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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Game Design Foibles, when to step back.

Game Design Foibles, when to step back.

One of the best parts of being involved in role playing games, for me any way is the ability to share what’s bouncing around in my head with others. I enjoy the process of creating things and showing them to others. In this way any RPG I have ever written is akin to a six year old's macaroni necklace, I just want to show the damn thing to someone.
Take this !
I have been very lucky to be part of a group that lets me try things out, and who are honest enough to tell me if something is crap or not.

We play tested one of the games I’m kicking around over the weekend, just a quick test of how magic should work, then a conversation about it. The thing that struck me almost instantly is how much I (the designer of the game) need to get the hell out of the games way and let it do what it do.

Here we have a game based exclusively on the random, your character is random your skills are random your weapons, the adventure, the whole nine years, Random.  Our group loves playing it; because these are the guys for the most part agonize over their characters. One of our characters (Reginald the paladin) is literally old enough to vote.

With this latest project they whip up a guy and do crazy shit until the guy dies or the game ends, if the player doesn't like that character they make another easy-peasy. It gives the group a sense of character freedom they might not have with their more developed characters. With their more established characters they are more careful and plotting, because they know if they get struck down in battle, I’ll let it stand.



In a perfect example during our last game the group crashed a flying boat, one player joked, “Don’t worry I’ll have a new guy before we hit the ground.” It’s that kind of game.

Next !


So where did I start to get it wrong?
I love campaigns, I love the continuing adventures of heroes in a fantasy or sci-fi settings, and it’s my bread and butter. I get a kick out of throwing all kinds of plot lines into the water seeing what the players hook onto then tying all of the ends together  a few months later. I get a thrill out of it.

My latest game poo-poos the idea of campaign play, still I insist on creating mechanics for things like filling a characters spell book, leveling up, gaining new skills, and long term character goals. I love all of this stuff, but most of it can be left out of this kind of game in favor or an “Action NOW!” approach. I put in rules for character advancement up to level 5. (At the table a running joke is when a character in this game reaches level 5 they graduate and become a 1st level character in a “real” R.P.G.)

No not like that, like  some thing a coastal wizard would cook up

I don’t think I'll ever see a level five Amazing Adventurers and Exciting Exploits character.  I don’t believe anyone will be able to resist making another character if their current one goes south for some reason.
The idea of disposable characters goes against everything I have ingrained in myself about role playing games. As a game it works, its fun and people enjoy it.  I see now that need to change my perspective while designing, and not try to bend the design to my stale perspective.

For the record I never actually intended this project to drift into the realm of designing a long campaign style, multiple session game. It just sort of happened because that’s how I’m naturally wired. In truth the bulk of the game was written as a lark over the course of a weekend, I could just cut the game back to only what I had done then, and it woudl be fine. In truth allot of good stuff has been added since and I would hate to lose it.

So what have I done / will I do?

  • I am going to keep the five levels and the very basic character leveling system.  If a player gains some attachment to their random character after a game or two, I don’t want to punish that.
  • I am changing spells so that casters get more Key words at the bringing of their careers, so wizards can do more and be more fun RIGHT AWAY.
  • In the future I will be changing the chart of adventure ideas to include more quick kickers and fast starting ideas that have an immediate jumpstarting effect on the game. The chart should include more options like “An Angry mob pursues you!” or “A vicious barroom brawl has broken out!” Rather than “Smuggle evidence of a crime that took place at the western Shrine.” (That is one I actually rolled up and used for our last game.)
  • I’m also going to be looking at how skills work and how I might be able to give other classes the freedom that wizards enjoy, by increasing access to skills in the flow of the game rather than as a more traditional level up mechanic.

The end point:
A lot of people love to throw around the term, style or even perspective when talking about design.  Sometimes when a design starts to veer in unexpected directions it is best to know (or be told) when the designers personal perspective has started to get in the way. It is not always easy to listen to others and step back look at what we have written and admit, “I am grasping at the wrong straws.”  I know it’s not easy for me and it’s likely just as difficult for others.

When working on a game design don’t try to push the fun back into its confining little box. If the players are going to make something totally different out of it, go where the fun is, because the groups enjoyment is really the end goal of all this anyway.

As always Thank you for reading
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