Tuesday, October 6, 2009

More thoughts about rules and play

I have been listening to the podcast Theory From the Closet lately. In it, Clyde interviews Mike Holmes and Mike Mearls in two episodes. I have forgotten why I downloaded just those, but in tandem they turned out to be very interesting indeed.

Clyde and Mike Holmes were talking about reward mechanisms in play, and Mike said some things that stuck in my mind. He mentioned that these days he prefers to design without the idea of a reward mechanism, since playing the game should ideally be rewarding in itself. Instead he felt that the best way to entice players, which is one thing reward mechanisms are used for, is to have a cool mechanic that players want to use. Players wont get to collect gold and treasure, the characters will. Simple, yet so poignant.

The other interview brought up the concept of skills challenges. Those who have seen me post on the subject of D&D 4th ed knows that I'm no fan, and that I feel Mike Mearls is barking up the wrong tree. But, having listened to the man, I realize that the man might have different views than me, but he has good reasons and some design ideals I even share!

They might be clunky, and look severely out of place, but Mearls explained that skill challenges were thought of a way to make skills have consequences, and to make a framework where you could use that skill check to mean something, depending on circumstance. Add to that the design intent to let people be more creative than just rolling if they have the skill asked for, is a nice idea. Critics of skill systems would of course say that without any skills at all that would be even easier. While I belive that to be true, to some extent, I also know that having a framwork will make it easier to make a ruling.

Now imagine we combine these two thoughts. Just imagine we have a mechanic which is so cool everyone really want to use it. Let's imagine us having a situation where playing the game is the reward. Maybe this situation is set up with science fiction trappings, and you have a very complete but elegant system to interact with. Suddenly you might find yourself Across the Bright Face, rolling skills and enjoying it.

The question is of course what to do when that situation don't feel like something so cool you want to be there. Without going for too deep into jargon, I think I found myself having a clash of rules as simulation, rules as pure game and then me envisioning immersion in a secondary world. All of that usually wont fit in the same box at the same time. I think I'm onto something why I don't have fun with Traveller.

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