As my current Runequest campaign is drawing to a close I have done a little prep on my idea to hack Night’s Black Agents (a GUMSHOE variant for vampire hunting at a James Bond/Jason Bourne level of competence) into a SF setting (with some help from Ashen Stars). I was originally thinking something Star Wars Old Republic era, but I might try the Coriolis setting (Firefly meets Arabian Nights). I have not run GUMSHOE before and it will be interesting to try a new game system that requires a different level of self-discipline from the GM. For NAB you need to build your vampire conspiracy and your vampires before the campaign starts, and then stick to the decisions you made so that the clues the players acquire make sense for analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of their fearsome foes.
I have also been thinking about what to do after the next campaign is finished. While I have some setting ideas I want to explore, I am not sure which system to use, or if my ideas are strong enough to make a serious stab at designing a game. Bearing in mind a comment from a friend recently that he could design eight board games in the time it takes to design one roleplaying game, because roleplaying games are complex.
Key Roleplaying Game Design Articles that Influence my Thinking
These are articles and webpages that I keep coming back to for inspiration.
Jared Sorensen, The Big Three Questions.
- What is your game about? This is the premise.
- How does it go about that? These are all the game elements.
- What does it reward? This is the game system.
John Wick adds a fourth question “How do you make this fun?”. Other people have added even more questions to the list.
Whitson John Kirk III, Design Patterns of Successful Roleplaying Games.
A few other random quotes on rpg game design:
- The First law of RPG Design – A game is not about what it is about, but how it is about it (also known as Ebert’s First law).
- The Rule of Jared – only roll dice when its important.
- The Mearls Paradox – a roleplaying game that is complete is not a roleplaying game at all.
- Jared’s Rule of Combat – Fight scenes need to be exciting. Combat does not have to be.
Specific Articles on Magic
Aliette de Bodard, Magic Systems and my world building process.
Brandan Sanderson, Sanderson’s Third Law of Magic (but follow the link to the post on the second law, its the most relevant to roleplaying games).
Roleplaying Game Design is Still a Contested Space
A few recent forum threads gave me a rehash of the GNS debates and similar history from the Forge era. The best concept I gained out of that time investment was the idea of focusing on the fiction you are trying to emulate. It also helped steer me towards realising that my creative agendas fall more in the “gamist” rather than the “simulationist” camps.
The most recent attempt at simulationist design I read, I stopped when it said as an example of play “Roll 15d10 to climb a wall…”. What I would rather have in a game is one die roll, or a dice pool of not more than 6-8 dice
Lessons learned from Kickstarters
There seem to be four kinds of successful gaming product on Kickstarter:
- Genuine innovation (the rarest beast).
- Ancillary products (dice and other gaming aids).
- Next Editions of an established gaming product.
- Love Letters to an older game that will never get a Next Edition again.
I also have to say, that after backing 66 projects since May 2013, that I am no longer enthused to back anything that does not at least have a quickstart or ashcan version (for an RPG) or a demo of a physical product (game aids). I think the only really innovative game I have backed is Blades in the Dark. The three games I have been waiting the longest on delivery were all “good ideas” from established designers and companies, but are now approaching two years overdue. While I suspect they will eventually deliver, I think in the last few years Kickstarter has become more of a place to take roleplaying games that are already 80-90% finished.
I do not have any interest in making ancillary products, and I do not have an IP to do a Next Edition with, so that leaves genuine innovation and love letters. Try as I might, I have not figured out a new and interesting way of rolling dice, or changing the practice of play around the gaming table. So that leaves taking the “love letter” approach to writing a game. Here I find my ideas keep returning to the D100 System. The game I would most like to pay homage to is Runequest 2nd edition, which packed an awful lot of game into 120 pages. It did this in large part by making a lot of the setting implicit in the rules, art, and examples of play. not by devoting large amounts of space to fluff text and short fiction.
Of course, there is a Next Edition of Runequest due out this year, and based on the designer blogs and draft I saw at GENCON, its going to be quite good. But there are at least two open license D100 systems on the market that I can use as a starting basis. “Hack what you like, to make what you love” as Vincent Barker put it. So that is where my thoughts are at right now, trying to innovate at the edge of the D100 system, and producing a focused setting with a light touch, the way RQ2 managed.
Now, I need to get back to drafting some Megagame rules…