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Author Topic: Lessons for Designers  (Read 6240 times)
Ben Lehman
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« on: February 03, 2005, 11:10:48 AM »

I do not know if this post goes in the RPG Theory board or in the Indie RPG Design board.  Move if necessary.

Since people recently have been talking about massive changes on the Forge (good! good!), I wanted to take the time to look back at some of the things that I have learned here, as they apply directly to game design.  These are old hat topics, but I'm phrasing them in new ways, the way I talk about them with myself or with friends who think that "Narrativist" means "Director Stance."

So here are a few guidelines for a game designer and the game player.

1) Every act of resolution must have meaningful stakes.

What does the roll (I'm going to use the term "roll," here, but it applies equally to comparisons, point expenditures, card draws, and other methods) actually mean?  What does it mean if you win, what does it mean if you lose?  You need to know that before you roll.

And whatever it is, it has to be meaningful.  A win has to be a real victory, a lose has to be a real loss.  Otherwise, you are just wasting your time.

Doesn't mean that one roll has to be the whole story.  What it means is that you need to be able to trust your mechanics to run things for you.  Can't trust your mechanics?  Make new ones.

2) Understand who can say what.

When a player says "I punch him in the jaw," what does it mean?  Can someone else at the table (like a GM) just veto that?  At what point does success and failure come into it?  If I roll to punch him in the jaw, what have I done up until that point?

3) Know what your game is for.

Have a clear, defined, idea of what the experience of your game is like.  What is the absolutely the one most important thing to the game?  When someone sits down to play your game, what are they going to get out of it?

You have to know this, and guide your design by it.  Compromises will get you an unpleasant mud.

3a) If "realism" isn't what your game is for, why do you care about it?

4) Trust the players

Every single person sitting at the table in an RPG wants to have a good time.  Don't worry about "what if there is a bad player who wants to wreck the game?"  If there is a bad player who wants to wreck the game, the game will be wrecked no matter what you do about it.

Assume that you are writing for a group of people who like each other, get along, and want to cooperate in having a good time, even if they get in each other's faces a little bit while playing it.

Trust that they want to have a good time.

Anyone who lets you down wasn't going to like your game, anyway.

5) Don't be afraid to innovate.  Don't feel you have to innovate.

RPGs are a new thing in the world.  We haven't really figured out what they are yet, or what they do.  You shouldn't feel that your game has to look like any other game that has come before it.

Likewise, RPGs have been around for 30 years now.  A lot of thought and energy has gone into their design.  Don't be afraid to take and use old bits when they will serve you better than the new.

6) Write for you.

Don't worry about if your game is going to be popular, or familiar enough, or if other gamers will hate it.  Designing to try to please some imaginary other person is only going to lead to a mediocre game full of comprimises and broken hearts.  Design the game that you have always wanted to play, so then you can play it.  I guarantee you other people will love it, too.

If you don't love your game, every last scrap of it, by the time you are done, you have failed.



Good luck, and godspeed.

yrs--
--Ben
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Rob Donoghue
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Posts: 146


« Reply #1 on: February 09, 2005, 11:20:55 AM »

Quote from: Ben Lehman
4) Trust the players

Every single person sitting at the table in an RPG wants to have a good time.  Don't worry about "what if there is a bad player who wants to wreck the game?"  If there is a bad player who wants to wreck the game, the game will be wrecked no matter what you do about it.

Assume that you are writing for a group of people who like each other, get along, and want to cooperate in having a good time, even if they get in each other's faces a little bit while playing it.

Trust that they want to have a good time.

Anyone who lets you down wasn't going to like your game, anyway.


Since you're talking about design, I'd argue that point needs to be expanded to everyone at the table.

-Rob D.
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Rob Donoghue
<B>Fate</B> -
www.faterpg.com
Ben Lehman
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« Reply #2 on: February 10, 2005, 11:38:38 AM »

Quote from: Ben Lehman
4) Trust the players


Quote from: Rob Donoghue

Since you're talking about design, I'd argue that point needs to be expanded to everyone at the table.


Yes.

I guess my head is so full of Polaris-style role discussion that I'm just used to using "players" to mean "all participants in a game, including GMs, DMs, STs, Judges, Referees, 'NPCs,' Observers, etc."

The intention is that "player" be anyone who is playing the game.

Sorry for the confusion.

yrs--
--Ben
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TonyLB
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« Reply #3 on: February 10, 2005, 11:51:54 AM »

Quote from: Ben Lehman
1) Every act of resolution must have meaningful stakes.

Uhhhhhh... I think you may be jumping the gun by drafting this one into dogma.  I have the strongest intuition that the subtle difference between that and "Every act of resolution must provide an opportunity to address meaningful stakes" is going to rescue Task Resolution as a useful cutting-edge tool.

I may have to make that argument by designing the game that shows it, though.
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LordSmerf
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Posts: 864


« Reply #4 on: February 10, 2005, 12:09:47 PM »

Tony,

You may be onto something here, but I'm not sure.  I remember Mike Holmes telling me in a discussion of a recent HeroQuest game (which I mentioned in The wonder of indecision) that the initial planned Bang didn't catch me.  He had meant one question to be addressed (or rather, he had offered that question), but I expressed no interest in it.  In fact, until we talked about it later I didn't even realize that the offer had been made, that's how little it grabbed me.

The oppurtunity was offered, and declined.  Of course, Mike then "spiked" it with something that definately engaged me, and that set up some meaningful stakes.

As to whether resolution falls in anywhere in here, I'm not sure.  But clearly not all offers of meaningful stakes actually result in meaningful stakes.

Thomas
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Current projects: Caper, Trust and Betrayal, The Suburban Crucible
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