22 December, 2012

Rule Bloat (or lack thereof)


One of the biggest problems I have when writing a game is "rule bloat". I start with something simple and elegant, something that works really well in the specific situation for which it was designed, then I tweak it to make it suitable for a wider variety of situations. The rule becomes more functional in my mind, but trying to describe the new nuances in the rule takes three times as long.

It's one of the things that has been stumping me on the revision of Walkabout, and it's anathema to the concept of writing a pocketmod game.

I've been looking at a few other tight game lately to see how other designers handle this problem. Edge of Space from Chubby Monster games, streamlines actions into a simple or opposed dice rolls, but it really sacrifices the explanation of how these dice results affect play. If you know the paradigm of traditional roleplaying games, then it's not hard to fill in the gaps...but how much work would it be for a non-gamer to detail the missing elements. Would they simply think the game is incomplete? I actually do get this idea from the product, as it's confusing to determine the alien encounters as they are just given a string of numbers and vague abilities (I assume you roll a number of dice equivalent to the bug's power level, and the results given you a random bug with the abilities described, where multiples of the same ability function like like skill levels among the player characters). Nice simple game, shoe-horned into the pocketmod format...I don't know if I could do better, but I think it's possible.

End of the world is another pocketmod game, this time modelled off the current indie-darling "Apocalypse World". Again, a simple elegant system (also based on 2d6 + modifiers), it gives the absolute basics of the "*-world" games, tying the mechanisms of play into the story with Trouble might incur when successful and Fallout you can suffer with failed rolls. It includes enough hints of setting to give you some places to go with the narrative and some solid character ideas. Again I feel I had to read between the lines a bit to understand how certain elements were resolved within the game For example, you can only apply a single skill to an action resolution, and it seems you can apply items to the resolution as well, but there are a few fragments of rule ideas scattered through the text that seem a bit contradictory.

Pick three backgrounds, deciding how they
define your past and personality. For each
Skill, + adds 1 (max +3) and – removes
1 (min -2). You can choose the same
background twice. 

How do you get to +3 if you can only pick it twice? Why split between the words "skill" and "background" in the middle of a single rule description.

Knowing a bit about the "*-world" games, I can intuit where this is meant to go, but six months ago this would have frustrated the hell out of me.

It's clear that to get a game working in the pocketmod format of eight tiny pages you need to make some sacrifices. I'll be trying my hand at a strict pocketmod game soon. I wonder if I'll fall into the same trap of too many shortcuts and too many leaps needed by prospective players and GMs.

Don't get me wrong, both games have some great ideas (such as the implementation of relationship strings in Edge of Space, and the notion of trade for experience in End of the World), both of these ideas alone would be worth a dollar (and probably more if they were fleshed out a bit more).
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