What are role playing rules, systematically/mechanically?

Back in October (https://docswyrdscience.wordpress.com/2011/10/19/what-are-role-playing-games-in-reality/), I discussed one of the most basic realities of role-playing gaming: that RPGs are focused on conflicts at the heart of storytelling. That we want to be challenged by those conflicts, but our defeats are preferred to only be temporary setbacks. That the DM, acting as storyteller, needs to have rules in place to limit his power. The players’ characters are also limited so that the conflicts the DM creates aren’t too easy, unless that’s the desired effect.

The question for this article is “how do the rules accomplish this? How do they create this balance?”
What finally struck me a while back, especially after reading and playing the indie games Universalis and Mortal Coil is that RPGs are really resource management systems. This kind of game play is present in the two aforementioned games, as well as the Marvel Comics RPG the comic book company put out, as well as Fireborn, currently held by Fantasy Flight Games. Some systems take this idea to a grotesque extreme. While Star Fleet Battles first springs to mind, that’s not really an RPG. Superhero games (or at least the more successful ones) are especially focused in this direction, with Mayfair Games DC Comics game being the best example.
In these extreme games, the player has a pool of points he uses to create every aspect of his character, and he gains more of those points along the way. In the DC Comics game, those points were a continual resource, as they could be used in combat to alter results. In Champions, the resource management goes a little differently, but it’s still there, with wise use of experience affecting the character’s effectiveness in conflicts. Games like Fireborn and Mortal Coil both use pools of dice or tokens that the player can manipulate to affect conflict outcomes.
Even D&D has its Out Of Character resources. Hit points (and healing surges in 4e) are a resource that the player must manage to achieve success. D&D 4e also has a resource system for DMs, which has never been present before, in the form of the XP budget when designing encounters. Point- and pool-based resource systems are where the balance comes from in modern games. Of course, at times, I don’t think designers necessarily see that as they design. And some times, I think they do, but actively make choices that oppose that thinking in certain ways.
But that’s a subject for another post.

About docryder

I'm an experienced table top gamer with an open mind to new game systems. I'm looking to explore ideas I've got. Some are pretty meta, some are pretty mundane. Welcome to my world.

Posted on January 25, 2012, in Metagaming. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I’m digging through my Indy Game PDFs looking for this game that came out about ten years ago. It was an alternative take on Champions, but the premise was that your character could do ANYTHING… but only had 200 (maybe it was 300) d6 to spend, total, throughout the day.

    With every action, you had to decide just how heroic you wanted to be.

  2. And I’m glad to see you mention The Marvel Comics RPG – I really REALLY wanted to love that game, with all the shuffling around of red and white stones. But it was a little too mechanical, too grotesque as you described other games.

    The idea of “boxes” that encompassed entire skill sets was genius – Want to be a ninja? Make a box and call it “Ninja”, then use it for sneaking, fighting with ninja weapons, negotiating with other ninja clans. The scale boxes for speed and distance were great, too.

    But man, oh man – the moving stones around just made players not want to touch the thing. It was worse than gamers’ hesitation to play the incredibly awesome (and my all-time favorite supers game – probably my favorite system ever) Marvel SAGA, with all its cards and auras and suits.

    Genius stuff that would probably go over well today, what with all the oddball Indy games’ success. They were too far ahead of their time.

  3. I never really got into Marvel, I just looked at it and sort of got the idea between that and other people’s discussion. I just knew it fit my discussion. I have thought about picking it up on eBay.

    Marvel SAGA… well, I’ve already discussed that one.

  1. Pingback: Back to Metagame Ideas « Doc Ryder's Wyrd Science

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