Here are some things I’ve learned about game design, which basically revisit some of my original design goals, tweaking them based on what I’ve learned:
- The game needs a unified theme. Once I decided on the tagline, ‘the little game of big heroic adventure’, I could see it very clearly. If something doesn’t make it a little game (i.e. complicated mechanics, overly complex math, gritty detail), it goes. If something doesn’t support ‘big heroic adventure’, it goes. All of the rules are now slanted to support this. When can you use a resolve point? When you try to do something on a heroic scale. When do you roll the dice? When you do something only a hero would be able to accomplish. If any normal farmer or common laborer could force that door open with a good shove, don’t even bother rolling.
- The story has to inform all choices, and all game elements must be setting specific. Efforts to create ‘archetypal’ situations or elements (dwarves, elves, magic), invariably end up vanilla. A goblin is boring; a goblin scrounger is more interesting; the fact that goblin scroungers are the ultimate scavengers, traveling in nomadic caravans moving from ruin to ruin, moving as a pack through the desolate remains of fallen kingdoms to glean any useful objects they can find, makes them far more compelling adversaries. You don’t run into goblins in dungeons because they are there camping out waiting for stuff to happen; they’ve either just started their exploring, are right in the middle of it, or were en route when they got stuck. No matter how you slice it, they make for a better encounter than ‘classic goblins’ as I’ve always seen them. I’m building every element of the world from this perspective, and it’s given the whole text a much stronger aesthetic.
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