Jan 7, 2014

The Power of Words

Babbling at the Counter #23 – Pen and Paper

Consistency in Game Design #1 - The Power of Words

The ideas here may seem pretty basic for experienced designers, but my goal is to actually talk about those things so “simple” that most of the time go without saying. If this post is not for you, it’s not for you.

Think of a great RPG you like. Now think of the “abilities”, or whatever they are called, that you can buy for your character. They may be simple descriptors, like “Strong Build”, “Nimble”, or “Charismatic”. They may be classic one liners, like “So crazy it might work”, “Takes one to know one”, or “Wouldn’t hit a guy with glasses, would you?”. They may be anything really, based on anything.

Right now I’m asking you to find the common denominator between all those names in the game you picked. Got it? Then you have just found the game’s “tone”.

Why? Well, players not only will be mentally assembling their characters while reading those names; they’ll also have them written right in front on them, on the character sheet, the whole game. Funny names will get you a more relaxed atmosphere than serious ones.

You may be saying “This is so obvious”. And you are right, naming your abilities has a pretty direct effect. But what about the game actions?

Let’s take a throw of the dice, for example. Some games call them “dice rolls”, some “tests”. One I had once called them “rolling the bones” every time. Is it the same calling it an “opposed roll” or a “challenge”? No, it’s not.

And it’s not just being gimmicky and funny, it’s about making a statement. In Wacky Love (my game), other players could use your personal Foil against you. Even though the Foil entering play was in their hands, those scenes where called “Facing your Foil”. They made you Face YOUR Foil.
These scenes where about you and your character. You had the spotlight. It didn’t matter who made you Face your Foil, that was irrelevant. The moment was for YOUR personal growth. See what I’m talking about?

During your project, give a little extra thought to the names. After all, it’s better to SHOW how your setting works, rather than TELLING people “do this, do that”. Show, don’t tell.

- The Storeman

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