Mercenary Mondays: Design and Simplicity

Note: Mercenary Mondays is an ongoing series of posts about the Schlock Mercenary Roleplaying Game and it’s behind the scenes development!

I know, I know.  It’s Tuesday, and I’m late. I offer my sincerest apologies. One of the biggest influences on my design philosophies of RPGs is Dieter Rams. I was gifted a copy of As Little Design as Possible in college and it’s my go-to book for design focus. The Wikipedia article I linked will fill you in on the most important details, but I wanted to talk about his 10 principles of design and how they affect and drive the Schlock Mercenary RPG.

  1. Is innovative – When it comes to RPGs, lots of things have been tried. Games have succeeded, failed, and moved past their predecessors. Innovation in RPGs is a hard metric to measure to, and it’s hard to come by. Luckily for us, Howard came to the table withour innovation already in his mind, and we’ve been able to utilize that to create a game that’s unlike any other. Innovation and Imagination have to come together to create good design, and once we had the innovations in place, our design snowballed into the game we’re going to be playing.

  2. Makes a product useful – You buy an RPG to play it. But in a setting like Schlock, we want to be able to have a fan buy an RPG just to read and enjoy the setting, regardless of the play of the game.  If the game is too hard, or too easy, or uninteresting, or too complex, no one will play it, and the product isn’t useful. Our game needs to find the balance and be a product that we can show someone and say, look, this will provide use, either through fun, laughter, knowledge or pride.

  3. Is aesthetic – Top-tier art, top-tier writing, production and more drive the visual presentation, and in a saturated and niche market like RPGs, you need to have great presentation. If your book isn’t pretty, you will have a harder time selling. One of the best examples of this is any of the 4th edition Legend of the Five Rings RPG books. Great binding and hardcovers, full-art, art on every other page. The books really capture the eye and hold you to it.

  4. Makes a product understandable – You have to deliver a product that anyone who picks it up can use and understand quickly. Part of that is an easy to read, logical progression of data and rules throughout the book. But even the rules need to be intuitive and understandable. Part of the flaws many RPGs see is that their rules do not intuitively fit together. You feel like you’re putting a puzzle together and one or two pieces aren’t the right fit. You want your RPG to be a solid, focused, driven project. I use words like linear, logical, and flowing to describe how RPG rules should all click together.

  5. Is unobtrusive – Size. Have any of you ever tried hauling around the HERO system RPG? That book is massive. It was close to 600 pages. Same with Pathfinder. As much as those books and games are great, their size becomes a problem. The Schlock Mercenary RPG needs to be unobtrusive, well-balanced, and effective. One of the great things that Savage Worlds does, is release their core book as a 100 page soft-cover that costs $10. Every player can have one, and the GM can just keep a copy of the setting book around.  RPG books are works of art, so you wan’t them to catch the eye. This is really the only rule you can’t follow 100%.

  6. Is honest – I’m going to just leave the base text here from the Wiki article. I think it sums it up nicely: “It does not make a product appear more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.”

  7. Is long-lasting – Quality of production will keep a well-used book together and see it hit many a gaming table. That’s what you want. Players to be proud of how well and long their copy of the game book lasts.

  8. Is thorough down to the last detail – I’m going to just leave the base text here from the Wiki article. I think it sums it up nicely: “Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.” Pretty easy to get, eh? Make your rules work. Make sure you playtest. Make sure you prepare and you follow up with support for the product after the release.

  9. Is environmentally friendly – This falls back onto production, but is pretty easy to use.

  10. Is as little design as possible – Also know as K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid). Rules for the sake of rules are a waste of ink, time, and complexity that can be used for better space. The recent redesign of many of the CCGs in the market (Magic the Gathering, Legend of the Five Rings, Pokemon) have moved their games towards this focus. Simplicity and ease of use are key.

I have found the following rules invaluable during the creation process of the Schlock Mercenary RPG and I intend to keep using them going forward.

As always, leave comments, ask questions, and more!

3 thoughts on “Mercenary Mondays: Design and Simplicity

  1. I’m gonna add something to be a little mean.
    11. Is available when it’s promised to be available. While it’s not a huge deal to be a little late with this, it sets a bad example. One of the things Howard has tought me is that sticking to your schedule is very important.

    Other than that, it’s a nice read, thanks for sharing.

    • Interesting, but I’m going to have to disagree.

      Timeline and product releases are a function of good business, not good product design. 🙂

  2. Never heard of Mr. Rams before, Thank you for introducing me to him. I think the ten points sited are good design points to keep in mind. I’ve seen plenty of RPGs go off the rails when these are skipped.

    Been catching up on your work on Schlock here and it really seems interesting. I like the idea of building your company as well as character. Iron Kingdoms RPG had something like it, but wasn’t really advanced beyond giving you a starting point.

    Keep up the good work!

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