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21 June 2006 @ 02:43 pm
The why and the how of fantasy heartbreakers  
Ron Edwards wrote about the fantasy heartbreaker in a series of articles[1] on the Forge. Later, in the Provisional Glossary, he defines a fantasy heartbreaker as "a published role-playing game which retains specific aesthetic assumptions from pre-3rd edition versions of Dungeons & Dragons." It's a little more than that, though, as the articles show. Each of these games is a heartbreaker because it contains some nugget of creativity that is worthy of attention and because the author pursued his design dream with enthusiasm and love. That's the heartbreaking part.

Why do people write them? I believe that gamers learn to fiddle with the rules to make their games work. Thus, gamers become designers by necessity. At some point, some of these unintentional designers decide they should write their own game -- generally because they've fiddled to the point of exhaustion and it's just easier to start from scratch than to add one more kit-mod to their D&D house rules. The problem is that a lot of these people don't have a design vocabulary. They've played only a couple games and thus their thought is patterned around thoughts like "D&D, but different" or "Storyteller, but different" or "GURPS, but different," and so on.

RPG design is a pretty young field. Sure, we've been playing them for 30 years and growing. Sure, the state of the art has advanced pretty awesomely since then. I don't discount the serious improvement in design since the three-book D&D set hit the photocopier. People like Monte Cook, Greg Costikyan, Robin Laws, and Jonathan Tweet have advanced game design in great ways. In general, though, we didn't see a lot of innovation in RPGs until the last decade or so. (It's a can of worms. Feel free to point out how wrong I am in comments.)

A lot of commercially successful games were fantasy heartbreakers. Pretty much any fantasy game with hit points, classes, or some kind of alignment system was probably a fantasy heartbreaker. And for every game that was a smash hit, there are probably a hundred games that failed miserably, or never made it out of the notebook of the Dungeon Master who wrote it up.

I think what drives a lot of homemade game design is that a lot of older games are broken. The game text promises a certain kind of play, but the rules-as-written deliver something entirely different (and lacking). Each player has ideas about how to change the rules to make them work for the group. They write house rules. Sometimes play gets better. Often, the rules are missing some critical rule about play procedure (in what order does a player do things? how do players come to an agreement about what happens in the game fiction?) and the group explicitly or implicitly defines a rule to answer the question. Sometimes, a house rule that has nothing to do with play procedure fixes a procedural problem without the group knowing it!

After we've all tinkered with games to get them to work, we think we understand game design. We don't. We understand game tinkering. Just because you worked on that old '78 pickup truck that your grandpa gave you doesn't mean you can fix a modern, computer-driven Honda. Nor does it prepare you to design brand new cars, let alone new cars that create a different experience than a '78 pickup. RPG dynamics are very complicated and we're just now beginning to understand why gamers do things and how play actually works. It's hard to design these games and really account for what people do at the table.

What happens is that Joe Gamer decides to write a better fantasy RPG. "How many abilities should I have?" he asks. "How many classes and what kinds?" He has redesigned D&D, but not as a good as the original. Then he starts getting creative, but in a way that references his extremely limited knowledge of design. "My game will not have classes or levels!" He's torn out the carburetor and didn't think to solve how the gas and the air is gonna get mixed; and he's never even heard of fuel injection. What he ends up with is a very derivative game. Maybe he had one amazing gem of an idea in there, but it was stillborn. Nothing in the rest of the rules supported that cool idea.

What's the solution? Play lots of games. Do your homework. Do research. Read all kinds of crazy game theory sites and read about other people's games (designs and actual play). Play lots of games. I said it again because it's important. Better, play lots of weird games with funky mechanics. You might decide you hate those mechanics, but you'll be able to articulate why.

By broadening the games you've played and read and understand, you'll increase the size of your toolbox. But another thing will happen, too. The human brain is an amazing thing: it understands patterns. After playing a dozen or two different games, you'll start to compare them in your head. You'll start to understand how pieces fit together. You'll see patterns and start imagining new ones -- new ideas that no one else has tried. You'll turn some of these ideas into games. Some of them will be utterly unplayable but that's okay; it's rough and tumble out on the frontier. Some of them will work and you'll do something truly different with your game. Not every game has to have some crazy new idea in it. The best games, really, are the ones that take those crazy ideas out of other games and do them better. Make them fit, improve upon them in subtle ways, tune them.

But don't make a game that's just a derivative of D&D or some other popular RPG. Even if you add just a single idea, have the wider perspective to understand what those changes do to game play. Understand how much your game looks like D&D or whatever and be aware how your rules improve upon the base. Wrap the right rules around your brilliant idea so it doesn't get lost in the teary-eyed yawn the readers will have as they read through yet another D&D clone.

Most of the game designers reading this already get all this. This isn't for them. It's for the few, often younger designers who are working on their first design. Keep designing! but take a look at all the other games out there. Please! you're breaking our hearts.




[1] See Fantasy Heartbreakers and More Fantasy Heartbreakers, both by Ron Edwards.
 
 
 
Zak ak akzakarntson on June 22nd, 2006 12:44 am (UTC)
Hooray! Note that aspiring designers can still experience that strange thrill of making a Heartbreaker (I have to admit to writing a few pages of D&D-But-Better notes about once a year). Just don't expect anyone else to be interested.
Evil Headdrivingblind on June 22nd, 2006 04:25 am (UTC)
I don't always think Heartbreakers are bad. To accept that Heartbreakers are entirely bad is to suggest that there was nothing good about those older games, and that's flat wrong.

I guess I say this because, on some level, I can look at a lot of what I do as heartbreakers. :)

Fate is, by some lights, a Fudge heartbreaker. (Why, oh why Fudge, were you like *this*, let me do *that* instead.) Etcetera.

Then again, I think what really gets something legitimately called a Heartbreaker depends entirely on the skill in its execution. It's parallel to the observation that bad writers plagiarize, but good authors steal. It's really all about the judgment about what to keep and what to depart from. Something that's legitimately labelled a heartbreaker didn't depart enough. But there's a lot of stuff out there that departed enough, but didn't depart *entirely*, that *could* be called heartbreakers by some lights, but because they were done well, aren't legitimate candidates for that label.

I've put more words into this than I really should since, in the end, it's a quibble, and a minor one at that. But, there, I've said my piece.
Feline Divinitygodcat on June 22nd, 2006 04:44 am (UTC)
I think that exactly what makes a Heartbreaker a Heartbreaker is that they are /not/ entirely bad and that they /do/ have something very good or cool or interesting about them. The thing that is bad about them is that they don't follow through on the promise of this cool part or parts.

Most game design is informed by other games played by the creator - wanting to improve on a favorite system or being inspired by another designer's work doesn't automatically make a heartbreaker.

But like you said, it's kind of a quibble and the comparison to writers isn't a bad one. I just don't think that Adam or Ron is saying that Heartbreakers are entirely bad - that's why they are Heartbreakers and not Eyebleeders or Chestwoundsuckers or Skullthrobbers. : )
Joshua A.C. Newmannikotesla on June 23rd, 2006 01:53 am (UTC)
Look in the back of most any Forge-gestated game and you'll see a list of attributions. What makes a Heartbreaker is that it assumes a bunch of stuff. It assumes classes, or combat, or dice, or character ownership, or a bunch of stuff that isn't central to the actual act of role-playing, but is instead technique to make it a certain way.
(Anonymous) on June 22nd, 2006 06:06 pm (UTC)
The Cambrian Explosion of RPGs
"RPG design is a pretty young field."

Agreed.

"...we didn't see a lot of innovation in RPGs until the last decade or so."

Agreed -- except that the very idea of "RPG" is a huge innovation.

I'm going to quote myself from something I said on this very subject on Vincent Baker's blog (at http://www.lumpley.com/comment.php?entry=50):

Ever heard of the Burgess Shale? It's a particular rock formation that has a staggering variety of fossils in it -- more fundamentally different ways of arranging the body (phyla) than exist in all subsequent evolution. (I'm cribbing shamelessly from Stephen J. Gould's Wonderful Life here; I'm no paleontologist). The key thing about the Burgess Shale is that it preserves fossils from the "Cambrian Explosion," a very early period AFTER the basic principles of organizing a multi-cellular life form were evolved but BEFORE there had been a mass extinction to weed out the designs.

Now, combined with the fact that two years is a fast cycle time -- D&D splits off from miniatures gaming say, circa 1974-1975? That's only 30 years ago -- one generation! ANd much of that time was spent, as it had to be, thrashing out "uh, what is this new thing anyway?" and running basic variations on the original wargaming structures, rather like Precambrian evolution throwing out lots of slightly different ways to be a single-celled organism.

I don't know the hobby history too well, but the earliest conflict resolution/fortune in the middle design I know of is Story Engine from, what, the mid-nineties? (There are probably earlier examples). By analogy, roleplaying game design is hitting its "Burgess Shale" period: We've got the basics, we've just opened up to some radically different ways of playing with them, so now it's time to try a zillion crazy combinations. Most of which won't work, true. But it's worth exploring the entire space of what's possible.
(Anonymous) on June 22nd, 2006 06:57 pm (UTC)
Re: The Cambrian Explosion of RPGs
So does the CCG craze of the mid-nineties count as the first RPG extinction? Following that, a series of more advanced designs had to follow along.
(Anonymous) on June 23rd, 2006 01:57 am (UTC)
Re: The Cambrian Explosion of RPGs
Oops -- that first anonymous "Cambrian explosion" post was me. Stupid Livejournal.
-- Sydney Freedberg
marcochacon on June 23rd, 2006 05:28 pm (UTC)
As the author of a "GURPS heart-breaker," um, I'm sorry for breaking your heart. If only I'd played all those games, man! I just hadn't seen it.

I shoulda read more of those Forge articles--it mighta enlightend me!

The whole heartbreaker meme is what's broken. Not the games. If people believed that System Really Did Matter (rather than being an article based on GNS-activism) then multiple similar-but-different mechancis would be seen as a good thing.

I also, maybe, oughta give back my indie-award too, right? While I'm at it?

-Marco
(Deleted comment)
marcochacon on June 23rd, 2006 11:42 pm (UTC)
1. I mean JAGS Have-Not, which won. For 2003. Against Sex and Sorcerer (by Ron Edwards, the, um, other guy who runs the Forge). That's gotta be a Post-Apocalypse heartbreaker. Right?

2. I don't believe your tinkering-vs-designing dichotomy.

.- Have you read (much less played) those games Ron described?
.- Do you know the designers of them (much less asked how they went about designing them?)
.- Do you, in fact, have your heart broken by those games? You've admitted that you're not into the rules-heavy game anyway. I'm sure this is solidarity to all game-designers or something ... yeah?

3. The Heartbreaker-dom applies (in Ron's article) to games that are based off of D&D--a game that isn't portraying a genre that exists in fiction.

No other game fits that category--people have tried to extend the heartbreaker analogy to science fiction games (there's a good thread on The Forge). The guy essentially uses it to mean "sci-fi games I don't like."

They've *tried* to extend it to generic games (again, meaning "generic games I don't like").

So? Yeah--you're right: JAGS isn't a Fantasy Heartbreaker ... and I woudn't have posted except that you decided to extend it.

-Marco
 Adam Dray: vergeadamdray on June 24th, 2006 12:57 am (UTC)
1. Oh, I didn't know JAGS Have-Not won. Cool. It's a setting supplement for JAGS, right?

2. I'm not sure which games you mean, specifically. From the first article: D&D? Yeah, in most of its incarnations. I have read Darkurthe: Legends and Neverworld off his initial list of heartbreakers. I haven't played them. I haven't seen Demon's Lair, Undiscovered, or Deathstalkers from the second article.

I've read dozens and dozens of fantasy heartbreakers not mentioned in those articles. These games were posted on the Forge and other places on the web. I read them, and offered advice to a number of those folks.

3. I know that fantasy heartbreaker applies to fantasy games. Since the articles came out, people have used the term "heartbreaker" more generally. Ron suggests this himself at the bottom of the second article when he mentions "their science fiction equivalents based mainly on Star Frontiers and Traveller."

Any game is a heartbreaker when it it borrows so much from its "template" game that it cannot be judged except as a comparison to the original. When you read a game and immediately compare it to another because it's more or less the same game except with a few changes obviously borne of frustration with the original, it's a heartbreaker. When you stop playing Star Wars D6 and then go make a new D6-based game with a grittier combat system and different rules for Jedi, you just created a Star Wars D6 heartbreaker. Such games are, as Ron says, financially doomed because the market cannot help but compare them to the game they copied.
 Adam Drayadamdray on June 23rd, 2006 08:24 pm (UTC)
Oh, c'mon, Marco.

First of all, help me out. Which indie award do you mean? JAGS-2 was a runner up for Best Free Game 2004, but didn't win.

Second of all, the runner-up comments are classic heartbreaker stuff:
JAGS-2 / with 54 points

"JAGS-2 is a decent enough generic game that is just different enough from GURPS, and suffer slightly less from system bloat, to deserve inclusion."

"JAGS 2 -- I applaud this FREE game's dedicated support and investment."

"Good and free!"

"JAGS-2 is great at doing what it aims to do, which is awesome, if not my bag of nuts."


So it's more or less GURPS, but you don't have to pay for it. Hey, that's cool. There's a place for that.

Still, it's a far cry from the feedback that The Shadow of Yesterday, the winner of the Free Game of the Year 2004 award, got:

"TSOY stands head and shoulders above the other free games. Not only is it well presented but you can feel the hand of design and understand the thought that has gone into making this a playable fantasy heartbreaker."


TSOY is a fantasy heartbreaker by Clinton, one of the dudes who runs the Forge.

But what's your point? If you really believed that System Doesn't Matter, you wouldn't have created a new game. You'd have just played D20 or something else you could get free off the net, or the old GURPS books you had on your shelf already. If System Doesn't Matter, why are you creating new systems?

I haven't read JAGS or JAGS-2. Heavy rules systems like that just don't draw me in; it's a personal preference. Whatever. But if people are saying that it's just a free GURPS, what have you really added to the gaming hobby? Did you really do any serious design work there? or just tinker with GURPS till it was something different enough to publish without getting sued? If it's the latter, you're not designing -- you are tinkering. That's fine, and it's cool people like it. If you did some serious design work (presumably without using any Big Model theory or anything you read in Forge articles, which is fine), then you weren't tinkering; you were designing. And thus, it's probably not a fantasy heartbreaker anyway, so your points are moot.

Your response is incredibly defensive. Either you wrote a successful GURPS heartbreaker and made it free, which is a cool thing, or you genuinely improved the gaming hobby with a new take on GURPS ideas and made it free, which is a cool thing, too. Why the freak-out in my LJ?

Edited to fix formatting
marcochacon on June 24th, 2006 12:21 am (UTC)
You say: But what's your point? If you really believed that System Doesn't Matter, you wouldn't have created a new game. You'd have just played D20 or something else you could get free off the net, or the old GURPS books you had on your shelf already. If System Doesn't Matter, why are you creating new systems?

You can re-read my poste: I didn't say System Doesn't Matter. I actually argued it does.

And since I didn't cover it with my last post, I'll do it here: I agree *exactly* with you about System Mattering and hence seeing the design of new systems. The problem is: you don't actually believe that (or if you do, you are inconsistent in your statements in your post and that belief).

Let's take a look at this, yeah?

SCENARIO 1. Someone writes a game--it sells some copies. It's done with. Maybe it sells out, maybe it doesn't. Maybe the guy makes a profit. Maybe he doesn't.

If it's a D&D-like game it breaks your heart.

If it's an indie game, it's all good. Right? You aren't heartbroken for Dead Inside? Or Dread? Right?

You have no idea if any (much less all) of those games on Ron's list made a profit. You have no idea whether their creators were elated or upset with their run. You haven't seen the personal fan-mail they got or understand any personal sense of satisfaction.

No: you (taking Ron's cue--but, notably, and most importantly, not his actual affection for those games) are speaking as a "revolutionary voice" in the world of game-design. Those guys aren't part of that revolution so you get to judge them.

If you really care about the people involved you'd have to know a lot more before you had any heart invested in the game.

SCENARIO 2. Someone is presented with two systems: one is AD&D, one of the best-selling games of all time (in your target demographic, too, even if you belive Verge is gonna be the main-stream breakout game people have been looking for).

The other system is similar to D&D but has a spell-point magic system that doesn't cripple low-level mages who've cast their spells.

It is clear that the experience of play is going to be similar in either case.

Since System Does Matter, we will find that for some percentage of the popultion that'll play the game (which, um, is most role-players historically) they will get a better experince out of the second (maybe more will enjoy the first--I don't know--but I do know that a substantial number of people will get better results from the second).

Now: you declare that a heartbreaker. In other venues that's what we would call an improvement.

So: yes--designing different rule-sets that do things in a similar but different way to existing rule-sets is exactly the kind of evolutionary improvement that I want to see as a gamer.

Revolution is good--but it isn't all there is and it isn't always appropriate. And there's no reason to go dumping on people who aren't part of your revolution.

-Marco
 Adam Drayadamdray on June 24th, 2006 01:31 am (UTC)
You said:
And since I didn't cover it with my last post, I'll do it here: I agree *exactly* with you about System Mattering and hence seeing the design of new systems. The problem is: you don't actually believe that (or if you do, you are inconsistent in your statements in your post and that belief).


I don't actually believe that System Matters? How am I inconsistent?

SCENARIO 1. Someone writes a game--it sells some copies. It's done with. Maybe it sells out, maybe it doesn't. Maybe the guy makes a profit. Maybe he doesn't.

If it's a D&D-like game it breaks your heart.


If it is D&D-like and no better than the original, it breaks my heart. I say to myself, that guy put in all that time, and he reinvented the wheel. He could have just published a house rule or a supplement, and it might have even sold a lot of copies because it was a cool idea. But instead he wrote this 300-page monstrosity that doesn't explain things as well as D&D books do and he's touting it as innovative and "like no other RPG." If only he'd looked around for a bit online, he'd find a dozen games just like his, skill-based D&D system and everything.

If it's a D&D-like game but really stands out as an improvement? My heart isn't broken. Clinton calls TSOY a fantasy heartbreaker, but it isn't. It's nothing like D&D. It's just his answer to it. It's an original combination of mechanics and it doesn't play anything like D&D.

If it's an indie game, it's all good. Right? You aren't heartbroken for Dead Inside? Or Dread? Right?


I don't know Dread but I assume you mean this. What game would it be mimicking? It doesn't sound like any horror game I've played. What would Dead Inside be heartbreaker for? Certainly not D&D or GURPS or Traveller.

You have no idea if any (much less all) of those games on Ron's list made a profit. You have no idea whether their creators were elated or upset with their run. You haven't seen the personal fan-mail they got or understand any personal sense of satisfaction.

No: you (taking Ron's cue--but, notably, and most importantly, not his actual affection for those games) are speaking as a "revolutionary voice" in the world of game-design. Those guys aren't part of that revolution so you get to judge them.


If the game was financially successful, I don't know that Ron would call it a fantasy heartbreaker. I probably would, though, if it fit the criteria I listed. It wouldn't matter to me. It wouldn't matter if the author was really happy with the sales. Most of the heartbreaker authors I talk to on the Forge are really happy with and proud of their game, and that's awesome. But the thing is, they're usually proud because they think they invented something no one else has thought of. "What if we take D&D and rip out classes and levels and make it all skill-based! That's a totally revolutionary idea!" No it isn't, and I saw a game just like that last week in this same forum.

I don't have affection for those games, but I have so much affection for those game writers. I've been there and I know the pain and frustration of it all.

I don't know what you mean about the "revolutionary voice" stuff. My message isn't new. It isn't originally mine, but I believe in it. I thought I had some unique insights about why people write heartbreakers and thought I'd share my thoughts.

If you really care about the people involved you'd have to know a lot more before you had any heart invested in the game.


Know a lot more about what? Why do I have to have heart invested in their game to care about them as a person?

marcochacon on June 24th, 2006 02:10 am (UTC)
Adam,
1. You're inconsistent: If System Matters then, yes, in fact changes like spell-point systems will improve the nature of the game for a substantial number of people (see all the people who adopted spell-point systems for AD&D).*

I mean, there's a hell of a lot of evidence out there. It's pretty clear that a lot of people looking at AD&D had problems with the fire-and-forget magic system and wanted something more flexible.

The idea that this won't improve play for a significant swath of people is a non-starter. It might even mean you don't, you know, know the space (the cardnial sin of the game designer, in your world, yeah?)

2. Your heart being broken over D&D-genre games is no different than people saying that "those focused indie games suck." It's the same thing--and you can't see that because you're invested in one side of the line.

It's your right to be a condescending judge of other people's stuff ... but don't mistake it for something it isn't.

You claim you care about given designers "as a person" but you have no way of knowing if these people designing these games you don't like are actually hurt. Since you aren't responding to actual people's pain, it clearly It isn't about them. It's about you.**

If you need an example: go back and read your post to me--specifically read the section where you quoted TSOY and JAGS-2's comments before you knew I'd actually won an award (everything else we've submitted has, in fact, taken second in its category, something that I consider very personally satisfying).

I mean, maybe you were, you know, trying to help me out with those quotes? Open my eyes? Explain something to me? Show me how I could benefit from your Lj post?

Yeah? For real?

I suspect that it's probably not a good idea to have you linking to something like JAGS in Verge. I'm not sure why you'd want to anyway.

I'll save us all some heartbreak and advise you to find someone else's flavor text.

-Marco
* I'm aware we can find changes that, in fact, will not make anyone happier (like adding a meaningless rule to an appendix using text too small to read)--but I chose that example explicitly.

** Before you decide I'm wrong, take one more second to consider that your heart is breaking--you're in anguish--over someone who's having the time of their life and making a profit on their game!

You're upset--damaged--over someone who has great personal pride in their achievement.

All this because it doesn't meet your standard. That's not "caring about the subject" as a person. It's "caring about the subject" as an idea.
 Adam Drayadamdray on June 26th, 2006 05:37 pm (UTC)
Hey, Marco.

I don't think I'm inconsistent. "System Does Matter" does not mean that every system change is a good one for anyone. It means that a system change impacts play, for better or for worse. I have seen nothing to support your argument that any given change will improve play for some small group of people. To argue by absurdity, I could make a rule in D&D 3 that requires you to light yourself on fire to initiate an attack on a monster. Does system matter here? Yes, it will ruin play for everyone. Will this change improve play for anyone? I don't think any reasonable person will argue in the affirmative.

But I understand that's a straw man. You're not advocating lighting people on fire. We're talking about making incremental changes to games like D&D and publishing them as the next greatest thing. I agree that incremental changes have value. With fantasy heartbreakers, I'm talking about that golden nugget amidst the poorly executed mimicry. Generally, though, that incremental change isn't enough to support good game play. The fantasy heartbreakers I have read do not just copy D&D and change one thing. They tinker with all kinds of things, setting the whole thing out of balance, and thus present something inherently broken. Yeah, there's a good idea in there, but it's surrounded by brokenness.

I don't think you have the perspective -- or knowledge -- to determine what I care about. I'm not actually "in anguish." I think you realize that "you're breaking my heart" is literary device, not literal truth. It's disheartening, but not heart-rending, ya know? Also realize that, in almost every case, the fantasy heartbreaker designer has come to the public and asked for opinions and advice for their work. I am not just tossing out unsolicited criticism. They post their game, and sometimes preface it with how revolutionary it all is, then ask for comments. I tell them what is good about their game and offer advice for improving it. Sometimes I tell them why their games are not revolutionary.

I think it helps to understand how they got to the point that they think their derivative is so revolutionary so we can have real conversations with them. Why did they write a fantasy heartbreaker? No, there's really nothing wrong with it; if I implied there is, I overstepped a boundary and miscommunicated how I really feel. I've written a bunch myself. When I think back to those games, I wish that I had played and read more games first.

Why did I quote the JAGS-2 review? Because I've debated with you before and I haven't generally considered your debating style to be reasoned or good-intentioned. Do I hope to open your eyes? Not really. Was I trying to help you? Not at all.

I understand your reasons for withdrawing your sharing of the flavor text. It's damned cool writing, but I think we'll both be happier without the association.

If you want the last word, it's yours, barring personal attacks.
marcochacon on June 26th, 2006 06:28 pm (UTC)
Well, I'm glad you realized your argument was a strawman. It's too bad you don't get that I'm not actually advocating making "incremental changes to games like D&D and publishing them as the next greatest thing." I do have something to say on that count, though--so follow along:

The reason I find you inconsistent is that you don't really seem to know what the term Fantasy Heartbreaker actually means.

1. See, Ron's article doesn't call these games bad. Alas, he doesn't even call them broken. I mean, let's look--but he doesn't proclaim that they suck. No, unlike you, he actually has affection for the work and design that went into them.

You, though, you've got Ron's torch and you want to run some games you don't like into a windmill and burn them with it. I mean, who cares what Ron said or meant--you've got license to dump on someone's game.

Bully for you.*

2. No, what really gets your motor started (apparently) is the game designer's pride in their work. This guy does his game and says "Best Game Evar. Revolutionary!"

And you, you're not gonna let that stand. Gotta take him down a peg, right? This guy's a philistine of game-design. A tourist. Let's show him.**

Bully for you.

3. So why did you quote JAGS-2 text at me? I suspect you can't really answer that one--but if you scroll up, you'll see your pattern. Let's see: here's this dude on your Lj claimin' he won some kind of award? Yeah? That must mean he thinks his game (a kind of game that's not your thing) is actually some kind of good. And you're not gonna let that stand. Are you?

Bully for you.

-Marco
* And for the record, your behavior in this post is exactly what I objected to with Ron's article. I knew it'd be used as ammunition to bash games by people who liked the condescending implications of the term but didn't have any actual understadning of or affection for the games. Bravo.

** I mean, we've established FH's aren't necessiarily broken. The guy might be making money (you'll even allow that!). They might love what they've done and hundreds of people might play it happily. You've still got some Pat Benetar to sing at them.
 Adam Drayadamdray on June 26th, 2006 07:46 pm (UTC)
Did you really want to know why I quoted it in #3 or was that a rhetorical question?
 Adam Dray: tankchessadamdray on June 24th, 2006 01:31 am (UTC)
part 2
SCENARIO 2. Someone is presented with two systems: one is AD&D, one of the best-selling games of all time (in your target demographic, too, even if you belive Verge is gonna be the main-stream breakout game people have been looking for).

The other system is similar to D&D but has a spell-point magic system that doesn't cripple low-level mages who've cast their spells.

It is clear that the experience of play is going to be similar in either case.

Since System Does Matter, we will find that for some percentage of the popultion that'll play the game (which, um, is most role-players historically) they will get a better experince out of the second (maybe more will enjoy the first--I don't know--but I do know that a substantial number of people will get better results from the second).


You're making some big assumptions. You're assuming that Game X's changes to the D&D game improve play for anyone. I don't believe that a substantial number of people play most of the fantasy heartbreakers I see on the Forge. I suspect they're played only by the author and a few of his friends.



So: yes--designing different rule-sets that do things in a similar but different way to existing rule-sets is exactly the kind of evolutionary improvement that I want to see as a gamer.

Revolution is good--but it isn't all there is and it isn't always appropriate. And there's no reason to go dumping on people who aren't part of your revolution.


I'm not advocating complete revolution. There are many fine games that improved the design of just a few things. They borrowed a little here and there and put the pieces back together in a new and interesting and playable way. That's great!

I don't think that most people set out to create a game that is almost as good as D&D but not quite, and with a spell point system; I think they want to blow D&D out of the water, and their game doesn't because they don't understand how the pieces they removed fit into the original. Thus, their game turns out to be a Frankenstein's monster of a sort, or -- less dramatically -- just not a very fun game.

I don't think I'm dumping on people either. I'm warning them that if they don't get a broader design perspective, that they're gonna produce something pretty derivative, and they'll look silly when they tell people that their game is "completely unlike any RPG ever published!!"
unquietsoul5unquietsoul5 on June 28th, 2006 06:05 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately the roleplaying industry, in many ways, resembles the computer industry on many levels. Sufficiently new innovation always faces an extreme uphill battle to have a chance to survive, while tinkering with available systems or variations from them have a greater survival rate and chance for visibility and potential growth into a share of the market/folks playing it.

One thing I've noticed lately is an attempt to keep new games from being seen/played. If gamestores or local conventions are the only way you can get visibility and those same stores or conventions only want folks to demo/one-shot or run campaigns based on the 'standard' products that they sell, then your game is very unlikely ever to see the light of day.

The logic of the store is "We know what sells, we don't want to risk our golden goose by letting someone else have a chance of taking over. Especially if whatever it is can only be gotten over the internet as a low cost PDF or a (Shudder) free game." The same can happen with conventions "We want Big name companies to continue come to our convention, if we let in games without a big company behind them then they'll stop coming to our convention. Their games bring in their fans which feeds our coffers. Your (Any indie publisher name inserted here) has no track record and may cost us attendence. We're better off just sticking with these top 3.

This, of course, stifles creativity. It gets folks instead to use the same old same old with variations rather than have no game at all.

Heck, Recently I've even seen this effect in some places when offering to run a Game of a published setting with a different mechanic. There's a 'branding effect' that many retailers have been specifically educated about in business school about that tells them such mixing and matching is wrong and will 'muddy their sales figures'. You can't have Armani Jackets and Calvin Klein Pants and a Martha Stewart Shirt. You can only have Armani with Armani. In the same way you can't have Call of Cthuhlu general setting with the rules from WOD Mage or FUDGE and use a GURPS Napolionic Era Source Book to flesh out details of the time period.

And thus the tinkerers an heartbreakers are more likely to be seen. "D20 with Spellpoints" is a lot easier to get gaming space for than something new or which 'violates' the branding rules of retail business.