Friday, February 20, 2015


After making a foray into my 90s gaming experiences, I want to backtrack a little bit to the 80s and discuss a role-playing game.

In the early part of that decade, I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons, and enjoyed myself thoroughly. That’s not to say that I thought D&D was a perfect system. It wasn't (and still isn't) and some of its issues began to grate upon me. In the mid-80s, Steve Jackson Games came out with a new system, GURPS (the Generic Universal Role Playing System) that intrigued me greatly.

One of my beefs with D&D was its hit point system. As characters increased in levels, they could take more wounds before dying. This struck me as unrealistic (as Grognardia frequently noted, gamers became increasingly concerned about realism in the 80s and I was no exception). Any human (even a powerful hero) can be felled by a single sword blow or arrow, if it hit. Instead, gaining experience should lessen the chance of getting hit in the first place. I knew that the hit point system was an abstract way of denoting all this, but it bothered me. I thought that a better way would be to allow the character a roll to parry, block, or dodge an attack instead of abstract hit points. I decided to write up my own RPG and began jotting down ideas. That’s when I discovered GURPS and realized that it featured many of the rules concepts with which I had been tinkering, such as an active defense roll!

GURPS included a number of rules that I considered an improvement over D&D. At the time, I preferred its skill system, which allowed players to tweak their characters and make them unique. I liked that it used a single type of dice (I hate using multiple types of dice – i.e. “groping for dice” systems). I liked that it was universal so it could be used for multiple genres (I think that a D&D hit point system doesn't work as well for games with firearms. You can’t have a stereotypical western-style gunfight if the opponents have enough hit points to survive several bullet wounds). I thought the advantages system was very clever. In all, it seemed to hit on all the ideas for a new game that were floating around in my brain.

Alas, my love for GURPS turned out to be a brief flirtation. While I purchased the core system and many of the sourcebooks, I never actually played a game. This was a time when I did not have any regular RPG partners to experiment with the game. I tried to create some adventures but the character creation system, which appealed to me as a player, deterred me as an adventure designer. I erroneously thought that I would have to go through character creation for each NPC in order to ensure proper balance. It also struck me that the referee would need to do a lot of rolling (parry rolls for every NPC – ugh). While I admired much of the game system, it just never became a game I played.

Today, I am much less concerned with “realism” and thus have returned to many of the D&D concepts. In particular, I like class systems with broad archetypes. It just makes character creation a snap. I also use hit points; these days I’m OK with the abstraction. Yet some of GURPS’s ideas have filtered into my solo RPG system. I only use a single type of dice (D6) and, like GURPS, each roll uses multiple dice (although I use 2D6 instead of 3D6). My rules are essentially generic and universal rather than being tied to a specific genre or world (although each genre has its own tweaks to the rules, such as specific classes). Furthermore, I never gave up on the defense roll idea. I did make some changes, though. To ease the work on the referee, only player characters make defense rolls. In fact, I streamlined combat for the referee; the NPCs don’t even make attack rolls. Instead, I assume that the NPC will hit unless the PC can make a successful defense (which becomes easier to do as the PC gains levels). Conversely, I have PCs make hit rolls; if they succeed then the NPC is automatically wounded. For me, It’s quick, simple, and effective. Furthermore, it is a result of years of pondering the benefits and drawbacks of the GURPS active defense roll.

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