Reflective Revision: Introduction
As I've mentioned before, I made a retroclone that can be found at this link. This is the first in a series of posts I'll make with my thoughts and reflections on each chapter as I go through with proofreading them.
I debated whether to start this series with just the introduction or to bundle that together with chapter 1. In the end, I decided that there was enough to say about the introduction to justify having its own post.
The book starts out with a message of intent from me to any potential readers (which will mostly be the people who I play with, I'm sure). A little self-indulgent, perhaps, but I think it's important to set the scope from the outset. Most of the RPG books I've come across either don't address that at all, imply that they're suitable for all types of play, or just don't bother to think about it themselves. That's all bullshit, frankly.
A designer has to know what they're working towards in order to make purposeful decisions to achieve their ends. That's something that's overlooked with disturbing frequency in my day job, but let's give other RPG hobbyists the benefit of the doubt and assume that they knew what they were trying to do. If so, why would you want to keep that a secret from the players? There's a world of difference in how I'd approach a swords-&-sorcery setting versus a high fantasy setting versus a horror fantasy setting, whether as a designer or as a player. Mechanics that are perfectly suited to one may clash strongly with another. That's why I say right on the cover page that it's meant to work in a dark age swords-&-sorcery fantasy setting. That's why I also say right near the start that I wouldn't even follow all of the rules in the book if I was trying to run a different style of game.
For much the same reason, I follow up with the core assumptions of the system. Previously, I had aimed this as being spoken directly to the non-GM players (out of habit from almost always being the GM in my groups), but I made it a little broader now. In any case, this is largely about setting the right expectations, since all of the points are actually rather flexible. Let's review them:
1. The Player Characters are adventurers: This is mostly meant in contrast to two other types of protagonists that are more common in general fiction, heroes and laymen. I make no assumptions about the motivations of PCs. That way, if a player wants to be heroic, it has a chance of actually feeling heroic, since nobody is forcing them into it. On the other hand, the distinction from laymen helps to get over the "why would anyone want to do this?" hurdle by putting the onus on the player to think of that. They should always do that, of course, as part of being members in a group activity. However, it's something that players who're new to RPGs can overlook. I don't hold that against them (most types of games expect players to follow what the design wants), but I like to guide their mindset in the right direction from the start.
2. The wilderness beyond civilized locales is vast and dangerous: I feel like this is an important element for both swords-&-sorcery and a dark age. Most people stick to their safe and familiar settlements. They don't really know what's out there, other than that it's often scary. If the players want to find out the truth about what's out there, they need to go and explore it for themselves, but they do so while knowing that it's a risky endeavor.
3. Magic is uncommon, special, and not entirely understood: Magic isn't something that should be tamed or known. If it is, it's not magical anymore. It's mundane. And no matter how much you might insist that it's magical, it won't feel that way. Even if all of the PCs can cast spells, it shouldn't feel common. It should be something that the rest of the imaged world treats as a weird and unusual thing. This is all assuming that we're not in a high fantasy setting, of course, but the text on the cover said as much already. On the whole, this point isn't so much about rules as it is about style, but the rules are compiled with the goal of supporting my preferred style, so there will be touches of influence. Maintaining the chaotic and uncontrollable element of magic is why I kept a 1d20 roll for saving throws instead of 2d10, for instance.
4. The remains of fallen civilizations dot the land, hiding treasures, traps, and ancient horrors: On the surface, this is just an excuse to have dungeons. I don't think there's anything wrong with that in and of itself. It's also a common aesthetic in the OSR as a whole, and again, there's nothing wrong with that. My purpose for having ruins is three-fold. First, as mentioned, it helps to provide plenty of sites for adventures. Second, it creates a sense of mystery and history within the world. We'll come to this later, but I'm a big fan of using diverse languages, both written and spoken. I have no qualms about presenting information to players that they can't understand. I don't require or expect players to follow up on that sort of stuff, but I find that it's usually more engaging for the players when they take steps to learn the world's lore organically instead of having exposition forced on them. Discovering that lore within the bones of ancient buildings is more fun than just talking to some sage. Third, it just ties in nicely with the themes of loss and corruption that tend to feature in my adventures. Again, this one isn't so much about rules as style, but it does link into why certain entries in the bestiary are there, for instance.
5. Success is earned, not promised: I avoided having any formulae or guidelines for balancing encounters. I mention that traps try to kill. I include stuff in the sample adventures that can kill PCs outright. In spite of all that, I want the players to succeed. Difficulty is a feature, and the satisfaction of success cannot be developed in its absence.
The common terms and acronyms should be fairly straightforward, but those are the general bits of jargon that I find tend to need clarification.
The general play pattern is mostly to be clear from the beginning that this is not a game system that tries to have a roll for everything. Things should only be decided by chance when they cannot be decided by fiat. This also sets the groundwork for the later discourses on rulings while softly emphasizing that things a character tries to do are resolved by attack rolls and ability checks, not by saving throws (which are all about something trying to resist influences from external sources).
The book overview was really just an organizational aid for me. Having a stated goal for each chunk of the book helped me to decide on the order of presentation. If it actually helps anyone else use the book, I'd be surprised, since I'd think the table of contents would be a superior aid to that end.
All told, the main objective of the introduction is to get the reader in the right frame of mind to enjoy the style of game that I tend to run, with a secondary objective of encouraging other GMs to tweak things to suit their needs/tastes. Nothing special by itself, but it's an important first step to getting everyone on the same page for the actual game.
PS: In my initial post about my retroclone, I'd mentioned that most of them come with little of note in the way of GM advice. At the time, I was not aware that the physical boxed set for Lamentations of the Flame Princess came with a Referee guide. Based on the free version available on DrivethruRPG, it's a nice resource, and the who/what/where/why/how of adventure design presented there helped inspire my who/what/when/where/why presentation of adventure background development.