Randomized Game Design – Game One Part One

So now that we’ve covered the basics and the mechanics of randomizing a tabletop roleplaying game’s design, let’s get on with an actual example.

Using the rolling technique as described in this post, I came up with the below elements. Each element is listed with its prioritization, and then I detail a bit about how and what I deciphered.

Engagement

Bear in mind the below rolls were just to serve as a surprise, a guide, and a launch point for me. They’re meant to inspire and give me some ideas, not define every detail of how the game works. Engagement is very important to the nature and “feel” of the game.

  1. Sensation: High
  2. Fantasy: Low
  3. Narrative: Mid
  4. Challenge: High
  5. Fellowship: Mid
  6. Discovery: Low
  7. Expression: Mid
  8. Submission: Low

Starting off we can immediately see the core engagement themes of the game are Sensation and Challenge. Right away, we’re confronted with a type of game that I’m wholly unfamiliar and uncomfortable with making (if I were to design a game by choice, I’d make both of those elements a low priority).

I’m going to interpret a high Sensation focus as meaning the game’s narrative and actions are keenly tied into the characters’ senses. In other words, their physical (or metaphysical) senses will be very important to the gameplay and to the story that they make together.

A high amount of Challenge means that the system should reward system mastery, it should reward the players for figuring out challenges and obstacles in game. Closer to something in which the game is antagonistic toward the players, and they’re going to have to try to figure out, or suffer narrative (or even player) consequences.

My immediate thought is that the character(s) have to rely on their senses and work their way out of some highly dangerous predicament. People trapped in a black cave. A robot coming to life with no knowledge of its sensors. Let’s see what else we pulled together.

Authorities

Let’s see how we balance the authority and the control of the fiction in this highly sensory, highly challenging game.

  1. Spotlight: Shared between GM and players
  2. Rules:  GM controlled
  3. Character Control: GM controlled (Huh?!)
  4. Fiction: Shared by both
  5. Scenes: Player controlled
  6. NPCs: Controlled by both

The single most aberrant thing we see here is that the character control is supposed to be wholly within the domain of the GM. Now, you might be thinking, “Aha, Ben’s idea is breaking! Certainly he’ll re-roll or something…” But, nope. Let’s make it work. So, how would that work?

The way that I an interpreting this is that there is one “player character” and many “Game Masters.” This isn’t that dissimilar from games like Everyone is John, however in this game I’m imagining that these roles are permanent. One player, the traditional “GM,” would get to control the one player character. Every other player at the table gets to be some kind of GM role.

Players also control the scene cadence, which reinforces the notion that there are multiple players (who are acting like traditional GMs) and one player who gets to control pretty much everything else about their character.

We’ll interpret more later, let’s figure out this game’s complexity.

Complexity

Remember, the game’s complexity is how much mental attention and effort is required. Let’s take a look:

  1. Setting or Situation: High
  2. Character Stats: Low
  3. Relationships: High
  4. Long play: Low
  5. Novelty: Mid
  6. Participants: High

Okay, so we have an immediately challenging or complex situation (this reinforces the theme of some amnesiac waking up in a black cave or something), favoring a large number of players and few number of sessions. This is starting to develop as a party game in my mind, something which allows for a randomly high amount of people to just pop in and play.

Making Sense of Things

In summary, we’ve got a game that’s meant to be short, allows for a high number of players, has a single main protagonist controlled by one player while the other players describe the environment and the challenges. It can’t be too weird or novel, and it can’t be too complicated on the character front.

So, what kind of monstrosity must we forge?

My first thought is that there is a single, primary character, who has to navigate their way out of a terribly dangerous and hideous situation. They’ll need to hone in on their senses, and through that attention to detail they can overcome the considerable challenge. Without such attention, they’ll fail.

A group of other players are there to challenge the primary character. Fiasco and Everyone is John are immediate and obvious sources of inspiration, however I think this is a uniquely distinct feel. Expanding further, I think that each of the players – the scene describers – would actually only be able to describe things in one, specific sense.

For example, you’d have one player who could describe things by Sight, one by Sound, one by Touch, and so forth. Perhaps players would take turns, or there would be some element of internal competition (again, a la EiJ.)

I think we’ve come up with a pretty cool and unique concept. That’s the easy part, now we’ve gotta figure out how to make the thing, and what the gameplay will reinforce it.

I’ll start with the preliminary mechanics in the next post. Stay tuned.