Well one of my favorite things to do in the world is read rules. It is a bizarre hobby. I also like to create characters and play RPG systems, but I can find lots of enjoyment in just consuming the rulebooks.
Gen-Con was at the start of August and some RPG awards were handed out. It prompted me to buy some of those systems and some other systems from previous years. So I’ve been reading a lot of rules in August and September.
D&D Essentials comes out in September and WotC has been pushing it pretty hard in August. They released two or three articles on the rules every week of that month. This past week they released a PDF showing all the rules changes from base 4e. It is about 5 pages long. In viewing that PDF I’m revising my opinion – the essentials line isn’t really a D&D 4e. It is more just a larger errata document. Some significant changes to magic item distribution, racial attributes and base difficulties. It introduces new builds with new concepts, but every power book has done the same. It adjusts several feats and powers, but mostly in the same way errata does.
The best games I’ve been reading are two based on the FATE system: Spirit of the Century and Diaspora. Spirit of the Century is a 1920s pulp themed game. Diaspora is a far future hard SF game. Both settings are only outlines broadly, but the authors of each book do so quite evocatively. SotC is designed as a casual game – adventures of 1 session (maybe two at max) and casual switching of characters between sessions. Diaspora is made to communally create and explore a system of inter connected planetary systems. The two settings and feels are very different, but they are both using the same underlying FATE system.
The FATE system itself is really, really neat. It uses a strange rolling mechanic: 4d3-8 for a range of -4 to 4 – heavily weighted towards 0 – special diace are available somewhere. But the system is designed to be narrative rather than tactical. There are no attributes, but a character is composed of skills, player scripted aspects and stunts (player designed in diaspora and from a list of stunts in SotC). In both systems character design is done jointly at the table where your neighbors decisions impact your own character (in minor ways).
The coolest bits are the aspects. They are entirely player created. If you want your guy to be really strong he can have the “Can move mountains’ aspect. If you want them to be brave they can have the “boldly goes’ aspect. If you were making the characters from Lethal Weapon then your give Murtaugh the “I’m too old for this shit.’ aspect and Riggs the ‘You’re not trying to draw a psycho pension! You really are crazy!’ aspect. If you were making Luke Skywalker he would have the “The force is strong with this one”, “There is another.”, “Daddy Issues”, “Hero of the Republic”, and “I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home” aspects. Basically your imagination defines the character.
Then the skill resolution systems take these aspects into account during resolution by using fate points, compels, invokes and tags.
I also read Eclipse Phase. I had the opposite opinion of this system. Here the setting was very well drawn, but didn’t excite me. It was like a Shadowrun theme minus the fantasy elements and set in space after a major cataclysm. The scope and breadth were very inresting, but it highlghte themes that aren’t my favorites. On the other hand the mechanically systems didn’t really interest me at all.
I also picked up the newest version of the Hero system, but I haven’t gotten very far into it yet.
I read a nifty system called Fiasco. Intended mostly as a social exercise for one night adventures. It is a GM-less system where all the players create characters and then make up a crime caper movie (especially those like Fargo or Miller’s Crossing). I’ve never read any system like it. I was very interested, but I’m not sure how it would play in practice. It is very, very different from any game I’ve ever played.
Finally I just started reading Dogs in the Vineyard today. It is another narrative system and the mechanic is sort of like poker dice for resolution. The theme is beautifully set out, but not one I’m sure I’d like to every play. The characters are the ‘Watchdogs of God’ – itinerant gunslingers and exorcists moving among the small towns of the faithful to guard against sin and pride. It sounds bad because you assume that it is played ironically, but it is done completely straight. However, much like the FATE system the core of it could be easily adapted to other genres.
Anyway – That is what I’ve been reading lately.