Technically Playable Games

This is part 2 of my 2-part answer to an apparently simple question, which is, "Vincent, why don't you just add the obvious character creation rules to your swashbuckling romance game and publish it?" Part 1 is here: A Pragmatic Theory of Playtesting, and my swashbuckling romance game is here: A Swashbuckling Romance Game.

Creating a Bell Curve

Imagine that when you create a game, you're creating a distribution curve. Picture every experience that anyone will ever have playing your game as a point under the curve, and imagine how they stack up. It's some kind of skewed, humpbacked bell curve, and you'll never know the real shape of it, but imagine it.

This curve is the origin of the "conversations you always have." The experiences that people have with your game that lead them to come to you and say "I hate highlighting stats" or "why is it that you get a reward for taking a blow?" or "Apocalypse World blew my mind!" are common under the curve, that's why they're common in the conversation.

Games that Don’t Take Off

Now, imagine that you've created a game where the common experiences - the peaks in the curve - are not interesting experiences. The game works, meaning that people can play it as you've designed it, but the experiences it commonly gives them don't stand out. They lead to no common conversations, or, at best, "we played your game! It was fun, good job! Next week we're going to try another game!"

I like to call games like this "technically playable," dismissively. Technically playable games are easy to create, once you've got the basics of game design down. I've created many, knowingly and un-. I've written before about games that take off vs games that don't, and this is what I'm talking about: games that spread by word of mouth on the strength of the experiences under their curve, vs games that play perfectly well but don't.

Some rpg creators think that this is primarily luck. I do not. I think that this is primarily because of the qualities of the common experiences under the game's curve, with luck playing a supporting role.

Your Goal for Your Game

So then, here's my answer: the obvious character creation rules won't create enough startling and thrilling experiences to make the game take off. If I add the obvious character creation rules to my swashbuckling romance game and publish it, it'll be technically playable, but that's not my goal. I want better for that game.

Installment 2015-10-17


Topic: But why?

On 2015-10-22, Christopher Wargo wrote:

Here's Stras' version of the obvious character creation rules: It's easy enough to maybe frame a couple characters with such questions (you decide your motivations, group decides what people think about you) and also use the same to paint a rough setting and the frame for one episode/adventure. Would be kind of fun to do little packets (and this is the Arabian Nights 40 thieves S&R setting/adventure questions) with a few custom vignettes etc for some quick settings and escapades.

Here's my version, with Vincent's suggestion incorporated: We're going to try a Dumas-appropriate oracle, and then everyone come up with one best interest that conflicts with another character's, and one best interest that dovetails with at least one other character's.

There might be other 'obvious' character creation rules out there, but here are these two. Assuming that neither of these sets of rules reliably create enough startling, thrilling experiences—why is that? What's different about, eg, In A Wicked Age or Arabian Nights that these rules do reliably produce those kinds of experiences, or at least the right kind of characters for those experiences, while for the romance game they don't? These rules appear capable of reliably producing characters with things to say to each other. What else does the game need to get the right peaks?

On 2015-10-27, Vincent wrote:

I've been trying to answer this for almost a week now, but the answer is graphs and I haven't had the time to make them.

In words, though: In a Wicked Age is a perfect example of what I want better than!

On 2015-10-27, Christopher Wargo wrote:

Well yeah, but that's because In A Wicked Age allows its conversation to move up a level into abstraction and mechnical cues instead of staying firmly-rooted in the fiction. I don't see that happening with Rules of Conduct & Engagement. There are hardly any mechanical cues that aren't grounded as explicit fictional cues. 

Do you mean that the web of relationships that character creation gives you for IAWA is also inadequate, even ignoring the mechanics?

On 2015-10-28, Vincent wrote:

This is such a good question! SO GOOD!

<< collapse conversation

Topic: The role of the GM...
Started by Trumonz on 2015-10-18
1 reply by Vincent.
expand conversation >>

Topic: Just a check
Started by Gordon on 2015-10-18
1 reply by Vincent.
expand conversation >>

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