I am always giving advice to various gamers on various game forums. I am constantly giving the same advice over and over again (cut/ paste repeat). Once a year I think about the advice and put together The List of ten. This year’s emphasis is very different. I think I took a different approach this year, trying to get people to see the solutions to their own issues rather than giving them the answer. This years tips are more applicable to the design aspects of a game/ setting/ character/ game element. I also found my self quoting more "classic rules". These rules have I used before, but may or may not have made the top 10 in a previous year. I think these rules will hold up well for GMs or more serious players. (If you don’t think so, just mix them in with the last few years worth of tips, and the aggregate will rock! (yes, the pun was intended)).
1-Rule of Fun
3-Rule of Foundation
5-Mona Lisa Rule
8c-Ripple Rule as related to CHARACTERS
9-Systematize - MoonHunter’s Rule
1) If you are not having fun, why are you doing it? This has been a cardinal rule of mine. While not everything you need to do for your game is rollicking good fun, it should at least be enjoyable (in the end). Unless you are getting paid, you should be enjoying it. Also known as the Rule of Fun
2) A little work every day makes for a whole volume of work after a month or two. Certain projects, like World Building, seem too daunting to do. They are just so large. Begin to take them in small chunks that can be easily done and stick to it. Eventually those small chunks turn into big chunks and then into sections and then into a completed projects. So you have a choice, you can do a little every day and eventually be done, or you can do nothing about it, and never be done. Building Blocks Rule
3) DAS and DIP are design considerations. DAS is Development at Start (all the work you do before you even start on doing the actual thing) and DIP is Development in Process (updating and changing things as you go along). There are those that will go to either extreme, and that is their personal preference. However, either extreme can have some serious flaws and issues in the short or long run respectively. Most people play it somewhere in the middle. And if you have players who might not follow your exact plan or scenario, you will always have some DIP (development in play) no matter how much DAS (Development at start) you do. The point of DAS is to make any future DIP easier. Think of your DAS as a foundation you will build everything on top of. It needs to be solid (fairly logical and consistent), evenly distributed (in all appropriate areas), and in big broad strokes, all suitable for adding details to and anything extra you might need in game. The Tip here is: Dip happens; so be prepared for it with enough DAS to make it easy to do the DIP. This is also known as "The Strong Foundation Rule".
4) Keep a dump file: Every game related idea or concept you have should be kept "for future consideration". Write down all that DAS that you discard and DIP you don’t use in play. That way when you need a bit of inspiration or bits to be used for a new project, it will be there waiting for you. I do all my game planning and idea brainstorming on a ruled pad. It is all contained for future exploitation. This rule, more advice really, does not have a cute summary.
5) The Mona Lisa Rule: Spend only as much time on a world, map, scenario, or NPC as the amount of play time and enjoyment it will allow. Two years of planning for six hours of game play is not a good investment in time and effort. So invest a few hours into the game setting you are going to be in for a few hundred hours of gaming fun.
Rule 3+4+5) To recap: You only have X amount of time. Spend most of it on play/ in game rather than prep work. Just make sure what you think you will need in game is done before you need it.
6) The Gold Standard : "If some element of your game could not be part of a published fantasy novel, it needs work." That is what you should aim for. If your item/ npc/ plot/ setting is not as well described and developed as something you would find in a published (fantasy) novel (excluding most DnD licensed novels), then it is not equal to the gold standard and needs work. This standard is really not that hard to meet. You do not need to be a professional writer. You just need to use your gamer/ fan instincts to feel what is right and put a little effort into doing it right. Note: You could use the word Movie/ Comic Book/ TV Show in place of published fantasy novel, as appropriate for the feel of your campaign and the genre. It all works as appropriate.
7) The Detail Check: Every time you start creating details for your game, ask yourself one question…
"Will a player really need to know this to have fun?"
If the answer is no, ignore it unless a player… in game… needs to know it. If the answer is yes, continue to create. The Detail check is the fastest and easiest tool you have to make sure you are focused on what is important in the game. You can also use this rule during play to keep the game focused.
6+7) Another Gold standard would be the Movie Check.
Most Gamers have learned their techniques (consciously and unconsciously) for story telling and gaming from movies and television. They are storytelling mediums that all of us are familiar with. When you are creating game elements or adding details, ask yourself "Would this detail be found in a movie?" If the answer is no, then blow it off.
8) Ripple Rule: Everything in the game world (animate or not) has a history, a motivation/ purpose, and a relationship to other things in the world. Like a stone dropped in a pond, every motion or action causes a ripple. Even if the item does not move, the first time it drops in the water… it effects the pond. So when you add something to the world, consider the three things. First, where it came from and how it got to where it is now It’s origin and history. Second, what purpose does it have in the world. If can do things on its own, what motivates it to do this purpose? Lastly, what relationship does it have to other and others have to it. By determining where it came from, what it does, and how people relate to it, you cover "all the ripples". Now what you have added is part of the world.
8b) Cortez Effect:This is an important variation of the Ripple rule. Sure Cortez was questing for a magic item. However, he ended up doing a lot of other things along the way including conquering and laying the ground work for Spanish Rule). While there are listed reasons and results for every action/ motivation (the Manifest), there are often "side effects" other things that happen (called the Latent). So make sure to look beyond the obvious and see what else could be happening related to the actions of a character or group or other lifeform.
8c) Character’s have ripples too: This rule is the foremost rule I have been giving players this year. To be part of the game world is to have ties to people, places, and things in the game world. These ties are two way. As the character has attachments or opinions about various people, places, and things, the various peoples and organizations that are in the world will have reactions or responses to the character.
Do you, as a fairly real person, have people and groups you know and interact with, places you know well (with people related to those places knowing you), and favorite things (really? Coke or Pepsi?) Now your character should as well.
And you, as a fairly real person, do have reasons for doing what you are doing. You have goals, drives, and ideals you believe in (to some degree). Should your character be any less? Unless your character is a mindless drone, why isn’t your character following its own agenda? You take actions, and those actions will effect others. How do people respond to those?
Your character’s history is how you tie all the character elements together, and explain all those relations and responses.
9) Try to systematize how you do things: The process starts with going through any game process (world design, scenario design, character design, presentation of scenes, or getting into character). Every time you do something specific (a step) you write it down. Eventually you get an ordered list. If you do this two or three times you eventually get a feel for the process that gets you between the steps. So why is this important? Once you learn how you do something, you can make sure you are always "doing it right". In addition you can take take steps to improve upon it. You can add details in the order of things to try, change up the order to see if it works better, or any number of variations. And if you are very lucky, you will find your list/ process can’t be improved on. This is also known as MoonHunter’s Way.
10)Remember Rule: Remember you just need to put in a little effort to do it right. Remember to be complete. Remember to sprinkle in some details. And remember, give the element as much attention as it deserves. Remember to keep doing this to everything.
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