Randomized Game Design – Getting Started

So I had an unreasonably odd idea about creating a game using randomized elements. That, in and of itself, isn’t that unusual (Game Chef is one of many examples, which you should go and participate in if you’re not already). However, what is unusual, I think, is that I’ll be randomizing nearly the entirety of the game’s design goals and engagement structures.

Fortunately, illustrious game designer Jason Pitre created the RPG Design Overview Sheet, an incredibly helpful document that guides a potential designer through the questions and process of getting those initial design goals down on paper. This is what I’ll be using to steer my efforts. Sometimes, such simple guidance and codification is all you need to make a great game. And that’s exactly what I’m trying to prove.

The point behind randomizing the game’s design elements is that even I’ll be surprised by the outcome. I can’t “discover” the design goals of a game I’m already working on to illustrate a point. No, I’ve got to actually make a thing that reflects the stuff that I rolled.

The Randomized Elements

I encourage you to explore and use the Overview Sheet yourself, but I’ll cover the basics of what, exactly, I’ll be rolling for and what those pieces mean. Bear in mind that the overview sheet, and the listed definitions for each, are there only to serve as a launching point or for inspiration. In other words, hold onto their definitions very lightly, and feel free to let go wherever you need to (I certainly did).

Engagement

What kind of fun or engagement does the game try to create? What is the psychological or emotional or mental benefit that the players receive while playing the game? There are eight types of engagement as listed on Jason’s sheet:

  1. Sensation: game as sense pleasure
  2. Fantasy: game as make-believe or escapism
  3. Narrative: game as an unfolding story
  4. Challenge: game as an obstacle course
  5. Fellowship: game as a social exercise or framework
  6. Discovery: game as uncharted territory
  7. Expression: game as a soap box, or as philosophy
  8. Submission: game as low buy-in, low involvement

Authorities

Who gets to control the spotlight, who has authority to change the fiction, who makes decisions? There are six forms of authority:

  1. Who’s responsible for the spotlight?
  2. Who controls and arbitrates the rules?
  3. Who controls the player characters?
  4. Who determines the truth in the fiction?
  5. Who starts, frames, and concludes scenes?
  6. Who creates and portrays NPCs?

Complexity

What parts of the game require mental attention, effort, and learning? How many of the rules should cover this particular aspect of the game? Again, there are six items on the complexity list:

  1. Situation: the setting and the situation the characters find themselves in
  2. Character: the number of character stats and traits
  3. Relationships: the number of relationships tracked
  4. Length of play: the number of potential sessions in one “game”
  5. Novelty: new or unorthodox mechanics (or, how well experienced RPG players will be able to pick it up and play with little explanation)
  6. Participants: the number of players and/or characters

How it works

Using the three main structures and their subsequent elements as described above, I simply went down each list and rolled a d3 for every element. A three was a high value, two was average, and one was low. This value places either priority into that element, or assigns responsibility between the GM and player split.

For engagement, a low value meant that it wasn’t a priority to the game’s design or play, while a high value meant that it was the focus of the game.

For authority, a low value meant solely under the control of the GM, while a high value meant strictly in the grasp of the players.

For complexity, a low value meant that it was easy to master, while a high value meant that it was complex or difficult.

After I rolled for each of the 20 elements (eight from engagement, six each from authority and complexity), I figured out where the game’s priorities and focuses resided. After that, I’d have to sort of read the tea leaves and discern what the game was about, and what was important to its design.

In the next post, I’ll detail the specifics of my first attempt and the nebulous game concept that grew out of it.