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Author Topic: Troy's Standard Rant #3: The Power 19  (Read 8921 times)
Troy_Costisick
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« on: October 18, 2005, 08:00:26 AM »

Heya,

As I was looking back through my earlier rants and the links to other threads provided, I realized two things about the three questions I examined.  First, they were a great start.  They definitely help guide discussion and help people focus their designs.  If you want a succinct description of a game, that’s the way to go.  Second, those questions are only a start.  As pointed out by others in those threads, there are lot more issues that need to be examined when designing a game.  Those questions are just a foot in the door so to speak, but there’s a whole lot more to discover when designing.  And this is where the two parts of my rant come in.

Part A is The Point.  I’m going to briefly expand on the original three questions proffered in the first two rants.  Part B is the Request.  I very much want feedback on these questions.  What’s good about them?  Are any confusing or convoluted?  Are they pertinent to game design?  And so on.  These questions are a compilation of those raised in this thread here and in my previous two rants.

THE POINT:

What follows are 19 questions.  I present them as essential questions one should ask him/herself as they design and essential questions we should ask others as they post in Indie-Design.

1.) What is your game about?

2.) What do the characters do?

3.) What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?

4.) How do the various parts your system reinforce what your game is about?

5.) How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?

6.) How does the Chargen of your game reinforce what your game is about?

7.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?

8.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?

9.) How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?

10.) What does your game do to command the players' attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)

11.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?

12.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?

13.) Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?

14.) How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?

15.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?

16.) What areas of your game receive extra attention and color?  Why?

17.) Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?

18.) Where does your game take the players that other games can’t, don’t, or won’t?

19.) What are your publishing goals for your game? Who is your target audience?

I call these questions “The Power 19” because, to me, they are the 19 most essential questions one can ask himself/herself as they design.  They help *empower* the designer to make a game that is well thought out and thorough in its design.  They aren’t easy to answer.  They’re tough, especially for someone who is new to design.  I doubt many could nail them all about their initial design right off the bat.  But easy questions don’t produce results.  By pushing people to create strong answers to strong questions, we will get strong designs. 

All the major elements of exploration (character, system, setting, situation, and color) are represented by these questions.  Furthermore, these questions prompt thought on how they directly relate to play, rewards, and advancement.  Any set of design guidelines must address these five components of exploration regardless if a game is Gamist, Narrativist, or Simulationist.  All five must be present, in some way, despite the Agenda that is supported by the game.

It’s also important to note what questions are not in this list.  For instance, “What is the Premise of your game?” is not listed, for not every game has a Premise.  The question, “What is the setting of your game?” is not necessarily pertinent to discussion of the game’s design.  All games, in play, will have a setting- even those designed with the “Purist for System” in mind.  What is more important than what the Setting is like, is how the Setting contributes to the Situation (see question 5 above). “Does your game have Conflict or Task resolution” is a bogus question and quickly distracts the designer and anyone commenting on his/her work from what is really important- how the resolution mechanics enhance play and reinforce all the other parts of the game.  Stuff about stats, races, magic, maps, religion, and all that stuff is either color or an area of Sim exploration.  If it is the former, then questions 4 and 16 are inclusive enough to deal with them.  If it is the latter, then question the designer better say something about it right away in question #1. 

Despite the length, it is very important to keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list of essential design questions.  I am positive that many more are out there, and many of them can be useful in design.  However, these are those that stand out above the rest as the questions most suited to helping nascent designers (and veterans for that matter) think clearly about their game and to help all of us guide discussion in Indie-Design.  That’s the point of all of this, to help us help each other.

Be careful when using these in the Indie-Design forum, however.  I don’t recommend asking all 19 questions at once to someone who just posted a brief sketch of their game.  I’m pretty sure that would overwhelm them.  Instead, walk them through 2-3 questions at a time- especially if they are a new designer.  When those questions are resolved to satisfaction, move on to the next few.  By the end of it, they will really be ready to sit down and start writing.

THE REQUEST

What I need from you guys, is constructive criticism concerning this list.  All the design tools in the world are no good if no one uses them, and I very much want this list to be useful to all those at the Forge.  By revising questions that are unclear or by further expounding on them, we can help create something that is helpful to us now and those who come to this site in the future.  I appreciate all your feedback and the time you took to read this.  I look forward to your responses.

Peace,

-Troy

Troy’s Standard Rant #1
Troy’s Standard Rant #2: Follow Up
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Tony Irwin
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« Reply #1 on: October 19, 2005, 03:55:53 AM »

Troy,

Before I offer a critique I'm interested to know: have you used these questions to successfully design and publish a game? If so, can you say which were the ones you found most useful and tell us something about the game?

Thanks,

Tony
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Graham W
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« Reply #2 on: October 19, 2005, 04:17:44 AM »

Troy,

I think they're excellent questions. They'd have helped me.

Although I think there's a wider of issue of whether we should have a standard set of questions at all. They might tend to lead a designer down a particular route. For example, the question "How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?" seems likely to lead game designers down the route of rewarding and punishing certain behaviours. Which isn't a necessary part of designing a game, particularly.

And again, should there be a standard set of questions, or should the questioner make an effort to tailor questions to the game?

On the questions themselves...

4.) How do the various parts your system reinforce what your game is about?

I think this question's a little confusing, as stated. You'd need to ask more specific questions such as "How does the combat system reinforce what the game is about?"

I think that, by saying "various parts", you're attempting to generalise those specific questions into a single question. But I think a lot gets lost in the generalisation.

10.) What does your game do to command the players' attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)

I have to say, I'm not quite sure how to answer this. Although I realise it's important that a game does this, I'm not sure I could explain how it does it. I imagine there'd be a lot of answers along the lines of "It's just a really nice setting to play in". Which isn't entirely a bad answer.

15.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?

I have a feeling this is a subquestion of "What do the players do?". But perhaps I'm missing something.

19.) What are your publishing goals for your game? Who is your target audience?

...and here, I just wonder whether this is a question that should be asked. In the early stages of design, should we be worrying about target audiences? My feeling is that it's more important to design games that we think are fun without worrying about tailoring them to an audience.

Cheers Troy. Apologies that the above criticism was almost entirely negative - all the questions I didn't comment on, I generally thought were useful and interesting.

Graham
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timfire
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« Reply #3 on: October 19, 2005, 08:58:23 AM »

I'm not sure if #4 is neccessary, given that you ask how all the major aspects of the design (chargen, advancement, resolution, etc.) reinforce what the game is about.

I think #19 should be broken into two questions. Knowing who your target audience is has design implications outside of just publishing. I would also be tempted ask about target audience early in the questionaire.

Another personal thing, I would combine 11+12, and 13+14. It seems repetative.

I'm not sure I see the point in asking #16. Why are you asking this one?

I wonder if you should mention credibility. I think the people most likely to benefit from this questionaire are people who don't have a firm grasp of Forge theory. Maybe there's a way to rephrase things that don't use jargon.
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--Timothy Walters Kleinert
Josh Roby
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« Reply #4 on: October 19, 2005, 09:05:07 AM »

19.) What are your publishing goals for your game? Who is your target audience?

...and here, I just wonder whether this is a question that should be asked. In the early stages of design, should we be worrying about target audiences? My feeling is that it's more important to design games that we think are fun without worrying about tailoring them to an audience.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes, this should be one of the first questions you answer.  Answering this question clarifies a lot of later decisions.  All too often people design a game intended solely for their local game group, put a lot of work into it, and then decide that they should get something out of it -- share it around for public recognition or even sell it for profit.  The thing is, the game is designed for their local game group, not for general distribution.  Sometimes, the designer considers the change in audience and considers what changes need to be made in the product and revises before just throwing it out into the world.  Other times, however, the designer simply assumes that what's good and sensible for his gaming group is good and sensible for all gaming groups, and releases the game unmodified and unprepared.  If you think there's no distinction, that's another thread I'd be happy to rant in.

Audience determines all sorts of things beyond content, as well.  Audience determines layout, presentation, format (word file, webpage, pdf, three-ring-binder, saddle-stitched, perfect bound?), advertising, and a host of other concerns.  I hate to keep referencing it, but look at Otherkind of an example of this decision made at the right time.  Vincent made a little microgame, decided that while it could be played by others, but that it wasn't really feasible to offer it for sale.  So he presented it in a website rather than a print product.  He didn't waste time and money finding a printer and figuring out how to market it as a salable product, but got it out there for others to play.

Answering this question is what transforms you from a vanity press to an independent press.  You are no longer simply gratifying yourself by seeing your name printed on a book; you are offering a product with real utility to consumers.
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Troy_Costisick
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« Reply #5 on: October 19, 2005, 09:12:09 AM »

Heya,

Quote
Before I offer a critique I'm interested to know: have you used these questions to successfully design and publish a game? If so, can you say which were the ones you found most useful and tell us something about the game?

-Sure :)  I used these questions as an outline for when I wrote Hierarchy for the October Ronnies and I used a more rough draft version (about half as many questions than what are on this list) when I wrote Cutthorat for the September Ronnies.  

I'll give you the answers I used for Hierarchy here:

1.) What is your game about?
-Hierarchy is about managing and engaging a large group of roleplayers in conflict driven play.

2.) What do the characters do?
-All characters are in a hierarchal caste system.  They try to move up the ladder by challenging each other to duels while still performing the wishes of the Emporer who sits at the top.

3.) What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?
-All players both play a character and act as a GM.  When the Emporer sends his lords and warriors into battle, players alternate playing their character and GMing conflicts and contests for their fellow players.  

4.) How do the various parts your system reinforce what your game is about?
-The dueling aspect of the game keeps everyone focussed on the goal of play (To Become Emporer) and participating together as a group.  The questing aspect of play allows individuals to strike out on their own and develop their own storylines for their own characters.

5.) How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
-The setting is based off Feudal Japan.  This reinforces the idea that the Emporer is at the top, followed by the lords and vassals, and at the bottom are the Samurai.  A sense of Honor and duty pervade play even though the object is to unseat those who are ranked above you.

6.) How does the Chargen of your game reinforce what your game is about?
-Characters are given a specific position in the hierarchy.  This way it is quickly decided who plays what.  That is very important for large groups.  Many of the variables in character creation are taken out in favor of set values.  This decreases the start-up time (again important for dealing with large groups).  Lastly, the Chargen sets up the tension between players so that conflicts are almost certain to happen at some point.

7.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?
-Conflict is a central theme of Hierarchy.  Players are rewarded as they address conflicts such as those with higher ranked characters, the one thing the character holds precious in the world, and the quests ordered by the Emporer.  By addressing, I mean creating and overcoming challenges the players set before temselves and each other.

8.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?
-Characters advance by spending Honor.  When a player wins a conflict (as stated above) the character is awarded Honor points.  Honor points can be used to protect the character in battle, increase his stats, and increase his skills.  Accumulating Honor is also another way to stave off someone winning the game by achieving too many victories in conflict.

9.) How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?
-The Emporer has a lot of resonsibility for narration and credibility.  He must create the Quests (which have a central opposing figure behind them) and play all the NPCs associated with that Quest.  All players will be GMs at some point.  They will be in charge of creating scenes, conflicts, settings, and NPCs to challenge their fellow players.  Hierarchy spreads narration and credibility around quite a bit.

10.) What does your game do to command the players' attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)
-By having meaningful stakes (clout, status, and victory).  The game is fun to play.  Therefore, you want to keep playing it.  By not participating, you will help others achieve the goal of winning.  When someone wins, the game is over.  All players will most likely be challenged by another player at some point.  This forces players to engage the system and participate with their fellow gamers.

11.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?
-Short Version: Resolution mechanics run very similar to Dogs in the Vineyard.  

12.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?
-The mechanics work well in both group and individual appilications.  This is very important if one is to engage a large group of people and keep them happy.  Since conflict is at the center of the game, and the mechanics are built to help resolve them clearly and with a lot of action, players will stay engaged in everyone's story and progression.

13.) Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?
-Yes. Characters advance by using Honor.  Honor can be used as a defense to deflect blows in a Fight.  This is a constant effect of Honor.  Alternitively, it can be spent to bump up a character's stats and tiles (skills).  Also, earning Honor helps you prolong the game until you are ready to claim victory.

14.) How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
-It makes player vs. player conflict both necessary and fun.  Spending Honor makes your character more powerful, BUT it also brings all the other players closer to victory.  Therfore, you can become more powerful if you want, but you'd better be ready to challenge for the top seat unless you want someone else to win.

15.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?
-Social esteem.

16.) What areas of your game receive extra attention and color?  Why?
-This one I couldn't spend a lot of time on since it was a 24 hour RPG.  But as I revise the game, the "How to set up conflicts" section will get a major boost in content and in color.  Why?  Mainly because that is the very heart of what makes the game fun and interesting to play.  Without interesting conflict, a large group will just disband.

17.) Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?
-The large group aspect.  When a lot of gamers show up to a Con or live on a college campus together, it always sucks to leave people out of a game.  With Hierarchy you can include them all no problem.  I'm really anxious to see it work in practice.

18.) Where does your game take the players that other games can’t, don’t, or won’t?
-It helps them game with a large group.  Not many tabletop RPGs out there, none that I can think of off the top of my head right at the moment, are designed with the expressed and explicit intent for large group play.  This game manages to have that aspect as a necessary part of play.

19.) What are your publishing goals for your game? Who is your target audience?
-I'd like a 30-50 page magaizine style game that would sell for between $5-7.  Target audiences include Con-goers, College Students, RPG club sponsors, and game designers.


-Okay, there you have it.  I call Hierarchy a success because I managed to finish it.  You're free to disagree on that part, in fact I probably wouldn't blame ya hehe.  But I used these questions as a guide to help me get from blank paper to finished draft.  Make sense? :)  

-I hope this answers your question, Tony.  I'm very interested in any feedback you have.  And I do appreciate you posting a reply.  Thanks.

Peace,

-Troy
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Troy_Costisick
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« Reply #6 on: October 19, 2005, 09:24:08 AM »

Heya,

Graham and Tim wrote:

Quote
I think this question's a little confusing, as stated. You'd need to ask more specific questions such as "How does the combat system reinforce what the game is about?"

I'm not sure if #4 is neccessary, given that you ask how all the major aspects of the design (chargen, advancement, resolution, etc.) reinforce what the game is about.

-I think you're right.  That's the question I liked the least, and did feel it just confused things.  It does need to go.

Graham wrote:

Quote
Although I think there's a wider of issue of whether we should have a standard set of questions at all. They might tend to lead a designer down a particular route. For example, the question "How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?" seems likely to lead game designers down the route of rewarding and punishing certain behaviours. Which isn't a necessary part of designing a game, particularly.

-I think you have a point.  I did mean to mention in my first post that this is NOT the only way to do things.  I appologize if I came off sounding like this was "the one true way" because it's not.  There are definately other, effective ways to design a game.  The purpose of this thread is simply to enumerate one of them. :)

Tim wrote:

Quote
I think #19 should be broken into two questions. Knowing who your target audience is has design implications outside of just publishing.

-Good point.  I think I like that very much.  Should the second part involve a mention of a target Creative Agenda or no?

Graham wrote:

Quote
19.) What are your publishing goals for your game? Who is your target audience?


...and here, I just wonder whether this is a question that should be asked. In the early stages of design, should we be worrying about target audiences? My feeling is that it's more important to design games that we think are fun without worrying about tailoring them to an audience.

-Gotta go with what Josh said.  He reflects my beliefs very well in his post.

Tim asked:

Quote
I'm not sure I see the point in asking #16. Why are you asking this one?

-Because if a lot of color and attention are devoted to something that distracts from what the game is really about, this question is designed to draw that out of the designer.  For instance if a game is about playing the Knights of the Round Table and it includes rhemes of spell lists, then I'd say the extra color (since that's what spells lists mostly are) was not well spent.

-I appreciate the feed back, all.  And Graham, your post was not negative in the slightest.  It's the exact kind of post I wanted.  Thanks, bro.  I'm glad you took the time to give me your thoughts :)

Peace,

-Troy

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Tony Irwin
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« Reply #7 on: October 19, 2005, 01:16:57 PM »

 I used these questions as an outline for when I wrote Hierarchy for the October Ronnies and I used a more rough draft version (about half as many questions than what are on this list) when I wrote Cutthorat for the September Ronnies.  

I'll give you the answers I used for Hierarchy here...

Hey good for you Troy! That's fantastic stuff.

I only have one point - it's about language. How would you feel about taking out lots of the terms and just dumbing it down a lot? Here's your point 7 and below is my dumbed down version. The reason I ask is that it seems to me that the more terms you use in a question, the easier it becomes to sidestep the question and start debating terms.

7.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?

7.) What rewards are on offer? What do players have to do to get them?

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Josh Roby
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« Reply #8 on: October 19, 2005, 01:26:39 PM »

Tony, your rephrasing, while it does make it less accessible, removes the why from the original.  The original question asks for the intent of the reward system; your rephrased question asks for the reward system.

On the whole, I agree, any question that can be unjargonified should be, but we should be really careful not to lose the full brunt of the questions' scope.
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Troy_Costisick
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« Reply #9 on: October 20, 2005, 02:52:28 AM »

Heya,

Quote
On the whole, I agree, any question that can be unjargonified should be, but we should be really careful not to lose the full brunt of the questions' scope.

-I concure 100%.  Which makes me think, based on the question raised in another thread in this forum, that changeing the word Chargen to "character creation" in question #6 might be a good idea.  Although I think it is a good idea to help people learn the jargon that is used in design circles, in a design tool such as it one it might not be the best place for it.  The point of these questions is to be accessible, not artsy-fartsy ;)

Peace,

-Troy
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #10 on: October 20, 2005, 03:41:54 PM »

Although individually the questions are good, I have trouble with them as a core list. There is a degree to which asking some of those questions would imply that something was needed in a game that was not there.

Multiverser has no "reward system". As such, it bucks the grain significantly on this. (In fact, given Ron's more recent assertion that "instance of play" equals "reward cycle", that would mean there's no "instance of play" in the game--which is evidentally wrong.)

Had you asked me what the reward system was when we were designing it, it might have gone completely over my head. We had a very natural character improvement system in place that had absolutely no relationship either to anything we would have considered reward or even advancement. You could make your character more powerful if you wished; it really was of no consequence, except in terms of the kind of play you would have in the future and the options you would have for dealing with it.

But if you'd made me understand then what a reward system was (as distinct from an advancement system), I might well have made the mistake of trying to include one.

The fact is, Multiverser plays as well as it does because play is its own reward. It has also shown me that this is always true; that reward "systems" are not the reward for which the players are playing, but reinforcement of that reward. People who want to show off against the challenges don't need experience points to do that; experience points are the icing on the cake that gives them a metric for how much they can boast, one more thing that can be said about their success. Reward systems tell you what you're supposed to be doing. If you want to do that anyway, it's fun to do, and you are then encouraged by the reward. If you don't want to do that anyway, no amount of in-game reward is going to persuade you that this is fun. Of course, with Multiverer, we're not trying to get someone to play in a particular way or to a specific agendum; we're trying to create a context in which they can play any way they want, and condition referees to roll with that and provide the kind of experiences that the players will find "fun". A reward system would have messed that up completely.

I mention that because it's specific to that game; but I would wager there are a number of questions that ask about parts of a game that are not really essential to the design, and in asking imply that they are essential, and that's a mistake.

I know you tried to avoid that in several instances (the setting question, for example), but I'm not sure whether you succeeded.

--M. J. Young
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Troy_Costisick
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« Reply #11 on: October 20, 2005, 05:31:09 PM »

Heya,

Quote
I mention that because it's specific to that game; but I would wager there are a number of questions that ask about parts of a game that are not really essential to the design, and in asking imply that they are essential, and that's a mistake.

I know you tried to avoid that in several instances (the setting question, for example), but I'm not sure whether you succeeded.

-That's a fair criticism, M.J.  I really, really wish in my initial post that I had made it absolutely clear that this list of questions was not necessarily the best and only way to design a RPG..  That was a goof on my part and I want to make sure that I folks understand that this list is only one way to do things.  So, I want to thank you for pointing out how Multiverser is the type of game that "bucks the grain" as you put it.  Questioning the questions will lead to even further innovation as people truly think of what is 'required' for a RPG.

-In their defense, however, I must still assert that they do have value, and to some nascent designers great value, as a tool to examine their game.  Additionaly, I think that they are even better for sparking dialogue in the Indie-design forum.  The question about rewards would have brought up the very point you make about Multiverser.  That would have been (and is) a great lesson to learn for all those who participated in such a discussion.  So, in the end, I do not claim these questions to be perfect or provide the best/only path to create a RPG.  But I do claim that they can be a valuable to resource to designers and posters here on the Forge :)

Peace,

-Troy
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Stefan / 1of3
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« Reply #12 on: October 21, 2005, 04:08:10 AM »

I would move number 6 (How does the Chargen of your game reinforce what your game is about?) right behind number 12 (How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?).

Most of the time Chargen provides certain variables, that are used in the resolution processes, therefore I recommend thinking about the resolution first.
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #13 on: October 21, 2005, 09:14:39 AM »

Most of the time Chargen provides certain variables, that are used in the resolution processes, therefore I recommend thinking about the resolution first.

And see to me, that's putting the cart before the horse. ;)  Different games will have different priorities.
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Troy_Costisick
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« Reply #14 on: October 24, 2005, 12:03:01 PM »

Heya,

Okay, here's the revised list.  Please keep in mind that this list is merely a suggestion and only one possible way to design a RPG.

1.) What is your game about?**

2.) What do the characters do?**

3.) What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?**

4.) How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?

5.) How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about?

6.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?

7.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?

8.) How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?

9.) What does your game do to command the players' attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)

10.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?

11.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?

12.) Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?

13.) How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?

14.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?

15.) What areas of your game receive extra attention and color?  Why?

16.) Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?

17.) Where does your game take the players that other games can’t, don’t, or won’t?

18.) What are your publishing goals for your game?

19.) Who is your target audience?

**Denotes key question that should be answered/discussed first and foremost when designing a RPG.

-Thanks for all your input guys! :)

Peace,

-Troy
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