Prompted by an online discussion, I had occasion today to think about designing various types of games. Specifically roleplaying games and board games. (By “roleplaying games” I mean things like Dungeons & Dragons – the original RPGs – not video games that many people nowadays seem to think you mean if say “roleplaying games”.)
I remember when the only RPG I owned was Dungeons & Dragons, but I wanted to play a science fiction game. So I did what many young gamers do and tried to design my own game system to support it. The result wasn’t great.
When you try to design something given only one prior example, you can easily get stuck into thinking that things have to be done the same way, and the design space that you explore tends to be very restricted. When you encounter a different example, suddenly whole worlds of new design space are made evident and open up to you. You don’t have to use 20-sided dice. You don’t have to make rolling higher numbers more desirable. You don’t have to have armour make a defender more difficult to hit. You don’t have to assess damage by subtracting points off some numerical total.
To really get good at designing RPGs, you need to be exposed to a wide variety of designs. You need to read different rule sets and play games with different mechanics. You need a breadth of experience. I have something over 20 different RPGs, possibly up to 30 (which is actually not a lot compared to many gamers), and so I now realise the first attempts I made at designing RPGs were laughably narrow-minded and amateurish.
On the plus side, designing a roleplaying game is actually not as complicated a task as what may seem easier: designing a board game. A board game is much more restricted in what the players can do, whereas an RPG is open-ended and allows players to do virtually anything. But paradoxically this very difference is what makes designing an RPG relatively easy. In an RPG, if a player wants to do something and the rules don’t cover it, you can wing it. If you’re experienced enough, you can even wing it so seamlessly that the players never notice.
In a board game, on the other hand, you need a clear cut rule to cover every possible situation that can arise in the game. You can’t just tell the players to “do whatever makes sense” or for one player to decide what happens. You have to design the rules carefully and meticulously enough that this problem never arises. That’s really hard.
Finally, in a tangentially related topic, I was playing Scattergories online with some friends today and needed to name a title that people can have, beginning with W. Other answers included the valid Wazir and Wizard. I opted for Walgraf, which I honestly thought was a noble title from some European culture.
However, searching the internet for confirmation turned up virtually nothing! The only two seemingly confirmatory hits were the rulebook for a LARP (live action RPG) named Blackspire:
12.12 Titles of Nobility
188.8.131.52 Recommended title for serving a term with excellence as Champion in addition to winning the kingdom Weaponmaster tourney.
184.108.40.206 Recipient may substitute an equivalent title name for this rank such as Vicomte, Viconte, Visconte, Vizconde, Visconde, Walgraf or Pasha.
And the second is a campaign log for a D&D game set in the Greyhawk campaign setting:
There are a few snickers in the small crowd of nobles, especially from Lord Galans and Walgraf Deleveu. Lord Galans owns lands that now border on the Watchlands, and Walgraf Deleveu holds title to the lands between the Watchlands and Celene.
Now… it’s odd that both of the references to the noble title of “Walgraf” on the net are related to RPGs. I thought it might be possible that the word was invented by an RPG author and I’d learnt the word from some of the old RPG books I own. I checked the World of Greyhawk books, and they have a list of noble titles, which includes “Graf”, but not “Walgraf”.
So this is a mystery. From where did I learn the word “Walgraf” as a noble title? And why does it appear in two places on the net, both of which are related to fantasy roleplaying games? I am truly stumped.
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