes. Hopefully I can move on to races as well.


Ettin said...

For the record, if you got two emails about this update or something, it's because the first time I posted it Blogspot dated it as being made on the 21st (when I wrote the first couple sentences) and while fixing that I set it as a draft and had to repost it.

I'm a genius!

Patrick said...

Rangers are for being fighters that can do something other than specializing in a single weapon.

That is to say, they're fighters that have a purpose while not trying to take off someone's head.

Crazy, I know.

Honestly, a clever man would just combine Fighters and Rangers somehow. Fighters with Rangers' class skills would actually be FUN to play and have roles other than meatshield.

And why DOESN'T a professional soldier, as fighters at the very least should be portraying, know how to spot ambushes or stage their own? They can't even fucking hide.

All they can do is swim or- oh wait, no, they can't, because they're often in heavy armor!

Mozai said...

I thought rangers were supposed to be, y'know, Aragorn, since D&D started out as a hack rip-off of Tolkien.

Yeah, I went there. Before Tolkien, elves were making shoes for impovrished cobblers, or toys in North Pole sweatshops, or spoiling milk, and never taller than your shins. And where the hell did "halflings" come from? That's right.

What a ranger class does today is perpetuate the legacy of ripping off Tolkien decades later. Srsly, most of the junk they do should be folded into the fighter class to make it a more rounded soldier instead of the pit-fighter model we have now.

Senji said...

I had a Ranger/Fighter once, he was basically a throw everything at everyone type of guy. He used STR and brutal throw. Yeah. When he ran out of javelins(?) he'd start throwing random stuff he had around, swords, the tank at the enemy, etc.

Anonymous said...

Rangers are for dual-wielding and multishot builds.

Disgruntled said...

Rangers are there to patrol national forests and scold bears that steal picnic baskets.