Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Development History of Neoclassical Geek Revival









Decades ago, I started playing Dungeons and Dragons and was hooked (Advanced of course, I would accept nothing less).

Right away though there was this one little thing that was off and didn't flow well in the way I wanted to game..

And then this one little other thing I noticed the game after that...

First it was that shields did not seem appropriately useful to how important they should be.  Then armour seemed off because it didn't help you against traps. I wouldn't read Vance for over a decade so magic seemed wrong to me.  Having a mish-mash of 1st and 2nd edition books the XP system was bonkers since the 2e books didn't mention gold giving XP but 1e Monsters gave pitiful XP as they assumed treasure based XP. I questioned what exactly a hitpoint was.

Soon there was a very lengthy set of house rules whenever I ran a game. As I grew older the usual breaks for life came to be and gaming got put aside for awhile.

In the early 2000's I decided to try and return to gaming.  After a few games of 2e I felt the need for a change in how I ran the campaign and cranked out what would be the first version of NGR which I just called "Piecemeal" since it was a horrid Frankenstein of patched together rulings and subsystems.  There wasn't any AD&D in it.  Things flowed how I wanted them too, but it was too finnicky,  too many things to remember. Good enough to game with though.

So iterative pruning happened.  Any time something was ignored at the table, or slowed things down,  I took a note.  I also took mental notes of things that went smoothly. Using those notes I made changes to the rules and announced them at the start of the game. Initially weekly, then slowing down to monthly, then yearly. Anyone who works in technology probably intuitively understands this as iterative and incremental development.

When I still called it Piecemeal this was frequent with many big changes.  When I put out physical books and released it as "Neoclassical Geek Revival" I tended to hold them off to be small changes or tweaks with maybe one major (but still reverse compatible) change per year as changes needed heavy testing at that point and the game was hitting 99% of the notes I wanted it to.

As an example of how big changes came to be,  the first release of NGR proper had types of attacks.  You had wild attacks, knock downs, power attacks, grapples.  It was fine, it did the job of dynamic combat when it came up.   But in playing with Kyrinn it came to a single point in a game where she wanted to cut at someones legs with her sword, to hopefully hurt them but also knock them over.

The attack types didn't really allow that (those were two different options).  You could cut them (dealing damage, or double damage on a critical),  or knock them down (a check, or two checks on a critical). I could have kicked it old school and just made a one time ruling and moved on. But this was an opportunity to improve without adding complexity.

So I changed the way things like attacks work.  You roll the die,  if you beat the target you choose a success from a list of options (deal damage, try to knock someone down, etc)  and if you got a critical you could choose two things (such as double damage, or two knock downs, or a knock down and damage).  It solved the immediate problem and lowered complexity without taking away from the game.  You could do everything you could before with the same roles, it was just more flexible and easier to explain.

And for almost 10 years of Neoclassical Geek Revival and another decade of Piecemeal before that, there has been constant iterative development like that based on actual play from a number of different campaigns.   Most GM's house rule it heavily to suit their own tastes and that is something I encourage, but it always interesting to hear feedback from how the little tweaks and changes impact player behaviour. I also like to see how adventure design leads to changes.

In the current version of NGR (which will have only minor changes in the upcoming kickstarter) a curse is cast upon a person or item.  Through running my Xanthandu game I had many situations of tomb robbing legitimate archaeology where some hideous curse was foretold upon those who dare open a sacred chamber.  This lead to a small change to the curse spell description where you can make it a trap if you write the curse out.  Now there is an easy way to quickly make an adventure to use them as traps. It is minor, but it changes the way you think about designing the small side quest locations that only get about 20 minutes of writing as a GM.  The larger locations already have enough deep planning and custom content that these sorts of changes probably aren't front and center in a GM's brain.

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