[Soul's Calling] Capitulation to Class

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Omnifray:- fantasy roleplay in the mysterious Enshrouded Lands, "a thousand worlds in one", where magic bubbles away beneath the surface, beyond the ken of the common folk, with a unique, detailed, highly flexible rules system

[Soul's Calling] Capitulation to Class

Postby Omnifray » 12:29pm on 23 Jan 13

I was, if memory serves, 5 years old when I first played AD&D (1st edition), and 7 when I first tried to design my own RPG. I called it "Warlocks and Warlords", because it had two character classes - presciently, perhaps, warlocks, and warlords. I stalled after CharGen and the combat system because (aged 7) I balked at the notion of having to come up with a bestiary and magic items.

As a kid I played or GM'd game-books (including Fighting Fantasy and those Battlepits of Krath books), BECMI D&D, AD&D 2nd edition, WHFRP and Dragon Warriors. I read about other games - Basic Roleplaying, Monster Horrorshow.

In my mid teens - maybe I was 16 - I started to write my own RPG in a more serious way, running games of it. One axiomatic certainty in my mind was that I didn't want anything like the character classes of D&D or the professions of Dragon Warriors. Why restrict players to narrow archetypes?

That RPG, which I originally called Axes and Arrows, and then Miravlor, was eventually the basis for full-fat Omnifray. All along, I fervently avoided anything like character classes.

It's been a long time since I was 16 - not quite 20 years, but not far off. In all that time it's been my project to make RPGs without the artificial constraints of character class.

The trouble is that I also like it to be possible to run a game with PCs of very closely comparable overall power - because (especially in a trad/immersive RPG) character power translates easily into spotlight time and influence over the game. In my world view the GM is a neutral facilitator and the real tension in the game - the real possibility for the game to go wrong - is when the spotlight is shared wonkily among the players. "Balance" is simply about tools to help each player feel that they are as free as the other players to participate in and affect the game.

So this led me to a points system. The trouble with a points system is that if it is fair and flexible, it will suffer, inevitably, from complexity. So much so that if you explain it tersely, people will struggle to operate it. That was the major failing of full-fat Omnifray.

I tried to fix that in my first draft of Soul's Calling by including more explanation and giving people more of a road-map of where they were going in CharGen. Part of the road-map was to include stat arrays instead of getting people to buy their stats up from zero (a huge time-saver), then giving them a choice of tweaks to give their character more flavour. But the trouble is that people are not content to pick options based on which name sounds snazzy (as they should!). They somehow feel they have to look in detail at each option (I'm guilty of this too). They then get bogged down in the detail, and blame it on the game-system.

This led me to create a random CharGen system, based on the same road-map. And that's the stage I've been at for months and months now... until this week. I could tell you for a fact, indeed, that any PC correctly generated using that random system would have abilities worth precisely 2,380 advancement points. Yep, it's balanced.

Along the way, there was a minor "capitulation to class". The magic system in my first draft of Soul's Calling was just... wrong. Mainly because people couldn't grok the basic concept of how it worked (pair a spell template with a metamagic template and there's your spell... seems simple enough to me) but also because it was slower in play than full-fat Omnifray's system and because it was complex for CharGen. So in my second draft of Soul's Calling I've come up with a sort of "class"-type system for spellcasting styles only. I guess you could say that the system has still been entirely classless, but anyone with magic has one of 13 recognised styles of casting magic.

But now, I seem to have come full circle.

How?
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Re: [Soul's Calling] Capitulation to Class

Postby Omnifray » 12:37pm on 23 Jan 13

You see, it's like this.

With a points-buy system, if it's all explained tersely, the players have no road-map. It's too complicated for them.

Add in a road-map so the CharGen chapter is literally a hand-holding step-by-step guide through the whole of CharGen, and the text gets chunkier, but it may still be tolerable.

Add in randomisation so that people don't get bogged down in the detail, and the text gets chunkier. Perhaps too chunky for some. But it's still, just about, within a range I can tolerate.

But then I made a decision about the font I'm using and the font-size I'm using.

And wham!

Suddenly, my CharGen chapter is looking more like a book. There are game-companies out there that have literally been publishing books shorter than my CharGen chapter.

And this is why I've come full-circle.

I'm not abandoning my prized CharGen chapter. It's reasonably quick to use and it will generate an almost infinite variety of characters (all human in appearance, mind), all closely comparable in power. 2,380 APs.

I'm not abandoning it, but I'm shunting it off to Book 2. The Expert Manual, or whatever I call it.

Book 1 - the Basic Handbook - will have Templates. They're not character classes. They don't tie you down when you advance in power.

And every single one of them will be closely comparable in power with the characters genned up using Book 2 --- with precisely 2,380 APs worth of abilities.

It feels... weird. Like a sort of a reverse epiphany.

After all these years, I can finally see the sense in what I had all along thought of as a piece of Gygaxian lunacy.

And I hate to admit it but I rather suspect that a significant proportion of gamers will think the Book 1 method is somehow "better" than the Book 2 method, just because it's got a much lower page-count and goes that little bit quicker with less arithmetic.

So which Templates should I go with?
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Re: [Soul's Calling] Capitulation to Class

Postby Omnifray » 12:43pm on 23 Jan 13

Here's the list I'm going with for the moment:-

* Cultist [a member of a benevolent but secretive cult]

* Faerie-Blooded [but seemingly human]

* Scout

* Targeteer

* Trader

* Warrior

The idea is that these six are conceptually coherent. They are all suitable to be Izlavian mercenaries (in my setting, the Enshrouded Lands, which I used for full-fat Omnifray). The first two will generally be masquerading as something more ordinary - possibly a scout, targeteer, trader or warrior.

The word "targeteer" I chose because I wanted a non-gender-specific word for "crossbowman" or "person who uses ranged weaponry generally". It's not a great word but I can't currently think of a better one. "Archer" implies a handbow.

The point of the "trader" is to be a "face" character. The trader is persuasive, the scout stealthy, the warrior tough in melee, the targeteer deadly at a range and the cultist good with magic. The halpfae (faerie-blooded) may be persuasive, stealthy, tough or good at a range, but also has weak magic. Both the halpfae and the cultist will at least have the option of healing magic, so in a party of 6, you could have, say, the halpfae as back-up healer and the cultist as main healer.

Can anyone improve on my list of six? Is it too long? Too short? Better words for "targeteer"?
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Re: [Soul's Calling] Capitulation to Class

Postby Pete » 1:24pm on 23 Jan 13

These classes for the first book sound like the Archetypes from Shadowrun. (Pre-packaged builds essentially.)

  • Shooter
  • Ranged Striker — ::koff:: D&D 4th Edition used that term I think for pingers; ooh!
  • Pinger :)
  • Blaster — Mmm, sounds a bit science-fiction-y; still, at name level you get to be Master Blaster. :)
  • Marksman
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Re: [Soul's Calling] Capitulation to Class

Postby Omnifray » 2:02pm on 23 Jan 13

Thanks Pete!

"Marksman" is the sort of word I'm looking for, but it's not sufficiently gender-neutral.

I mean, with only 6 Templates in use in the basic edition of the game... I don't want any of them to be off-putting to one sixth of my demographic :-)

"Good shot", you see, is the basic idea... but... nah...

"Targeteer" sounds more like an occupation or a role, which is the kind of feel I'm looking for.
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Re: [Soul's Calling] Capitulation to Class

Postby w00hoo » 2:20pm on 23 Jan 13

Targeteer makes me think of either mouseketeers or rocketeers so doesn't do it for me.

Sniper?
Shooter?
Gender Neutral Crossbow Operative?
Ranged Support?
Bob?

The player is going to ask 'what do they do?' anyway with one name descripters so you really just need something that's unlikely to put them straight off. Do they really just fire a crossbow?
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Re: [Soul's Calling] Capitulation to Class

Postby Omnifray » 6:15pm on 23 Jan 13

They don't *just* shoot crossbows, but that happens to be their best tactical option in combat.

They have the best ranged attack capabilities of any of the Templates, but without weapon specialisation, so they are best at using the one kind of weapon that's almost as good in the hands of a talented amateur as it is in the hands of a trained specialist with marginally less natural talent. (If crossbows don't seem to fit that description for you, just consider for comparison how much more longbows and thrown weapons depend on specialisation to be effective.)

But they're adventurers... they could be all-rounders who also fight well in hand-to-hand combat, are good at sneaking around, are charismatic... or they could be highly specialised crossbowmen... or they could be best with a crossbow but notably good in one other key area...

None of the Templates will have weapon specialisation abilities as I'm trying to keep the system simpler in Book 1 than Book 2 and that's an unnecessary level of complexity.
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Re: [Soul's Calling] Capitulation to Class

Postby Omnifray » 6:17pm on 23 Jan 13

What about:-

Marksman/Markswoman [it's in the dictionary!! makes me wonder who Mark is...]
Expert Shot
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Re: [Soul's Calling] Capitulation to Class

Postby Omnifray » 7:04pm on 23 Jan 13

Current list:-

Cultist
Halpfae (Faerie-Blooded)
Marksman / Markswoman
Merchant / Peddler [technically Peddler is a variant of Merchant]
Scout
Warrior
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Re: [Soul's Calling] Capitulation to Class

Postby catty_big » 8:47pm on 30 Jan 13

Omnifray wrote:The trouble is that I also like it to be possible to run a game with PCs of very closely comparable overall power - because (especially in a trad/immersive RPG) character power translates easily into spotlight time and influence over the game. In my world view the GM is a neutral facilitator and the real tension in the game - the real possibility for the game to go wrong - is when the spotlight is shared wonkily among the players. "Balance" is simply about tools to help each player feel that they are as free as the other players to participate in and affect the game.

One answer to this problem- if I understand your problem correctly, which admittedly I may not do- is the FUDGE system, where all the characters have average ability in everything, and the die roll determines (a) whether they succeed or fail and (b) by how much. You can either use FUDGE dice or 1d6, where 3=normal fail, 4= normal pass, 2= bad fail, 1= critical fail etc. That way all the characters have equal power, well, opportunity rather, to influence the game, and you don't have immersion-breaking calculations every time you have an encounter. The other major plus is that it puts the focus on character development and in-character roleplaying (my current idee fixe) as opposed to worrying about ability levels and upgrades etc., and eliminates power-gaming entirely.

The main problem I would envisage, if I grok your worldview- which, again, I may not do- is that you might feel it's too random, and that the characters' ability to influence the game is actually reduced if they can't increase their skills by stat buffing and upgrades. I think the answer to this would be for all the classes to have one skill that they would typically have, which would always give a +1/+2 to the roll. Not sure, anyway it’s just a thought :).

P.S. Kudos to you for your precocity- playing D&D at 5??? I'm not sure I can handle D&D at 47 (when I eventually turn 47 that is :wink:).
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Re: [Soul's Calling] Capitulation to Class

Postby Omnifray » 11:54pm on 30 Jan 13

@catty_big, I don't know the FUDGE system well enough to comment on it.

When I talk about wanting to run a game for characters of very closely comparable power, I don't mean identical abilities. Identical abilities for all characters is anathema to me for an immersive RPG. I want the characters to feel unique and different to each other in a concrete way. If they can't have different abilities to each other, that's profoundly limiting for the fiction. Even if they could start off with the same abilities, they should still be able to end up with different abilities just because that's what the fiction demands for believability. If they have different abilities, they should be modelled differently. If the rules don't model anything, they're not going to help reify the game-world and characters for me. Might as well be pure freeform roleplay, which is OK, but missing something for me.

If what the rules are there for is distribution of narrative authority, again, from an immersive point of view, (for me) it might as well be pure freeform, and as for the distribution of narrative authority, if others find pleasure in that, great, which is partly why I wrote CHIEFS I suppose, but it's just not something that particularly concerns me. I mean, I don't *want* narrative authority if I'm getting my immersion on. And immersion is the apogee of my roleplaying experience.

I can get behind you on "character development and in-character roleplaying", which tends to be important for immersion.

PS as for the D&D, I wasn't DMing aged 5. Didn't do that until I was 7. Plus, D&D was very different back in those days. I doubt I would have had much time for 3e when I was 5. In fact, my proto-RPG which I designed when I was 7 was of the relatively rules-light school. I think it had 3 main stats and 2 character classes. At that age, I didn't see the point in having more stats. You might be wondering where I've gone wrong since :p
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Re: [Soul's Calling] Capitulation to Class

Postby dr_mitch » 12:26am on 31 Jan 13

Half Fae is sort of the odd one out here. The others are professions of sorts, whereas Half Fae is who your parents are. I'd maybe prefer Magician or Glamour Weaver or something like that, with a bit of blurb indicating the character's Fae ancestry let's them do this sort of magic. Well, you did ask.

(actually, for me, classes feel a bit restrictive and unrealistic, so they work against *my* immersion, but people's mileage varies hugely on this one).
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Re: [Soul's Calling] Capitulation to Class

Postby catty_big » 1:38am on 31 Jan 13

Omnifray wrote:@catty_big, I don't know the FUDGE system well enough to comment on it.

From what you say here it sounds like it's not suitable for your game. But in any case it's worth checking it out.

Omnifray wrote:When I talk about wanting to run a game for characters of very closely comparable power, I don't mean identical abilities.

Ok, but then what did you mean?* I’m guessing it’s something to do with your use of the word balance; if I’m right (again, see earlier caveat) how do you achieve balance?

I'll look at your reply on Friday- having spent several hours on making lists for one of my own games, I have to go to bed now in order to have any chance whatsoever of getting my tax return in on time (last day tomorrow :gulp:). (Oh ********, it's tomorrow already).**

*Well, I did say:
catty_big wrote:if I understand your problem correctly, which admittedly I may not do.

**Yes yes, I know, I should have done it months ago.
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Re: [Soul's Calling] Capitulation to Class

Postby Omnifray » 1:00pm on 31 Jan 13

dr_mitch wrote:(actually, for me, classes feel a bit restrictive and unrealistic, so they work against *my* immersion, but people's mileage varies hugely on this one).


Me too but:-
1. the advanced edition of the game will not have these templates at all
2. the templates are just a springboard for the character, and don't entail set patterns of stat progression / advancement
3. you can gen up a basic character and then play them in the advanced game, no problem
4. I'm doing it to reduce the page count of CharGen in the basic book by a factor of ~5

dr_mitch wrote:Half Fae is sort of the odd one out here. The others are professions of sorts, whereas Half Fae is who your parents are. I'd maybe prefer Magician or Glamour Weaver or something like that, with a bit of blurb indicating the character's Fae ancestry let's them do this sort of magic. Well, you did ask.


I'm reluctant to call the halpfae a sorcerer (which is the broad name for the kind of magician they are). The reason is that their actual sorcery is very weak, although they may have one or two fae quirks, e.g. the ability to see perfectly in darkness, which is very valuable indeed. Really halpfae are the all-rounders of the group - they could masquerade quite easily as one of the other 6, depending on what stats you give them. The cultist template is to my mind rather like the halpfae template in representing a hidden facet of the character, rather than (typically) an open one.

catty_big wrote:
Omnifray wrote:When I talk about wanting to run a game for characters of very closely comparable power, I don't mean identical abilities.

Ok, but then what did you mean?* I’m guessing it’s something to do with your use of the word balance; if I’m right (again, see earlier caveat) how do you achieve balance?


Say I have Strengh 10, Health 5, Understanding 10 and Agility 3. I am also an expert on the ways of the seelie fae. I am (in this hypothesis) probably a big ol' fatso, not at all agile or healthy, but very clever and strong. I would struggle to start a camp-fire in anything less than the most favourable conditions. [This is not the real me!]

Say you have Strength 8, Health 8, Understanding 8 and Agility 8. You also have a rudimentary grasp of wilderness survival techniques. You're a great all-rounder, probably SAS material, but you don't have my ridiculous levels of physical strength or intellect, nor do you have my knowledge of the fae.

Under a certain paradigm, these two characters may be balanced. By which I mean, when you look at their stats and abilities as a whole, they are, all in all, in the round, equally useful in the context of the style of game that the ref is likely to run and the nature of the challenges that the players are likely to have their characters seek out, or find thrust upon them.

How you achieve this is by basing character generation on a well-thought-out systematic approach which usually at its heart has some kind of points-balancing system, possibly where specialised abilities cost more points than weaker abilities. Combining this with easy character generation, flexibility of character types AND believability is a BIG, BIG challenge. I've been working on this since Omnifray Lite. Prior to that, I had kind of missed out the "easy" part, and there was a major flaw, as I now see it, in my systematic approach.
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Re: [Soul's Calling] Capitulation to Class

Postby catty_big » 1:32pm on 31 Jan 13

Omnifray wrote:Say I have Strengh 10, Health 5, Understanding 10 and Agility 3. I am also an expert on the ways of the seelie fae. I am (in this hypothesis) probably a big ol' fatso, not at all agile or healthy, but very clever and strong. I would struggle to start a camp-fire in anything less than the most favourable conditions. [This is not the real me!]

Say you have Strength 8, Health 8, Understanding 8 and Agility 8. You also have a rudimentary grasp of wilderness survival techniques. You're a great all-rounder, probably SAS material, but you don't have my ridiculous levels of physical strength or intellect, nor do you have my knowledge of the fae.

Under a certain paradigm, these two characters may be balanced. By which I mean, when you look at their stats and abilities as a whole, they are, all in all, in the round, equally useful in the context of the style of game that the ref is likely to run and the nature of the challenges that the players are likely to have their characters seek out, or find thrust upon them.

Ah ok, I’d probably call that complementary, but yeah, balance works too. In other words they’re balanced across the player party as a whole, rather than in terms of their individual stats.

Omnifray wrote:How you achieve this is by basing character generation on a well-thought-out systematic approach which usually at its heart has some kind of points-balancing system, possibly where specialised abilities cost more points than weaker abilities. Combining this with easy character generation, flexibility of character types AND believability is a BIG, BIG challenge. I've been working on this since Omnifray Lite. Prior to that, I had kind of missed out the "easy" part, and there was a major flaw, as I now see it, in my systematic approach.

I don’t know, I think the White Wolf Storyteller games make a pretty decent fist of it, but at the expense (to me at any rate- see char gen thread) of stat blindness and skill use paralysis. I guess you win in one area and lose in another.
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