Going Off the Rails: Crazyland 1.0
You thought yesterday was short? Well, today, is a bit longer, but I’m going to give you a nice design tip all wrapped up in a bow. While I’m aiming directly at RPG designers, you can also fill in the blank with your genre if you’re a writer and be (somewhat) well served. Here’s another bullet to the brain. Elegant in its skull-shattering simplicity. Two simple rules.
1. Don’t design for a game you’ve never played or ran.
2. Think you know better? Uh-uh. See rule one.
Certainly, you may be the exception, just like the guy in front of you whose numbers just hit on the lottery, but it’s awfully doubtful. You start designing for a system you’ve got NO experience with, you’re fixing yourself up a big disappointments sundae while you order yourself tickets straight to Crazyland on the internet.
Let me expand further. You may have read the rules. You may read actual play reports. You may read forums which are populated with some regular players and are definitely populated with more people who read games then play them. In my head, I never lose at blackjack and I always hit a hard six at the craps table. Try that in Vegas and you’ll likely go home poor.
You may have the rules memorized backwards and forward. You may be able to quote all the permutations of Fate or recite all the Incap tables for SW or describe the evolution of magic in D&D and even be able to calculate the best build of a Champions character in under two minutes. Guess what? I don’t care. If you can’t back it up with some play, I don’t know if you can build a game I want to play. In other words, you’ve got your ticket punched for, you know it, Crazyland.
Certainly, you can fake it with some systems, but your roots are eventually gonna show, there’s gonna be a tell. A natural blond has a different complexion than somebody dying their hair and the gaming crowd notices these things.
Just like I’m sure the clerk at the local grocery store may know where all the ingredients are in the store, I doubt she can whip up my Signature Chicken Alfredo like I can. It might look the same, but I have a few techniques all my own. These came from experience and I didn’t just mystically conjure up the perfect dish the first time around.
I wince when I talk with folks who say…”I heard the system was pretty easy, so I’m going to go build a system for something I’ve never, ever played, cause, well you do, and, again, I heard it was easy.” Certainly, this is not rocket science. I’ll go so far as to step out on a slippery ledge in a rainstorm and say it’s not a science of any kind (yes, there are bits and pieces of math and some things can be formulaic). Ultimately, it is an art. Do with that information what you will. Just, please, for the love of all you hold near and dear, please don’t go to Crazyland.
Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!