Just The Rules: Assumptions and Biases

When starting any project, it’s good to consider assumptions as they come up, and decide if they are relevant.

One big one: I said that I was starting with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game as my base, so it would be reasonable to assume that I’m going to end up with something interoperable with, or at least similar to, Pathfinder when I’m done.

This might happen. While working on the Echelon Reference Series I found many places where structures could be normalized and made more consistent, places where redundant features could be merged, and so on. This is one of the hazards of working with data professionally, systems patterns like this jump out.

In fact, the initial impetus for this project was to ‘clean things up’. While thinking about what that might look like, I realized something.

There is an opportunity here to explore other options. Skills don’t have to work the way they do in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, or even any of the multiple options in Pathfinder Unchained. Level advancement — and this assumes I even keep levels (hint: I expect I will) — doesn’t have to look like it does today… or keep the same classes, or keep classes at all.

I will be looking at many places where decisions were made, and now, a decade or so later, I get to review them and think about them, and see if there’s something I like better.


(This could be a ‘B Day’ post on April 2, but I want to make my biases known up front.)

Most of my projects professionally don’t really leave room for biases. It doesn’t matter what I like, I’m dealing with objective goals, targets, and trade offs. There are some minor elements that are subject to bias (I am comfortable with Allman style indentation and bracing, but prefer K&R style, and I actively dislike GNU style), but for the big decisions ‘what Keith likes’ really doesn’t come into it.

This project is different. The entire thing is predicated on what I think will make the game better for me. Many of these are common biases, such as favoring simpler mechanics over more complex mechanics, all else being equal, but it still comes down to what Keith likes.

I’ll list them here as they come up.

  • Favor qualitative differences over quantitative differences. Features and abilities that only make a numeric difference bore me. I’d really rather see a feature give new options than see it give me a slightly higher average roll.
  • Make differences matter. Related to qualitative differences versus quantitative, if a feature or option must change a number, make it a big enough change to matter. I cannot think of anywhere that ‘+1’ interests me. Make it big enough to notice, at least.
  • No Fiddly Bits. If a +1 bonus on a d20 roll doesn’t interest me, fiddling with single-digit percentage differences is not going to make me happy either. I don’t mind examining percentile differences while analyzing the rules to make sure they work, but I really don’t want them to come up in play.
  • Balance is an illusion. As much as I use math to prove to myself that things will work out the way I want, I realize that it’s only part of the balance question. Just as important is how cool and how fun the options are. D&D 4e suffered here, I think, in that they were mechanically very balanced, but the options were not exciting. I want exciting options that are balanced enough to be playable.
  • Roll Over > Roll Under. I really don’t like roll under systems. I can appreciate some of the characteristics of them, but having bonuses either increase the target number or reduce the total rolled really doesn’t set well with me. Bigger is better, and more to the point the rules are easier to explain and understand.
  • Comparison, Then Small Arithmetic. Comparing numbers is easier than almost any other numerical operation. Adding and subtracting small numbers comes next, and so on. If at all possible, I want to keep the math simple in play. Again, I don’t mind the analysis being complicated (though simpler math helps there, too), but I want complex math away from the table.

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