Writing for Games: The Role-Playing Game

As part of building a class on writing for game design in Fall of 2017, I’m creating a series of assignments here. Some will end up in the course, no doubt, and some won’t, but I think my teaching is better when I echo chamber my work far in advance and then go back and re-read it with fresh eyes. Putting it here, publicly, where all three of you can read it, keeps me honest.

The Micro Role-Playing Game

Lots of computer role-playing games (RPGs) exist, but their precursor, the tabletop RPG, is still alive and strong. For this assignment you will create a complete RPG system in no more than 3 pages, similar to Cthulhu Dark and other “micro” RPGs. It will include:

  • A very specific theme – Dungeons and Dragons will be too broad for a Micro RPG because it’s theme is “Generic Fantasy” which encompasses hundreds of elements from over 100 years of Fantasy writing. More appropriate would be “Court Intrigue within Game of Thrones.”
  • A means of representing a player’s character (PC) which may contain “fluff or flavor” (character name, hair color, etc) and / or “crunch” (rules text, a list of skills, etc).
  • A description of the player whose role it is to narrate the game (commonly called a Game Master). Rules for the Game Master (GM) to establish dramatic tension by describing the “situation”
  • How a player’s character takes actions within the game world
  • A means by which a PC can succeed or fail using a randomizer (dice, cards, coin flips, age of the youngest player’s siblings, etc). The randomizer should fit the theme of the game.
  • What the consequences for failing will be (injury, death, social embarrassment, a hangnail, etc)

Alternate Asignment – The Mini RPG

For Groups of 4-6 students only, The Mini RPG assumes an RPG of 20-30 pages in length, with more detailed rules (crunch) and more room for a player to describe their character within game. Likewise, rules for the narrator player (Game Master) role should be expanded with specific kinds of rules – for monster creation, or treasure creation, or story creation, or all of the above.

  • The mini RPG should be roughly 4 pages of writing per person. Should a person in your group have graphic design skills and be interested in illustration, you may substitute up to 3 of your pages for complete illustrations, but no more. Should a person in your group have layout skills and wish to practice them, you may substitute up to 3 of your pages for graphic design.
  • You must complete all elements of the Micro RPG, but expand on each section.

Assignment Rubric

To complete this assignment successfully a student must

  1. Complete all sections of the game
  2. Create a coherent game which can be played in 30 – 120 minutes
  3. Have another group or person Game Master a session of their game during an in-class gaming session & workshop
  4. During the GMing session, the writer will not participate in the game. Instead, they will play someone else’s game. Grading will be based on how clear the rules are to first-time readers, how well the rules work in play, and how easy it is for people to dive in and play the game – remember; less is more! It will be far easier to pass this assignment with a simply-stated, highly-focused RPG than by trying to create Skyrim’s skill system.
  5. Be sure to provide all randomizers and any special materials necessary to play your game.
  6. When you play another classmate(s) game, you will provide a printed copy of their game that was used during your gaming session, including notes on what you did not understand. These notes may be on a separate page, typed, or written in the margins of the printed copy (if hand written, be sure that I can read it. That it is legible to others does not count as legible to me, as I am reviewing your materials).
  7. After playing your games in class, I will review both the game you wrote, and the review you gave to another game. Each section will be weighted as follows, failure to turn in a section will result in receiving zero credit for it.
    1. My review of your game for coherence, clarity and playability — 60%
    2. Classmates’ review of their actual play session for coherence, clarity and playability — 20%
    3. My review of your workshop materials (note: saying “it’s great!” is not sufficient. None of these games are expected to be finished products; they are playtest versions. Your comments should be primarily constructive comments intended to improve their game) — 20%
  8. Notice: If either I or your classmates cannot understand how to play your game, it will be extremely difficult to receive a passing grade in this class. If it is so long that it cannot be read during class time, it will be very difficult to receive a passing grade in this class.

Extra credit will be given for (see syllabus for explanation of extra credit)

  1. Any playtest report, either by your group (if doing the Mini RPG) or with friends (if doing the Micro RPG), written and attached to your RPG that did not occur in class.
  2. Any revisions as a result of a playtest report (assignments will be turned in the week following our last