|History of Changes|
History of Prism -- Changes -- Future Developments
Check out Skill Trees, a test version of the new skill tree and d20 rules for Prism v2
(requires free Adobe Acrobat Reader)
Prism has been around for quite some time; the first publication of what would become the core of Prism's concept, aptitudes, was in 1988 in a 'zine called The Gaming Gazette, issue #10, edited by Otto Kitsinger. (The IRIS initiative system was printed in issue #9 in that same year, as a supplement for any game system you like.) A "beta-test" version of Prism (at that time nameless and going by the meaningless moniker of PUCCS) was printed in early 1990 in a print run of a whopping ten copies. After playtesting and further refinement, plus great improvements to the layout and the addition of art, Prism was published in late 1990 in a print run of 100 copies. (Two later print runs brought the total up to 250 copies.) Copies were sold to friends, via local stores, and even via Usenet in 1992.
Eight years later this web site was created during free moments between January and June 1998, and apart from a few dozen words of changes (to correct typographical mistakes, fix a few oversights of grammar, and clarify a few poorly-written sentences), it was exactly the same text as in the book. The game stood up to eight years of continuous usage without needing any significant changes, a fact of which I'm quite proud.
Nevertheless, putting the game up on the Web and in front of new audiences, and into a new time when the gaming industry has changed and when my attitudes have changed, presents an opportunity for improvements. The site was hardly up before I made my first rules change, and more are coming. This page collects the history of these changes (only content changes, not formatting or navigation). When enough of them are done, I'm going to call it a second edition, so for now, it's an evolution in progress.
1998-06-19: Original web publication.
1998-06-21: Removed the Aim Concentration ability and added in rules about prep actions.
1998-10-13: New rules for using melee weapons as shields in the Shield skill.
1999-01-28: Posted first test version of Skill Trees, the new skill tree and d20 rules for Prism v2 (requires free Adobe Acrobat Reader); comments solicited. Revised the layout of the downloads portion of the Table of Contents page.
1999-06-12: New option in section 1.2 to award bonus character points based on quantity and/or quality of the character background description.
Changes that are in the works or planned, though not necessarily in this order:
A complete overhaul of the skill system which will greatly simplify character creation and development. The two most confusing rules in Prism, the similar skills rule and the AV 4 during childhood rule, will disappear into the fabric of the system, along with lots of the unnecessary detail. Skill trees will make it just as easy to be a specialist or a generalist to any level desired -- be good at all weapons by focusing on the basic techniques, or specialize not just in shortswords, but in your father's shortsword, which you've been training with for years, of which you know every bump and curve and scratch so well you can see them with your eyes closed, which feels like an extension of your arm. The realism of similar skills and childhood training is still there, it's just hidden in the structure where you don't have to think about it; it happens by itself.
This skill system overhaul also eliminates the need to do development in a long series of chunks of development points, which vastly speeds up and simplifies developing experienced characters.
Part of the new skill tree will be the increase of the categories to twelve to help balance them better. Many skills will also be renamed and most will lose unnecessary descriptions (do you really need to be told what "Swimming" is or what it's used for?).
In addition, chapters 2 through 5 will be combined into one chapter. The sample abilities and weaknesses in chapters 3 and 4 will be replaced with a much shorter list that is more oriented towards being samples, not a list of "common" ones. The list that's there now will be moved off to an appendix. This will make the core rules shorter and help encourage the player to think about her own ability and weakness ideas, not just try to pick-and-choose them from a list.
Chapter 0 will largely disappear. Actually it'll become a separate document for newcomers to roleplaying, and bits of it will move into the Preface. About all that's left will be how to roll the dice, which will be moved elsewhere. Prism needs to be shorter and less intimidating, and it can be, without sacrificing its flavor, its richness, or its realism.
Along the same lines, chapters 8 and 9 will disappear into other chapters. The new chapters in character creation will be Designing A Character, Character Points, Skill Development, Skill Tree, and The Character Sheet. From there we'll go into a Resolution chapter which includes everything about resolving actions, eventually to be followed by Combat.
A big change that will run through Prism, but that isn't as big as it might appear, is a recalibration to d20s away from d%. I find myself thinking that using smaller numbers makes them easier to handle, to add and subtract, to understand, and to make charts for. And the granularity of percentiles is unnecessary -- the vast majority of the time, outcomes are the same for ranges of numbers that are evenly divisible by five anyway, so it's mathematically equivalent to just scale everything down by a factor of five.
A new maneuver chart or system will have a feel a little less like Rolemaster's and include better provisions for contested actions and actions based on stats, not skills. I plan to do research into actual success rates at different tasks, and include that within the system, as well as I can do so without it overburdening the system. (It's amazing how many systems out there include rules for how often you'd succeed at picking locks, yet those success rates don't match each other, common sense, or real-world statistics.)
Something I want to try to include in that, if I can find an elegant and simple way, is a method to vary the proportion between the random and non-random factors in action resolution. Some actions are more consistent than others and so the random factor should play less of a role than others. For instance, chess is very consistent (especially for people with more than a modicum of skill) -- the random factor is pretty small compared to the skill factor. But batting in professional baseball has a lot of randomness -- even the best and most consistent batter can't (with one famous historical exception) predict or control the outcome of a particular swing.
I've decided that the section on design and character balance currently in chapter 1 needs expanding. Prism falls into the same trap as countless other games out there. There are detailed instructions and mechanics for making sure characters in a party fit one another and the game in one particular area -- power balance -- and virtually no mention of many other, equally-important areas like character compatibility. The power balance issue is burdened with rules for making the points add up, which are useful for some groups and not so useful for others, but which draw attention to the wrong things. A good character is a lot more than just 100 character points. He is also able to fit in with other characters, able to have his moments to shine and his moments to let others shine, has a reason to need to be in the story, has a reason to need the other characters, has plot hooks that help the GM make more story, has no characteristics that make important story elements impossible, has a reason to be where he needs to be to join the story in the first place, and is interesting to player and GM both as himself and as part of the team and the story and the world. This needs to be said. Focusing on power balance through a point system shifts focus away from the more important concerns to one of the less important ones, one that many players can dispense with entirely, simply because it appears easier to encode in a mechanic. Prism will elude that mistake.
Along the same lines, awarding development points should be re-examined. If power balance is so important, why should the GM be awarding different numbers of points to different people? Maybe power balance isn't so important, as I said above. But then maybe the GM should get out of the judging field entirely. Maybe development should only be awarded based on how much the character learned -- and if the GM wants to reward creativity or roleplaying, it should be done through another mechanism, like plot points, or simply giving that player an extra slice when the pizza arrives.
A combat system is coming, really! I have been making a list of things it will be able to do, and ideas for how it can do them. It's going to be a big undertaking, as I plan to combine things from various other systems along with the big lessons of Arms Law, how you can increase realism without increasing complexity, by having things pre-calculated and then hidden within tables, for instance.
One idea I've seen in other games that I want to
steal be inspired by is "genre knobs" -- a simple mechanic that lets the GM "turn a knob" (that is, adjust the value of some constant) to change the flavor of the game to make it suit a genre better. Some of these are already in the game; for instance, the GM decides how many character points (CP), plot points (PP), and development points (DP) a starting character has. Different choices can make the game feel very different. A four-color comic book might have lots of character points (since characters are super-powered), lots of plot points (since improbability is common), but not many development points (since skills aren't that important). A more "realistic" supers environment just requires you to turn down the PP knob and turn up the DP knob. A gritty techno-thriller campaign would have low CP (characters are "normal") and PP (action is realistic, not cinematic) but a lot of DP (characters are experts in their fields). Adding more "knobs" to control the speed, realism, and fatality of combat, the probability of unusual outcomes in task resolution, etc. can help make a generic game able to fit the flavor and color of many genres better.
There's still some reformatting that I never did even for the first HTML edition: addition of pictures, a possible alternate navigation system using a thin navigation frame, perfection of the front-cover rainbow, the creation of more PDFs for character sheets and tables and eventually the entire game, adding a hyperlinked index, etc. These might as well wait for the second edition now.