Friday, November 15, 2019

Thoughts about RPGs in small spaces

I have been looking at Ring Tales from this year’s nine-card PnP contest and, at some point, I’m actually going to write about the game. However, the game made me ponder some random thoughts that didn’t fit neatly into discussing the game itself.

First, the game was designed to be played in the car. Which is an idea that I love, an RPG that you could play during a long, boring trip. It’s also an idea that I’ve never been able to pull off :P I think there is inevitably too much to distract you, particularly if you’re the one driving.

But the idea of a game that can work under those restrictions, minimal rules let you forgo dice or maps or miniatures or other randomizers, that seems like a kind of platonic ideal to me. Mind you, I am already aware of games that already fit that bill, like Baron Munchausen or Puppetland. But it seems like a design space worth exploring.

Second, the designer’s notes describe the ‘no and’ to ‘yes and’ mechanic as old. To someone who got started with first edition D&D, that mechanic still feels fresh and innovative. And as someone who has gamed with a lot of improvisers, I think it is such a great mechanic.

Third, Tales of the Ring is a micro RPG, a concept that I am still trying to wrap my mind around. A micro game, in the board game sense, is easy to understand. It’s a game with only a few components. (Often, that also means a small footprint and easy to teach rules and a short playing time but not necessarily) 

But it doesn’t take much space or stuff to play most RPGs, as long as you’re using theater of the mind instead of miniatures. A handful of dice and some play sheets plus some pencils doesn’t count as a lot of components.

And a short playing time or being rules light doesn’t qualify a game as a micro rpg. I’ve never heard anyone ever call Baron Munchausen a micro RPG even though it has practically no rules and is designed to be played in one short sitting.

I think there are two things that can make a RPG a micro RPG. One is small volume of total printed material. If the total game, rules and background and fluff and all, is only one or two pages, it might be a micro RPG. The other is narrowness of focus. Not just limiting a game to a specific genre or even a specific narrative but a very narrowly defined scenario. 

The Name of God _might_ be a micro RPG. The original rules take up less than a page and you have a very specific structure and goal. Even then, the game is open enough that I’m not sure it qualifies as a micro RPG. 

Game poems as a genre fit the bill but I never hear them being called micro RPG. They have their own goal of evoking an emotion or experience.

Really, while there is a need and a design space for rules light RPGs and short form RPGs, micro RPGs might be too limiting an idea.

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