Infinite Earths Preview: Goodbye, Christmas Tree!

By | April 20, 2012

One of the changes we’ll be making to standard d20 systems is the so-called “Christmas Tree;” the propensity for magic items, which are basically just “statistics enhancers,” to accumulate on a character over time and boost the character’s numbers.  What this eventually means is that, ultimately, the character that you created, that you are making the decisions for, that you are making your way through a story with. . .is not the hero of the story.  Her equipment is.

Games about numbers aren’t about play; there is no “good playing” or “bad playing” or “skilled playing,” because play is essentially about doing the math correctly.  As long as you’ve done your algebra and gotten the proper result, with the exception of a bad night of die-rolling you win.

Ultimately, this play becomes meaningless, because the math is either balanced (in which case rolls of the dice, not the actions of the players, are the ultimate arbiters of success), overbalanced (in which case, adversaries are designed to be defeated and there is little challenge to play no matter the numbers), or underbalanced (in which case, adversaries are mathematically superior and success against them is unlikely).

In all of these cases, if play is boiled down to the numbers, “play” is about finding numeric combinations unanticipated by the designers of the game.  In this kind of game, an Excel spreadsheet becomes the party’s MVP, and something about that strikes us as fundamentally incorrect for a role-playing game.

So we’re saying goodbye to the Christmas Tree, and making the design decisions you make for your character more vital to what you can do.  Magical equipment isn’t the only culprit; feats and abilities designed solely to provide statistical increase are also problematic for the same reason.  They add no flavor, no interest. . .just a bigger number.  Just a little more math.

By removing the statistics-based gaming inherent in most d20 products, we open the door for more skillful gaming, because play becomes about what you do, and how clever you are, and it allows your actions to have actual consequences.

You become the hero.