Game Design Wickedly by John Wick – episode 1

W wyniku awarii serwisu część materiałów przepadła (niestety bezpowrotnie). Część jednak udało się uratować. Udało się to z cyklem Johna Wicka o projektowaniu urban fantasy RPG. Oto część 1.


Hi there. I’m John. Pleased to meet you. You may have heard of me before. I’ve written a few games in my past. Games you may have heard of. Games like Legend of the Five Rings, 7th Sea,Houses of the Blooded. Last year, I wrote and released one game a month, collecting them all into a thing called The Big Book of Little Games. It was a busy year. This year is going to be just as busy. See, I was asked to write a design blog for a new game I’ve been working on with Jessica Kauspedas. Jessica is someone I met here in Phoenix, Arizona (yes, it really is 120 degrees in the shade; no joke). She’s been helping me with layout and graphic design, but she’s also been paying close attention to all the designs I’ve been writing, and she got an itch for some design herself. Jessica is a fan of urban fantasy and when she approached me about designing a game of modern magic and wonder, I started thinking. And this journal is a place for me to write down my thoughts, show them to others and give you a peek at what goes through a game designer’s mind as he makes choices… and mistakes.

Magic in the City

Jessica and I are both fans of urban fantasy, but if you look at the choices for games in that genre… well, there’s a problem. It isn’t a problem with the games, per se, it’s more like our problem. What is that? Well, all of those games are rooted in other people’s settings. For me, whenever I make a character, it feels a lot like writing fan fiction. I’m playing with other people’s toys. Also, I have ideas for characters that just don’t fit those settings, and I have to modify my character to fit the setting. Jessica agrees with me. While she feels that Dresden Files offers a greater chance of making the character she wants to play, the system hinders her implementation of said character. World of Darkness completely limits the character to WoD backgrounds and world. She has many ideas and wants to draw from many sources, and the limits of researching WoD bothers her. She also doesn’t like how both systems cause players to make “starting characters.” She wants to play a competent hero or superhero. Not someone who makes unreasonable advancements for the sake of experience points. After one session, we were discussing the pros and cons of the current games we were playing. She said…


My problem with WoD is that it feels like I have to shoe-horn a character into the book’s version of limited fantastical beings. The options are great for someone who needs help to come up with a character idea. But when you have a concept outside of the bounds, forget it. There is no bringing in gods and goddesses or Native American spirits (that aren’t made to fit the WoD mythology) or whatever element of legend you wish to have be part of your game. It is also bound by the World of Darkness theme: “The End is Nigh!” So, everything carries apocalyptic undertones. Luckily, all the games I play, the Storytellers don’t use the storyline of “the end of the world is coming.” However, it is an undertone in many characters, affecting the abilities you can choose as well as littering the fluff text in such a way that makes me not want to play such and such a character. With the Dresden Files, I found that I had much more freedom in making my character. I could come up with just about any concept. Of course, just like WoD, the game makes players play a weak starting character. In addition, several folks in my group had not read any DF and they felt lost in the world. I didn’t have that problem, but it is a factor to keep in mind. But the most important thing was, I want to play a hero. I want to be able to play the character I create. I don’t want to have to read several big books to get a feel for the setting especially if the specifics of the setting are not ones I want to play in. I love making up stories in my head, and I avoid fan fiction in those stories, so why can’t I have the same freedom in my role-playing games? Let me steal ideas from Native American culture, or from this awesome book I read or from Faerie lore. That is what urban fantasy is about. This world, plus all the things that we wish (or fear) were real.

So, Jessica and I started thinking about an urban fantasy game that would address what we wanted. We lined up the issues we had and decided to make a game around them.


First and foremost, we wanted to play heroes. They could be flawed, and perhaps even dark, but they were still heroes. Our game needed mechanics that encouraged players to make characters who had ethics and those ethics would be shared by the other characters. Most of the urban fantasy games were dark and apocalyptic. In those games, there is no such thing as a hero, just protagonists and anti-heroes. I like anti-heroes, but they don’t belong in this game. And maybe we can figure out a way to slide one in (just writing those words makes me want to find a way to do it), but the key goal here is designing a game where the players pick a set of ethics for the group. They agree: “This is what it means to be a hero.” And the question then becomes, “How do we make that into a mechanic?”

Creating Your World

The second part we wanted to add was the ability for players to create their own world. They would define how everything worked. They would define vampires, they would define shape-shifters, they would define magic. Everything is up for grabs. When you create a magician in the game, part of the creation process is defining how magic works. If you have two magicians, they have to come to agreement on how magic works. The vampire player says, “These are the powers and vulnerabilities of my character, and thus, these are the powers and vulnerabilities of all vampires.” Now, you may ask, “Can the GM throw in surprises?” Sure, she can. The players set the baseline, but the GM gets to make exceptions.

Simple System, Complex Sheet

One of the other things Jessica told me was that she wanted a complicated character creation system, but a simple character sheet. We wanted a system that was easy to understand and explain. Something that would take less than thirty seconds. While most game designers have an “elevator pitch” for their games–an explanation that’s thirty seconds or less–my goal was to make a system that is an elevator pitch. In other words, I can explain the entire system in less than thirty seconds. (This is the really tricky one. I’m not sure we can do it, but dammit, we’re going to try.)

And Now…

And those are our goals. We’ll have different goals as the game grows, but until then, these three will serve as our compass as we try to navigate the thick morass of designing a roleplaying game. I’ll talk more about things as we go, including next week, when I explain the cryptic phrase…

“If you have dice, you don’t need to roll.”

Until then, stay clear of the shadows, keep your silver bullets and wooden stakes where you can reach them, and never give up hope. After all, you’re a hero. And we’re all counting on you. [/sociallocker]

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