Thursday, September 27, 2012

What is a Flag?


It's good to be back after my summer break.  I hope all of you are doing well.  Happy autumn!

All roleplaying games, in essence, are just guidelines for communication among a group of people.  Information flows from one person to another and then bounces around, changes, and develops according to a set of rules.

In traditional RPGs, there are two sub-groups of people in a game: GMs and Players.  Typically, information originates with the GM is passed to the players, digested, and returned with their content.  On the other end of the spectrum, you have GMless games like Universalis, Capes, and Cutthroat where information can originate from anywhere and ricochet in any number of directions. 
Regardless of where information comes from and where it goes, RPGs need to provide something to structure that flow of data.  Structure for communicating information can come in many forms, the most common of which are rules, procedures, directives, and flags.  Today, I’m going to talk about flags.

Generally speaking, flags are anything on a character sheet that can tip off the other players (and GM if there is one) as to what that character’s controller is interested in exploring during play.
Here are a few examples from some well-known games.  This is not an exhaustive list from these games, just a representative list:



Dogs in the Vineyard

The Shadow of Yesterday
-Bonus Dice

Dungeon World

When designing your game, think about what the players need to communicate to each other and the GM (if there is one).  What parts of your game are fiddly? What parts are confusing?  What parts do some players need to know about and others don’t?  Focus on these aspects of your game, then design flags for them. 

There is a danger in over-using flags.  Too much junk on a character sheet makes it seem cluttered and hectic.  Emphasize only the confusing parts of your game that are really important.  Leave plenty of room for the player to ad-lib as different situations come up during play.