Before I go on discussing game goals, I'd like to discuss a couple of goals that I am not considering to be the kind of goals that I am discussing. One is the goal of making the game fun. This is practically a universal goal of every game, but it begs the question, "what is it that actually makes the game fun?" The differing goals I’m discussing are each for the purpose of making the game fun from a certain point of view. The second is the goal of playability. If playability means making the game easy to play, then for the purposes of my discussion I would describe it as a constraint rather than a goal. After all, if your only goal were to make a game that is easy to play, you could make a game that was infinitely easy to play by making no game at all. Trying to make a game easy to play is only a challenge when there is something else that you are trying to achieve with the game.
A different interpretation of the word “playability” is what I am getting at with my next major goal of game rules, which I found difficult to describe succinctly. I think "entertaining game mechanics" is most descriptive, though “gaminess” is more concise. This means that playing the game mechanics according to the rules is just intrinsically entertaining to do, regardless of the role-playing context. An example of what I mean here is that a lot of modern “Eurogame”-style board games seem very strong on entertaining game mechanics. Compared to more straightforward older games, a lot of the modern board games have ingenius, clever game mechanics that are fun to play and may have very little to do with the ostensible theme of the game.
The role-playing game that I always thought brought entertaining game mechanics to the forefront was Torg. An element that comes to mind is that of approved actions. This rule gave you a strong in-game bonus for performing nonviolent combat actions such as tricking, taunting, or intimidating the opponents, instead of attacking the opponents. This was cool and different and a lot of fun to do. What I think is interesting to mention is that this rule, which I always admired and found extremely entertaining, greatly advance the goal of entertaining game mechanics but actually worked somewhat against the goal of genre simulation. The idea of these approved actions definitely fit the cinematic genre of Torg. But in Torg, we were using these actions several times per combat per character, to an extent that was amusing but rather silly. Although at the time Torg was my favorite game, I felt that if I wanted to play an adventure that I was really going to take seriously, I would be better off with one of the earlier, more primitive games.
Although I said earlier that ease of play was not something I would describe as a goal, now I'm thinking I could incorporate this somewhat differently as the goal of "minimalism". My passion is for game mechanics, but many games are really designed on the strength of the source material. If this is the fundamental core of your game, you might decide that you want to emphasize that source material and de-emphasize the game mechanics, by making the simplest, easiest, and most concise game rules that still support the minimum requirements for a set of role-playing game rules. Note that this is quite different from genre simulation. With genre simulation, you are trying to make sure that the tactics and outcomes that follow from the rules match what you would expect to see in an adventure of the genre. So when the adventure is done, a recap of the story matches, say, a comic book or a movie. With minimalism, the emphasis is more on the state of mind of the players during the game, on making sure the players are immersed in this scenario and not thinking about the rules. The rules may not do much to encourage cinematic gameplay or character actions, but they also don't distract the players. Minimalism seems appropriate for a game that emphasizes pure role-playing.
If you are trying to particularly emphasize the source material, an opposite approach is the goal of “atmospheric" game rules. Instead of hiding the game mechanics, you bring them to the forefront, because fiddling with the game rules inherently brings out some aspect of the mood of the game that you are trying to convey. My example here is the game "My Life with Master", which I recently read. It has a rather humorous set of rules where character actions for your gothic monster servants are based on concepts like Fear, Weariness, and Self-Loathing. It might appear that these rules serve the goal of genre simulation, but on my reading of the rules I would say that the actual effect of the rules upon the execution of the game is mostly random and would do little to make the action better fit that of the fiction the game is loosely based on. Rather, I would say the strength of the rules is more likely that just talking about rolling your Self-Loathing dice is cool and amusing and encourages you to play the game in the style that the rules intend.
(to be continued next article)