Monday, November 22, 2010

When Games Are Just Too Gamey

This is the issue I have with many role-playing games. To me, a role-playing game is supposed let you get a bit lost in a fun story and take part in its creation by playing a character. However, two many times a game that’s supposed to draw you in like this, fails to do so because it just has to keep reminding you that it’s a game. There are two main ways that role-playing games do this.

Clunky Mechanics

When you’re in the middle of a fast paced action scene most role-playing games want to resolve things round by round, step by step with a multitude of rules that cover a great many things that can happen at each step. This can give players a lot of control but it can also become so unwieldy that players no longer feel like they are in a daring combat. Instead they feel like they are waiting in line for their turn at the fun.

Game Language

To play a role-playing game you have to describe what your character is doing and the game master has to describe how the world reacts to that. However, there are game mechanics driving all of the outcomes and inevitably players and game masters start having conversations like this:

GM: “You need to roll 14 to succeed.”

Player: “Does my +2 terrain modifier apply to the role?”

GM: “When is it supposed to apply?”

Player: "In Urban environments. We’re in a town right?"

GM: “Yeah but this is more rural than urban. It’s not a very big town.”

Player: “Okay, I got a 13. I guess I failed.”

And so on. Pretty exciting scene, eh? This could be right in the middle of a combat with a horde of orcs bearing down on the players, but the conversation sure doesn’t make it sound like much is going on. True the players and GM could jazz it up by talking at length about the swing of a sword or the deep wound it lands, but the rules don't encourage that conversation. They encourage talking about numbers.

Cool Factor 5 Attempted Solutions

For the game I’m designing, I’m attempting to address these problems. My hope is to create streamlined rules where players can accomplish cool actions without getting bogged down by clunky rules. To this end, I am trying to institute a simultaneous round where everyone goes at once. I'm also speeding up resolution by making it a standard difficulty to hit most of the time.

I'm also working on game language. The Cool Factor 5 RPG is about light-hearted, fluffy, action-packed fun. I want to build it with language that reflects that. Difficulties that need to be rolled can be expressed as Kinda Cool, Pretty Cool, Very Cool, and Extremely Cool. This means, roll 5, 10, 15, or 20. Players can use different skills in different styles. The styles are Awesome, Chill and Slick for being energetic, thoughtful or tricky. When a player makes a roll they are seeing how cool they can be at that moment. So instead of asking the player to make a skill check against a difficulty class 15 and the player replying “I rolled a 17” it can sounds something like this:

GM: You need to make an Awesome Gun check to be Pretty Cool. (Player rolls) How Cool were you?

Player: “Wow, that shot was Very Cool!”

It may sound ridiculous, but the games supposed to be silly and fun. The hope is that by allowing players to use this kind of language to convey game information it will help reinforce the fun theme and avoid game conversations that sound like reading of a technical manual.

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