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Redundancy in Game Design

©2006 - Randal Snyder

One problem I see in the most popular game system currently out there, d20, is redundancy in the rules. Basically what I mean is that they have multiple systems that do the same thing.

This may sound like a rant or attack on the d20 system, but it is not intended to be. Instead I’ve written this with the intent of pointing out parts of the game system that are unnecessary since other parts of the system already provide similar solutions.

It seems best to start with the most basic part of D&D, the character. The first thing that strikes me is the use of attributes and modifiers. Throughout my experience with d20, I have rarely, if ever, used the actual Attribute score. Instead, almost everything revolves around the modifier. Skills, saving throws, attacks, etc all use the modifier and not the attribute score. Thus, the attribute is not needed, only the modifier is.

Next are the saving throws. Each level these magically go up because of the class of the character, but what are they and why does my character need something that basically reproduces skills? I mean, can’t a skill be used in place of a Fortitude roll, like maybe the survival skill, or a generic skill for physical resistances? Can’t I instead use a skill to say, dodge, or tumble, or jump away from an attack instead of using the Reflex save? And aren’t there skills like concentration, or focus that could be used for the Will save?

Next are Feats. It seems to me that any feat that adds skill points or gives bonuses to skills is just duplicating an attribute bonus or extra ranks in the skill. Feats like two weapon fighting or improved cleave, and a handful of others are useful and are not duplicated by any other mechanism in the rules, so for the most part I agree with those abilities. However, there are some feats that should simply be extensions of the combat rules like dodge, power attack, cleave, combat expertise, deflect arrow, leadership, – Everyone should be able to attempt these so called feats and most of what they offer simply trades one bonus for a penalty elsewhere. Why not make that a standard part of the game mechanic?

Now comes the meat of the character… his class. Most classes are derived from one of three different ideas, the warrior, spell caster, and multitalented. In essence the warriors are the tough guys that take the brunt of the attacks, spell casters stay in the background and perform artillery functions, and the multitalented character does all the odd jobs that no one else bothered to learn how to do. But instead of being three generic classes we have a handful of somewhat unique templates that differs from it’s nearest kin in marginal ways. For example, the druid and the cleric are basically the same thing, except the druid focuses on nature and the cleric on divine study. Paladins, Rangers, Fighters, and Barbarians are pretty much the same beast except in the concepts and focuses.

What they DO have is abilities that are specific to the class/template; abilities that could and probably SHOULD be feats. The paladin’s ability to detect evil, the rogue’s sneak attack, the cleric’s turning undead, and even spell casting abilities are all very similar to feats. Sure, maybe you call them something else, like class abilities, but in the end they could very well be handed out like you do a feat. In fact, if you did that, the whole concept of classes and the labels and stereotypes of each one would fly out the window since players would be able to customize their character abilities to suit their needs and character concept rather than shoe-horn their concept into the restrictions of the classes.

So given those areas of duplicity, we could conceivably rewrite a character into something much less cumbersome. Attributes would either be bonuses or penalties, saving throws would be handled by skills, and feats and class abilities would merge, blurring the lines for classes and allowing the player to develop the character the way he/she wants without restrictions from classes.

And this is where this article will end for now. Sooner or later I will have more time to illustrate a variation of the d20 system that I think will “fit” my particular needs. Until then, I will continue pounding away at my own game system in an attempt to make it as close to my theoretical perfection as I can and using my own advice as a guide for what NOT to do.

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