Ok, so one of the types of RPG
mechanics that is most vilified is the table mechanic. That is, a
resolution mechanic that actually requires you to look at a table for
an answer. The classic example is D&D's to-hit or attack matrix.
In modern games this type of mechanic is absolutely despised and
considered to be akin to writing a game for Commodore 64 in 2017.
When I was young I just took those
tables as a given and developed quite a fondness for them. Years
later I started thinking about simpler mechanics and I went through a
hardcore anti-table period. I even remember ranting against
descending AC as recently as 2012... just weeks before I dived
headfirst into Labyrinth Lord and rediscovered what I loved about
gaming in the first place.
A lot of my character sheets include an
attack matrix. In my opinion, the only reason you might dislike these
tables is because you have to go to the rulebook to look up your
attack values. And that is a pain the ass, I agree. But when those
values are on your character sheet I just don't see the problem.
YES... it is an extra step between the
attack roll and knowing the outcome. If the target number to roll is
equal to the AC, it's much easier and faster to know if you hit. But
by using that method you have to rely on a lot of modifiers if you
want to model any kind of character progression. Thus we end up with
characters that have a +13 to hit. Which is something that bugs the
snot out of me.
The attack matrix eliminates that
modifier bloat problem. And how god damn hard is it to tilt your head
down and look at a number on your sheet?
But hey, I realize these little things
matter and you might be a person who HATES IT. I get it.
Anyway... I was fiddling with the
attack matrix idea in a new game design. The idea is this:
You have three types of dice rolls for
dealing with all possible actions. Each roll is made on a simple
matrix identical to the to-hit table pictured here. But the values on
the table never change. There is no level system, no progression. So
if you start with a 10 at the top slot (roll a 10 to hit AC 9) then
you will always have a 10. Thus no messy pencil marks and erasing and
no need to reference a rulebook. It's on your sheet in black and
(As an aside... the game would
encourage "advancement" organically. That is, finding cool
stuff that gives you an edge. Learning from super secret tomes of
lore. Being blessed or cursed by gods and demons. All of these things
would be represented by modifiers... albeit without the bloat.
Therefore if you do end up having a +2 on an attack roll it's a big
deal. But the only reason you'd ever see +13 is if the group just let
things get out of hand. Or WANTED a superpowered game. Whatever.)
Just thinking out loud here. I realize
the concept is not going to be appealing to everyone. But a very
stubborn part of me wants to do it anyway, just because. And since it
is represented visually, it adds to the rule of cool for the game
design. The character sheets would LOOK great.
And god dammit... it does NOT slow
things down to glance at your sheet when you make a roll. And since
the numbers on the sheet will not change... you'll have that shit
memorized pretty fast.
Judy: I slice at the animated monkey
with my scimitar! (clatter... Judy glances [GLANCES] at her sheet...
maybe) I hit AC 4!
Judge: Your steel bites deep. The
monkey screeches in pain and begins to vomit fire! But first, roll
I have always struggled with this weird
inability to focus on a single thing long enough to see it finished.
It isn't a crippling problem, though. I can finish things. But the
things I finish and show to the world are few compared to the many
things I dream about or even pour my work into. My old folders (both
physical and digital) are filled with partial ideas, even finished
comic book pages that never saw their endings (or even their
middles). When I was in my 20s I did a comic book series called
Anomalic, which I published in the small press arena of the 90s and
traded with many awesome creators. I finished five or six issues of
Anomalic over the course of about two years. It was an epic fantasy
story based on my early D&D campaign ideas and the many
characters I created but never really played.
But even though I cranked out a handful
of issues the story was simply going nowhere. It was supposed to
begin with the meeting of a lost girl and a man with no memory. Then
it would unfold into a huge story about a world wide war and - you
guessed it - a dark lord villain. But I meandered. I indulged in
exploring the setting and lingering on scenes so that by the last
issue the two main characters had barely made their way back to the
city where the story proper was to begin. I think at that point I
just didn't have the spirit to soldier on. And it was because I have
this insane idea about perfection.
When I was in 8th grade I had a teacher
who was very cool. She was kind of hip. In fact, I'm pretty sure she
was a legit hippie of some kind. I don't know. But she was sarcastic
and funny and scathing in her humor and attitude toward students...
especially the ones displaying a lack of depth or understanding. She
once told me that the Greeks had this idea about perfection. She said
they believed that the idea was always perfect and each step in the
process of converting an idea into a thing reduced its perfection.
She even put numbers to it, probably in an effort to get my young
mind to grasp the concept. She said the idea of a statue is 100%
perfect but the statue itself probably cant' be more than 80%
perfect, if that.
I understood. Each time you translate
something from one form into another it loses a bit of its original
self. Or it gets changed. Like the old analogy of a person calling on
the phone to tell a rumor and the rumor being repeated by a dozen
people until it makes it way back to the original source. By then the
rumor might not be recognizable. Of course, the teacher was referring
to ideas such as Plato's forms and probably the cave of shadows, but
I didn't know any of that stuff and she didn't elaborate.
Yet the idea drilled into my head and
stayed there forever. It was at this time that I discovered D&D
and RPGs. I was drawn like a thirsty dog to a bowl of beer. And I
believe the thing reason RPGs resonated so completely with me is that
they represent potential. They are perfect. When you concoct an
adventure to run, that adventure feels perfect. It isn't until you
actually run it that the adventure loses that sense of perfection. It
gets translated from a potential thing into a real thing. It becomes
defined, and in becoming defined it loses most of its potential
elements and gains new actualities that are imperfect. It's still a
beautiful thing, of course. Or at least it can be.
So I suspect a big part of my frequent
inability to finish things is because of this notion of ruining the
perfection of an idea. I dislike choosing. Back in the days of video
rental, I could spend more than an hour browsing the racks for a
movie. I genuinely felt pains at having to pick something. The "but
what if" question loomed large. What if that other movie is
better? I'll miss out. What if this movie really sucks? I'll waste my
And its the same with projects. I have
this idea about a sort of quasi-space fantasy realm composed of many
worlds. It's really just a fantasy realm, albeit with empty space (or
weird space ichors) separating individual cities and forests. So
instead of traveling by foot between two points you would travel by
boat or ship or magic. Anyway, the idea turns me off at some point
because infinite worlds are unappealing. If they are infinite, it
seems like a cheap trick. Like you are saying "my setting has
everything". But at the same time, a finite and defined realm
feels limiting and small. So I bounce between the two concepts, never
quite happy with any of it.
Over the years my good friend Cyd and I
have discussed these ideas over and over and we have this sort of
artistic battle cry: FINISH IT. This bumper stick philosophy comes
from the mouth of Neil Gaiman who told Cyd (at a comic con) that the
best advice he could offer an aspiring writer is to "finish it,
That advice feels like a silver bullet.
To reduce indecision, you get in elbows deep and do the work while
the work is dominating your mind. Another way of saying it is to
"strike while the iron is hot". Do the thing while the
thing is alive. Put pen to paper while the idea is still bursting
forth. Don't wait too long. Don't wring your hands and worry that it
isn't quite right. It'll never be quite right. If you want to do
things, finishing them so that others can see, then you have to DO
Maybe some of you are gifted with great
patience and endurance and can work on the project for years at a
stretch without losing it. To you I say huzzah. But I'm not like
that. If I don't get in there and knock it out fast, it will likely
never get knocked out.
I'm pretty sure it was Pablo Picaso who
said that to finish a work is to kill it. I hope to slay a lot more
ideas before I'm dead.
A page from Zoa Space Fantasy, a comic I never quite finished.