Friday, January 14, 2011

Keeping the Group Level in the Design Loop

I've talked before about the three levels of games - Designer, Group, and Individual - and I want to bring this back into play. More and more, I see games that don't take the Group level into consideration in the design process. These games are deliberately hard to change - locked down so tight that modding and ruling is like defusing a bomb. This is joined at the hip with the RAW phenomenon - tha abdication of Group level play to the designer - and I believe it to be two aspects of the same thing. I've railed against blindly fetishizing RAW play before - see Gaming in the RAW - and now I'm going to rail against this other aspect.

Part of this I think comes from game books where the designers tell groups how to play the game. I'm not talking about rules here, but styles and methods of play. This gets people into thinking there is a right way and a wrong way to play a game. A lot of games these days are built around an assumed play style, and said play style is detailed in the designer's notes. Hell! I don't even like designer's notes! they are only of concern to designers, really! This fosters a fear that if you don't know the assumed play style, you can't play the game as the designer intended. Crud! That kind of thinking leaves me furious! This is a group level thing, people! Play the game the way you want to play it! You can think of wonderful things the designer never intended! In a thread on RPGNet, a fellow (Eurhetermec)said the following:

"I didn't really know what RPGs were when I first tried to run D&D - neither did any of the people I was playing with, and thus the first D&D adventure I wrote is extremely different from anything I've ever seen for D&D since - I mean, to me, owning just the PHB, DMG and FRA (no adventures, no Dungeon, no Dragon, no nothing), the Potion Miscibility table seemed as important a part of the game, as I dunno, monsters!

The adventure I wrote was large a sort of exploration of weird ruins and weird physics (most of which there were no rules for), inspired by fantasy in general, with a whole lengthy section where the PCs basically tested potions on flightless birds (and each other), no NPCs to talk to at all, and only one real fight.

Of course almost immediately thereafter I met a cousin of mine who had been playing for years, and wrote us a beautiful adventure and explained everything, but before that...

DAMMIT! That sounds freaking awesome! Something like that would never have entered my mind, and he ditched it to do what everyone else was doing! What a waste of divinely inspired creativity!

The only criterium for whether a game as played is good or bad is whether you had fun. I ran D&D for twenty years, and you could count the number of dungeons we ran through on the fingers of one hand. Designing a game around a certain default style makes that style preferred in peoples' minds. By refusing to do so, designers can bring the group back into the design loop. Designers - push what is rightfully the group's decisions back to the group! Let the group decide what it wants to do with your game! If you build it strong and flexible, everything will be fine!


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