Josh Sawyer (Lead Designer on Aliens RPG) interview on RPG character systems

Started by funcroc, Aug 12, 2008, 02:54:28 AM

Josh Sawyer (Lead Designer on Aliens RPG) interview on RPG character systems (Read 1,807 times)



Josh Sawyer, Lead Designer and Creative Lead (Lead Writer) on Obsidian's Aliens role-playing game, talked about the character systems on general computer role-playing games, not specifically on their Aliens RPG at this interview.

QuoteLet's start with attributes. What are your preferences? DnD-like 3 physical, 3 "mental" stats or something more complex? Should you be able to increase them through levels, trainers, or gadgets or not? Why? How should stats affect gameplay? Which character systems influenced you?

These days, I tend to err on the side of simpler, more abstracted systems.  I try to think from the perspective of player action as the foundation for the system.  That is, I think "What should the player be able to do in this environment?" and "What will the player want to be able to do in this environment?" and then try to build a system to support it.

For example, in the Aliens setting, there is a heavy emphasis on a character's ability to deal with stress. So I've thought about that in terms of the differences between learned skill and something innate to a character in the setting. It's arguable that the ability to resist the sort of mental trauma in the Aliens setting is a learned skill (the equivalent of Combat Cool in Cyberpunk 2020's "Friday Night Fire Fight") and some of it is more inherent to the character, a fundamental part of who they are that isn't likely to change much over the course of the character's time in the game.  So I think "Should this be represented in the game?", "How should this be represented in the game?" and "By what mechanics can the player mess with this representation?".  You can see a similar sort of approach in games like Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu and even in the 2nd Edition AD&D Ravenloft supplemental rules.  But in other settings, those sorts of mechanics and stats aren't really necessary.  The specifics depend entirely on the game, though I approach those specifics from the practical perspective of supporting low-level core gameplay instead of satisfying a high-level set of mechanical ideals.

QuoteWeapon skills. Would you group them or not? How? One-handed, two-handed? Class like Swords or Rifles? Subclass like Short Sword, Long Sword, etc? Damage type like Cutting or Laser? Something else? How would you keep investing into combat skills interesting or meaningful?

I have to go back to my cornerstones of general simplicity and supporting the action.  When I was working on Van Buren, I struggled a bit with breaking down the skills because of conflicting traditions within the setting and system.  Melee weapons, unarmed combat, and thrown weapons were all supported in Fallout and Fallout 2, but those skills sat alongside three separate firearm skills -- and I didn't like how the firearm skills had been broken down into essentially "poor", "good", and "awesome" categories with intentionally phased obsolescence.

Combat skills really dominated the original list, and I thought it was a pretty obsessive focus.  So I  thought that we needed to support all of those combat styles, but they needed to feel disctinct and useful enough that each could stand alone as a single skill (though Throwing was rolled in with Melee because that was just too small of a niche to stand alone).

For hand-to-hand combat to be useful in a game where firearms are relatively common, both melee and unarmed had to have some contrived game mechanics -- but I think that's fine when you're trying to achieve a specific feel for the setting.  It's fun to suffer the bullets slamming into your character as long as you get to totally pound on the guy once you finish running up to him or her.  More variable weapons and moves, area effect "combo" attacks, and the ability to learn variant unarmed styles were all part of fleshing melee and unarmed out more, to make them feel distinct, cool, and valuable in the setting.  The last one was particularly fun, because I tied the unarmed styles to groups you would meet in the setting.  For example, the style practiced by the scribes of the Brotherhood of Steel was very defensive but did low damage.  The style practiced by NCR Rangers penetrated armor easily but was slow.

In comparison, Aliens doesn't have the same expectations.  It's a setting in which the characters use a lot of conventional firearms and improvised weapons to deal with the threat.  Melee isn't a very successful option in the films, so the expectations are skewed away from a "traditional" RPG mold in which rolling in with fists and clubs is a sound tactic.

Private Hudson

Thanks for posting this, finally some new info. It sounds like you play as human too.


Seems like it will allow quite a bit of customization, something that is quite desired these days. Im wondering if it will be like Mass Effect or Rune Scape. Ive played and loved both, but Im just wondering which it will be more like.

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