I spent much of last night involved in a long email conversation with one of the players in my Eberron campaign, we’ll call him “Tim” (which is convenient, since that’s his actual name). Tim sent me a link to the Experience section of “Sweet20”, which is Clinton Nixon’s (of Shadows of Yesterday and The Forge fame) first part of his D&D re-working. Boiled down to its essence, it involved yanking the “kill things and take their stuff” reward system and inserts a pretty elegant and simple system for players deciding what they’ll be rewarded for.
Part of my problem with D&D is that I like the flavor of D&D (especially in the Eberron campaign setting), the vast amounts of published support for it, the communities (both online and in “real” life), and the tradition/nostalgia factor.
However, I seem to want that D&D “flavor” in a game that gets beyond “killing things and taking their stuff,” though I acknowledge that is D&D’s core story. There’s just no way around that. I want something more complex and compelling from a story perspective. In my experience, most D&D groups do that sort of thing anyway if it appeals to them, there just aren’t any game mechanics to support it in D&D 3.5. They just do it and it doesn’t have any connection to their reward/advancement system. But, the Sweet20 Experience system seems to offer a pretty plug-and-play reward mechanic which does support play outside that considered by the D&D core story.
It does raise a number of important questions, though:
- What’s the core story of THAT game? The answer is, um, I have no idea. I’m not sure you really need to worry about that. Most players don’t. I’m going to avoid that question for now.
- What sort of implications does it have for a campaign if your players are custom-building their own flexible and changeable reward system? Can you use published adventures? I’m not sure. They’d definitely need a lot of work (moreso than usual) to adapt them to the campaign. It would certainly make it easier to craft adventures from scratch for the characters. I’ve played a lot of Burning Wheel in the past 10 months or so. I really like how the Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits (and Relationships) give the GM metric assloads of hooks to dig into. The Sweet20 Experience system would do much the same thing for D&D.
- From a completely selfish, personal perspective, where would switching to that system leave this “101 Days of D&D” project? My goal — however artificial — is to make myself learn D&D inside and out, to really get to the guts of it. Abandoning even a drifted core story for the game would seem to undermine that significantly. Sure, what really matters in the long run is that I (and my group) have fun when we’re gaming, and there’s no reason to purposely avoid doing something that might help us have more fun.
- Will the other players be up for it? In this group (which is new as of this campaign, though we’ve gamed together in different groups at one time or another), we’ve got a broad mix of agendas when it comes to gaming, and this might be a point at which there’s some conflict. I’ve had a bit of a tough time getting all the players to be vocal about what they want out of the game. Some of them aren’t used to approaching gaming that way. They’re more old school in terms of the player-DM roles. I’m not sure whether they’d be for it or not. It definitely represents a major paradigm shift.
I’m not sure about answers to any of the above questions. I need to study on it some more, and I need to talk it over with the players. Until then, I’m going to assume we’re not going to use the new reward system, but in any event, I’m saving it for a game and group for which it’ll be perfect.