PnP Game Design

I suppose in some ways this post will be obvious common sense.  That begs the question of why I should write about it at all, but I think it took me a while to really understand it myself, so maybe this will be useful to someone else as well.  As I described yesterday, I have the dual problems of wanting to play pen and paper games and a group that doesn’t precisely meet my needs for type of game. I’d love to play a more role-played, less combat-centered game, but my group wants to get loot and that moves you into the kill/loot/sell cycle.

A lot of people will tell you that if the group and GM aren’t in sync, or if there’s a player problem then you get rid of the player.  I’ve done this — in high school — but I can’t do it now.  My wives are two of my players; another is Girl’s husband, and still another is their daughter, my GoddessDaughter. I only have two choices: accomodate them, or not play.

I suspect that’s why I’ve been hesitant to game again.  The last time we gamed, playing D&D 4e was pretty awful — for me as a GM and for my players, as well.  It was even more about battles and the looting has become more like shopping, as you have a list of things the players want and you place them there to find when they kill the monster. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, and the combat really doesn’t support the attention span of my group.  Or keep me interested.

That’s when I realized I was going about it wrong.

I could adjust how the games played, because, ultimately, I’m in control of what sorts of challenges happen.  It could be any sort of thing, and I could modify it so that it fit the needs of my group, including myself.  That’s when it hit me: every Game Master, Storyteller and Dungeon Master out there is a Game Designer.

They’re a very lucky game designer, actually.  They actually know the players they are designing the game for. They can know exactly what they want, and provide it.  That, of course, got me to thinking about my players, and the frustrations that I had with the last game we played.

I’m not entirely sure who my player contingent will be, since I was asking for more players yesterday.  But for now, we’re talking about my wives Tam and Girl, Girl’s husband Moonwyrm and his girlfriend, and our Goddessdaughter.  Moonwyrm’s girlfriend, K, has a rotating schedule, so she won’t be there very often.  We have a couple of smokers, who take regular breaks — in 4e that often meant several breaks during a single combat.  And then there’s me, who doesn’t really like running combat much, and in crunchy systems like D&D not much at all.  But that’s what we’re stuck with, for now.

Limitations are the source of creativity, though, and these limitations sort of rumbled around in my head.  There’s a big difference form the assignment ‘make a game’ and ‘make a game about bean farming’ (to borrow Brenda Braithwaite’s example.  Even more specific is even better: “make a co-operative race game about bean farming.”  That’s so specific that now ideas are popping into my head, and I just made that up.  So I need to do that same thing with my gaming group.

I need something that can be done in easy chunks, where if someone isn’t there, they won’t be left behind.  I need something that’s not too complicated, and is rated no higher than PG-13, and probably with a G-rated plot, since we have a seven year old with us.  I need something with interesting character and story for me (and truthfully, my players like that too).  There have to be dungeons and loot.  Combats should be short, and we should be able to walk away at any point and come back with a slightly different group a n hour or week or more later and still know what is going on.

That rumbled around in my head, and as I was on vacation, playing Zelda on my DS, these ideas clashed together, and became Amaranth.  I’ll say more about that tomorrow.


  1. I pretty much gave up gaming for writing but I went through this a dozen times. Combat is my bane and most D&D games run like WoW these days.

    The last game I did run was based on rules from Atlas’s Over the Edge. I hate running combat too and those rules provided terribly easy rules that I enjoyed. The best part was that players created their own stats. For example, a werewolf had these stats

    Werewolf- 4 dice
    Secret Agent- 3 dice
    Charming guy- 2 Dice
    When you need a dice roll, you pick the skill that applies. Attacking someone with your claws fell under werewolf. Shooting a gun came under secret agent. Getting the Baroness to look the other way required Charming Guy.

    The fun came from watching players stretch to explain their abilities which I consider a plus. You want to pick a lock and you think your secret agent skill cover that? Ok.

    Combat was straight up you roll dice to attack and your foe rolls dice to defend. Damage is the difference multiplied by the weapon. HP eludes me right now but I bet I could rig something together lol.

    1. There’s a game called “Spirit of the Century” which is based on Pulp Adventure Novels (character creation partly involves saying what novels you were in 🙂 where all your attributes are terms the players pick. You can tap them for bad things or they can use them for good things (passing tokens around as ‘payment’). The more colorful the attribute, the more it can be stretched and used in game (and there’s a player benefit to having it be used against you.)

      I get the push/pull between gaming and writing. Add in programming and I get yanked three ways. I think that’s why I’ve had such long blank periods of publishing my writing, as I was off doing something else. Now I write about what I’m doing *laugh*.

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