Everything you think about Game Mastering is probably wrong: Part VI Assumptions about game play

I assume most people reading this have played Monopoly.  Adding to that assumption,  I would guess that most of you played with the rule that Free Parking was a jackpot, or at least know that most people play with that rule.  It isn’t in the rules, and I am sure most of you know that.  Digging in deeper, it also changes the game and allows it to continue longer as there is another influx of cash to keep it from being as quick of a death spiral. A lot of people, without realizing it, add in this house rule to monopoly based on assumption and then complain the game is too long.

Let’s go back to the old style D&D where a lot of us cut our teeth.  Lets go over some of the dumb rules that lots of people started house ruling from day 1.

The different XP amounts for different classes at different levels seemed needlessly complex. If it was for balance, everyone in the party will have about the same amount of XP so why not just beef up the abilities or hit points of the classes with lower XP to level requirements?

Linear Fighters and Quadratic Wizards. In most games (which didn’t reach very high level) the fighters were way better than the wizards, while the wizards sucked and then drastically shot past the fighter that they really weren’t even playing the same game anymore (a phrase I’ll use a lot).

Level limits, if they are a balancing factor they are a bad one. If one player at the table is capped at level 7 and other players aren’t, is the campaign really going to continue on and leave that person unable to level up and contribute?  A level 7 halfling warrior and a level 14 wizard aren’t playing the same game anymore. Not only that, the classes with level caps were often better than say, humans, up until they hit the level cap.  So they overshadow the human and then the campaign ends when they hit their level cap. Which is what happened in a lot of games.

Requirements for certain classes based on high stat roles.  These classes were often simply better than what you could play without a high roll.  It got into BMX Bandit and the Angel Summoner territory. So someone gets lucky on their first set of die rolls and then for 2 years everyone else has to be a shadow to this Mary-Sue character fucking everything up? 

Domain level play. A fighter can build a castle (with enough cash) with hundreds of soldiers at any point. A thief gets 2d6 non-replaceable thieves once. A cleric can build castles and attract’s fanatical soldiers, but only at level 9 and pays half cost to build them. A magic-user gets 1d6 level 1-3 apprentices. They are literally not playing the same game at name level.

The way druids had to defeat a higher level druid to level up. What happens if you have two druids in the party? Do you want inter-party conflict?  Cool idea but terrible in practice as anything but an effective level cap with what should be a less than 50% chance each time you want to breach it (as in theory the other druid should be tougher than you, without GM fudging to help you, you should die long before you get to be a hierophant)

You had to spend gold on training to level up. What about characters who wanted to give their gold to the poor? Tithing as well as a rule.  So this was quickly house ruled to just gold recovered.

These all seem like not only bad design decisions, but utterly obvious bad game design decisions. They are bad design and most people should fix them for their games, but for Free Parking reasons.  Most of us have added a house rule to our game not originally there that turns these into terrible design choices.

We play one character.

This is one of those “unspoken assumptions” that people built into their own personal games that drastically changes the rules.

Let’s assume everyone had a stable of say 4 characters, like a DCC funnel where you kept all 4. You could only play 1 at a time, but all 4 were yours. You could swap equipment and gold and spell between them as you saw fit.  You’ve just introduced stable management into the game and a whole new avenue of play opens up.  Combine this with spending gold on training to get XP rather than XP for just recovering gold from a dungeon.

Level caps make a great deal of sense.  You don’t put all of your characters as ones that have level caps, but those that do have level caps are better.  They become gold farmers.  You level them up first (to their cap) and then keep using them to get gold (to spend to train your other characters).

The linear fighter and quadratic wizard also make sense in a game with a stable.  You play your fighter first, get gold, and then use that to pay for your wizard to go to the best schools and level up before you take him into your first dungeon.  You don’t take a 2 HP wizard with one spell into a dungeon, you make sure he’s level 3 at least, maybe 5.

The different XP requirements really are “purchase price” to get them to have certain ability levels you want.  Wizards cost more to level up. Thinking about it that way,  it is more that character’s are like equipment.

Hard to roll characters that are super powerful? The odds a campaign may have one when everyone has 4 or 5 characters at a time becomes more likely.

Druids needing to defeat a higher level druid?  Losing a druid in that way sucked, but it’s a risk you take and it only affects one of your characters.  You in essence treat that as a level cap and use the druid to get gold for your other characters or as a support character. Reincarnate makes a lot more sense at this point too.

Domain play makes the most sense.  Many people who play a game they would call “OSR” know that there was a wargame side with the original games of D&D and that characters of high level took part in that game.  If you have a stable, then everyone can take part.

Any fighter of any level can build a castle and get soldiers.  Most people with a stable of characters will probably have a fighter.  Even if you never play the fighter,  the gold your wizard or thief gets dungeoneering can be given to your unplayed first level fighter to build a stronghold controlled by you the player. A fighter can also build multiple strongholds (and give them to the thief and wizard).  The benefits of a wizard or thief become more useful.  Adding d6 magic-users and 2d6 thieves to your stable is huge.  You had to sacrifice a lot to get a 9th level magic-user or thief,  but they give you an additional benefit on top of the bonus you no doubt already have of having a castle and army (which while better than 2d6 thieves, is something everyone can have as a baseline).   The cleric becomes an incredibly useful tool because they pay half price when they build a stronghold. We assume they can only build one, but it doesn’t say that. If you get a cleric to 9th level the fighter in your stable will never build another castle. The cleric will for half price and then just give it to the fighter.

But all of these being reasonable design choices requires you want to play a stable of characters and not only one.  Monopoly makes sense with its normal rules if you want it to be a brutal winner take all death spiral.  If you don’t want that in a game, you’ll have to start house ruling and/or play a different game.

Neoclassical Geek Revival is ideally suited to playing a single character who lives large and fails hard in a shenanigan generator. Its rules reflect that.  Risk, chance, and huge swings of luck are features and not bugs.  If you tried to play a gritty game like Twilight 2020 it wouldn't work.  It could (and has) worked well for post-apocalyptic games,  but tone is something completely different.  Likewise using B/X to play "Non-Infringing Orphan Wizard Boarding School" would have a very different feel to any theoretical movies or books on the topic.  There is nothing wrong with wanting a different feel to how it plays out, just be aware.

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By becoming a patron, you'll instantly unlock access to 100 exclusive posts
110
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6
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9
Writings
1
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