Effects of Game System on Expectations: Part One


Last week, we had a post on the value of a +1. If you haven’t seen that post, you can read it here: The Value of a +1. That post resulted in a comment from one of my friends and Development Testers, Mike. He brought up a good point about expectations and how a +1 magical dagger meant so much more to him in those days. He mentions that nowadays that people have expectations that they are going to be Batman on day 1. I can completely see where he is coming from and that is why I have started this series to explore all the myriad of effects that decisions on story genre, campaign length, story modes, hero abilities, and magic philosophies have on the Unchained Heroes and RPG systems in general.

In this installment of the Effects series we will touch on expectations that are created by using different Game Systems. My assertion is that magic levels, character abilities, and character customization, directly affect a player’s expectations within a given Game System. As these things increase, a player expectations increase and will not be as happy with the little things. The Game Systems we talk about here will be ranked in terms of Low/Mid/High in three categories: Magic, Abilities, and Customization. The Magic Category is the measurement of how much Magic is used in the everyday lives of common people and how often they come across magical items, trinkets, and artifacts. The Abilities Category is the measurement of how many special powers, abilities, and maneuvers that players, monsters, and villains have access to in the Game System. The Customization Category is the measure of how customizable characters are from the start of the game, mostly because of the amount of effort it takes to create the character and think of the character concept. Customization has a secondary effect that can lead to greater player engagement and feelings of investment in a character.

Starting at the Beginning: Fantasy Quest

When I started playing RPGs, my game of choice was my own, a game I called Fantasy Quest. It mirrored the Final Fantasy series in many respects and could be considered Mid Magic, Mid Abilities, and Low Customization. I remember much of that game was about destroying my foes and obtaining new magical items and equipment. Our expectations at that time were simple. We wanted it to be played like a Final Fantasy video game and it met our needs. I was 10 at the time, so there wasn’t very high expectations to be met. We swung swords, used bows, and killed bad guys–what more could we want? As we grew, things changed. I worked hard to add more to Fantasy Quest, but eventually we moved to 2nd Edition AD&D because I didn’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Evolving Expectations: 2nd Edition AD&D

Second Edition AD&D was a whole new world for me and with it, changed my expectations of how a role-playing game was meant to be played. I had everything I needed with a Player’s handbook, a Monster Manual, and a DM guide. The books were guides on how to play, its core rules, and helpful charts for determining encounters, treasure, and monsters. I would classify 2nd Edition AD&D as Low Magic, Low Abilities, and Low Customization. Magical items and equipment were few and far between, abilities were non-existent–except if you were a magical or special class and even then they were infrequent, and creating a character took very little time as you basically just rolled your Attributes and picked a Class, then copied down your information.

In 2nd Edition AD&D, I wasn’t likely to reach a mid level range. I died a lot. I cared only about my dice rolls. Mundane equipment like plate mail had almost magical qualities to me. I felt a scroll, a +1 spear, and 10 silver pieces in a chest were a treasure trove. I fought a lot of monsters, searched through many different dungeons, and started most of my adventures in the local Inn, but all of that was great for me at the time. I wasn’t going to get a lot of gear or abilities, what abilities I did get would come from magical items, and my character wasn’t anything special unless I worked for it. I was very happy just rolling dice and talking through goofy adventures that were not world changing. Without a lot of magic, I was happy with what I could find and didn’t expect much more. Without a lot of Abilities, I focused on the one ability I usually had and that was the ability to roll dice to Attack and deal damage. Without an in depth character customization process, I did not have a lot invested in my character and didn’t mind if they died. The 2nd Edition AD&D Game System tailored my expectations to accept those things and I was happy with that.

Moving towards Customization: 2nd Edition AD&D, Skills and Powers

As I played 2nd Edition longer, I needed more customization. I modded and changed the game quite a bit, but wasn’t happy with what I was doing while keeping in the confines of the rule set. That is one of the pitfalls of such as Game System and I believe TSR saw this as well by releasing the Skills and Powers supplements. Those supplements assigned point values to starting abilities and allowed you to modify your character greatly. The 2nd Edition AD&D Skills and Powers supplements upped the ante for their Game System changing it to a Mid Magic, Low Abilities, and Mid Customization System. Players had access to the more powerful classes much more easily, starting abilities were added and access to difficult proficiencies were increased, which automatically made you become more invested in your character. You really didn’t want to die because of all the hard work you put into the character and your powers were just so cool. I played Skills and Powers for many years and had a blast, gobbling up every optional book I could find on the subject and only changing when 3rd Edition D&D came out.

2nd Edition AD&D Skills and Powers changed my expectations about what a Game System should look like. When I played it, I expected that I would be rewarded for using the customization system to my advantage. Magical items took on a slightly less significant role. They were great, but weren’t my sole way of becoming powerful since my initial character setup was so important. There was also a newly created worth in crafting a character concept because the character would not die so easily, and added to that I would experience grief when I lost a character. I also had a higher chance of reaching a mid level range, so I was able to experience some very cool powers. With that sort of taste, it was hard to change. When I moved to 3rd Edition, my expectations for it being like Skills and Powers were high, but it did not turn out that way, instead, it changed how I thought of RPGs in yet another way. That story is for another time…

Continued next week…

There is a lot to discuss and this barely brushes the surface. What do you think about my assumptions? How do Game Systems affect your playstyle? Do you feel the same way about anything here? Let me know your thoughts, I am glad to hear them. Please check back for the second part of this post. In the second part of this Series, I will talk about the games that became the true standard by which I measure all RPGs and how each of those Game Systems altered my expectations without me even realizing it.


  1. Durbal says:

    Awesome. Honestly, I read it with great interest. Especially since I have no personal experience with either AD&D or many other systems. It would be interesting, how it is with playing, say, Taveller, Shadowrun, or Star Wars RPG. Haven’t found anybody else writing on the aspects you spoke.
    Thank you for that! Will wait for next part!
    A fellow Gamer Lifestyle’r,

    • turkzapt says:

      Thanks for the comment, Guntis. I haven’t played Shadowrun or Traveller, but I have played WOTC’s Star Wars RPG in both its forms and I would say that the first Edition of Star Wars was very similar to 3rd Edition AD&D while the 2nd version was much more of a 3.5 Edition AD&D Game. I would consider the 3.5 Edition to be my favorite Star Wars so far and to rank on my scale as a High Magic, High Ability, and Mid Customization game.

      The Technological aspects (surprise, I consider technology magic too!) plus the Force gave it High Magic content since some of the things you can do with technology and the Force are miraculous. It is a High Ability with all the great Feats, Skills, and Force Powers available. The classes and flexibility of the game put it into the Mid Customization realm for me since you had a lot of options to choose from, but the frequency of choices was spread out by the template for your class.

      Have you played the new Fantasy Flight Star Wars? I am interested to hear how that game plays. I might pick it up myself someday.

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