Thinking about game design: questions and statements

I think most people are familiar with the idea of questions.

“What questions does your game make” and such.

Well, I was thinking about how games have themes and these themes prompt questions that we ask the game, the players, the systems etc.

But I began thinking about statements today, and here’s my grand theory:

The game systems make statements. If you can figure out which statements you make, it can help you design your game mechanics.

Look, I’m a new designer, so don’t take my word for anything and don’t bash me either haha

Statements

I’ll use my own game as an example. I got some incredible playtest reports from @Deodatus recently and it sent my mind spinning. Here’s what I am thinking:

I Am

Maybe all game systems make some sort of “I AM” statement. Well, The Quiet Year seems to make a kind of “I Represent/We Represent” type statement. I don’t know.

In fantasypunk, characters have traits (basic stats): Kind, Brave, Curious, Precise and Insightful.

Therefore:

I am Kind. I am Brave. Etc…

Cool, I think I have a very solid concept of how the characters explore the world.

Apocalypse world does “I am Hot/Cool/Weird, etc” Which also says loads about the game upfront.

I Can

I think this is a very strong statement which probably all game systems make in a way or another.

I find it’s important to establish a definition: I CAN statement seem to require a trigger, condition, or another factor to work. I figure this definition implies the existence of “I Do”. I might get to that possibility later.

In most PbtA games, I CAN are essentially the moves.

Thing is, I CAN prompt questions that define it: how, when, where, etc.

So I’d say that the basic statements for moves would be: "I CAN [make this move] when the conditions are met.

I can Do Battle when I want to engage someone through violence.

I think you should be able to form different questions with I can, and I think the answers can be mechanics, themes, objectives and thematic, setting specific things.

I can Make Moves.
I can Die.
I can Win.
I can Lose.

I can change the world with magic.
I can connect with other people’s hearts.
I can make telepathic connections.

I can sense undead.
I can heal with a touch.
I can dole out violence at will.

I’d say if you get a few of these sentences you might get a solid idea of what things your game plugs at.

Other Statements

I am excited to think about what other statements we can make to get to our game mechanics.

I have: does it imply an equipment system?

I have gear that helps me traverse dungeons.

Oh, I like that.

I must win the heart of my beloved.
I must protect the Princess.

I think that different statements will prompt different questions and you must always answer them honestly to pin down the systems you want to include in your game.

Combining Sentences

Here’s where I think the magic is made.

I am Kind. I can connect with the hearts of others with a look. I have regrets and dreams.

Now you can turn these into mechanics by structuring statements and making new statements as you go to help you get there.

Thoughts? Ideas? I’d love to learn what others think!

Added Ideas

some extra edits
(Jan 20)

I learned - Maybe a system of “saves”, lessons or advancement.
“I learned how to avoid traps”

I know - Knowledge or abilities that bypass or make it easier to make rolls
“I know how to cook”

I’d say that asking questions here can be a way to determine when checks are in order:
“Do you know how to cook a fancy dessert?”

I do - this can be as broad or as narrow as the context allows but…
I work as a salesman
I make cakes
I wield two weapons

I think what will make a difference here are other words such as usually, always, sometimes, never and so on.

I always arrive on time
I never fail to impress
I usually get what I want

Not sure where I can go with these but there they are.

7 Likes

I really like the idea of characters having “needs” or things they “must do”.

This also kinda reminds of Wanderhome’s playbooks with their “Your care is…” and “You can always…” statements.

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I tend to use Start with Why as a base for designing.

  • WHY do I want to play?
  • HOW should I play it?
  • WHAT should I use when playing?

This correlates to MDA by Marc LeBlanc:

  • Mechanics - the components, the rules
  • Dynamics - the interaction
  • Aesthetics - the emotions triggered; see link above for the 8 kinds of fun.

What’s interesting is his notion that game designers go M→D→A when they designing, but a players understands the game from the other direction: A→D→M

Scott McCloud expands the making process, in Understanding Comics, by adding a top layer above MDA.

  • Idea: first impulse to create
  • Form: book/crayons/song?
  • Idiom: style/genre
    **
  • Structure: Mechanics/What
  • Craft: Dynamics/How
  • Surface: Aesthetics/Why

So yeah, I agree with what you’re saying. :slight_smile:

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I like how you take the perspective of “the player as a character” as the perspective of the game. Let’s say it’s role-centric. In some games though, the statements and questions are addressed to the player as member of a group, or sometimes, the statement considers the player only incidentally.

Look at these :

  • “the game is taking place in this other room, it ends when you open the door” (forgot the name of this one),
  • "this game is sick and contagious (secret PoC, Dog eat Dog, etc.)
  • “this game has no room for you, you’re going to make yourself one” (Landes de la fin des temps)
  • etc.

I suspect I like avant-garde games a lot. :upside_down_face: Or maybe it’s just that avant-garde meets my needs : generally, in a story I empathize with the story more than with any character.
In drama, there’s this dual enunciation principle : characters speakign to characters, authrix speaking to audience. Well, I go straight to the second part, that’s where the juice is for me.

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Probably The Tragedy of GJ237b?

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Games can make statements not just about the fiction that exists within the game, but about the world at large outside the game. In fact, since RPGs are an artistic medium, I suspect that they must make statements about the world outside of themselves. See Vincent Baker’s “3 Insights” for example. Your game will necessarily have something to say about roleplaying games as an activity, about the fictional genre you’re representing, and about the actual humans who play the game.

2 Likes

Thank you so much!
Yes, this one.

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There is a lot of unused potential in moves that are themselves short sentences over long paragraphs full of conditions and effects.

And yeah, I feel that you can build a strong setting foundation as you lay down the rules skeleton like that.

I’m gonna watch this video! Thanks!

and I’m gonna di some research here too!

Yes! Although the scope here is a little more leaning towards how to get your concept into a framework you can design around.

I also like the “hand over decision making” topic in this article because you can expand which subjects you are using to make statements.

We - we the party/in-game group of players
The Game
The Players (all of them)
The other players
The Dice
etc

1 Like

I really like this. “I am” and “I can” are really solid statements. Together they sum up the purpose of any character sheet. I’m seriously considering updating Key & Token with these statements.

I also really like the idea of using descriptors in place of traditional attributes and stats. I think Kind, Fierce, Curious are great traits for any character to have, though you could open it up to any descriptor. The challenge could be to summarise your character in five traits.

I’ve seen some games approach this in different ways. This is my favourite: when you complete an action in line with your trait, the cost of the action is negligible. If the action goes against your trait, the cost is doubled.

Added Ideas

some extra edits
(Jan 20)

I learned - Maybe a system of “saves”, lessons or advancement.
“I learned how to avoid traps”

I know - Knowledge or abilities that bypass or make it easier to make rolls
“I know how to cook”

I’d say that asking questions here can be a way to determine when checks are in order:
“Do you know how to cook a fancy dessert?”

I do - this can be as broad or as narrow as the context allows but…
I work as a salesman
I make cakes
I wield two weapons

I think what will make a difference here are other words such as usually, always, sometimes, never and so on.

I always arrive on time
I never fail to impress
I usually get what I want

Not sure where I can go with these but there they are.


Sounds awesome! I would love to see what yo umake of it.

Yes, fantasypunk has 5 and I like that as a way to state how the characters are going to explore the world.

Holy cow! This idea is great, you gave me something to toy with!

3 Likes

I would argue that the player’s journey (to be precise, the Aesthetics→Dynamics→Mechanics order mentioned by Rickard) might be valid for videogames where you can often only guess at the underlying mechanics).

However, it is not apt for tabletop RPGs, where you usually first engage with character creation without role-playing, then with the mechanics in practice, and only by actual experiential learning can you understand the dynamics of the rule system.

So it’s maybe more like Aesthetics→Mechanics→Dynamics!
Would you agree? If not, why?

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I suspect Deodatus meant to make that Mechanics -> Aesthetics -> Dynamics.

I think this sort of thing can be highly variable. If you start with pre-gens for instance - you don’t interface with char-gen mechanics.

If you do start with char-gen before you’ve played at all, then you do start with mechanics. However, these aren’t (in trad games) the mechanics of play, the games char gen mechanics often have very little to so with the in play mechanics – though can learn some play mechanics while building your character, this is incidental.

Short version, imho the interactions here are more complex / hard to put in a specific order.

3 Likes

I agree, I think it is possible to approach a game in any order of Dynamics/Mechanics/Aesthetics. It depends on the game, whether you are playing solo or with a group, what kind of group you are playing with and how the game is introduced to you.

I created a character sheet for my storygame system with just four character Statements. Here’s what it looks like:

This character sheet doesn’t give anything away as to how the game is played or the mechanics of the game. It requires an accompanying rule book or a conversation with someone who knows and can explain the rules. Since it’s a storygame I would encourage the player to consider the character’s aesthetics and group chemistry first. We would discuss together what was possible in the world and answer the statements through roleplay.

There is a mechanical function to the sheet. The game uses a token resource and management system where the total number of tokens possessed by the player is the character’s hitpoints. Moves cost tokens but a Move in line with a character’s trait is free.

1 Like

Perhaps. I don’t want this thread to be about MDA, but Dynamics is something that happens between A and M - it’ can’t be on either side. I would argue that creating a character is still Aesthetics, because you don’t know what Strength or a power does (which describes your character or the play style of the game) up until you actually use it in play. Perhaps Strength didn’t have the same impact as you thought when creating the character…

2 Likes

RISUS and Dogs in the Vineyard are proof you can do great things with freely authored traits.
An interesting trait-based system by @timbannock : https://descriptorsrpg.com/
I like to merge Traits and Conditions, as in Dragonfly Motel (you can cuyt and paste the text to translate it online) or Remember Tomorrow .

That’s a lot of name dropping I’m sorry, but that’s all I can give here. I feel I don’t know if the topic is more about character creation, traits or what. Defining a character as part of a community, member of a team, someone with a past, with emotions, etc. varies greatly with what you need and what you want to do… Like, character description is always very poor anthropologically (INT DEX CHA please :roll_eyes: ) : I need to know the intent of the game to understand.

edit : added link to the 2 games you mention

Very interesting, DeReel! Descriptors is pretty much exactly what I’ve been thinking as an expansion to Gabe’s traits and statements. I’m not familiar with Dragonfly Motel or Remember Tomorrow, I will look into these.

I completely agree that traditional stats are outdated. I really liked the way AGON approaches this with Domains: Arts & Oration, Blood and Valor, Craft and Reason, and Resolve and Spirit.

I’ve expanded on this in my Celtic themed AGON-playset. The domains are Life, Self, Inspiration, Wheel (Conflict, Rebirth) and Spirit. You can also take on different Forms, which represent different approaches: Dragon, Griffin, Stag, Boar and Bull.

The idea here is that players are presented with a challenge and they can choose which form to take in response but it’s very open to interpretation.

2 Likes