Tuesday, 21 October 2014

48 Hour RPG - What I Learned

Hello World,

For those who are not aware, during this past weekend I challenged myself to make a complete RPG in a 48 hour timespan. Out of that weekend came the Planet Crashers RPG, a game which pits players against the GM in an over the top galactic outlaw hunt.  I had a blast making it and I hope you guys have as much fun playing it. If you are interested in giving it a read or playing it yourself, the free PDF can be downloaded from the following link.

Download Planet Crashers HERE
Cover art courtesy of Meryn Mercer

But that announcement isn’t my only reason for this post.  As some of you may know, on this blog I strive to share what I learn about game design to all of you. With Planet Crashers’ creation still fresh in my mind, it seems like the perfect time to reflect upon what I learned from the whole experience as well as a bit about my design process.

I would first like to state that this endeavor, while being tough, was an amazing insight to me as a developer. It forces you to go through the entire design process in a very short amount of time, letting you see all of the little connections and dependencies between every phase of development. I encourage every novice developer to try their hand at a 24 or 48 hour game design jam. Even if you aren't able to finish a game, I guarantee you will learn tons.

As for what I learned from Planet Crashers, I like to sum it up in one simple line

“Constraints breed creativity”

This is true in all mediums, even game design. When I started the marathon my mind was whizzing with ideas, going in every which direction, but it wasn’t until I set my constraints that a game began to get designed. One of the most effective methods I have found to figuring out my constraints was to visualize how the game would be played.

The initial visualization for Planet Crashers was a one shot system about an over the top space crew. From that initial idea I got a few key constraints, and I was able to refine my intended play by looking at the next major part of gameplay, who is your ideal player. This part relies heavily on an article I did a while back called “Design Talk: Know You Audience”, for those who haven’t read it, the article discussed two distinct taxonomies for looking at your intended audience. The first is the GNS theory which states there are three mindsets a player can experience when playing a tabletop RPG, Gamist, Narrativist, and Simulationist. While the other method of classification looks at the aesthetics of play, and breaks any game experience into 8 separate categories, Challenge, Fantasy, Fellowship, Sensation, Narrative, Discovery, Expression, Submission.

The way I like to go about this is to choose one of the GNS mindsets to focus on as the style of play I want to engage  the most within my players. In Planet Crashers, I decided to focus on the Gamist mindset. One of the best ways to encourage and reward Gamist style play is, having clear goals, competition between players and rewarding clever choices. When reading through Planet Crashers it is clear to see where that choice influenced the design.

Now for the aesthetics of play I like to look at and rank the top three aesthetics I want to stimulate within the game. Planet Crasher’s aesthetic ranking was as follows.

1. Challenge
2. Fellowship
3. Fantasy

With those two classifications figured out, I have a pretty good idea on how playing Planet Crashers should feel. With those constraints set I had a direction, and whenever I wasn’t sure if I should put a mechanic into the game I just asked “how does the mechanic enhance the imagined play?” Knowing who would want to play this game, and how they would play it led the game to be much more unified.

Another resource which I have found very helpful for planning out my games is Troy Costisick’s “The Power 19”. A 19 question outline that lays out the foundation for what your game is going to become. It is a fantastic resource and I encourage designers to give it a try. A link to it can be found HERE.

There is one last concept I would like to mention about the power of rewards. If there is a specific way you want players to act or play within your game, it is important that the game rewards them for that. Planet Crashers is intended to be a comedic and silly space adventure. As such one of the design problems I came across is, how do you make a game comedic? The method I found most effective for this is to reward players for being funny. The entire “Trope” mechanic was introduced into the game to reward players for fun and comedic roleplaying. This one introduced mechanic shifts the whole style of play, and it is all because players now get rewarded for playing in a comedic manner. I could go on and on about effective use of reward systems in RPGs but I will save that for my next Design Talk post.

For now though, try to understand who will be playing your game, and how it will be played. With that figured out you can begin to constrain you game in order to design a unified play experience. I wish all of you the best of luck with you future gaming projects and as always,

Thanks for reading


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