Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Combat in Runebearer

I wrote Runebearer over 13 years ago, and though it was never particularly successful in terms of the number of people reading/playing it (and frankly nowadays, it is almost unknown), from a personal standpoint, I think it turned out pretty well. I like the game. A handful of other folks like the game, and over the course of the past decade or so, the amount of enjoyment the game has brought me and my friends has been considerable.

And hopefully a few people outside of my various gaming circles have found it to be to their liking as well.

Looking at the rules as they stand today, one of the things I am pleased with is Runebearer's combat system. Runebearer started as an attempt to take the simplicity of an AD&D style hit point system, but still capture many of the interesting effects of games like HERO, Rolemaster and Aftermath. Ultimately, through many reviews, play sessions, arguments and revisions, I think I got it about 90% right.

The big thing I enjoy about Runebearer's combat is the fact that it is a positional combat system, meaning that one of the main determinants of a party's success in a fight is how the PCs position themselves on the battlefield in relation to their allies, enemies and terrain features. The fact that defenses degrade against multiple attackers, the engagement rules, and the rules for obstructions all ensure that groups who position their characters to support one another and use the battlefield will fare better than those that charge in carelessly.

Another thing that I think works well in Runebearer is its pace of decision is good. Combats are often decided in about 6-8 rounds. Combats aren't often decided on the first salvo, and they usually don't drag on beyond the point where everyone has lost interest. Because of the positional nature of the game, one side's position will crumble before all of their combatants are defeated, leading them to run, surrender, or fall back. This keeps combats fast-paced and exciting.

Finally, I like the mix of control and randomness that the game has. Combat is deadly -- every wound can drop you. However, most blows won't incapacitate you, and with talents, equipment, maneuvers and tactical skill, you can minimize your chances of injury. Still, that chance for an incredible shot (both for and against the PCs) is there and I think that adds a bit of spice to battles.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Are You Having Fun Yet? Part 2 -- Hook Your Character

Last post I claimed that the best RPGs came about when the players were taking responsibility for their fun. By that I mean players need to take responsibility for the quality of the game in general, thus ensuring that they and their fellow players have fun.

You can start taking responsibility right at character creation by making sure that you hook your character to the game world. This means that you take some time to understand the campaign setting and then you build your character so that he has some ties to that setting -- some purpose to his adventuring; something that he cares about; a reason to be. Understand what the GM is going for and make sure that your new character can be a part of that. When the GM is setting his game in a fantasy Age of Sail, complete with galleons, cannons, pirate queens, swashbucklers and pistoleers, maybe the dark, foreign, loner mage who uses magic no one has ever heard of and is deathly afraid of water of isn't a good fit.

In addition to making sure your character fits in the game setting, make sure you also hook your character to the rest of the group. Talk to your fellow players and make sure you fit into the party. Does that group already have a rogue? Then please don't make another rogue with all your skills one better. Is everyone else playing a member of an extremely strict temple? Your dual-classed hedonist-thief might not be the best fit. You want to play the dark, mysterious loner in a group of 8 PCs? Errr... maybe you should talk to the group and see what they think...

Oh, and the character who took the limitation pathological liar? Never OK. No matter how many build points you got. Never. O. K.

Ask the rest of the players about their characters and use that to help you get ideas for your character. Maybe you can even take it a step further and see if another player would like to hook your two characters together in some way -- perhaps you are siblings, classmates, or rivals.

The main point is to make it easy for the GM to give you cool stuff to do. You might think being a grumpy loner with no reason to live is awesome, but to everyone else at the table, that is a dull character. You have no ties to the world, so the GM has nothing with which to motivate you -- no Auntie May to kidnap, no liege lords to send you on a quest, no religions to fight for. Hell, you don't even like kittens!! At this point, don't be surprised when you find yourself complaining that the GM isn't making the game compelling enough for you. You have made a character who refuses to be compelled.

My regular game setting is a fairly small, religious, human-centric land and I have one player who plays a non-human, pagan, foreigner from a clan-based society. So he is an outsider in the normal campaign world. However, in his homeland he... well, he took the limitation "Clanless" which makes him something of a persona non grata in his home territory as well. He is an outsider everywhere and that means I have to work extra hard to get him screen time. Without some character modifications, or some serious suspension of disbelief, he is where plotlines go to die.

This isn't to say you shouldn't play what you want, or that campaigns shouldn't include offbeat characters, or that GMs shouldn't work at integrating all types of PCs into their games. But, it is a reminder that the player bears some portion of the responsibility for how his character fits into a given game. If you are wondering why your character isn't getting any interesting plots, ask yourself if you have given the GM any hooks. If none of the other players seem interested in your character, ask yourself if your character is interesting.

Take responsibility for tying yourself to the campaign world and your group, and you should find yourself having more fun.