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Game Design Basics (part1)

2004 - Randal Snyder

Here are a couple things that I believe should be followed when creating an RPG. These are some things I've done with my own game system and would reuse in any game system I create.

Combat Rounds - Keeping things simple is key. If you are playing a very vague type of game you can use larger combat round values, but then you need to make combat more deadly since your characters have more time to do the killing. Your values should all be based on the same multiplier. In my case I chose 10. One combat round is 6 seconds which nicely converts to 10 rounds per minute, and 100 rounds per hour. Whatever multiplier you use, keep it based on real world values.

Combat Actions - Once you have the length of your combat round, you need to decide what your characters can do in each round. The smaller your combat round, the less you can do. Movement, attacks, spell casting, and so on all need to follow the same time rules. Again, base things on real world examples.

    - A typical person can walk two steps per second. Each step is roughly 3 feet or one meter. This isn't a leisurely stroll, but rather an up-beat walk with a purpose.

    - The world record for running the 50 meter was made in the 1996 Olympics by Donovan Bailey and was measured at nearly 8.99 meters per second or 9.75 yards/second.

    - Any time someone performs multiple actions at the same time, their ability in each task is diminished. A simple experiment can prove this. Use a yard stick and have someone hold the stick while another tries to catch it. Write down how far the yard stick fell. Now have the catcher count from 1 to 100. Then do it again counting backwards from 100. You will see that the yard stick falls further as the catcher's attention is diverted. How this impacts your game depends on how many separate actions a character can take in one combat round.

    - The longer your combat round, the more things your characters should be able to do. According to some statistic (I heard on Real TV so who knows if its true), a modern gunfight lasts about 5 seconds before either someone is dead, incapacitated, or runs away. From my experience in the SCA, a sword battle would last no more than 30 seconds, and usually includes several phases of engagement and disengagement. Thus if your combat round is 30 seconds, a character should be knocked out of combat after one round. This doesn't count the role-play and strategies that take place before a character commits to attacking. This also means that in a 30 second round, your character can comfortably walk 60 yards or run up to 270 yards (assuming they were Olympians).

Detail - The more vague your game system, the harder it is for players and GMs to explain a real world types of effects. This also tends to force the player to rely on the GM to illustrate how effective any action they take is, thus the "I attack" mentality is fostered. On the other hand, too much detail will slow down play and turn a 30 second combat into three hours of real time. Finding that comfortable point that fits the style of play you are looking for is the key. As a rule of thumb, one combat round should not take more than five minutes of real time.

Survivability - This is one of the key differences between cinematic games and simulation (aka realistic) games. In a cinematic game, your character will survive trauma that would easily kill a real person. Alternately, the simulation type games tend to replace characters quite frequently since combat is very deadly. The question you need to ask yourself as a game designer is "how unrealistic am I willing to go?" At that point, its the designer's job to make it work as expected.

Character Creation - Character creation should be scaled to the Survivability. If you have a very deadly/realistic game, your characters should be very simple. After all, who wants to spend an hour writing up a character that will likely die in his first fight? Cinematic games have more leeway, but should not be complicated for the sake of complexity. Simpler = Easier = Faster = Better for most situations.

Player Goals - There has to be some way the character improves and the player should have as much say in how the character improves as possible. If you have a very low advancement ceiling, in that you have very few steps to the "maximum" abilities, you take away the long term goals that the player may have. Alternately, if your "maximum" is too high, your players will become bored since it will seem to take too long to become "powerful". Finding a balance is the key.

I may have some other tips later, but that's all I have time for this morning.

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