When we established Bedrock Games in 2009, Bill and I disagreed about many things in gaming. He liked 4th edition D&D, I disliked; I liked Savage Worlds, he wasn't much of a fan, etc. These differences of opinion were important in shaping how we approached making games, but there was one thing we agreed on: for us roleplaying games were all about immersion. That was what we enjoyed most about running and playing games.
Immersion is somewhat of a controversial label online because it gets used in a lot of discussions about play style. So let me say at the outset here, I don't think there is a wrong way to play RPGs, nor am I concerned with definitions of roleplaying games here. This is about what attracts me to the hobby, and the very first experience I had when I first rolled dice in 1986 was immersion. It was a feeling of 'being there' I never came close to with movies, books or video games. It felt like my imagination was on fire and I loved it.
People define immersion differently. For me it is simply feeling that you are there as the character. I try not to define it further than that because in my view that leads to intellectual models, and models lead to criteria which can restrict game options I may allow myself to enjoy.
That said, Bill and I established some things we liked to avoid that in our opinion disrupted immersion during play. The key here is "during play". Something that troubles us in theory but not at the table, wasn't an issue. It had to be something we noticed creating an issue as we played and not just an edge case. So while this led to the criteria I describe below, understand this was somewhat malleable for us. We weren't going to chuck out a mechanic that worked if didn't interfere with our sense of being there, even if it violated the general design principles we arrived at.
One key design goal was to keep player and player character experiences in sync. By this I mean we tried to make sure that with skills, spells, powers, and other abilities that they reflected choices the characters made in the setting. This led us to avoid things like Hero Points (which Bill had a strong dislike of). The only exception was our use of Karma in Horror Show because it seemed appropriate to the aim of the game.
But our games are often genre specific and just because immersion matterered to us that doesn't mean that drama and emulation of tropes were off the table. Far from it. If I am playing a game inspired by the Sopranos, I want to see the sorts of conflicts that arose in that show. For me the issue is how this is done, and as time went on, we realized for our purposes it works best to embed the genre in the setting and have the setting influence the physics of the world.
This is why in Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate we have Fate and Grudge Encounters. They are things that flow from the setting itself, and they have mechanical weight, but they also don't interfere with the link between the player character and the player. Fate isn't something the player invokes, it is a tool the GM uses to express the will of heaven.
For us, it was this approach that worked best for our tastes. Establish the cosmology first, make genre assumptions a part of that cosmology and then allow have the cosmology feed back into the mechanics.
The aim here is to avoid splitting the player-character sync and to maintain internal consistency. It isn't about realism. It is more about what we called Believability. If I am playing in a game inspired by action films, I am okay with action movie physics being in place so characters don't die every time they leap from a helicopter to a car, but I don't want mechanics that trip up my sense of immersion. For me that means instead of a a resource that the player manages like Hero points, I prefer an approach where you do something like simply give characters a level bonus to rolls when they try something dangerous or simply giving them more health. These things are automatic, fade into the background and are consistent so every time the character decides to jump from a helicopter to a car the mechanics protecting him are there.
I do realize not everyone will share my preferences here. This is one reason why I try not to be overly rigid about them in discussing running games in our GM sections. It is also why we like to slip in lots of optional rules for different approaches. But by and large this works for Bedrock.
There is a reason I am posting this today. Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate is going to come out some time in the Fall-Winter and it is a very genre focused game. My hope is this blog post will give people a better idea of what to expect when it comes to emulating the Wuxia Genre. I will follow-up with another post that describes the key aspects of the game in this respect.