In building my new RPG I am essentially taking a huge chunk of D&D 4th Edition and throwing it out. However, there is an awful lot of that system that I actually quite like and really don't want to change. Well, technically I might want to change it but I don't want to change it enough to warrant rewriting an entire chapter. The parts of 4th that I like the least are the parts that most brutally violate this rule:
A balanced game is one that has a large variety of ways to play well while retaining a much greater number of ways to play badly.
You may remember this statement from my attempts at defining game balance last week. It doesn't work as a definition for game balance but it does work as a really useful guideline for building a fun, deep game. The most outrageous example I could come up with is the choices Wizards have for their stats. I will list here what each stat does if you increase the stat by 2:
Strength: +1 Fortitude Defence.
Constitution: Minor class bonus, +2 HP, +1 Fortitude Defence.
Intelligence: +1 to hit, +1 to damage, +1 to Armor Class, +1 to Reflex Defence.
Wisdom: Minor class bonus. +1 Will Defence.
Charisma: +1 Will Defence.
Note that the 3 best single effects in this list are *all* Int bonuses. Int also gets the fourth best bonus, but it is a tie. Also note that all those +1 to X Defence notes are exclusive from one another so bumping up your Charisma, for example, does *nothing* if you have a higher Wisdom.
If you look at how much of a benefit you gain from each of these bonuses you can roughly conclude that Int makes you do 20% more damage and take 7% less damage. It also happens to boost nearly all of your best, most useful skills. The best other stat in comparison is Constitution, which makes you take 2% less damage and get 2 HP. So Int can reasonably be modeled as at least 5 times as good as the next best stat and quite possibly 10 times as good. What this means is anyone who doesn't start with the maximum possible Int score is *awful*. So we start with the maximum possible Int score. Then we have a choice of increasing other stats... and increasing Dex does nothing, Str is strictly inferior to Constitution and Charisma is strictly inferior to Wisdom. So every Wizard who thinks being good is significant has the following stat layout:
Any variation from this layout is simply making your character bad. Now I don't mind that you can make a bad character. You could make a Wizard and give him 18 Str and you would be unfathomably terrible. No problem! The problem is that there is no other way to make a good Wizard. Why is it that every Wizard can be easily slotted into the categories of "Has the stat array above" and "seriously inferior"? What I really want is a number of different ways to play well! There can certainly be some layout that experts think is probably the best but if there aren't a number of other layouts that are known to be better in some reasonable circumstances then I think the design is a failure. My solution to the Wizard stat layout problem is to redefine what many stats do.
Con: Substantially affects HP total. +1 Armor Class.
Intelligence: +1 to hit.
Wisdom: Bonus to Healing Surges. (All heals on you are more effective.) +1 Fort, Ref and Will Defence.
Cha: +1 to damage.
Note that just like in the base game above all stats do provide skill bonuses but these bonuses are very minor in power compared to the bonuses I actually list. So, the Wizard in SkyRPG has 4 stats that matter. Int and Cha affect damage dealing capability and Con and Wis affect damage mitigation, healing and HP. I did a rough combat simulation of a duel between two Wizards where one maximized Int/Cha and one maximized Con/Wis and they ended up quite close to even. That obviously isn't the only relevant test but it tells me I am in the right ballpark. The main thing I was going for is that you can build a bad character but there are a lot of different layouts for building a character that is good. If you have a wonderful party that keeps the monsters away from you at all times you are probably better off maximizing Int/Cha and blowing up the enemies. If you end up getting attacked a lot (kill the Wizard is a very traditional plan in RPGs...) then having lots of Con/Wis will serve you very well since you will be alive to cast your spells.
It certainly isn't all bad in 4th. The design for what stats do is completely pants on head idiotic and the balance between the various class abilities is sad indeed. That said, the combat chapter with all kinds of information about getting knocked down, falling, moving, line of sight rules, types of effects and other things is really great and requires virtually no alteration. I think given how much of 4th I like I probably won't try to build an entire new system but rather just rip out the chunks that really suck and replace them with things that are good. The only question is whether I will end up stopping once I have the really offensive stuff removed or whether I will continue to find more and more small changes that absolutely *must* be made.