Thursday, May 26, 2011

More X-Plorers blogging from yours truly

I immediately fell in love with X-P on my first reading, so I feel quite lucky to be involved in its future and responsible to help create something that is a strong product – both well liked, and FUN. Here are some of my thoughts for the 2nd edition, and your chance to help save it from me with your comments. 

What I loved about X-P right away was that the elegant simplicity lends itself to easy house-ruling. It is a toolbox that says, ‘make it your own’ instead of ‘this is the only way’. Any number of skill rules, like the suggestions on the Exonauts blog, will work well, but by default, there are simple rules for newbs or those who favor it fast and loose.

At this point in my life, I favor the simple approach, though back in high school I was running a couple 2nd edition AD&D campaigns with scads of rules from about a dozen optional books. I appreciate that a ‘crunchy’ approach is fun for many and a lighter approach is fun for others. I say there is no wrong way to have fun, so I’d love to accommodate both in the newer version if it all fits.

So what does that mean for X-P? I favor interpreting the skills as broadly as possible, like in Star Trek or Star Wars. “Scientist” knows chemistry, nuclear physics, and can even breed mutants. “Pilot” can fly a car, operate a crane or an alien warship. Realistic? Maybe it’s a stretch, but I think everyone has more fun when the default answer is “yes” instead of “you don’t have that skill/feat/power/or whatever. YMMV. I drive well, but I wouldn’t want to race in the Indy 500 anytime soon, or haul cargo down the ice road. But Luke Skywalker can hop into any flying vehicle and off he goes like he was born in that cockpit. The suspension of disbelief makes it more fun, IMO.

Therefore, while I favor keeping the skills broad and the skill rules simple, I like it to be clear that anyone can do whatever they want also. Maybe some space in the rulebooks can list two or three examples of optional skill systems. I hesitate to codify one system, because the reader, especially a new gamer, may think they cannot do it differently at all.

While it’s always true that the GM can rework any rules in any game to their whim, doing so makes it more difficult to run the game “out of the box” which I think is how we want X-P to be: grab the box, roll up characters, (which should take 10 minutes tops IMO), and GO. Hopefully we can put dice in the box too.

There’s the simple, but here’s an idea I had for character creation and skills that I think is strong: each class would still have 4 skills by default, but a list of 6 to 8 skills from which to choose. This way, they are still archetypical, but not cookie-cutter identical. What do you all think of this?

I think a new Mystic/Psionicist/Jedi-type class is (pretty much) required, even if optional, but are there other classes you’d like to see? Jay and I have had some preliminary discussions about a post on Grognardia about Scifi archetypes, but I’d appreciate more opinions. Jay’s Space Pioneer is more of a profession than a class, so that’s another way to go; sort of layering these benes and drawbacks over the existing classes, similar to Savage Worlds.

(BTW: I haven’t played it, but Savage Worlds looks pretty cool, check it out.)

Does anyone like a class-less character creation system? Maybe a list of 20ish skills and you pick 4 or 5 to create a character? 4-skill characters would need fewer Experience Points to advance in level than the 5 skill characters.

Do you think any skills are “missing” from the rules now? “Tinker” comes to mind, the ability to build gizmos that do wondrous things. But going broad as I mentioned above, this might fit under the Technician’s mechanic skill, and arguably under the Scientist’s science skill (we’ve seen Spock modify photon torpedoes and stuff like that, though he’s usually helping Scotty do it). I’d say no to the science one, though because it’s already too broad.

So there is this balance to maintain… what’s needed, and realistic enough to allow suspension of disbelief without limiting the other characters? Where do we draw the lines? Why is Robotics separate from Mechanics? Is there an artistic alchemy of computers and mechanics that makes Robotics a separate skill? Or simply game balance? At some point, it get to, OK there’s ONE SKILL! You can do ANYTHING! Yeah, no.

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