Heroes, Monsters, and Intro RPGing

One of my current projects is Heroes & Monsters, which I hope to have done in time to playtest in May. This roleplaying game hopes to provide a suitable introduction to gaming for people who’ve never to hardly ever played an RPG before. My design goals for H&M encompass four areas:

1. Flexible & Easy to Learn
I want a game that can be adapted to a wide variety of situations and scenarios within the fantasy genre. The rules of an RPG should serve the players and the kind of game they want to play rather than unnecessarily limit choices.

Many RPGs are quite complicated, presenting players with dozens to hundreds of different options, and that’s just looking at character creation. The rules that govern the use of skills, magic, and combat then contain oodles of variations, situational modifiers, and exceptions to the norms. As a result, these sorts of RPGs include hundreds of pages of rules that are not only not easy to learn, they’re down right unfriendly to new players.

H&M takes the core mechanic of the d20 System and adds to it tools to increase flexibility and flatten the learning curve. The result is an RPG that you can start playing almost right away.

2. Shared Narrative Control
Narrative control in game terms refers to the ability that players have to shape the direction of the story they are playing. In many games, the bulk of narrative control rests in the hands of the Game Master. The GM makes up the adventure, sets the challenges, determines what happens next, et cetera. More or less, the other players react to the situations set forth by the GM.

There are two unintended consequences of investing so much narrative control in the GM. First, the GM ends up doing much more work before, during, and after the game session that the other players do. Often, the GM does more work than all the other players combined. This can result in the GM getting tired of GMing, and a tired GM makes for a poorer RPG experience. Second, the other players get little training in the skills needed to be a GM. With the GM calling so many of the shots, players have less incentive to immerse themselves in the game in meaningful ways.

H&M strives to spread narrative control more evenly among all the players. The GM ends up with less work, the players with more options, and everyone with more fun.

3. Heroic
It seems like the recent trend in RPGs is toward what’s referred to as edgier or darker elements. Fans of these games claim they explore adult themes, and often toss out examples such as drug abuse or exploitation of one group by another. Drawing distinctions between right and wrong gives way to shades of moral gray that end up robbing characters’ actions of meaning. After all, if all choices are equally right, then all choices are also equally wrong.

This recent trend smacks right into one of my abiding prejudices in RPGs. I don’t like things to be edgy and dark except in contrast to the heroism of the characters. Things like drug abuse and exploitation are not entertaining, and they’re not really suitable for the good guys. I like for player characters to be genuine heroes, fighting against the forces of evil. I like for there to be a definite right and wrong, and for heroes to do their best to end up on the side of right.

I’ve written H&M so that your PC isn’t just an adventurer. Your PC isn’t a mercenary hopping from one paid mission to another. Instead, your PC is a hero. A hero might get paid for being heroic, but the money isn’t the primary motivation.

4. Cooperative
RPGs should be played cooperatively. There is no way to win an RPG. You aren’t competing against the other players, and that includes the GM. Since no one gets to win, you can instead focus on having fun and on helping ensure the other players have fun as well.

After all, what’s the sense in playing any game if you’re not having fun? H&M doesn’t really have rules for cooperation (although there are a few). Instead, the cooperative stance of an RPG deals more with the attitude of the players than the rules. Throughout the H&M PDFs, I offer suggestions about how to increase the fun. Use those that you feel work best for you, and ignore those that don’t. Best of all, invent your own suggestions. Make the game yours.

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