Hey there Table Top Titans! Welcome to my first installment of Every Day Dungeon Master, an article series focusing on home grown mechanics and worlds for your roleplaying party. I have nearly twenty years of experience roleplaying, starting with Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition and have crossed through most of the popular systems on the market today; White Wolf (World of Darkness), FATE system, RIFTS, and even a brief stint with the Cortex Plus system.
Now if you are simply a player and don’t want the hassle of dealing with all of the behind the scenes shenanigans of being a Game Master then I suggest moving on to a different article, but if you are already the king of your kitchen table or plan on trying your hand at running the show you should stick around.
My first installment of EDM is going to focus on matching your system to the tone and setting of your game. As original as we all claim to be, we inevitably work bits of the comics, books, movies, and games that we love into our campaigns. Everything from Excalibur to Mutants to Lightsabers find their way into our worlds and that is excellent. However, if you are going to be making a game of your own that mimics or downright copies elements of other licenses, it is usually a good idea to make sure the mechanics of your game fit.
For instance, if you are making a high fantasy story in the tradition of Lord of the Rings or Dragonlance you probably want a system that allows for magic, fair hit points, and fantastical abilities. If you are shooting for horror you might be looking for low hit points, high saves, and a sophisticated survival system. Want to fight in an anime style space epic? I’d suggest something with highly customizable equipment and easily unbalanced skills and abilities.
The next thing to keep in mind is the tone of your game. Now there is a perpetual joke about how most high fantasy games start out like the scene in Fellowship of the Ring where the Fellowship is formed and begin their quest and ends like a scene from Monty Python’s: Quest for the Holy Grail. This is fine and you will find it almost impossible to play a tabletop RPG without at least a few jokes and hearty laughs. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore the tone of your game. If you are aiming to play a high octane crime thriller, perhaps you want to avoid a system that has incredibly specific rules for every action, as looking them up and working through them may take away from the action in the heat of the moment. Are your players investigating a vicious cult in the vein of Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu? Maybe your system would benefit from props and a way for players to unearth monsters and clues in the same fashion. Is the group investigating a murder and the game is all about character and intelligence, without any action at all? Then I suggest rewards for keeping in character and a mechanic that can make a player the killer just to keep things fresh.
Neither of these things should be taken lightly but neither should it take too terribly long. Also, don’t be afraid to go with one of the already established systems. If WoD or DnD fits what you want to do exactly, USE IT. There is absolutely no reason to reinvent the wheel, and all of these games still have the latitude to change some of the rules to make it fit your campaign.
For my example, I’m going to discuss a short-lived home-grown campaign I made called Pilgrimage. This campaign was based off of the sleeper hit movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. When I was deciding on which system to use, I considered the tone of the movie and how I could keep that same, suspended reality hipster feel to it. This pushed me to make something entirely new, filled with mechanics that would normally never be attached to an RP. The setting was going to be set in various cities around the globe, but I didn’t want them flushed out with maps and such, as this adherence to space and time didn’t fit with the half video game physics of the world.
So what do you think? What worlds and systems do you think you’re going to be working on for this week’s game of dueling dice?