8/20/11

PEOPLE ARE CLEVER

I'm amazed at the sheer quantity of role-playing products that assume their reader is an utter beginner. It's almost a stance we've inherited from the early years: writing and designing products as if our audience had bought this one and only booklet in the course of the past 37 years. This is especially absurd when it comes to old-school products one finds only on very specialized POD and PDF platforms. What actually happens follows as such:

1. Your audience already owns a lot of games. And they've played quite a few of them.
2. Your audience won't play your product by the book.
3. Your audience itself designs adventures, settings and systems. Maybe most won't edit nor publish them, but it's still an essential part of the game on the DM's side.

As I'm in the course of designing a fully-fleshed version of Rudingoz, a whole urban campaign in random tables, I've decided to take the fact into account: my audience is clever. They read a lot, they probably own the same games as me and they know how to find all the materials they need to run their game.

With these ideas in mind, I didn't go into a lot of explanations but I've scattered inspirational sparks everywhere instead: in the art, which doesn't really match the text — more on this later —, in the tables themselves, in the adventure bits, in the mapping or even in the stats. Sometimes I go like: "if you need to create a NPC on the fly, just use what you already have : your Master Guide, the Classic Dungeon Designer's Old School Encounters Reference, the Vornheim City Kit, whatever you like" and I feel it's okay to say so. This has all been covered somewhere in a book or another, and I know that you, my audience, own those bloody books and already play with a style of your own.

Who am I to tell you how to play? And given you've got all this, can't I provide you with something that will take this all to the next level? What if I build my design on top of all the wonders others have done? I know you'll want to hack it anyway, and am happy to help you to do so.

3 comments:

  1. Excellent! I'm in full support of this philosophy! Emphasis on utility-at-the-table (or wherever the game is played) should be the focus, and integrating your game into what people already play should work as seamlessly as possible. :) I very much looking forward to seeing how you pull this off.

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  2. I couldn't agree with you more.
    However, I do keep finding myself buying small rule-sets some of which are billed as "introductory" games, when in fact the file or book is hidden so deep in Lulu of RPGNow that only the dedicated players would ever find them. I have a guilty pleasure of cheering whenever I read "What is a role-playing game?" or an explanation of how dice work.

    I'd just go with what feels right, I mean the earliest editions of games always assumed they'd only be falling into the hands of wargamers - and that gave them a really nice informal style as well. I get a bit freaked out with direct address in rules and adventures (Ken St.Andre still does that) - but somehow that's okay if the web is involved. So maybe it's all down to target audience and community. Gamers are smart and new gamers catch on quick. :) And if people don't understand everything they just wing it and fill in the gaps (the more confident players, anyhow).
    The only time I've felt really out of my depth was with "storyteller" style rules -the whole concept can seem abstract compared to good old D&D, roll this, add this, kill that, gain this.

    Maybe it's difficult when a game uses to much short-hand or the industry equivalent of colloquial phrases. I'm so glad no-one talks about milleiux (sp?) any more. "The Helmets & Harpies RPG is a pen & paper beer-n-pretzels neo-net-hack dungeon-crawl game..."

    I love great big tables and matrices! Yeah sure, a slick core mechanic and formula can really work, but consulting tables is also fun, the part of the suspense - like looking through a spellbook or tome- the die roll cross-referenced with the entries -the giving over to the Lords of Chaos.

    Maybe even some of the most experienced players like being led through the process, example by example, it has a nostalgia effect, also they get to imagine how they can sell the game in basic terms to others. I guess clarity is more important than drawn out molly-coddling.

    *grin* (sorry almost a blog entry - thanks for the brain-prod)

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  3. @Trollsmyth. Thanks a lot! I'll keep you informed of what this all becomes pretty soon.

    @Billiam. Hi, Billiam! I love reading the "what is a role-playing game?" sections as well, it tells a lot about the designer's agenda. Yet I suspect, not really "nostalgia" but, you know, some sort of achievement you've missed ages ago and you complete now, like in a mid-life crisis or something. It's not bad, I'm very happy with this but I'm eager to see less justifications and theory and more actual play.

    I'd love to see bits we could use right now without all the packaging we think we need, but we maybe don't, however brilliant. That's why I'm doing this right now, and the more I do it, the more I realize it really involves a new way of writing the stuff.

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