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Genre Scaffolding

June 18, 2016

I’m slowing forming a Mekton campaign in my head.  Between the busy season at work and less brainpower for thinking (age, post-chemo, whatever), I’m realizing how much harder it is to set up games with older, traditional games that are set up to do “broad genre” ideas instead of more specific ones.

For example, while Lord of the Rings, Journey to the West, The Mahabharata, and The 1001 Nights are all “fantasy” which you could theoretically play using D&D rules, capturing the correct feel and pacing depends on:

  • The GM knowing the genre and setting scenes & NPC actions around it
  • The Players knowing the genre and setting characters and action around it
  • Constant selective use/disuse of mechanics to appropriately model the specific feel
  • and/or house rules specifically set to bend the game towards that end

…compared to a focused, well designed game which sets everyone towards the same goal and understanding from the start, with rules to back it up – which is a lot less work to play and keep going.

For the Mekton game, I’m having to dissect the specific things I want from a mecha story to even get to framing the situation to sell to players.  While I could easily point-build a billion and one robots, or stat up characters upon characters, the part I’m not supported in, is navigating what conflicts, cast design, etc. tends to make the juicy parts of the specific things I’m looking for.

I have no Genre Scaffolding upon which to build, so I have to make my own.

Once I have that skeleton in place, then the ideas about what kinds of conflicts or characters make sense, and only then can I pitch it to players AND give them some guidelines of what kinds of characters to make.

I’m guessing once that’s nailed down, the rest is easy, but I’m also comparing this to other games where this isn’t a struggle – for example, Dogs in the Vineyard you already know what kinds of conflicts to expect and what kinds of characters fit the bill – the only point you have then is filling in the specifics.

(Mind you, this isn’t a dig at Mekton, the whole Interlock system really does represent some of the best of the 80’s RPG design – which we’d see again in D20 over a decade later, however, it does highlight a massive missing piece in most of the design at the time.)

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