Sunday, January 1, 2017

So, What is a Roleplaying Game?   

Many RPG books start with this question.  They may compare roleplaying to when we played "make-believe" as children, or to improvisational theater, or to the collaboration between the director and actors in a movie.  We all know how to roleplay and we all know how to tell stories.  Some roleplaying games are as simple as those two things:  Tell a story.  Roleplay one of the characters in the story while you are telling it.  And then there is Dungeons & Dragons...

Dungeons & Dragons, as many people now know, started out as a tabletop war game, to which roleplaying was added.  Over time, through generations of D&D and spin-off games such as the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, roleplaying was defined as something you do on top of playing another game.  Later innovations in roleplaying flipped that on its head:  Let's roleplay first, they suggested, and then maybe add some game elements on top of it to make it more interesting.

As a game designer, I like to keep both things in mind.  The storytelling that is "make-believe" and the game that is rolling dice and making moves.  Here's how I think about that.

You have a character, an imaginary person that you have made up.  And you are interacting with the imaginary characters that the other players have made up, as well as the imaginary world that one or more of the players has made up.  You have some goals, set by the players together, based on the kind of story you want to tell.  Let's say in this game, your goal is to cross a dangerous mountain pass to see what is on the other side.

Anything that you want your character to do:  "I put on my boots and start walking," "I find a map of the pass so that we don't get lost," up to "I cast a teleportation spell so that I instantly appear on the other side of the mountains" or "I decide that crossing through the dangerous pass is too hard, so instead I open a bed and breakfast on this side of the mountain" is limited by two things:

Story limitations:  The goal is to tell a good story.  Is your character's action making the story better?

Game limitations:  The goal is to play a game.  Does your character's action follow the rules of the game?

A well-designed roleplaying game makes those two things mesh together seamlessly.  When you follow the rules of the game, you are more likely to tell a good story.  When you tell a good story, you are helped, not hindered, by the rules of the game.

What you want, and what I want, in a story and in a game, may be different.  This is why we have so many excellent roleplaying games to choose from.  By deciding that we are all going to play a particular game, we can all have the same expectations about what is going to be fun for all of us.

Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder

I've played a lot of roleplaying games, but for me, Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition, and subsequently Pathfinder, hit the sweet spot for what I want in a story and what I want in a game.  I like fantasy stories.  I like heroism.  I like players working together toward a common goal, one that often involves a lot of sword-fighting.  Those are the kinds of stories that I like to tell.  I also like complicated games, with dice and math.  I like building a character in a way that expresses a three-dimensional personality while, at the same time, being incredibly deadly with sword or a spell.  I like putting together a strategy and then seeing if it works.  I like starting out as the lowly underdog, and then growing in power until I become a legend.  And I'm certainly not the only one, given the popularity of these games.

However, Dungeons & Dragons has moved away from some of the things that I really loved about Third Edition.  Character building options have become more limited.  The game doesn't seem to change as much between the beginning and the end of a long campaign.  Fifth Edition is certainly simpler to play, but it doesn't speak to me like Third did.  It's not what I love.

Pathfinder was designed for folks who still loved Third Edition, while realizing that the publishers of D&D had moved on to other ideas.  Pathfinder has two amazing things going for it, in addition to being built on the rule structure of D&D: 

First, it is built with the Open Game License, which means that anyone can design for it.  Second, Paizo, Pathfinder's publisher, creates a treasure-trove of content in the form of Adventure Paths.  Pathfinder is certainly the game that I have played the most of for the past five years, and I suspect will continue to be for the next.

Open House Rules

This blog will contain my house rules for Pathfinder, which have evolved into their own game entirely.  Everything here will be designed to be compatible with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.  And everything will be modular, meaning that you can take what you like, and leave behind what you don't.

Here are some things I'd like to include:
  • Replacement systems for discrete parts of the game, such as the alignment system or the hit point and recovery system.
  • Tools to manage the enormous bulk of rules that are now contained in the Pathfinder System Reference Document.
  • Individual feats, monsters, spells, and items that are easy to add into your Pathfinder campaign.
  • Packages of material for running a particular adventure or genre of adventure.
  • Adventure ideas, seeds, non-player characters, and other helpful items for a gamemaster.
  • Thoughts on game design and why things work the way that they do, and how they might work better a different way.
  • Ways to mitigate and eliminate some of the unfortunate detritus of a game system that has not aged well with respect to how it handles issues of gender and race, among other things.
  • Advice for particular problems that players and gamemasters may encounter.
Everything here is free for you to use in your own personal game.  I retain the copyright to anything on this blog that exists outside of the Open Game License.

This blog is funded by Patreon.  100% of the proceeds from this blog will be donated toward the goal of increasing diversity and fun in the roleplaying community.  Thank you so much for your kind support.

And to everyone, welcome to my blog!  Thank you so much for reading!

Some Disclaimers

Paizo Publishing, LLC does not guarantee compatibility with any content appearing in, and does not endorse, this blog.  Pathfinder is a registered trademark of Paizo Publishing, LLC.  All materials published through this blog are my own copyright, with the exception of any materials that may be considered to be covered under the Open Game License, which are declared Open Game Content as described in Section 1(d) of the Open Game License Version 1.0a.  A copy of the Open Game License and collected copyright information is available here.

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