Friday, September 23, 2022

Beacon is... a rules-lite fantasy game.

I prefer to spell this as "rules-lite" and not "rules-light" since using lite indicates this is a simpler variation of another object - in this case the standard d20 SRD.  Lite indicates something lacking a substance usually present like salt or fat, or in this case rules.  Rules-lite is tougher to define, it could mean that there are few rules, and some RPGs do go in that direction.  It can also mean that there are a few simple rules that can be applied in a common way across game concepts, and this is more the definition I have applied.  I use it also because Beacon is a derivation of Microlite so there is lineage implied in the term.  The Microlite system was an eye opener as it managed to boil down the basic d20 rules and present them in an incredibly compact way.  By adding skills to emulate most class based abilities a huge amount of class and level rules were condensed into a tiny rules space.  Much of the material I've added to Beacon is based on this one concept as I've tried to extrapolate the whole system out from that base.  

There are now currently a whole set of Microlite variations to emulate different styles of game from Microlite74 which emulates the original D&D, Microlite81 which mimics B/X and even M20 Fifth which tries to emulate 5th edition.  My first D&D was AD&D so that level of complexity is the pinned expectation I have for fantasy gaming.   So its not a surprise that the development of Beacon is my personal attempt to redevelop a level of rules similar in scope to first edition AD&D from the core Microlite rules, but not to mimic AD&D.  Like other Microlite variations I've tried to model a style of play by adding features or modifications to the core system while trying to keep that system consistent.  The main areas of customization in Beacon are:

  • Finding formulas for game mechanics like penalties/bonuses, leveling costs and class abilities instead of relying on charts;
  • Defining race and class abilities as Stat and Skill bonuses with fewer special rules;
  • Simplifying base damage and damage bonuses to prevent monster hp inflation and long combats;
  • dealing with spell effects vs spell casting costs in a point based system.
When 5th edition came out the bar moved slightly since it was a very good game and introduced many good ideas to streamline rules such as the Advantage mechanic.  Adopting the Advantage mechanic allowed for a lot of simplification for situational modifiers that were in the earlier rules.  Other popular modern d20 ideas like inspiration, talents and feats I didn't incorporate since in my opinion they didn't streamline the core rules but rather added additional tangential systems.

Not all the design has been towards simplified core mechanics, in some cases I have actually added complexity where I though it added value.  The removal of level based dice bonuses found in Microlite have been slowly phased out in favor of skill choices in order to add weight to the skill system.  You can see this in how physical skill now determines combat bonuses or in how some spells are more powerful if you have the appropriate skills.  Anytime I can add in interesting choices for player builds while keeping a simple rule I tried to do that.  There are also rules that were added that are more complex than their traditional equivalents, the initiative and morale systems are cases in point.  These systems I've made more complex than typical rules lite mechanics because I wanted to bring some additional tactical choices into the game for combat and also include a type of death spiral for NPC relationships.  Initial versions of Beacon opted for a stage or phase based approach to initiative while the current rules incorporate even more complexity by focusing on PC actions.

The other aspect of rules-lite is determining what you need the rules for.  Some RPG have rules for every situation that might come up, and others barely have more than a pass/fail rule.  There are some really great games available that have super streamlined rules that will let you quickly resolve anything that might come up in an RPG.  I really admire a lot of the rules-lite Old School games for their simplified and interesting take on the game but find that most of them leave out a lot of things I like to see in my games, particularly in the areas of level advancement and spells.  I tried to include rules that  codified aspects of the game so that players can make informed decisions or interesting choices.  I like to have players choose which skill to invest in based on how it will impact their melee combat bonus vs. how it will impact particular spells, or how many companions they can manage at one time.  That adds interest and customization without requiring a whole feat system.  Also I wanted to reinforce some types of game activity over others by including rules for those activities, so I added in rules for encumbrance, travel, exploration and learning spells.

But this leads into the next design statement:

Beacon is..  an Old School fantasy game.

But I will leave that for next time.

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