I once watched a documentary on the early days of video games, and the particular part that has stuck with me was two brothers who started their own company right out of high school selling their games on floppies in plastic baggies through mail order fliers. They said (to my recollection): “We slept in shifts. I’d sleep while he programmed and when I woke up, we’d switch places. It was always a treat waking up and discovering what he had done, what new features he had added and how he had made them work.”
While the video game industry has progressed far beyond two teens working on a single computer in their bedroom, (at least for the most part), one of the most compelling aspects of the RPG industry is that every RPG fan out there can sit down at the keyboard and write his own homebrew setting or system. In fact I’d hazard a guess that most of us DO at some point. While it’s true that our industry has it’s fair share of proverbial 800lb gorillas, and that having a 30 man production team helps, we also have our fair share of excellent products made by enthusiastic individuals or small teams.
But as cool as I think the ease of entry to our hobby is and as much as I think it adds to the experience and improves RPGs as a whole, I always do my best to keep my enthusiasm in check when someone presents me with their home brew setting or system, and I’d like to talk about my particular pet peeves that make Sad Matt sad.
I’m sure not going to call anyone out for not making a product I like so don’t expect examples or names. I realize that much of what is below is my personal opinion, and it takes a lot of guts and imagination to put your ideas out for the community, and I’m not in the business of stomping on people’s dreams. However, stick with me because once I get done crapping in everyone’s collective cornflakes, I’m going to talk about some stuff I really love to see in homebrew settings and systems, and then I hope everyone can chime in to tell me why I should jump off a cliff, or what their pet peeves are, or what they really like to see.
So without further ado, here’s my list of pet peeves.
Not looking beyond DnD:
It’s always a little sobering to read a document that someone obviously put a lot of time and effort into only to accidentally replicate an existing system or produce an “innovative new system” that was, in fact, innovative when someone else did it a decade or more ago. Granted, there are only so many ways to make a game, but it’s hard not to feel bad for someone who spent numerous man hours on a game when they could have gone to an RPG forum and said “Hey guys, I’m looking for a game that does X Y and not Z. Any suggestions?”
Math that doesn’t work:
Yes, I’m a bit of a probability nut, but homebrews that simply can’t work, either because there are rolls that are impossible (5-6 is a success. Roll 2 successes on your single die to accomplish a simple task) or nearly so make it seem like no one has actually ever played them. Less, but still irritating are systems that are counter-intuitive, unnecessarily complex, or that don’t remotely model what they’re aiming for.
Using your old PCs as NPCs in your setting is perfectly fine, but characters, cities, races, whatever, that the author obviously has a love affair with, gushes over for pages and pages, tries to make invulnerable via author fiat, and other such nonsense in a sort of mass Mary-Sue turns my stomach.
We’ve all heard why you have no business naming your wizard Gandalf, but similarly you shouldn’t rip off names for your big cities directly from World of Warcraft, and you especially shouldn’t directly rip-off both names and descriptions.
Channeling 12 year old boys:
Yes, we all know that Rifts has a huge fan base and is essentially nothing BUT channeling 12 year old boys (O.K. ONE cheap shot then), but for the most part it’s a bad idea. Granted, this is subjective, but dropping Jedi into your fantasy setting (or, God help me, the Predator), creating rival countries each populated exclusively by a different character class, or overshadowing everything else in the game with your totally awesome pet class, is just generally a bad idea.
To be fair though, there are plenty of things I LOVE about homebrew systems and settings.I just wanted to get the negatives out of the way first and end with a positive note. Here are just some of the things I love:
I said it was sad when someone inadvertently spends a lot of time and effort re-producing an idea that’s already been done, but it’s fantastic when they spend that time and effort producing something really new. Cool new settings, interesting new mechanics, or nifty new character options are always welcome.
New spins on old ideas:
Even if a homebrew doesn’t produce anything entirely new, a new spin on an old idea or subject often sheds new light on an old subject which can extend far beyond the homebrew in question, even backwards as you reinterpret material in light of the new spin, giving new life and new possibilities to stuff that had already “gelled” so to speak.
Serving the community:
Every homebrew appeals to some segment of the population, or it wouldn’t have gotten made. Given that, it’s unlikely that ONLY it’s creator appreciates it, and that’s fantastic. The more options available, the more likely everyone can find something they like, and the happier our community is, and the more likely it is to retain users.
When you’re creating a homebrew, it’s usually for home use, or for small-scale sharing, so you’re not worried about marketing or what the critics will say. Instead, you’re free to make whatever damn thing you want, which means a much greater pool of material than a more formal market would support if we all had to worry about which demographics we appealed to and what the censors would say.
So those are my lists. Why are they wrong? What did I miss? This is all subjective stuff, so I want to hear what others think!