Design Curriculum 5: Reflections and Practice

At this point, we needed to do three things at once. First, to make sure we filled in any missing points or caught up with anything Justin wanted to revisit; second, to lay down some important points about design as a process, as I thought we’d maybe strayed into play-theory at the expense of the real topic of “make a game;” and third, to take the time to address any topics as they occurred to either of us as we went along.

Therefore the following don’t build an upward-marching shift and they jump around a little. You’ll see a couple pieces which seem orphaned or out of place, but I am still a bit allergic to over-editing these conversations, which kept from rearranging our order to construct a conversation which didn’t happen.

Part 1 (embedded below): catching up with my recent posting about the Levels or layers of character identity, as I’d realized it was relevant to issues we’d discussed previously

Part 2: applying the point in Part 1 to one’s own standards and perceptions for “how play is done,” and how that relates to design

Part 3: following directly from Part 1 concerning the cognitive steps of creating a character

Part 4: reviewing my breakdown of setting into backdrop, situations, and scenes [includes a bit about resolution which, if I’d edited to change the order, would serve as the intro to Part 6]

Part 5: this is the part I really wanted to get into, no matter what: overriding principles of successful game design, not in content, but in process – if you’re going to watch just one of these, this is it

Part 6: Justin reflects on system diagrams, which have captured his attention, as they do

Part 7: Justin reflects on playing several solo games, which I’d recommended to him for purposes of comparing exactly how Bounce applies differently in different games

Part 8: discussing the underlying principles of my old Ronnies endeavors, aimed as they were toward design shake-up

Part 9: replying to Justin’s inquiry about the term positioning, how it originated and what has apparently become of it

Despite their apparent piecemeal appearance, though, I think this session matters a lot in that Justin has applied what we’ve talked about and we’ve filled in pretty much everything that’s been brought up so far. Plus, we’ve shifted fully into talking about the experience of designing. Application and experience is now the focus for the rest of the planned sessions.

A couple of links for the solo games: Swords of the Skull-Takers, Cathedral, and The Plant.

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9 responses to “Design Curriculum 5: Reflections and Practice”

  1. Yay, Legendary Lives!!

    Haven't watched all the videos yet but having spent lots of lonely fun time making up Legendary Lives characters, and possibly having created an excel spreadsheet to help do so, I had to jump in and agree with Ron that the chapter creation process seems really effective. I don't recall ever creating a character that didn't seem like it would be really fun to play, although many looked like the system would chew them up and spit them out – maybe part of the fun, and all the randomly rolled stuff does seem to just effortlessly coalesce and make sense at the points where you have to make actual decisions.

    • I found the system in play to

      I found the system in play to be more manageable than I'd anticipated, rather than lethal. Fights were fun and eventful, with the opponent's hit-location roll doing a lot of heavy lifting to visualize what was happening. It worked differently from other hit-location mechanics I've used in play, because you know what was being targeted before you knew the outcome. Somehow that meant that the player and GM became inspired to fill in fictional content to make it work from the attacker's previous position, and that brought in new effects like which direction they must be lunging in for example. This input arrived in a curiously effortless way, and then one became more imaginatively invested in the rolled outcome, and knew how to describe it.

      The only exception was the Sanity rules, which were awfully fierce and spiraled down hard, and seemed to have been transplanted from Call of Cthulhu wihout much purpose for it.

      Here are a couple of writeups I did for fun a few years ago, as part of fully created characters, but unfortunately I don't have the formal sheets immediately available. Those must be in a folder somewhere, as I'm finding creation notes for other characters stuffed into the rulebook.

      I was careful not to introduce any content into either summary except for what had been established randomly until that point (and by choosing the Types), and similarly established randomly by the Lifeline table. Each one turned out remarkably rich and coherent considering that nothing was actually invented by me whole cloth. As I keep repeating, the very limited choices available to me sufficed to make them personal creations, absolutely ready for play.

      You should be able to see the five Lifeline Events pretty easily for each character, and my point in posting them is to show how someone else might have put them in a different order and arrived at very different characters, even if they'd chosen the same Types I did.

      Minor observation: strangely, the example character in the book is dull as dirt, unlike every character I've created for this game or seen created and played by others.

      The larger question is that if one can consistently get characters as good as these (and you can) from so much detailed randomness punctuated with the tiniest bit of consequential choice in the right places, does the reverse work? Might I find, for example, Apocalypse World or Champions characters more compelling with a significant random feature placed precisely along the way? I blink in the sudden realization that I answered that question already, at least for one game (and implying no final conclusion about the two I just mentioned), with the Binding roll for one's initial demon in Sorcerer.

      For anyone reading this and interested in Legendary Lives (link provides the entire rulebook), my pro tip: nothing is deadlier than a Brownie Assassin.

    • Oh it’s irresistible. Meet

      Oh it's irresistible. Meet Shining Star.

      (editing this in) I forgot to mention her Religous Lifeline event as well: "Cursed by a holy person, -1 Fate." Which fits in just fine.

  2. Traveller world generation

    Ron, your video of putting together a character from the random creation system of Legenday Lives reminds me of the classic Traveller world generation system. I have long avoided games with random character generation, but I have always found the random world genereation of the Traveller system fascinating. It generates a series of, I think, 10 planetary characteristics, from environmental factors such as atmosphere and gravity, to social factors such as population size, government style, and technology level. While there are some modifiers that restrict results based on previous results, the  2d6 roll made the outcomes rather swingy, so one could have some pretty unusual combinations. The fun was in coming up with an explanation for how those seemingly widely variant results showed up together on an inhabited world. I found it left a gap which inspired creativity within the vast space opera of the Galactic Empire. 

    For me, that is the take away: a game that inspires a creative effort gets player investment.

    • I agree, and it's rather liberating to contemplate that many different spins on randomness, interpretation, input, and integration are possible, rather than a simple dichotomy between random-roll vs. point-build.

  3. Thoughts on this substantial chunk o’ wise discussion

    Attempted (and certainly non-exhaustive) disclosure of self-perceived biases: my current design work (and most of it, ever – though I can make a case that almost all 70's roleplay required design) is really just a kind of prepping-and-GMing. Which is maybe designing play-specifics within someone else's game design. Sometimes there's a lot of room there, sometimes not, but … I want to acknowledge light experience in full-fledged design, and not much recently. The temptation to do more is always present, but as long as the play I'm getting is satisfying, I seem to mostly shake that temptation off.

    That out of the way:

    On Levels/Layers of a Character, it does seem VERY important to point out that the connections between levels we might want/expect are NOT automatic. But … there can be very cool connections that work positively. Is it all down to the particulars of a group? I mean, that IS always going to matter – I've done things in-fiction to "help" at the social-level, and had it work well. But I have also seen that blow-up disastrously, and I'm not sure if I should attribute my successes to judicious/rare/skillful application or just plain luck. Are there perhaps some insights/classifications that help produce positive level-crossing?

    Very cool point about variety in character creation methods, and I'm not sure I ever thought about it or heard it expressed quite that way before.  But my next reaction is to look at LOTS of variation-classifications – roll or choose, but also point-buy, pick-list, guided description … and more? (Which I see is in the comments already, so – endorsed!)

    Maybe an odd reaction to the big-part-5 – on the one hand, I entirely agree about avoiding harm, and the danger of doing it. On the other, I generally want a LOT of pushback from people I'm asking opinions from, and figure I have to trust myself to hold my ground when appropriate. Ideally, I guess I'd try to instill the ground-holding ("it's YOUR game – really, tell me to go jump in a creek if you need to"), to open up some room to do the pushing ("but do you REALLY think percentile add-on values for Strength and only Strength is an idea that needs to be perpetuated?").

    My biggest playtester experience (again, limited) is how … corruptible? by other games playtester-feedback can be. Said another way: it can be REAL hard to get 'em to focus on YOUR design, and not on what it reminds them of.

    Vincent actually just said something about the Apocalypse World "knowing the moves" issue at his Patreon forum. Hopefully it's not rude to quote a bit: "But yeah. I think that if there's a game where the players really don't need to know their moves, the moves ought to be carefully redesigned accordingly." I read that as saying it's generally important to AW design that you can trigger on both Move-thinking/fiction-statement AND fiction-statement/Move-realization, and that if instead you want only the second, with players maybe even CONSTRAINED from knowing Moves except as informed by the MC … Move design would need to be quite different. Which I think means most Move-talk vs. fiction-talk argument IS off-base (as you said, Ron), but there's a derivation/extension that does raise concerns for Vincent.

    • Your avoidance or

      Your avoidance or disinclination to get into full-tilt design is probably healthy.

      My point about the levels of character isn't to keep them functionally isolated, but to avoid assigning specific functions of a given level due to the details of another for someone else. Inspirations among them not only unavoidable but highly desirable, regarding a character you're playing. I suspect this distinction is a big part of what we black-box as character ownership – the owner of what some label or term on a character sheet means for the whole.

      And yet, giving up that feature to some extent is also necessary, the more I think about it, so that would be a topic for investigation.

    • Your description of the need

      Your description of the need to design as an … illness, is it? and the desire to publish as an advanced stage? I sorta laugh, but I sorta see the point.

      I'm in agreement that character ownership has this interesting "of course you want/need it, but of course you can't always have it" tension. I've been able to talk about that with some other roleplayers, but sometimes … I can't. But even when I can talk about it, I'm not sure I/we've figured anything out.

    • Personality disorder, and yes

      Personality disorder, and yes. I always present it as if it were a joke but only because it'd be socially unacceptable to say it otherwise.

      That ownership issue is thorny as hell! A Monday Lab some day for sure.

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