Mechanics + Story (Tabletop RPG)

Hey everyone, it’s me, Thomas Novosel, and I am writing another article for Game Creators’ Social Forum! This time, the topic is a little more focused in; I am going to talk about Mechanics blending in with Story and Setting in Tabletop Role-Playing Games.

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Sometimes the rules aren’t good enough for some groups… so they make up new ones 🙂

Tabletop Role-Playing Games can be a lot of fun to play, design, and make up rules for existing games (homebrew mechanics, custom worlds, etc). The experience of becoming someone else for a couple of hours to explore a fantasy world is a very unique experience, so it is no wonder that people want to customize and create something new for themselves and their Players. However, where do you start coming up with a brand new game?

It is important to come up with a good foundation, which is usually done through some clever brain-storming that usually creates  either some unique Mechanics or a Setting/Story that the writer wants to tell. Now there is no way to give out inspiration, or spark that creative kick that gives birth to a bright idea. But I can say that in my own work (having designed Role-Playing Games for years for people to enjoy), games do not come fully formed.

Most of the time, in fact, a designer may only come up with part of the game, will fully realize and finish only a single part of it. So what about the other half?

They slap together the rest to fit it into something. Such as creating an impressive game system that would suit a Science Fiction type of game very well, but instead slap a modern day zombie apocalypse theme onto it just to attract more views. Well, if you created the system for Science Fiction, why not make the setting reflect the mechanics? For example, I have created in the past a rules-lite fantasy game called MMM where the rules were just as important as the setting. They work together to create a memorable game when it is all pulled together. In MMM the Players are in a generic fantasy world where magic is all over the place, so for mechanics I put an emphasis on spell mechanics; that way it didn’t feel “tacked on”. Another important part of that game was the inventory system, how it was a system of management that affected the Player’s Character in the game.

But by making these mechanics not second to role-playing it created a game that had a unique feel when playing, it could work with most settings but played in a unique fashion. And that is because the mechanics fit with the story I was trying to tell, I didn’t know what the story was at the time but I did know what kind of story I wanted gamers to experience.

“A story of advancement through abnormal means, a story where you can’t carry everything and at the same time are not limited by weights and strength. A story where magic was powerful, but safely kept in check through the inventory system I had put in place.”

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Just some casual game design humor, that is truthful…

This is why it is so vital when creating a Role-Playing Game (where the intention is to stand out) that you do not fall into “what is popular”. Make a game where story, feel, and mechanics work together and are not separable. This can help you make a whole new setting popular. Did Dungeons and Dragons when it first came out become popular because it was like every other game at the time? No, it became popular because it merged mechanics with story. Did Call of Cthulhu become a supernatural-horror standard in the gamers library because it was generic with a story tagged on? No, it had unique mechanics that made the setting, the “feel” of the world come alive through gameplay (of course those Lovecraft fans certainly did help in promoting it!).

I guess the point I am trying to make is this: if you want to make an impact, create something unique. Bring something great to the table! Everyone has the ability to do this, you don’t have to be a great writer, a skilled gamer, or anything to come up with a great game. All you have to do is stay true to the vision, don’t gut a game because it may not be popular when the trend at the time is Old School Fantasy. Make a full game, it doesn’t have to be a huge book it actually most of the time may end up being a couple sheets of paper.

It only has to be well put together and good in your eyes. Because if you like it then you have just won over your most dangerous critic.


 

Thomas Novosel has been designing games for the last six years, at an incredible pace that perplexes even himself at times. He is always at work designing and writing games, some of his friends say it is like a second full time job for him. Thomas Novosel can be found on Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/thomasnovosel) and puts out constant updates and high quality games at speeds that could make the Kessel run in less than 3 parsecs . However he also is part of a small game design group called Orbit Above Games (http://orbitabovegames.com/), they specialize in Role-Playing Games but are always working on new and exciting projects.

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