So, Kiokri and I belong to a larger group of college friends that game once a night every week. There are six of us, which makes a pretty sizable party whenever we do anything. It was an especially good group size for Dungeons and Dragons, which we’ve been playing weekly for nearly two years. Now, because I know you’re dying to know, we did play 4th edition, mostly because it was easy and lent itself to Roll20 pretty well. When we were in college, we played 3.5 and, throughout my personal D&D career, I’ve dabbled in AD&D and OSRIC. So far, though, my absolute favorite has been EABA.
What is EABA? Well, it’s the End All Be All role-playing system. Yeah, that name is a little full of itself, but it’s supposed to be a joke, especially when you consider that the system is on its second version. What’s interesting, though, is that playing it does have a certain sense of finality to it. The system feels complete, from a fundamental perspective, and its tidiness and efficiency give it an air of superiority that other systems seem to lack. Where tricky situations and unusual rules are haphazardly stapled onto the sides of the ever-growing behemoth that is the core rule set of Dungeons and Dragons, anything a player can imagine can be easily codified and inserted into EABA‘s core without even needing an extra table of figures. How is this accomplished? MATH!
Yes, math, that good-ol’ universal language. Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood here, there isn’t a lot of math for the players, which is a good thing. I don’t think there exists anyone more terrible at off-the-cuff math than a group of four liberal arts majors and two computer techs. Don’t get me wrong, we’re all very good at math individually, but as soon as that complex soup of disagreement and groupthink kicks in, we all become absolutely terrible at it. Fortunately, EABA has done all of the math for us and charted it all out on its “Universal Chart.”
The core mechanic of EABA is brilliantly simple: every task has a universally relative difficulty. Basically, every single thing anyone wants to accomplish has a specific and measurable difficulty, from shooting a target to jumping over a gap to running over some poor sap with an assault vehicle. This is a very intuitive concept. It is not, fundamentally, more difficult for one person to shoot a bulls-eye at 100 feet than another, even if one has never held a gun and the other is an expert marksman. Oh sure, the marksman will have a better chance to make the shot because he’s better at it, but the straightforward act of shooting the same target at the same distance with the same gun is the same level of difficulty for you as it is for me as it is for a dolphin.
Of course, nothing in combat is as simple as shooting a stationary target at a given distance, so EABA makes tasks more and less difficult based on a number of factors. Is the target moving? That adds some difficulty. Is the shooter moving? That adds some difficulty. Is the target behind some cover? That adds some difficulty. It may be that, once all the factors are counted, the task simply becomes impossible for anyone to reasonably accomplish (shooting a fly at 100 meters from a speeding bus is not likely doable). Ultimately, though, it all comes back to that Universal Chart, and a single-number difficulty rating that must be rolled for the task to be accomplished.
What I like about this system is that it takes the guesswork and number-fudging out of the tabletop experience. If the GM needs to know what difficulty to give a task, he can just assign based on an intuitive assessment of the situation. “Ok, this is pretty hard” or “Well, it’s almost impossible.” The result of this assessment will be the same regardless of what kind of character is attempting the task, a pretty big difference from D&D. After all, a “hard difficulty” for a level 10 character would, in almost every circumstance, be very different from a “hard difficulty” for a level 1 or 2 character in D&D. After the first few levels, the GM has a fair amount of arbitrary guesswork to do for any task that is not explicitly spelled out in the rule books. Arbitrary is a word I hate in these circumstances. It makes things inconsistent, unreliable, and less fun.
I don’t want to get into too many specifics about EABA here as that could take all day. Instead, I wanted to give my general opinion on the core system. If you want to check it out, there’s a free set of lite rules you can have. You know what is one of the most appealing things? All of EABA will cost you 20 bucks. Dungeons and Dragons, on the other hand, costs 50 bucks for just the Player’s Handbook. Sure, you can grab a starter pack for 20, but only if you don’t plan to play above level five.
Of course, as my father says, your mileage may vary.