I recently had a D&D 3.5 game go south (you may or may not know it as The Byzantine Game, which led to the name of this project). There were a number of things that led that direction, from scheduling conflicts leading to a very high turnover in players, to an annoying tendency for things to go tactical, even when I intended plenty of possibilities for it to go otherwise.
At least initially, I attributed this to the battlemat, and to a certain extent I still believe it didn't help. I admit I did my part by setting up a situation on the mat early in this process, and that certainly could have led to an assumption that I looked to start up yet another in a seeming series of running fights, and so led toward something I was trying to avoid.
In discussing this on Twitter, there were a few interesting reactions, from noting the mat is in fact called a "battle" mat, and a brief exchange with Josh from the Brilliant Gameologists podcast which asked a key question ("Why are you playing a game that requires minis if you don't want to play a game that requires minis?") and noted the relatively unsatisfying experience of avoiding combat in 3.5. Granted, in 3.5, you're still not totally required to run with minis, but the game is certainly strongly geared toward it, and 4E is even more so. On top of that, the proliferation of powers and such from 3.5 on up is a bit dizzying.
And so, this project. I've been looking at earlier editions of D&D as well as a few retroclones, and I realized while looking through (to be specific) my D&D Red Box rulebooks just how relatively simple the old games were. Even if parts of them seemed nonsensical in ways, you didn't have the power escalation of feats and powers in 3E and up. There were things missing, though; skills would be a useful addition, for example, although maybe not to the extravagant level reached in 3E, and not so simplified as in 4E. It also occurred to me that I liked a certain amount of the flexibility those powers and feats gave me in the higher editions.
I don't remember exactly when I came up with the idea of working Aspects and Fate Points (from Evil Hat's FATE system) into this. I had always halfway joked about running FATE characters through the Tomb of Horrors module, just to see how it would work out, but it occurred to me that Aspects always lent themselves to roleplaying in ways I liked, and in some ways you could use Aspects to turn, say, an average Fighting Man into something like a Ranger.
And so, here is where I begin on this journey. It will be a slow one, as I'm still technically working on a big fiction project, but I'll still be working on this thing in the sidelines, taking grafts of all sorts of OGL systems and making a Frankenstein's monster of a fantasy heartbreaker out of them. I know Aspects and Fate Points will be coming out of the most recent edition of FATE, and I'm toying with using the advancement system from Microlite20.
This just leaves the main underpinnings, the decision of what rules to use for the base. There are a number of retroclone games out there, harkening back to Original D&D and the Basic/Expert boxed sets, although I must admit a slight nervousness on the legal side on those, and just how close you can get to the original system before someone loses an eye.
There is a certain amount of the base SRD I could use, but at some point I want to be able to have character generation methods (and those being absent from the SRD are one reason I'm looking at Microlite20's experience model) and I'd likely end up constructing a lot of things from this core anyway. I'd be ditching Feats completely, letting Aspects absorb at least some of their functions. I'm even thinking of requiring an Aspect to be devoted to a character race, if non human, to help balance out whatever other advantages they have.
So, in a sense, it's a question of whether I want to build yet another retroclone but one with bits added, or really dig in and commit violent surgery on the SRD. More news as it happens...