Hello and welcome to “Di’s 7 Swords of TRPG Design,” a highly egotistic [proclamation] on Tabletop RPG design and gamemastery. What I mean by this is that I plan to declare my views and opinions on what I believe makes a good game — be it from the design angle or the gamemastery at the point of play. The two are intimately linked: the rules influence how the game master (GM) acts, while the GM always has the power to completely alter or abolish the rules outright.
The stances I take here will not apply to everything. They do not represent what necessarily makes a good game. Using all of them will not make a game automatically good, and many fantastic games exist and will exist without ever using a single one of these. These statements are meant to declare what I believe to make good games (both in design and play) and to challenge myself on my ability to defend these stances. If you agree on any of these, then thank you for taking the time to read my take on them. If you disagree with them, thank you for taking the time to read on them, feel free to comment and, hopefully, we can argue about them until the morning.
Also, because I’m using the whole “Swords” shtick, I’m likely going to randomly sound pompous and stuck up at times (I don’t know, I haven’t written all of these yet). This might come off as unnecessary, but I aim to capture my thoughts as closely to their essence and inspiration as possible. Sorry for that in advance.
Table of Contents
The 1st. Resolution Mechanics Must be Fast
The 2nd. Endless Depth in Customization
The 3rd. True Strength Lies in Simplicity
The 4th. Dissociated Mechanics are Fine; Fiction is Cheap
The 5th. Agency is an Illusion; Slay It or Play to It
The 6th. Chase the Consequences to their Limit
The 7th. The GM is a God to be Slain.
Note: This list will be updated with links to the articles as they come up.
Why the Sword Metaphor?
A while ago, I was asked by a friend as to what I believe in when it came to tabletops. They had written pieces of their own manifesto — their own statement of what they believed to be good game design. While I had many ideas and beliefs, I had never penned any of them down. It was like being a blacksmith with the steel and dreaming what to make of it but never giving them true form and shape.
I had a very clear image in my head when I went to the Sword metaphor. I imagined a personal armory with Swords lined up and mounted on the wall. Each had a history to them and each was treasured—be it from their use on the battlefield, or by what they represented. Each was sharpened, honed at a smithy until they were as strong as they reasonably could be.
Swords, from what limited knowledge of weaponry I have, are ultimately defensive weapons (aside from using greatswords as clubs with the mordhau). Their cutting power is completely stopped by armor unless you aim directly for weak, unarmored points. They’re most powerful only in fantasy, where adventurers can swing them with enough power to cleave through platemail and dragonscale alike.
The Swords I’m laying out here are similar in that they only have real power in the fantasyscape of Tabletop RPGs. They’re only as powerful as you’re capable of defending yourself with them, and often unrealistically revered compared to every other weapon available. They are treasured, less for what they are or what they do, but for what they represent. I could find no better parallel to the sort of statements I’m planning to make.
An Introduction to the Concepts
‡ The 1st: Resolution Mechanics Must be Fast
When conflict rears its head and the players decide to solve it by rolling the dice, there must be as minimal of a time to the resolution as reasonably possible.
‡ The 2nd: Endless Depth in Customization
A player should be capable of creating as endless a number of mechanically diverse characters as the player can create campaigns.
‡ The 3rd: True Strength Lies in Simplicity
The game will always find ways to make a situation more complex and complicated for every factor involved. If you don’t build for simple and clear resolution, games will slow down to a crawl.
‡ The 4th: Dissociated Mechanics are Fine; Fiction is Cheap
Mechanics and information being non-related to in-world events and interactions are fine. It’s extremely easy to write in an in-world explanation for them. D&D 4e was fine, fight me.
‡ The 5th: Agency is an Illusion; Slay It or Play to It
Player Agency, in this current landscape of online tabletops, doesn’t exist as powerfully due to the abundance of plot armor. Either slay the illusion and give your players true agency, or ham it up for the drama and story.
‡ The 6th: Chase the Consequences to their Limit
Player Agency is only as free in the world as its ability to chase the player’s choices with honest and straightforward consequences.
‡ The 7th: The GM is a God to be Slain
As the GM you will lose almost every encounter, every fight, every conflict you come at the players with. That is the very nature of the role. But by damned if you can’t put on one hell of a show.
If you happen to have any comments, agreements, or arguments to anything I have to say, feel free to lay it on me in the comment section down below. Alternatively, you can hit me up at my Twitter (@DiceQueenDi).
I want to be able to defend my opinions. If anything else, I’d like to also hear if anything I said resonates with you as well. Kind of as a confirmation I’m not some crazed wackadoodle just spewing bad opinions into the internet?
I hope you find something here to use.
~Di, signing off
[The 1st Sword]: Resolution Mechanics Must be Fast –>