Home Cookin’ Some Rules

Normally I don’t get into making houserules or my own custom rule sets. Having rarely mastered the Hard Skills of GMing, I tend to shy away from making too many of my own rules, and am content to stick with what has been written in the rule book. Also, I have had some really bad experiences in collaborative rule building that has convinced me that too many cooks can spoil the pot.

All that said, I started making some home rules for an idea for running a game based on the Global Frequency comic books. And I thought I would tell you how it is going….

If you are not familiar with the Global Frequency comic book, there is a summary of it on Wikipedia…here. I got the comic books about two weeks ago and fell in love with the concept and story. I know a concept is good, when my first reflex is to try to make an RPG out of it. I did some digging around on the Net and found that in addition to the comic books, there was a pilot for the Global Frequency TV show, that never got picked up. The pilot is floating around on the net, so I downloaded it and watched it. After watching the pilot, I was even more sure, this was RPG-worthy, but I had to make sure.

Selling The Idea

My next stop was to get a few of my players behind me. If they also thought it was RPG-worthy then this would be worth working on. So I lent my comics to Spenser, and got Sargon as well as Mrs. DNAphil (not a gamer) to watch the pilot with me. Spenser loved the comics, and Sargon and Mrs. DNAphil loved the pilot. Both Sargon and Spenser thought it would make a good RPG. So now I would have the support I would need to pursue this idea.

Where To Start From

I was not going to cook a full set of rules, especially if I did not have to. I figured I could design some add-on rules, the ones that would give the game the Global Frequency feel, in this case the rules for how the players could draw upon the power of the smart mob to gain vital knowledge and resources, during a mission. I also did not want to do another d20 game, so d20 Modern and True 20 were off the table for this. The game is set in Modern times, it is a action-thriller kind of game, with some psychic powers and some advanced technology. For me there would be only one choice…..First Edition Conspiracy X.

I played Conspiracy X starting back in ’96, when I bought it from New Millennium Entertainment (before Eden Studios picked it up) on the floor of GenCon. I ran a 2 year, weekly, campaign that included Spenser and Sargon. We were all fans of its streamlined rules, its brutal combat system, and the best Hand-to-Hand system that we have ever played. So it was an easy sell to convince Spenser and Sargon that ConX would be the rules base.

Building Up

With a core set of rules picked out, I got together with Sargon, in the wake of a recent blown gaming session. Spenser would have joined us, but he was ill and best kept sequestered until he was felling better. Sargon and I discussed the tone of the game, and some ideas of how the rules might work. What really worked for us at this stage, was that I had an initial design, in mind, of how the system should work, and I pitched it to Sargon, who then reviewed my design, and challenged parts of it, rather than each of us competing to develop our own system.

By challenging my initial design, we refined the rules until we got them to a place where we were comfortable with them. The dry erase board in my gaming room was scribbled on, with make-shift tables, charts, and calculations. But when it was done, we both had a really good feeling we were on to something.

Taking It For A Spin

Rather then spending too much time further refining the rules, Sargon and I decided that what we had was playable and that we should get it to the table and try it out. I spend the next week putting together a short adventure, while Sargon and Spenser got some characters together.

This past Tuesday, I ran our first session. As we played I kept my eye out for things that may have not worked the way we thought they would, and for any problems we had playing. For the most part the rules went pretty smooth. I noted some issues in regards to the section on Pulling Strings (basically getting things like Satellite data, background checks and such). But we all had fun playing it, and there were no major disruptions, caused by the rules, during play. It was a positive test.

Getting Feedback

After the game I started an email discussion with Sargon and Spenser about what worked and did not work with the game session. The feedback was all positive and matched the few things that I had concerns with as well. With all three of us seeing a few flaws in the initial design, it was time for a little…

Fine Tuning

With a few area exposed, we started a discussion on Gmail on how we can address the flaws we found. At this point, we are working out how to fix up the rules. Things are going well fixing up the rules, and I think that by the end of the week, we should have a version 2 of the rules.

So What Did I Learn?

In the past I have had a tough time doing homebrewed rules. So what made this experience better? After giving it some thought, I came up with a few things:

  • Group Buy-in- Before I discussed my ideas for the rules, I got Spenser and Sargon on board with the concept.
  • One Vision- Rather then design by committee, I did the initial design for the rules. It was far less frustrating than debating every step of the rules. By having Sargon help refine my initial vision, we were able to start in one place and move forward. In the end the the design was stronger for the collaboration, and more things were accomplished in a smaller time.
  • Don’t Build A Rocketship- Rather then building a whole rule system, my design was for an add-on to the ConX rules, that attempted to fit with the rules, and not re-design them. By keeping the scope small, the change to the system is not too drastic, and easier to assimilate.
  • Develop Quickly, Test Frequently- I did not shoot for perfection in the first version of the rules. Rather I got something workable put together and got it out for testing right away. This way, changes are tested quickly and if they fail, not a lot of time was invested.
  • Honest Feedback- I trust Sargon and Spenser to give me good feedback, and the feedback was critical in finding the shortcomings of the system. The comments from the first playtest have already been addressed and incorporated into the next version.

In all it has been a very positive experience, and I think that we really have something that will be fun to put play, with each iteration of the rules.

So what experiences have you had with rule design, and what have you done to be successful?

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  1. I have some experience with homebrewing and have noticed that it is quite easy to design and play games that don’t have huge lists of stuff; using freeform traits or very coarsely defined characters decreases the necessity of actually using any rules-document in actual play, which, at least for me, increases the probability of playing significantly.

    Success is a matter of designing a lot, reading new and different games, and stealing liberally. Being an rpg theory junkie and knowing some mathematics helps.