In design, the greatest tool for improving a game is iteration. There are very few games that are completely, objectively perfect, if any at all. Iteration is vital to improving upon an existing game, from the smallest parts to entirely new editions and systems; however, this concept can be equally staggering as it is interesting. It’s dangerous to go alone, take this guide and make the first steps of evolving yourself from player to designer.
A term often used when discussing new ideas is “scope”. Scope is the determining factor for the size of your new project, and also its attainability. Limiting scope sometimes means leaving good ideas on the cutting room floor, but allows you to focus further on making your new mechanics ready for play. To limit scope on our game modifying project, let’s start with something easy: adding an item to an existing system.
One of my favorite weapons of all time is the gunblade from Final Fantasy VIII. There is nothing more satisfying than pulling the trigger at the right time to see the screen flash and the small burst of extra damage reveal itself on the enemy. The simple fusion of gun to sword, or a massive exaggeration of a typical bayonet, transformed the simple sword concept into something memorable and visceral, creating an iconic signature weapon for Squall.
Let’s assume that I want to take that gunblade from its digital representation and place it into an analogue system like a tabletop roleplaying game. Let’s go one step further and attempt to recreate the gunblade in Dungeons & Dragons. At the core, a gunblade is a giant revolver with a longsword attached to it.
We will start by determining the damage of the sword, based on the qualities of a longsword.
It’s an incredibly exotic weapon, crafted of heavy metals and designed to fit the user. Therefore, we add a greater weight and a higher critical chance than a typical longsword, keeping the same overall damage potential, as well as increasing the cost of such a rare weapon.
Looks good so far, let’s try adding our gun component.
As the sword is currently sitting as a longsword, we arrange our gun to be of equal damage output and sizing. After all, the revolver bullets are meant to supplement the damage of the sword and not the other way around.
We must consider that a longsword can be held in one hand, allowing for dual-wielding gunblades or the opportunity to have secondary equipment on the player’s off-hand, such as a shield. All of that does not seem to fit the flavor we are looking for, as well as outclassing the typical longsword.
While it seems initially easy to place a new item into an existing system, the concept of balance and placement come heavily into the forefront. When one option to players is objectively, without a doubt better than all other options, it is called “dominant strategy”, which is often indicative of poor design. Obviously we want gunblades to be powerful, but we do not want them to be so powerful that they overtake all other similar options of the game.
Rather than treating the weapon as two separate weapons, we should be viewing it as one whole weapon that has an explosive quality. Using a gunblade should also require more strength and control, considering the potential recoil of the revolver. Let us instead fit the gunblade into a bastard sword template, considering that it is more akin to a hand-and-a-half sword than a longsword.
Scoping down our two weapons into one weapon, we can begin to make sense of how a gunblade would actually operate. We upgrade the cost, weight, and damage to accommodate for the new bastard sword template, while at the same time creating limiting rules to the gunblade to balance its inherent strengths.
If the gunblade holds six bullets, the player can choose whether or not to “pull the trigger”, giving damage equal to half the highest damage of the sword aspect at the cost of their diminishing resources. We can also add a rule for reloading the gun mid-combat which would require an action, diminishing another valuable resource. Also, by changing the longsword to a bastard sword, we have limited the potential for a player to wield more than one.
Now we are far closer to accurately portraying the power of a gunblade in Dungeons & Dragons while adhering to specific, targeted limitations and generating a deeply offensive play style with the weapon itself. The player can now simulate that distinct damage boost gained from pulling the trigger in the digital format by choosing when to “pull the trigger” in the tabletop version.
We limited scope by paring down from two separate templates into one. We created balance by developing a cost to the overall benefit of the item, and we have iterated upon existing concepts without breaking the game by keeping our simple mechanic at the core of the design. Utilizing these aspects of design, we can modify and add any item or equipment to existing game systems. Let’s take this one step further and throw out a completed template for our gunblade, ready for tabletop use.
A gunblade is a customized weapon used by a distant sect of soldiers and assassins known as “SeeD”. User must take Exotic Weapon Proficiency (Gunblade) to properly use this weapon. STR 14+ required to wield gunblade. Ammunition may be changed or modified in various types (Magical, High Explosive, etc.) for additional cost equal to the crafting materials.
*Reloading the gunblade requires a half action. All six bullets are reloaded at once unless stated otherwise. It is possible to mix different ammunition types into the gunblade at the time of reloading.
Have any specific items in mind that you’ve always wanted to see in your tabletop of choice? Drop us a line, we can take on the design process together and get you going on your brand new super death tank.
Next week, we’ll approach more complex designs, such as creating entirely new custom classes and races for existing games. Until then, have fun with your shiny new gunblade!
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