Building the Machine

There is a simple joy in the act of creation.   It doesn’t matter if you optimized a deck of Magic Cards, created a D&D character from scratch or forged a robot with a murderous heart.  Preparing your tools before you play is rewarding because every choice is significant.   I think this is one facet of design that we in the Indie RPG design community tend to overlook.

This realization came to me after leveling up in a D&D 4E game that I am playing in. Each time I got to tinker with my character, I was presented with a puzzle of which new feat or power I was going to choose. I knew that I was stuck with whatever decision I made until I earned my level, always feeling like my choices were meaningful.  Looking back, it was the same thrill that I had gotten each time I started altering one of my decks of Magic cards.  The very act of altering and customizing something for a game was enormous fun.

If you look back at the changes to D&D, you can see that the fun of preparation was taken into account.  In classical D&D, the sum total of your creative input consisted of a few trivial decisions at character creation.  2nd edition introduced Kits, giving you more choice for differentiation at character creation. 3rd edition gave us Feats and Prestige Classes which allowed the players to alter their characters in significant ways whenever they earned certain levels.  When 4E came around, the advancement system was altered so that the players would be able to make small but important decisions every time they leveled up by changing feats, power selection and/or attributes.

Changing my character helps me feel as if I gain a little more agency.  In turn, I find myself more and more engaged with the game.  I know that many great story games include preparation, but I think that it’s still an aspect of design that is far too often overlooked.   I’m not saying that we should start including detailed encumbrance rules in every new game, but I think that _some_ level of preparation can improve a game and keep the players wanting more.


What do you think?

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