James Brian King
AUTHOR AND GAME DESIGNER
The One 10 System
It takes a certain amount of guts, and perhaps even a little naiveté, to begin writing and developing a game system with the intent to publish. I started writing the One 10 System rules way back in 1987 while at the same time writing a game setting for the rules, a science-fiction setting where humanity was expanding into the solar system but certainly bound to it, as there was no such thing as FTL travel. Then, in 1988, Waterford Publishing House Ltd released High Colonies, a setting that was remarkably similar to what I was writing, so my solar system-based setting was shelved. I continued developing the rules system and invested some of my creative energy into a science fantasy setting. Eventually I had to face what proved to be an insurmountable fact of publishing in the ’80s: it required a huge monetary investment. I did some freelance writing for West End Games’ Star Wars and GDW’s Traveller (which earned me a spot in the honorable mentions list in the MegaTraveller edition – rather cool!), but the One 10 System languished as hand-written notes hidden away in manila folders in my filing cabinet. Then, in 2010, I wrote the Lords of Tarsa setting book for the Basic Roleplaying game, published as a monograph by Chaosium. Recognizing the low-cost opportunity offered by PDF publishing in our digital age, I decided it was time to resume development of my own rules system.
There were a few elements that I knew I wanted to include or do differently compared to many of the games that were popular when I began developing my own game system in the ’80s, and the game mechanics in question remain pertinent to game design today. Having said that, I suspect some will say that there are elements of the One 10 System that remind them of games that were popular in the ’80s and ’90s; that is entirely on purpose.
Here are some points that I specifically wanted to address in my own game design:
Character levels and improving attributes: I have, over the years (make that decades), played in and game mastered a great many campaigns using numerous game systems and one of the first things that I considered when developing my own system was character levels—I didn’t want them. The One 10 System has no character levels, players simply improve skills with reward points earned after a certain amount of game time—the higher the current skill, the more reward points that are needed to increase the skill level. Also, attributes can not be improved after game play begins. Some will say that you can, in real life, increase such things as Strength and Stamina but, for most of us, the reality is that we are who we are; real people don't often affect their quantifiable personal characteristics and the heroes, who already receive a few more attribute points than common NPCs, are assumed to have made the most of the composite characteristics that make them who they are.
Too many dice: I realize that all those unique, multi-faceted dice shapes are an attraction for some gamers, but they can be confusing and sometimes the cause of delay in game play—of course, my issue years ago may largely have been the result of playing with the inexpensive (and often included in boxed sets) dice of the early years of the expanding hobby, when many of the dice did not have painted numbers and thus were difficult to read accurately. However, even now I like the simplicity of the one die, one roll mechanics of the One 10 System, where players need only a single d10 for all task rolls.
Attribute values: how many times have you rolled attributes for a new character and been dissatisfied enough to ask the game master if you can roll a new set of numbers? The One 10 System addresses this issue by using an attribute purchase system similar to a point buy system, which I do prefer to rolled statistics—but then there is the issue of all characters having the same total value of the points that comprise their attributes, which in play works against the suspension of disbelief. The One 10 System addresses this by having a base number of attribute points that all player characters receive, then allows an additional attribute points roll that adds a small but variable number of points; the additional points roll makes it so that attribute point totals between the player characters may vary by roughly fifteen percent, which promotes the notion that the comparative sum of all individuals, even player characters, is not equal.
Hero’s Luck vs. the death of heroes: I have been very lucky to be a part of a core group of dynamic and masterful role players—we have played as a group for more almost 30 years! In our group, player characters are very rarely killed. I’m sure there are some role players who would say that rpg gamers who play that way are pansies. I disagree. The way I see it, the player characters are essentially the larger-than-life heroes of an unfolding novel that everyone helps to write—who wants to read a novel where the primary characters all get killed? When I am running a game, I encourage players to spend some time writing a detailed back story and include family members, close associates, and even enemies (I generally even award some extra skill points that are justified in a well developed background, though never points for combat skills); players are less likely to bother if they think their character is going to get killed soon. The One 10 System provides for Hero’s Luck to help characters succeed and survive when die rolls otherwise doom them—but Hero’s Luck points are few and must be spent carefully! During character creation, the player selects a Heroic attribute, and one additional point is added to this attribute. The value of the Heroic attribute is also the source of the player character’s Hero’s Luck points, which is how many points the player has to spend each session for Hero’s Luck.
Qualities and Quirks: I will admit that this is an element that was added late in the development of the One 10 System. After playing several games that employed some form of traits system of assets and liabilities, I recognized that, though I liked the concept, I did not like how many of those games employed traits systems that—as it appeared to me—all too often awarded players bonuses for traits that, for the most part, would have little or no bearing on the role playing experience or placed an unneeded burden upon the game master. “Enemy” is a good example of my argument. The trait itself is great for an assist in developing character back story, but I tend to think it is not truly fair to award the player character a positive trait to offset this negative trait, due to the fact that, while the player character will most certainly receive a bonus from the positive trait in potentially every encounter, the negative trait may never truly prove to be a liability; the game master has created and developed a story arc for the adventure he or she wishes to run and, unless the game master makes significant concessions—or even abandons his or her own plot to work the “Enemy” into a revised story, the “Enemy” liability will play little or no part in the adventure. The One 10 System presents a much smaller than usual list of traits (and restricts how many may be selected), referred to as Qualities and Quirks, that are applicable with some frequency and potentially in all encounters—traits that do not require significant work on the part of the game master to apply within the scope of the intended adventure.
Initiative: many games have all combatants, including NPCs, make an Initiative roll—roll dice and add Initiative value, to establish an order for subsequent combat actions. Some games suggest this system of rolls be done for each turn and some suggest rolling only once at the start of each encounter. So... if I’m bringing it up, you can guess that I prefer a different way of applying Initiative. Sure, it can be said that sometimes we’re surprised or we hesitate or we aren’t paying close attention, but I tend to think that your reaction time tends to be your reaction time, pretty close to every time. With that thinking, the One 10 System establishes each character’s Initiative value, and characters act in each encounter on their established Initiative level, every time.
Skill roll vs. damage roll: I always found it frustrating, and even counter to the suspension of disbelief, to roll dice and come up with a high combat skill roll result, and then roll damage and come up with a very low damage result. The One 10 System addresses this incongruent result by applying a mechanic where a certain To Hit number must be achieved to acquire a hit after all modifiers are applied, and any attack skill roll value in excess of the required To Hit number is added to the weapon’s base damage value. Thus, the higher the attack roll result, the higher the damage inflicted.
I hope you will take a look at my first two role playing games and then share with me your thoughts on how I did. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.