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Pencil and Paper RPG design

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So, I was browsing around some forum or other, and I stumbled across a link to "John H. Kim's Role-Playing Game Page":


I haven't gotten a chance to really dig into the content yet, but it looks neat. I'm especially interested in the "RPG Theory" and "System Design" pages.

Personally, I find it really interesting to dig into pencil and paper role-playing games, and even boardgames. There are many ideas, mechanics, and designs that give good ideas for computer games. Some are directly applicable, others are just creative fodder, but there's a lot of information to be had in looking at these analog systems.

Now, certainly pencil and paper games have some different problems that they have to solve. In a computer game you can have a hit-chance of 91.245%, no problem, but think of the math and dice rolling a poor real-world player would have to undergo if a PnP system had that kind of mechanic! Or, computers are pretty good at making it seem like the action is going on simulutaneously for all characters (though some stick with the turn-based formula), but most PnP games break things up into discrete turns or phases; again, so as not to confuse the poor meat-space players.

So, given those differences, why look at PnP games at all? Well, certainly one reason is that a PnP game is, by definition, explicitly laid out in the rules. You can look through the rulebook and determine exactly what formula is used for to-hit, or the precise movement rate of a character. Whereas in a computer game, a lot of that stuff is rather vaguely alluded to in the manual, or even not displayed anywhere.

Then, of course, despite the differences, PnP and computer games (RPGs at least) have even more similarities. Character development through levelling up, skills, or equipment gain, is usually very similar between the two mediums. Most games have to-hit, damage, or similar concepts. Ideas for races, monsters, spells, magic items, and so forth, are often directly applicable, or at the least are useful as conceptual ideas to be moved over.

And, the PnP games have been around longer, even though the relative difference is getting less and less. But for a long time, the original ideas generally happened in the PnP space, and then moved over to the computer games.

So, while I don't think it's essential or anything, I do think reading the PnP RPG material is worthwhile research for those developing a computer RPG. If you develop RPGs, do you feel the same way? How about in other genres?

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