Posted: 27 April, 2014 in Okategoriserade

, F. Bvmn,,öp
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On intent in design, part Deux

Posted: 13 February, 2013 in ramblings, rpg, rpg design

Moving on:

So, “intent in design” is a really huge subject; thus far I am arguing several points, which could stand being clarified some:

* Page count devoted to a partiular subject (example not pulled out of thin air: combat rules) means that you are telling people that this subject is important in proportion to said page count. A huge ccombat chapter that is five times the length of the amount of rules for non-battle skill resolution creates and impression that combat will be much more front-and-center than other approaches to problem solving.

* Likewise, the type of action resolution/problem solving that is the most mechanically efficient translates as the type of action that the player is expected to pursue. If one option is either very hard to to (high difficulties), unsupported by the game or simply handled in an arbitrary “The GM decides” manner (which means that it cannot be counted on, as opposed to actions whose mechanical consequence are dictated by the system and can´t be handwaved away “if appropriate”) and another has clear, set-ut rules that you can use to accurately judge your chances of success, well – if the latter is not a type of action that you´ve set out to promote then you have missed your goal as a designer.

This is not to say that you can´t reach a good rapport between the players of the game and the person running it – many groups seem to function by having a finely tuned sense of each other´s priorities. It´s just that this is something that happens entirely outside of the design of a rules engine (unless you´re designing it entirely for your own group, in which case – rock on) and so highly dependent on the specifics of personal chemistry that it can´t simply be counted on.

So – we´re back at the question of what your game is about. As I said before, while there are definitely designers that think this through from the ground up, I am convinced that there are many who either doesn´t think this through at all (possibly working more with “gut feeling” than with making plans) or who make a misstep fairly soon (such as bringing the primacy of combat rules into games that shouldn´t really be all about combat; this kind of concepts that persist way past their expiration date and who tend to be included disproportionally to their use is something that I call cargo cult design, a term coined by someone on RPG.net (Zeea, if I recall correctly) and will go further into in a later post). I am not sure why – it´s quite possibly because we´re a niche hobby and many designers are pretty much just fans who want to make something of their own. Examining your own assumptions at length and approaching your creation at least in part as a work of engineering is not something that comes naturally at all times.

Now, is there a point to this? I am actually working on it. I think that there is plenty of room to expand our POV when it comes to game design – may ideas that I try to espouse aren´t even new by any means – I mean, we´re talking stuff like chase scenes and talking to people to get them to see your point of view, and solving problems without cutting someone´s eyeballs out and turn everything into a horrible massacre. These are not far-fetched concepts! They are part and parcel of all the inspirational media that we know and love. What they aren´t is being staples of the RPG hobby, who is remarkably resistant to change and eithr uninterested or nonplussed about introducing anything that veers outside of the core D&D experience of “kill them and take their stuffs”.

And you know, there are times when doing a bit of the old cut and make them bleed is perfectly fine; sometimes we all want to play Tony Jaa, rushing through huge night clubs screaming about our elephant to people who cannot possibly understand you and then pull all their limbs out of their sockets one by one, in a single extended take, and just bask in the sheer glory of the asskickedness of it all.
Conversely, though, I am surprised about how few games beside REIGN who has bothered to feature rules for how organisations like kingdoms and secret societies interact. Or who like Spirit of the Century, Spycraft (I´m told) or REIGN (again) have featured fun and engaging chase rules.
And so on. There is definitely lots of room for expansion. I think that we owe ourselves to actually think about this for a few moments.

As with all posts I make, I do not lay claim to some specific expertise. I don´t claim to be able to tell you how to design games from atop my magical tower – this is more me sorting out my thoughts and ideas that I get from the design process, as well as from reading different RPGs and discussions thereof. We´re just shooting the shit here, right?

 

Okay. So: it seems to me that the very first thing you need to do when you sit down to start designing your awesome game is assess intentions. Basically, what do you need your game to do

This seems ridiculously obvious when put like that, I know – and yet, it seems to me like this is a step that quite a few game designers just walk past, a step so much taken for granted that you just miss out on giving it any amount of thought. You just jump straight into the meaty parts, the stuff where you decide on what attributes you´re going to pick, what dice we´re going to use (or if we´re going diceless – all kinds!), what kinds of powers (if any) that you need to make lists for…

 

… and you´ve basically skimmed over your mission statement. The game system is there, at its´ simplest, to facilitate action. We´ve all read the “what is a roleplaying game?” section in a million zillion book, so I´m not going to take you for another round of “imagine a game of cops and robbers, except that the system adjudicates if the other guy gets hit when you´re going BANG BANG” even though it´d be funny as hell to imagine your faces. Instead, I´d take it a step further – the system does not simply adjudicate, it enables and reinforces action. In many ways, the system of a particular game shapes how you (as a player, as the person running the game whom I refuse to call DM or GM or what have you) approach action. The tools a given system hands to you shape how you view and approach problems and conflict.

 

What is your game about? This is a sometimes contentious question – the approach championed by the Forge-driven school of design of laser focus irks some of a more traditionalist bent (who tend to see the rules engine as more of a world emulation engine that doesn´t make any particular thematic choices for you). I have played precious few games of the first variant (although I´ve read quite a few), but my experiences with more… for lack of a better term, “traditionalist” or “mainstream” games have led me to conclude that every single one of them also push you into choices and into sets of assumptions – they do not always wear these on their sleeves, true, but they´re there none the less. 

The easiest example to use tends to be the question of combat rules. Pick a core book from your shelf and flip it open on the table of contents; chances are that the chapter with combat rules is one of the more sizeable chapters in the book. The chances are overwhelming that it will at least be a separate chapter (unless you´re some sort of indie hippie bastard) from the other types of resolutions. This is something that is often assumed without question – probably stemming from the conflict game roots of the hobby, combat is an ever-present element of games that need no introduction or justification even when it might be disproportional to the inspirational materials for any given genre. Conversely, how many games bother to have a system for, say, chases (that are not simply a subset of the movement system) or convincing someone that you have a valid point (something that is often reframed as “social combat”, to further drive the point home).

 

And so combat remains one of the great fallbacks – you can always count on a fight in most games, and very often count on your combat skills being an excellent way to solve a given problem. Note that this is not meant to be an denoument of the presence of combat in games over all – I do enjoy action scenes as much as the next guy over (unless that guy is my friend Tobias, because damn that guy is insatiable); it is meant to indicate a lack of balance in presented options! The aforementioned chase scenes, for example – a longtime staple of action movies, but often unsupported to the point of being dull and tedious in an actual RPG.

How much time to you spend on a given subject? How do you approach it in the rules? Which type/s of action/s do you want to enable? What approaches are implied by the system to be the optional ones for resolving any given conflict? These are worthwhile questions to ask! 

 

With apologies for my rambling, I´ll return to this subject shortly.

Kicking and screaming

Posted: 8 February, 2013 in ramblings

Hello!

So this is my second or third attempt at a proper blogspace, where I will do my damnedest to collect thoughts and ideas – stuff on RPG design, prose and other stuff that I do. Hopefully this will be of interest to someone besides myself!

Oh, yes – introductions! I am Jerry Sköld, Swedish RPG writer, wuxia aficionado, father, gamer and many things besides. I am one of the writers of Eos-Sama’s wuxia RPG Legends of the Wulin, and currently the writer of several new RPG projects (which I cannot, alas, speak of yet – stay tuned!).

This blog was created both with the ambition to serve as a repository for those random ideas that pop up from time to time, as well as an incentive to actually write something new in a regular fashion. Let’s see if I can make it work.