In the 80s when I was in high school, I fell in love with TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons, and played often. In the early 90s I discovered other role playing systems that provided more depth and nuance, but at the expense of being very complex to use. I, like every other beginning developer, tried to automate these systems and soon realized that that approach was a mistake.
All systems at the time had rules streamlined for paper-and-pencil use – most calculations are simple addition or subtraction and any complex algorithms are relegated to a chart. This streamlines the game when sitting around the table with friends. The game must be simple enough to be played quickly and easily yet detailed enough to immerse the players in a predictable world. Since the real world is far too complex to simulate easily, the rules must be easy enough for players to understand. Using this approach, D&D saw huge success and still does today.
However, I realized that there could be another approach. Use more complex calculations to better simulate reality, but let a computer do it. The players have less need to understand the complexities of what’s going on, but can intuitively understand a result. The user interface should be simple enough to provide a reasonably predicable conflict resolution without bogging down the players with too much data entry. This shifts the game design focus away from paper-and-pencil simplicity and moves it toward a UI simplicity.
I sketched out some basic ideas borrowing rules from games of the day for a universal skill-based system. This is not a video game. Graphics are nice, but they aren’t how you interact with this kind of game. This becomes a way of playing around a table with friends without spending a fortune on books and without spending hours of book keeping. (Typically, the entire first game session is devoted to creating characters.) The more I worked it, the more I realized that in order for this approach to succeed, each player would need to have some kind of portable computer interface that would be networked together. This was uncommon in the 90s, so I grudgingly shelved the idea, served for a tour of duty in the US Navy, then worked as a developer for several years and saw RPG popularity in decline.
In 2016, the “Stranger Things” TV series brought about a resurgence in RPGs – but now in a time when everyone has a small networked computer in their pocket. I was surprised to see that RPG creators have not moved on from paper-and-pencil optimized rules – they are unlikely to since they are, essentially, book publishers. During the 2020 pandemic, I fleshed out thousands of details of how this approach can work, how to build a platform for it, and how I can expand it to allow others to build a similar game.
Like many adventures, this has been quite a bit more challenging that I originally anticipated, but is much more rich and inclusive than I had foreseen in the 90s. I hope the Eppx system leads you to spend less of your time fussing over rules and looking up charts and more time crafting a cooperative story with friends.