Sunday, August 1, 2010

In the Beginning...

... there was alignment. And it was ... meh.

Alignment was the first real step toward character definition in RPGs, encouraging characters to take a side in the grand battles between good and evil and law and chaos. It gave players a hook to hang some roleplay on, but it wasn't very well defined and occasionally contradictory.

Palladium took the next step and defined alignments more rigorously. Detailed lists of common alignment-defining situations and how each alignment should respond. And let's not forget the oft-reprinted rant against "neutral" alignments.

The real question I'm facing as I try to bootstrap this into a modern design is: Is alignment still valid in games these days? Even the grand-daddy of all RPGs, D&D doesn't use them much anymore. The 4th edition of that game reduces alignment to a spectrum, rather than its classic grid configuration, and also allows PCs to be "unaligned", with no inclination towards good or evil.

One thing I am considering is a system of "behavior tags", in which players define things that their character would never do, must always do, will risk to achieve and so on. More like Beliefs, Instincts and Traits from Burning Wheel than FATE Aspects.

Something a little broader would encompass the old Palladium insanity rules. Like most of the Palladium system, insanity worked fine when it was first introduced (in Beyond the Supernatural, clearly intended as a competitor to Chaosium's Call of Chthulhu), but after getting bolted on to a dozen games, it becomes less relevant and even a little silly. Particularly amusing is the Crazy Hero tables added in for Heroes Unlimited. Though most of what that does is try to cover up the fact that Heroes Unlimited didn't really have a robust power system. Especially the "Power by Association" table. "Green Lantern doesn't really have a magic ring. He just has a delusion that the ring given to him by the Guardians of the Universe gives him his powers."

One thing I will NOT do is create a disadvantage system. At least not for mental status. That just makes the system a little too easy to twink, as you can get points back for all of your insanities and then do your best to make sure the GM never notices exactly what it says on your sheet. If disadvantages exist in this system, they will have direct mechanical implications, but more on that in a later post.