16.23: Rules and Mechanics

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, Cassandra Khaw, Dan Wells, James L. Sutter, and Howard Tayler

Let’s talk about how players interact with the mechanics of the game, and what kinds of requirements those might put on the writers.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson


Pick a game you’re familiar with and design three new rules elements for it. These could be new cards for Magic, new feats or character abilities for a TTRPG, new power-ups for Super Mario, etc.
Try to think through all the ways these could be fun, and then try to find ways a player could use them to totally break a story.

Disco Elysium

4 thoughts on “16.23: Rules and Mechanics”

  1. This week, Mary Robinette, Cassandra, Dan, James, and Howard rolled the die and talked about rules and mechanics, the action of role-playing games. Why keep them simple? Why do you have to repeat things? What kinds of players are there, anyway? And what’s the best way for a designer to tackle new rules? Lots of interesting discussion, available to read now in the transcript in the archives.

  2. If you use style guides for creating stuff, do you also supply licensees with a glossary, so that their translations do not become ambiguous? My German friends and I sometimes blame the translation for being unclear and if possible check the original. And the trouble with languages is that the target language might have two or more words, where the original only knows one. Or vice versa.

    One point of confusion is sometimes, if we need to meet or exceed the threshold with our die role. While this might be consistent for each system we play, game designers have apparently not agreed on this.

    Two episodes ago I complained about poor game mechanics in the comments. I think I only know TTRPGs that use output randomness – i.e. you decide what you want to do and then role the dice. Many board games I enjoy feature input randomness – this allows you to play more tactically. In case of a hopelessly botched role, the RPG player hopefully enjoys to choose his own fate.

    1. I can’t speak for all companies, but I know when I was at Paizo we worked closely with our foreign translators to try and make sure everything worked out. That said, none of us spoke the other languages as well as a native speaker would, so we just had to trust our business partners that the translation was good.

      Of course, all of that said, I think it’s common for most RPG companies to find that even their *English* rules aren’t as clear as they’d like, hence updates and errata. :P

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