Saturday, May 26, 2012

Infinite Earths Overview: Color-Coded for Destruction!

Hello once again!

We've got some great news today, because this week we started preliminary playtesting outside of the core development team.  It's been very instructive for us, too--but more on that later.

One of our goals with the Infinite Earths system is to encourage more social roleplaying instead of the classic smash-through-the-dungeon-slaughtering-everything play that is so common in our hobby.  One of the methods we've thought to do that is to cast the classic "Monster Manual" races not as "things there to be killed" so much as "other cultures with other values, who may be savage but who can be dealt with as reasoning beings."

The way we're thinking of doing this is by providing more than just the classic Tolkien player races directly in our Player's Handbook.  Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with humans, elves, dwarves and gnomes will be orcs, trolls, bugbears and goblins.  Over the years, roleplaying has taught players a new kind of racism--"if it doesn't come in the same colors as human skin, brown or red or yellow or white; if it comes in green or purple or black, it's evil and okay for killing."

The problem with this, of course, is that it still presents the same xenophobia, just cast in different colors.  As one person recently mentioned, "they're color-coded so we know we can kill them!"  And over on the Raleigh Tabletop Roleplayers Game Master's SIG Blog, Richard Moore writes 
The lack of hard alignment rules allowed me to propose a moral dilemma about killing the remaining kobold women and children
And while we're happy to see D&D Next affording GMs the ability to present moral dilemmas, the fact that killing women and children of another species has to be presented as a moral dilemma, rather than just automatically being one, is endemic of the problem of "kill first, talk later."

So we'll be presenting all the sentient species as having their own cultures, their own reasons for doing things, and of course just killing them because they're different from you will not be presented as the best course of action.  This will be reflected in our presentation of "player" races, as well as our adventure and campaign products.

And finally, the default combat mechanic will also present death not as the default result.  Our hit point system will treat a reduction to 0 hit points as a loss of consciousness or a surrender or a loss of will to continue fighting.  You will need to specifically attack a foe who is unconscious or surrendered to kill him; and same with your opponents, who will need to explicitly attempt to murder you to make you dead.

This does make the system less inherently lethal; some players will not like this, because they like the idea that they might die at the hands of any errant swing.  But for our design purposes, this makes each killing a choice on the part of the player, and on the part of the NPCs as well.

And that way, your actions determine your morality, rather than your morality being just another statistic.  And what you do to the people in the gaming world has consequences--on your character and on the story of you.

See you next week!

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