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  • Four Axes Of RPG Design

    - Arto Koistinen

  • Axis #4: Options vs Approachability

    Advantages and narrative mechanics

    I'm mostly talking about character generation and progression here, although this does also relate to any amount of choices the player can have. As with the previous axis, this is also very much a question of taste and the player's experience in the genre. 

    Both tabletop and digital roleplaying games can feel overwhelming to an unaccustomed person with tons of different statistics, skills and other character options. Especially if the first screen after starting a new game the player sees is the character generation. If you have to make very longstanding choices before having any idea how the game works, there's a huge risk you're screwing up even before you've even started. 

    This is an axis where Japanese and western RPGs tend to be on the opposite sites: JRPGs don't usually have any kind of character creation, and the stat progression is often very linear with one or two systems offering options, whereas western games stick closer to the tabletop model of character generation first and very granular progression choices. 

    In Rimelands we went halfway and ditched the character generation, having the player start with a blank slate. Then after each level up, the player could select from three classes; they could either stick with one class the whole game or select a different one each time, depending on which one seemed to offer the best options. 

    Depending on your target audience, you can go either way here, or even compromise and choose some mixture of the two, but you need to make a conscious choice, as this axis very much ties to your choices in the other ones. They all do. A game with approachability instead of complex options works better if it also is more story-oriented and less grindy and vice versa. Naturally, you can mix them other ways too, but you need to be careful and know how this affects the whole experience. 

    You can balance depth and approachability by providing proper onboarding and expressive mechanics. A good example is advantages and disadvantages, which provide both narrative flair and variety in mechanics. 

    This method is not a be-all-end-all solution to roleplaying game design, but a tool for analysing the balance between elements in your work or breaking apart other games for study.


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