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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: John Kirk on September 27, 2005, 08:43:09 PM



Title: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: John Kirk on September 27, 2005, 08:43:09 PM
Being an engineer by training and a software developer by trade, I have often thought that the tools of the software industry could apply to role-playing game design.  In fact, software design practices influenced much of Legendary Quest’s design, so I know at least some of it is germane. One of the most potent tools in a software developer’s toolbox is the concept of Design Patterns. Design Patterns are well-considered approaches to difficult problems whose solutions have been observed in previous works.  A little over a year ago, it occurred to me that the Design Pattern approach would work equally well in role-playing game design.  So, over the last year, I performed a study of various role-playing games in hopes of gleaning patterns.  Many of the games I examined were designed and written by this forum’s contributors.

Writing a book is an excellent way to force oneself to learn a subject, which I wished to do while preparing to tackle the 8th edition of Legendary Quest.  And, since browsing these forums has enriched my life over the years, I want to contribute something back. 

So, with some guidance from Mike Holmes, I wrote a book: “Design Patterns of Successful Role-Playing Games”.  The book contains patterns, both good and bad, that I encountered in my study.  It also contains design summaries of the various games I scrutinized.  The book is not done yet, but I think there’s enough there to illustrate what I envision.  I also think that it’s sufficiently complete to help out game designers to some degree.  You can download a draft version of the book from the Downloads page of my website at http://legendaryquest.com. 

I’d like to get feedback about the direction I’m heading with it.  I’d like this thread to focus on the concept of Design Patterns as it applies to role-playing game design.  Are Design Patterns something that can further our understanding of game design?  Should I tweak my approach to make it more pertinent to the needs of the game designer community?  Is this a reasonable step in the direction of RPG engineering?  Or, am I just way off base with this?

If you have questions or comments about a specific Design Pattern or Game Summary, I’ll be happy to respond.  But, please split those issues out into their own separate threads so we can keep this one scoped to a manageable level.  Including the term “Pattern”, “Anti-pattern”, or “Summary” in your thread’s title will help me identify it as something pertinent to this topic.

One final note:  Mike Holmes gave me a great deal of excellent feedback while writing this book, and I’d like to publicly thank him for that.  But, he hasn’t seen all of it yet at the time of this posting.  So, please attribute any blatantly idiotic blunders to me.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: contracycle on September 27, 2005, 11:48:18 PM
I think this a fantastic approach that will likely/hopefully produce games that are more purposefully, rather than inspirationally, assembled.  Bravo.  I've only scanned the document but it looks fantastic to me.  On the down side, this sort of analysis has been consistently stamped on to date and we shall have to see what happens.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Per Fischer on September 28, 2005, 12:25:56 AM
This is an awesome piece of work! I can't even begin to imagine the amount of research and work that must have gone into this.

Respect :)

Per


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: J. Tuomas Harviainen on September 28, 2005, 02:21:25 AM
Extremely impressive, John. That's a piece of work that is going to be extremely useful for design, with a side bonus of providing excellent summaries for people considering buying any of the games you describe. You're on a very good path with it.

Here's some small criticism, though:

- The only really significant problem I had with your text was that it constantly changes in style, from analytic to friendly chat to occasional moments of pedagogic condescension. If you have the time and the energy, tone the language a bit towards a more uniform structure (I'd personally prefer increasing the friendly how-to -guide style over the academic tone). Also give some consideration to how you reference the works of people you highly respect; a courteous "credit where credit is due" is better than the nearly fawning tone you occasionally use in those cases. (Not often, but still enough many times that it creates an illusion of not being completely objective, which you actually IMO are.)
- A bit more emphasis on the fact that you're dealing with just tabletop rpg would be nice. You mention it briefly on p. 4, but I think a separate disclaimer paragraph very early on would be good.
- A bibliography on non-game resources at the end would be welcome, and explain the background further. If you add one, consider also moving the ludography from page 4 to the end, but preserving it as a separate list.
- Some reference to Wraith: the Oblivion's Shadow system might be a good addition to the Conflicted Gauge segment.
- Add something to either Endgame, Structured Story, or both on how some games basically deal with just one story concept played over and over while others are broader - or just pretend that they are.
- One reward system that's missing is that some games give bonuses for expressing a character or the game's genre logic. It can be seen as a part of Narrative Reward, yes, but given the excellent precision you use in differentiating things like health/damage systems, this distinction might also be worth making.

All in all, a very good book, and something that I know I'll often be referencing in the future.

-Jiituomas


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: J. Tuomas Harviainen on September 28, 2005, 02:28:52 AM
which you actually IMO are
That vague statement is supposed to mean that contrary to the illusion, I think the book was highly objective and of good analytic quality.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Jack Aidley on September 28, 2005, 02:33:50 AM
Wow! Just wow! Great stuff, John. I'll try and get you some more meaningful feedback when I get time to read and digest.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Tobias on September 28, 2005, 02:54:44 AM
New daily commute reading. Thanks!


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Bankuei on September 28, 2005, 08:30:44 AM
Hi,

Though I've only skimmed and read bits and parts, this is an incredible document.  I suspect that this will find influence outside of the Forge in a BIG way, due to it's accessibility and focus on the mechanics.  Even at this stage, this document is the sort of analysis that few people have applied to any game, even one they're designing (sadly), much less across several.

I'll drop more feedback as I read deeper.

Chris


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Christoph Boeckle on September 28, 2005, 09:16:54 AM
I just read the introduction and took a brief look at the contents. It looks awesome!

I was wondering if you regard Ritual as a design pattern (Polaris comes to mind). If yes, and since this is still a draft, please consider talking about it, I'd be very interested in a discussion about that.

All the best for your project!


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: xenopulse on September 28, 2005, 09:28:36 AM
I second everything that's been said.  This looks awesome.

As for Polaris, I was going to bring that up for structured or ritualized drama resolution.  I think it's unique at this point, so it's not a pattern yet, but keep an eye out for more games that learn from it in the future.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Joshua A.C. Newman on September 28, 2005, 11:18:41 AM
What an opus! I don't have anything intelligent to say yet, only that I'm enthusiastic.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: rrr on September 28, 2005, 03:05:19 PM
Hello.

It really is impressive.  I started to skim read and then got sucked in to properly reading sections.  I'm going to have to try and get it printed out as I find it difficult to read on screen for such an amount of material!

I love the fact that you've gone for a kind of descriptive analysis of what the games actually do, it's really helpful to some one like me who's only just starting to think deeply about rules and mechanics.

wow.

Drew


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: John Kirk on September 28, 2005, 07:05:08 PM
I appreciate all of the positive responses.  Thank you all!  I must say that I wasn't expecting so much enthusiasm so quickly, but am gratified nonetheless.

- The only really significant problem I had with your text was that it constantly changes in style, from analytic to friendly chat to occasional moments of pedagogic condescension. If you have the time and the energy, tone the language a bit towards a more uniform structure (I'd personally prefer increasing the friendly how-to -guide style over the academic tone). Also give some consideration to how you reference the works of people you highly respect; a courteous "credit where credit is due" is better than the nearly fawning tone you occasionally use in those cases. (Not often, but still enough many times that it creates an illusion of not being completely objective, which you actually IMO are.)
- A bit more emphasis on the fact that you're dealing with just tabletop rpg would be nice. You mention it briefly on p. 4, but I think a separate disclaimer paragraph very early on would be good.
- A bibliography on non-game resources at the end would be welcome, and explain the background further. If you add one, consider also moving the ludography from page 4 to the end, but preserving it as a separate list.
- Some reference to Wraith: the Oblivion's Shadow system might be a good addition to the Conflicted Gauge segment.
- Add something to either Endgame, Structured Story, or both on how some games basically deal with just one story concept played over and over while others are broader - or just pretend that they are.
- One reward system that's missing is that some games give bonuses for expressing a character or the game's genre logic. It can be seen as a part of Narrative Reward, yes, but given the excellent precision you use in differentiating things like health/damage systems, this distinction might also be worth making.

Your criticism about the style changes is well taken.  You are not the first person to make that point about my writing.  I have a difficult time with that.  What I probably need is a big burly editor with a hairy back and zero patience to bludgeon me into submission.

I added some text to pg. 2 emphasizing the pen-and-paper nature of the games and to Structured Story in response to your comments.  I'll also consider the bibiliography idea.  However, I'd like to keep this thread from drifting into discussion about minor flaws or omissions.  Those kinds of critiques are certainly invaluable to me and will help the book's quality, but would be better handled via PM or e-mail (or split off into a separate thread if they warrant discussion).  What I'm looking for here are more "big picture" issues concerning the applicability of Design Patterns to role-playing game design.  For example, Mike Holmes once suggested to add a "First Known Use" section to each pattern.  I haven't done that because I haven't studied nearly enough games to give a reasonable estimate of the first known use for most of the patterns.  And, I question whether that would add any useful design information to a pattern anyway.  Such a section might be interesting, but it seems more trivia-based than design-based, if that makes sense.  I also considered adding a "Strengths" and "Weaknesses" section to each Game Summary, but it seemed like implementing those would be highly subjective.  I like to base Design Patterns on hard, easily verifiable, concrete facts.

Concerning Wraith: the Oblivion: I understand that many other games follow these patterns.  At least, that is my hope.  But, at this point I am really only interested in adding games to the study if they allow me to add important new patterns to the catalogue.  I hope that doesn't seem snooty or anything.  It's just that there are a lot of games out there and I cannot possibly cover them all.  Still, I am hoping that people will point out when adding a game would achieve this goal.  I'm looking for the fewest the number of games to achieve the largest number of quality patterns.  Appendix A shows that, even if no more games were added to the study, I have quite a few patterns yet to write (although I probably won't ever get to all of them).  I'm going to try to keep the total number of patterns down below 50, though.  I'm hoping that will force me to focus on only the most important ones.

I was wondering if you regard Ritual as a design pattern (Polaris comes to mind).

This actually brings up a very important point concerning Design Patterns in general.  The term "Ritual" as used here on the Forge seems rather fuzzy to me.  That's not a bad thing, it merely indicates that "Ritual" is an abstract concept.  Design Patterns, on the other hand, are concrete methods to represent or support abstract concepts.  For example, a character's "good looks" and "sociability" are abstract concepts.  But, in role-playing games they are often represented concretely via a "Charisma" gauge.  My feeling is that a number of different design patterns may eventually appear to support or encourage "Ritual", but it is not itself a design pattern.  Sorrowfully, I haven't read Polaris yet.  But, perhaps it does contain the first use of a form of drama resolution that will eventually be recognized as a design pattern.

Also, please note that something might be a pattern without being a design pattern.  Many games are written in English, for example.  That's possibly a marketing pattern, but it isn't a design pattern.
 


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Blankshield on September 28, 2005, 08:06:18 PM
I
I was wondering if you regard Ritual as a design pattern (Polaris comes to mind).

This actually brings up a very important point concerning Design Patterns in general.  The term "Ritual" as used here on the Forge seems rather fuzzy to me.  That's not a bad thing, it merely indicates that "Ritual" is an abstract concept.  Design Patterns, on the other hand, are concrete methods to represent or support abstract concepts.  For example, a character's "good looks" and "sociability" are abstract concepts.  But, in role-playing games they are often represented concretely via a "Charisma" gauge.  My feeling is that a number of different design patterns may eventually appear to support or encourage "Ritual", but it is not itself a design pattern.  Sorrowfully, I haven't read Polaris yet.  But, perhaps it does contain the first use of a form of drama resolution that will eventually be recognized as a design pattern.

John, take a look at Meguey's excellent post about ritual here (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=16661.0").  It may give some strong insight into how ritual pattern may tie into design.

That's all I have of note right now, except that due to a fortuitous need to test a new brand of toner at work, I'll be printing out your book tomorrow, and look forward to reading it. :)

James


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: John Kirk on September 28, 2005, 10:38:28 PM
John, take a look at Meguey's excellent post about ritual here (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=16661.0").  It may give some strong insight into how ritual pattern may tie into design.

That is, indeed, an excellent post.  It is very clear on what Meguey considers to be optimal Ritual.  It will serve quite well to illustrate the relationship RPG Design Patterns have to RPG Theory.

In the post, Meguey states that the optimal ritual consists of the following phases: Welcome, Gathering, Journey Inward, Work, Return, Celebration, and Release.  Meguey further says:

Ritual has a definite pattern, and if a part of the pattern is missing, the ritual will feel hollow, incomplete, or simply not work. It's an X or hourglass shape, and it flows like this (http://home.earthlink.net/~lumpley/megweb/images/Ritual101.gif).

Let's assume that Meguey can give explicit concrete instructions on what comprises each of these phases, and those phases can be unambiguously defined so that they can be recognized in a game.  We also know the design goal: Create Intensity.  If so, then what Meguey describes can be classified as design.  For purposes of this discussion, let's also assume that this particular design has appeared in two or more games.  That would make it a design pattern.  Let's call that the Optimal Ritual design pattern.  (It would be similar in many respects to the Structured Story design pattern, although the entire ritual would take place in a single session and would be much more explicit in the phases that it required.)

Now, let's also assume that there are two other games that incorporate the Welcome, Journey Inward, Work, Return, and Release phases, but leave out the Gathering and Celebration phases.  If Meguey is right, then this is a less-than-optimal Ritual.  This is also a design pattern, but one that Meguey believes is inferior to the Optimal Ritual design pattern.  Let's call it the Less-Than-Optimal Ritual design pattern.  Both support Ritual.  Both have concrete well-defined identifiable requirements.  Both are design patterns.  Now, let's assume that after thorough discussion, it is decided that Meguey is actually right and the Less-Than-Optimal Ritual design pattern is always inferior to the Optimal Ritual design pattern.  That makes the Less-Than-Optimal Ritual a design anti-pattern, since there is always a better alternative.

Now, if the term "Ritual" is defined as always having Meguey's phases, then there is no distinction between "Ritual" and the "Optimal Ritual" design pattern described above.  But, prior to reading Meguey's post, I had only seen "Ritual" in more abstract terms as in Chris Lehrich's excellent article Ritual Discourse in Role-Playing Games (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/_articles/ritual_discourse_in_RPGs.html).  I could easily envision some other sequence of steps that would qualify as a "Ritual" according to this more abstract concept.  It may be a poorly designed ritual, but a ritual nonetheless.  So, yes, what Meguey is describing could be considered a design pattern.  But, I think what she is describing is a mechanical implementation of a more abstract concept intended to satisfy a specific design goal.

We should also be aware that a game may try to satisfy the design goal of creating intensity in some fashion entirely unrelated to Ritual.

Does that make sense?


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: J. Tuomas Harviainen on September 28, 2005, 10:51:04 PM
We should also be aware that a game may try to satisfy the design goal of creating intensity in some fashion entirely unrelated to Ritual.

The core question is on whether a game is designed to create a liminoid (or, according to some game-as-ritual theorists, even liminal) state or not. If it is, that would be a Ritual Design Pattern, very distinct from other forms of intensity.

-Jiituomas



Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: gsoylent on September 29, 2005, 12:08:27 AM
First of all, great work. I mean it!

As for feedback, here goes. Make what you will of it.


1. Why not, for each game, get some feedback from the actual fans on the question "Why does the game work for you?" You could post "Why does Rifts work for you?" on a Rift forum, "Why does CoC work?" on the CoC forum. ron thge responses you can than select the most telling ones.

The reason I suggest this is that, while I perfectly understand you not wanting to make subjective value judgements on specific games, the analysis of each game seems to lack a bit of punch, some sort of final verdict. So the reader just sees the theory but does not get any feel for how this works in practice.


2. This may seem a strange thing to say, given the context, but I thought it was a bit odd that there were so many "Forge" games in the list in the draft. Oaky, in a way I can understand this choice. There is so much more innovation real design work going on in the new indie game world compared to the often very conservative, even derivative, world of mainstream rpgs (not much point looking in detail at 30 different D&D clones), but it just feels a bit partisan, not very representative. Maybe you can add a few more mainstream games to your anaylsis. Games like Amber, Castle Falkenstien, Over the Edge and Feng Shui all had some pretty unique design ideas to disucss. And no, I am not just plugging "my personal favorites" (Amber is the only one of those I've played extensively, and that was a long time ago).

3. I do echo the previous remark that the tone swaps from technical to informal far too often.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: J. Tuomas Harviainen on September 29, 2005, 12:27:12 AM
The reason I suggest this is that, while I perfectly understand you not wanting to make subjective value judgements on specific games, the analysis of each game seems to lack a bit of punch, some sort of final verdict. So the reader just sees the theory but does not get any feel for how this works in practice.

I thought that was one of its clear strengths! It's descriptive but has no value statements, nothing that could be seen as a quality hierarchy. That way it'll face less subjective criticism, and will be treated as the useful technical manual that it essentially is. So I for one recommend /not/ asking for player feedback.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Jack Aidley on September 29, 2005, 01:28:46 AM
OK, I've read up to about page 70, and flicked through the descriptions of games (paying close attention, obviously, to Great Ork Gods). And I've a few comments on what I've read so far:

1. To echo J. Tuomas, the tone does oscilate seemingly randomly from dryly academic to jovial and chatty. This isn't entirely a bad thing - the Gang of Four's Design Pattern book is one of the most turgid and unreadable books I've come accross, whereas your work is eminently readable. While it's important you don't lose the technical manual feel of it, it's also important that it remains readable.

2. I found some of the comments overly subjective and judgemental, in places stating that a different approach would be better rather than simply enumerated strengths and weaknesses. I think you should avoid this kind of comment in the Pattern descriptions.

3. You don't seem to me to have met your own criteria for identifying patterns. In particular you don't seem to have stuck to only having positive design features. Also, a few of the patterns seem out of place (Anonymous rule comes under both these objections).

But these are really just picking the nits, great work.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: John Kirk on September 29, 2005, 06:30:57 AM
1. Why not, for each game, get some feedback from the actual fans on the question "Why does the game work for you?" You could post "Why does Rifts work for you?" on a Rift forum, "Why does CoC work?" on the CoC forum. ron thge responses you can than select the most telling ones.

The reason I suggest this is that, while I perfectly understand you not wanting to make subjective value judgements on specific games, the analysis of each game seems to lack a bit of punch, some sort of final verdict. So the reader just sees the theory but does not get any feel for how this works in practice.

2. This may seem a strange thing to say, given the context, but I thought it was a bit odd that there were so many "Forge" games in the list in the draft. Oaky, in a way I can understand this choice. There is so much more innovation real design work going on in the new indie game world compared to the often very conservative, even derivative, world of mainstream rpgs (not much point looking in detail at 30 different D&D clones), but it just feels a bit partisan, not very representative. Maybe you can add a few more mainstream games to your anaylsis. Games like Amber, Castle Falkenstien, Over the Edge and Feng Shui all had some pretty unique design ideas to disucss. And no, I am not just plugging "my personal favorites" (Amber is the only one of those I've played extensively, and that was a long time ago).

3. I do echo the previous remark that the tone swaps from technical to informal far too often.

1.  As J. Tuomas Harviainen points out, I really want to avoid value judgements to circumvent needless arguments over who's game is "better".  Also, the point of the book is not the Game Summaries, but rather the Design Patterns.  The Game Summaries exist merely to provide source material and support to the patterns.  Insomuch as the summaries do that, I feel satisfied that value judgements are unnecessary.  If the consensus ends up being that they do not meet this goal, then I will have to add something further to them.

2. You are correct in your assessment.  The main reason for having so many Indie games is that I wanted to obtain the highest Design Patterns to Game Summary ratio as possible.  If there are some more traditional mainstream games that would allow me to add more important patterns to the catalogue, I'm all for including them.  My actual starting point was Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby! (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=5564.0").  I had a hard time finding some of the games on the list.  So, I ended up replacing some with others.  Mike gave me the "thumbs up" on the list I finally ended up with in terms of it covering a wide spectrum of ideas. 

3. I will obviously have to work on that.

2. I found some of the comments overly subjective and judgemental, in places stating that a different approach would be better rather than simply enumerated strengths and weaknesses. I think you should avoid this kind of comment in the Pattern descriptions.

3. You don't seem to me to have met your own criteria for identifying patterns. In particular you don't seem to have stuck to only having positive design features. Also, a few of the patterns seem out of place (Anonymous rule comes under both these objections).

That's not nitpicking at all.  Those are absolutely truthful statements that are important.  Those instances you mention are one of the main reasons I want to get feedback.  If you'll notice, there is a Design Anti-patterns section in the book that is entirely devoid of any anti-patterns.  I absolutely refuse to label anything as an anti-pattern before discussing it, though.  Obviously somebody thought it was a good idea at some point or they wouldn't have included it in their game.  The problem is, I have been having a hard time justifying some of the patterns.  I want to get feedback on those helping me to either justify the pattern as being appropriate in certain circumstances or verifying that those patterns are, indeed, anti-patterns.

Again, thanks for the feedback!


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Adam Dray on September 29, 2005, 09:25:01 AM
This is a remarkable document. It goes beyond cataloging and really gets at the heart and soul of the patterns. I am impressed with your insight into the implementation challenges each pattern presents.

I won't repeat what others have said but I agree with most of their comments.

In addition, I think the book would benefit from a cross-index for pattern aliases. I went looking to find "conflict resolution" and it took me a while to discover it as an "also known as" for one of the types of contests.

The gauge diagrams remind me much of systems thinking (http://www.systems-thinking.org/) models. I like your diagramming conventions but find it a little hard to know at a glance what is an add relationship and what is a subtract relationship. Check out the web site (especially Gene's introduction (http://www.systems-thinking.org/intst/int.htm)) and consider using some of his diagramming conventions. At the least, consider those ideas about reinforcing loops and balancing loops and what they mean to game design.

Again, an amazing feat of analysis and writing. Its use will be a part of my game design process for years to come.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Marco on September 29, 2005, 10:48:53 AM
Bravo!

This is exactly the sort of bottom-up approach that's been lacking. I think this sort of analysis is what will produce real, fruitful RPG theory with potentially predictive results.

Good job!

-Marco


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Paul Czege on September 29, 2005, 11:12:32 AM
It's interesting to me that the Gang of Four weren't interested in analyzing why projects fail, because damn if that isn't what I'm most interested in seeing now, some comparison between successful and unsuccessful games with similar macro-level architectures of patterns. (For instance, I'd love to see the architecture of The Last Exodus compared to a "successful" game with a similar architecture.)

John, or someone, can you convince me why I shouldn't care?

Paul


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: tj333 on September 29, 2005, 05:53:31 PM
The only thing that I really noted that was missing form this was different dice mechanics.
In the appendix you mention the die pools, margins of success, and similar so the book is not completely lacking in such but I can see reason for more detail either in this book or another to give a run down on dice mechanics.

Aside from that small complaint this is a wonderful resource here and a very interesting read (I finished the day you posted it myself.).

The review of the game systems at the end is really helpful for people who have not played those games before and have been told to check them out.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: John Kirk on September 29, 2005, 09:35:51 PM
The gauge diagrams remind me much of systems thinking (http://www.systems-thinking.org/) models. I like your diagramming conventions but find it a little hard to know at a glance what is an add relationship and what is a subtract relationship. Check out the web site (especially Gene's introduction (http://www.systems-thinking.org/intst/int.htm)) and consider using some of his diagramming conventions. At the least, consider those ideas about reinforcing loops and balancing loops and what they mean to game design.

Well, I'll be damned.  Folks, that is a significant website.  In addition to the pages Adam listed, look at Archetypes (http://www.systems-thinking.org/arch/arch.htm).

If anyone can identify two role-playing games using one of the patterns mentioned on that page, please let me know.  (Hell, let me know if you can find even one.)  That is, let me know of any of the listed patterns other than the Balancing Loop and Reinforcing Loops, which I see already appear in games included the Game Summaries.  Resource is actually a simple form of Balancing Loop.  And, Sorcerer and TORG include Reinforcing Loops.  I am going to have to look closer at those.

If nobody can come up with any games following those patterns, then write one.  Please.  That's a golden opportunity for a unique game engine.

Now, I do have some criticisms of the diagramming technique used on the site.  I believe those criticisms will help explain why I designed Gauge Diagrams like I did, so I don't think it is too far off topic:

1) Originally, I decorated arrows with "+" and "-" like Gene Bellinger does.  That is a problem because the decorations end up cluttering large diagrams making them hard to read.  Take a look at the Priority Gauge diagram or many of the large Game Summary diagrams and imagine a "+" or "-" next to each arrow.  It gets real ugly real fast, especially when multiple arrows point to a single gauge.  Essentially, the diagram must be stretched out to keep the visual clutter down, so less fits on a page.  Also, "+" and "-" decorations unnecessarily bias the reader into thinking about addition and subtraction, which is only one way that gauges can interact.  (See the Gauge pattern for others.)

2) Gene makes the assumption in his diagrams that large values are "good" and small values are "bad".  For the problem domain he is addressing, that may be true (I didn't read deeply enough yet to know).  But, for RPG's in general, that is incorrect.  Not only are small numbers sometimes preferable to large ones, but sometimes a single gauge value is both good and bad (see the Conflicted Gauge pattern).  That's why I use various filled and open circles to represent gauges of various types.

3) Using color in a diagramming technique means the diagramming technique is hard to use.  I learned this from Grady Booch, one of the primary inventors of UML, which is the most successful diagramming technique used in the software industry today.  The reason is simple.  A person needs to be able to use a diagramming technique with nothing but pencil and paper.  That way, he can scribble something down on the back of an envelope while riding a bus to work.  So, a diagramming technique should use only black and white.

It's interesting to me that the Gang of Four weren't interested in analyzing why projects fail, because damn if that isn't what I'm most interested in seeing now, some comparison between successful and unsuccessful games with similar macro-level architectures of patterns. (For instance, I'd love to see the architecture of The Last Exodus compared to a "successful" game with a similar architecture.)

John, or someone, can you convince me why I shouldn't care?

You should care about why games fail.  The Gang of Four weren't interested in failure, but that doesn't make it unimportant.  It's just hard to analyze, because there are a whole lot more ways to make a game (or anything else) fail than there are to make it succeed.  Failing is easy to accomplish.  Succeeding is difficult.  Leaving the study of failure untouched allowed others to step in and conduct that research, though.  That is what anti-patterns are all about.  Identifying patterns that are in common usage that just don't cut the mustard.  I am fully expecting some of the Design Patterns listed in the book (and others we write up in the future) to be identified as anti-patterns.  I'm just not willing to unilaterally call them anti-patterns.  Also, I think that in focusing on successful games, we will learn about both success and failure.  Studying successful games will eventually teach us important causes of why games fail.  The reason is that very few games (if any) do everything perfectly.

tj333, 

Yes, I need to cover dice mechanics.  Unfortunately, the muse of dice mechanics writing has not yet landed on my keyboard.  I'll probably get around to it eventually.  I just haven't thought of much interesting to say about the topic yet.

.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: tj333 on September 29, 2005, 10:48:04 PM
tj333, 

Yes, I need to cover dice mechanics.  Unfortunately, the muse of dice mechanics writing has not yet landed on my keyboard.  I'll probably get around to it eventually.  I just haven't thought of much interesting to say about the topic yet.

Would you be willing to have me do some of the work on die mechanics? It would probably take me near a month to get something at the level of you work.
Also no promises on end product but I would be willing to give it a try if you are willing to take th chance.

It’s just with your work and some of the other things I have been looking at I want to try and contribute something somewhere.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: gsoylent on September 29, 2005, 10:50:56 PM
John Kim did a very food overview of a whole range of dice methods used in rpgs. Have a look at http://www.darkshire.net/%7Ejhkim/rpg/systemdesign/dice-motive.html


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Bill_White on September 30, 2005, 07:26:40 AM
Three comments: 

(1) I have been making my way through "Design Patterns" and think it's a great piece of work.  I've begun to try to map out the design on my own current project; I already recognize some "anonymous rules" that deserve splitting out.  So it's at the very minimum a useful heuristic device.  Thanks, John.

(2) Another emergent pattern to keep your eye on could be called the "Tarot" pattern.  This is where a card-draw gauge informs a fuzzy gauge of some kind.  In plain English, a card is drawn and its "meaning" (perhaps with an intervening table look-up) is used to shape the in-game situation in some way.  Recent implementations include Chris Lehrich's Shadows in the Fog and Jason Morningstar's Shab-al-Hiri Roach.  In the former, interpretation of Tarot cards by the players maps on to magical events or mystical confluences in the game-world.  In the latter, the card a player draws is read to determine the sort of action his or her character will take (and the card is read differently depending on whether or not the character is possessed by the game's eponymous insect).  AD&D's Deck of Many Things may be the earliest implementation of this pattern.  The DM would present players with a deck cards from which they could choose to draw up to three cards; the various cards caused different circumstances to occur in-game (e.g., lose all of your treasure, inherit a small keep, have a trusted henchman turn against you, etc.).  Like the "Ritual" pattern discussed above, we may see more of this sort of thing in the future.

(3) Minor typo fix:  Call Mike Holmes's prefatory remarks a "Foreword."

Bill


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Kynn on September 30, 2005, 05:21:01 PM
I'm reading through this now. One of the only things I haven't liked is when your editorial tone -- "this is a stupid idea", in effect -- comes through.  Rather than examining the pluses and minuses of certain ways of doing things, there are several sections which just seem outright dismissive.  Perhaps because Alignment came first in alphabetical order this stands out more.

The other thing that was a bit of an annoyance was an over-reliance on referencing pretty obscure games, most of which are from Forge contributors. It seems to limit the discussion a lot when half of the games are relative unknowns, and almost seems like you're mentioning/praising them to either advertise them or curry favor.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: John Kirk on October 01, 2005, 02:25:28 PM
tj333,

I appreciate the enthusiasm.  You actually do not need to ask my permission since I have already given it via the Creative Commons License under which I released the book.  Since a lengthy explanation of what is allowable and what is not does not directly relate to the topic of this thread, I split those issues out into another thread here (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=17057.0).

By the way, do you have a name?  It is somewhat disconcerting to speak to a couple of initials and a number, although my employer has the opposite opinion.

Three comments:

(1) I have been making my way through "Design Patterns" and think it's a great piece of work. I've begun to try to map out the design on my own current project; I already recognize some "anonymous rules" that deserve splitting out. So it's at the very minimum a useful heuristic device. Thanks, John.

(2) Another emergent pattern to keep your eye on could be called the "Tarot" pattern. This is where a card-draw gauge informs a fuzzy gauge of some kind. In plain English, a card is drawn and its "meaning" (perhaps with an intervening table look-up) is used to shape the in-game situation in some way. Recent implementations include Chris Lehrich's Shadows in the Fog and Jason Morningstar's Shab-al-Hiri Roach. In the former, interpretation of Tarot cards by the players maps on to magical events or mystical confluences in the game-world. In the latter, the card a player draws is read to determine the sort of action his or her character will take (and the card is read differently depending on whether or not the character is possessed by the game's eponymous insect). AD&D's Deck of Many Things may be the earliest implementation of this pattern. The DM would present players with a deck cards from which they could choose to draw up to three cards; the various cards caused different circumstances to occur in-game (e.g., lose all of your treasure, inherit a small keep, have a trusted henchman turn against you, etc.). Like the "Ritual" pattern discussed above, we may see more of this sort of thing in the future.

(3) Minor typo fix: Call Mike Holmes's prefatory remarks a "Foreword."

Bill

I'm glad you have been able to make some use of it.

The Tarot pattern sounds interesting.  I just downloaded both of the games you mentioned.  I'll take a look at them when I get the chance.

I'm reading through this now. One of the only things I haven't liked is when your editorial tone -- "this is a stupid idea", in effect -- comes through. Rather than examining the pluses and minuses of certain ways of doing things, there are several sections which just seem outright dismissive. Perhaps because Alignment came first in alphabetical order this stands out more.

Your comment about Alignment is quite valid.  Despite the fact that my own game, Legendary Quest, is alignment based, I had a hard time justifying the pattern.  Discussion of that specific pattern's merits is outside the scope of this thread, though.  So, I split that topic out into a separate thread "Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?" (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=17058.0).  I would appreciate any insights you could give me on that question.

The other thing that was a bit of an annoyance was an over-reliance on referencing pretty obscure games, most of which are from Forge contributors. It seems to limit the discussion a lot when half of the games are relative unknowns, and almost seems like you're mentioning/praising them to either advertise them or curry favor.

Well, I wouldn't personally call it an "over-reliance", really.  Approximately 1/3 of the games are Indie games.  The other 2/3 are mainstream.  (To be exact, 11 of the 30 games are indie.)  As stated before, my goal was to get a broad overview of a lot of different games, both cutting-edge and traditional.  Some of them require multiple volumes, some are complete in only a single rule-book, and some can fit on a single page.  Some are purchased.  Some are free.  Some are narrative.  Some are gamist.  Some are fortune-based, some are karma-based, and some are drama-based.  It's really not an easy thing to cover the whole spectrum, and I'm sure I've missed a number of important games.  In time, I hope to correct that.  But, that all requires time and effort and I figured it was time to get something out there for feedback.

Others have mentioned that my praise for some of the games needs to be toned down.  So, I'll have to work on that.  When I saw something I thought was cool, sometimes I made the mistake of saying so.  If I've given the impression that I'm somehow doing this to advertise games, let me assure you that I am obtaining no financial returns for including any game in my study.  And, if advertising was a primary goal, surely I would have included my own games in there somewhere.

Thanks for your input.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: tj333 on October 02, 2005, 09:53:19 PM
tj333,

By the way, do you have a name?  It is somewhat disconcerting to speak to a couple of initials and a number, although my employer has the opposite opinion.

My name is TJ McCrea. TJ is still intials but Ive always used them as my name.Now the number is waht makes me distintive. Googling tj333 give near 3 pages of links to me, including this thread. ;)


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Owen on October 02, 2005, 10:26:02 PM
I would just like to say that I, too, thoroughly enjoyed looking through your book.  I haven't read it all yet, but it definitely seems interesting.

Also, I want to echo the desire to see some explanation of dice mechanics, and/or of fortune mechanics in general.  Though that might be a large enough topic for an entire sequel!


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Montola on October 02, 2005, 11:56:31 PM
Hmm, I haven't read this book yet, but at a quick browse I concluded that the approach is quite similar to Game Design Patterns (http://www.gamedesignpatterns.org/) approach advocated by Staffan Björk and Jussi Holopainen. Their main collection of game design patterns has been published recently as a book (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1584503548/103-4140596-2151805), containing some 300 or 500 patterns -- including such as "role-playing" and "character". (There are also some conference publications on their website).

Oh dear, I wonder when I get the time to read 260 more pages. :-)


 - Markus


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Rob Carriere on October 03, 2005, 12:16:26 AM
John,
I've finally had a change to look at your book this weekend. Wow. That's an impressive achievement.

My one nit at this point is one that's been pointed out before, namely the change of voice. I don't actually think the voice changes themselves represent a serious problem, the high overall quality of your writing ensures that, but in many places they are symptomatic of a change from objective description to subjective opinion. Since, as you argue eloquently in the introduction, a pattern is neither good nor bad without context, it follows that either your opinion as stated is not valid, or the thing described is not actually a pattern.

So I would recommend going over these places and adding context to your opinion (i.e. from "pattern X is foo" to "pattern X is foo when either Y or Z"). You'll probably find that tones down the informality automatically, so you'll be killing two birds with one stone. If it turns out that, actually, pattern X is always foo, then you've got anti-pattern on your hands.

SR
--


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Stefan / 1of3 on October 03, 2005, 06:59:17 AM
John, if you are interested in the Tarot pattern, you might want to check Engel by Feder&Schwert. The game is published with two sets of rules: D20 and the Arcana System.

In the latter the only gauges are the fuzzy ones created by a set of cards and the equally fuzzy effects of the characters' supernatural gifts.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Stefan / 1of3 on October 03, 2005, 07:00:20 AM
The game was translated by White Wolf.

((Why can't I edit my posts?))


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: ffilz on October 03, 2005, 08:55:27 PM
I've just started to dip into this, excellent work. One thought on adding additional games that demonstrate the patterns you've already identified:

While I understand your desire to get the most patterns for the least number of games described, I think it is worthwhile including more mainstream games, and also very well known examples of particular patterns. People will be better able to relate to the ideas the more of the games they are familiar with.

Identifying first occurence of each pattern would be interesting, but I agree it's value might not be high. It might be interesting though to see how the patterns developed, and maybe there's something to extract there. Perhaps such a study would make a nice paper for someone to write.

Frank


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: John Kirk on October 03, 2005, 10:26:28 PM
Hmm, I haven't read this book yet, but at a quick browse I concluded that the approach is quite similar to Game Design Patterns (http://www.gamedesignpatterns.org/) approach advocated by Staffan Björk and Jussi Holopainen. Their main collection of game design patterns has been published recently as a book (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1584503548/103-4140596-2151805), containing some 300 or 500 patterns -- including such as "role-playing" and "character".

I read the book a couple of months ago.  You can imagine my nervous anticipation as I waited for Amazon to ship it to me.  Yes, the approaches are similar but attack the problem from different angles.  Their book mainly focuses on computer games, although some of it is applicable to tabletop RPG's and other games as well.  I counted 166 patterns, actually.  My book focuses on tabletop RPGs, although some of it is applicable to computer RPG's as well.  I'm trying to keep the number of patterns down to less than 50.  The primary difference, though, is that most of their patterns are more abstract than mine.  (As you say, "roleplaying" is a pattern in their book.)  Perhaps because of their more abstract thrust, they omit the "Samples" section that I feel is vital to convey how a pattern is used in practice.  And, it's probably why the book contains no diagrams.  Even so, I'm sure it is quite useful in computer game design and promises to give game programmers a well-defined terminology.

John, if you are interested in the Tarot pattern, you might want to check Engel by Feder&Schwert. The game is published with two sets of rules: D20 and the Arcana System.

In the latter the only gauges are the fuzzy ones created by a set of cards and the equally fuzzy effects of the characters' supernatural gifts.

Is this a drama-based resolution system then?

One thought on adding additional games that demonstrate the patterns you've already identified:

While I understand your desire to get the most patterns for the least number of games described, I think it is worthwhile including more mainstream games, and also very well known examples of particular patterns. People will be better able to relate to the ideas the more of the games they are familiar with.

That is a good point.  I'll keep that in mind.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Stefan / 1of3 on October 03, 2005, 11:07:57 PM
Is this a drama-based resolution system then?

Yeah.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on October 04, 2005, 09:45:48 AM
John,

First off, extraordinary. It's a real contribution to the hobby (dare I say "the art"?) that someone has attempted for techniques (as you put it, the engineering) what Ron Edwards & co. have attempted for the theory: systematically look through what's out there, identify patterns, and suggest a common framework and terminology.

Second, I want to suggest more work for you to do. (Of course). From my still-partial reading of the book, your patterns are overwhelmingly concerned with (a) how characters are built, i.e. "chargen" and (b) how characters interact with the game-world, i.e. "task resolution"/"conflict resolution" -- which is of course what the vast majority of games spend the vast majority of their rules discussing. But I would argue that the pattern you identify as "Structured Story" (e.g. My Life with Master) actually belongs to another and poorly-understand category of patterns altogether, a category of which it is not the sole examplar: These are Patterns about how the game-world is set up, not just in terms of general "setting" but in terms of the specific environment that the player-characters must then interact with in play -- what we might call (c) "scenario design" or (to use the Forge term) "Situation design."

Now, most games are frankly very weak on structured, patterned scenario/situation design. They include what amounts to general advice ("rising action precedes the climax" or "don't kill the party in the second room") as opposed to specific, concrete procedure for constructing Situation. Vincent Baker's Dogs in the Vineyard is one of the few examples: Look at the "Town Creation" and "NPC creation" section and note how clearly defined the steps are, how constrained the GM's resources are, how focused the whole procedure is on a particular end result, and then compare with the vague "GM advice" in most RPGs. This isn't quite "Structured Story" -- the sequence of in-play events is not structured, but rather a sequence of pre-play decisions -- but it is clearly akin.

Are there other examples of situation/scenario design Patterns?
- I would suspect that much-maligned Dungeons & Dragons, with its linkage of player-character level to dungeon level to monster level in early editions, and the whole "challenge rating" system in later editions, is one of the few games besides Baker's to attempt comparably clear procedures for scenario design.
- There was an interesting discussion of how to create formal rules for how general setting translates into specific situations on Vincent Baker's website www.lumpley.com, which I link to and summarize in this Forge discussion which I shamelessly threadjacked (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=16425.0). But this "rules of derivation" mechanic hasn't been identified in any published game I know of.

Now, you're familiar with far more games than I, so you may be able to come up with more examples of this family of Patterns if you consciously look for them. In practice, since so few games actually do this, I suspect it'd be fairly easy to add another Pattern or two to the list and amend the existing entries (e.g. for Dogs) to show their specific implementations. Obviously, this is, as I said, me saying "Good job! Do more!" but I think it would add an important additional layer to what's already a great contribution.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: matthijs on October 04, 2005, 01:00:32 PM
Just wanted to say "yay!". And "fsck, now I have even more stuff to read". Amazing work, John!


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Christoph Boeckle on October 04, 2005, 01:14:04 PM
@Sydney:

Just off the top of my head, here are two more examples of games with situation-structure:

My Life with Master is chock-full of them: The Horror Revealed, Overture scenes on errands for the master, Endgame and probably more.

Polaris has them as well, with the Zeal gauge gently going into Weariness. A knight can only die after having reached enough Weariness. This can also give rise to a confrontation with the knight of Polaris.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on October 04, 2005, 01:28:33 PM
Ah, yes, how could I have forgotten Polaris -- John, I'm afraid that's required reading on several fronts now.

But to proceed to quibble with you, Christoph: I think a mechanically predetermined story arc during play, a la Polaris or My Life with Master, is a subtly but significantly different thing from a mechanical procedure to generate backstory prior to play, a la Dogs in the Vineyard.

Note that Dogs play does have a loosely predetermined story arc of "arrive, investigate, understand, and judge," but that's a separate thing from the Town Creation rules.

Note also, now that I think of it, that My Life with Master may exemplify both these Patterns, which may help me explain the elusive difference:

1) Structured Situation: The rules for Master specifically instruct the players to brainstorm together to come up with the Master, without the sequential steps of Dogs but with specified issues to consider, e.g. Brain/Beast, Feeder/Collector/Breeder/Teacher, The Others, Need, and Want. The game also specifies the Master's relationship to the Village and mechanically embodies it in the Fear and Reason scores, which again are set pre-game.

2) Structured Story: Once Master play begins, the fact that Self-Loathing and Weariness values can only go up, while Love goes both up and down, and the rules for scene-framing keyed to those values (including the Master's commands, Overtures to beloved Connections, Horror Revealed, and Endgame), all combine to produce a back-and-forth between Master and Minions over the fate of the village generally and their loved ones specifically until the Minions rebel, and the master dies.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: John Kirk on October 04, 2005, 11:10:01 PM
From my still-partial reading of the book, your patterns are overwhelmingly concerned with (a) how characters are built, i.e. "chargen" and (b) how characters interact with the game-world, i.e. "task resolution"/"conflict resolution" -- which is of course what the vast majority of games spend the vast majority of their rules discussing. But I would argue that the pattern you identify as "Structured Story" (e.g. My Life with Master) actually belongs to another and poorly-understand category of patterns altogether, a category of which it is not the sole examplar: These are Patterns about how the game-world is set up, not just in terms of general "setting" but in terms of the specific environment that the player-characters must then interact with in play -- what we might call (c) "scenario design" or (to use the Forge term) "Situation design."

That is an excellent idea, Sydney.  The previously mentioned Ritual concept might represent a sort of "Structured Session" pattern as well.  So, all of these patterns collectively might fit under a heading like "Structured Play".  I suspect Endgame would fit there as well.

Ah, yes, how could I have forgotten Polaris -- John, I'm afraid that's required reading on several fronts now.

Okay.  I just ordered it, along with some other things I've been wanting to look at.  Unfortunately, Engel is unavailable for purchase right now.  I guess they sold out.  I also ordered Over the Edge and Feng Shui.  Amber and Castle Falkenstein are unfortunately out of print as well, so no luck there.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Darren Hill on October 05, 2005, 03:07:57 AM
You can get a pdf of Falkenstein at DriveThru:
http://tinyurl.com/cblgz

Engel, too:
http://tinyurl.com/bve6g

Does the scene requesting/framing element of play in Primetime Adventures qualify as a design pattern?
Does PTA also fit both the Structured Story/Situation Design along with My Life With Master?


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on October 05, 2005, 05:24:09 AM
John, I'm glad to be of use to you in such an important project. And, yes, yes, this "family" of Patterns might indeed be where Ritual fits in.

In response to Darren:

PTA's emphasis on collective brainstorming of characters, setting, etc. does seem like a very loose form of Structured Scenario. Perhaps the loosest form of this Pattern would be a rule that explicitly tells the players (and GM) "everyone sit down and think about these
  • things: [1], [2], [3]...." as in PTA; then My Life with Master and Dogs in the Vineyard would represent tighter and more structured manifestations of the same thing. But perhaps the degree of structure is simply too different in these cases? Perhaps PTA-style "Brainstorming" is a different (albeit related) Pattern altogether, just as Traits are a different Pattern from Skills?

    Also, PTA's Issues/Story Arc mechanic does seem like a kind of Structured Story to me, albeit a very flexible one.

    As for PTA's scene-framing rules -- hmm; that seems different from either Structured Story or structured scenario/backstory/situation/whatever. Perhaps having explicit rules for scene-framing is a Pattern unto itself? Of course, all games (that I know of) require some kind of scene-setting and scene-framing, but I've only seen explicit guidance and rules in the Forge games.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Paul Czege on October 05, 2005, 10:40:44 AM
Engel, too:
http://tinyurl.com/bve6g

That's OGL Engel, right? So, basically d20 structurally? I think what John needs is the Arcana rules, which were not included in the translated English edition. Feder&Schwert did release a translation of the Arcana rules as a free pdf, but I'm not having any luck finding it on their website.

Paul


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Darren Hill on October 05, 2005, 11:11:16 AM
About OGL Engel: Oops - I didn't notice that.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: John Kirk on October 05, 2005, 07:21:56 PM
I was able to obtain Castle Falkenstein.  Thanks.  I also ordered Prime Time Adventures.  I'd like to keep this thread from drifting into a linkfest, though.  So, please PM me with any further links to either Amber or the Arcana version of Engel.

In fact, I believe that the purpose of this thread has been very well served.  The excellent feedback I've gotten will keep me very busy for a long while.  Thank you all.

If someone has something more to say about RPG Design Patterns in general, I'd be happy to respond.  But I think any further discussion about Ritual, Structured Scenarios, or other specific design patterns should be split off into other threads.  If someone has the inspiration to do so, I'll jump into the discussion.

Thanks again!


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: oreso on October 07, 2005, 02:41:55 AM
its kinda hard to navigate to use practically, like as a tool kit for games design. It would helpful if you could supply some kind of categories for these patterns, meaning the problems that these solutions solve.

So, I'm Joe Designer and I want mechanics to help regulate what choices my players make (to put them more in line with the genre of the game or their character's described personalities or just to take the damn game seriously), so I look at:
"Behaviour: Alignment, Attendance Reward, Idiom, Narrative Reward, Structured Story"
and go look up those individual patterns and see what suits.
Later on I get so miffed at my players bad behaviour i research:
"Damage: Hit Points, Trauma Guage, Wound Trait"

I dunno how easy that would be to implement but it sure would be useful, especially as the list of patterns gets bigger and more wide-ranging.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: cjr533 on October 07, 2005, 05:11:11 PM
Absolutely fascinating: I am reading through the patterms, and thinking about Conlicted Guage Surely the 12 binary oppositions which form Personality Traits in the rpg system Pendragon (1985) by Greg Stafford are fine examples of this?  It's interesting how often Pendragon's many unique (for the time) design patterms like modelling Relationships as well as other attributes are over looked.

I shall comment on the whole book once I have completed reading it, but enjoyibng what I have seen so far.

cj x


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Montola on October 13, 2005, 11:28:06 PM
Hmm, I haven't read this book yet, but at a quick browse I concluded that the approach is quite similar to Game Design Patterns (http://www.gamedesignpatterns.org/) approach advocated by Staffan Björk and Jussi Holopainen. Their main collection of game design patterns has been published recently as a book (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1584503548/103-4140596-2151805), containing some 300 or 500 patterns -- including such as "role-playing" and "character".

I read the book a couple of months ago.  You can imagine my nervous anticipation as I waited for Amazon to ship it to me.  Yes, the approaches are similar but attack the problem from different angles.  Their book mainly focuses on computer games, although some of it is applicable to tabletop RPG's and other games as well.  I counted 166 patterns, actually.  My book focuses on tabletop RPGs, although some of it is applicable to computer RPG's as well.  I'm trying to keep the number of patterns down to less than 50.  The primary difference, though, is that most of their patterns are more abstract than mine.  (As you say, "roleplaying" is a pattern in their book.)  Perhaps because of their more abstract thrust, they omit the "Samples" section that I feel is vital to convey how a pattern is used in practice.  And, it's probably why the book contains no diagrams.  Even so, I'm sure it is quite useful in computer game design and promises to give game programmers a well-defined terminology.

You are correct about the abstractness and meticulousness of Björk & Holopainen approach. It happens to be that I work in a project where theirs is one of the used approaches, and after a year I still can't speak patternese with them. (Not that I'd tried really hard, either). But their game design patterns list is intended to be "universal", not limited to digital games.

(About the number of the patterns, there are more on the CD, and even more that are unpublished -- I hear that the publisher cut a lot of them out, which is probably a good thing considering even the limited collection's hard approachability.)

Once I'll get the time to read yours, I'll be back about it.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: RenjiKage on October 20, 2005, 05:58:57 PM
Great Work! I stumbled across your book yesterday and I had to download it at once!

I have just read 20 or so pages, but I keeps me so enthralled I don't want to work right now (although I should!).

I am designing an rpg-system by myself (sorry, only in german so far) and I will reconsider my set of rules by reading this book.

I am a student of computer science (with focus on software engineering), so the idea to transfer knowledge from software engineering to rpg-engineering was a thought I had before, too. But I focused more on software-engineering-like project management (because my system consists of a core rule book and projects which enhance the core rules). I highly appreciate your work and I will try to contribute when I read your book. ^__^


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: oliof on November 14, 2005, 12:50:36 AM
I found a copy of the enflish arcana rules here:

http://www.birdsgate.de/federgalerie/Extras/ArkanaRulesUS.zip

Regards,
    Harald


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: John Kirk on November 16, 2005, 08:18:29 PM
its kinda hard to navigate to use practically, like as a tool kit for games design. It would helpful if you could supply some kind of categories for these patterns, meaning the problems that these solutions solve.

So, I'm Joe Designer and I want mechanics to help regulate what choices my players make (to put them more in line with the genre of the game or their character's described personalities or just to take the damn game seriously), so I look at:
"Behaviour: Alignment, Attendance Reward, Idiom, Narrative Reward, Structured Story"
and go look up those individual patterns and see what suits.
Later on I get so miffed at my players bad behaviour i research:
"Damage: Hit Points, Trauma Guage, Wound Trait"

I dunno how easy that would be to implement but it sure would be useful, especially as the list of patterns gets bigger and more wide-ranging.

I used to have all of the various monsters in Legendary Quest in a single book with the beasts divided out into sections of the various cultures from which they originated: Celtic, Greek, Slavonic, etc.  Being a folklore nut myself, I personally had no difficulty in finding what I needed when I needed it.  (For example, I almost instinctively knew that a Vodyany was a Slavonic water faery.)  But, my playtesters often grew frustrated because they didn't know which category/culture in which a particular monster was placed.  I don't know how many times they complained about that one bad decision.  They often knew the name of the thing, but had no clue about its origins.  What they wanted was a simple alphabetical list of all of the monsters so they didn't have to go digging though a Table of Contents or Index to find what they were seeking.

The Gang of Four design patterns are separated out into various categories: Creational, Structural, and Behavioral.  Like my LQ playtesters, I personally don't think of the GoF patterns in terms of these categories.  I just know all of the patterns by name and would prefer to look them up alphabetically.  Because of my experience with the various monster categories I created for LQ, I tend to think of design pattern categories as an example of over-categorization that gets in the way more than it helps.

But, I could be wrong.  Perhaps most people would find design pattern categories to be useful.  I have been criticized more than once concerning my "flat" list of patterns.  Does anyone have suggestions for a small set of categories that covers the entire breadth of patterns which helps convey their utility?  Or, do you think most people would prefer a simple alphabetical list?

I found a copy of the enflish arcana rules here:

http://www.birdsgate.de/federgalerie/Extras/ArkanaRulesUS.zip

Thanks for the link.  I'll take a look at it.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on November 17, 2005, 05:47:36 AM
Does anyone have suggestions for a small set of categories that covers the entire breadth of patterns which helps convey their utility?

I'd suggest "Character Generation," "Task/Conflict Resolution," and "Scenario/Setting/Situation Generation" (the last category having very few examples in it and being underdeveloped), as I've ranted before. I think the division reflects the way most gamers are used to seeing rules presented, although in practice you'd have to cross-reference extensively.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Kesher on November 17, 2005, 07:02:49 AM
John,

I'd certainly find categories useful in reading and referencing the book, with patterns alphabetized within each category.  I haven't finished reading the text yet, but Sydney's categories seem to cover what I've seen so far.  If you combine this with an index, you'd pretty much cover all your bases.

As a side note, the "Setting/Scenario/Situation Generation" idea, pattern-wise, is an interesting idea; it seems to me that it's really only in the indie-game world that that aspect of games has become hard-wired into the rules themselves.  I gotta hurry up and finish reading...

btw, as many have said elswhere in this thread, thanks so much for this book!  I'm a big fan of Christopher Alexander, and have wondered if his ideas could be applied to gaming somehow (though I was always thinking of System...)  You've certainly shown that they can!

Aaron


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Shimeran on November 17, 2005, 08:10:39 AM
The pdf was definately interesting.  I've made a few collections of rules ideas in the past but never really formalized them.  It would be great if game designers could go to a page or pull up a document and have a layout of common questions and solutions.  This file definately puts us a lot closer to that.

As far as categories go, you may want to start with something for general components.  For example, gauges, traits, and skills are pretty general items that can be used in character creation as well as conflict resolution.

Alternately, you can simply choose one scheme, whether alphabetic or categorical, and povided lists elsewhere to support other schemes.  I agree a list on common topics with names of applicable elements would be useful.  That way you can more quickly consider the options that relate to what your working on.  The experimental types could also use this to avoid common patterns and come up with something a bit different.

Donjon has an interesting story structure.  All adventurers start in "town" (an area of safety).  From there the party enters the "dungeon" (adventure areas).  The party is free to roam around this area and do pretty much what ever they want.  However, they won't pass into the next area until they finish all the checkpoints in the area.  These checkpoints are events and areas that  the gm can introduce at any time.  I'll have to check and see if this structure has been broken down in the patterns document, but it is part of the game rules.

Btw, thanks for the welcome in the alignment thread, John.  I forgot to thank you on my last reply there as I got so focused on breaking down alignment.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: M. J. Young on November 17, 2005, 09:51:51 AM
Not to make more work for you, but a taxonomical structuring might be more practical in many ways. You would have to devise the taxonomy, of course, but doing so might make the book more useful.

By this I mean something like "These things are all A's. An A is defined thus. The AA is an A distinguished by A; the AB is also an A, but different from the AA thus."

It would also give clearer definitions of the various elements, although it would require you to make some arguable choices--e.g., what you think is an A influenced by B someone else would label a B influenced by A--but if you think it through you should be able to devise a workable taxonomy.

This is very theoretical on my part, I must say.  I've downloaded the file and two of the proposed revisions, but as yet have not had time to unzip it.

--M. J. Young


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on November 17, 2005, 09:56:21 AM
the "Setting/Scenario/Situation Generation" idea, pattern-wise, is an interesting idea; it seems to me that it's really only in the indie-game world that that aspect of games has become hard-wired into the rules themselves.

Donjon has an interesting story structure.  All adventurers start in "town" (an area of safety).  From there the party enters the "dungeon" (adventure areas).  The party is free to roam around this area and do pretty much what ever they want.

Aha. But "provision yourself in Town, then wander at will around the Dungeon/Wilderness" is the oldest, best-established "story structure" in all of roleplaying: It's classic, hard-core, tournament-ready Dungeons & Dragons, before people decided that "dungeoncrawls" were juvenile and began trying to create "epic adventures" with actual plots (i.e., in most cases, railroads).

I know I said earlier, like Kesher, that explicit "scenario generation" mechanics are an Indie novelty, embodied in various ways of drawing up 1) "relationship maps": 1a) by extracting the backstory from a published novel or film (first found, to my knowledge, in Ron Edwards, Sorcerer's Soul); 1b) by collaboratively drawing up the r-map as a group endeavour (Seth Ben-Ezra, Legends of Alyria); or 1c) by following a step-by-step series of "town creation" rules (Vincent Baker, Dogs in the Vineyard). (Whether these three techniques are full Patterns in themselves, with the product, i.e. a "relationship map," constituting yet another Pattern, or whether they're all variations of one pattern, I couldn't say).

But implicit "scenario generation" systems, when I think about it, are as old as the hobby, with (2) published "dungeon modules" in Dungeons & Dragons being the obvious example. (2') Random elements (wandering monsters, rolling to see the contents of a room, etc.) are either a sub-Pattern or a related Pattern, since they're rarely used without any pre-planned material at all, if only a blank map.

Arguably, the (3) "epic" linear plot, aka railroading, is also an established Pattern -- I won't even call it an "anti-pattern," because it's only disfunctional if the players want to choose the direction of the story, and a railroad is lots of fun if you're along for the ride -- with (3') "trailblazing" as identified by John Kim and others probably constituting a sub-Pattern.

Trying to taxonimize all this (cladistics!), as M.J. Young suggests, would be worthy but difficult.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: Shimeran on November 19, 2005, 09:29:03 AM
Yes, Donjon does produce dungeon crawl stories, but that is what it's designed to do.  Perhaps stroy structure is the wrong term.  Let me try again.

Most games provide rules for conflict resolution and character creation.  However, to provide little more than guidelines when it comes to setting up a given session.  What's interesting is that Donjon formalizes a fairly standard set-up by breaking it up into definate chunks.  Granted, the game flow may be similiar, but it's worth noting the difference between a formal and informal session structure for a given game.  Informal structure are more open ended, while formal ones tend to have a stronger focus.

I also found the checkpoint system interesting.  In many games with pregenerated content, events are in fixed locations.  Instead of trying to bring the players to the key locations, Donjon places them in front of where the players happen to be going.

Anyway, it does seem that most game rules focus on resolving actions or handling character creation and developement.  A few  more examples of games that provide rules for session and story handling would be good.

What about meta-game awards?  Plenty of games will give points for showing up, doing something entertaining, ect..  The idea is that the character is awarded for something with no game world context. (xp awards for amusement -> "Wow, I really made a fool of  myself back there, but now I can play the piano.")  I'm not so much saying they're a bad thing as wondering how they fit into this design pattern scheme.


Title: Re: RPG Design Patterns
Post by: clehrich on November 20, 2005, 03:54:41 PM
This is an exceptional book -- with polish, I genuinely think it may be the most important single work on RPG design ever.  Kudos!

A few comments:

1. As others have said, the authorial tone wavers inexplicably and gets in the way.  This is particularly annoying when it combines with your fairly overt biases: you dislike Alignment systems, for example.  (Note: I said bias rather than prejudice because you have clearly made a decision on a solid, analytical basis.  Nevertheless your handling of Alignment is one example of a point at which the voice breaks down.)

2. I would like to see a table (appendix 2?) of quick-and-dirty versions of the Patterns.  If you want the book to be especially useful for designers, lay it out horizontally (landscape, or whatever) and leave a big blank on one side for notes by the user.  Be sure to include a page reference to each Pattern in the table.  I think this would help the careful reader to use and reuse the book until it's falling apart and covered with notes, which is surely what you want.

3. As a conclusion chapter, let me suggest that you sketch an outline of how one might use the book to make design decisions.  Keep it short, keep it simple, and so forth, but give us some idea of how you think an RPG-engineer might sit down and approach design problems.  Those of us who aren't engineers will bless you.

Love it!