It's been ages since I've posted - with good reason. I've been slaving away at my Senior Project for college graduation (based on the very subject of this blog) and only finished it yesterday!
In the interim, I've had a lot of interesting thoughts about the setting, one of which is a possible new rules system. In the past, I've been designing the rules so that if the GM is a dick, it's hard for him to abuse the players. I sort of had an epiphany that it doesn't matter how well-crafted the rules are, if the GM wants to be a dick he's going to be a dick, and my system can't stop that.
So instead, I'm playing around with a new, looser system that encourages cooperation between the GM and players. In general, the system is based entirely around story-flow, encouraging role-playing instead of stat min-maxing or simulation of battle mechanics.
Here's how it would work. Whenever a player wants to do any action (or series of actions) the player then describes how his or her character is attempting the action, in detail, as if the player were temporarily the GM. Once the player is done with the description, the GM takes the character's skills, the type of action, and what he wants to happen in the story into account, and sets a "target number" that he announces to the player.
The target number works like this; the player will roll either one die or two dice (I haven't decided yet) and if the player's die comes very close to the number, for instance, a couple numbers above or a couple below, the action is successful. If the result doesn't come close at all, the player's action is a failure.
It's the GM's job to describe the results of the player's action, now, based on the following:
If the die lands exactly on the number, that's a critical success. The player's intended outcome happens flawlessly and possibly a little something extra good happens. A little below is called an undershoot - the player's action was successful, but the enemy either had a somewhat successful defense or the player's action took longer to do. A little above is an overshoot - the action was a little reckless and while successful, the enemy is now either set up for a counterattack or the player hurt himself or his goal a little in exercising the skill.
If the result is far below, the player's action is simply not successful - the attack missed, the skill attempt didn't work, etc. If the result is far above, that's a critical failure and something bad is going to happen to the player as a result of the action. By setting the target number low or high, the GM changes the chances for these different outcomes by either expanding the chances for a "happy" unsuccessful outcome or expanding the chances for an "unhappy" unsuccessful outcome.
Here's the catch: Although the GM describes the results of an action, the player will always describe how his or her character gets hurt. The better the description, the more "karma points" the player gets. The worse the description, the player loses karma points. In this case, "better" and "worse" are entirely subjective. The GM can base the awarding or karma based on the storytelling skill the player has, at how much the GM thinks the player is God-moding with the action, or even if the player described it in an overly melodramatic way and taking more damage than the GM thinks is reasonable.
Further, a player can purposefully announce that he or she has decided to burn one of his or her karma points in order to avoid a bad action. Rolled the highest number possible while trying to disarm a death trap? Burn a karma point and describe how your character got away unharmed by the skin of his or her teeth. If your storytelling is really good, the GM might give you your karma point back!
It's the job of the GM and the players to communicate with each other so they can anticipate what each of them wants out of the game. The players will be describing most of what happens (although the GM will describe if actions are successful, unsuccessful, what happens to the NPCs, how the NPCs are injured, etc) and so they will not only be role playing, but owning the story.
Aarn, the world itself, is about exploration, treasure-hunting and role-playing more than it is about combat with monsters or casting horrible horrible spells that destroy everything. This idea of mine will hopefully help reflect that, but I haven't finished working out how this system will work in practice, yet, and may change the target number system while keeping the feel of the descriptive nature of the game.