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On the fly

The three warriors decide to take the enemy head-on, they are outnumbered five to one but they are convinced they can take it. For some reason they don’t see that their basic weapons have no possible chance of doing sufficient damage to their heavily armored opponents. If they stand their ground here, they will die.

In a pen and paper RPG the players have a character sheet that describes their characters’ strong and weak points plus a description of his/her personality. One of the players is appointed gamemaster, which basically means that player comes up with the story and controls everything except for the player characters. This does not mean the gamemaster has complete control over what happens. Things like social manipulation, combat, feats of strength etc. all have a certain combination of statistics associated to them. Die rolls are required to see if a players succeed in their actions. This is also true for any NPC’s actions.

Creating a campaign for a pen and paper RPG is like level design with on the fly tweaking. The gamemaster tries to come up with a story and situations that will be interesting to be played with the characters in his player group. Also he will try to come up with situations that will appeal to his players, the players are after all his target audience. The better you know your players the better you can predict what they will like. Since the gamemaster will always be present when the game is being played, he will always know the results of a session and be able to tweak the next session with those results in mind. Feedback is almost immediate and changes can be made at any point during the game. Of course the preparation of a game session takes some time, but most of what will happen during the actual game is made up right there. If an encounter goes horribly wrong and players stand their ground while they should be running for their lives, a gamemaster can manipulate the outcome to better fit the current situation.

If the players die because they misinterpreted the situation, everyone will be disappointed. Since there are no continues to be used the player characters will be gone and all the character development with them. At this point in a pen and paper RPG a good gamemaster will give subtle in-game hints or in some cases even subtly change elements of the encounter. The situation can for example be altered by reinforcements that suddenly appear to help the players or the enemy soldiers can suddenly start infighting over some internal conflict. When done right the players won’t even find out that the predetermined situation has been altered. In computer games this kind of on the fly tweaking is impossible. Everything that can happen has to be designed and developed in advance, which makes planning and testing essential.

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