The Master’s Attention

Where do you focus your attention when you prepare for a game?  How do you cobble together a convincing and engaging story?  What does your game teach Game Masters to do in the lonely hours of the evening?  Thanks to the Bear Swarm Podcast, and I have noticed three distinct ways that game masters and designers focus their attention.

The first approach is to focus on the characters. The idea is that the GM should focus on creating compelling, dynamic and engaging non-player characters.  You can follow the NPC’s personalities and goals during play, reacting to the players efforts. As a result, the players pay attention to character relationships and motivations.  This is the method of design for the video game “Mass Effect 2” for example, with the richly detailed team members.

The second approach is to focus on the locations.  This is where the GM draws a detailed map of the setting, describing each place as a uniquely themed gem in a massive world.  You can encourage a sandbox style of gameplay, where the characters choose their own path and explore the game as they see fit. This seems to be the method of design use for “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” for example, where exploration of the rich environment dominates the play experience.

The third approach is to focus on the narrative. This is where the GM spends their time on crafting rich plots, character-testing events and dramatic arcs.  This is where the group story is paramount, where matters of pacing and theme drive the action. An excellent example of this in the video game tradition would be “Dragon Age 2”.

Now, each of these methods clearly has their own place in game design.  You can’t have a character focused game without paying attention to their narrative arc.  Locations are defined by the characters they will interact with.  The story depends on exploring a rich world.  I think it’s worth _considering_ how much of each factor you include in your games.

What roleplaying games do you know which focus on one of those particular approaches?

Posted in Blog of Legend, The Process of Design and tagged , .

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