My roleplaying experience, like so many others, starts with AD&D. Unlike so many others, I hated it. I didn’t like the race and class restrictions, I didn’t like the multi-classing system and I didn’t understand thac0. So, for years, that was the end of my experience with roleplaying. I did have several exposures to Shadowrun and Cyberpunk 2020, but neither appealed to me. I didn’t have the visceral reaction that I had with AD&D, but I wasn’t hooked by any stretch of the imagination. Then I was introduced to the World of Darkness. It was imperfect, very imperfect. And, it encouraged a style of play my friends didn’t play so we shoe-horned it onto every story we could think up. But, for whatever reason, it really appealed to me, and I was hooked on this thing called roleplaying.

Despite my teenaged infatuation with World of Darkness, a desire to design games and the seeds of the Fluidity Project weren’t sown until I first played Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition years later. Unlike AD&D, I actually liked 3rd Edition, but there were two problems that jumped out at me.  It was ultimately those two problems that eventually grew into the Fluidity Project. First, was the game’s inability to model the life of a character before they became an adventurer. I felt that in order to make an effective adventurer all of the profession and craft skills that a character would have learned as a child had to be left on the table, which essentially meant that characters were all born as first level adventuring machines, something that still leaves me unsettled. (As an aside, see Burning Wheel as an example of a game that handles a character life very well.) Second was my feelings about the basic inequality of a level-based system, feelings that got worse with the release of every new sourcebook. I felt (and still do) that only about half of the published classes and prestige classes are viable choices for an adventuring character.  Thousands of classes mean options, but since only a fraction of those options are truly viable, each future supplement introduces an insidious power-creep.

There were a lot of things I liked about 3rd Edition. I liked the optimization aspect of character building, the endless fiddling with prerequisites, prestige classes and feats to build the “perfect” character. But, I was concerned about the somewhat arbitrary nature of some character builds, and I hated the multi-classing XP penalty. I liked the tactical nature of combat and the fact that the game was relatively easy to learn but had deep gameplay nuances. But, I didn’t like that the game seemed to only model combat well. (I have gotten to the point where I understand that there are other games that do other things well, and if I want a different gameplay experience, I should play those games.)  What I wanted was a system where players could make choices about early character development that would inform the roleplaying of those characters, but not affect their tactical performance. I also wanted players to be able to break out of the multi-classing maze and choose class features that made sense for their character concept without having to jump through prerequisite hoops. But, I wasn’t sure how to go about implementing the changes I wanted.

I continued to play 3rd Edition and then 3.5 Edition, but in the back of my mind, I wanted a little bit more than the game was offering. A few years later, several events coincided that kickstarted the design that would grow into the Fluidity Project. I was working on custom classes, races and a magic system for a Magic: the Gathering inspired campaign when the release of several books turned my design on its head. First, Unearthed Arcana, then Tome of Magic and then the Book of Nine Swords showed me that there was a lot more to d20 that I had realized. Then, Iron Heroes arrived, blowing the lid of my homebrew mods and completely taking over my home campaign. While I loved Iron Heroes, I didn’t love the Arcanist class or the core magic system. So, I set out to make a feat based magic system to allow any Iron Heroes character (who have plenty of feats to play with) to dabble in magic.

Somewhere along to the way to a magic system for Iron Heroes, I realized that feats were the key to everything. Class features had already been turned into feats for the generic classes in Unearthed Arcana. Feats already allowed normal characters to utilize the techniques in the Book of Nine Swords and soulmelds in Magic of Incarnum. And, with the introduction of mastery feats, Iron Heroes had supercharged what a feat can allow a character to do while circumventing normal prerequisites. With these realizations and the concept of simple experience points from Mastering Iron Heroes, the foundation of Fluidity Project was laid.

Edit: Since I’ve started the Fluidity Project, I’ve gotten more interested in game design of every type, and this blog has grown from a way for me to share playtest documents and system updates with my playtest group, to a place where I can explore new game designs unrelated to the Fluidity Project or D&D in general.

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