A Rumination on Tabletop Roleplaying Game Design

I have made no secret, of course, that I am and have long been involved in roleplaying games, not only the iconic Dungeons & Dragons, but also Legend of the Five Rings and others. It should come as no surprise, then, that I have thought from time to time about putting together a game of my own; it should also not be a surprise that I have acted on such thoughts in the past. Indeed, my second-to-last undergraduate project was an honors thesis in which I did that very thing, though I did not do it at all well. I was not nearly so gifted an undergraduate as I thought I was, and it shows in how clunky and, well, pretentious the work I did then is.

One way to make it rain…
Image form Giphy.com.

I still toy with the idea, of course. I enjoy playing, and I can’t play unless I have folks with whom to play. And that means I have to make any game I would design accessible to people, both in terms of ease of rules and in terms of cost to play. Playing tabletop roleplaying games can be quite expensive; the rulebooks that typify them are not usually inexpensive, and even if someone can get years of use out of one, the initial outlay is something of a hurdle. I’ve not got a necessarily robust collection of gaming books, and I’ve spend hundreds or thousands on them over the years; those who have more have doubtlessly spent far, far more.

There are dice to consider, as well. One of the most common accoutrements of roleplaying games, dice can be found in extravagant numbers and styles, and they become foci of lore and jealousy, among others. They also become money-pits. My own experience in buying dice–and mine are loyal and good, though not necessarily fancy, as far as such things go–has been to the tune of hundreds of dollars across my time gaming. Again, I’ve gotten years out of them, and I did pick them up a few at a time, but it’s still an investment to get the dice roleplaying games typically demand.

Part of that cost comes from the fact that roleplaying games typically play with different types of dice, not just the cubical dice most familiar, but other sorts typically rendered as Platonic solids plus ten-sided dice. (There are other versions of such dice available, of course; my daughter picked a set that mimics gaming dungeon paraphernalia, for example.) Though they are more and more common now, they are still at a higher price-point, and they are still less accessible than the plain cubical dice that can be gotten at supermarkets and convenience stores.

It is to help get around that concern of accessibility that, when I designed a gaming system, I made sure to base its mechanics in six-sided dice. They are easily had, easily replaced, and familiar from centuries of use in popular culture. And not only as gambling devices, though that is their most common depiction; I remember elementary school math classes that used them for some basic statistics, for example. As such, when I went to set up a system to bring people in, I did so with six-sided dice at the core.

As I’ve found out in the time since, trying to orient other things around sixes has been more of a challenge. But that’s something I can return to later on…

Help fund my bad habits, please!

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