Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What Are Iconic Game Elements?

In game design, it's easy to get into places where you cannot see the forest for the trees... 'hey, I have a great idea for critical hit locations tables' doesn't really jive well with 'fundamentally, hit points are an abstraction of a variety of factors'. In designing a (quite literally) back to basics B/X modernization, I'm left with tons of options - and I have to start with a list of iconic game elements that are 'must haves' not because they are the best or most intuitive, but because they are iconic to the game. A good example of this is the rating of ability scores from 3 to 18. It would be preferable to have the numbers a little lower (maybe 2 to 12 or so) in some circumstances.

But that's not iconic.

I know that some systems have done away with ability scores altogether, and get away with looking only at the modifier (-3 to +3 in most cases) that reflect the way in which the ability scores are used most of the time.

But that's not iconic.

Here's a stab at a list of 'top ten' iconic game elements that (I think) set a baseline for all future game decisions. I don't even pretend to think that this is comprehensive:

1. Characters have six primary ability scores (STR, INT, WIS, DEX, CON, CHA) that typically range from 3 to 18.
2. Characters earn experience points to advance in level.
3. Health, luck, moxy and battle acumen are reflected in an abstract system of Hit Points.
4. Armor, toughness, defensive maneuvering and natural protection are reflected in an abstract system of Armor Class.
5. You roll 1d20 to attack. A 20 is a good thing, and a 1 is a bad thing.
6. There are four primary human classes: cleric, fighter, magic user and thief; the are three primary racial classes: dwarf, elf, and halfling (my stoutling).
7. Player ability is an important facet of play; not everything can be resolved through character ability.
8. There are two types of magic: arcane and faith-based; spells are rated in increasing complexity and power.
9. You have an alignment that suggests your overall philosophy.
10. The default assumption of the rules is that you play heroes exploring dungeons and defeating monsters.