Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Blog Watch: Overdesign in RPGs, Box Text Bane, and the Old Lady in Dubuque

Role Playing Games (Nine and Thirty Kingdoms) Choosing to Do — “Now, you can theoretically play [in a way that contradicts your class/archetype] in any RPG system. However, there’s been a trend towards overdesign in RPGs for some time, where the designer attempts to show or force the player to play a given character in a given way. Games designed this way assume that what players do is build characters that fit a given role in the party and then play completely in accordance with that role; good play is defined as being able to make the best character build choices and then use your character in the most optimal manner. That goal is completely antithetical to the goal I described above; choosing not to act in accordance with ‘what your character does’ is considered non-optimal and will get you a good shouting-at, if you are playing with the wrong people.”

Adventure Design (Dyson’s Dodecahedron) The Dreaded Boxed Text — “So, OSR adventure writers, get rid of the boxed text. Or if you insist that it is needed, reduce it down to one or two SIMPLE sentences. But really, replace it with a point-form list of things seen in the room. That makes it easy for the DM to present the salient information in a conversational manner without having to dig through all your ‘beautiful’ prose.”

Game Mastering (Age of Ravens) The Place of Dead Games: Champions — “When I ran, I wouldn’t start a fight past a certain time because I knew we wouldn’t be done with it for at least two hours, if not longer. As well, I just wasn’t as good at Champions as my players. I never managed to develop the expertise they had in character creation, managing maneuvers, and playing the board. They always wiped the table with balanced adversaries I created. When I crafted overpowered villains, they’d still destroy them, but then spend the last part of the session complaining about how unfair the fight had been.”

Game Design (Lewis Pulsipher) A revolution in card printing capabilities may affect game design — “Has there been a situation where players are able to make up rules, even if they are vetted by the person in charge?  Yes, role-playing games, especially old D&D.  I recall advising referees more than 30 years ago to make players earn their advantages, not to let players manufacture them through additional rules, because the average player was going to take every advantage he or she could get, rather than consider what was good for the game.”

Electronic Publishing (Megan McArdle) We Are Googling the New York Times to Death — “Digital has also allowed us to develop narrow and deep niches, instead of pitching our writing to the proverbial old lady in Dubuque. Economics and finance blogs assume a level of background comfort with technical terms and concepts that would have been impossible in the days of print for anyone except trade publications — something I am vividly reminded of every time I write a magazine feature.” [That was my main beef with David Ewalt’s Of Dice and Men: It was pitched more for the old lady in Dubuque rather than for the sort of people that read gaming blogs. After getting frequent does of gaming awesome from sites like Dungeon Fantastic and Roles, Rules, and Roles, that book was nearly unreadable.]

World Management (Semper Initiativus Unam) A Different Approach to Setting Design — “For a referee, then, a series of tables and charts and lists replete with little bits of setting flavor can easily add up to much more than the sum of their parts. They make it easy for a sandbox environment to be constructed on the fly that is nonetheless completely appropriate for the world that it is set in. They also have the advantage that the setting detail thus provided is entirely encountered in play; the referee only needs a sketch of the history and these fragments of setting detail to weave a richer picture at the gaming table.”

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3 responses to “Blog Watch: Overdesign in RPGs, Box Text Bane, and the Old Lady in Dubuque

  1. Chris Mata October 7, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    Box text never bothered me. Its great for when you are getting started. I have always felt you should be well versed with any module you are running so a glance is all that is needed.

  2. Chris Mata October 7, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Nice pic BTW. ASL is not for the faint of heart. It’s on my bucket list of games to buy but only play once.

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