Here are some general questions about The Writer’s System. If you want to know more or something else, ask away.
Q: What are the basic mechanics?
A: The mechanics are simple. 2d6 + Modifier, for most things, and basically the same thing for skills, 2d6 + Broad Skill (Inherent Potential) + Set Skill (Learned Ability).
Q: Since players aren’t limited by things like point buy, ability/trait/power/feat trees, or random rolls when creating characters, what’s to keep them from only making uber powerful characters?
A: Hopefully, their own good graces and a sense of decency and fairness. It’s not unreasonable to expect players to have good manners. Seriously though, the Writer’s System is meant to be a collaborative storytelling system where good and interesting characters are more important than sticking to arbitrary rules. Reasonable players who are truly wanting to create deep and meaningful, character driven stories with their group will naturally not abuse this unlimited creative freedom. If a story calls for players to make normal everyday people, then that is what they would make.
Q: Okay. The reasonable gamer is great in theory, but what about the unreasonable players? Everyone knows that one player (or a dozen) around town who would abuse this freedom, and only make mega powerful characters no matter what kind of game the GM wanted to run.
A: To be blunt, this type of player is a jerk and not all that fun to play with. All RPGs have built in mechanics to generally control the player character’s power level, and making a character in one of those systems means that the player inherently agrees to whatever limits are written in the pages of those rules. A player who doesn’t respect a GM enough as a person to make a character using The Writer’s System that fits within the GM’s creative vision isn’t going to be fun to play with. This sort of player is the type who, when nobody is looking, adds an extra point or two to their skill ranks or attributes no matter what they’re playing.
Q: With this open form of character creation, how does a GM keep the players on the same page? One person’s idea of average might be another’s vision of powerful.
A: Good point. People will naturally have different perspectives on just what constitutes an average or powerful character. The Writer’s System uses Parameters which act as a general guideline to help players make and keep characters within a given power level.
Q: How is game balance maintained without the rules enforcing a level playing field?
A: Game balance is ultimately an illusion. There will always be players who are better at crunching the numbers, have more experience gaming in general, or will just be smarter than everyone else at the table. So many games have made balance such a priority that it has become the intrusive DRM to GM and player creativity. It’s better to have respectful players who aren’t jackasses to each other than rely on any set of rules to keep things in line.
A Pathfinder game I played in a couple of years ago is a good example of this. Our group had a player join us that evening for her very first game. I had been gaming longer than she had been alive, and most of that with the GM behind the screen- which meant I was intimately familiar with his style of running a game. No amount of rules could compensate for the edge my general experience gave me. I could have dominated the game, but didn’t. I chimed in when needed, would offer advice and pointers about game mechanics, and kept myself as backup as she got the thrill of victory from taking down the monsters and uncovering some of the story’s mysteries.
In more mechanical terms, each character should have their unique strengths and abilities, giving each one their moment in the spotlight. How the story unfolds could, in raw game terms, make one character more prominent or useful than the others. The natural schmoozer is going to do better in a web of intrigue sort of game than the laconic warrior, and if the players constantly try and solve things through back channel politicking, that schmoozer is powerful indeed.
Q: What are “Hacks”?
A: Hacks are extensions or alternate versions of the basic rules that can make a game better fit the GM’s concept; or ultimately a fancy term for house rules. Pretty much every Game Master or group house rules or otherwise hacks a given system to make it fit their own style, but Hacks are more than a house rule. The Writer’s System is modular in design to allow GMs to tweak the system to better fit their story. As such, Hacks are part of the rules and can be seamlessly used without disrupting how the game works. And since game balance isn’t forced on everyone through the rules, there are no loose threads in the tapestry of rules that would cause the whole thing to become unraveled if pulled.
Q: Doesn’t that make Hacks confusing to the players?
A: Not really. Hacks aren’t there for the sake of being there, or some sort of marketing gimmick. They have a direct and practical effect on how the rules interact and reflect with the thematic elements of the game being run. Most of the time, how the players expect the universe to act will be reflected in the game mechanics. If the GM runs an action adventure game where players sneaking up behind a guard and karate chopping them in the neck and knocking them out is something that belongs, the rules will reflect that and that is how events will unfold. On the other side of the coin, that sort of thing doesn’t happen in real life and therefore won’t happen in a more realistic game Universe.
Keep in mind that using Hacks doesn’t rewrite the whole rules system, so it won’t be like having to learn a new game when a new campaign starts up. It’s usually only a couple of rules that get Hacked. Not every rule in the system is going to be used in every game. There aren’t going to be many cheesy 80’s action movie style ninjas in a survival horror game.
Even if more than a couple of Hacks are used, the basics of the rules are straight forward enough that it won’t be that confusing. Let’s be honest here. The sort of people that are interested in tabletop roleplaying games are more than smart enough not to be thrown by something like this.
And just to make things clearer for everyone at the table, GMs should always provide a list of Hacks are being used.
Q: Players are given a great deal of creative freedom with The Writer’s System, but what about the GM’s?
A: The Writer’s System makes it easier for GM’s to exercise their already unlimited creative freedom. GM’s can tweak and alter the rules in a way that will better fit their vision of what the game universe should be like by using Hacks. Not only do they have creative control over the fluff, but they also have creative control over the crunch.