RPG Writing and Design Needs a Paradigm Shift

hawkeyefan

Legend
It doesn't hav3 to be either/or. The stuff used at the table should be designed to be used at the table, and the stuff meant to inspire the GM between sessions should be fun to read.

Sometimes I think it does have to be either or. Or should be, at least.

When I need to reference something at the table, the last thing I need is extraneous fluff getting in the way. I need the details for play, and I need them quickly.

A rules manual should keep this in mind, I think. And when there is tension between the two, should make an effort to eliminate that tension.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

kenada

Legend
Supporter
And this is a huge tension in game writing. Do you write for things to be read or to be played? Because a lot of what's evocative away from the table gets away from what is fast and effective at the table.
Short text can still be evocative. Shadowdark does a good job of this. These descriptions are short, but they pack a lot of punch.

Shadowdark - Magic Missile
Shadowdark - Fireball
 

Reynard

Legend
Sometimes I think it does have to be either or. Or should be, at least.

When I need to reference something at the table, the last thing I need is extraneous fluff getting in the way. I need the details for play, and I need them quickly.

A rules manual should keep this in mind, I think. And when there is tension between the two, should make an effort to eliminate that tension.
The point is that you separate the table reference material from the reading material, even if it is just tables in the back (which was once common).
 

Short text can still be evocative. Shadowdark does a good job of this. These descriptions are short, but they pack a lot of punch.

View attachment 348436 View attachment 348437
Thanks, I hate it.

More accurately I find nothing in there that improves on 4e and the combination of "Fireball" and the incredibly clunky "near-sized cube" over-highlights a rules simplification of the fluff in a way I find jarring.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
More accurately I find nothing in there that improves on 4e and the combination of "Fireball" and the incredibly clunky "near-sized cube" over-highlights a rules simplification of the fluff in a way I find jarring.
Shadowdark uses abstract distances. There’s only three: close (within 5′), near (up to 30′), and far (within sight). The use of cubes for spell areas isn’t explained. It’s presumably a concession to playing on a grid, but Shadowdark doesn’t mention playing on a grid at all. The spell description would work just as well (and arguably read better) if it said, “… all creatures near where the flame lands take 4d6 damage.”

Anyway, the point was to provide an “evocative” example that doesn’t get in the way of play. I feel like these do that. For the most part, Shadowdark keeps things short and sweet. (OSE seems verbose in comparison.)
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
After numerous examples and pages of discussion, what I find I dislike about the 4e presentation (and this extends to most of the other ones) is the amount of properties stated before the effect’s description. If these things are going to be there, I’d prefer they be integrated into the effect’s chrome somehow.

Like I mentioned in post #34, I think board (and card) games are potentially a source of ideas for how to present information. There are certain conventions (such as lists of properties in prior to the spell’s description) that everything does. Even 4e retains that format and expands upon it, adding notation for Hit, Miss, Effect, etc. Is that really the best way, or are we doing it because tabletop RPGs have since almost the beginning?
 

...

And this is a huge tension in game writing. Do you write for things to be read or to be played? Because a lot of what's evocative away from the table gets away from what is fast and effective at the table.
I don't agree that they are in tension. 4e, for instance, did both quite well in my book. Highly organized, presented in a manner which allowed easy reference to the things which required it, and yet rich in milieu and possessing compelling underlying themes, with richly described setting, etc.
 

After numerous examples and pages of discussion, what I find I dislike about the 4e presentation (and this extends to most of the other ones) is the amount of properties stated before the effect’s description. If these things are going to be there, I’d prefer they be integrated into the effect’s chrome somehow.

Like I mentioned in post #34, I think board (and card) games are potentially a source of ideas for how to present information. There are certain conventions (such as lists of properties in prior to the spell’s description) that everything does. Even 4e retains that format and expands upon it, adding notation for Hit, Miss, Effect, etc. Is that really the best way, or are we doing it because tabletop RPGs have since almost the beginning?
IMHO the 'attributes' provided by systems like 1e, where the real mechanics are muddled into the middle of the description block, force you to read the entire thing and parse it EVERY TIME. Those 'attributes' are mostly useless color in that system. Nobody cares about schools and such, nobody consistently used components, etc. The level of the spell, and class, are already obvious from the book section, etc.

Sure, when I was young I just memorized the mechanics of every spell. I cannot possibly do that now, I need attributes that are meaningful, broken out, and presented so I can go bang, bang, bang, done.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
IMHO the 'attributes' provided by systems like 1e, where the real mechanics are muddled into the middle of the description block, force you to read the entire thing and parse it EVERY TIME. Those 'attributes' are mostly useless color in that system. Nobody cares about schools and such, nobody consistently used components, etc. The level of the spell, and class, are already obvious from the book section, etc.

Sure, when I was young I just memorized the mechanics of every spell. I cannot possibly do that now, I need attributes that are meaningful, broken out, and presented so I can go bang, bang, bang, done.
Seems to me it's more like you don't care about those things. You can't just assume "nobody" cares because that happens to align with your preferences.

Play the game you want, but there's no call to make sweeping judgements that don't necessarily apply to anyone but you. We can only legitimately talk about our own preferences.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
IMHO the 'attributes' provided by systems like 1e, where the real mechanics are muddled into the middle of the description block, force you to read the entire thing and parse it EVERY TIME. Those 'attributes' are mostly useless color in that system. Nobody cares about schools and such, nobody consistently used components, etc. The level of the spell, and class, are already obvious from the book section, etc.
Regardless of the quality of AD&D’s properties, the format has persisted. That’s my point. Everything 4e adds with keywords, action type, etc are all clearly an evolution of that format.

Sure, when I was young I just memorized the mechanics of every spell. I cannot possibly do that now, I need attributes that are meaningful, broken out, and presented so I can go bang, bang, bang, done.
That’s why I’m suggesting to look at games other than tabletop RPGs. They manage to present effects in a clear and short format, often to players who have never seen them before the first time they’ve used them.

For example, these are abilities (as close as I can get to magic missile and fireball) from Middara, and adventure board game. These images are taken from Middara’s dropbox downloads.

Ruination is an ability from a summon, but it’s effectively an AoE attack. The bolded elements call out the game mechanics. SPELL 6 means to roll your casting die and add 6. The targets have to make conviction checks or take the result (Diem’s casting die worth of MAGIC DMG). The number in the circle is the SP cost to use the ability. You get SP at the start of your turn, which is spent to use abilities, move, etc. An Effect is a beneficial thing (like Haste) or negative (like Poison). Effects are tracked with tokens. Diem is the name of the summon.

Middara - Ruination.png


Life Tithe is a Discipline, which is how you customize characters. The XP cost is how many XP you pay to buy it. It costs 3+, meaning three plus how many other LVL 1 Disciplines you have. Disciplines with costs will have icons down the side. This one is “free” but can only be used one per turn by exhausting (i.e., tap) the card. Exhausted cards are recovered at the start of your turn. SOI is a standard distance. By default, it is four squares, but some things can increase it. The player with Life Tithe in our game has an item that increases SOI to six squares.

Middara - Life Tithe.png


Is this the best format? Consider Fireball from Magic: the Gathering. That page in particular is interesting because the sidebar itemizes the costs, type, etc like tabletop RPGs typically do for spells. You can see the card next to it (reproduced below). The cost (X + 1 fire mana) is in the “chrome” as is the type (“Sorcery”). It doesn’t bold elements like Middara, but references to costs (usually) use the formatting they use in the chrome.

1708963431037.png


The issue I see with “natural language” in tabletop RPGs is it tries to avoid stating plain mechanics by describing them instead in rules-lawyerese. Consider this version of fireball from 4e that is only plain language. Note that I’ve omitted the action under the assumption that default rules needn’t be restating (and that casting as a standard action is the common rule). I consider the heading part of the chrome. Alternatively, it could be done as a symbol like PF2 does.

Fireball (Daily ✦ Arcane, Fire, Implement)​

A globe of orange flame coalesces in your hand. You hurl it at a point in RANGE 20, and it explodes in a BURST 3. Deal 3d6+INT fire damage to targets hit (INT vs. Reflex) in the burst or half on a miss.​
 

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top