Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Parallel Universe D&D

I think every Dungeon Master could benefit from this idea.  Instead of calling it Dungeons & Dragons, call it something else.  Mazes & Monsters, Demons & Sorcery, Dark Towers, Scourge of the Crimson Wyrm, etc.  Whatever you want... because this game is just like the fantasy RPGs you're familiar with, except that there are no written rules!  But don't worry, if things go well, you'll be creating a home-made reference of guidelines as you game.  The DM should come prepared with an hour's worth of notes (this is not an exercise in RPG design - so don't go overboard).  He creates the game and lays down the law... influenced by player input, of course.

When something comes up, the DM makes a ruling.  He's free to ask the players their thoughts, and listen to their suggestions; however, it's still the Dungeon Master's game.  Nevertheless, I encourage the DM and players to reach some kind of compromise a majority of the time.

"What's my Elf like?"  "What powers does he have?"  "How does magic work?"  Everything that hasn't been considered in the hour or two beforehand, must be briefly considered (3 second rule!) and adjudicated right then and there.  No looking anything up in a book, deck of cards, online, or anything else  - that kind of thing is forbidden!  This session is a rulebook free zone.

What kind of game will evolve from such an experience?  How will this game be different than your usual D&D, Pathfinder, Warhammer, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Dragon Age, Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, Burning Wheel, Houses of the Blooded, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game, etc.  As DM, you should absolutely feel free to borrow a game mechanic or rule from RPGs you know and love - just as long as it's from memory.  But, on the other hand, you're not bound by anything as there is no rule book to look at.  You're free as the cold northern winds to do as you please.

Maybe you want to start with a version of Amber's attribute auction, take the career options from Warhammer, the rolling doubles stunt mechanic from Dragon Age, the possibility of mercurial magic and corruption from Dungeon Crawl Classics, giving narrative control to players like Houses of the Blooded, add Call of Cthulhu's sanity mechanic, post-apocalyptic vehicular combat from some kind of Dark Sun Car Wars hybrid, and the rest (as far as your memory serves) from AD&D.

This exercise is about giving us license to roleplay according to our will, without being bound to tables, charts, or having to interpret the judicial language of arcane tomes.  It's all fast and furious; fueled by the raw, instinctual fire of our collective imaginations.

Not sure which way to go?  Let the dice decide!  Or pick another randomization method.  The DM could think of a number and whoever correctly guesses it gets to decide how a fireball spell works or the chances of a cleric receiving divine intervention (remember, it works both ways - the monsters and villains encountered have fireballs and clerics, too!).  Do you want to get away from randomness?  Vote on it like a democracy (maybe the DM gets two votes and each player gets one?).

This is your opportunity to break away from conventions - and those insufferable rules lawyers!  If this concept scares you just a little bit, that's all the more reason to go for it!  Hey, it's an experiment.  Give yourself permission to screw it up.  If it's a roaring success like you just rolled a crit with a vorbal blade, you'll realize the awful truth - the rules never mattered as much as you thought they did.

One session should gauge your on-the-fly competence in regards to Mastery of the Game.  Want to see how far the demon-rabbit hole goes?  Play another session of Crimson Sorcery & Dungeon Wyrm!  You'll be amazed at how the game organically evolves over time... until it feels like you're finally playing your game.  After several adventures, the table can't help but roleplay differently.  Not necessarily better or worse, but more intuitively.