Some thoughts on designing/modifying rules

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Some thoughts on designing/modifying rules

Postby AndyONeill » Sat Jun 08, 2013 10:00 am

First off some background.
You can easily miss out reading this.

My day job is designing and building business systems.
As in line of business software.
Whilst these are obviously not wargames there is a fair bit of carry over.
OK I'm not writing a wargame in c#.Net and sql server BUT I am designing a system does stuff.
This does influence how I approach designing rules systems.
I think in a positive way.

I've been playing wargames for over 40 years.
The groups I started in routinely try new rulesets, change them to taste and design new rules from scratch.
The expectation of players is that any bits which don't look "quite right" will be binned/changed of whatever.
When I took up warhammer I was therefore quite surprised how people complained about balance but weren't re-writing lists, complained about rules and missing faq but didn't just go fix them.
It seems a fair few people do not routinely rewrite rulesets.

Someone might find my thoughts on the subject interesting.

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Re: Some thoughts on designing/modifying rules

Postby AndyONeill » Sat Jun 08, 2013 10:39 am

On starting any genre I research it.
The scope of this can vary. Some colonial campaigns pretty much have the one book you can read on them. Fantasy is a huge sort of a woolly subject.
In any case pick your background and immerse yourself in it.

Top down design.
Now you have an idea of background, what's your game going to be about. What are the important bits you want to simulate.
Is this a battle, skirmish, campaign or what?
As an example.
You might decide you want a fantasy game.
Is this about units or gangs.
How powerful is magic going to be.
If you have units of men then how powerful are monsters going to be by comparison.

Understand battle/whatever
Even fantasy games should have some sort of vague resemblance to reality.
Some players view a game as being totally abstract but many will expect some simulation in there and be dissatisified if bits "just don't make sense".
If you don't have a clue about the big picture and how battles work then get some books or read up on the internet.

Rough things out in your head.
If you write anything down, just write notes.
Writing stuff down means you'll resist changing it.
Only write stuff down when you have tried it and decided it's good.
Rules should be roughs until the absolute last stage.

Once you've mulled over your game you want to start thinking roughly how you're going to represent what.
My checklist varies a bit but the common bits are:
Command control

It is easier to critique than create.
Talk to someone about a ruleset they have played for a while and they will usually be able to point to a couple of things they don't like.
Quite how to fix them is a bit of a different story and trickier.
When it comes to creating a ruleset from scratch then that's harder again.
It's also way quicker to tweak something works OK into something works well than create something works well.
The prospective designer should therefore start with variants and trying different rules to see which bits they like.

Get a big box of leggo
I know someone who plays a different ruleset every time I see him down the club. He knows more games mechanics than you can shake a stick at.
Whlist I wouldn't advise turning your hobby into ruleset collecting, it's way easier to borrow a mechanism from this and a mechanism from that set of rules than make one up yourself.

Understand mechanics
If you've already played a game and parts work well then that's great.
Why did you like such and such.
Why is it good.
Why did you not like whatever.
Why is it bad.

Whilst you're collecting all your bits of leggo together bear in mind the overall shape of the thing you're trying to make.
You want as few and as similar a set of mechanics as will do the job.
No more.
No less.
Don't mix sticklebricks, meccano and leggo.
Beginners frequently mistake more detail as being more good stuff.
The reverse is true.
You want the equivalent of the 1 minute advert rather than the 3 hour rambling lecture.

Bottom up.
Bottom up design is where you focus on details and think of how to simulate each.
This is a good way to check your design rather than create it.
I want my unit to be able to move across the table in 3 turns.
How wide is the table and how long is each move.
Can it get there.
I think a unit taking 30% losses should break and run.
Do my mechanics cover that, or are opposing units still going to be fighting when they've taken 99% losses.

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Re: Some thoughts on designing/modifying rules

Postby subversive » Wed Jun 12, 2013 7:53 pm

Great post, Andy, thanks for sharing this insight. I've had my own fantasy game on the back burner in an almost playable state for around 5 years now. Now that my kids are a little older I've got more headspace to devote to this stuff again, and I'm keen to get back into it. As you say, it's easier to critique than create, but the bit of creation I've done has been very satisfying.

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Re: Some thoughts on designing/modifying rules

Postby AndyONeill » Thu Jun 13, 2013 7:42 am

Making stuff is very satisfying.

I reckon every wargamer should have a go.
If only to try "fixing" the bits they particularly dislike in whatever rules they play.

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