Race

I know, I know. It’s been awhile. Life has been busy. Owlcon was a huge success. Those folks run a great show at Rice University, and I spent a good chunk of it playing games and talking to people. Including, of course, running some sessions of Delve. I was very thrilled that people liked what they saw.Thanks to all of you who came out, played, and provided me invaluable feedback on my little game.

Since then and I’ve been making minor tweaks based on the play there, working on [redacted] for Pathfinder, making Flip-Mats and Map Packs, celebrating friends’ birthdays, preparing for GaryCon, singing a song with Tommy Stinson, and even doing a bit of dating, which is always an adventure. But now it’s time to come back and talk about a few things.

First, if you are available this evening, starting at 7 p.m. PST, I’ll be on RPG Brewery talking about game design in general. I’m sure I’ll spend some time talking about Pathfinder, Delve, and other RPGs. If you can’t check it out on Twitch tonight, I’ll post the YouTube link as soon as it pops up.

Okay, so last time we chatted I talked a bit about past projects, especially the Pathfinder RPG Advanced Race Guide, and what I learned about race in RPGs. Many of those lessons shaped my thoughts on the races in Delve.

In a nutshell, just like in the real world, race is important, vibrant, fundamental, and manifests itself differently from individual to individual. But too often race is a fire and forget choice in RPGs. It’s front-loaded, often asymmetric, and rarely means a damn after 1st level. For a long time, I’ve wanted a race to mean something throughout the career of a character. So here is how Delve deals with it. At character creation, you pick a race. The basics of that race give you some very basic attributes that deal with movement, sight, and language. Sometimes it grants a bit more. It might adjust your Hits. It may give you some adjustment for size, but the rest of racial traits live in race talents. At first level you get one, maybe two of these, but all through your adventuring career you can pick more.

FoehammerSisterDifferences

These are two of racial talents found in the current playtest characters. Each is possessed by one of the two Doomhammer sisters. The upper talent belongs to Brumtha Doomhammer who believes she is destined to be the greatest giantslayer who has ever lived. Her sister, Doma is a priest and runecaster who supports her sister’s destiny quest. Each of these talents is the start of a chain that in many ways act as a kind of racial archetype.

This gives flexibility to race presented as mere defaults before. Let’s say you want to be a giant hating dwarf, and you want to be able to kick the shit out of those lumbering brutes. You can do that, but if you want to be the dwarven loremaster, you are not saddled with those abilities that you will rarely use and will rarely come into play just because you happen to be a dwarf. You can focus your racial traits on things that matter more to you: dwarven lore, rune casting, or whatever you want.

Because of this flexibility, no two dwarves are quite the same, and I think that’s a good thing. Time and time again on the design side there has been this idea that things like race and class need to be streamlined, instantly recognizable, and somewhat predictable. This problem has been exasperated with the concept of digital tools and digital representations of characters. In the development of 4e, one of the most frustrating parts of the process was to shoehorn game design choices based on what the digital team thought a dwarf, cleric, wizard, fighter or whatever should look like. This is fucking ass-backward. Digital tools are there to enhance play experience not to drive it. If you want a game driven by digital tool choices, there are plenty of games doing that. They are computer games, and they don’t even use a sledgehammer to solve a problem that deserves a finesse.

As you probably noticed, I  don’t subscribe to this view … or rather I don’t strictly adhere to this opinion. Why? Well, because while a player may like a particular race, they want that race to enrich their choices rather than to funnel them into a niche. Every time a player sits down and creates a character they look for things that the rules will grant them and pick the build that fits their vision. Many times in this scheme race becomes an afterthought; a plug that shores up the concept rather than becoming a vibrant part of the concept. And when such things are forced you are limiting the vision of the players in a fundamental way. Part of making a game is to create interesting choices, but that is my point. We should make choices interesting to the players and the people piecing together the game world; not interesting or expedient to the needs or limitation of digital tools, marketing, bored art directors, or persnickety or short-sighted designers, developers, or editors.

After all, we make games for other people to play.

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About neogrognard

Stephen began working on RPGs in 2000, when he became the RPGA editoral assistant at Wizards of the Coast, working on both Polyhedron magazine and Living Greyhawk Journal. Over the years he’s administered the Living Greyhawk campaign, aided in the development of the D&D 3.5 Edition rules, was a developer for D&D 4th Edition and Star Wars Saga Edition, taught numerous game design classes in the Seattle area, and contributed to the Pathfinder RPG Advanced Player’s Guide and Ultimate Magic as a freelance designer. He has worked at Paizo for the past six years and is now the senior designer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. He’s also the guy who designs the Pathfinder Flip-Mats and Map Packs. His current credits include Southlands for Kobold Press, as well as Hell’s Vengeance: For Queen & Empire, Horror Adventure, and Villain Codex, all for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.
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