First Look at the RPG System

Hey everyone—David Reid, founder of MetaArcade, back again for this week’s blog. It is indeed February and we remain on track to start the beta of the new MetaArcade platform tech with you in just a few weeks!

Before I jump right into it, I want to thank you all for joining us on this most exciting leg of the journey! We have really enjoyed seeing your reactions to Sam’s blog on the new Creator software and the newly remastered Tunnels & Trolls and Cthulhu Chronicles art we shared last week. Your feedback is a critical part of driving us to build a better product, and hearing about the universes and adventures you plan to create inspires us to get you the features you need to make your visions into reality.

On that note, I want to share the early plans for the RPG system you’ll have on the MetaArcade platform. The core purpose of the platform is to empower anyone to turn their stories into interactive works, with branching narrative accompanied by art and audio. Branching stories, such as you find in the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books and Netflix’s recent release of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, are pretty compelling on their own—especially when accompanied by art and audio. But for most RPG fans, that’s not really enough to scratch the RPG itch as a player—or as an adventure creator.

If you’ve played either of our first two releases, you know we like to spice up interactive stories with RPG mechanics like combat and skill checks. In our first release, Tunnels & Trolls Adventures, we worked to authentically translate the rules of the tabletop game for digital platforms. You created a persistent character, rolled dice on screen for combat and saving rolls, and added points to your attributes as you leveled up. In Cthulhu Chronicles, our second release, we leaned more towards the approach of creating an interactive novel.  You selected one of six pre-generated characters, and we abstracted the dice rolls into the “Wheel of Cthulhu,” retaining the elements of chance and impact you have as a player with a lighter amount of RPG crunch.

As we began development on the new Creator tech, we steeped ourselves in the feedback you had on those two game systems with our focus squarely on empowering you to create your own RPG adventures. And as we envisioned thousands of you creating your own universes and adventures, we realized we needed to rethink the RPG system itself, with one primary goal:

Everyone should always be able to play any adventure written by any author with any character they’ve created.

Part of the fun of playing RPGs is having your character persist and progress as you adventure. And when we open the Creator for you in the community to author your own adventures, we want everyone to be able to play your stories with their favorite characters. This goal required us to think differently about the core RPG system, and what it would mean to create persistent characters who progressed over the course of many adventures.

Where we’ve landed for our initial release will likely remind veteran tabletop RPG players of systems like GURPS, where characters are built on a set of rules which apply across a wide range of universes. Additionally we’ve added a dash of tabletop mechanics adapted as much from board games as RPGs.

As we dive into some details here, please keep in mind much of the art and layout is still placeholder and work in progress. And even after the initial beta release, we’ll be working to continually update and improve things, so things will likely look very different as we iterate with your feedback.

Characters will have three primary attributes in each universe. In our initial universes of Tunnels & Trolls, Cthulhu Chronicles, and Old Roads, those attributes will be Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence. When you create a new character, you’ll select which of those three attributes will be your Primary and Secondary attributes—for example, if you wanted to create a combat-focused character, you might pick Strength as your primary attribute and Dexterity as your secondary attribute. This would leave Intelligence as your lowest attribute. And naturally different archetypes come to mind when thinking of Dexterity or Intelligence as the primary attribute.

As you progress through an adventure, you’ll be presented with different “conflict resolution” mechanics, and it will be to your advantage to make choices which align with your primary attributes. The mechanic we’ll discuss in detail today is skill checks, which are dice rolls you make based on your attributes.

Skill checks are rolled on six-sided dice, with each die having a number of “success” sides corresponding to how you ranked your attributes. In the character sheet mockup below, you’ll see the warrior character has 3 success faces on his Strength die, 2 on his Dexterity die and one on his Intelligence die.

When this character rolls dice for a Strength skill check, each die has 3 success sides and 3 blank sides, meaning each die is 50% likely to roll a successful outcome. Those odds get worse for Dexterity checks, where each die only has 2 success sides compared to 4 blank sides, and worse again for Intelligence checks.

So let’s look at how this works in an adventure. In the image below, you’ve elected to inspect an idol you found in a dungeon, and you’re presented with three choices on how to go about it. While the text doesn’t explicitly tell you this, each option aligns with one of your attributes: moving the idol is a Strength check, searching it for clues is a Dexterity check, and invoking the spirits is an intelligence check.

3. choices.PNG

Naturally, your odds for success will be higher if you choose the option which lets you use your Primary attribute.  If Strength is your Primary attribute, you’ll have better odds trying to move the idol than searching it or invoking the spirits—but you can try any option you like, and as your character progresses, you’ll find ways to improve your odds for checks related to your Secondary and Tertiary attributes.

At beta release, rolling a skill check consists of 5 dice based on the attribute the skill check is testing, and each skill check is classified as simply “Easy,” “Medium,” or “Hard.” To succeed on an Easy skill check, you’ll need to roll at least one success on your five dice; Medium skill checks require you to roll at least two, and Hard skill checks require you to roll at least three. Making an Easy skill check on your Primary attribute should indeed be pretty easy—but succeeding on a Hard skill check on your Tertiary attribute will be a very rare accomplishment!

4. skill check.PNG

This facet of the RPG system is one example of how we’re aiming to keep the chance and impact of RPG mechanics woven deeply into the MetaArcade platform while remaining focused on letting everyone create interactive narrative with those game mechanics. We think we’ve landed on something which you’ll enjoy while both playing adventures and creating your own. But it will be your feedback that keeps calibrating us on making this a fun, compelling system. Is the difficulty curve too easy? Too hard? Should we have more or fewer dice on screen? These are the kinds of things we would love to hear from you on when the beta release comes out.

As we get closer to release, we’ll have more to say on other aspects of the RPG system, but this blog gives you a glimpse into the foundational elements. As always, please do let us know your thoughts—and the easiest way to do that is to join us in Discord, where we have our weekly Fireside Chats every Friday at 6 pm Pacific. Beyond that, you’ll likely find someone from the MetaArcade team there at most hours of the day—so don’t be shy and let us know what you think!

Thanks and hope to see you in Discord!