Sunday, May 9, 2021

A Monstrous Heartbreaker! Part I

 Alright...I think it's time to start constructing my own little fantasy heartbreaker.

I suppose I could be a bit kinder to the effort and think of it more like my friend Tim's "Frankengame," the goal of his long quest to piece together his ultimate fantasy RPG system, and which he has seemingly chiseled into a thing of beauty with his own big personal stamp on it.  (It looks like the Frankengame is politely stepping aside to give Tim room to dive into his superhero universe with the rules of the new Amazing Heroes, but I'm betting all of the effort to shape his perfect fantasy game is going to keep giving fruit as time goes on...)

I'm not sure that I have that sort of focus and discernment in me, though.  So I'm just gonna call it what it'll probably turn out to be:  A big ol' fantasy heartbreaker.  A monstrous one, in fact.  The goals?  I'd like this game to:

1.  Be a little more proof of concept for an RPG built upon classes that fit OSR games derived from Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox, along with races built for fifth edition D&D.

2.  Serve as the "core" system upon which I can base a variety of gaming projects I'd like to one day bring to a state of public presentability.

3.  Comfortably represent the set of mechanics, assumptions, and quirks that I could call my own personal baseline for a fantasy RPG.

4.  Give me an excuse to explore an original fantasy setting in some amount of detail.  (I'm not completely sure what that setting will be, nor if this is actually the route I should take vs. keeping everything within the framework of a generic fantasy world...but I do think I'd like to have a specific setting to accompany the ruleset.)

Snagged this image from HERE...

So here's step one.  I ask myself the question:  What classes should my fantasy heartbreaker include?  And then I answer...that clearly the place to start here is with the four classic roles of a D&D adventuring party: the Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, and Cleric.  This is pretty convenient, as it's basically the four we get (using a slightly different naming scheme) in the excellent Swords & Wizardry Light.  So...cut, paste, done!

Eh...not quite done.  I'll have to make a few changes.  The Fighter shall become a Warrior, taking care to ensure that there are no rules that tie it to a fantasy setting.  I know this seems like a ridiculous move considering the premise of the project, but I have a real affection for the idea of a time- and place-less Warrior archetype that can cover everything from dungeoneering fighters, to Paleolithic scrappers, to battle-minded folks of the modern day and beyond.  I guess it's mostly just a name change.

Now, for the Rogue.  I'd say that much of the exact same sentiment applies here, so if I take that last paragraph and make just a few edits...

The Thief shall become a Rogue, taking care to ensure that there are no rules that tie it to a fantasy setting.  I know this seems like a ridiculous move considering the premise of the project, but I have a real affection for the idea of a time- and place-less Rogue archetype that can cover everything from dungeoneering thieves, to Paleolithic sneaks, to subterfuge-minded folks of the modern day and beyond.  I guess it's mostly just a name change (and really not even that except relative to old school games that still call this character a thief).

And so we move on to the spellcasters.  It would be very tempting to fold these two into a single class that can cover any variety of magic, whether arcane, divine, or of whatever other origin a setting allows.  I definitely see the elegant beauty in the triangular approach to character abilities seen in games like True20 or Warrior, Rogue & Mage.  Related to Magic: The Gathering, we have recently seen a slight shift in the designation of creature types such that each of the game's five colors has a spellcasting class most closely associated with it:  Clerics in white, Wizards in blue, Warlocks in black, Shamans in red, and Druids in green.  I really like the symmetry of this arrangement, and it has a lot of value in the game's newest set, Strixhaven: School of Mages, which features tons of magic-users from all around the color wheel.  A bit ironically, this division points to the unity of all of these creature types under the title of mage (as we see in the name of the set).  And wasn't that maybe even the point of wizards in Original D&D getting the generic appellation of "Magic-User"?  To give players the freedom to imagine their mages with whatever sort of background they wanted, while still tying them all together with the same set of spell rules?

Ultimately, though, I'm just not sure I can have my own core of a D&D-type ruleset without giving the religious spellcasters at least one class of their own.  It's a trope that's just so strongly bound to the heart of the game at this point that I think the whole thing would feel incomplete without having archetypes for both divine and arcane (or at least other) magic.  I'm not completely sold yet; the implication that all magic comes from the same source, whether it's prayed for or learned from books, is still tempting to strive for.  I'll see where it goes from here, but for now, I'll work on the assumption that the Monstrous Heartbreaker will separate Wizards and Clerics...perhaps even with those class names.

Alright...any more classes to add?  A nature type, perhaps, to work in some Druid and Ranger tropes?  Surely I'll want animal companions, right?  Do I want a Monk, or can Warriors and Clerics cover everything I'd really like to see in it?  I do love music...should I go ahead and codify a Bard?  And why does some sort of Artificer keep popping into my head as a potentially strong choice as a base class?  (Seriously, I don't know that I've ever even played in an adventuring party that included an Artificer, let alone played one myself.)

I have a feeling this decision could be influenced by whether or not I include a specific fantasy setting in this little there's a bit more thinking to do on this.  More to come in Part II...


  1. First of all, thank you for the kind words abut my own "DIY OSR rules set". It's definitely on hold at present, even though it's tantalisingly close to completion, to make way for SUPERHEROES.

    Really looking forward to seeing your own system develop and grow. There's much there that echoes my own thoughts, such things as a unified 'magic-user' class that allows for specialisations, rather than creating multiple specialised magic-using classes. The hardest class I had to 'reinvent' and the one remaining element of my game that I have yet to crack is the magic-less bard. I want them to have inspirational skills and broad knowledge-based abilities, but no access to the dark arts.

  2. Oh yeah! The nonmagical bard...that might be a quest I find myself on if I decide to include one, especially if it's "characters" like Joey Ramone that I keep statting up in the class!

    I'll definitely look forward to the return of your Frankengame, but I can see you have something really cool going on with Knight City at the moment...!