Skip to main content

RPG Systems: An Analogy with UI Design



The current game in our weekly role-playing group is Deadlands. The previous game was Shadowrun. Both rule systems lie closer to the “chunky” side of the spectrum. Shadowrun has a particular reputation for its complex and somewhat cumbersome rules, and while Deadlands has less overall complexity, the system has a degree of granularity that interrupts play more often than it enhances narration. I enjoy role-playing games because I like participating in a good story. The rules system provides a set of constraints for the characters, the setting, and the conflicts. They help give the narrative structure, a background against which the story will take place. Too few rules, and telling an interesting and well-developed story becomes difficult. Too many rules tend to get in the way of individual scenes or events. With the right balance, it’s possible for the game master, usually me, to be sufficiently fluent in the rules system to resolve any conflict without extended consultation of one (or more) books. When I describe my ideal role-playing system, I am reminded of user interface design. A good user interface gets out of the user’s way. The user shouldn’t have to think about UI elements like chrome, throbbers, or buttons. Everything should just work, leaving the user to focus on tasks, specific applications, and workflow. Likewise, I like a role-playing system that fades into the background of the story. If the structure is too obtrusive, there is no room left for the narrative.

Since I’m a game master and not a game designer, I can understand that striking this balance is not easy. A rules system can provide an amazing formalization of the setting’s flavor, defining the boundaries of the ordinary and extraordinary for the setting. I sometimes find myself running chunky systems just because the setting is provocative enough to motivate a bit of extra study and note-taking before game.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Justifications for Intellectual Property Part 1: Utilitarianism

There is no way this tutorial series would be complete without some discussion of justifications for intellectual property. While not necessarily a matter of law, some knowledge of the philosophical foundations will provide a better sense of the values at stake in intellectual property debates. Notice, for instance, that the tutorials on fair use were punctuated with appeals to values, social goods, and individual rights. Without an understanding of the moral and political framework against which the law stands, one can very easily find oneself in a stalemate, with one value pitted against another and no way of deciding which should prevail. To understand the jurisprudence around intellectual property rights, one has to have some idea of the justifying theories to which attorneys and judges appeal in their arguments and decisions. So, without further ado, let's get to the tutorial.
There are three main ways of justifying intellectual property rights: the Utilitarian theory, the Lab…

Digital Distribution

Continuing on this week's topic of first sale and digital distribution, I thought I would discuss emerging distribution strategies for digital media. The outline below comes from my observations on new media technologies, some of which can be found in an earlier entry here. As far as I can tell, digital distribution strategies can be divided into three categories according to salient features.
Access-Based distribution (“cloud” based services) the customer subscribes to a service the subscription entitles the customer to access content stored on the provider's servers content is remotely stored, though some items may be remotely cached for offline use when the subscription is terminated, the customer loses access to all content the content provider can exercise a great deal of control over what content is offered; the selection of content may vary over time, meaning that the customer is only guaranteed access to the cloud, not any particular item in the cloud typifie…

Justifications for Intellectual Property Part 2: Labor-Desert Theories

I know it's been a little while, but I want to finish this tutorial series rather than abandoning it and moving on to other topics. Of course, I would have liked to have finished it by now, but various research and teaching-related obstacles have kept me nose down in the Real rather than preparing content to be released into the internet. Nevertheless, I'm returning to routine, so I'm going to release this installment today, rather than wait for my usual MWF release schedule.
At any rate, let's pick up where we left off and talk about justifications for intellectual property rights. While the utilitarian justification discussed in the last post enjoys the status of having been enshrined in law, scholars and jurists have often brought in other property-justifying theories. Perhaps the most popular of these are Labor-Desert justifications, best exemplified by John Locke (the philosopher, not the character on Lost).
In his Second Treatise on Civil Government, Locke const…