Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Art of B/X Game Design

From Tom Moldvay's Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set:

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS Fantasy Adventure Game ("D&D Game" for short) is a role-playing adventure game for persons 10 years and older. In the D&D rules, individuals play the role of characters in a fantasy world where magic is real and heroes venture out on dangerous quests in search of fame and fortune...

...this game, unlike others , does not use a playing board or actual playing pieces. All that is needed to play are these rules, the dice included in this set, pencil and paper, graph paper, and imagination. The game may be more exciting if miniature lead figures of the characters and monsters are used, but the game can be played without such aids....

...while the material in this booklet is referred to as rules, that is not really correct. Anything in this booklet (and other D&D booklets) should be thought of as changeable...the purpose of these "rules" is to provide guidelines that enable you to play and have fun, so don't feel absolutely bound by them.

[all quotes taken from the 1st page of the Introduction]

These little excerpts don't really do justice to the succinct economy of game design that is the Moldvay rules...the first page is excellent in its description of what the game is, the expectations one might have of play, and the lay-out of the game rules with regard to teaching this (not to mention a nice little "how to read this book" bit).

The purpose of this post though is NOT to talk about how wonderful Moldvay's rules are in this regard, nor to discuss the merits of "intro to RPG" sections or anything like that. Hell, it's not even to "point to flaws" in other game designs (as some of these "design posts" on my blog often do).

Rather I just want to give you folks an idea of what I'm working with when it comes to my B/X Supers game (yep, the working title still hasn't changed).

You can strike the whole first paragraph of course...the design goals and game play of Dungeons & Dragons has little bearing on a superhero RPG (really...heroes fight for Truth & Justice not gold and general). I kept it in, because I thought it was just a great example of how Moldvay's rules state right from the beginning - page 1, chapter 1, paragraph 1 - what the game is all about and how it's designed to be played. Something I need to keep in mind when designing any game.

Paragraph 2 is the more important one, from my point of view. It describes what is needed to play the game and gives information on how B/X play differs from other games. For example, it uses no board or playing pieces. Graph paper is needed...but as is explained later in the rules (or "rules" in quotes, as Moldvay refers to them), the graph paper is for the mapping of the dungeon...not for use as a battle map for 5' steps and whatnot.

The supers game is going to need even less material: graph paper will be optional. Generally superheroes won't be exploring dungeons, and a standard city map would be as useful (if not more so) than any scribbled doodles on paper I can make. And as with comic books and action films, things like "range" are going to be deliberately subjective, if not "fast and loose" in the extreme.

In the end, my supers game will be a game, but the book will only be, can only be, a set of "guidelines." Today, I narrowed down the power list to eight categories, each with 12 powers. It's enough to get the game started. Others will be able to add on as they see fit, I'm sure. eyes keep drifting closed. Guess it's time to give the ol' carpal tunnel a rest! zzzzzzz....


  1. Ah, I'm so dumb. By "art" I thought you meant pictures.

  2. Yr not alone Jay, I thought the same.

  3. Jeez guys...the ART of GAME DESIGN. I don't know what else I could say...!

    'Course I was pretty tired last night.

  4. True, I was pretty tired myself. Apologies.