Bryan and I had the opportunity to lunch together this week. Don’t you just love it when people use “lunch” as a verb? In any case, our conversation inevitably turned to game design, and I continued my “why are games so damn long” rant for the benefit of Bryan, our waitress, and all the fortunate souls at the tables around us.
Then I said something that might be useful. I had an idea I thought novel at the time (Bryan has since unearthed an RPG that makes use of my “original” idea). However, I think it bears exploration… and rather than share it verbatim, I want to share it with you in the spirit it was conceived.
So, here’s the only background you need. You’re at the gaming store, and see a box for the new game “Pedants and Postings.” The box states that it is a game based on the fast-paced world of blogging, and that players will take on the role of co-editors as they develop a site and try to build it’s following. Weirdly enough, this interests you, and you buy the game.
Opening it, you find a small handful of oddly-shaped dice, along with three volumes that look like magazines. The first is short, about 16 pages, and helpfully labelled “Read This First!” in a font right out of 1982. The others are larger than the first, but no more than 64 pages. You pick up the first book, and this is what you begin to read…
Pedants and Postings: The First Two Pages
Four friends have gathered to play ‘Pedants and Postings,’ the exciting roleplaying game where players design a ‘blogger’ character all their own, and guide her through the risks and rewards of modern pedantry. You’ll use dice and the skills you describe for your blogger to help them write posts, tweets, and comments on other people’s blogs, learn the exciting world of DNS and web hosting, and build graphics and a unique brand for their site. This road is fraught with peril, and some will not survive–but those who presevere, work as a team, develop their skills, and remember to live a normal life outside of blogging will grow their blogosphere reputation, and a lucky few may live to see their blog go A-List.
Greg has bought the game and read all the game materials–this book you’re reading now, and the next one titled “Game Rules.” Although he has played other roleplaying games before and likes developing his own stories for his players, his friend Charlie is new to such games, so Greg has opted to use the “Geeks to Glory” book included in this box to provide Charlie with an easier introductory blogging adventure. Greg will be playing a unique role in this game called the Webmaster. Greg’s other friends, Chase and Bryan, have played roleplaying games before, and using the ‘Pedants and Postings’ PDFs (available for purchase on our website) and free character sheets, they’ve come prepared with characters. Charlie still has to make one.
Greg: Hey guys, thanks for coming tonight! Charlie, I’m glad you could make it–I think you’ll enjoy roleplaying games, and ‘Pedants and Postings’ will be a good introduction for you. We’ll try to take it easy on you! Tonight, we’re going to be playing the adventure that comes in the box. It’s called ‘Geeks to Glory,’ and features novice bloggers who are trying to make a name for themselves. Chase and Bryan, you’ve already worked on characters, right?
Chase: Yup. I’m going to be playing Grimlord, a programmer in real life who has decided to blog because he feels trapped in his job and wants an escape. He is a computer programmer who is good at analyzing data, but he also has good creative writing skills.
Greg: Cool. By the way, the setting for this game is going to be very much like the real world. “Grimlord” is a fine handle for your character’s web identity, but you’ll need a… um, ‘normal’ name for your character, too. Bryan, who are you going to play?
Bryan: I’ll be playing Dylan Briar, a person who is harboring a real-life secret that is eating him up inside, and hopes blogging provides a chance for this part of his personality to come out in the safe and nurturing environment of reader discussions.
Greg: Got it. Do you know what Dylan’s secret is already? (Bryan nods). OK, well, unless your secret has something to do with tonights adventure–and I hope it doesn’t, because I hope you haven’t read it yet!–it would help all the rest of us tell a better story if we know what the secret is.
Charlie: Wait… won’t it be more fun if we discover the secret as we play?
Greg: The fun comes from observing how the secret gets out. Think of actors in a movie–they’ve all read the script and know where it’s going, so it isn’t a surprise when they find out that the butler did it. This is similar; even though you as a player don’t know the story, you as a player do know things that your character probably doesn’t.
Bryan: OK, Dylan’s secret is that he’s dreaming of moving to California to get into acting. He doesn’t want to tell his friends, family, or employer, because he truthfully doesn’t believe he can make it, and he thinks everyone will laugh at him.
Chase: I’m glad you said that, because I thought you were implying that he was gay. Which I would have totally played up in the story. By the way, my character’s real name is Jason Chole.
Charlie: OK. I think I get it. So Bryan, we know your character has a secret, but what does he do?
Bryan: Oh, I hadn’t thought about that. Since Chase has the “programmer” side covered, I think I’m going to take some design skills, and focus my writing on creative process. And for my backstory, I need to take some element that lends itself to a theatrical character.
Charlie: I don’t get it… how will theatrical abilities help us in a game about blogging?
Bryan: I don’t know. But it is authentic to my character, and finding ways to make my character more like I’m imagining him will open up more options in the game that just going with skills to help me blog.
Charlie: So, if I wanted to make a character who was a minister “in real life,” I might take some religious aspect or skill, even if it doesn’t necessarily help the core direction of the game?
Greg: Exactly. Think about a “core direction” of the game being creating a character who seems real and believable, rather than a robot who is good at exploiting the mechanics of the game. The former allows us to tell us a story that is fun to explore. If we want to do the latter, the story becomes something that gets in the way of how we play the game, and we should just play Risk or something. But tell me more about this minister.
Charlie: It sounds like both Bryan and Chase have demons…
Greg: Hold up… you mean to say “Dylan” and “Jason.”
Charlie: Right. Dylan and Jason both have something in their personal life that they’re trying to hide or get away from. I think my character… um, Rev. Wally Cite, is hiding the blog from his real life.
Bryan: That’s perfect–Chase and I talked, and thought it would be great if the blog our characters are creating was about roleplaying games–which sounds like it would fit both the ‘Geeks to Glory’ adventure and be something Wally would want to hide from his parishioners.
Greg: That will work very well. Charlie, what kinds of skills will the reverend have?
My Own Pedantry
Not to toot my own horn, but isn’t this simultaneously more helpful and more fun to read than a “What is a roleplaying game?” section? Imagine this continuing for another dozen or so pages (with graphics), which actually give dialogue about creating a character, and then an example of play.
Imagine further that those examples of play use real mechanics, even complicated ones.
Most of us learn by doing or observing better than reading rules and process. And many RPG books get “too damn long” by including isolated examples. An “example book” such as this serves the function of giving an organic introduction to the flavor and rules of the game, taking inline examples out of the book (they might be replaced with references to the “Read This First” book), and gives a far less intimidating introduction to RPGs for newbies.
Bryan has already found one game that does this, and I’m sure there are others. I’d love to hear more about them. I’d also like to hear from those of you who want rules and process before story and example, and where you see the benefits of that. Tell us about this and more in the comments!