Design Diary 1

I want to do 3.75

Am I serious? Sure. Am I crazy? Most likely. Do you care? Probably not, but if you do, read on.

I've always had an urge to tinker with game mechanics - creating, tweaking, fixing stuff, like a greasemonkey working on his car. I've been playing for almost 20 years, and designing for nearly that long. d20 has offered an unprecedented ability to tinker with the rules, and to ensure that those rules are more or less balanced - before, you had to eyeball it, and even then it might only work for your group.

D20 (and 3.5) has its flaws, but at the core, it's still a very robust and fairly balanced system. The sheer scope of what you can do with it is amazing, as evidenced by the variety of games that have been made using the d20 "engine" – high fantasy, Modern, post-apocalypse, futuristic/sci-fi, and everything in between.

But, like I said, 3.5 has its flaws, which vary from minor annoyance to near game-breaker – the crafting system; the trap system; turning; some classes being way more powerful than others (druid vs. fighter) and some just sadly underpowered (the sorcerer); epic play (the less said there, the better); the CR system; nonsensical/pointless/broken feats (Dodge, Power Attack, Toughness); and on and on.

Over the past few years, I've offered up my fixes for many of these (crafting, turning, traps, movement/encumbrance, epic pricing) and added more elegant/expanded rules for other things that could use them (several skills, death/dying, temp hit points, starting wealth).

I started messing with the skill system a few weeks ago, just because I was bored and needed something to do. Midway through my work, though, I discovered something - skills inform just about every other rule and subsystem in the game, from races to spells to combat. Making serious changes to the skill system on the order of what I was doing (combining several skills, dropping a few others, and adjusting the DCs) would have a ripple effect over everything else. By the time I was done, I'd made a decision – since the 3.5 ruleset was now set in stone (no more errata, new books, or whatever from WotC), I might as well go whole hog and fix everything that needed it.

My design philosophy: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If it works and it makes sense, don't change it.

The two questions I ask myself when I make/adjust something are: "Does it work?" and "Does it make sense?" If the answer to either of those is "No," then it needs to be either dropped entirely or reworked so it does.

I don't plan to go the Paizo route, changing things without regard to the above rules (combining Sleight of Hand and Open Lock into the same skill, for example). I definitely don't plan to to the Wizards route and toss the entire system out the window and start over from scratch - that's way too much work for one person, and stupid to boot. I DO plan to borrow the best parts of other systems to which I have access - 4E, Pathfinder (yeah, there are a few good parts), UA, Upper Krust's epic rules, etc. - and adapt them to this ruleset. I'm also paying close attention to threads on several forums regarding what people think is wrong with the system (that isn't to say that I necessarily agree, or will even fix everything, but I try to keep an open mind).

This will not be 3.9. It will definitely not be 4E. It will start out as 3.6, but by the time it's all said and done, it'll likely be closer to 3.7. Basically, I want to keep the ruleset recognizable, fix what doesn't work, and add in new stuff that will make it work better. I want to make a system that scales well and can be used at just about any level of play (let's be reasonable here - very few groups go much beyond 50-60th level, because it's just insane after that, but if I can make a system that will work for the vast majority of gamers, I'll be happy).

To this end, I started with a flowchart of sorts. I opened Excel, made a list of rules and subsystems, and plotted them on the chart. I wonder if the folks who designed 4E did something similar – it's quite informative, and very handy for keeping track of things. It's also still a work in progress; despite my deep knowledge of the system and the rules, I find myself having to adjust things here and there to accommodate new things I find (like, for instance, when a forgotten facet of the rules pops up and says "Hey, you forgot me!" and I have to add it to the chart).

I tend to work on the low end of the power spectrum, which could be a good thing - we can all agree there's been a definite power creep from 1E to 4E, so I don't think 3.75 will be much greater, in terms of power, more than 3.5 (and might even be a little less).

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