20 April, 2017

First thoughts on the "200 words" entries.

Maybe it's easier and quicker to explain something if the existing audience has a common point of reference. I've talked about this a few times over the years. Shorthands and stereotypes instantly convey a wealth of information as a direct data packet between the communicator and the recipient of the message. Once those are out of the way, the real storytelling (or new data flow) can be started.

I base a lot of my games on that strategy. Characters are often made up from template fragments, where choosing the naturally fitting components leaves a player with a stereotype or caricature, while choosing disparate components gives a memorable and different character (but one with internal struggles that cause problems of their own). But that's playing within the rules.

Playing with the rules is something different. I consider hacks to be lazy game design, they basically shorthand something that players and GMs are already familiar with, then apply something quirky or novel and call it an innovation. People who are similarly lazy look at these games (which are awfully similar to what they're already playing...so they don't have to do a lot of reading or thinking for themselves) and see the quirkiness/novelty/innovation as something amazing. They crow about it on social media, and the "designer" is lauded with maximum praise for minimum effort.

200 words isn't a lot of room. To get a complex game happening in that space doesn't require shorthands, references to other games, or simple hacking another game wholesale...but it sure makes things easier.

There seem to be a few ideas that are appearing in a LOT of the games I've been looking at among this year's entries. Whether it's tapping the zeitgeist, using shorthands that have become common in recent years, or laziness on the part of designers... I haven't decided.

Some of the trends I've spotted:

  • Divide 7 points between two attributes. Everything in the game is about those two attributes. If you can't fit your action into one of those actions either: a) it doesn't work at all, b) it automatically happens, c) you need to talk it out and work it into tthe narrative, d) there's a 50-50 chance of success.
  • Divide more points (maybe 10) between three attributes, the rest pf the first point basically still applies.
  • Roll under attribute. Typically combined with one of the two options above.
  • Roll a pool of dice. Typically the number of dice rolled is determined as per the first two options above.
  • Do "Apocalypse World" stuff. Roll 2 dice. Shoehorn one of the four standard modifiers onto the roll. If you roll below a certain threshold, you fail pretty badly. If you roll above a cetain threshold, you generally succeed. If you fall between these, something interesting happens. 
  • 200 words set a scene... no rules... just go. 

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