The Limits of Designing for Role-Playing.

I think this may surprise people, but the thing that had actually set me on the “warpath” of the Blinders, so to speak, of people saying their games are about and using advice to get there instead of rules, was RPGs. That is to say, it was games where the goal was to role-play, it was games where not only people role-played, but that was the declared goal.

I remember looking at some discussions, and I realized, Dungeons and Dragons is not an RPG, or at least, it’s not in the design, but “merely” in the play. I say “merely”, because perhaps that’s all there is. I looked at D&D, and I looked at the rules, and I saw nothing there that would make me roleplay. I saw very little there that even rewarded me for roleplaying, and quite surprisingly there wasn’t even much advice geared towards getting the players to roleplay and flesh out their characters’ personalities and history.

Perhaps it’s not very surprising, as aside from the Hero Builder’s Guide (which cost money for very little), most people seem to “know” what D&D is about, and are initiated into it by friends or know what to pick up. So they didn’t need to add it, because they knew that people will be told what they need to know.
Of course, they may have also realized there was very little else they could do, because you can’t do much to design RPGs.

 If I were to discuss the ontology of a “Game”, I’d say a game does not exist when it is not played. A box of Dominion or Settlers of Cattan contains the system and the physical components needed, but it doesn’t contain a “game of ___”, that game only springs into existence when people sit around and engage in the activity.
This I think is also true for roleplaying, but I mean it in a slightly different form: There are no role-playing in the rules, there’s no role-playing procedure (yes, when you are training for your job and such, let’s stay focused), but the role-playing game? It only exists, there is only role-playing when the players engage in that activity, when they play a role.

This seems like a rehash of what was said about games, but there’s a difference. The difference is that there is no game if you don’t play the game, but you can play an “RPG” by playing the game and not role-playing. For there to exist an “RPG” rather than “rpG” (where only one aspect really exists), the players need to make an actual choice, the choice to role-play. This is not something the designer can do, this is not something the designer can even assure. This is up to the players.

Though a “Story” is very much the same, I do not think humans can avoid creating (“telling?” one), so I think most designers should content themselves not with trying to ensure that people would role-play while playing their games, but to allow for games where role-playing is an easy option that is not over-eclipsed by other concerns.

 You can help by having stories that the players can relate to, that they can place themselves in, you can give them entities that have personas, who are theirs to control, and with whom they can identify, or even identify the characters as their medium of affecting the world/story. Basically, provide sockets for the players to plug into. People mention “Immersion”, and immersion is a tool, or rather, a state, where some of this is achieved. But even if people think from the an “actor” point of view (not Forge theory usage), of “I“, that it’s them who react, it’d be enough.

The other side is that you need to avoid making something that has nothing to do with portraying a role as much more interesting and rewarding to the players. If you take an exciting game and add role-playing to it, people might shove the role-playing aside just in order to get to the “good bits”. And if story and role-playing is not entirely dispensable, but is the vehicle to get from one mechanical exchange to another, then it’d be stripped down and zipped right along, because the goal of the mechanical exchange is where the focus lays*.

The reason I think it may work better within LARPs is because it gives you a visceral grounding. Even if you keep feeling uncomfortable because you feel the vast distance between yourself and your character (and perhaps suffer from fear of performance), you can’t help but be the one who is acting, be the one who is acted towards by others. You almost can’t help thinking from a first person (actor?) stance, “What am I going to do?” And of course, people tend to give LARPs looser systems, probably for lack of comfortable mechanical tools to make use of (dice, cards, charts).

I think all of this should be liberating to game designers. Once you make sure that players have ample opportunities to plug into certain sockets in the game, and once you make sure it can be an engaging and interesting activity even within this game, you’re good. You don’t need to make sure that everyone will role-play, you needn’t make sure that role-playing is the natural outcome of playing your game. You can’t, and only the players can. Heck, even when it’s the “Natural Outcome”, how much of it comes because the players pick it up expecting that they’ll role-play there, if because it was marketed as such (and/)or because previous editions of the game were like that? Just like Dungeons and Dragons.

Also, that’s why I focus on “Story-Games”. Basically all role-playing games are Story-Games, but Story-Games can be good, can be emotional, without being RPGs.

* This happens when you take a meaty 500 page book and try to fit it into a 90 minute movie, sometimes. You cover all the plot-points, but that’s all they are, merely points you hop along, rather than a story with impact. But maybe that’s just me.

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Game Design as a Viral Disease.

First, for those who did not notice(most of you), I’ve begun syndication of game related, especially CSI related information to a new Blog, aptly called, CSI Games.
A question to my LiveJournal readers, do you find these game posts of any interest?

Second, I want to revise Cranium Rats, but first I need your help. I need more answers regarding the questions presented in this thread.

Now that we got that out of the way, onward!
This thread directly ties in to my earlier post regarding memes, on second thought it also ties to this post about Addictions. I believe Game Design (we’ll talk mainly of RPGs and TCGs here) is a disease, a viral disease. That may not be a negative thing, but it is something to be considered.

So there you are, sitting and reading a game book, and “Zing!” goes the light-bulb, when you notice something which needs some changing.
Thus you get House-Rules.
There you are still, playing a game, for example D&D 3ed or Exalted, and you want something that is not there, a new Prestiege Class, a new Martial Arts Style.
Thus you get Fan Material.
There you are, still, and boy doesn’t your butt ache from sitting down for so long? But you sure are persistent, and now you’re mucking about with Magic: the Gathering, and you’re building your deck for an upcoming tournament. Cutting down cards to 60 is hard, it feels like you’re sacrificing your own children.
Thus you get Design Process.

So you sat down and did all that, but you decided you want to do some more. You’ve been infected.
The above is how the disease transmits. It is easy to transmit, it is easy to carry, it is easy to keep alive even if somewhat dormant.
The virus does not stay content forever though, once you had flexed your designer muscles you find it easier to flex them once more. Such is the nature of muscles.
Once you set down the road it is easier to continue upon it.

So you start with Exalted, and you find that it is missing a Martial Arts style you desire, so you add one. Now you find Intimacies don’t do what you want, so you delve deeper into the kernels of the game, changing some basics of the game and much of how the rules apply to this specific case.
Then you are ready to progress to the next step. Exalted is no longer good enough. It just doesn’t do what you want it to, so you make your game, wholly your creation.

So it seems we’ve covered the “Why” you design games; you begin by designing pieces and then you grow in skill enough to design games.
NO.
It is the other way around, that is the “How”. You get the virus in you and so you begin designing(it’s often transmitted by holes and missing appendages in other games that call to you to fill them), once you build your muscles you move to bigger projects. You don’t go on a scale because that’s what you can do and as you go up you get more capable of taking on bigger tasks, you take on smaller tasks in order to prepare yourself for Game Design.

Game Design propagates the virus.
You design games because you can’t stop.

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Slime Octopi and Coral; Power 19

This is posted to show you one of the projects I’m working on and how it relates to my beliefs regarding games and RPGs, aka CSI Games.

The Power 19 are a design process or accessory that helps you formulate your ideas and present them.
Slime Octopi and Coral is a game that meshes Call of Cthulhu with Cranium Rats’ competitive theme and mechanics, and cranks it up even higher.
This will be a joined process with Eric Bennett, who is currently busy studying. This is my Power 19. It’s also posted on Story-Games and The Forge with no replies.

1.) What is your game about?
Elder/Outer Gods who land on Earth before the rise of Humanity, trying to control and manipulate (proto-)humanity and history to their goals.

2.) What do the characters do?
The characters compete amongsts themselves and against Humanity in order to control and shape it, or fend off the Elder Gods in Humanity’s(character) case.
Ultimately, the Gods try to reshape Humanity in their shape, as Servitor Races, whereas Humanity wants to throw off the shackles placed upon them by these External beings.

3.) What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?
The players play the Elder Gods, one of them plays Mr. H. They compete against one another over the limited Resource called Humanity and its future. They work out deals and backstab one another to further their goals, while being careful to not be overthrown by the strengthening(?) Humanity. Mr. H. fills in the GM’s role, and portrays the Gods’ effect on Humanity and Humanity and the world’s reactions.

4.) How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
The setting is initially that of one lone star hurtling through space, with “something” crashing on top of it, simultanously creating life and its rack. As time progresses the setting expands as culture and humanity progress, or do not, based on the Gods’ goals.
Humanity being a finite resource with a defined growth-rate leads to a boardgame mentality, with “wildcard” events acting as randomizers to keep people on edge.

5.) How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about?
Character generation includes answering questions about what your God is, what it wants, what it wants from Humanity, how these relate to one another and so forth. This is the Function phase. This is done by drawing from a limited number of words to create the answers to these questions. Since the words will be mutually exclusive one can be ensured to have a character that will have a hard time to work with others, if at all.
The characters’ goals may also stand in stark opposition with their methods. Nothing like a ravenous entity that wants to breed lower beings.
Character generation will also have a Form phase, where you pick and choose different physical/spiritual aspects of your character, which give you certain weaknesses to be covered, and powers to exploit others’ weaknesses. Or relate differently to Humanity.

6.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?
Backstabbing and alliances, being able to plan for the long term while being able to respond to a quickly changing playing field.

7.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?
Those who cannot form alliances, uphold them, backstab others and protect themselves from being backstabbed will find their strategical position deteriorating as they are picked upon by the other players. Mr. H’s player is more there to portray what happens than form any interaction with the players, their relationship is that of cause and effect.
You need to be able to make and execute long-term plans that will be carried over several rounds of play-time in order to reach your goals and secure victory.
As you are not the only player present and other players as well as random chance are likely to throw monkey-wrenches at your character you will need to be able to think on your feet and redraw plans.

8.) How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?
Turns progress with Mr. H. narrating the overall results of the past turn and setting the new scene, or epoch, as each round of play is another notch on the progress of time. What the world does, what humanity does, etc. The players then describe their actions, with Narration being traded based on system and Mr. H.

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?)
You can win in this game. Everyone wants to win, or at least everyone participating in this game should want to win. Narration rights can be bought and move around quickly.
You make and break pacts with other players and constantly look out for number one. You.

10.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?
The Resolution mechanic of the game is based on that of Cranium Rats, albeit modified. You roll D6 and need to roll under a trait ranging 1-5, based in large on your Form and Function, those who compete in an action roll to see who will control the conflict, with those that rule highest on single dice gaining Narration.
There are Dice and Token as different resources that can be used to bolster rolls, stop others and so on.
How the mechanics will be modified from those of CR is not yet final, but there will certainly be advantages to controlling more of Humanity, having your people more advanced, more loyal, etc. Humans can die, be stolen and they can rebel. Resource management will be inserted and controlled by Mr. H., Humanity will be able to perform on a wider scale, but not as strongly, thus making several small “characters”. As Humanity’s numbers increase it becomes more dominant, harder to control and more likely to rebel. Probably done by having a limited number of pools and inverse relationships.
IE: Number+Loyalty=20. Number=10>Loyalty=10. Number=15>Loyalty=5.

11.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?
On the Gods’ front they relate to how each Elder God tries to shape History and make his vision become reality through the narration. On Humanity’s end it’s a resource game that will tend to lead towards Humanity breaking free and an end-game where they fight the Elder Gods for freedom or slavery, forever.
If the Elder Gods try to keep humanity down they will have a much harder time to gain their goals, and it will happen much slower, giving the other Elder Gods more time to thwart their plans.

12.) Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?
Humanity advances based on its reactions to Random Events and the machinations of the Elder Gods. It also advances based on its natural progression chart provided it is not messed with.
Elder Gods gain resources in a manner based on their Function, their Form may shift as they gain or lose conflicts. Their Function may change completely when challenged or proven ineffectual to the point of crush.

13.) How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
There’s a limited pool to draw from, so characters are forced to compete in order to advance.
Humanity is messed with in order for the EG to advance, so it competes against them.
Competition is encouraged and reinforced through advancement. In fact, there is no advancement without reinforcement of the game’s premise!

14.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?
An urge to squelch opposition, to sit down and consider both the tactical and the strategic consequences of their actions, while trying to factor in what others do.

15.) What areas of your game receive extra attention and color? Why?
The setting. Well, H.P. has such a cool premise going on, and so many people like it, they and he must be onto something.
Well, to be frank, most of the difference between this and CR is the premise, and the premise is setting based. The rest of the mechanical shift from CR is there merely to support this unique premise, so it must be explored.
I want to explore the cold-lone space, I want to explore the inhuman and inhumane Elder Gods.
This game is about Control, but also about Freedom.
Eventually, it’s about Victory.

16.) Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?
The option to have a limited game-play length and how the Resource you’re vying for? That’s basically another player’s character!
Why? Because I feel this game may form a strong bridge between RPGs and Board-games, and could be modified with ease to be more of an RPG or more of a board-game, depending on what the group desires at the time.

17.) Where does your game take the players that other games can’t, don’t, or won’t?
At the other player’s throats.
It lets people play a God. Just like in Black and White, you play a god-sim. You can play that in other games, sure. But not in other RPGs. Yours is the power to take control of humanity, of your people, and shape them according to your vision.
Your very distorted vision.

18.) What are your publishing goals for your game?
Publish as PDF, later as Book, joint effort with Mr. Bennett. Will be tied into Cranium Rats from which it had sprung.
Currently undecided if to publish/promote as a short limited-time game ala The Mountain Witch or a more medium limited-time game ala Polaris.

19.) Who is your target audience?
People who like H.P. Lovecraft’s works, people who like board-games. People who like God Simulation computer games.

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