Turning Criticism Into Creation

May 11, 2014

About 15 years ago, our weekly gaming group was playing a house-rule laden version of Dungeons & Dragons Player's Options. By this time, most of the players have experienced every version of AD&D, as well as many other role-playing games. Like any other group of geeks, we had our opinions of what rules made the most sense and which ones should change. Certain abilities were always off-limits and others were heavily modified. The result was a hodgepodge of rule tweaks that was nearly impossible for everyone to remember.

Around that time AD&D 3rd Edition was released, a philosophical discussion began in our group about how best to represent reality in games. To be playable, every game shortcuts reality – some more than others. AD&D, for example, uses simplified combat to keep things moving. Other games provide you with chart after chart of potential outcomes for each roll. Generally, as the realism of a game increases, so does the weight of the system on gameplay. So, while it was easy for us to sit around the table and offer our thoughts on how to make this rule or that rule more realistic, we all knew that realism has a cost.

Central to our discussion was the idea of character classes. Class is one of those staple shortcuts of fantasy role-playing games. It allows players to say, "my character is an X (fighter, wizard, thief or priest)" and instantly convey the package of abilities that comes with it. While convienent, it can feel like a character is being pigeonholed. In real life, the skills you learn define your areas of expertise. Character classes seem to reverse that, making your occupation define the skills you are allowed to learn.

So, based on the theory that a character could be built from their skills up, we listed every skill we could find and then, over snacks at Kent State's Rathskeller, Mike and I began arranging them in groups. To us, the resulting groups looked a little like pinwheels. The system kept that working title until it was recently named Valentia.