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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: Mike Holmes on March 13, 2003, 03:06:57 PM



Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Mike Holmes on March 13, 2003, 03:06:57 PM
Well, Chris Passeno, recently asked me where Mike's Standard Rant #1 was. I informed him that I had numbered them sorta randomly, and had not gotten around to number one. That I was waiting for a special one to be number one. Well, it has occurred to me what that rant should be, so here it is. Thanks, Chris.

Before I start, I will make the usual disclaimer that this isn't being presented so much for debate as for a place for me to refer to when I have a point to make that I've made a zillion times before. Shorthand if you will. That said, I will discuss the point if needs be. I'm not sure how controversial this one is going to be. But I'm sure to sound like an arrogant bastard.
____

Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!

Role-playing games are a hobby, a recreation, and an art some would say. And one can create an RPG with very little effort if one likes and have fun playing that game. But interestingly, most RPG designers professional, indie, armature, whathaveyou - they tend to like the idea that their game might get played by others. In fact most new games are built about the conceit that the designer can build a better mousetrap. And you know what. It can most certainly be done.

But not if you don't know the state of the art. In Ron's Fantasy Heartbreakers (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/articles/9/) essay, he speaks to a particular example of what can happen when people make games without understanding the range of what exists in gaming. But I'd like to extend that principle. I often see people making innovative games - games that are most certainly not "heartbreakers" of any sort - that still are making errors simply because they haven't seen the solution in another RPG that fixed that problem long ago.

This frustrates me no end. Basically many would-be designers are creating with the notion that their limited knowledge and keen wit are all they need to produce a superior product. This would just not be tolerated elsewhere. Would you allow a doctor to operate on you if he'd not been through medical school, and was certified as having at least a basic understanding of medicine? Hell, would you even allow a non-certified plumber at your pipes?

What makes these people acceptable in their professions? They've all been through a certain amount of training, and have passed examinations that say that they've got at a minimum level of understanding of the subject matter that means that they aren't likely to make basic mistakes that they layman would make.

So, am I advocating a certification program for RPG designers? No, it's just a hobby. But what I do advocate is that if you want to make games, you need to educate yourself in what the current state of the art entails. Because otherwise, you will not be making a game that improves the art.

Now, again, a person making a game for his own use who doesn't care whether his game is superior in general terms, and only cares to make certain adjustments to his own game? No big deal. No need to be well versed. But if you want to make a game that is in fact superior - a game that people you don't know will prefer to play over others, for example - then you need to have had experience with a certain portion of the games that exist.

So I'm determining a reading list here. What's included below is just a sample, and far from the most stringent list one could assemble. But I think it represents the base level that a designer needs to know in order to be certified. And it is just a reading list. You don't have to have played each of them (I haven't), though to the extent that one can, it would be good to do so. Following each listing is a reason why the game is on the list.

Mike's Reading List for Game Designers
D&D - probably good to have played just so that you know what constitutes the majority of gamer's primary experience. Also, good to have read more than one edition to understand it's evolution. Best if you can actually contrast versions as dissimilar as Basic D&D and ADD3E. Also, it can't hurt to understand what d20 is, as well as the OGL. I include this because every once in a while, I run across somebody who's managed not to play or even peruse the game despite all odds.

Champions/Hero System - again, good to have read different editions and know the progression. Most important is to see the basis of the concept of "system first" mechanical design, and to understand primitive phased initiative (so you can do better). Contrast to V&V in this.

GURPS - it's seminal in that many, many games are based off its design priorities. If you can, read TFT to see it's roots. Still sets a bar for realism after many years (though it's certainly been surpassed long ago in that area). More important to understand for it's problems than for it's virtues. For example people should understand the stat/skill currency problem that the system generates.

Palladium Role-playing - the original Fantasy Heartbreaker (but has developed past that over time). How not to adjust a game from another.

Rolemaster - like Palladium but worse, this game actually started as supplements to fix D&D. OTOH, it has some mechanical details that are worth seeing. And if you can get them, the Rolemaster Companions show you the procession from D&D type games to GURPS, and all the myriad things in between. Some small nuggets of wisdom in that. Optional reading however.

Synnibar - if you can find it, a statement in how not to design an RPG. If that's not available track down a copy of deadEarth. If your game looks like these, you know you've been to the Ed Wood school of RPG design, and consider dropping RPGs as a hobby.

Harn - for the limits on what one can do in the direction of setting realism. To a fault.

Phoenix Command - for limits on realism of combat. To a definite fault.

Ars Magica - gives you an idea of what a magic system can do, not only in terms of creativity, but also in terms of metagame interaction. Also what not to do with a magic system. Also the introduction of formal multi-character rules. Also for campaign structure.

Aria - for world building alternating with adventures.

Vampire - and not just for what not to do. There are many, many interesting concepts in the WoD games that have set a bar for expectation for a lot of players.  Read as many WoD games as you can stomach.

Paranoia - drives home the power of the structured play session.

FUDGE - for how to create a simple Generic system. Everybody should have one of these under their belt. Seriously. If you can't create a game like FUDGE, you've got no business trying to develop more complicated games. At least try making your own FUDGE mod.

Pendragon - for understanding what internal personality mechanics can be like. Alternately, see Unknown Armies.

Whispering Vault - for "all unopposed" mechanics and another lesson in session structure.

Any Freeform game - not much to read usually, but everyone should understand and preferably have participated in some freeform. So you can understand that there are no mechanics that are necessary a priori, and that there are systems in all RPGs anyhow.

Once upon a time - not an RPG. And that's the point. The RPG box should not contain unless there's a good reason. You might want to investigate some Interactive Fiction as well.

Any LARP - understanding the dynamics of a LARP can provide all sorts of valuable insight, even if you're not designing one.

Hero Wars - for rock solid late stage design. Also people should check out Glorantha in any edition to see how to make a setting really engaging.

Nobilis - "diceless" done well, and other state of the art resource management.

InSpectres - discover the alternate way to get story while still having a GM. Also for the Confessional mechanic. Session structure again.


Now, many of these have substitutes. If you haven't read Phoenix Command, then a game like KABAL (Knights and Berzerkers and Legerdemain), will suffice. It's not the precise list that's important. I'm sure people will have suggestions to add to the list, and I'm certain I've made omissions (so please go ahead and help me out here). But the point is to give an idea of the range of games that are out there. If you have this sort of range you're in much less danger of repeating mistakes from earlier games. If not, I can only suggest reading up. Beg, borrow, steal; do what you have to. But get up to speed on this stuff.

The best designers study their art, and know it well. And that means knowing what exists, and what yet needs to be made.

Mike


Title: Re: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: DaR on March 13, 2003, 05:32:02 PM
Very interesting, Mike.  A lot of the points a I fully agree with.  A few I have questions on, though, mostly in wanting a better picture of your reasonings.  I'm going to deliberately break ettiquette slightly here and address some of these point by point.

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Ars Magica - gives you an idea of what a magic system can do, not only in terms of creativity, but also in terms of metagame interaction. Also what not to do with a magic system. Also the introduction of formal multi-character rules. Also for campaign structure.


What not to do?  I have to admit I've played a fair bit of AM4, and I know I sort of mentally use the magic system as a gold standard for what a hermetic style magic system should be like.  What flaws do you consider it to contain?

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Vampire - and not just for what not to do. There are many, many interesting concepts in the WoD games that have set a bar for expectation for a lot of players.  Read as many WoD games as you can stomach.


This is another one that I'd like clarification on. What do you consider to be interesting, and what is unfortunate?

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Whispering Vault - for "all unopposed" mechanics and another lesson in session structure.


I believe the BtVS RPG (Cinematic Unisystem) is another example of this, and a bit easier to find in stores these days.  Cinematic Unisystem is a very pleasantly designed game system in general.

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Nobilis - "diceless" done well, and other state of the art resource management.


I'll add another two on to this:

Amber - "diceless", an example of a nearly absolutely pure karma system with no fortune at all, and only the faintest whiff of drama.  Also an example of a system which appears to be simple, almost too simple, but has a number of exceedingly subtle interactions in it that don't come out until you've played for quite some time.  It ends up being like D&D in that everyone thinks "oh, it'd be so much better with just this one tiny little modification" and when made, it ends up completely changing the game balance, usually in a detrimental fashion.  Compare the game play of the system as writtern to any of the multitude of minor variants that are available on fan sites.

Adventure - Compare and contrast the effects of Dramatic Editing on play to the play of regular White Wolf games.  The BtVS RPG is also applicable here, with its use of Drama Points.

-DaR


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: wyrdlyng on March 13, 2003, 07:14:42 PM
This is a valid rant and it should be obvious but sadly it isn't for some reason. in order to write you must read. This is the first principle drilled into you in any writing class you will ever take. Even other hobbies which include creation of new ideas or product (like the war boardgaming groups or informal writing circles) understand this principle. I never understand why it is so often skipped in roleplaying.

But I'm glad you wrote this, Mike. I think we can all point people to this when needed.


Title: More Reccommended reading for RPG Acumen
Post by: RobMuadib on March 13, 2003, 07:23:35 PM
Mike

Thought I'd add a couple of bits of mechanics families here that I consider good references. Mine are slanted more towards pure system monkery though.


DC Heroes/Blood Of Heroes -
===================
For it's elegant, consistent action resolution and AP scale rating, first use of underlying log scale for attribute ratings. Genre Rules, and use of Hero Points. Orginal system design by Greg Gordon,

a Variant of it was also used in Underground - by Ray Winniger notable for it's bizzarre super-hero setting, 80s political satire, Peter "Aeon Flux" Chung artwork, and interesting Social Parameter change system.

TORG/Shatterzone/Masterbook
==========================
A finer detailed AP scale type system, die bonus system. Interesting card system mechanic. Interesting wedding of a seamless abstract Measure/Value system with "dramatic" card use system. lots of Neat ideas in it. Did poorly because of use of detailed chunky system wanting a loose pulpy action emphasis relying on Action/Drama card mechanic to get there. It is a variant of the AP system developed by Greg Gorden.

Torg is also noteworthy for it's multiple-genre multiple-world fusion of elements, and axiom system.

Ghostbusters/Star Wars/D6
===========================
a simplistic D6 based system founded on a nice vanilla simmy type mechanic. The D6 book provides a good reference for bare bones "generic/universal" system Design.


Nexus:The Infinite City/Feng Shui
=======================
System designed by Robin Laws, first for a multiple reality/genre fusion game, nice basic die mechanic, attribute handling, later adapted for Feng Shui, with neat bit ideas such as mook rules and such.


WarpWorld/Timelords/Space Time
========================
System designed by Greg Porter of BTRC, very nice handling of lots of cruncy bits in dealing with all manner of weapons and vehicles with a finely detailed attribute resolution system, detailed chunky damage mechanics, just lots of hard-core sim goodness here. The Guns Guns Guns supplement was developed as a design tool for for this line of games.  

CORPS/EABA
===================
Also design by Greg Porter, EABA being his latest, End All Be All game. Very elegantly designed universal systems, good outline for streamlined functional game systems with a Sim emphasis. One of the better Purist for system types. Along with GURPS and Hero forms the holy trinity of purist for system design.


Call Of Chthulhu/Runequest 3rd/Nephilim/Elric/Stormbringer/Pendragon.
=========================================
Examining the various incarnations of the BRP system is always a good thing, to see how the base mechanics were added to altered to give each game it's particular flavor. Here how to get the system to support the setting.

Traveller:The New Era/Twilight 2000/Dark Conspiracy
====================================
THis family of games is interesting in seeing how the GDW house system designed for T2K was mutated to work for TNE and Dark Conspiracy. Case studies in fitting the setting to the system, or hanging it with it.

Aftermath
=========================
This game is the ultimate example of why consistent unified mechanics are better than individual mechanics. It is very heavily mechanical game system with multiple resolution mechanics, for all sorts of stuff, a 1-40pt attribute scale. This game epitomizes good mechanical concepts, poor executions. It is also one of the best examples of RPG's being rooted in wargaming, as an examination of the rules emphasis on characters as units that work according to detailed, comprehensive wargame like rules systems indicates. Nearly like Universe by SPI. Very, very old school. IF you've only seen D&D as an example of old school RPG's, check this game or SPI's Universe out to see how much RPG's have evolved from individual unit battle games.

Theatrix
==============================
Theatrix is full of ideas, most of them in the narrativist facilitating camp, tons of ideas on session structure, plot points, the plot points/reward system, interesting story priority skill system, etc.


Senzar
=========================
As an adjunct to World of Synnibar, there is Senzar, another great example of how not to make or market your game. State of the art Fantasy heartbreaker, heck with heartbreaker, it puts the merciless smack down on your heart like it ownz0rs ju.


Just to echo Mike's sentiment, a good designer should have a good library of games. Plus it gives everyone an excuse to buy lots of individual games.

Best

Rob Muadib


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Jonathan Walton on March 14, 2003, 06:30:17 AM
A couple omissions that I would add (though Mike's list is amazingly thorough), which have been influencing me of late, especially as far as social contract and the actual structuring of player responsibilities:

Universalis - One of the first published games (as far as I know) built to run GM-less and support truly collaborative world building and storytelling.  Hopefully Universalis is the harbringer of many good things to come.  Also, having formalized "Rules Gimmicks" is one of the coolest ideas ever.

Rune - Another Robin Laws design, but this one attempts to simulate CRPG-style hack-and-slash play.  The players alternate being the GM and use a point system to create complications (monsters, traps, etc.) for the other players to deal with.  GMs get experience (for their character) if they make the characters lives difficult, and characters get experience for surviving the complications.  Not something I'd necessarily play regularly, but the design is a stroke of Gamist genius.

Mike's not kidding!  Do your research!  I've learned more about roleplaying since I joined the Forge than in my entire life before that, mostly from discovering games that I never knew existed.

Later.
Jonathan


Title: Re: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Mike Holmes on March 14, 2003, 07:01:50 AM
Quote from: DaR
b]Ars Magica - What not to do?  I have to admit I've played a fair bit of AM4, and I know I sort of mentally use the magic system as a gold standard for what a hermetic style magic system should be like.  What flaws do you consider it to contain?

The incoherent nature of Ars leads to problems with GM adjudication of effects. Ars does this great job of stimulating unique magic effects from the players. And then hands the GM full control to moderate their use. The GM has to be so arbirtrary that he's bound to make mistakes. Further it sets the GM up as opposition to the player in terms of deciding what happens. I've seen players crestfallen to learn that the spell that they've spent a lot of effort getting to work (both player and character) turns out to be a lot less impressive than they thought. Or the opposite, where the GM, tired of opposing player desires, just gives the players what they want, or worse, give them overpowered spells just to be sure there's no complaint.

See Hero System for "System First" mechanics that prevent this. Or Sorcerer for that matter.

Quote
This is another one that I'd like clarification on. What do you consider to be interesting, and what is unfortunate?
These things are going to be personal. But most analysts agree that there are good things and bad. This is due quite a bit to the incoherency of the WoD games. That incoherency is, really, the unfortunate part.

Some people disagree on this point. But that's fine. Either way they are important reading.

Quote

Amber - "diceless", an example of a nearly absolutely pure karma system with no fortune at all, and only the faintest whiff of drama.  Also an example of a system which appears to be simple, almost too simple, but has a number of exceedingly subtle interactions in it that don't come out until you've played for quite some time.  It ends up being like D&D in that everyone thinks "oh, it'd be so much better with just this one tiny little modification" and when made, it ends up completely changing the game balance, usually in a detrimental fashion.  Compare the game play of the system as writtern to any of the multitude of minor variants that are available on fan sites.
Amber is more important IMO, for being incoherent. That Drama you mention is what sneaks in and causes people to feel that it needs to be modified endlessly. A more coherent game would have seen less modifications.

Yes, this means that Drama mechanics in this game lead to Gamism. How counterintuitive is that?

Quote
Adventure - Compare and contrast the effects of Dramatic Editing on play to the play of regular White Wolf games.  The BtVS RPG is also applicable here, with its use of Drama Points.
Heh, just finished up an Adventure!, um, adventure. I was tempted to mention it as the one WW game that I'm aware of that fixes a lot of the problems of others. But you know what? There's still a lot of Sim/Narr mixing, not all of which I'm sure makes for a coherent hybrid.

Like why was our pilot limited in his flying ability by a rating for his plane's handling? That seemed to stick out like a Sim sore thumb. OTOH, the dramatic editing doesn't mean that you have to address issues. Still a very Sim game overall.

Mike


Title: Re: More Reccommended reading for RPG Acumen
Post by: Mike Holmes on March 14, 2003, 07:28:23 AM
Quote from: RobMuadib

DC Heroes/Blood Of Heroes -
===================
For it's elegant, consistent action resolution and AP scale rating, first use of underlying log scale for attribute ratings. Genre Rules, and use of Hero Points. Orginal system design by Greg Gordon,

a Variant of it was also used in Underground - by Ray Winniger notable for it's bizzarre super-hero setting, 80s political satire, Peter "Aeon Flux" Chung artwork, and interesting Social Parameter change system.
The log scale thing was extant in Champions (and even V&V, really), well before DC heroes. I tend to refer to Heroes as Champions divided by five. It interests me that these games work things on a log scale, but then they often do addition and subtraction linearly. This leads to the inevitable "normals punching through walls" syndromes. So, good for the ideas, but often not good for the execution.

Also, DC was a system that damaged itself with an adherence to symetry in stats. People often can't get past this sort of Gimmick. In DC you have nine stats, composed of cross-referencing each of three areas (pyhsical, mental, spiritual? something like that), with three modes (attack, defense, endurance). This just seemed silly to me, going to these lengths to maintain a mechanical symmetry.

Dirivative, and more what not to do, than what to do, IMO. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be looked at.

Quote
TORG/Shatterzone/Masterbook
==========================
A finer detailed AP scale type system, die bonus system. Interesting card system mechanic. Interesting wedding of a seamless abstract Measure/Value system with "dramatic" card use system. lots of Neat ideas in it. Did poorly because of use of detailed chunky system wanting a loose pulpy action emphasis relying on Action/Drama card mechanic to get there. It is a variant of the AP system developed by Greg Gorden.

Torg is also noteworthy for it's multiple-genre multiple-world fusion of elements, and axiom system.
Multi-genre is dime a dozen. Torg does it slightly better than Rifts in some ways, but not so much that I'd reccommend one over the other.

But, yes, in addition to the cards, check out the "video-game-esque" adventure structure (they actually refer to bosses). This is simultaneously empowering, and hugely limiting.

Quote
Ghostbusters/Star Wars/D6
===========================
a simplistic D6 based system founded on a nice vanilla simmy type mechanic. The D6 book provides a good reference for bare bones "generic/universal" system Design.
And a lot of nigh  broken rules. What D6 represents to me is the illusion that any system stripped to it's bare chargen and resolution system makes a good generic system. Not horrible, but also not great. It's like the great bland in between. I'm not sure what's to be learned here. Can't hurt to look, tho.

Quote
Nexus:The Infinite City/Feng Shui
=======================
System designed by Robin Laws, first for a multiple reality/genre fusion game, nice basic die mechanic, attribute handling, later adapted for Feng Shui, with neat bit ideas such as mook rules and such.
These are actually two very different games. Nexus is a close cousin of Fuzion and given the setting must be much more generic. Feng Shui is much more narrow in it's scope, and better defined. Interesting to see an evolution between the games going from more generic to less. Usually happens in reverse. See BRP.

Quote
WarpWorld/Timelords/Space Time
========================
System designed by Greg Porter of BTRC, very nice handling of lots of cruncy bits in dealing with all manner of weapons and vehicles with a finely detailed attribute resolution system, detailed chunky damage mechanics, just lots of hard-core sim goodness here. The Guns Guns Guns supplement was developed as a design tool for for this line of games.  
Eh, I'd toss this in with other complex sim stuff like Phoenox Command and Twilight 2000. People should know a couple of these, but you don't have to read them all to get a perspective on how this sort of things works. Of course, if you're trying to top these games...

Quote
CORPS/EABA
===================
Also design by Greg Porter, EABA being his latest, End All Be All game. Very elegantly designed universal systems, good outline for streamlined functional game systems with a Sim emphasis. One of the better Purist for system types. Along with GURPS and Hero forms the holy trinity of purist for system design.
Eh, I'd throw in Tri-Stat and call it a Quadrity. Actually there are lots of these. I would only recommend needing to read GURPS amongst these to get the generic part. I reccommend Hero System for entirely other reasons. Could toss in Risus, as well as something between GURPS and FUDGE.

Quote
Call Of Chthulhu/Runequest 3rd/Nephilim/Elric/Stormbringer/Pendragon.
=========================================
Examining the various incarnations of the BRP system is always a good thing, to see how the base mechanics were added to altered to give each game it's particular flavor. Here how to get the system to support the setting.
Yes, there is something to the idea of these as an evolution. But the real lesson is that adhering to an old generic model just slows development over time.

Quote
Traveller:The New Era/Twilight 2000/Dark Conspiracy
====================================
THis family of games is interesting in seeing how the GDW house system designed for T2K was mutated to work for TNE and Dark Conspiracy. Case studies in fitting the setting to the system, or hanging it with it.
Well, or again, how not to apply a system to everything. I felt that Dark Conspiracy really suffered from the system which still was affected by Traveller's original wargaming connection with games like Striker. PEN values for Trolls? I always played GDW with GURPS. And lo, who's the GURPS line editor now? Mr. Wiseman. Took 20 years just to convert to GURPS, which is hardly state of the art.

Quote
Aftermath
=========================
This game is the ultimate example of why consistent unified mechanics are better than individual mechanics.
Along with Multiverser (>looks out for MJ and ducks<). I loved playing Aftermath in some ways. But, yes, definitely one end of the detail spectrum. Can't get enough of the rules for making ethanol.

Quote
Theatrix
==============================
Theatrix is full of ideas, most of them in the narrativist facilitating camp, tons of ideas on session structure, plot points, the plot points/reward system, interesting story priority skill system, etc.
Hmmm. Lots of debate on this one. But certainly seminal, and certainly worth a look.

Quote
Senzar
=========================
As an adjunct to World of Synnibar, there is Senzar, another great example of how not to make or market your game. State of the art Fantasy heartbreaker, heck with heartbreaker, it puts the merciless smack down on your heart like it ownz0rs ju.
Yeah, exactly. SenZar doesn't make it into the dysfunctional game category because there's every evidence that it represents a quite functional Powergamer's wet dream. Might not be for everyone, but, OTOH, there are some gems of Gamist design in there. EXP for catching the GM not applying the rules correctly? Wow. That's different at least. Beat Hackmaster to the punch by years, and out-Rifts Rifts.

Mike


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Mike Holmes on March 14, 2003, 07:31:43 AM
Quote from: Jonathan Walton
Universalis
I'm flattered. But Once Upon a Time does make the points well.

I do think that Gimmicks are interesting, however, if I do say so. Rules to change the rules instead of having to resort to the social level.

Quote
Rune - ...but the design is a stroke of Gamist genius.
Absolutely.

Mike


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Mike Holmes on March 14, 2003, 07:37:33 AM
I've posted three replies in a row above not including this one (just mentioning here so they aren't missed).

Good additions everyone. What the list needs is not neccessarily even the best games, but ones that are educational somehow. Ones that solved prior problems or created innovations. Or ones that created the problems in the first place. I'm sure there are still a few important ones that haven't been mentioned.

It's amazing the variety out there. Knowing a large cross section can only give you ideas, and ensure that you don't repeat the mistakes of the past. When you read, read with a critical eye. This should be easy, I think as most designers are tinkerers to start, and are always looking for the problems in systems, anyhow.

Mike


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Jonathan Walton on March 14, 2003, 08:11:45 AM
One more that struck me in the shower, for a number of reasons...

Continuum - Both for what it does and what it's not able to accomplish.  Required reading for anyone writing anything about time or time travel.  "Time Combat" is a fabulous example of using mechanics to simulate something you can't actually do in play.  It makes the impossible possible, in a limited fashion.  However, the amount of paperwork required by its "temporal realism" is intimidating.  A reminder that there's a limit on what you can expect players and GMs to willingly do.  Shows that high concepts are often limited by physical limitations.

Hey Mike?  I think it would be really cool if you wrote an article (or maybe brainstormed with Clinton, Ron, and others) that served as a kind of "Reading List" for would-be game designers.  I've at least heard of most of the games on your list, but there are many that I don't feel I know enough about.  Aside from this thread, it'd be nice to see a permanently posted list (that could be occasionally added to), to serve as "the history of game design" covering major innovations and tweaks to existing concepts.  Just a suggestion.

Later.
Jonathan


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Mike Holmes on March 14, 2003, 08:32:15 AM
Quote from: Jonathan Walton
Aside from this thread, it'd be nice to see a permanently posted list (that could be occasionally added to), to serve as "the history of game design" covering major innovations and tweaks to existing concepts.

Um, that sounds like a whole book to me. In fact isn't there something like that our there now?

Mike


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Rob Donoghue on March 14, 2003, 08:39:07 AM
Hnh.

If that's the reading list, is the playing list shorter or longer?

-Rob D.


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Mike Holmes on March 14, 2003, 08:53:38 AM
Quote from: Rob Donoghue
Hnh.

If that's the reading list, is the playing list shorter or longer?

-Rob D.


As I said, one should play as many as possible. That said, I assume that people will have looked closely at more games than they've played, and to an extent, just knowing the system is OK. Not as good as reading, but certainly better than never having played.

Of all the games listed, there are about a half-dozen that I've only read, and a few I haven't seen much of anything of.

I expect that few people will have read the whole list, and practically nobody will have played them all. And, again, if you've substituted in the right games in the right place, you're probably fine. For example, having played Marvel Supers is probably as useful or more than reading DC, IMO. GURPS Time Travel is probably as good as Continuum for these purposes (and in any case are both very specific in their application). Any Heartbreaker can substitute for Palladium pretty well. Any WoD game is as good as the next for these purposes. Nugget is as good as FUDGE for a small generic game. Fuzion or Action could cover for either light or complex generic.

Again, it's not so much the particular list, but the elements that are represented in them.

It also doesn't hurt to at least have a notion of what a lot of other RPGs are about in general terms. So that you can refer to them if your current project might be affected by their designs. So, I've never even read Ghostbusters. But I'm aware that it's a D6 design and obviously what it's about in general terms. If I needed inspiration for that sort of game, I'm sure I'd want to look at it and dig up a copy.

Mike

P.S. OTOH, this list isn't intended to be exhaustive for study; it's just the primer. If you really want to be an expert, I'd think you'd have to double to triple the number of games you'd played or read. I've played or read at least three times this many different RPGs (heck, I own copies of, or have downloaded, more than 100), and am always looking to try more in order to get a better understanding. That might not be for everyone, and you can be a good designer without that much breadth. But I can only recommend it.


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Sylus Thane on March 14, 2003, 09:31:50 AM
I think people should look also look at games that tended to create the early genre expectations. For example there are people who feel that D&D is the only true Fantasy sword and sorcery game because it kind of set the bar in their minds. In the case of sci-fi I would use the old Traveller and Space opera rpgs as they kind of set a standard of what people felt a space oriented game should be like.

Basically, don't just look at the system but also look at what kind of impact the game made in regards to the genre of rpgs.

Sylus
Personally I think Space Opera RPG is a big reason why we have to differentiate between hard sci-fi and "Space Opera" sci-fi when talking rpgs.


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: lumpley on March 14, 2003, 09:44:50 AM
Over the Edge, for its approach to representing characters.  If it wasn't the first trait-based game, it was certainly a pioneer.

-Vincent


Title: Ooops, forgot this one
Post by: RobMuadib on March 14, 2003, 09:51:32 AM
Hey all

Forgot one that is interesting to look at

Everway - design by Jonathan Tweet.

Hmm, lets see established idea of D/F/K, interesting use of visual elements for character design, Tarot for resolution.

Oh, and duh

Over The Edge - Also by Tweet
Very nice "free-form" character creation, light system design, funky
background ideas. pretty singular in it's genre coverage.

Best

Rob


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Valamir on March 14, 2003, 10:00:16 AM
I think the fact that in a brief period of brainstorming that a handful of gamers posting games they've found to be definitive, revolutionary, or at least contained an approach worth being familiar with have come up with a list that is now about 4 dozen games long proves Mikes Rant #1.

Too many times (even here on the Indie Design forum) an eager designer lists his influences as being D&D and WoD.  Several times I'd like to say "Thats a good start.  Now go read Mike's Standard Rant #1, pick a bunch of the few dozen other games already written that aren't anything like D&D or WoD, and then come back and ask for commentary."


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: clehrich on March 14, 2003, 01:33:30 PM
Let me second the request for an article, but perhaps I can suggest a way to go about it that wouldn't be too painful.

Start with a brief explanation of the rant itself -- you've got this, just polish it up a bit.

Now group the games you want to talk about (deciding on a list and a grouping would be a great way to continue this thread, or start a new one) by what it is we ought to learn from them.  Good, bad, indifferent, the question is what we learn, Dorothy.

Now for each group, briefly explain the point, then summarize the best example from the group.  That is, actually explain (1) what the rule or whatever is, (2) what it's in the game for, and (3) what we should learn from this.  This will also tell you what the best examples are: the ones for which you can answer all three of these clearly and succinctly.

Avoid the really bad examples, games that are simply incoherent and there's nothing more to say.  You could come up with a general classification (Ron already has: "heartbreaker") and provide a short list of titles, but don't bother discussing them.

So you'd have an article with, say 10 or 15 major points.  For each point, you'd have a classic example, briefly summarized and explained.  You'd also have a very short bibliography of other titles from which we could learn the same point, perhaps with a remark like, "See the X mechanic and the way it Y."

That article, for my money, would be one of the most valuable things on the Forge for a game designer.  I mean, how many of us are going to go out and buy all these games (the ones we don't already have, I mean) just to see someone do something badly?  If you can give us a jump-start, we can borrow an appropriate game, read the material in question, and get a more concrete sense of what we should already have learned.

So.... whaddya say, Mike?


Title: Re: More Reccommended reading for RPG Acumen
Post by: RobMuadib on March 14, 2003, 01:39:53 PM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
Quote from: RobMuadib

Senzar
=========================
As an adjunct to World of Synnibar, there is Senzar, another great example of how not to make or market your game. State of the art Fantasy heartbreaker, heck with heartbreaker, it puts the merciless smack down on your heart like it ownz0rs ju.
Yeah, exactly. SenZar doesn't make it into the dysfunctional game category because there's every evidence that it represents a quite functional Powergamer's wet dream. Might not be for everyone, but, OTOH, there are some gems of Gamist design in there. EXP for catching the GM not applying the rules correctly? Wow. That's different at least. Beat Hackmaster to the punch by years, and out-Rifts Rifts.


Oh, and how could I forget, it has what is widely regarded as the WORST introductory/game fiction in an RPG EVER. It was so bad, someone MST3k'd, but apperantly suffered a nervous breakdown before he could finish it, or some such.

THink I'll throw out some other other notable/interesting ones while I'm at it. Consider this an extra-credit extended reading list, and to help inform people of the vast number of RPG's that AREN't WW or D&D, I mean these are all commercialy published RPG's here.

Rob Muadib's Super Extra Credit Ad Nauseum Optional RPG Reading List

[added title so as not to overshadow Mikes more informative and important rant]


Immortal:The Invisible War -
==============================
This game is interesting, first it had a truly fantastic setting concept, pretty damn original. Problem was that it was so damn original, most people had a hard time understanding it, due the wealth of material you had to digest to understand it. Second it was wedded to complex obfuscated mechanics system that made the game twice as hard to pick up. Case study in how to make what could have been a great game unaccesible.

HeavyGear/JovianChronicles/Gearkrieg
=============================
DP9 makes great games. The silhoutte system is an excellent model for how to make a low-handling time mechanic with just a taste of crunch, it's medling with the Board war-game of the gear fighting is awesome. Great presentation and artwork in their books, solid writing.

Cyberpunk2020/Mekton
===============================
RTG's workable base mechanics welded into lots of genre evoking game structure advice. Interesting life path mechanic, decent fiction, and good artwork evoke game style well. One part of the basis for the Fuzion game system.

Castle Falkenstein
=========================
RTG's very cool Steampunk game system, lots of flavor and notable use of card based resolution system. Lots of cool ideas.

Fading Suns
=============================
Notable use of setting, marred by generic mechanics base.
Kind of fell into the so-so system wedded to great setting problem
of Witchcraft/AFMBE, and other unisystem games.

Kult
===========================
Truly atmospheric horror game with unique background, and interesting
balance system, evoked supernatural dread.

The Riddle Of Steel
============================
Very solid Fantasy game with engaging combat system, interesting Spiritual Attribute advancement system, novel magic system, cool
semi-historical fantasy setting.

Ergo - Ian Miller
=========================
Meta-system to structure collaborative role-playing, lots of good thought on an underdeveloped area.

Skyrealms Of Jorune
============================
A very interesting take on high-concept simulationism, excellent art and
setting work on a genericish crunchy system.

Waste World: Roleplaying In a Savage Future -
By Bill King - Manticore productions
=======================
A personal Fave, a very well drawn Kik aysh post-apocalyptic setting, with lots of Kewl setting bits, rather entertaining game fiction, with a decent workable mechanics base. Good art, and it is like eastern european, which makes it interesting too.

anyway, hope I didn't defuse your thread too much mike. But I am definitely a supporter of the concept.

best


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Jason Lee on March 14, 2003, 01:51:30 PM
It's cynical day here, so I'll just add some negative features that really stuck with me.

Hero: 'for hard to read'.
Points out what kind of dry read you'll be creating with chapters full of system, no matter how good a writer you are.  (This isn't me stating purist for system games are bad).

Over the Edge: 'for talking down to the reader'
It's subtle enough you may miss yourself doing the same - something to consider.  (Despite all its spiffy ideas I cannot seem to make it all the way through Chapter 1 because of the tone - it's pontific.  You may not feel the same, but trust me it grates on some of us.)  Contrast with the 'cooperate with the reader' tone found in 7th Sea - excellent tone.

Editted because my initial wording sounded a bit more like reviews than points about a game's design.


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Mike Holmes on March 14, 2003, 01:55:04 PM
Cool. But let's not get carried away, now. With lots of those games you list Rob, you're adding examples of things that we've already covered. Like Fading Suns. Nothing new there that hasn't been introduces into the list in a number of other assignments already presented.

I like the game. It's just not required reading if you already have the list above.

Like I said, this isn't meant to be a list that will make you a master of the compete knowledge of all things gaming. Just enough knowledge so that you can confidently make a game without making errors that have already been made. What will reading Jorune get you that reading GURPS and Hero Wars will not?

In fact, I left OTE off the list specifically because I already have Hero Wars on the list. Knowing the state of the art games is important because they show you the bar that you have to exceed. No need to look at old errors, just see how high you need to go.

Quote from: clehrich
Let me second the request for an article, but perhaps I can suggest a way to go about it that wouldn't be too painful.

...

So.... whaddya say, Mike?


Oh, jeez. What kinda hole have I dug for myself now.

Fine, I'll write the damn article. Actually sounds kinda interesting. Don't expect it next week, however!  :-)

Mike


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Ron Edwards on March 14, 2003, 02:08:07 PM
Hi folks,

Ha! Did he commit to writing the article? Good work, everyone.

More seriously, people, bear in mind that this thread isn't an opportunity to pound in short-blurb reviews of games. I can see that trend just trembling at the edge of reality, so if you feel the urge to write ...

GAME TITLE
what I think what I think what I think clever snipe what I think what I think

... just open up Wordpad and do it there, OK?

Best,
Ron


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Mike Holmes on March 14, 2003, 02:15:17 PM
Thanks, Ron.

That said, I should have mentioned stuff like Falkenstien and Rune. The additions we've had so far do suffice to say that one can't read enough of one's subject to know it well.

Mike "off to hunt down Waste World" Holmes


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: RobMuadib on March 14, 2003, 03:09:25 PM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
Cool. But let's not get carried away, now. With lots of those games you list Rob, you're adding examples of things that we've already covered. Like Fading Suns. Nothing new there that hasn't been introduces into the list in a number of other assignments already presented.

I like the game. It's just not required reading if you already have the list above.

Like I said, this isn't meant to be a list that will make you a master of the compete knowledge of all things gaming. Just enough knowledge so that you can confidently make a game without making errors that have already been made. What will reading Jorune get you that reading GURPS and Hero Wars will not?

In fact, I left OTE off the list specifically because I already have Hero Wars on the list. Knowing the state of the art games is important because they show you the bar that you have to exceed. No need to look at old errors, just see how high you need to go.



Mike

Doh, sorry I got carried away there, I added a specific label that lists them super extra credit ad infinitum to ad nauseum rpg' reading list. Just in case any overachievers are still thirsty after your important list.

Best


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Walt Freitag on March 14, 2003, 03:49:26 PM
Um, didn't anybody include...?

(Hmm, Mike mentioned it, but only as an almost parenthetical example of "system first" coherence, along with Hero System.)

SORCERER
Just put it on the main reading list. Sheesh.

- Walt

PS Apologies for disobeying a direct moderator request.


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Mike Holmes on March 14, 2003, 08:45:20 PM
Walt, like I already don't seem to pander to the authorities around here? The last thing I needed to do was to put Sorcerer on the list and make the whole thing suspect.

But, yeah. Seminal for coherent non-setting non-director-stance-nonsense Narrativism. Whatever that is. Oh, and a some supplementary material that may reshape RPGs as we know them. So what.

;-)

Mike


Title: Re: More Reccommended reading for RPG Acumen
Post by: M. J. Young on March 14, 2003, 11:08:22 PM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
Quote from: RobMuadib
Aftermath
=========================
This game is the ultimate example of why consistent unified mechanics are better than individual mechanics.
Along with Multiverser (>looks out for MJ and ducks<). I loved playing Aftermath in some ways. But, yes, definitely one end of the detail spectrum. Can't get enough of the rules for making ethanol.

Well, you brought it up.

I'm confused. I infer from this statement that you think Multiverser is a game of multitudinous individual mechanics (which I take to be the opposite of "consistent unified mechanics"); I am surprised by this assertion. One of the features of the game is the unity of the mechanics overall--the same resolution system is used for technological skills, magic, psionics, physical/body abilities, and combat; the bias system provides a coherent framework for all skills, with only minor variation between the broadest of categories; core concepts such as relative success and relative failure are broadly applied and illustrated; most differences between skill categories come down to game descriptions of intuitively obvious distinctions (e.g., the difference in time values between a continuing action in which part of the action is being completed through the elapsed time (running), a preparatory action in which the time represents things done before the action occurs (starting an engine or complex machine), and a reset time (reloading or resetting a weapon after firing)).

I think you're confused by the fact that the game has over five hundred pages of text. The mechanics themselves are rather unified; the bulk of the text is an effort to show how every conceivable and imaginable action or object in any possible universe fits into play, and to provide referee support particularly for fringe areas (e.g., time travel, insanity).

Have you read the game, or were you drawing conclusions from the size of the book? If the former, I apologize for questioning your statement--the line between "consistent unified mechanics" and "individual mechanics" will be different for everyone (I count 1-skill performance roll; 2-skill acquisition roll; 3-general effects roll; 4 & 5-two distinct rolls for attribute checks based on difficulty; bias could be called a separate mechanic, although it's fully integrated into skill performance and acquisition, and you could say that the quirks about scriff (dying and coming to a new world) are another mechanic, although they're really more the setting concept). I can't say that five kinds of rolls for every conceivable action is not too many, if that's what you think. If it's the latter, however, I hope that you will reserve judgment and not criticize a game based on uninformed assumption or hearsay.

I certainly think the game is innovative in numerous ways, and well worth reading; I wasn't going to bring it up here, but I really couldn't let that kind of vague criticism go unchallenged.

--M. J. Young


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Kester Pelagius on March 14, 2003, 11:08:40 PM
Greetings Valamir,

Quote from: Valamir
Too many times (even here on the Indie Design forum) an eager designer lists his influences as being D&D and WoD.  Several times I'd like to say "Thats a good start.  Now go read Mike's Standard Rant #1, pick a bunch of the few dozen other games already written that aren't anything like D&D or WoD, and then come back and ask for commentary."


Ok.


Lords of Creation.

Never really played it.  Can't say much about it's mechanics.  (It was put out by Avalon Hill, should tell you something.)  But if you want a game that provided ideas to influence campaigns I can think of few others.  Great starting worlds to play in, too.


Skull & Crossbones.

Swashbuckling pirate game in which the resolution was to have the players write their moves in advance on a slip of paper and compare.  Did I mention it was a swashbuckling pirate game, from the early 1980s?  'nuff said.


Title: Re: More Reccommended reading for RPG Acumen
Post by: Mike Holmes on March 15, 2003, 08:58:25 AM
Quote from: M. J. Young
I wasn't going to bring it up here, but I really couldn't let that kind of vague criticism go unchallenged.

I was being facetious to an extent. And I haven't read Multiverser. I was actually going off information given to me by the designer from a post to the Gaming Outpost a while back in which he informed me that there were "rules for everything" including things like how long it takes to make a sword, and that sort of detail.

Aftermath! has a "unified system" in that all rolls are made similarly from talents and stats and whatnot. But the book then goes on to take this general application, and state how it applies to all sorts of particular applications. Such as brewing and distilling. So much success produces so muuch liquid per week of work. Etc. Which is what your description sounded like to me MJ.

What else could be in five-hundred pages?

Besides, as I said the comment was meant to be sarcastic. I played Aftermath a lot, and I think I could probably have lots of fun with Multiverser. Which is what the post was meant to convey.  It's just a choice to place such additional information in a game. As such (and if true) your game stands as a testiment to what can be done in that direction.

So, if that guy on GO gave me the wrong impression, I apollogize. Please feel free to correct me.

Mike


Title: getting tangential...
Post by: efindel on March 15, 2003, 07:24:41 PM
While we're on the subject of games to look at, a related topic would be games to compare and contrast.  Some random thoughts here:

Games with similar settings, but different approaches.  Examples:

HarnMaster vs. Riddle of Steel

Champions vs. Marvel SuperHeroes (either version)

Theatrix vs. GURPS (both "generic", but with very different goals)

NightLife vs. Vampire

D&D 3e vs. Tunnels & Trolls

A second kind of comparison that I find interesting is when something that's implicit in one game (or in many games) is made explicit in another.  For example, I was describing Story Engine's "Quick Take" mechanic to a friend of mine, and he pointed out that it's very similar in essence to the way Tunnel & Trolls suggests handling magic and missile fire in combat with its two-minute combat rounds.  Theatrix's explicit encouragement of players taking "Director Stance" to manipulate the "scenery" of the setting is another, with Donjon's "using successes to establish facts" being a different development of the same sort of idea (to me, at least).  The explicit author-stance vs. actor-stance mechanics in Elfs is a third example.  From a more mechanical point of view, DC Heroes made the logarithmic scale, which had been used previously in Champions, much more explicit.

--Travis


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Bankuei on March 15, 2003, 07:33:48 PM
Hey Mike,  

Do you think that assumptions about design tend to lead toward folks not even investigating "what's out there"?  For instance, 5 years ago, I stopped buying games, and stopped looking at other games, simply because it was all fundamentally the same.  I would occassionally pick up something and skip right to resolution mechanics, but if I didn't see anything neat, I'd put it back down.

Do you think the glut of games that are similar tends to make folks just assume that it's all that's out there?

Chris


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Pramas on March 15, 2003, 08:33:12 PM
Quote from: Bankuei
Do you think the glut of games that are similar tends to make folks just assume that it's all that's out there?


I certainly know what you mean. A "standard" method of RPG design certainly developed in the 90s. "Oh, look a game with stat + skill shooting for a target number. Oh look, you can have advantages and disadvantages. Oh look, you can choose from one of ten factions, many of whom are antagonistic. Oh look, I'm falling asleep with my head in the book...."

However, for every person like you or I, there's probably 100 or more who never looked outside of World of Darkness games and/or D&D
anyway.


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Mike Holmes on March 15, 2003, 08:40:53 PM
Chris,

Yes, I think people assume that. And it's a bad assumption. Because, sure there are lots and lots of games that are all doing the same things; but, first, even amongs those many of them have parts that are somehow unique. While the game as a whole might not be great, one small part might be. And, second, there are innovative games out there. You may have to look longer to find them in some cases, but they exist.

Take Arumo (http://www.angelfire.com/ma/rpg/arumo.html), for example. Sure we all cried when it went d20. But that's only because it's such a cool setting. That sort of ingenuity is inspiring. (check out the "pacifism" rule :-)  )

Mike


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Pramas on March 15, 2003, 11:59:36 PM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
Yes, I think people assume that. And it's a bad assumption. Because, sure there are lots and lots of games that are all doing the same things; but, first, even amongs those many of them have parts that are somehow unique. While the game as a whole might not be great, one small part might be.


Sure, and this is one of many reasons my RPG collection is the size it is.

A lot of times, the reward you get for slogging through a bad game isn't worthwhile though. If I might make a food analogy, it's the difference between crab and lobster. Crab tastes good, but you have to work really hard to get those small bits of sweet meat. I'd rather have a nice lobster, which tastes better and is easier to eat.


Quote
And, second, there are innovative games out there. You may have to look longer to find them in some cases, but they exist.


I wasn't trying to say there weren't innovative games, but that a lot of games since the 90s had a certain sameness to them.


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Mike Holmes on March 16, 2003, 01:04:49 AM
Chris, you and I cross-posted. I wasn't even responding to your comments (the Chris I was responding to is Bankuei). I totally agree that "wading" can be a pain, and most games are wading. Just looing at John Kim's list of free RPGs makes me remember just how many games I've slogged through.

I've tried to develop some scanning skills because of this. Basically, you can tell after you see the first few mechanics or setting details what kind of percentage you can expect to find of good stuff (and whether you'll ever play the game). If it's a heartbreaker, you can usually tell within a couple of minutes, for example. Then once you've determined what the odds are of something good being in there, you peruse at about that level of brevity. I probably miss something good here or there. But it makes the whole thing manageable at least.

Mike


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Stuart DJ Purdie on March 16, 2003, 10:43:03 PM
Can I throw a quick suggestion in here?

Condenstion of all game fiction (http://www.rpg.net/news+reviews/columns/lizard18apr02.html)
Whilst written for humor value, it makes a solid point or two about how writing style matters.  It's also a good reference point about originality, and how to deliver content.


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Mike Holmes on March 17, 2003, 08:22:26 AM
I won't call foul. In addition to reading games, it also helps to read theory like what's found here, and other helpful hints like what Stuart posted.

Besides, that piece is already a classic, and does really bring home the point.

"Purple prose rained down like a bad metaphor." That's genius. The whole thing should be the intro text for GURPS. :-)

Mike


Title: Re: More Reccommended reading for RPG Acumen
Post by: rdl on March 18, 2003, 02:38:41 PM
Quote from: RobMuadib

Nexus:The Infinite City/Feng Shui
=======================
System designed by Robin Laws,


The system for Nexus was in fact designed by Jose Garcia.


Title: Ars Magica Availability
Post by: M. J. Young on March 18, 2003, 05:52:26 PM
I'm sure that Ars Magica has been mentioned somewhere in this massive thread; Atlas Games has just announced that the fourth (current) edition of the game has been converted to PDF and plugged into a zip file, and is available for free download through RPGNow. I downloaded it earlier this evening, but am hesitant to unzip it given my limited harddrive space at the moment. It's 2.8M zipped, not much larger expanded (PDF is a pretty compact format as it is).

There's a press release at http://www.atlas-games.com/arsmagica/free/pressrelease.html containing the link to the RPGNow download page (well, as long as I'm looking, I might as well include that link, too). You have to register an RPGNow account if you don't have one, and they want an inordinate amount of personal information, but given that this is supposed to be one of the must-read games, that's probably cheaper than buying it.

Atlas is hoping that all of us who download the fourth edition will become so enamored by the game that we buy the fifth edition next year. RPGNow is obviously hoping to get new customers from the deal. I'm hoping you'll all use the money you save to go buy Multiverser products--well, probably none of us will get our wish, but it was worth mentioning.

--M. J. Young


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Andy Kitkowski on March 19, 2003, 02:53:07 PM
Hey all, sorry if this was said earlier, but there's one thing I felt I had to add:

Surely, the issue that Mike brought up is very valid.  However, on the other hand, I wince inside when I see someone who has an idea of what they want to do and what they are looking for post here, and then immediately get feedback in the form of a laundry list of dozens of games and articles, saying "read this, and this, and this..." or "Your idea is very X-like, so you should check out that game. I also sense a flavor of Y in there, so make sure you buy and read Y as well"...

No offense or anything, it's just something I see a lot.  And surely the spirit there is to get the folks thinking critically in their project and to see what else has been done so that they don't reinvent the wheel...

...but then there's the redneck in me who thinks, "All this hauty-tauty high-falutin' gamespeak is jus' confusing the tyke!"

Comments? Sorry, this may deserve a thread of its own, but I thought it fits as a footnote in Mike's glorious rant. :)

-Andy


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Mike Holmes on March 20, 2003, 01:27:47 PM
Quote from: Andy Kitkowski
...but then there's the redneck in me who thinks, "All this hauty-tauty high-falutin' gamespeak is jus' confusing the tyke!"

Hey, Andy, if the question is simple, and there's some answer we can give that'll help the person that isn't a reading assignment, then we give it. But when a person says, "Lookee here, I got this nifty new system and I'm looking for some critique," and the system presented turns out to be a modification of D&D that's not as good as Rolemaster, what would you have us do? Suggest a better magic system? Rework his experience point system? Rewrite the entire game for him?  

Show me a case where the answer we could have given was inappropriate. I'm not saying that reading assignments are the only answer to solving game design problems. But they are the most appropriate in certain situations. If all we did was point people to articles and reading lists, I'd agree with you. But we do more than that.

Mike


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Kester Pelagius on March 20, 2003, 08:31:49 PM
Greetings Andy,

Quote from: Andy Kitkowski
Surely, the issue that Mike brought up is very valid.  However, on the other hand, I wince inside when I see someone who has an idea of what they want to do and what they are looking for post here, and then immediately get feedback in the form of a laundry list of dozens of games and articles, saying "read this, and this, and this..." or "Your idea is very X-like, so you should check out that game. I also sense a flavor of Y in there, so make sure you buy and read Y as well"...


It really all depends on the question asked.

There are questions I have posted that, by necessity, were vague.  I say necessity because I just wanted a general opinion but, the folks at The Forge being the wonderful sort they are, they immediately feel that the question asked if probably rooted in something deeper.  Which, as it happens, is usually the case with most questions posted in the forums here.

Then again even a (percieved) snide response is better than no response at all, don't you think?

Too, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that many of the old timers here have probably seen a lot of folks posting about there 'wonderful new idea' only to see nothing more about it.  Which must make a lot of folks rather pensive about posting too much, especially since it's likely that only one out of every ten or so people who post something are likely to actually get to the actual 'have game ready to play test' stage.

Take me, as a example.  When I first came here I had what I thought would be a nifty idea (search my early threads if you really want to know) but what happened with it?  Does anyone remember what it was?

Not likely.  But is that because they don't care?  Of course not.  Just pop over to the design forum.  Look at all the ideas for games and games being developed.  That's a lot of people working on a lot of stuff.
And since most things have parallels in other things, of course if someone comes along with a idea for "great new post-apocalypse RPG" someone is going ot compare it to the post-apocalyptic RPGs that came before it.

Unless, of course, you specify in your post exactly what sort of feedback you are looking for.  Most folks here will suprise you if you ask them directly about what you want to know.  Great fonts of wisdom even.


Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Bruce Baugh on March 23, 2003, 09:17:50 AM
Hi, folks, love the show, first-time caller. :)

There are times, I think, when the author is well-served by not reading prior gaming art on a subject, and I have an example at hand here.

One of the authors on the new edition of Gamma World took some early ideas of mine for describing communities in game-mechanical terms and ran with them. He proposed several innovations that wouldn't have occurred to me because I don't know much about neural network design, particularly about handling and recording feedback within a system - he ended up offering sort of a community character sheet/flow chart and really simple but flexible rules for tracking the impact of changes like increase or decrease of resources, external threats, level of leadership, and so forth on community happiness, dissent, and the like.

Now I as developer am aware of previous efforts to portray dynamic communities, starting with Underground and passing on to related matters like Ars Magica chantry design, and have a sense of why I'm not quite satisfied with them. Geoff Skellams hasn't seen any of those. But then I'm not sure his work would have gained anything by it if he were. He's not really trying to improve an existing matter of mechanics, conceptually, but to adapt insights from another field. So he reviewed neural nets and a whole bunch of unfamiliar-to-me literature on the modeling of community dynamics. Example diagrams he sent me covered things like the flow of money and influence in drug dealing networks.

We're about to go playtest now, and I think we've got a winner on our hands with this. As nearly as I can tell from poking so far, the phrasing will need work (examples, examples, examples, praise the example all creatures here below) but the concept very little. There are times when setting aside prior art to reexamine a matter ab initio, or as close as you can get to it, will lead to better rules and presentation than thinking in terms of improvement to existing material. Not always, sure - this is not a general-purpose glorification of ignorance - but at least sometimes. The blank slate can be our friend.


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: szilard on March 23, 2003, 10:52:37 AM
Quote from: Bruce Baugh


There are times when setting aside prior art to reexamine a matter ab initio, or as close as you can get to it, will lead to better rules and presentation than thinking in terms of improvement to existing material. Not always, sure - this is not a general-purpose glorification of ignorance - but at least sometimes. The blank slate can be our friend.


I think that is certainly the case, particularly when we're dissatisfied with the way something has been done in the past. In those cases, the last thing we want to do is to build upon the ways of the past.

There is, of course, a value in learning what not to do. Occasionally, though, I've been best served by looking at the past disappointments of others only after I've taken a stab at the problem from a blank slate... and then only in order to see that I haven't repeated any mistakes or missed out on something of value. Sometimes, once you see a single solution to a problem, it is difficult to perceive alternate approaches, even if the solution you have been exposed to isn't a particularly good one.

Stuart


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Bruce Baugh on March 23, 2003, 11:03:12 AM
Oh, yeah, true. And this is one of the strengths of collaboration, I think. In the case of Gamma World, I can know prior art and why I'm dissatisfied. Geoff can know his stuff. I can look at it and say "this may be a pitfall" or (more commonly) "this rocks; wish I'd had this back when I started gaming". Solo authorship definitely has its merits, but so does working in partnership.


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Valamir on March 23, 2003, 11:17:36 AM
Bruce, you are, of course, absolutely right.  There are those flashes of insight that are brought into an area of study by someone from outside which sometimes never would have been thought of by the people on the inside.  Cross Pollination of ideas is a wonderful thing.

I don't know though, that it is a very reliable thing.  Nor I suspect would Geoff's stroke of genius have been necessarily harmed by prior exposure to previous attempts.

I must say as an aside, that I am very interested in rules like you've described.  So do please keep us posted on how the playtests of them have gone.


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Bruce Baugh on March 23, 2003, 11:22:33 AM
I expect to chronicle playtest experiences pretty thoroughly, because 1) I am a raving egomaniac and 2) we're trying several significant improvements in the mainstream state of the art, and I'm dying to see how they go.


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Mike Holmes on March 23, 2003, 06:24:49 PM
I have to agree with Ralph (as is annoyingly too often the case), Bruce, in that I'm guessing that your partner would not have done anything different had he read those other texts. But, in fact, it's precisely the point of the rant that reading too little is what leads to errors. Sure, if I only know D&D, I'm going to make a D&D derivative. But if I've also read, oh, say, Adventure! am I going to make the same game? The more one has read, the more one realizes the range of what's possible. This leads less and less from emulation to creation of entirely new systems that fill the gaps in the spectra.

So, no, showing your pal just Ars, and saying "we need something like that" would not be a great idea. But Ars, and Underground? Better. That and a dozen other games that don't have this sort of mechanic? Best. Because, in seeing how othr games can vary in terms of other things like Combat systems and character generation, one can see that there must be similar range to setting up social systems or any system.

I'll bet this Geoff, has enough range of play that he understands this implicitly? And as such went and developed something that was as directed to his goals as it could be.

Mike

P.S. yeah, me too; how long til publication? Gamma World with rules for communities? Dang, I always wanted that sort of thing.


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Bruce Baugh on March 23, 2003, 06:28:56 PM
Geoff Skellams is one of the guys who puts out Demonground (http://www.demonground.org/) and therefore does understand the state of the field in a lot of ways. But honestly, I think there are times when a fresh start really does help. Independent invention may benefit from comparison to prior art later in the process rather than always benefitting from such comparison at the outset.


Title: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: Mike Holmes on March 24, 2003, 08:45:02 AM
Oh, that Geoff. Well, he certainly does know what he's doing.

You're point would be a hard one to test, Bruce. The real proof would be if you could point to somebody who had created an RPG having never played one before, and said RPG turned out to be both good, and not to have fallen into some of the common pitfalls of previous games, anyhow.

Sounds farfetched to me, but I suppose it's not impossible. I can actually more easily see a sub-system for a game being produced this way, much like your example.

But, the thread is about people A) making complete RPGs, and B) all of whom have played RPGs before. Anyone lurking here who's never played an RPG before!? My point is that anyone who's designing does have biases. The idea is to broaden those biases by greater exposure. It's limited experience that's the problem.

Because, I'd be really interested to see what the completely inexperienced unbiased designer would create. I'd be fascinated, in fact. I just don't think they're lurking here and reading my rants. "Fresh starts" are rare. Although, again, I'll concede the point in terms of limited sub-systems. Especially when the designer is an expert in the field.

That said, we'll be watching that design journal like hawks, looking for any chance to point out how knowledge of previous art would have made a positive impact.  ;-)
 
Mike


Title: Re: Mike's Standard Rant #1: Designers! Know your hobby!
Post by: J. Backman on March 24, 2003, 11:58:27 PM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
Ars Magica - gives you an idea of what a magic system can do, not only in terms of creativity, but also in terms of metagame interaction. Also what not to do with a magic system. Also the introduction of formal multi-character rules. Also for campaign structure.


And what's even better, you can now get Ars Magica for free from their publisher's website.