Effects of Game System on Expectations: Part Two

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This is a continuation of last week’s post on the Effects of Game Systems on Expectations, link here: Expectations: Part One. I wanted to share with you a few more of the systems that shaped my perceptions and affected the resulting system of Unchained Heroes. I will focus on the Tabletop RPGs here, but video games were also an important factor leading to the Real Time Combat Engine used by Unchained Heroes. There have been many more systems than what I go over here that I have played over the years, all contributing to what formed the current version of Unchained Heroes such as: Rifts, Cthulhu, Fate (Dresden Files), and others. In each one I formed different expectations for a gaming session based on their methods and styles of play. In this installment, I use Third Edition AD&D and the White Wolf Universes as talking points. Their systems were the most influential and evolved my sense of what I would expect when playing a Tabletop game.

Game Changing 3rd Edition AD&D

The 3rd Edition AD&D Game System was my next foray into gaming. At this time in my life I was pretty used to tweaking my character’s every starting statistic and ability through the Skills and Powers system. I was also used to having the 2nd Edition mentality of not having many abilities unless I was a casting class. Lastly I didn’t often see magic items fall into my hands and if I did, it was something low powered because of my level. Those expectations were changed after getting the hang of the 3rd Edition AD&D game. After playing it for some time, I expected to be rewarded for understanding the system through feat choice, skill choice, and combat rules. Magical items became a standard, so a +1 dagger was not something special for me anymore. I knew there were equipment charts, so I expected a certain level of power as I leveled. I also began to get a higher degree of attachment to my characters as I could expect to reach mid level range and hope to reach a high level to attain a prestige class.

The magical content of 3rd Edition became part of the standard gear sets. A progression chart was designed for GMs so they would know how much and how often to distribute loot. A +1 dagger was EXPECTED–by the game system–to be in the hands of an certain level player. Other magical items were also associated to that character level of the same power levels. This also led the players to have the expectation that their GM was playing by the game system rules and would get them that gear. All of that leads me to give 3rd Edition a Mid Magic rating. It would have only been higher if the class had more magical and extraordinary powers.

The abilities came to each class on a much more frequent and regimented basis than anything I played before, but I would rank 3rd Edition as a Mid Ability game. It led to more abilities than it’s predecessor, but less customization. There was a simplicity to character creation that made one character much like the next. It could be argued that Prestige classes, feats, and their multi-classing system added abilities, but there wasn’t something coming at every level or even every other level. The game system built up my expectation for a good level to include a great new power and feat. I had great fluctuations each level where previous games I had not. In the past, where a +1 to attack was a great thing, only getting that +1 without any abilities was something of a let down.

The customization system was a step back from the Skills and Powers system, but there were options available through the multi-classing system, feats, and skill rank selections. Because the lack of granular adjustments to a character at a base level, I give it a Low Customization score. This gave it a simplicity to character creation that could be repeated. This could have been done to balance the learning curve for game play, as the rules of combat changed. Those that knew the system had advantages that others did not. A reward for game knowledge causes a positive feedback loop for those that wish to dive into the game and learn its In’s and Out’s. That increased my engagement and made up for the lack of customization.

Being Batman, Literally

The next game system I was to play changed all of my previous expectations drastically and opened my jaded soul to play other games rather than the sanctimonious 3rd Edition. That Game System was the White Wolf series of products starting with Vampire: The Masquerade and leading into Werewolf, Hunter, Mummy, and Mage. The White Wolf Game System is a High Magic, High Ability, and High Customization system.

I lived in a world of vampires, werewolves, mages, mummies, and all those things that I only fought against before. They were the things that we all feared and GMs made as story grade villains. I can’t emphasize enough that they were THE MAGIC in many Tabletop RPGs and here I was able to play one. There were superpowers being flung around unlike anything that I had experienced before; only usually seeing them in high level characters or powerful monsters. These superpowers were accessible on day 1 of play. I started out as Batman and I loved it. In this game I lived in the High Magic aspect of the world and only peered into the low Magic lives of the common people. The resulting problem from this was that magical items became nothing more than toys unless they were of epic power levels that exceeded my own, so I rarely saw magical items after a while.

I had a lot of abilities in this system, making it a High Ability System as well. This changed my value of the little statistics and I looked to my powers before anything else to solve problems. When choosing my powers, the powers needed to be relevant to my interests in the respective game to help advance my agenda. I could change shape, turn invisible, melt someone’s heart with a look, or rip the hood off a car with one hand. Abilities and Magic mixed and the end result was a supervillain or superhero.

There was a High level of Customization which led to a deep investment in my character, because everything about creating your character tied into a character concept and after it’s completion you had a 1 on 1 session with your Storyteller about your newly created Kindred and Sire. I choose rather than rolled for, the statistics for my character out of pools of points and paid for my choices more heavily if I decided to go for a very powerful value off the bat.

I was quite hooked on White Wolf for a while, much to the chagrin of my 3rd Edition friends. It was what got me back into creating my own gaming system again, forming Calrysn–again much to the chagrin of my 3rd Edition friends. It was a medieval high fantasy style game of the White Wolf System Style. It turned out White Wolf had a similar idea and for some time in the form of the Exalted game system. I didn’t put down Calrysn by any means though and just played it as a supplement to the White Wolf content, incorporating the great White Wolf universe as we played.

Expectations for Unchained Heroes

After all those different games, my expectations of what a game should be were jumbled around in every direction. I had found in the White Wolf universe an idea of what I wanted to play and I wanted to play a High Magic, High Ability, and High Customization. I set out to do that and I feel it is very much on track. I have taken the best experiences that I have had and made them my own with Unchained Heroes to what I feel are great results. There are pitfalls to creating such a High powered system like this and it can quickly get out of hand if you let it. That is where 4 solid years of Development testing has been invaluable to the game, allowing it to get the point where it is today.

I have one final installment of this series next week, where I go into detail on the three aspects we talk about here for Unchained Heroes and then discuss how I came to them through the design process and why. I will tie in my perceived and encountered pitfalls and try to give you all some insight into the game’s design. These choices were made through trial and error. A High Magic/High Ability/High Customization game can get very boring for players if they are overpowering everything they meet.

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