I’ve never really subscribed to the idea that rules have no place at all in roleplaying. I don’t believe they’re completely necessary, but nor are they anathema to the whole lets pretend I’m looking through someone else’s eyes thing.
When it comes to actions, games have got you covered. Especially if the action you want to take involves putting the hurt on the bad Orc. Even less violent activities like dancing, climbing and thinking are wrapped up sweetly under the skills chapter in most books.
But what about the other stuff that is literally encompassed in the word ‘character’? Not the things you do, but the way you are. How much mechanical weight should there be behind your, say, nationality? Or tastes in literature? Or favourite food?
(The poster child for this sort of thing is Aspects in FATE, but to be honest, good as that system is, it’s not what I’m looking for here)
Some traits do get system help. Take courage for example, it often gets folded into a skill check, or some sort of morale sub system. I suspect this is because it’s always brought up as part of a conflict, fight or flight. Maybe that’s the common denominator, if it can come up in a conflict, it gets mechanics.
So with my World War II Commando game, where will the rules extend to? I would very much like them to cover more than the obvious combat stuff.and I would like any mechanics to have as much rigour as the combat ones. Perhaps the nationality example i used earlier applies here. Will there be any different mechanically between an Italian and a Brit? Fantasy games have no problem here, but I’m not blind to the consequences of following that road into a real world situation.
Another way this is often handled is through advantages and disadvantages, something DnD has always shied away from. Maybe feats should extend out of the combat arena and into the character one? Of course lots already do, but there’s always a tendency to not want to ‘waste’ a feat slot by taking one that lets you, say, be a snappy dresser. So perhaps these feats should come from their own pool, so they’re an addition rather than a decision. And should there be anti feats to pay for them? ‘Heavy sleeper’ could cost you more than a missed bus in WW2, but what if you got back a benefit? And should that benefit kick in just because you have the negative trait, or whenever you use it?
Where’s all this coming from? Well I like to think of games in terms of their character sheets. For my game I really want a double sided sheet, one for firefights, one for out of combat. I can see the sheet literally being flipped over as you move from one scene and roll initiative. As such, I want there to be more on the non-combat side of the sheet than just some prose and a portrait. I also don’t want to have two distinct games. I want similar mechanics for chases and seductions, for infiltrations and assassinations, for drinking and sniping.