What I want from a RPG

Before getting around to my list, let me tell you a bit about me first. That may help to understand what I and and why I want it.

My friends and I have been playing D&D 3.5 (and 3.0 before that) for quite a long time now. Until around 2010, I was GMing most of it, but back then, I decided that I was tired of all those very specific rules and to spend so much time writing down stats block instead. I wanted to switch to other games, but my friends liked 3.5. I became mostly a player. I did not fall back in live with the system, but I love to play and having only one PC to manage is much less time consuming.

I started to read a lot of games (FATE, Dramasystem, Pathfinder, The Riddle of Steel, Sorcerer… just to name a few) and I played/masterd lighter systems, like Cortex+ (both Leverage and Marvel Heroic; great system) Savage World (not a fan), Apocalypse World and Dungeon World (both built on the same engine that I love; most games I read now are Powered by the Apocalypse). I must say that Dungeon World really clicked with me. Even if you don’t use the game, it’s full of great GMing advice. Go read it, and grab the fan guide while you’re at it.

The biggest problem with DW is that my friends did not like it. Although there is a lot of structure to the game (through the moves mechanics), it’s still very freeform : what you describe is the most important thing that let you do things (or not). That put them off. And even if that saddens me, I understand how it’s not a game for everyone.

To contrast, a D&D 3.5 player might look at the standard action list, calculate his chance of succeeding different ones, then decide to use Disarm because is the most efficient  use of his time; in DW, there is no Disarm action, but if you want to disarm your enemy, you’ll have to roll something that will probably have the same chance of success that a regular attack would. In the first case, you look at a list of mechanically defined possibilities, while in the other, you just say want you want to do and roll something that have no statistical difference from a lot of other actions you might have done. In 3.5, you can very easily think mostly through abstracted rules to decide what to do (I know, it’s possible not to), while in DW, it’s almost impossible to play that way (yes, it’s possible to). One of my friend told me that he found that DW gave him too much freedom, and that “even if it may sound weird” (his words), he preferred rules that limited what he could try.

We recently switched to 5th edition, and even if it has a very elegant rule set less reliant on specific modifiers, it’s still much closer to 3.5 than to DW.

All that being said, I want  a game that can feel much more like DW, but with enough abstract rules bit to be fun for my fiends. From the top of my head, here’s some stuff that I think is important :

  1. Start with a fictional description, use rules to determine the outcome, then express it in fictional description.
  2. Very few interaction with stuff outside the fiction (the less dice counting and sheet reading necessary, the best it is; that’s personally what I think is a flaw in the Cortex+ [and FATE, for that matter] system).
  3. Not a strict initiative system (you go, I go, monster 3 go, she goes, you go, I go…)
  4. Specific powers/abilities that are mechanically distinguishable for the players.
  5. A very light system for the GM, so that prepping combat encounters is entirely optional.
  6. Rules that help the GM to do rulings instead of already settled modifiers.
  7. Reaction abilities (I absolutely love the Shield spell in D&D 5th!)
  8. Rules for play that fits on a couple of sheets (a player can play a full DW campaign with 4 pages, 6 if she’s a spellcaster, never needing anything else.)

Enough for today. I’ll go in more details in a future post!

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