The Guy That Wrote This (uhlrik) wrote in roleplayers,
The Guy That Wrote This

Systems Hunt III: The Winnowing Continues

Okay, this is another in my series of posts about seeking a game system for a particular campaign I'm going to run. I swear I'll finish narrowing this down eventually. The other posts are here: (12)

I've done some more work on this process, and have updated my list of systems that have been considered or discussed. Changes from last time are italicized. 7/18 are already out flat
  • Scion/Exalted - Out.
  • Unisystem - Out.
  • Tri-Stat Dx - still under review.
  • BESM 1st Edition – still under review
  • FUDGE / FATE - Pending review but probably out in and of themselves. I may use a modified version of one of their descendants, however. (see SotC and TSOY below)
  • Spirit of the Century - pending review.
  • The Shadow of Yesterday - pending review.
  • nWoD modified to import some Scion material - still in contention, though it'll need a lot of modification.
  • WuShu - Out.
  • PDQ - pending review.
  • Burning Wheel - A fairly crunchy system, though some accelerating mods to allow for better performance online have been offered. Status: Debatable and under consideration. If I were running the game in a tabletop setting I'd probably use it.
  • Inspectres - out
  • Donjon - if I can find a good fix for the money/equipment mechanics, it will be a contender. Otherwise it's out, even though I love this system.
  • Mythweaver - pending review
  • TORG - Out
  • Cortex - pending a review of the quickstart, but I'll admit I'm probably not going to give it a fair shake and it's probably out before I even finish reviewing.
  • HeroQuest - Out
  • Fuzion - the 3D6 version might possibly work, but D10 is out. Still under review.
  • Savage Worlds - Out [added with an edit. I forgot to list this one, though it was suggested earlier]
I am in process of comparing probabilities, fit for my needs etc and the like between BESM, Unisystem, Fuzion and Tri-Stat DX. While Unisystem is already out of the running, it's useful for comparative purposes to the others since they're similar systems in a number of basic structural ways. Once I've finished that, I'm going to look at the other stuff.

My progress on looking at other systems came to a rather abrupt halt as of this past Saturday as I attended Strategicon and got a chance to pick up and flip through a copy of The Burning Wheel while talking to a guy from Indie Press Revolution that has run it extensively. As some of you may (or may not) recall, I was previously somewhat dismissive of my odds of using this system even though I've wanted to pick up a copy for ages. I said that I wouldn't pick up a copy sight-unseen for this campaign, and would have to actually look at the book before being willing to spend the money on it. Well, I have gotten a firsthand peek, and accordingly I have bought it.

I'll give a brief capsule review below, and will pose some questions for those of you that are already familiar with it.

First off, I've been anticipating looking over this one for ages, and I will admit that I was not disappointed. It's a really good system with a pretty solid engine, and the statement I've heard people make saying that it's the first system they've seen where the mechanics make players actually want to use them is not hyperbole.

It's a dicepool-based D6-rolling engine focused on skills, and a lot of the finesse and crunch of the system goes into the various ways to manipulate and tweak dice pools and obstacles (numbers of successes needed on the roll). Character advancement is tied directly to the sorts and difficulties of rolls that characters have to face, and looks fairly straightforward. The Let it Ride rule is a nice touch - once a player has made a roll for something, that roll stands until circumstances change greatly enough for a different obstacle (difficulty) to apply. So if your character is exploring a bunch of ruins while trying to do so unseen, you won't be rolling Stealth fifty times like you might in some games. You roll once and that roll rides until there's a major change in the situation.

Character creation is point-based, but interestingly each character will have a different number of stat, skill, trait and resource points to distribute based on the lifepath choices that the player makes for the character - there is no inbuilt parity between all characters in the creation process. Repeat - direct balance between characters is not part of character creation, even though it's point based. This might be offputting to some people, but it doesn't actually bother me at all, partially because the way that the advancement system will cause "weaker" characters to catch up with their more powerful peers fairly quickly anyhow.

Also, the collective nature of gaming is highly emphasized in BW - it is expected that players will be aware of what the others are doing, and will hopefully work together on character creation. In fact, the rulebook states that it is a rule that players should make sure that everybody else knows what their characters' beliefs and instincts are. Since beliefs and instincts are mechanically important and show what the player really wants to have going on in play, this helps everybody a great deal, either in cooperation or opposition to the player. Secrecy with regards to what one's character really wants is anathema to this game. Now, characters are encouraged to keep these kinds of secrets from one another, but doing so between players is pretty much considered cheating. Some players might not be comfortable with this, but I really, really like it. It encourages people to work together on a meta level to make the game more interesting and mutually engaging. Also, it strips away the fiction of "but it's what the character would do!" that I've seen so often as an excuse for gamebreaking misbehavior, by taking away the veneer and showing that maybe it is, but characters actually behave as the player designed the characters to, so the player is still accountable.

Also, players vote amongst themselves throughout the campaign, nominating characters to receive certain traits or artha awards (fate points and the like) as the game goes on, and with a unanimous vote being required to pass these new free traits being added (the GM has a vote, but no more than any other player does). This, to me, is a really interesting mechanic and I'm pretty excited about it. A particularly interesting application of this rule is that not only PCs but NPCs can be nominated for bonuses and advancements in this way - the players can award NPCs, even villains, with artha for their contributions to making a campaign interesting. That's a cool form of reinforcement, where the players can use a tangible game mechanic to show the GM that they think a given NPC or plotline is interesting and worth further exploration.

Combat uses a scripting mechanic where players try to out-think and out-plan the opposition, and is a grim and brutal affair. There's a bit of rock-paper-scissors involved because players write down their scripts of several action in advance, then they are revealed and matched up which can lead to very definite advantages on the side that managed to predict the opposition's moves. There's a much simpler Bloody Versus rule for quick combat resolution as well, that works pretty much in the same system as the rest of the game, and is worth using for sake of quickness and free flowing narrative. I like both combat systems.

Emotional Attributes and different lifepath options really do help emphasize the differences between different races and types of characters even though there's no such thing as a character class - for example, the rules tend to reinforce that orcs are vicious brutes that are eager to get into a scrap and harm others, but that most are fundamentally cowardly, essentially bullies that will run away if things look bad for them and that they aren't really eager to be in personal danger. Ganking a guy in the back is all well and good, but facing down a cadre of well-prepared warriors is a different matter entirely! I like how the Grief rules turn elves into a much more tolkienian, immortal, mythic and interesting mold than the generic D&D elf (btw, elves in BW are naaaasty).

All in all, it's a well considered system  Now, the magic system as presented is quite good, and emphasizes the differences in magical style between different groups etc and I like it though it's not remotely dynamic.. 

This all leads into how this excellent system falls in regards to my own upcoming game. I love Burning wheel, and have been obsessing over it all week. But ... there are some issues that are worth considering. For one, I'll need a dynamic magic system. That's an absolute requirement for me. So if I'm going to use this system, I'll have to build one for it. I understand that the just-released Magic Burner supplement has an optional dynamic system. Has anybody here gotten a look at that yet? I'm curious how it works, but gunshy of buying more books right yet. Please advise what you think of the book if you've got it. Also, I'd probably need the Monster Burner supplement for help designing my races and their lifepaths as well, since none of the nonhuman races in BW exist in a playable form in my setting (elves, dwarves etc are essentially alien, otherworldly spirit beings in the world I'm putting together - all of the PC races are mortal and true fey critters don't qualify). So if I'm gonna use this system, I'll have to have all of the extant fantasy supplements to make it work unless I reinvent the wheel (har, har) on my own. I don't mind getting them at some point, but it is a bit irksome having to drop that much just to get the game workable for me.

Also, as integrated as the system is in almost every moment of play, it might be tricky to run this one online for a bunch of people that aren't already familiar with it. I doubt that most people that would be interested in playing this campaign with me will have access to the full rules, and money is tight for many of them so I can't in good conscience expect people to buy the core rulebook set just to join in. There are a couple of small excerpts as free PDFs on the company website, but i'm not sure how much that would help (one does cover the mechanics in their absolute simplest level, though). How much hand-holding would I have to do here systemically speaking? Given that as conflict-driven as this game is, in play you actually do NOT want to just run it mostly diceless.

If I were going to run my campaign in tabletop, I wouldn't hesistate to just drop further investigation and use Burning Wheel. It's that good. It's where you make the transition to online play with system newbies that I see serious problems with using it. Suggestions and input?edit the second: I'm not looking to have more systems recommended to me at this point, I'm looking for feedback on the ones I'm presently considering. If there's a system that I simply must hear about and that isn't on the list above, feel free to tell me, but please make sure you say precisely why. Comments that just say I might want to look at system X are not especially helpful.
Now playing: Enigma - Age of Loneliness
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