Saturday, July 29, 2006

How to design a 600 page roleplaying game

Burning Empires is high on the list of games I want to play in the next couple of years. Thor, who was involved in its production, has started a series of blogposts backgrounding how the game was created.

First post is the background - inspiration, legal processes, ethical challenges, and what the game is 'about':

"The first thing we settled upon was that the underlying metaphor for the game would be disease. The Vaylen were a parasitic infestation infecting the bloated, dying body of humanity. Once we had that concept down [we could] explore the ways in which we could extend that metaphor throughout the game ..."
Second post reveals some stuff I hadn't really taken onboard about the Burning Wheel system:

"Luke and I began focusing on Vaylen culture, which we needed to understand before we could create any rules for them. Burning Wheel’s lifepath system, which we had decided to keep for Burning Empires, requires that you thoroughly understand the structure of a society in order to create lifepaths for it."

The process of developing the Vaylen (parasitic worms) and Kerrn (geneered warriors) is pretty fascinating stuff - and obviously these few paragraphs of description boil down hours and hours of intense game-designy conversation. But, parasitic worms as fully playable characters = Wow.

This post also talks about beginning to come up with implementations of the rules - how Firefights have to be 'about' something; how Psychology (a mind control ability) needed to be balanced so that it wouldn't create player vs. player dysfunction.

And there's this great insight into Luke Crane's design process:

The very first step Luke takes when designing a project (before logos, layout, etc.) is to select fonts.

“Fonts are the foundation for the look of a book." [says Luke]. They’ve got to knit together all the other elements. So for BE, I knew I wanted a different look than BW. It had to have a classic look to it, like BW, but also had to be modern.”

Luke went through his font database of several thousand fonts and made a short list of the fonts that suited his needs.

Third (and last, so far) post has a great comment from Iskander that skim-illustrates how to use theory to improve a game for everybody.

It also talks about playtesting the big rules at a macro-level, so you can run through entire campaigns (or, in this game's case, Worlds) quickly, and shows the gruelling yet valuable work of playtesting. There's some great stuff about how the game is designed to force the creation of a story

There are insights into editing, artwork, and project management (in the form of co-ordinating playtesting when rules are being revised, and every group could have a slightly different draft).

And there's this quote, which I think is key:

"One thing that Luke and I and others at the Forge have seen very clearly is that role playing texts in general are pretty poor at teaching players how to use them. Invariably, creators do things when running their games that are essential to making the games function as they should, and yet some of the most important of those things never make it into the text. We do things that are so ingrained that we take it completely for granted that other players, who learned to play in other environments, do them too. Once you release a game, if you interact with your fans, you quickly start to see patterns in the questions they ask. Pretty soon, the conclusion is inescapable: you’re doing something at your table that is not actually in the text. Burning Wheel is no different than other games in that regard.

Luke and I pledged that we would do our best to hard code the way we played into Burning Empires by critically evaluating every nuance of how we played our games, and making sure it made its way into the text.

Filed in:
Post a Comment