RPG Game Design

My thoughts lately are on RPGs and their design. It occured to me that there are certain aspects that need to be accounted for in such games.

Genre – This should be in some ways, perhaps most ways independent or not the major driver of the rest of the game mechanics. The mechanics should provide a clear and relatively simple way to convey the various “standards” of the genre that require game mechanics. The flavor or story for the genre should be independent of the mechanics. For example, one can use any fantasy rule set to play a dungeon delve.

Parameters – This is the guts of the game. How does one represent the reality of the world, the situations, the crowds, and the abilities of the characters?

Characters need to have ways to interact with the physical world, such things as strength, dexterity, constitution, charisma, and movement. Can you move something? Cone you do it gracefully? Can you take a hit? Can you influence others? Can you run away, or catch someone?

Then their is the internal world, of intelligence, wisdom, knowledge, etc. that influence what you know and how well you can express or use it in the game.

Will the game ever need combat? I can’t think of any RPG that I have played that didn’t have some sort of rules for combat. How detailed do they need to be? Does combat make time stand still and it take hours of real time to determine what happens in a few minutes?

Will the game strive to mimic certain aspects of reality and to what degree?

Will role playing be used as a cornerstone to get past the need for rules on every little thing? Can the game be played and enjoyed without a serious commitment to sticking to your character role playing?

Will an in-depth example/instructions be needed to explain how to play this game?

How will actions that are not a given be resolved? Coin toss, drawing from a deck of playing cards, standard six sided dice, or the usual trope of various types of dice?

Will characters advance in power, abilities, or levels? How is this to be determined?

Will the rules be simple enough that anyone can quickly grasp them, or do they need a serious understanding of the game world and have multiple books to make a session even feasible?

Most RPGs rely on the same structure, abilities, levels, combat tables, dice, etc.

I have read many various discussions of RPGs and rules of newer RPGs, some go the lightest of all possible rules, like Risus; while others seem to go for making a roll out of everything and take the need for any role playing or creativity out of it.

Fantasy games have magic and so forth. Science fiction has exploration, nuclear or other apocalypse, etc. Horror, like Cthulhu has everyone going crazy. There can be westerns, spies, superheroes, or any other literary or movie genre that you can think of.

The best rules are ones that your gaming group can get behinds and use to make the experience of a game session fun, enjoyable, and worth repeating. I started with Blue Book Holmes Basis D&D back in the spring of 1978. It got us started. When Advanced D&D came out, we understood that it was better than mere “basic”. I have learned over the last few years online, that there was a lot to Basic D&D that I missed out on, mostly ideas and so forth. It really isn’t that different than AD&D. There are a lot of rules in AD&D that I ignore, especially relating to combat. In general, if it doesn’t make sense, or unnecessarily complicates things, I avoid it, or come up with something simpler. If it is all about paper shuffling and consulting the rule books, it gets old fast.

As I say often, if it isn’t fun, you’re doing it wrong.

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