The work began to pick up again in mid 2004. I was actually attempting to make rules and spells and stuff happen, but none of it would stick for very long. I'd spend one weekend working on it only to follow up the next by tearing it all down again by finding all sorts of conceptual problems in it. For instance, one early attempt at a spell system involved three classifications of magic: Arcane, Ritual, and Profane. Each classification was then broken down into different spell spheres and under each sphere is where the individual spells would reside. While that seems like a very common, very tried and true way of doing magic for fantasy settings, there were parts that never sat well with me.
Of the numerous troubles I had with this organization of the magic was that the defining aspects of the three different classifications were never that solid in my head. I tried to come up with different rules to solidify it. Rules that forbid players from being able to know or use both Arcane and Ritual spells at the same time and that Profane spell spheres could only be accessed once the character had given up any previous magical knowledge. And then there was the plan to make up the spell lists. It is something I eventually gave up but not before several attempts at it.
It was during this time that I had been exchanging emails with my best friend from high-school, Josh. After a year or two of playing 3.5 he was beginning to get turned on to many of the indie games. Games like Dogs in the Vineyard and other games that sprung out of the discussions at The Forge. He eventually sent me his own one page RPG for inspection. And I have to say I was impressed and blown away by it. While my comments back to him hinged around questions of trust of the players and the GM, it kept me thinking about how I may need to make some changes.
Now, the conversations we had over those months had me thinking. Thinking about making G.M.R.S. a bit more abstract. I started to ask myself questions like, "What is it that the player wants when they make a character that has a lot of strength" or "What is that the player wants when they make a character that has a high dexterity". And the answers are fairly obvious. A high strength means that a character can dish out a lot of damage to their opponents. A high dex means that the character can move and react very quickly. So, I asked myself, why aren't the character stats named that way?
I didn't have a good answer to that. I still don't really. The abstraction, or at the very least the subduction, of that topic in mainstream RPGs is a hell of a mystery to me. And that was the first, big change I made to the over all system. I began to focus in on what players might like to have in terms of character statistics. A "Damage" stat was obvious, so was "Moves" and "Brains". Somehow, and I am at pains to remember why, but I decided that "Savvy" would also be a stat. There was only one stat that didn't get changed, and that was "Spirit". Now the only thing was to go about rewriting the rest of the system to take this change into account.
By that I mean having to figure out what skills get tied to the new stats. Nothing else really had been written that conclusively at that point.
Josh's game also opened up an entirely new way of thinking about role-playing games. One where the GM did not have Rule #0, or total fiat over the "story" of the game. The fact that I realized that I could even frame this whole thing in terms of the "story" was itself a huge leap forward.
Let us pause for a bit of background information to these revelations.
One of the many theoretical underpinnings that the minds of The Forge came up with is the GNS system for analysis. GNS stands for Gamist/Narrativist/Simulationist and talks about the kind of game you like to play. Gamism can be roughly thought of the type of player who plays to "win" in an RPG by getting the best stats or having the highest bonuses or so forth. Narrativism is along the lines of those who like to get into the drama of their characters, asking and often agonizing over the choices that their character has to make. Leaving the Simulationism to that area that wonders about what does it mean to play their character and is that character's interactions done "appropriately" via the game mechanics.
A much longer and better description of them can be found here.
I probably spent two weeks reading and re-reading all of that to try and absorb it all. Mostly it was the astonishment that came from realizing that I didn't have to play a game where the system was telling me exactly what it was I had to do. Or that there were systems that the GM wasn't the only storyteller.
And it was after I had read this that G.M.R.S. stopped being about generic models and systems. It was with reading of things that had began back in 2001 or even earlier that I really hadn't invented or was trying to do anything new. That I had, as one observer already put it, simply reinvented GURPS. I needed to rethink the basis of what I was trying to do: Was I trying to give people a way to tell the story of a character they had created or not?
Fleshing out Bauxe and the first playtest.
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