This week it was time for some RPG jamming – woooo – which meant that our brief was to create our own table-top role-playing game within teams. With James as our game master (GM) we began by playing 2 RPGs to get a feel for which mechanics and features worked well and made the game more enjoyable. The first was a pirate-themed RPG in which everyone in the class had to draw their own characters, introduce themselves, and then decide whether they wanted to be the ship’s captain, the first mate, the navigator, the treasurer, the medic or just a regular member of the crew (although this proved to make very little difference to the gameplay seeing as it became a bit of a free-for-all once the ship reached land). There was no end goal for this RPG, meaning there wasn’t any pressure to do anything in particular other than explore, which made the game feel more light-hearted and socially focussed than the second RPG.
Whether or not we were each able to perform certain actions was determined by our ability to play jenga – basically, if we were careful enough to not let the jenga tower fall, our actions succeeded, and if the action was deemed to be particularly difficult, we were required to succeed in moving multiple blocks in the tower. This was a fun mechanic to have from my perspective because it allowed most actions to be performed with relative ease. The tension wasn’t lost though, because everyone knew that with a larger group like the one we had, people were constantly pulling blocks out of the tower, so it wasn’t long before it became precariously balanced, potentially jeopardising future actions.
James made the game experience very flexible and adapted easily to even the most unpredictable turn of events (i.e. Fred trying to get bitten by spiders in an attempt to become pirate spiderman). It became evident over the course of the RPG jam that this creativity and adaptability of the GM is a key element of a successful RPG.
This ties in to my next observation that the fewer rules an RPG has, the more fun it is. The fewer rules there are, the more flexible the GM can be with their storytelling.
The second RPG we played was mission-oriented and involved each individual choosing a superpower. Some of us were classified as ‘villains’ and others as ‘heroes’, but no-one knew who else was a hero/villain. The objective was to figure out who the villains were so that we could stop them from setting off some missiles at a military secret base, but the issue with this was that the villains refused to do anything that could potentially reveal themselves to be villainous because they were too worried about getting caught and overpowered by the large number of superheroes. Also, everyone seemed to be more determined to find where the missiles were hidden rather than figuring out who was good or bad.
When anyone wanted to use a power or if there was a conflict that needed to be solved, people had to cut a deck of regular playing cards, and the person with the higher number would win (when using powers, the GM would be the opposition). If someone chose to attack another player, the result of the conflict would be that the person with the lower number would lose one of their two life points. These mechanics meant that the game was mostly luck-based, which became frustrating at times e.g. when someone with a specific power was needed but it couldn’t be used because they drew a low-number card.
After an hour of gameplay, we still had no idea who the villains were and we hadn’t managed to get access to the missiles. James (the GM) had even tried to coax the villains out from hiding by offering extra life points to any villains who revealed themselves, but alas, his efforts were futile and we ended the game feeling as if we’d barely begun.
Now that we had all had a taste of a couple of role-playing games, we could use what we had learnt to design our own RPGs. We split into groups (my group being comprised of: Dean, Fred, Bernie, Richard and I) and started brainstorming ideas. We decided fairly quickly that we would make it a mission-oriented RPG set in a cyberpunk world in which there is one major corporation that has too much power – the players need to take it down. Originally we had two potential goals that players could choose from: heist – players have to find the safe containing vital information that would destroy the company if it were leaked to the public; or assassinate – players have to find the corporation’s boss and kill him.
We decided in the end that assassinating the boss of a company wouldn’t necessarily take down the company itself (bosses can be replaced), so we decided instead to have the heist as the only goal. To fit with the cyberpunk world, we had three classes of character that the players could choose to be:
Each class had different perks and their own set of items they could use. We also gave each player four stats:
- Science – used for hacking security systems, using gadgets etc.
- Stealth – used for sneaking past people, being quiet etc.
- Strength – used for combat, heavy lifting etc.
- Dexterity – used for lock picking, shooting guns accurately etc.
Each of these ranged in value from 1 to 4 with each of the stats being given values of 4, 3, 2 or 1 in order from the most effective to the least effective. They were to be chosen by the players alongside the character class before finding out what everyone else had chosen. We thought this could be a good way of stopping people from having perfectly-balanced teams that might find the game too easy.
We had a six-sided die that had to be rolled whenever an action required the use of one of the stats. The higher the numerical value of the stat, the higher the chance that the number on the die would be sufficient for the player to act.
When play-testing the game, we thought the game could be more varied and flexible if the GM made the map of the building as we played. In practice however, this proved to be quite difficult for the GM, so we decided that a basic floor plan should be designed in preparation for when we would have to ask other people to play-test our RPG. Dean agreed to design one that could still be flexible in that it didn’t contain too much detail about what was in each room.