Friday, July 10, 2009

What is the Counting Game System?

The name is not very sexy but it is what I have called it all these years.  I am content with the name because I have not come up with anything better and my kids are happy to call it that.

Now what is it?  In a nutshell of RPG design babble, it is a generic, point-based, rules-medium, skill-oriented system with a flexible classic die rolling system.

Before I dissect what that gobbledygook means to me, I want to say that the mission of this game is to provide a system where anyone can play it at any time with materials at hand.  I am not fond of LARP, I personally feel too self-conscious acting out my character, so the mission does not include the need to consider LARP as a playing option.  What the mission does mean to me is to provide a balanced and flexible system where the basic rules are simple enough to be remembered and the game can be played wherever there are people with paper and pencils.

First the system is Generic.  It is not oriented to a specific genre or setting for a game.  This is in homage to GURPS and the fickle nature of my pool of players (kids you know, one day it is spaceships and the next day it is giant robots).  As we all know a generic system with no game world is very boring (unless you are a fellow game designer), so a major impediment to publication is the lack of a game world. In a future post I will go over some of the best game world candidates for my initial release.  At this point I see the system as a way to describe and play in a world of the player's choosing with characters of their choosing.  As a web developer the system is like HTML and the game world is a fully designed web site, so the same people who are interested in a generic system might also read up on the latest HTML 5 specification (but most people would prefer to go to a fully developed web site).

Generic systems have a few pitfalls.  The first pitfall is the issue of over-generic-ness.  A GURPS implementation of the D&D world is very different from the D&D world.  A GURPS version of a 7th level Mage is... well it should be a crime to do that on top of the fact it is a lot of work to not only design the character but also pick the advantages and disadvantages that mesh with D&D.  It would require several books to just begin to cover all the material necessary.  In this system the creation rules are straight-forward and simple.  Each character, item, skill or power is evaluated for it's useful parts to determine its value in points - more on that in other posts.

The more major pitfall of generic games is the idea of character progression and playing the same character long term.  In a D&D game (should I specify that I only speak of the Second Edition?) you start with a character that is basically worthless but work to become more and more powerful.  Working to get those xp becomes an obsession.  Generic games do not really have this, they are typically class-less and level-less, so the character you start out with is the one you envisioned during creation.  There is no next level that drives you on to play.  This leads generic games to be more one-shot or shorter term than other styles.  I don't actually see this as a problem, if you were to take the average ten year old through the creation process and then have a few asthmatic cockroaches nearly kill them after six hours of play?  The would be back to their Nintendo before you could tell them that they still needed to play a few dozen hours before they could last 10 seconds with a dragon.  A generic game lets the player choose the character they want to play without hours and hours of dealing with level 1 issues.

This is a point-based system.  In this system every attribute, skill, power and weakness is worth points.  These same points are used for healing, damage, purchases and skill rolls.  This is a universal currency for everything in the game.  Some systems have hit points, skill points, attribute points, luck points, kitten points, etc - each with a unique exchange rate.  This is way too complex.  One attribute point can be exchanged for a point to increase a skill/power/buy equipment/etc.  On a side note, there are no hit points - when you take any sort of damage it comes off of the character's attributes or skills or powers (it might even increase a disadvantage or weakness).

This is a rules-medium system, meaning that it is not rules-light or rules-heavy.  My exposure to rules-light games left me feeling of potential anarchy, many people hate the government but it comes in handy when people try to steal from or kill you.  Rules are the same way, there must be some rules to check a permissive or obstinate Game Master.  On the contrary, rules-heavy games are gigantic books with tables and formulas for everything.  I would prefer to guess at the velocity of an unladen swallow than check a chart that takes into account fifteen variables.  In this game there is rounding and even bad math just to keep things simple lest someone be forced to look at a chart. 

This is a skill-oriented system.  Many systems are combat oriented, which is fine since most players prefer to "kick butt".  My daughter was the primary reason to change this in my system.  She would prefer not to kill every dragon but instead befriend them and help them live a vegetarian lifestyle.  So, the classic sense of combat is not primary in this game.  Combat is a contest, not actually different from arm-wrestling, competitive eating or even trying to get your boss to give you a raise at the office.  Keeping with the theme of flexibility, skills are all based on attributes so a skill can be untrained and used in relation to the skill's controlling attribute.  But if you take damage, then the decrease in attribute points can lower a skill.

Finally this system has a flexible die mechanic that is based on classic dice rolling.  I love dice, the dice section is my second favorite part of a game store.  A system that would only use one of them is just wrong.  On the other hand what is a person to do when they have a 1d8 axe but no 8 sided dice are to be found?  My super-flawed math skills allow me to suspend belief in my players to substitute dice.  In this system a 1d8 is the same as 2d4, 1d6+1 or even just '4'.  The thought is that the possible values of a 8 sided die are 1 to 8, with 3.5 as an average of those values.  In rounding up that 3.5 becomes a 4 just as a 1d6 becomes a 3 (and so on).  It is imperfect but it is more important to me to have a flexible system than force people to walk around with dice bags tied to their belts (like I did back in 1985).  Since this is a point based system, a 1d8 axe costs 4 points in the first place because that is the average damage it can do.  If a Game Master didn't agree with such silly math then they can play without rolling for damage (but the foundation of role playing is rolling for damage, so I think they will overlook it).

Obviously there are a lot of details to explain in these posts.  My intention with this blog is to explain it and eventually it will be so concise I can publish it (after I decide which game world to go with).  So, for those of you still awake.. you have now read a brief rationalization of this game system with specifics to follow.  

Questions, comments and random musings are welcome!

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