I’ve looked at a bunch of roleplay game systems, played a few, read many articles about them, ranted a lot and thought a lot more, and I’m increasingly drawn to the conclusion that the only way I’ll find the perfect system is if I write it myself.
Alright, that’s not actually true. I’m sure that there are plenty of systems out there that I’d really enjoy. There may even be some that I wouldn’t want to tweak, even a little bit, even just to be contrary. But I do think that designing a system will be a good way to analyse what I want from the game, and what part the system plays in delivering that. And if I end up with a usable product as part of that process, so much the better.
So where do I start…? Well, it’s all too easy to jump on tweaks I have made or would like to make to existing systems – but that misses the point. Just because something improves one particular system doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do in a scratch-built system. I think to truly start from the beginning, I need to establish what I want the system to deliver. What are my objectives?
It’s at this point that I start bandying around terms like “realistic”, “story-focussed” and so forth – but I still don’t feel this is core of the matter. Do I really care if it’s realistic, provided that it gives me the kind of experience I’m after? Should it really be story-focussed, or is there something more central to the experience I want from the game? I need to be thinking in very, very broad terms.
Ultimately, I suppose I want it to be engaging, both for the players and the GM. I also want it to be satisfying for the same people. Yeah, those sound suitably vague. Let me examine exactly what I mean.
- Engaging: I want it to produce a game that’s interesting, stimulating and challenging for both the players and the GM.
- Satisfying: I also want it to feel “complete”, i.e. not to feel like something is lacking or unfinished or half-baked.
The two are closely related, of course, but I think there is some separation, perhaps best clarified with an example. I can envisage a system which provides extremely engaging gameplay but which contains some glaringly unrealistic mechanics. Sure, this might not prevent the actual in-game experience from being thoroughly fascinating and enjoyable, but somewhere in the back of my brain it’d be bugging me. And that’s what I mean by “satisfying” – I want it to not bug me. I want it to feel right.
I should clarify who the players and the GM are – obviously that directly affects what they find engaging and satisfying. At the risk of sounding egomaniacal, I think they are both me – not because I have a habit of running games in which I am all the players, but because I want to write the sort of system I would enjoy playing in, and would also enjoy GMing. As I mentioned above, it’s at least as much a learning exercise as it is about producing a finished system – and I’m only going to learn about my own relationship with gaming if I consider myself to be the audience I’m aiming to please. So that’s what I’ll do.
Ok. So we have two properties to aim for; two criteria on which the final system will be judged. Sure, they’re very nebulous, but they provide some direction for considering the more specific features of the system, to ensure that they really are going to produce the result I want. That’ll be the next step. For now, this foundation is an excellent start.