Wanderer: Roleplaying Game System

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Robert Davis, rdavis@upnaway.com
7th May 1997, 2:57 PM.

Dear David,

Firstly, congratulations on your great home page and your ambitious idea to create the "perfect" roleplaying system. I'm sure you'll have your work cut out!

I have come up with a few ideas on my idea of a perfect system:

  1. Minimise dice rolling. This detracts from the enjoyment of the game and rather two-dimensionalises the system.

  2. Attention to detail is important in creating a rich background and holding player attention. Be sure not to bore player though! Music is always a powerful atmospheric device.

  3. Provide enough incentives to keep characters interested ie. fights, treasure etc. Although this may sound tacky, in my experience, this is what all players really want deep down, and they can quickly become discouraged otherwise!

  4. Keep it fun and exciting. Long drawn out negotiations with characters and research into events, can get boring.

These are just a few off the cuff thoughts. Perhaps someone else out there has something to add?


Thanks Rob, and congratulations on being the first reader to send in some feedback. I do have my work cut out for me, but if you're going to do something you may as well do it right. Just a few comments about your suggestions:

  1. I prefer less dice rolling, mainly because I hate lots of rules which force me to flick through pages while the players sit their chewing their nails. This is a personal preference. I think you making the claim dice rolling implies a two dimensional system is a little bludgeon like for my tastes. Rolemaster, though I don't like it, is a good system if you're into realism. It has a well detail spell and combat system that can create a very gritty atmosphere. Once again it is a matter of personal preference.

  2. I think you're confusing a roleplaying system with a campaign. A campaign (or adventure or world or . . .) contains atmosphere but a roleplaying system is just that, a framework. Sure, it should encourage background and atmosphere, but it is not inherent. Elthrea is going to be the first world for Wanderer, and it will be full of atmosphere and background. I am hoping others will make worlds for Wanderer as well (maybe Legend?).

  3. I agree that players need some insentive otherwise what's the point. Treasure and fights? I don't think so. How about rewards for role playing? Think about that one.

  4. This ties in with the above point. What else are you going to do if you drop the cerebral activities? Sure you could hack lots of people, but where's the fun in that? Try immersing yourself in a character and you'll you enjoy yourself a lot more. I'm not saying that action and excitement don't have a place, but they don't logically imply fights and fights.

Thanks for your thoughts, and I hope the reply sets you off . . . or something.

- David Schibeci

Doug Johnson, connell@3-cities.com
18th December 1997, 9:12 PM.

I have a sugestion you may find helpfull. Contact the creator of Wanderer: War Across the Ages. He is a roleplaying guru. You can find him at http://www.3-cities.com/~kirin

Jeremy Westphal, kirin@3-cities.com
22nd December 1997, 10:11 PM.

Greetings Mr. Schibeci,

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jeremy Westphal, a fellow author of roleplaying games. In my experience, designing a roleplaying system is a balance between the flow of the game that is inherent to simplicity and generalization, versus the slow of a which is inherent to the detail and realism. You hinted at this balance in your thoughts on the development of your project. Finding that balance will mainly come through the test play of the game, as will the development of source material. My game, Wanderer: War Across the Ages has grown rich in source material through such test playing. Also, when I began writing short stories on the subject of my game, I found that the game even came more to life within my imagination. The main thing that has cursed me throught he development, aside from the fact that there are only 24 hours in the day and the fact that I can't get all the ideas out at once, is a drive for perfection. I have found that a labor of love, such as Wanderer: War Across the Ages is to me, and most likely Wanderer: The Roleplaying System is to you, will never be good enough or complete in the eyes of the creator. If you are like me, you will revise, revise, revise till you are blue in the face. I know that I have had to decide to put only so much source material in Wanderer: War Across the Ages, and to be satisfied with putting off more detail until I write Wanderer: The Darker Side of Reality, Wanderer: The Higher Order, and an as of yet to be named player expansion. So much material is not so much rule after rule, but source materials for the game. If you will, I'm not writing more rules on how to roll dice, but on choices in the way of character classifications, adventuring environements, super natural abilities, and items (treasure if you will).

If you had time to check out my site on the net in any detail, you would have probably noticed that it is more of a feel of the game, not is the sense of the rules, but as a sense of the environment. If you didn't check out the section on "What You Might Expect", I believe that that explains my Wanderer best of all.

Hope to Hear Back From You,

Jeremy Westphal

PS. Incase you lost the address . . . http://revolution.3-cities.com/~kirin

David. My Dad is Mr. Schibeci, I'm just David (or Dave).

Greetings and well met.

I have never designed a roleplaying system, and that's why I proposed the idea in the first place. As a learning experience. I have played many systems, and I though the next logical step was make one of my own.

The all important game balance. It is, as you said, weighing between simplicity and comprehensiveness. You want the game to move freely, yet contain enough realism. Enough and freely are the keys here. Play testing is, as you have also said, the only way to (excuse the pun) weigh the balance.

Source material I have a lot of. Elthrea, a world I have been

tinkering with for six years, will be the main setting I'll use the system for.

I never intend to finish the system, it would be an injustice to it. As you have alluded to, there are too many ideas and not enough hours in the day. You'll have to be satisfied with the slow evolutionary process. Think how long it took people to evolve (and we aren't even *there* yet).

I am interested in what you have and would like to see more.

It's like seeing the bird in the cage and not being able to touch it. I get a feel for what Wanderer is all about, but not what it is.

- David Schibeci

Michael C. Holmes, marjart@aol.com
27th May 1998, 5:45 PM.

Hello, my name is Mike Holmes and I have been an avid role-player and GM for 20 years. I love it when people want to work on the "perfect RPG" project, not because I think that they will succeed, but because often these projects are where you see real innovation. I have often given thought to the "project" myself and here are a few notes addressing some of the comments that I have seen on your page and some of my own (If I may be so bold):

  1. I agree with you when you say to the other respondents that there is a difference between a game world and the game system. There are no replacements for good GMing and a well thought out world background, but it is much easier for a GM to do a good job if he has a good system to work with (just as a good carpenter performs better with good tools). The system must be thought out first and then applied to the world which you develop.

  2. I favor game systems that are more generic, not because of the lattitude that they give to use the rules in other campaigns and backgrounds, but instead because they allow me limitless expansion of the world that I am already working on. For example, if I want to create a new creature in my fantasy game, it is difficult to do in a game that has no rules for the general construction of things. You said that role-master was realistic, but the same system that is used to make characters in RM brakes down grotesquely when trying to create, say, a dragon from stats. In many game systems like this monster creation is a matter of finding a similar creature or creatures and fiddling with the stats until it looks about right (Forget about trying to attack a door). Magic systems, combat, and task resolution in general all are easier to manipulate with a system that covers the mechanics in generic wholes.

  3. Point based stuff may be heavy on mechanics, but if you make those calculations before play, they more than pay off during play in terms of more realistic characters. And as mentioned with generic systems it means that you will have more versitility in the types of characters brought into play. One must be careful however as these systems are often easy to abuse. Which leads to the next point.

  4. Now for a dirty little secret I've discovered. There is no such thing as game balance. OK, maybe that's going too far, but it all depends on how you define game balance. If you mean parity between characters of players in a game, then I'm afraid that you'll have to be satisfied with imperfection. Even with the most well thought out class or point systems some characters are going to be more important to the story than others in certain circumstances. The amount of fun that a player can have with a given character depends on the extent to which the GM writes adventures in which that character is important. The system cannot solve this problem for you, it's a campaign design problem. So, don't sweat perfection here. In fact it is often possible to have games with characters who are more central or powerful than others (See Ara Magica) if you have the right group. Points, again makes these options easier to use.

  5. Dice are so cool! - I'm not a hack 'n' slasher just cause I like dice. Dice can be a very effective tool for a GM. Many novices may rely on them too much as a crutch, but at least they have that crutch and may out grow it. Dice are only bad in systems that rely on them too much (RM is a good example, remember RM is just an attempt to fix AD&D) as a normal extent of play. Otherwise dice can be used to develop suspense, to develop random results of actions and description of those results, and maybe most importantly a sense of being in an arbitrary world that kan hurt or help you with as much randomness as the real world. No matter how much trust the players have in the GM, if he makes up every result, that sense is not there (some are OK with this, I hate it). Dice and the results good or bad can be part of what makes a game fun, which is what I hope we're after here.

  6. As the first gentleman said, fights and treasure are important. This is not high art. And even if you want to consider it from that point of view, all stories have conflict. I'll bet your (and every role-player's) favorite movies include things like Alien, Terminator, Conan, Blade Runner, Dragonslayer, Robo-Cop, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, and Star Wars. Which one of those doesn't have a lot of fighting? A good RPG adventure probably looks a lot more like a movie than a book. Therefore think cinematicly (that a word?). Many games have artificial methods of keeping characters alive through all sorts of danger that would most likely kill a person in real life. GURPS is realistic enough to be this lethal at times, so much so that they had to invent special cinematic rules. I could write a whole essay on this subject alone.

  7. Pacing and rewards are important. Most of this is non-system stuff, but there is always the question of character advancement. There are several shools of thought (this is another essay) but I like the one that says give characters realistic rewards. By this I mean that a character should become better at things through practice, with learning-by-doing in the field counting for but a little. I encourage players describing what they would like to have their players do during their down time (and then requiring will rolls for those who claim that their character will practice with his sword every waking hour for the next month). This leads to a feeling of characters who have ongoing lives that are not full of adventure every single day. It's all- in-all more realistic. Rewards in terms of player fun come from success in the characters achieving their goals (and sometimes in defeat). Some games offer rewards for role-playing and these are OK as long as they are in the form of Luck or Fate Points or something like that, not character advancement.

I could go on, but this is already long. If you have queastions about the above or want to talk about another topic please write and let me know. I love to discuss these sorts of things (if you couldn't tell).

This is the longest piece of feedback I have received about the "Wanderer" project, so I though it only fair that I responded in full. The first point you make is quite accurate. Whether the "Wanderer" project succeeds or not is not as important as generating ideas about roleplaying systems in general. The reason I have decided to put up the projet on the web rather than develop in in the vein hope of one day selling the system, is that there are a wealth of roleplayers (pride of roleplayers? school of roleplayers?) out there who have much to contribute. By allowing the world to see the project, it is open to a much richer set of ideas.

  1. Some games systems are tied tightly with the game world (eg. Earthdawn) whereas others are quite deperate (eg. AD&D and Dragonlance). The point I was trying to make was that a game system had less atmosphere than the world. Though often the system will have a flavour to it. Your point is quite valid, in that a better system often helps a GM, rather than a bad system which would be a hinderence. However, just a a good carpenter performs well with good tools, good tools don't guarantee a good carpenter. Though bad tools are going to help neither party.

  2. I am a little undecided about generic systems, because they have advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that you can use a whole variety of campaigns with them, so that you don't have to learn a new set of rules but concentrate on world development. The other advantage is what you pointed out, in that they have a lot of inherent flexibility built in so you can extend and expand campaigns as much as you want. I see generic systems as a set of tools which allow you to customise the rules to you campaign. Which brings us the the main disadvantage of generic systems is that they are often not coupled tightly with the campaign. Earthdawn is a prime example, where the magic system is campaign specific though it could work with other campaigns. They designed the system to work with the game which means they match perfectly. Can a generic system do this? I don't know.

  3. I'm not sure I understand. What kind of point based stuff are we talking about?

  4. Absolutely. Game balance is a myth that is perpetuated by roleplaying companies. Its some strange formula that ensures fairness for all. But as they say in the movies, "Life isn't fair". There is not such thing as true equality. Though you have to ensure that monsters are too powerful for characters, isn't that the realm of GMs, where they have to ensure adventures are designed for the characters so they won't get slaughtered. But a lot of the fun is facing overwhelming odds. Which is exactly what you pointed out when yous stated "it's a campaign design problem". I also agree that it is har to balance characters so one is not as pwerful as another. Due to most systems use random character generation, this is impossible to ensure. It is up to GMs to balance characters, but once again equality is just a myth.

  5. There is nothign worse that a system that only uses a single kind of dice. Systems should encourage people to buy lots of groovy coloured dice as well as use every dice from D4 to D100. Seriously, dice are essential to ensure that there is some chance element in the game. If the characetrs knew they were going to win every time, why bother? A lot of the time the dice can add suspense by just being rolled.

  6. I wasn't suggesting that you get rid of fights entirely, but I think there are other ways of creatiung suspense. I like Gattaca which has almost no fights in it at all. Its all plot and suspense. Will I am not advocating purely intellectual roleplaying nor am I saying it is wrong. I am simply trying to offer a range of suggestions for getting the players excited. But as Robert pointed out, that's what players want. Fights.

  7. Character advancement is a tricky topic, and as you pointed out, characters should gain advancement through experience rather than just good role playing. Role playing should advance the charcter, so that palyers should treat them as living, growing things. If the characters experience a death in their family, the player should use this.

Thanks again for the great ideas.

- David Schibeci

Eric Campbell, theredsoup@hotmail.com
7th October 1998, 7:54 PM.

Hey Dave!

Well, bud, I hope things go well for you. I, like you and others, am trying/have tried/will try again to create a role playing game that works well and is appreciated by GMs and Players alike.

I've played loads of games and have fell in love with few systems. I dislike the system for Warhammer, but love the world. West End Games came up with one of the best with the D6 System, but I like generic systems that are very maleable.

The guys who've sent you responses so far have made great comments, and you, in turn, gave great responses. I think we all share a vein of thinking that could lead to great things in the realm of role playing. There is so much I wish to create and give to others that I am often found fumbling at the keyboard, not able to get my fingers to 'tap' as quick as I think.

I'd like to continue some of the points made by the other gentlemen before me:

  1. Dice rolling - IS it necessary? No. Is it fun? Sure! A good game system need not have die rolls to make it complete. Amber was/is a good system. But I think the suspense rought by the dice are a fun factor. Coupled by the fact that many gamers feel that they are less cheated. Chance has some play in the dice rolls, but of course most good systems allow for experienced characters to roll failures less often. And I agree with you when you said that more than one type of die is needed. (And I don't think I'm contradicting myself with my love for the WEG D6 system.) Buts sometimes a player loves the fact that rolling nine D6 is almost an assured success. His face just beams as the myriad of cubes hit the table and dance their chaotic dance. But LO! the dice have failed him once again, even with the number of dice. That is a great reaction to behold.

  2. Game balance - Never seen it. Probably never will. End of story.

  3. Action/Reward - My players need it. Sure I like good roleplaying but needless to say, the guys sometimes revert to a cold and heartless bunch and tend to say SLAY THEM ALL! Sure I don't like it, but it happens. But treasure doesn't have to be 'material'. They can be experience only. With the D6 system (sorry, I go back to it often) they live for it. Fifty billion credits just can't match a good +1d on a skill. D&D was never like that, from my experience anyway.And, I truly believe that a game session with out a good tail whooping may not be successful unless the players have intentionally steered it away from that direction. As brutal as my players have been in the past, they have been known to do this, just not very often.

What I'd like to see . . .

  1. Interaction with NPCs that are not tedious and annoying. Okay, this has more to do with your GM, but sometimes they oppose your actions. I think any opposition they pose shouldn't bog the game down. If the NPC is the 'End Boss" or the 'Final Monster' then of course it will be lengthy. But some systems allow a candlestick maker the same attributes as the 'End Boss' and therefore they bog the game. At least giving suggestions on how to deal with this would be helpful.

  2. Accurate attributes - I can't help be have over seven sttributes when I create a game system. Six always seems too few to me. I can't see having 'Dexterity' cover both physical agility and hand/eye coordination. To me that should be seperate. (This is one instance) Some traits can be swapped as skills or talents, like Willpower. But willpower is both physical and mental. The attribute system would need to cover the descrepancies (sp). Strength is not stamina. Reason is not education. This is a pet peeve of mine so forgive me for the ramblings.

  3. Damage/Wounds - Wounds should alter one's ability to preform. Often games allow hits and shrug of the affects until the 'hitpoints' are zeroed. Your wound system should affect the character and his ability to complete tasks. A shoulder or arm wound would hinder one's ability to fire a weapon. A head wound would hinder one's ability to think and reason clearly.

  4. Creative character classes/races - Man do I hate dwarves, elves, and friggin halflings. But 'NEW" races can be confusing and boring to read about. Classes should offer more than Warrior, Mage, Cleric, Thief. The classes should be more in tune with the world in which they operate. With D&D there wasn't much difference in a fighter from one world than a warrior in another. Give the classes special abilities that are fun to use and not game-dominating.

  5. Just like accurate attributes, I like accurate skills and a good skill system. Firing a weapon needs hand/eye coordination, but I hate making a seperate roll to see how fast I fired the weapon. Building a machine, whether hi-tech or lo-tech should need knowledge and physical skill. This is a good problem to solve.

I'm sure I could come up with other points of interest but I believe my message may begin to rival that of Mr. Holmes.

Best of luck, Dave!

First the "previous points":

  1. Dice Rolling: I think dice rolling is necessary in some capacity because, as you pointed out, it adds some randomness to the game.

  2. Game Balance: I agree completely. You might as well try and make the universe fair.

  3. Action/Reward: This is the most difficult thing to work out (and as you pointed out earlier, it doesn't have to be treasure). The characters need to feel they have achieved something and having your character "grow" just doesn't cut it. They need something tangable.

The short responeses are due to these ideas having been thrown around a bit already. Now for your suggestions:

  1. Interaction with NPCs: Annoying NPCs are the Games Master's domain. NPCs should be treated as the Games Master would want the players to treat their characters. They should be generated in the same fashion as characters and played accordingly. Unfortunately time often doesn't permit this, but at the very least you should sketch out the NPCs. Thus I think it is important for a system to allow quick character generation (Earthdawn).

  2. Accurate Attributes: I agree that six isn't enough, and think the twelve presented by Space Master to be much more accurate.

  3. Damage/Wounds: Again I agree and like the system presented by Ars Magica. The more wounded you are the worse you perform. Of course you have to balance game play with realism (don't bog the system down).

  4. Creative Character Classes/Races: Take a look at Earthdawn.

  5. Accurate Skills: I agree . . . again :).

And your message does in fact give Mr Holmes a run for his money.

- David Schibeci

The Wanderer's Rest is currently undergoing a major overhaul. If you find any broken links or strange pages please e-mail the Webmaster at dschibeci@iinet.net.au