My ideal game design:
Below the game setting, i.e. races, setting, etc., and below even the game rules, i.e. magic-resolution, points versus leveling, class design, is the core game design. The game should be designed such that, regardless of the aforementioned factors, the game plays precisely like a good movie runs. If you’re playing a wargame, the game should function like a war movie. If you’re playing a heroic adventure, the game should function like an action/adventure movie. The games should fast forward past the boring parts or the minutia while slowing down for the critical, exciting parts, just like a movie. The game design itself must also be very accessible, open to a wide variety of players (so that anyone can play but if particular players want to close it to a specific audience, i.e. their own, they are welcome to; for example, players who love detective movies).
Every (entertaining) movie or book follows the same basic design, and the better-designed RPG campaigns also follow this design (taken from “Creative Campaigning”):
1) Exposition – The players involved are introduced to the main characters (either their own or NPCs), as well as the setting and circumstances. The exposition should provide leads towards the main conflict of the story (or at least hints);
2) Development – After exposition, the story escalates through a number of encounters until the climax is reached. Each encounter builds tension and reveals more of the plot;
3) Climax – The climax is where the main conflict of the story is resolved. At best, the resolution is thrilling and occurs when the tension that has been built throughout the rest of the story has reached a crescendo;
4) Denouement – The denouement is where unanswered questions are answered, loose ends are tied up, and rewards are distributed. There may also be plot hooks for the next story.
This basic design can be nested; for example, in most movies there is a major plot, but within the main plot there are several sub-plots that each reach their own minor climaxes and which help to build the tension towards the main conflict of the movie. This should be true of RPG games as well, where each minor conflict helps build towards the major one. As such, the game-flow should come from this design. So let’s restate this design in an RPG context. As mentioned, there can be nested sub-plots, so I will state the design in a general way such that it could refer to either the whole game or a sub-plot.
RPG Structure – A “Scene”:
1) Exposition – The players are introduced to the setting and circumstances. The description of the circumstances should provide leads or hints towards the main conflict;
2) Development – After exposition, the game escalates through a number of encounters to build tension;
3) Climax – The tension reaches a crescendo (either by player choice or by the circumstances of the conflict) and suddenly released quickly;
4) Denouement – Consequences of the conflict are decided and described to the players.
Note that this “Scene” structure applies to any movie or book, and is often nested, sometimes deeply for very complex plotlines. The same might be said of an RPG, but in an RPG, the players are capable of applying this structure anywhere at all, nested indefinitely many times, but this may not be appropriate. For example, it is inappropriate to apply this structure to a conflict between goblins that the players will never encounter, even eventually (for whatever reason).
This would be like focusing the camera on the background characters of a movie. The camera cannot focus on these characters or else, by definition, they aren’t background characters. Thus, in precisely the same way, an RPG design must allow players to have the camera focus only on the important “stuff”. Important stuff includes all characters, events, and elements of setting that play an important role in the plot. Similarly, an RPG design must allow players to avoid focus on unimportant stuff.
By a similar argument, an RPG design must allow players to choose their level of involvement in each scene. They must be able to zoom in or out of larger and smaller scenes as they wish, in precisely the same way that a camera in a movie can go between different levels to build tension. Again, this is necessary so that the camera doesn’t end up looking at something inappropriate or uninteresting. For example, it is appropriate to take a bird’s-eye view of a field of combat if the players are leading armies involved in the battle. However, it is probably pointless to take a bird’s-eye view of this same field of combat once the battle is over.
Let’s refine the Scene structure to be able to perform these functions.
RPG Structure – A Detailed “Scene”:
1) Exposition – The players are introduced to the setting and circumstances. The description of the circumstances should provide leads or hints towards a given conflict;
2) Choose Zoom/Scale: The players should choose their level of involvement in the conflict. If their involvement is minimum, the development should be as simple as a die-roll. Otherwise, “zoom in”, by breaking up the scene into smaller scenes that should be resolved independently. The scenes can come in a linear order or be parallel. The player involvement should not be zero in any case or else a scene should not be started in the first place;
3) Development –
- The players have a decision open to them, and their choice will increase tension towards the conflict;
- If the tension reaches a maximum, go the Step 3 “Climax”, otherwise repeat Step 2 “Development”;
4) Climax – Resolve the conflict;
5) Denouement – Determine the consequences of the conflict and apply them.
Device (Normal Table roll of TeamA versus TeamB, as discussed in Vision Doc1)
Evaluation (If below or equal, success, else failure. Distance from “equal” = degree of success)
Non conflict? Any other case either has randomness or not. Non-randomness is just story, randomness can use uniform distribution, or dice.