On Fun…

Frostheim posted a bit about Volley getting removed in Cataclysm and had a section about ‘game design’ and ‘fun’ that I thought was worth quoting and emphasizing because it applies to more things than just WoW – given that it was a point about game design. I could see this sort of thing applying as a DM setting up an encounter or adventure or even running a gaming session.

As I’ve mentioned before, I used to work for a major table top game publisher, and I got to work and talk with some very talented game designers. The way that they viewed game design was endlessly fascinating to me. To them, “fun” was just another mechanic to be balanced, along with strategy, complexity, and intuitiveness. They could sit down and tell you what kind of mechanics made a game fun, and the different kinds of fun and how they appealed to different kinds of players.

There are a couple key things about fun. First of all — not doing anything is not fun. It’s boring, and it makes the game feel slow or long. This was especially a big deal for board games — you didn’t want any one person’s turn to last too long. But it was okay if the other player had ways of interrupting his turn — even if he didn’t use them, he still felt engaged. But just sitting and watching and waiting your turn to play is not fun.

Furthermore, success has to be based on your decisions (or at least have the illusion that it is): you have to be the one winning and you have to win because of what you do and how well you do it. If all you do is roll the dice and the highest number wins, that isn’t terribly fun, even for the winner. If all you do is watch stuff happen, that isn’t terribly fun either.

There was a lot more to the post but it was more specific to WoW so I didn’t include it.

I think he hits on a lot of good points, some are pretty obvious, while others could really shed a lot of light on what goes on in my D&D sessions on Wednesday nights.

Emphasis on, “not doing anything is not fun“, “This was especially a big deal for board games — you didn’t want any one person’s turn to last too long. But it was okay if the other player had ways of interrupting his turn – even if he didn’t use them” and “But just sitting and watching and waiting your turn to play is not fun“.

We’ve got a pretty big group – seven players and one DM – so the combat rounds take awhile. In some cases your character might be disabled or ineffective against what is happening (whether it’s combat, negotiations or interrogations) so it’s hard to always have everyone able to do something.

This gets worsened at higher levels, especially in combat, when you start seeing that casters can dominate the majority of time in the round resolving their actions, the effects of their actions or performing actions for the plethora of creatures they’ve summoned up on top of their own actions.

For mundanes (to steal from Piers Anthony’s Xanth series)? Not too time intensive – you have a number of attacks that are straight forward hit rolls, damage rolls, maybe some movement with exceptions being things like ‘grapple’. This means the combats can be pretty damn boring for mundane types.

All that said, I think this leads some players towards second bit I quoted – interruptions.

The rules lawyering (correcting others on how to play out an action, noting specific mechanics, playing the DM’s pet to the detriment of the party or downright disagreeing with how the DM is doing something) seems to be a product of everyone not being as involved as they’d like or perhaps everyone trying too hard to be involved in some when because their character hasn’t been able to be involved.

Some of the players might suggest that some players tend to be worse about lawyering than others, I’m starting to wonder if there is a pattern to this. Do the ‘mundane’ character owners tend to be more lawyer-like simply because their action is resolved quickly leaving them feeling like they’re not really playing?

On the flip side, this is something for DMs to take note of when building encounters – make sure you have something in there for everyone to feel useful with, even if it is just throwing in some weaker creatures for the mundanes to pummel away at or something; the trick there is to make sure you don’t make them look too appetizing for the caster-types. Also avoid designing encounters where the players do nothing.

Again, our group size makes this really difficult because the list of people to engage is about twice the size of the expected group size and you end up with a fair bit of overlap.

The last paragraph in the quote is something that is important for our group as well. For the most part, we’re good with that sort of thing but I thought it was an important item to note as well.


2 thoughts on “On Fun…

  1. I agree. And since it’s currently my turn in the barrel, you may have noticed that I am endeavouring to speed things up by rushing people a bit.

    It may seem like I’m being a dick (ok, I am being a bit of a dick) but given how long we’ve been playing, I *EXPECT* our very experienced group of players to be ready for their turn, including casters, even the ones summoning armies.

    That, of course, means those casters have to be using the time between turns to sort themselves out rather than playing on their blackberries, pulling the pud, or whatever they’re doing that’s not game related. I have some sympathy if the distraction is work related (we all have to make a living), but I won’t hold the game up forever.

    Everyone gets caught out once in a while with their best made plans laid waste by a questionable move by the character preceeding them, or something unexpected from an NPC. Fair enough. But the big delays are often by the same people all the time.

    Hack/slash types do have it easier, generally, and thus have more time for rules lawyering. I’ve been thinking of encouraging our hack/slash types to be prodding inattentive casters to pay attention between turns rather than nit-picking rules 🙂 I prefer rules nit-picking to be done outside of game time.

  2. I don’t have problems with rushing people or being a dick about it (make them lose their turns – as you’re doing), people should be paying attention even if it isn’t their turn. And yes, people should be more prepared for their turn, especially casters, but the system includes mechanics that bog everything down even when you’re trying to minimize that simply because some classes can impact more than one target and do multiple actions from things like pets or summoned creatures.

    It’s a bit of a snowball effect.

    I know at one point, I thought about having a kitchen timer and giving everyone 6 seconds to state what they were going to do and 30 seconds to get it done.

    That wasn’t entirely the point of my post though, I’m curious to see if the people who have less to do per round become the rules lawyers. I suspect there is some weight to that, but doubt it. I think once someone raises a question like, “How does Grapple work again?” you’re going to get seven people saying different things or the same thing different ways.

    I’m going to pay more attention to that sort of thing.

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