Seven Sins of RPG Writing

The Seven Deadly Sins of RPG Writing

All these sins are relative. For example, you might find a system is your jam that I found unusable due to complexity. All of them can and should have exceptions. 

Overly Complex: as an example, take combat. You're usually talking a hit roll and a damage roll. If you're making separate rolls to account for parries, dodging, hit location, weapon malfunctions, blood loss, and shock, your system may be too complex. Generally, it's better to start simple and build on it later. 

Too Much Fluff: there is crunch and there is fluff. This is a very personal matter, but the game you are writing is the product. If I have to slog through a 30 page cut scene before I get to the meat of the system, I get a little peevish. Honestly write flash fiction to scratch that authorial itch.  Again this varies a lot with people.

Too Lite: Some games are written to be lite. Everything Needs Is On This Page is a movement. Putting the entire game on one page, is maybe too lite. reducing each of Classic Traveller's LBBs to a single page or two? Now you're talking. Pumping out a new edition of an SF game that only covers characters when people previously had spaceships and worlds to pay with is not lite, it is designed to make money. Lite is great 

Too Detailed: Don't overestimate your audience's interest in a topic. I'm really into space travel in fact and fiction. Rockets are cool. This doesn't mean I'm going to run and write up a section on rockets that has people calculating delta vees specific impulse, engine power and Hohman transfers. Traveller's M-drives might be handwaving but they are the way to go for most gamers. Most people will forgive handwaving easier than making them do math. 

Too Much Stuff: I discussed this under The Fourth Creep. I have no way of proving this but I think gear increases the complexity of a game exponentially. You have twice the gadgets -you get four times the rules to cover them all. I will of course bow to the popularity of games that made complexity their branding: Car Wars (hell I wrote CW stuff!), and Starlet Battles. Hours of fun and that was just looking for loopholes! But generally, you're probably venturing into gratuitous splat books and product padding. You don't have to have a gadget, spell, skill or power for every occasion.

Too Hard to Adapt: players like to bring in new elements to their games. A rule system that focusses on emulating a single setting might not lt you port characters from too alien a setting. You want your Musketeers to fight the Predator? Sorry. We don’t really cover blade combat, or energy weapons and invisibility etc. Sorry, clumsy example. I’ll think of a better one after I hit ‘Publish’.

Too Many Options: this is a hard one. Basically some games have so many options in character generation or elsewhere that players become indecisive. On a personal note: when I was running a Champions game, one very good player was a Min-Maxer to the point of OCD. Champions is a fine system. In this case the player overloaded on options and kept me up till 3 am working out his character to get it perfect. Whatever that means.

Finally, bear in mind that individual tastes will vary. Some designers are wizards who get away with stuff. This was based on the essay The Seven Deadly Sins of Comics Creators by C. C. Beck the co-creator of Captain Marvel for Fawcett Comics (today he's called Shazam.) 


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