I talk with Chris Chinn about games a lot these days. We talk about RPGs on twitter. We talk about them while playing Borderlands. We talk about RPGs while playing RPGs. One thing out of many things we agree on: RPGs take too long.
I like when RPGs have movement and pacing and momentum. The game flows from one scene/element to the next in a logical and brisk matter. I think that many of our games are built and structured against this.
I agree with what Chris says in the linked article. I’ve also been chewing on it on my own.
The first problem I see is the assumption that players will have to carve out a 4 hour block of time to play. It carves out an expectation that the game must fill a sizable chunk of time and our play will expand to fill it. Building an episodic story in 4 hour blocks week by week (or every other week or whenever you structure the scene) really does seem to imply that an RPG must take a long time to enjoy. RPGs are a fine wine that must age over time to be appreciated.
What I don’t want anymore: a structure of RPG play that assumes a 4 hour block. I almost never have that time to play RPGs anymore, but more importantly, it feels like 4 hours assumes some “waste” in the game. Maybe players spend time figuring out what to do, or it could be the enacting of a complex procedure or mechanic, or it could be an in-game “shopping” trip. Whichever it is, there is a certain amount of waste implied, an expected amount of filler that I no longer want to incorporate into my designs or my game.
I want to play a game for one amazing hour, and then I want to do it again. If I can make a game play well in one hour, I can run that loop three more times and get a four hour game.
There are games out there that provide a good structure and/or rules set for doing just this. I’ll touch on some of those, but I’m also looking at how I can work with this in my own games and my own designs. I want to work with you to see how you could use it in your play.
Once you say to yourself, ” You’ve got an hour to play and no more”, you are forced down the path of simplicity. Look at what you don’t absolutely need and discard it.
So, what don’t we need?
Excessive steps for a players turn. This is extending on rolls a bit. Basically, the more stuff you have to do procedurally on your turn, the slower things go. This is a boring conclusion to reach, as it’s not conceptually interesting. Nevertheless, it’s a reality that more steps equals more slowdown in gameplay. We’ve got to be lean.
Lots of choices. Choice happens essentially at two places There’s the choice of what we want our character to do and the choice of how we want them to do it. The funny thing is many games provide not much mechanical support for the former choice and too much choice for the latter. Not much structure is given for helping players decide their next step, but for the actions a game deems important, there is an embarassment of riches, to the extent that making a choice in the fiction can seem boundless and without heft (no mechanical support) and a choice mechanically can be overwhelming (too many options, not enough differentiation between options). Guess what all of this means? Slow slow slow.
Capital “P” plot. We’ve got an hour, so long overarching plots aren’t what we want to do (there is a way to build this that I’ll talk about later). We need a situation that is interesting and resolvable (it could or could not get solved, it could or could not escalate), and we need to get players right into it and moving.
I’ve got a lot to say about this, but this is a good start. Interested to see what you think and what your experiences have been.