Designers, Players, and Ignored Rules

Games come alive in play. Designers can write anything they like in rulebooks, but it’s GM’s and players who actually implement it, who actually play the game, and who actually decide what the game is.

Designers have little control over how the game is actually played.

There’s the example of Gary Gygax, designer of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. He made a lot of rules, rules he pretty much followed, but many of which were ignored by the player base. The real game, as it existed “in the wild” differed from the Platonic ideal (as it existed in Gygax’s gaming sessions and Gygax’s mind as the designer).

Use evinces utility. If people use a rule, it’s because it’s useful. (Or how they implement it is useful.) If they don’t use a rule, the rule isn’t useful. (Or they don’t understand the rule, because the designer didn’t describe it clearly.) Players and GM’s determine whether a rule is used, and hence what the game is actually like in play.

This means game designers cannot predict or dictate the game’s gestalt. The gestalt of the game is how it operates as a whole. The feel, or the mood and experience of playing the game emerges from its gestalt. The gestalt of Call of Cthulhu is different than Savage Worlds, which is different than Shadowrun or AD&D. More, the gestalt of any given game varies from group to group.

The label “Old School Renaissance” is all about the gestalt of the game. “Yes, playing Adventurer, Conqueror, King is strongly reminiscent of how we played OD&D/AD&D/RC back in the day.”

OSR games are knowingly designed to produce a gestalt which resembles that of vintage editions of D&D. The designers have some influence, but cannot absolutely dictate, what their game’s gestalt is.

Here’s the upshot: Game designers are at the mercy of GM’s and players. They determine how your game is going to be played.

This is a good thing. You shouldn’t try to dictate to players and GM’s. To the contrary, you should try to understand what people find valuable and fun about your game (or RPG’s as a whole), and enhance those aspects.

Rules falls by the wayside. This is inevitable. Rather than raging against it, accept it and use it. Find out which rules are disused, determine why, and either get rid of the rule (streamlining your game) or alter it so it’s useful.

As a game designer, you are not the master. You are the servant. Suck it up, accept your role in the universe, and help your players and GM’s. Do it well enough, and you might actually be able to make a living at this.

A Simple Point About RPG’s

RPG’s are a Protean medium: anything you can imagine is possible. (Limited only by setting and game mechanics.)

Gamemasters often want their RPG’s to be as thrilling as movies or books, so they create a story: a sequence of events.

These rarely, rarely work. Players usually feel railroaded.

Instead of a sequence of events players must play through, GM’s should create opposition and obstacles, than allow the players to overcome them as they see fit.

Players make their own choices, forging their own stories.

The element of (near) total choice is unique to RPG’s, and by structuring adventures this way, gamemasters can best take advantage of the Protean nature of the medium.

Wake Up and Smell the New Millenium

Publishers, if your magazines, newspapers, and novels aren’t available in electronic versions, you’re behind the times and losing sales.

Publishers, if you’re not jazzing up your ebooks with cool features — embedded book trailers, 3d maps of your fantasy world, an interview or podcast with the author — you’re wasting the strengths of a new medium.

Publishers, if you’re pricing your ebooks to protect hardback sales, you’re fools. Price ebooks to move, and watch sales soar. Then, include free ebooks with every hardback and paperback, and watch those sales soar.

Wake up and smell the new millenium, publishers.

Profundity and Pretension

The Walking Dead is pretentious,” I declared. And so it is.

Or, at least, it was. Because Sunday night’s episode, “Clear”, is one of the least pretentious episodes of the series yet.

It has all the familiar aspects — a focus on emoting and characters talking and talking — but all were in service to a very simple and basic concept. Here is a man, the episode said, and here is the tragedy that befell him. Here is the result.

It was about two men, men whose journey was somewhat parallell, and how they took similar paths. And seeing what happened to the other, how one could bend his path away from that same grim destination.

That’s human, and actually, honestly, truly profound. By eschewing Big and Important and embracing small and honest, the series made the leap from pretentious to profound.

Snack Food Nirvana: Making the Perfect Nachos

Here is the immutable, eternal truth about nachos: they are a cheese delivery system. In an ideal world, each nacho chip would be bathed in cheese, all the better to enjoy nacho-y goodness.

With pre-melted, processed cheese, like Velveeta, it’s pretty easy. Melt the stuff, leave it sitting gooey in the bowl. But nacho purists like myself know that any block of cheese with no discernable curd is innately inferior, in taste and texture, to the real thing.

But nachos are served in a pile, on a plate, and covering each individual chip in that pile is very difficult.

The basic method: Grate the cheese and layer it on top. Microwave 30-45 seconds.

Problem: This makes some great nachos, but ensures that the bottom layers have no cheese.

The advanced method (e.g. layers): Lay down a base of nachos, sprinkle some grated cheese, lay down another nacho layer, spread some more cheese.

Problem: Layers melt at different rates. Microwave it long enough for the top layer to be melted, the inner layer is just chunks of cheese. Microwave it long enough for the inner layer of cheese to melt, and the outer layer bubbles and hardens into a tasteless crust.

(Baking can ameliorate this somewhat, but requires more time and more equipment than a simple plate and microwave. Not a preferable solution.)

The Solution: Get a grater with fine and coarse (small and large) holes. Grate a pile of finely grated cheese and coarsely grated cheese.

Lay down a bed of nacho chip. Sprinkle the finely grated cheese. Lay down another layer of chips. Sprinkle the coarsely grated cheese. Microwave 30-45 seconds.

Why This Works: Finely grated cheese is smaller than coarsely grated cheese, and microwaves faster. But buried underneath the layers of chips, it microwaves slower — roughly as long as coarsely grated cheese.

When layered, the two melt at about the same time, producing a pile of nachos with cheese throughout. Nearly every chip is covered in cheese, and you have achieved snack food nirvana.