Saturday, December 02, 2023

Game Design Part 1 - Doctors, Daleks and RPG Design

Does it make sense to design yet another Role-Playing Game? 

I like fiddling with RPG rules. Mostly this takes the form of changing dice mechanics. Honestly, I’ve never really pushed the envelope on RPG design. I love the RPG hobby. I love the RPG community. I love how I can – how anyone can – contribute to the hobby, and shape the way that we all play this game.

I can’t think of any other hobby that works quite like that. I keep plugging away, playing with stats and terms and saying the same thing over a dozen different ways because it’s fun, and I like doing it. That said, I mostly play the games that are designed by others. It doesn’t seem as though I’m designing games to play as much as I am just designing to design.

That’s okay. Like I said, I enjoy it. However, I think that I’ve “fiddled” along the same path long enough. I want to challenge myself to do things differently.

This then is part one in an ongoing series dedicated to the design of a new RPG. It's a chance to "peek under the hood" and observe my creation process in action. This is the start. Hopefully, I will remain motivated to carry this process through to a rewarding finish.

Recently, I have been really excited about Doctor Who. We are two specials in on Disney Plus. I think that Ncuti (pronounced “shooty”) Gatwa is going to make an incredible Doctor, and I just picked up Cubicle 7’s Doctors & Daleks on PDF.

Almost 14 years ago now, I picked up Cubicle 7’s Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space RPG. Doctors & Daleks is D&D. It’s the Adventures in Time and Space RPG rebuilt to use the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Rules and it’s AMAZING. At least it looks amazing on paper. I never did get Adventures in Time and Space to my game table, but with Doctors & Daleks, I know the game’s RPG DNA. I know how the game and its systems should work at the table, and I think its going to be AMAZING. Hopefully, I will get to play Doctors & Daleks at some point and find out.

I mention this because Dungeons & Dragons is a combat focused game. Doctors & Daleks is not because Doctor Who is not. Doctors & Daleks is a master class in game design fiddling. It’s Fifth Edition, but it’s not, and the ways that “it’s not” are brilliant, and the ways that “it is” are brilliant. It demonstrates how far removed D&D can be from its war gaming roots.

That’s gotten me thinking. What if role-playing (the hobby as we know it) hadn’t evolved from tactical war games at all? What if role-playing had evolved from a game of Monopoly, or Yahtzee, or Settlers of Catan or Bridge? How would that have shaped the way that we play the game both strategically and theatrically?

In my Bigfoot RPG I talk about resolution in broad strokes. I try to remove the war game elements from the game play by focusing on a change of game philosophy. This can work with the right group, but for anyone who has played Dungeons & Dragons over these many many years, this philosophy of play, these old habits are difficult, maybe even impossible to change.

I haven’t played Doctors & Daleks yet, but I believe that it might just succeed because for every combat element they removed from the game, they replaced it with something else. That … I think, is the secret. If you don’t want your players playing a war game, then you need to present your war game players with a tactical alternative.

So I ask myself, if role-playing had evolved from a different core set of game mechanics, what might those mechanics be? And now my mind is spinning again, and I am back to fiddling.

There are some core concepts that are central to the RPG experience that I enjoy, and that I plan to retain. Foremost, there is the GM and Players interaction loop. It’s how I have always played, and this interaction persists over countless RPG designs. I know that solo or GM-less RPG designs exist, but I’ve never been able to wrap my head around those. 

I also want dice. Six-sided dice are my preference, but I am not going to force myself to stick with these if other dice seem inherently better in the end.

One final thing is that I want to end up with a task resolution mechanic that never ends in failure. What I mean is that no player’s turn will ever become “a swing and a miss.” All turns that a player takes should be valuable and fun. This is supposed to be a game after all.

To begin this process, I’m going to look at a variety of dice games. (I said that I wanted dice.)

I’m going to be asking questions:

    • In what different ways do the dice interact with the game? 

    • How much agency does a player have to influence the dice?

    • How tactical are these choices? 

    • What makes the choices interesting?

I want to start by finding a good core game. I’m sure that I’ve played many before. This time however, I have questions, and an agenda. Once I think that I’ve found the right dice game: a fun dice game that stands on its own. I’ll ask, how could this become a role-playing game?

My hope is that this exercise might take my mind, and my game design in an entirely new direction. Hopefully, I might even discover something that I want to bring to my table and play with my friends.

Feel free to join my Facebook Group to discuss this post and anything related to RPG's and geekdom! Stay tuned!!

No comments:

Post a Comment