June 25th, 2008

What I Want in RPGs III

(Here it is at last. :) )

Acknowledgment and acceptance of the fact RPGs take place on a world. Which means, given the size of a world and all the sheer volume of elements to be found therein, that fairness and game balance are impossible. Quite literally, impossible.

Consider a square mile. In this modern world with our ways of getting around we tend to underestimate how big territory can be. To get a real appreciation for how much area a square mile covers, walk it. Start by walking a mile. Then take a step one foot to one side and walk back the other way. Do this 5,280 times. Well before 5,280 miles it should strike you that this square mile you're traversing is big. For most of you this revelation should occur by the time you've gone 20 feet. A square mile is large.

The largest most medieval cities got was one square mile. Cities as large as 50,000 to 100,000 people. A square mile. An Earth sized world is something like 300 million square miles in area. Even at 25% land area that translates to a lot of territory to cover.

Now add in inhabitants. Animals, fungi, and plants on land. Add in algae in the water. Tons of organisms to interact with, all with different capabilities, aptitudes, and traits. Even within species and populations abilities can vary. It is possible to fake a semblance of balance, but that takes finagling, adjusting, and down right cheating. It is much more honest to accept the fact your character is going to be meeting people who outclass him, and to make plans accordingly. The operative term here is flexibility, a skill an enforced balance actively discourages. When you add in fairness, good play gets the shaft.

The typical RPG takes place in a setting that is just too big for balance and fairness to have any operative meaning. Too much going on and too many elements to consider. And all this in a dynamic system that changes day by day, even if you only keep track of what the players are doing.

It all comes down to an insistence that since RPGs are known as games, they have to be treated as games. Games in the popular sense, even though RPGs are not structured like traditional games, don't play like traditional games, and don't have the same goals as traditional games. The fact an RPG can be structured like, played like, and have the same sort of goals as a traditional game does not make them traditional games. But that's for the follow up series to this one.

Announcement: Yep, the focus here is changing to RPG advice for designer, publisher, and player. I'll be revising this and the other parts in this series and presenting it, along with additional material, in a series to be known as, RPG Advice For Designers, Publishers, and Players. You'll know it's started when you see the first entry. Series to be crossposted here and at Mythusmage Opines. So expect more from yours truly soon.
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On September 1, I will begin taking submissions for RPG/LARP/etc. events at our convention. Would anyone take offense if I were to do a full advertisement for that come September?