Saturday, April 30, 2011

How to present your game - like Habro?

I was listening to The Walking Eye podcast, and they were talking about Drifting. Drifting is a term from the Forge terminology, that usually entail changing the rules of the game in play to better fit the feel of the game you want to play.

In the podcast they talked about the futility of trying to design a game to limit drifting, to get the idea of your vision across. Somebody mentioned how the D&D Essentials could be an attempt to do just that, nail it all down. Then it was replied that we mustn't confuse design and marketing. It's a marketing move, to try to sell the same experience to all gamers.

So, is that a good idea? If you are into marketing your "old school" game, could you learn something from Hasbro when it comes to marketing? Can you do it without descending into the "a rule for everything" morass? Maybe. I'm thinking that maybe there is a way to learn something here, even if it's not marketing.

We all love the idea of having a game where the excellent DM adapts the game to perfectly fit the group. Maybe it's the sandbox or "fly by the seat of your pants" school of game mastering. But, do you do it?

Zak have, in Vornheim, brought the idea forward of using the graphical design of the game to be utilitarian. You have that chart in front of you, roll the dice on top of it and read the results! That is, in a small way, a way to have a framework on how to use the rules. Compare that to the "delve format" in modern day 4th ed D&D. You have the same layout, the battle map prepared and the same details there on the page, a full spread with everything you need, right in front of you. Sameness, not of experience, but of usage.

Nothing here is all new, I have already mentioned how Zak have done. But, maybe understating and leaving things out, like in some monster or spell descriptions, are not the only way to foster the loose "old style" play. Maybe it's not even sure that's what you want. Maybe you just want better, or "easier to access" play.

I'm starting to think that maybe rules can be presented with something like the "delve format". Things you need to grasp at first, ways to expand upon the rule, why this piece is here, another rule for this and maybe a table or three to summarize or generate new content from the rule. This not as much a way to make sure the rules are learned, as much as it is a way to present why it is that way - at the same time. Am I overthinking it?

I know how some people have tried to have a uniform format for adventure modules, with boxed text and stat blocks and maybe a "at first glance" text. I love to see experiments like that. DGP had their "nugget" system for their Traveller adventures, which showed critical "encounters" and how they related to each other. It was thought that it made it easier to improvise and run the scenario when you knew how the pieces fitted together.

Thinking on that, drifting and the idea of making use of graphical design I also think there are opportunities here to work with the text of the rules. If you think this sounds kind of vague, that is because it is kind of vague! Exactly how to do it, I'm not sure yet.


  1. I was chatting with Raggi yesterday and described a lot of what Zak is doing, and what Roger the GS has been doing lately as well, as an ergonomic revolution for pen-and-paper gaming. That is, they make it a lot easier to use the rules while you're actually playing.

    On the one hand, that makes it more likely the rules will actually be used; Raggi's really simple encumbrance system, based on the character sheet (which, I believe, is actually based on another idea from Roger the GS), means that people actually use encumbrance rules.

    On the other hand, the more comfortable I am with the rules, the more likely I am to engage in a sort of drift. I'm notorious for taking exploration games like TSR-era D&D and turning them into social games. So it's kinda hard to say, really.

  2. > Raggi's really simple encumbrance system, based on the character sheet (which, I believe, is actually based on another idea from Roger the GS)

    Other way around, actually. I did boil down the LotFP system a bit for my "Old School Players" (and have an even simpler idea in the works for the next go-round) but Raggi's was the inspiration on me.

    That said, I do find use during actual play to be the most efficient sorter of rules gold from rules dross. If you keep forgetting a rule or you find it slows down play, that's a good sign you can drop it.

  3. Actual play is the litmus test, indeed.

    In the Forge speak, Drift has a tight relation to Creative Agenda, but I think it has it's uses as a more general term.

    One of these days I really need to sit down and take closer look at Jim's encumbrance system. I have skimmed LotFP RGP, but that's it.


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