Building the Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom RPG pt.1 – Initial Thoughts
Building the Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom RPG pt.1 – Initial Thoughts
Or at least having a bash at it. There comes a point where every GM/DM would like to see their game (or setting) in print. So here’s the thing: I’ve talked before about creating an RPG for the Mandragora setting before so I’m actually going to try and do it. I’ve never published my own RPG, and I guess the two Mandragora Play-By-Mail games I did don’t really count, although the game manuals were very much part of the learning curve for me. The New World Explorers Guide for ORC also helped. I’m going to give it a try, as much of the system itself is already in place although I’ll need to fine-tune things: this isn’t hubris, I’m just curious to see how I get on.
Right. Lets get this party started!
First, the system. Now I could go for an open gaming license such as FUDGE, FATE or similar, but I’ve decided to use my own system and build upon other game mechanics I’ve used in the past. Why? Although the Mandragora have their basis in (A)D&D, I’m going to try and create the system as an experiment – I’m going to use the Mandragora as the focus for the game. While OGL games are pretty common its quite likely that I could create a decent system and maybe even release it as its own OGL RPG. I’m going to borrow freely from other games as its my personal belief that most RPGs borrow freely from each other – even Shadowrun and Deathwatch have aspects of D&D, although you may need to look hard.
I’ve decided to make the system primarily d6-based, as it doesn’t require any specialised dice – although I’m tempted to create some custom dice for the game later on! I’ll touch on that later - not in this article though. I’d like to leave D20 out in its entirety.
As you see I’ve not touched upon stuff like commissioning artwork, layout, and editing or cartography yet: I’m literally building the rules and RPG from the ground up! I’m currently calling it the MANDRAGORA RPG, but I’m torn between calling it that or the MANDRAKE system.
Now here’s my first thoughts on PLAYER CHARACTERS (PCs).
Character creation should be quick and painless. Every player should be able to quickly pick up the creation process, and be able to create a full character in under half an hour. Character ARCHETYPES will aid this, and BACKGROUND POINTS will help to create individual characters, without creating too many stereotypes.
The CHARACTER SHEET will be split into sections, one the “public” one, the other listing those abilities that a player doesn’t want other players to see. The idea is to create an A5 style folded sheet for player reference.
As PC groups usually have a mixture of different backgrounds and social status, STATUS POINTS can used to rank a character in social or political situations. A lowly Brass farmer would be less likely to elicit a favourable political reaction than a Gold Senator!
Characters can learn other skills, but they must receive training to do so; although some skills are innate, others can be taught. A character may act as a teacher at any level of ability, but they have more chance the better they are at doing things. TRAINING POINTS can be used to buy new skills and progress.
ARCHETYPES merely act as a starting block – players may call their characters whatever they wish after creation. ARCHETYPES merely provide a framework for a starting character: starting equipment, skills, and a background.
BACKGROUND POINTS can be used to customise a character, adding new abilities, allies, or advantages.
DISADVANTAGES can be used to increase the number of background points available, by handicapping a character in some way.
The STATISTICS should be d6/percentile-based, making them convertible to other systems with any luck.
SKILLS are a part of the archetype, and appear in a form of SKILL ADDS. Each SKILL ADD means the Player has an extra dice to roll when testing STATISTICS for a skill. If a PC has no knowledge of a SKILL the test requires, the test is carried out on half the STATISTIC. This means that there is no such thing as an automatic success or failure. Someone can still swing a sword and get lucky! And even blademasters may make mistakes…
One thing I am keen to avoid is the stereotyped wizards and clerics so prevalent in fantasy games: there should be no generic classes: wizard, warrior, rogue, and priest for example. The basic structure of the game should reflect this and hopefully provide a far richer experience. It should also prevent the “you’re a cleric; what healing spells do you have?” stereotype for example. To illustrate what I mean I’ll use the four classes mentioned above and break down what I feel is wrong with them:
- The Wizard is usually portrayed as a puny weakling, only able to cast a few spells that can help a group, and being totally useless if involved with melee – at least at the beginning. They also can’t use armour or certain types of weapons in some games. To me this has always seemed ridiculous: while armour has some bearing on the ability of a PC to cast spells, it should not prevent it. The Mandragora magi train extensively in combat and weapons, and have at least a working knowledge of military tactics and their application. They are also taught how to defend themselves so will be able to handle weapons without too many penalties. Also, in fantasy literature no one has ever considered how magical swords are created! A sword may be well-crafted by a weaponsmith, but a wizard would still need to test it for balance and weight before enchanting it.
- The traditional stereotype of Warrior implies that the character has been a fighter all his life and has no knowledge of magic. In a magic rich society like the Mandragora he would at least have received some form of magical training. Maybe he possesses no skill in the Art, but he can still recognise magic for what it is. He may not be able to cast spells but he would be trained to defend himself and plan an attack accordingly. He may even recognise common spells and their casting. Warriors should also acquire some ability in stealth and concealment, normally the provision of Rogue characters in RPGs. In my opinion soldiers would be adept at concealing their presence and stealthy when they need to be – maybe even more so considering the armour and equipment they carry.
- The Rogue is always expected to be sneaky and is usually sent to the front of the party to scout and find traps, as well as having some ability to backstab an enemy. They also tend to be the least trusted PC in the party! The scouting role can be fulfilled by anyone with some skills at concealment or perceptive ability. In a number of cases, the difference between Rogue and Warrior is insignificant – but Rogues are expected to be weaker than Warriors. The ability to hide, track, and notice traps can all be acquired by other classes too. The TunnelRunners for example have an extensive scouting knowledge, yet are extremely capable warriors.
- The Priest class is the stereotypical Cleric who heals wounds and creates spells to lift spirits or influence emotions. They are also staunch foes of the forces of evil. Usually, they are based upon some form of quasi-Christian religion. With the shades-of-grey theme running through the game, the Mandragora would not regard good and evil as separate moralistic standpoints. So the concept of religion in the game has been almost eradicated – the cult of Mandrathea is more of a set of ideals than beliefs. The Sacred Ones are expected to provide a ‘benchmark’ as it were to all Mandragora. Also the abilities to heal wounds or raise the dead should not be common place or easy. Like the Wizard class, Priests are limited in the types of weapon they can use: why? Any Sacred One may have had weapon training before they answered their calling: if a PC is good with a sword, why would they switch to a warhammer?
All in all, these classes may provide a basic framework for other games, but they are redundant in the Mandragora RPG. By allowing PC to pick up other skills and having a basic archetype, it means that a PC will never have the same mix of abilities. It also helps add to the experience of the game; rather than having a thief, fighter, wizard and cleric, you have a much more interesting group.
Also not everyone may be what they appear: a Battlemagi (or HellBinder, or BoneCaller!) may fight as a soldier, only using his spells when he himself is in danger. All the other PCs may know him simply as a soldier.
There are disadvantages to this generic view. It may be that some abilities found in a conventional group are missing, such as no one being able to cast spells or track, but these can be compensated for. A group could always hire a scout or Magi.
So here ends part 1. Coming up next, that old-bugbear-in-plate-armour: Alignment (and how the Mandragora couldn’t give a damn)!