Lessons from designing role-playing game adventures

I was reading James Maliszewski's interview of Paul Jacquays*, and came across this bit:

10. Are there any lessons you've
learned from working in the computer game field that you think ought to
be applied to tabletop RPG design?

Provide more than one
solution to encounters, if only to be willing to accept the other
solutions that your players devise.

Take into consideration your
players' (not their characters') skills and ability to understand 3D
space when creating or choosing adventures. Don't throw new players into
complex 3D settings. Mapping and understanding one's position inside
3D space can be challenging even for skilled players. Start "flat" and
work them up to spaces with more complicated vertical relationships.

Create
spaces that could work in the real world. Walls have thickness. Large
open interior spaces have to be supported by columns to be believable.
As a fantasy illustrator, I learned to engage the viewer's suspension of
disbelief by creating realistic, believable environments which would in
turn lend their reality and believability to the fantasy elements found
within. Designers need to do the same thing … engage the players'
suspension of disbelief just long enough to convince them that game
situations are grounded in things that could happen.

Give your
players "save spots" in your gaming sessions, natural breaks in the
adventure where they can pull back, regroup, return to base, etc.

Finally,
don't overwork the game's backstory. Less can be more, so write as
little as you can to convey it. I emphasize this to the content
designers on my own project teams. Your players will appreciate that you
are creating plot and character links, but could probably care less
about detailed ancestries, hidden motivations, or involved descriptions
of locations and events that they will never encounter. They just want
to hit things and move on. Don't make success in your game depend on
reading multiple paragraphs of stilted description or dialogue.

I don't think it's too crazy a stretch to apply these lessons to design outside of a game context altogether.

*James Maliszewski is a somewhat-old-school RPG designer and author of the old-school gaming blog Grognardia. Paul Jacquays is a really-old-school game designer.

2 thoughts on “Lessons from designing role-playing game adventures

  1. OMG. Scott aka My Personal Person is a devoted Grognardia reader. Granted, we have more than one Glorantha sourcebook sitting in the bathroom right now. You too?

  2. Old Traveller books in my case, but yes.
    The one downside to the old-school gaming renaissance is that eBay prices for these things are going through the roof …

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