Thursday, May 31, 2007

Socratic Design Anthology #4


Every summer I take the month of June off to travel, enjoy nature, and recharge my emotional and mental batteries. I won't post here at Socratic Design again until some time in July. I may do some posting over on my design blog. Maybe.

Anyhow, before I sign off for a bit, I want to leave you with the latest SD Anthology. For those of you who are new, here are the first three anthologies:

Socratic Design Anthology #1
Socratic Design Anthology #2
Socratic Design Anthology #3

I do these every so often just to keep a running history of my work and make it esier for newer readers to catch up. I think it's important to see how a person's views change over time and to understand the context for a person's entire body of work. I hope you enjoy them. :)

The following articles are part of the Socratic Design Anthology #4:

What is Character?
What is Color?
What Else Besides Dice?
What is a 'Sacred Cow' ?
Why Do People Do RPGs?
Why Should I post my Power 19?
Are There any Design Outlines?
How Can My Game Teach Mechanics?
What is it Like to Publish a RPG?
What is a Fulfillment Service?
What is the Future of RPGs?

As always, please report any links that don't work. See you guys in July!



Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What is 'Character' ?


I'm finishing up my essays here on the five aspects of Exploration. This one is about "Character." The provisional glossary defines it as "A fictional person or entity which may perform actions in the imaginary situation."

So let's break that down a bit. First, let's begin with "fictional." The Character is the insubstantial person (or entity) in the game. He is the imagined personality, the dream given realization but not form. This means that the Character is a wholly separate object from the Player. Some games like to entwine these two. They have phrases like, "your character knows only what you (the player) knows." Other games demand that they be kept separate, hence the infamous division between "player knowledge" and "character knowledge."

From a design perspective, it is important to note that the fictitious Character and the real Player are separate beings. What the character does and what the player does can, and often will, be two different things. Phrases like, "the players go on an adventure" in a game book bug me a bit. The players don't go anywhere. They portray characters that go on an adventure, and vicariously through them experience that adventure. It is not the same thing.

Next in the definition we have "person or entity." This definition here is broad because a character doesn't have to be a person. In the RPG Cats the characters are cats! Also, I could imagine an RPG where the characters are aspects of a person's psychology- say the Id, Ego, and Superego for instance. The key is that the character is the player's interface with the exploration going on during play. He, she, or it is a tool that the player uses explore whatever interests him during play.

Which brings us to the last part of the definition, "which may perform actions in the imaginary situation." Characters, of whatever type, perform actions. They are dynamic. They must do something. A character that is inert is not a character at all, he is no more interesting than a piece of furniture for all intents and purposes. When designing, make sure that the characters, especially the player-characters, can do things in the imagined world that are fun, interesting, and provoking. Give the players tools to portray their characters and put them in situations that challenge the players to explore your game's potential. That is what a Character really does- facilitates the exploration of your wonderful creation. Keep that in mind at all times and your game will improve.

I may revisit this aspect of Exploration again in the future. There is much to talk about here. Immersion, flags, bangs, and so on are keys to creating dynamic and fun characters. However, this will serve as a brief definition of Character and provide a future context for my essays. :)



Saturday, May 26, 2007

Last Chance!


If you have independantly published your own RPG, then the Forge Booth for GenCon is still accepting buy-ins until June 1st. If you've never done the Forge Booth before, it'll just cost ya $100 plus the cost of a badge. This is a great deal. If you've never been to GenCon before, it is a convention in Indianapolis Indiana that brings in thousands and thousands of gamers. If you have a new game you want to show off, this is the place. You can get more information about the Forge Booth -Here-



Wednesday, May 23, 2007

What is Color?


Color is identified by the Forge as one of the five main areas of Exploration. It is defined in the Provisional Glossary as, “Imagined details about any or all of System, Character, Setting, or Situation, added in such a way that does not change aspects of action or resolution in the imagined scene. One of the Components of Exploration.”

Okay….so what does that mean? Think of Color as synonymous with Detail. Any description or item that adds detail to the game’s SYSTEM, Characters, Setting, or Situation, is considered to be Color. How about some examples?

-SYSTEM with no Color:
The character kills the other character.

-SYSTEM with Color:
The Warrior uses his mighty great sword to lop off the head of King Moligant on the roll of a critical 20.

-Setting with no Color:
A town.

-Setting with Color:
1602 in the year of our Lord., near the village of Malbork, nestled among the Frozen Mountains outside the Enchanted Forest.

-Character with no Color:
A man.

-Character with Color:
Drakh the level 20 Barbarian from the southern wastes of Hallowfell.

-Situation with no Color
A village in crisis

-Situation with Color
The small hamlet of Esteria is suffering from a malignant plague brought on by undead agents under the command of a local demagogue who is advocating rebellion against the town council.

When I think about Color, I divide it into two categories: Essential and Casual. Essential Color is something that the players need to know in order to correctly use and understand the item being described. For instance, knowing that a cleric is a dwarf in DnD is Essential Color. That designation brings with it a lot of consequences. You certainly would expect different things from the character if he were an elven cleric, or a Halfling cleric, or a drow cleric. Essential Color is used as a cue to the players as to how they should react to or use the item in question.

Casual Color, on the other hand, is pure description for aesthetic purposes. For instance, saying that the same cleric is bald is unlikely to have any consequential effect on play. It could just as easily be ignored and play would continue on just fine. However, Casual Color is important because it adds detail to play and can help players immerse themselves in the world. Casual Color piques interest and gives players a chance to express their creativity while they play.

However, both kinds of Color can run amok if over used. When it comes to Essential Color, imagine if you put all the weapon tables for DnD together or compiled all the damage tables for Rolemaster that have ever been printed. It would be overwhelming! And what good would it do? Many of the weapons/tables are redundant and would just get in the way of players trying to have fun by increasing the handling time greatly. Likewise, Casual color (whether in a textual Setting description or description that comes from the mouth of a GM) can be overdone to the point where it wastes time rather than increases interest.

When designing your game, balancing the amount of Color you include won’t be all that tricky. Read what you have written for yourself. Do you get tired of reading about the same thing for three pages? If you do, chances are someone else will also. Similarly, when you read over your writing, is there something that jumps out at you that makes you wish you had written more about it? If so, then write more about it! However, the best test for the right mixture of Color is to have someone other than yourself read it. Get some outside feedback, and see what they find interesting, boring, or inconsequential. Use that as your guidepost.



Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What is a 'Sacred Cow' ?


Every now and then on game design boards or blogs you hear people talk about "shooting a sacred cow." While I applaud this, the phrase is rarely ever explained nor are examples amply given. This post tries to do both of those things. Basically, a "Sacred Cow" in RPGs is a design mechanic or motif that seems inextricably part of RPG design. In other words, if you don't have this "thing", whatever it is, your game is not an RPG. Well this is, of course, absurd. In every field of art, science, and culture the envelope has been pushed and definitions of what a thing is or isn't has been stretched. RPGs are no different. In the last 7 to 10 years, many Sacred Cows have been shot dead and the definition of what a role-playing game is has been stretched a great deal.

But what are a few examples “Sacred Cows?” Here's a few off the top of my head:

Sacred Cow #1: Every game needs a GM
---Shooters: Universalis, Capes, Cutthroat
Sacred Cow #2: RPGs shouldn't deal mechanically with the idea of romance
---Shooters: Breaking the Ice, It was a Mutual Decision, Blue Rose
Sacred Cow #3: You must use dice for resolution
---Shooters: Amber Diceless, Castle Faulkenstein, Dust Devils
Sacred Cow #4: Each player should have only one character
---Shooters: Ars Magica
Sacred Cow #5: Characters who lose in combat should die
---Shooters: Dogs in the Vinyard, Toon, Hierarchy
Sacred Cow #6: All characters should be "people"
---Shooters: Cats, The Secret Lives of Gingerbreadmen, Puppetland

There are plenty of others. And sometimes, a design might require one or more Sacred Cows. There's nothing wrong with taking advantage of design patterns that have worked in the past. They've worked for a reason! However, there is also nothing wrong with taking a step out of what has been done and looking for something that hasn't. Don't be afraid to shoot some of those Sacred Cows. They could be the very thing holding back your design.



Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Why Do People Do RPGs?


A while back I posted a series of 5 questions on Game Craft in the spirit of Socratic Design. I wanted to share the answers here on this blog partly as research. The responses are non-scientific, but are never-the-less useful. Designers should know how other people passionate about RPGs feel and what/why they play. Perhaps some of the answers posted to the questions on Game Craft will inspire you to write something.

Why Do You Design?
Why Do You Play?
What Do You Play?
What Do You Play With?
What Are You?

Like I said, the answers are just data if you're doing some non-scientific research for a project. But I feel we can all learn from each other as we share our views, experiences, and preferences. If you like, feel free to add to these answers by replying here on Socratic Design. You will only add to the tapestry those respondants started.



Sunday, May 06, 2007

Why Should I Post My Power 19?


For a while it was a really hip thing to post your Power 19 at the Forge or Story Games. Over time, it slightly fell out of favor. Andy discourages people from posting them at SG and the new guys at the Forge are now far removed from the post I made back in 2005. But recently Ralph Maza suggested that we start posting our Power 19’s again, and I couldn’t agree more. There are several good reasons for doing this, but I’ll just give your three.

Reason #1: New designers can learn from the answers of veteran designers. If you are a published game designer and are working on a new game, post your Power 19 on the Forge or on GameCraft. There are so many designers out there who can benefit just from reading the responses you created when meeting the challenges outlined in the Power 19. The questions on character creation, rewards, resolution, and target audience are all key questions IMO that stump newbie designers. Seeing veterans post their solutions to those problems is an education in and of itself. A bank of Power 19’s on the Forge or GameCraft would become like a library for newer designers to go, check out, and learn from.

Reason #2: You might (GASP!) get some useful feedback on something you had never thought of before. I have a feeling that some designers hesitate posting a Power 19 publicly because they are afraid of getting bad or useless advice that will either eat up too much of their time responding to or send them down a path that ruins the game. Phooey! Feedback, even misguided or lackadaisical can be useful to a designer as it help you reinforce and defend your ideas. At worst, the feedback will help you sharpen your edge. And who knows, someone might actually offer something insightful that helps your game way more than a playtesting session would have.

Reason #3: Speaking of playtesting, it is way easier to get outside playtesting if you have talked about your game in public. The Power 19 is an excellent hyping tool for a game. It lets the readers know all about your game, the key components, and what you plan to do with it in the future. If you are looking to get some people invested in your playtesting or ashcan release of your game, then publicly posting a Power 19 on it is a great way to get that ball rolling. Just try it. See what kind of response you get.

Posting your Power 19 is a win-win for everyone. The Forge and GameCraft get more traffic. You get useful feedback and promote interest in your design. Future designers get a resource they would, otherwise, have no contact with. I encourage you, if you’ve gotten to the point in your game where you can answer most of the questions in the Power 19, go for it!