Tinkering with RPG Systems

I’ve been playing RPGs for the past 34 years or so and, in that time have played a ton of different games.  At the same time, I’ve only really ever played games that have lasted for more than 6 months at a stretch, in a handful of systems: D&D (every edition that’s been out since 1981, except for 4th edition), Deadlands, DC Heroes, Star Wars (the d6 version), and Pendragon… which is pitiful considering how long I’ve been playing!

Of those games, I’ve only run D&D (in all of its incarnations) and Pendragon with any regularity.  As an inveterate rules tinkerer I couldn’t resist messing with those systems, in an attempt to mold them to my needs and preferences, with mixed results:

  1. AD&D 2nd edition, for example, saw me adding both Perception and Endurance as derived statistics, as well as my adding Wound States and a few character classes:  The Scout, The Hedge Wizard, and The Adept (something of a cross between a monk and a psionicist).  The Skills and Powers book helped me develop needed classes and, overall, I felt that my additions improved the game without making it needlessly complicated.  Then again, the plethora of subsystems for skills, ability checks, listening checks, and class abilities meant that any new rules were being tacked onto an already complex game.  With the release of 3rd edition and its unified resolution system I ditch the cobbled together mess that was AD&D in a heartbeat.
  2. D&D 3.X saw me adding campaign specific prestige classes but leaving the solid core of the game alone.  Once 3.5 hit was released, I ignored its terrible weapon-size rules and continued to use 3.0’s cover and concealment rules.  Nothing too drastic.  In fact, my alterations of 3.X were pretty tame.  Eventually 3.X became a chore to play and prohibitively complex to DM, especially once player characters advanced beyond 7th level.
  3. Castles & Crusades, a retroclone that stripped down 3.X, added some new elements, and borrowed its some flavor from AD&D, allowed for a faster-paced and more flexible D&D-variant.  As soon as I tried the system I realized that I vastly preferred it to the ponderous rules of 3.X.  At the same time, the tinkerer in me felt that the game lacked many options (spells, class abilities, and a simple skill resolution system) that would allow it to easily be used with classic TSR adventures and campaign settings.  So began a 6 year overhaul project that resulted in my creation of AD&D3 Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide.  By the time I was started working on a Monstrous Manual, D&D Next playtests had begun and I realized that WotC was working on a game that would meet my gaming needs.  As such, I shelved the project.
  4. D&D 5th edition, so far, has inspired me to work on Greyhawk and update my homebrew campaign world to 5th edition.  Eventually I’d love to work on adding backgrounds, class archetypes, and clerical domains to the game.  For now, I’ve been content to add some houserules, like a spell-less ranger and the half-ogre as an added player race.  I’ll soon be adding more houserules to this blog, including slightly tweaked rules for lighting conditions, an alternate system for tracking wound levels, and new feats.
  5. Finally there’s Pendragon.  Of all of the RPGs that I messed with, I think I’ve had the least luck with Pendragon.  For those who haven’t played it, Pendragon is the RPG of Arthurian Britain.  In it you play British knights fighting against the tide of Saxon, Pictish, and Irish invaders that threaten to wash over the island as its various petty kings fight for supremacy.  Because all players are playing knights, the focus of the game becomes “what kind of knight are you.”  To drive that point home, Pendragon has an inspired system for personality traits and passions that allows them to guide or, sometimes, dictate player’s actions.  Another strength of the game is its focus on legacy-building.  Pendragon is lethal and it is inevitable that player knights will die in combat or due to the ravages of old age (yes, there is a system for dealing with yearly stat loss after you reach age 35).  As such, it is imperative that your character works towards the goal of marrying and begetting an heir (and a male heir at that).  My issues with the game have, largely, arisen out of players learning how to “game the system” and exploit it at the expense of telling a great story.  Certain skills, for example, clearly trump other skills (even though I tried to incorporate all skills into the game), as did certain cultural groups (you don’t EVER want to be a Pict because you are severely gimped at during character creation).  Also, the system’s use of reflexive modifiers (a mounted knight gains a +5 bonus vs a footsoldier who, in turn, would receive a-5 penalty) makes for easily unbalanced combats.  Admittedly, this has a lot to do with my GMing BUT I honestly think that the game needs to be dragged out of the 1980s.  As such, I’ll be posting some ideas on this blog over the coming months.   I hope to get some feedback on these ideas… even if it’s fans crying “heresy!”.
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3 thoughts on “Tinkering with RPG Systems

  1. I just started looking at Pendragon myself, and there’s a lot in the system that I like, and more that i can see my players not wanting to go away from D&D for. I’m thinking I may work the bits i want into a future Birthright campaign, and i was just wondering if you had done any mixing between Pendragon and 5e and if it had been at all successful or if it ended up being more trouble than it was worth?

  2. There’s a lot of Pendragon that I like and think would be great to bring into my 5e D&D game, particularly in the Birthright setting. Have you done any mixing of the two systems at all, and if so did you find them to be a good mix, or was it more headache than it was worth?

    1. I haven’t mixed the two BUT have thought about doing do many times. Please check my post about stealing from 5th edition D&D to “fix” Pendragon about some ideas on merging the two.
      To keep things simple, you could just port the traits and passions system into D&D… allowing players to invoke passions in order to gain advantage on a skill check. I’d also try to keep the dynastic elements of Pendragon… including the aging process for characters over 35. STR, DEX, and CON would remain as is. INT and WIS would be not be effected by the aging process. I’d probably swap APP for CHA… where your CHA could drop due to aging because you physically weaken and stoop with age, impacting your bearing and presence.

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