I’ve started work on a Zelda-inspired RPG project. For now, I’m calling it ZIP, for the Zelda-inspired project. It needs a better project name. Nate suggested “Triptych,” which has a nice ring to it, but I’m not sold yet. I’ve had the basics of a Zelda-inspired RPG kicking around in my head for a few years now, with a few core concepts: three main stats named after the important virtues in Zelda (Power, Courage, and Wisdom), a tactical combat system with three simple actions per round, and a simplified character progression system roughly matches the one in the game. It floated to the top of my brain recently, so I’m making it my project for November, with a goal of having something playtest-ready by Thanksgiving.
The goal of this project is not to create a Zelda RPG system. It is to create an RPG system very heavily inspired by the Zelda games, with which one could run a Zelda campaign. I intend to use it to run a campaign in a different setting, but very heavily influenced by the outline of a typical Link to the Past or later Zelda game. There are those who’ve done some very impressive work with the same inspirations, but our goals diverge. Others have taken a kitchen sink approach to creating a Zelda RPG, making it expansive enough to play any kind of character from the Zelda milieu, but I’m only concerned with the ability to include what I think is necessary to play what I consider to be a Zelda-style campaign. And like I said, I don’t necessarily want to run a Hyrule campaign, but a Zelda-esque one. Young heroes set out to right the wrongs of the land, they complete dungeons and acquire magical treasures, they have swords and fight monsters and solve puzzles and are awesome.
At its heart, the system is a relatively simple tactical combat game. Your characters are defined by their three core Virtues: Power, Courage, and Wisdom. Power is strength and aggression. Courage is pluck and resilience. Wisdom is mental power and fortitude.
Combat stats are values derived from a character’s Virtues. Attack is Power + Courage, Defend is Courage + Wisdom, and Magic is Power + Wisdom. Attacks are 1d6+Attack vs the target’s Defend, unless the target’s taking a defensive action, in which case it’s vs the target’s Defend+1d6. The Magic stat is a character’s pool of magic points for casting spells and using powerful martial abilities. Each Virtue affects two combat stats, reducing the likelihood that a higher-level character will have tons of spell power but no means of defending, or a strong Attack but no Magic for special attacks.
Other tests that aren’t hitting something or not getting hit are typically 1d6+appropriate Virtue. But really, I don’t think the system will involve much rolling outside of combat.
Health is tracked in a row of hearts across the top-right corner of the character sheet. Hits can be taken in heart or half heart increments, but are only gained as whole hearts. Characters at the beginning of the campaign start with three Hearts. Your Heart count is your power level, counting both your health and the number of Abilities you can have.
Abilities are cool things you can do, like Spin Attack, cast flashy spells, or brew potions from weird monster parts. Your total number of available Ability slots is determined by your Heart count. (Or rather, by your total number of Virtue points, but you start with six of those and three Hearts, and your Hearts, Virtues, and Ability slots all increase at the same rate.) Aside from the Abilities you choose to start the game with, you can teach Abilities you know to other characters, but new abilities can only be learned from trainers, who are ideally crazy hermits living in dangerous places with difficult places.
Progression occurs when you complete a major dungeon, or when you’ve four “milestones” from completing sidequests. In the Zelda games, the hero finds a Heart Container after defeating a boss at the end of a dungeon, which increases the hero’s max hearts by one. The hero also collects Heart Containers hidden in hidden places and as rewards for sidequests. I think putting something like a Heart Container in the fiction of the game as an item is a bit too video game-ish, but I like the dynamic of improving your character after one major, story-advancing challenge, or after a series of four lesser milestones. When you improve, you gain another Heart, add a point to any one Virtue (but not the same Virtue twice in a row), and open up another Ability slot.
That covers the rough basics. Posts to come will cover character creation, the philosophy behind equipment, combat, advancement, campaign structure, and the steampunk post-apoc setting I’m looking to set a campaign in.