Aside from the Pandemic games being pretty awesome, it’s really fascinating to watch folks develop campaign play from a very different mindset. It also highlights some really useful things we can backport to tabletop rpg design as well.
Campaign Commitment Time
This was one of the major concerns in the design discussions and a focus for a lot of the indie rpgs that came out of the Forge – that the longer the campaign commitment, by nature, the smaller your target audience is who can/will commit that time in. I think it’s really interesting that they talk about 12-15 play sessions being their top expected amount of content in a Legacy game, and the value of having a specific number laid out to players from the beginning. (This was one of the big points I’ve written about for years, as simply making games more functional).
Linear Story for a Linear Metric
One of the biggest differences in a boardgame and tabletop RPG is the fact that while you can drench the boardgame with fictional elements to encourage roleplaying and enjoyment of the theme, the fiction doesn’t feed back into changing the outcomes of play as it does with a roleplaying game. No one is under the illusion that they can “do anything the character can do” as a viable option in a boardgame, so it also means the directions a story can go is highly limited, and makes things like the linear story set up they’ve created work.
It’s funny that they mention Robin’s Laws, since Robin Laws’ version of HeroQuest 2 attempts to create the up and down beats, except without the additional considerations of players gaming the system (“incentivizing failure”) or engaging the mechanical aspects beyond turning a difficulty dial up and down. I suspect Jason Morningstar’s Juggernaut might be a better parallel, but having not played it yet, and not trying to spoil myself before doing so, I could be wrong.
The Power of Unlockables and Physical Artifacts
Although sometimes people have given their players a document or a puzzle box to open, it’s not the same as fully integrating unlockable, physical cues/objects as a key part of play. In the video, they mention that people KNOWING there would be a box to open incentivized action to either open it or avoid opening it, depending on whether the assumption was that it was good or bad.
In tabletop RPGs, either mechanical rewards are well known ahead of time (“If I get X number of points, I can buy Y power”) or exist solely as a verbal description (“The sword glows with magic power…”) but not as a physical object to taunt, tease, threaten you. Adding uncertainty into advancement hits Pavlov’s intermittent reward cycle, but also because these rewards are thematic/plot based, and not just “get +X to ability Y”, they tend to be more interesting and emotionally fulfilling to the group.
I think this is some of the best information on tabletop playtesting out there. They’re looking for: a) when the group has confusion, questions or forgets rules, b) emotional responses to play, c) why a group is making certain choices in the game. (Notably, this was effectively what the Forge folks pushed for from actual play accounts in regards to playtesting).
You’ll also note that they’re talking about hundreds of hours of playtesting from several groups, including strangers. While the indie RPGs pioneered the idea, it was Paizo’s Pathfinder playtest that really made it popular for tabletop games – however, having video or recordings where you can see the actual play rather than depend on memory, filters, or bias in self reporting is vastly superior.