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March 9, 2007 / jadettman

Of Frameworks and Gamers

I’ve been thinking a lot about designing a fantasy game lately which has led me to various thoughts about gamers and the games that they prefer to play.

Sales-wise, Dungeons & Dragons is the most popular (i.e. most played) game in the world. The specific reasons for this are still debated throughout gamerdom but what it really boils down to is that 1> it was first and 2> fantasy is still the most popular genre in RPGs. This is, of course, merely my opinion on the matter, thus debate may continue ad infinitum (and probably will).

Something, specifically, that D&D does right is to create a mechanical framework for players to operate within, rather than the freeform amorphism of ‘rules lite’ games like Amber Diceless or Everway.

See, here’s the thing: the majority of roleplayers are ‘players’ and, generally speaking, players don’t like to more work than is necessary to play the game. A player wants to make a character for the game and, then, play. Work done, time for the fun.

D&D makes this goal relatively simple for players by providing the mechanical framework of Classes, which represent the archetypical roles that adventurers will fall into.

Want to beat something up? Play a fighter, barbarian, or monk.

Want to be sneaky? Play a rogue, or ranger.

Want to cast spells? I think you get the idea.

The genius (though I hesitate to use the word) of the current edition of D&D is that it takes this framework to the extreme with the addition of feats and prestige classes, both of which provide a new level of choice and customization for the player while still maintaining a strict narrowing framework.

Now, looking back at the opposite end of the spectrum, games like Amber Diceless and Everway don’t provide a mechanical framework. These games come with the expectation that a player can create any kind of character that they want.  This can often lead to player frustration if the GM doesn’t step in to provide a replacement framework for the players to work within.

Limitless choices become the void of indecision.

Amber Diceless attempts to solve this by providing a setting framework: all player characters are of the Royal Family of Amber. This is all well and good until a player decides that s/he doesn’t want to be a Prince/ss of Amber. Then we’re back to limitless choices.

Everway, on the other hand, doesn’t bother with a framework and simply assumes that limitless choices are good, but then Everway is out-of-print.

All of this leads me back to my original idea of creating my own fantasy game.

Specific details will have to wait for another post, but, mechanically, I think that the game will keep the basic framework of D&D classes. I think that I may work on broadening the framework a little. We’ll see how that turns out.



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  1. Britt / Mar 14 2007 10:16 pm

    I totally find D&D character creation a) boring and b) too constraining. I don’t like frameworks.

    I don’t know how long I’ve been like this (possibly my whole gaming life) when I design a character I’m usually exploring some kind of a particular idea. Like, Eiddwen was about being a warrior/sorceress/princess, and playing around with the tension between those roles. (So, uh, I guess Eiddwen was an experiment in dual classing. Huh.) Tristan was about being a non-magic-user redhead. Diarmaid was about being a “cheerful assassin.” Ivara sprang out of the idea of a magic bow (though she’s turning into a meditation on family and alienation, and I’m not even 100% sure I want to mess around with the stupid bow any more).

    My latest D&D character, Kaebryn, was based on the concept of being an “airship pirate,” and was reluctantly shoehorned into the Rogue class.

    The Promethean was an robotic artifact of a lost alien civilization, and almost managed to not to fit into the expansive super-hero framework of Mutants and Masterminds.

    I think, all the way back to my high school AD&D days I’ve always had some kind of strong notion about personality, profession, or origin in mind when I design a character, and I’ve almost always found myself fighting against the character-creation framework of any system. (In fact, I hate statting out Amber characters, too.)

    But I’m aware that I’m a big weirdo.

  2. J.A. Dettman / Mar 15 2007 11:31 pm

    Yeah, you’re weird but I don’t actually think that you are all that unusal as a player.

    All the time there are people that try out roleplaying, almost inevitably by playing D&D, and they do not like it. I mean, they like the basic idea of playing a character and having adventures but are put off by the constraints placed on them by the system.

    They either stick it out in hopes that it will get better or they give up. They go play a console game or an MMORG instead. Maybe they don’t like video game either, so they go back to reading adventure books.
    So, yeah, you’re weird. You stuck it out and you try to play games where you can get the GM to do the mechanical heavy-lifting for you. 🙂

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