It may seem like an impossible scenario, but I'm in the lucky situation of being able to do just this but in reverse. Present-me is looking back at past-me's work, created just a couple years ago but completely independently from a current project.
The project involves my foray into creating role-playing games. In particular, my co-designer and I recently listed the design goals for our card-based RPG (Herein called TBD for name to be determined.) A section with the exact same title exists in the 50-odd page manuscript for the more standard RPG I stopped working on two years ago. (It also happened to use cards, so I consider it a spiritual ancestor.)
How much have my goals changed? Do I still value the same aspects of good role-playing games? Let's see!
Past me wrote:
There is a number of philosophical goals that defines any game design. Often these goals compete with each other, so they must be prioritized. Here then, are the goals for this system in order of priority.
- 1. Story-driven. Too many games end up being flimsy excuses to go from battle to battle. These are more “roll-playing” than “role-playing” systems. Sessions should revolve around a compelling story, and all the action should contribute to its telling.
- 2. Imaginable. The best novels provoke vivid scenes in the readers’ imaginations. So too should a good role-playing session.
- 3. Realistic. The system should provide a sensible framework with as much realism as can be expected for a world with mythical creatures and potent magic.
- 4. Fast paced. Games should not bog down in minutia. This goal and the previous one form a delicate balance. Too much realism can hinder the pacing, while too fast and loose of a game loses realism. As a rule of thumb, the story should continue to be driven forward with very few lulls.
- 5. Open ended. The rules will inevitably be incomplete. The goal is not to model every possible situation but to provide rules by which the GM can sensibly resolve any events that arise.
In addition to these philosophical goals, the system is designed with several other design constraints in mind.
Advancing is fun....
Rolling dice is fun.
Create a sense of immersion
Rules promote role-playing
Evocative narrative and detailed character description
Not an overwhelming number of rules
A system (e.g. point buy) for upgrading stats and skills
- Modules are made up of reusable/reshufflable components.
- Runs with little prep
- Pre-made modules (adventures)
- Easy to GM
- Delivers engaging stories
- Players become attached to their characters
- Easy for novice GMs
- Easy for novice players
- Combat and non-combat mechanics are on par
Glaring omissions from the new list are realism and open-endedness. Design is a process of choosing between alternatives, sometimes with much difficulty. In the interest of creating an accessible card-based system, aspirations for a realistic, free-form game had to be tempered.
Initially I was surprised by the lack of overlap in these lists. Upon further reflection, I believe the difference is between a pie-in-the-sky dream design and a focused, pragmatic system. Rather than trying to build the perfect RPG for myself, we're working on a great RPG for our target market–busy people or novices who want to experience exciting adventures with little overhead. The constants, engaging, vivid stories, are what really matter, and TBD is going to bring them to life.
What are the most important aspects of RPGs in your opinion?