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Cooking RPGs – Size does matter

August 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Roleplaying games come in different shapes and sizes: Some are huge and complicated, some are small and easy to read. Some games need hours of reading and preparing to be played, while some games are designed to be easily accessible with almost no effort at all.

This division is very arbitrary and most games don’t necessarily fit in on either one of the groups. But I think that it might prove useful to make a tool that helps game designers to better categorize their games. For this purpose, I have come up with following terms: Full course RPGs and Snack sized RPGs. The definitions are my own and up to debate.

Full-course RPGs are games that are designed and written to support long campaigns. They contain a lot of information, such as a setting for the game and a thorough set of skills and abilities for almost unlimited number of possible character concepts and ideas. These games are to build a strong set of tools for the GMs to create interesting stories and campaigns to play in, and so the games are written as such. Most traditional RPGs such as Dungeons and DragonsVampire the Requiem and Call of Cthulhu would be these full course RPGs because they don’t emphasize any specific kind of campaigns and have a lot of potential for different kind of characters and stories.

Snack-sized RPGs on the other hand are more focused and have usually a predefined amount of resources such as time or player aids. Most snack sized RPGs have a certain kind of story they want to tell, and focus on doing that very well. These games usually incorporate specific mechanics that direct the game to a certain direction. For example, The Mountain Witch is a snack sized RPG that has a clear setting: a group of ronins go to Mount Fuji to kill the Mountain Witch. The game also has a few specific mechanics (Trust and Dark Fate) that encourage a certain kind of a way to play the game. On the other hand, The Mountain Witch is a game with a very specific setting, and it doesn’t work very well in clearly different type of settings, but it really doesn’t even try to do that.

So the main point of my rambling is that there are two clearly different kinds of RPGs: Those that are designed to be a set of tools for the GM to create his or her own story, and those that are designed to do one thing, and do it very well.

Another important thing to notice is that while these Snack-sized RPGs can be very fun and entertaining, they tend to become a bit repetitive over time. Even if I like The Mountain Witch very much, I couldn’t imagine playing only it for a couple of years. The Full-course RPGs are more suitable for those long, epic scale campaigns that consist of different storylines and can be played even for years. But I think that the Snack-sized RPGs deserve our attention, because they offer something different and new to the otherwise very homogenic group of RPGs.

This is something that I’ve been working on for almost a couple of years, but haven’t been able to write down clearly. I personally don’t think that either one of these games is better than the other, but merely that it is important to recognize their differences and design games (and campaigns) accordingly.

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Categories: Game Design, Game Theory, RPGs