roleplaying games

Beyond GMing: RPG design

I’ve had an idea floating around in my head for a while now that my online group plays in a way that, in some cases, isn’t well-supported by extant game systems on the market. In our games, the problem statement is often resolved more by lateral thinking and crazy planning than by traditional wargaming logic, or even traditional narrative logic. I want to figure out how best to take the flow of our gaming sessions and our stories, and make a game which supports that.

I’m still thinking through what this would look like, and indeed, I’ve written up design documents before. However, my thinking was somewhat restricted to a fairly traditional view of what an RPG looks like, which ran me into the exact same set of constraints that I was dealing with before. However now, I have an idea which is a little different, but seems to jive with how the group plays.

There are two parts to my idea so far. First, distill the idea of roles in a roleplaying game down to simple elements, and use those to construct not only characters, but a group of characters. In terms of stats and skills/competencies, I’m still figuring out what this will look like, but what I want is a simple system that allows a player to signal intent as to how they want to play the game. Then, the rules can help characters with seemingly overlapping roles determine how they interact. Beyond role/niche control, I also want to let the players bring in character and story elements that they see as being important or fun for them.

Second, I want players to constantly be driving the story forward. In Apocalypse World, this is facilitated through the move/counter-move structure and having “fail forward” baked into the game. The latter part I’d want to integrate directly, but I want something more spread out than the GM-centric Apocalypse World. I still want everyone to play to find out what happens, but I want to give more meta-game control to players, somewhat like Fate.

What I’m envisioning is a game with narrative orientation, like Fate, but with more gamified elements. I want to take the basic framework of a narrative game with player authorial control, but make it a bit more crunchy, with more things for players to interact with. Ultimately, that’s the issue I’ve had with games like Fate. It’s not a “realism” issue, it’s a “levers” issue. Giving players more choices, even if some are meta-game choices, should make the game more interesting and promote more discussion between players about the story.

I’m going to start drafting a few ideas for this game, and see if I can get input from my group. I am still a bit worried that the idea right now is “like Fate, but”, so hopefully figuring out the elements and what the game will look like will alleviate some of that. I think I have a handle on how my players like to interact with the stories that are told in-game, so focusing on that will at least give me a solid starting point.

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