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When is too much, too much and not enough not enough?

December 29, 2008

The above subject line is a long way to go for me to sum up a design issue in Ninja. That issue is detail.

One of the main goals behind the 12° Cookbook is for James and I to create two playable games, self contained between the covers. By this, we each have a game that says what it needs to say in a minimal amount of space. The design is focused, the rules are focused, and the writing is focused. Both games deal with specific themes, and both games differ from what we have done in Colonial Gothic and Thousand Suns.

First a little back story/history.

When coming up with the idea of the 12° Cookbook about 16-months ago, James and I had some ideas that on their own did not support a full game. Colonial Gothic and Thousand Suns had and still have specific goals. There is a vision at play here, in that we wanted two games that not only appealed to us as designers, but allowed for a style of play we enjoyed.

In the case of Colonial Gothic I wanted supernatural historical horror, and I wanted to play with the entire tapestry of Colonial American History (not just the original Thirteen, but the New World). With Thousand Suns, James wanted to create a sci-fi game that was “generic” in the sense that it gave players the tools they need so they could create their own setting.

As we worked on the games, the thread for Colonial Gothic was lost for awhile, but has since been found. While Thousand Suns became a love letter to not only a certain style of science fiction, but a a love letter to a favorite game.

The 12° Cookbook is a different beast. The Cookbook is a concept that takes the 12° mechanic, and with it, we cook up the little game ideas we have. These ideas are ones that could not support a whole game, let along a whole book. These are mini-games in a sense, but it sells the games short. Ninja deals with the concepts of family and clan. By that, what come first for you as a player: your family ties or your clan loyalty? Depending on how you answer this question, your role as player changes as you take part in missions with your fellow players.

The design of Ninja is tight. The rules are tight, and what you do as a player and as a game master is tight. I like this. For me, Ninja is the first time I have ever been this focused as a designer. I knew what I wanted to design. I knew what I wanted to “say.”

Now with the rules done, and the revision underway, I find I am stuck. The area I am stuck on is the world. When you do a focused design for rules, that is easy. With a world, it is not so easy. Part of me wants to leave it vague and let the game master design their own. Part of me thinks this is bad, because you need to have some type of setting for a game master so that they can see how the rules work. For me, a setting is flesh that rests on the skeleton of good rule design. By skimping on the setting, or worse, not including one, you are putting out a naked skeleton. This might appear to be okay at first, but after awhile you want to see something more than bones and organs.

So I am stuck. I can easily write many words on the setting, but this detail will derail the tight design and writing I have done. I can go the minimalist way, and give the barest of sketches, but this I feel, weakens the tightness of the game in that a game master does not have a enough out of the book they could use.

Writing this I realize I might be over thinking things a tad much. Would not be the first time.

So anyway, that is the current dilemma I find myself in. When do I say too much and when do I say not enough?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 30, 2008 11:37 am

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    The approach to Thousand Suns’ meta-setting really worked for the game. There was just enough detail to serve as example (Homeworlds, Species, Historical Periods), but it doesn’t feel anything like “MTSU” (get it?!?!).

    There’s a lot of words in those meta-setting sections, and I suspect “Ninja” isn’t that large of a game. But based on what you’ve written about it, I think the players will definitely benefit from 3 example clans, 3 example families, a few example characters, and details about the conflicts that arise within those combinations.

    The tough one is how far do you describe the world, and the time period? If you go into too much detail about, for instance, the Edo Period, then you risk the perception that this is “Ninja Scroll”. That’s fine, but if it your attention to do so, players should be encouraged to consider those same conflicts, clans, families and descendants of the characters in (again, for instance) a modern setting.

    My suggestion is to not spend a lot of time trying to make the game a small GURPS-like reference to the concept of Ninja. Plenty of real and fantasy resources out there for that. Focus instead on fluff as example, and point the way to other resources online, in film, other games that fill out the fluff, or provide other fluff.

    Looking forward to this one. Good luck, and Happy New Year, Richard!

  2. December 30, 2008 11:54 am

    Yeah, ninja is going to be a tight game, so the amount of detail is going to be scaled back. The problem I am dealing with is that the world is like our own, but with a few tweaks. It is Edo, but it is not. I am fighting the urge to go crazy and develop the world fully, because this game could easily be the size of Thousand Suns.

    Your suggestion is one that I am leaning toward. I am going to go with the broad brush. If people dig the setting, then I can easily expand it.

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