Linear Everyone – Defining Game Principles

Hello, and welcome back! Last week we looked at how the heroes can restore the world of Argohex. This week’s blog post examines the guiding principles behind the design of Let Thrones Beware. Full disclosure: I didn’t design this game to appeal to everyone under the sun. That’s something I decided upon and made peace with early on in my writing. It’s my hope that while the total audience pool isn’t quite as wide as it could be, the ultimate product is substantially more appealing to those who do like it.


The Principles

There are four basic principles that drive the design of Let Thrones Beware, which I’ll go through one at a time. I’ll address two in this week’s post, and we’ll get to the next two on the 26th.

  • All players are equally capable of affecting the game narrative, no matter the combination of choices they make

This first principle really hints at my gaming past. As I’m sure you can guess from this approach, I’ve played more than my fair share of class-based role-playing games that privilege one set of choices above others. This design philosophy is commonly referred to as “linear fighters, quadratic wizards.” Recognizing that a lot of the rationale for this ingrained disparity is to provide a “starter” option for new players. I don’t think that such an option is a great idea, and here’s why. It’s my intention that Let Thrones Beware be a campaign-focused game; certainly a game that lasts more than one or  two sessions. I feel that intentionally designing a simple, less capable starter option for players is misguided in that context.

Sure, it’s slightly easier to learn, but understanding a new system takes at most a few hours. After that, she or he is stuck with a less capable hero for months or years. That’s no good. I feel that it’s far better to place an emphasis on ensuring that each option is clearly explained so that a player can easily pick up and play with any combination of options.

I addressed the core of this principle by creating an abstracted non-combat challenge system. Because of the abstraction of skills, we ensure that no combination of hero choices is significantly more capable than another. Naturally, there ought to be some differentiation, and that’s where non-combat powers enter play, as well as the background feature and choice of repertoire. That said, there won’t be situations where one can invalidate a challenge simply by declaring it to be so, while others must struggle.

  • Choices must be purposeful; a decision must have a significant mechanical impact, otherwise the details should be considered fluff and left to the player to define

My position as an indie designer guides this principle; I’ll never have the time nor ability to build out an entire game platform. Certainly not one with hundreds of classes and backgrounds across dozens of books. I need to be sure that people who pick up this system aren’t restricted by my limited capacity. To be sure that point’s conveyed adequately, the book is littered with a number of reminders that this is the case. A great example of this in practice is the non-combat system. Rather than codified skills (e.g. rope use, etc) or even player defined skills, the non-combat system is abstracted such that it allows players to describe for themselves how their hero approaches any obstacle in their path.

Want your rough and tumble criminal to be able to expertly sneak through a guarded gate? That’s fine. Want to bypass the gate by causing a distraction and diverting the attention of the guards? Great. Want to skip the gate entirely by luring your target outside through the power of song? Also good! How you choose to portray your hero’s skills and abilities is totally your choice.

After all, it wouldn’t be a compelling story of Conan was stymied by a tall tower. Similarly, there’s no reason for you to be thwarted because you wrote down use rope rather than climb wall. Specific skills are out, competent heroes are in!


Try it for Yourself

As always, you can download the playtest packet and try it for yourself. Visit drivethrurpg to download the beta and introductory adventure for free.

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