Game Design: Tell Your Story

The game that you choose to design is a reflection of your personal tastes. You include the sorts of things you enjoy. The things you don’t like are left out. You include what you feel is a better way to do them. No one writes a fantasy game if the don’t like the genre. No one puts together a space opera riff when they’re not invested in that kind of science fiction. Personally, I like interesting characters and engaging stories, which is why my games focus on those elements regardless of the setting. What you’re creating is the means to tell your story, in the way that you want to tell it.

This extends beyond game designers. John Dewey, the American philosopher and education reformer, said that no work of art is complete until it has been experienced by someone other than the artist. Every game is incomplete until it’s being played at the table. This makes all of us game designers to some degree. The gamemaster is telling the kind of story that they enjoy. Players have characters that reflect the stories that they want to tell. When it all comes together, and everyone can be respectful and actively collaborative, then the whole becomes greater than the some of the parts. We compliment and add to each others’ experiences.

Tell Your Story

This is why every element of roleplaying is a balancing act. For me (caveat, with a grain of salt) it’s not about the numbers, or the rules, or even the canon. It’s about empathy. That’s the story that I want my games to tell. My games reflect my perspectives, but hopefully in a way that shares them with you in a positive and enriching way. The stories that I tell as a gamemaster are designed to honor the player characters, their abilities, and their personal ambitions. When I’m a player, I try to create a character that connects, in a meaningful way, to the themes of the setting and the other characters. Yet I do so in a way that expresses my likes and dislikes, my values, my truth, and all of the experiences of my life that I bring to the table.

I know that this is probably way more hippie-dippy and humanist than some of you are comfortable with. It’s important to acknowledge, though. We get to share a piece of ourselves with people we will never meet. That, in turn, provides them with the opportunity to tell their own story. There is a unique sort of magic in that.

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