Gilbert’s Rules of Thumb:
(edited by Daniel Blain, adapted from Gilbert's Rules of Thumb)
- End objective needs to be clear.
- Sub-goals need to be obvious.
- Build puzzles forward: Present the problem before you present the solution. You should not expect players to remember something they weren’t looking for in the first place.
- Puzzles should be like boxes, not cages: If the players are required to solve a puzzle before they can explore the world, they are likely to get bored and frustrated a lot more quickly. Have several puzzles available at a given time, so that if they get stuck on one, they can move on to another, or do something else entirely.
- Puzzles must advance the story: If a puzzle has no connection to the story, it is an obstruction rather than a development (though side-plots are okay).
- Solutions must not be arbitrary:Though the solution to a puzzle need not be obvious, it must make sense. If a puzzle can only be solved by trial-and-error or dumb luck, it’s a bad puzzle.
- Events must not be unconnected: If certain events must happen before the story will continue, you must make that clear to the players. For example, if the players need to pick up a magic ring before a mysterious door will open, connect the ring to the door. Otherwise, the players may discount the ring and quickly get frustrated looking for another solution.
- Keep the solution available: As long as a puzzle is unsolved, the players should always be able to get what they need to solve it.
- Let them live and learn: The players must not be required to kill their characters in order to find the solution to a puzzle. Danger is inherent in drama, but danger should be survivable if the players are clever.
- Reward Intent:If it’s clear that the players have the right idea, let it work. Don’t penalize them for coming up with a solution that is correct in spirit but which doesn’t work by the rules or set-up.
- Grant incremental rewards: Smaller and more frequent awards provide motivation to continue. Sometimes, simply revealing more story elements, characters, or areas to explore can be enough.
- Real time is bad drama: Tailoring the clock to the players’ actions will heighten the excitement.
Other Game-Design Goals:
- Balanced – must not destroy the campaign world, or ability to tell good stories.
- Meaningful choice – should involve some kind of strategy and depth, not just “roll a single dice and that’s the outcome”.
- Player and Character Ability – The system should take into account both player choice as well as character ability. This applies to NPCs as well.
- Inclusive – should involve all players, not just those whose characters are good in social situations.
- Realistic – Social ability shouldn’t be mind control. It should take into account the personality of the character.
- Concurrency – The roleplaying and system mechanics should work together, not supercede each other.
- Fun – The social system must be fun.