I'm getting ready (I hope) for a playtest, the first since the first test in college. With each iteration, I'm trying desperately to make it be less confusing. Things that seem decent on paper turn out to be less so when I try to explain them, and the more I think about it, the less I like the ideas that had little thought behind them.
All of which is poor justification for all the delay! And I apologize. But the more time goes on, the more I feel like the mechanics are getting better. Part of this is refining the core mechanic, which was unmanagably intricate. If you were to examine some of my documents, and see how the same word is used differently in different places, or could see how even I can't keep straight all the work that needed to be done to finalize a playtest version, you'd understand.
So I'm working on what I guess you could call α2.4, and it's becoming reminiscent of, of all things, Magic: The Gathering. Not what I would have expected of a serious game engine, and certainly not a design intent. Will it work? A playtest will let us know for sure, but it's sure getting easier to make as it goes along.
As stated previously, you have a limited number of skill uses per round, and crits (critical success bonuses) are pooled, until used or discarded (for example by ending your turn). However, the crits now have a flavor, not dissimilar to Magic's colored mana pools. The base system has three flavors--mind, body, and spirit--but more will be added when you apply a setting. Any particular skill can only generate certain flavors--for example, basic sword proficiency does not give Mental crits.
At any point in your turn, you can deploy an Effect by spending crits you have already gained. Like the Magic cards, you may only gain an Effect by spending the appropriate number and flavor of them. Unlike your skill rolls, Effects do not cause the target to get a Defense turn; rather, the time to defend yourself is earlier, when the skill is rolled. However, that does not give you carte blanche to affect your enemy.
Any offensive Effect is described in terms of "damage," usually paired with the intended result. As a trivial example, actual physical damage is termed "Lethal Damage", because the intended result is the target's death. After all other factors are exhausted (armor soak, magic, etc), remaining damage is applied to the character, and they must then Resist it.
A character's Resistance to some given damage is described by a die size, from "Frightfully low resistance" (d4 or d6) to "Very high resistance" (d12, d20, or higher). Whenever they are forced to resist damage, they must roll over the damage they currently have. If they roll over, no effect; if they match or roll under, the intended effect happens. If you have d10 Lethal resistance, taking one point of damage gives you a 10% chance to die. Taking another, on the next round, adds 10%--for a sum total of 20% chance on that roll. Those odds get bad fast--but even one measly point of damage (after armor) can kill you, no matter how tough a character you've built. Of course, not all damage sticks around; Disarm damage, for instance, never stacks, and each attempt to disarm you is taken separately.
That makes DSRPG a fairly lethal system. However, it's also a very tactical system. Any particular character build (until you get to scarily high-experience or expensive ones) has some number of weaknesses. Perhaps your highly-armored warrior is prone to trip attacks, or worse, disarming. Or, perhaps your highly nimble monk is susceptible to attribute damage, bringing his stats down to manageable levels. Preferably, battle won't deal damage (of the lethal variety) every round, but will involve characters trying to find ways around each others' defenses, or trying to force a withdraw.
Interestingly enough, the same mechanic applies quite well to social combat. Convincing someone of a given fact or point of view has a different resistance than changing their attitude. And either may happen with the first social action, or the hundredth; it's hard to know.
The various resistances, etc, will take some ironing out, let alone the wiles and tribulations of the magic system, but it's far more workable than before. I'm enthused, and hope to have something for y'all that's a bit less theory soonish.
(Note: Soonish may not actually be soon)