One of the hardest lessons for me to internalize as a game designer is that most people aren’t game designers. And as a corollary, most people don’t really want to be game designers. When I was young a game that had more rules was just better. Oh sure, I could make something up for a situation if I had to, but why should I have to? I paid good money for this game, don’t tell me that now I have to finish writing it for you! However as I’ve gotten older I have less and less patience for layers of rules that I’m never going to remember, and will probably just irritate me when I do. And it’s not just me, everyone I know is getting older too, and the farther we get from college the less anyone seems to care about spending 2 hours meticulously going through options. Let’s just roll the damned dice and get moving. Continue reading
Something I have struggled with for awhile is expressing themes as game mechanics. You can argue that every rule somewhat contributes to theme, which is true to an extent, but there’s something else. Something that makes a wuxia game feel fundamentally different from other adventure regardless of whether or not the characters can fly. Continue reading
An element I’ve been adding to many games I run lately is localization: trying to work in history, culture, and real locations from where I live into the game. This doesn’t really apply to every game, but when I can manage it it’s been rewarding. Here are a few examples: Continue reading
(But do cater to their secret desires.)
There was a time when cutting edge game master technique involved carefully figuring out what general category each of your players fell into, then rating them like a monster so you could understand their vulnerabilities and desires. There’s actually value in that, but on the whole I think its a terrible idea. The value from the notion was it got into what players desired, and admitted that those desires could all be different but still valid, and possibly all fulfilled at the same time in different ways. Continue reading
When I run demo games of Hard Vacuum at conventions the most common question I get asked is: are those awesome ships specifically for Hard Vacuum, and if so where do I buy them?
Sadly, we never did a miniatures line for Hard Vacuum. Sierra Madre used to sell sets of plastic ships that worked okay, but they weren’t anything specific to the setting. But most of the designs were based roughly on whatever minis I already had available, or could convert with minimal effort. So for those who asked, here’s what I used for my own conversions, and where they are still available. Continue reading
So just the question alone probably will probably cause most people really involved in RPG’s to check out. But I have to wonder…is story really that important? Conventional wisdom seems to be that it is, that anything that supports story-telling is good, and anything that doesn’t is at best extraneous. Continue reading
Modes are what I call it when you have different layers of rules to deal with different kinds of situations. This is not a new concept. Early D&D had an exploration mode as well as a combat mode. Champions broke it down into simply Non-Combat Time (a narration mode) and Combat Time (a combat mode). Savage Worlds did some really cool stuff here with a chase mode and a downtime mode that got you bennies for telling campfire stories. And I can’t help but consider Skill Challenges from D&D 4ed a failed attempt at adding a framework for other modes to that game. Continue reading
I had an interesting conversation with a gamer who thought that skills were the devil. His point was that just by existing the skills were artificially limiting your options and forcing you into boxes that a new gamer with clean perspective wouldn’t actually want. And I get that, but I still think they do more good than harm. Let me try to make the case for skills, and why I approached them the way I did. Continue reading
The “Total Party Kill” (TPK for short) is the sometimes controversial and always abrupt end of the game when everyone’s character is slaughtered at once. There is an understandable backlash against this sort of thing, especially in heavy story games, because this just isn’t a satisfying way to end a story! People invest a lot in their characters, the relationships between them, and their connections to the story and game world. To have all that snuffed out in an a few terrifying moments is off-putting.
I also think it’s crucial…within limits. Continue reading